Archive for the ‘Liturgy and Sacraments’ Category

 

The Mother of All Liturgies: The Sacred Triduum

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

After living and celebrating the holy and penitential season of Lent, we enter into Holy Week which is the holiest and most important time in the Liturgical Year. Holy Week is the time in which we enter into the Paschal Mystery of Christ in a most unique and profound way. This reaches its climax in the celebration of the Triduum, the greatest of all liturgies, on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil when we truly walk with Christ and enter into his saving mystery. Even though the Triduum is celebrated over three days, it is actually one liturgy that begins Holy Thursday evening and ends late Holy Saturday night. In fact, it is often called the “mother of all liturgies.” Through the Triduum, we literally walk and journey with Christ from the celebration of the Last Supper, to the Agony in the Garden, through the Passion and Crucifixion, unto the celebration and joy of the Resurrection. It is a powerful and moving experience that all Catholics should experience if they are able to.

Holy Thursday

The Triduum begins on Holy Thursday night with the Celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The Triduum starts on a very celebratory note as we thank God for the gift of the Eucharist and the institution of the Priesthood. For the first time in weeks, we sing the Gloria and we recall with great love and thanksgiving the true Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, who in anticipation of his sacrifice on the Cross gives us his Body and his Blood as true food and drink. “For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” (John 6:55-56) With the institution of the Eucharist, Jesus also gives the command “Do this in memory of me.” Through this command, Jesus institutes the Priesthood of the New Covenant and gives the Apostles the authority to act in his person and through the power of the Holy Spirit change bread and wine into his Body and Blood. Thus, Holy Thursday recalls the great gift and mystery of the Priesthood through which Christ dispenses the great wealth of sacramental grace.

On Holy Thursday, we also recall that during the Last Supper in John’s Gospel, Jesus washed the feet of the Apostles. Through the reenactment of the washing of the feet, we are remember that Jesus himself came to serve and that we are also called to serve and bring Christ’s presence and Good News to the most vulnerable and outcast of society.

The mood of the Liturgy changes quickly after the Celebration of the Eucharist as we begin to move into the Passion of Christ and the beginning of the Agony in the Garden. In dramatic fashion, the altar is stripped and the Eucharist is processed out of the Church and the faithful are invited to enter into Christ’s passion. The absence of the Eucharist in the church is a reminder of the Lord’s passion and the cost of losing our communion with Christ through sin. What began as celebration now pauses in solemnity and sorrow as the passion of the Christ has begun.

Good Friday

The Triduum resumes with the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday. The liturgy begins in silence as the priests enter the Church and then prostrate themselves before the altar as a sign of penance and sorrow. We then move into the Liturgy of the Word which includes a passage from Isaiah’s description of the Suffering Servant. We then pray the powerful Psalm 22 which Christ exclaimed from the Cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” The Passion according to St. John is then read followed by the Veneration of the Cross. In this powerful moment, we literally find ourselves at the foot of the Cross adoring Christ, the Lamb of God, who as both Priest and Victim, offered himself for the salvation of the world. Finally, the Eucharist is brought in procession back into the Church so that we may receive the very Body of Christ, the fruit of the New Tree of Life, who is Christ crucified. The Eucharist is then taken in procession back out of the Church and the liturgy again pauses as we enter into the time of hopeful anticipation of the Resurrection.

The Easter Vigil

The Triduum ends with the celebration of the Easter Vigil which is the climax of the entire Liturgical Year. It is the celebration of the Resurrection of the Christ, and the entire loving plan of salvation accomplished in Christ.

The Easter Vigil begins in total darkness, the darkness of sin and the darkness of the grave. Then, the Easter fire is lit outside the Church which represents the light of the Resurrection. The Paschal Candle is then prepared and slowly brought into the Church in solemn procession as a symbol of the Resurrected Christ. As the Paschal Candle is processed in, the priest sings “Light of Christ.” The light of the Paschal Candle shatters the darkness of sin and death! As the Paschal candle continues to process into the Church, the individual candles of the gathered faithful are also lit, reminding us that each and every one of us, through our Baptism, are called to be the light of Christ in the world. Suddenly, the entire church is full of light, the light of the Resurrection!

“Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels! Exult, all creation around God”s throne! Jesus Christ, our King, is risen! Sound the trumpet of salvation!” These powerful words of the Exultet the great prayer of the Church that first announce the Good News of the Resurrection are then proclaimed. This begins the Liturgy of the Word that is a series of nine readings. These readings cover God’s entire plan of salvation accomplished in Christ, beginning with Genesis, then the Exodus, then readings from the Prophets. Then, in glorious fashion, the Gloria is sung and as the lights of the church come on, the full celebration of the Resurrection begins. The Epistle of Paul is read and the Gospel is proclaimed. Christ indeed is risen!

After the homily, the full fruits of the Resurrection are made visibly present through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. The Elect and Candidates who have been preparing for full communion with the Catholic Church are received into the Church. Finally, the Easter Vigil and the entire Triduum concludes with the Celebration of the Eucharist.

The Triduum is a powerful liturgical experience, not only during the celebrations at the parish, but also throughout the entire three days. One is able to literally experience and live the Paschal Mystery, the passion, death, and Resurrection of Christ. It is a profound way to truly contemplate the face of Christ and to deepen our communion with him. In addition, walking this journey with our Lord only deepens our awareness of the power and reality of the Resurrection and the presence and power of Christ in our lives. I encourage all to experience this journey of grace!

Lenten Reflection: A Tale of Two Gardens

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

As we begin our Lenten journey of conversion and repentance, we find that we often struggle with the old Adam within ourselves that is still inclined to sin and worldly desires and our new life in Christ that was given to us at baptism and is continuously renewed through Eucharist and Penance.  As a good reflection for the Lenten season, scripture reveals that there is a remarkable parallel in the Old Testament and the New Testament between the disobedience of Adam and the results of His sin, and the perfect obedience of Jesus and the results of his righteousness.  I call it “The Tale of Two Gardens.”  Here we so clearly see how Jesus completely atones for and reverses the sin and disobedience of Adam and though His sacrifice on the Cross restores our communion with God and once again obtains for us the gift of grace and eternal life.

Let us go back for a moment and recall what happened in Genesis Chapter 3.  Adam is in the Garden of Eden, and he is knows no suffering or evil and enjoys intimate communion with God and complete unity and harmony with his wife Eve and the rest of creation.  However, he is confronted with a temptation from Satan, and because of this gift of his free will, faces a fundamental choice.  Adam can either eat of the Tree of Life, which represents intimate communion with God through obedience to his plan and goodness, or he can choose to reject God, his life of grace and goodness, and view himself as a god who can determine for himself what is good and evil.  We know from the story that with Eve’s participation, Adam eats of the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Thus, through their disobedience, Adam and Eve were banned from eating of the fruit of the Tree of Life, which represents the loss of  eternal life and union with God.  They now suffer death, separation from God, and the natural consequences of sin.  Consequently, through Adam, sin and disobedience entered the world and through this original sin, all human beings from that moment are born disfigured by sin.  We no longer know God as our Father and are inclined to do our will and determine what is best for ourselves. We have literally forgotten who we are, images and children of God, and the dignity and destiny to which we are called.  But hope is not lost, for out of the chaos of that first sin comes the first announcement of the good news of salvation:  A savior will be born of a woman who will crush the head of Satan and sin and restore the human family to salvation and grace.

Now let us go to Matthew 26:36-46.  We find Jesus the New Adam in a garden:  the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before his Crucifixion.  Here, like Adam, Jesus faces a fundamental choice, although this one is quite different.  Jesus can either obey the Father’s plan of salvation that on the next day he will be beaten, scourged, and be nailed  Cross for three agonizing hours in order to die for all of the sins committed against him for all time.  Or Jesus can preserve his life, disobey the will of the Father and follow his own will and desires.  Not only does Jesus obey the Father, but he completely surrenders himself to the will of the Father three times, which in Scripture always means perfection:  “Father if it is possible, let this cup pass, but not my will be done but yours.”  Jesus perfectly obeys the Father’s plan to embrace the Cross to save us from our sins.  However, this obedience of Jesus has remarkable consequences.  Through His obedience, not only does Jesus atone for the disobedience of Adam, but He is hung upon the wood of the Cross, the tree of our salvation.  But this is no mere man hung upon a tree but Jesus  is God Himself.  Thus, because he is God the crucified Jesus becomes the New Tree of Life from which Adam and all his descendants had been banned since the first sin.  But what exactly were they banned from?  They were banned from eating of the fruit of the Tree of Life.  If Jesus hung upon the Cross is the New Tree of Life, then what is its fruit?

 

Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.  For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. (John 6:53-56)

 

Thus, the fruit of the New Tree of Life is the Eucharist, Jesus’ own body and blood, that He gives us to eat and drink so that we can once again have intimate communion with God and eternal life that was lost through the disobedience of Adam.

Consequently, through His perfect obedience, Jesus embraces the Tree of the Cross, which becomes the New Tree of Life and the fruit of the New Tree of Life is the Eucharist which once again gives eternal life, union with God, and destroys sin and death.  Jesus is the New Adam that reverses the sin of Adam and brings salvation to all humanity.

As we look into our own hearts, we face the same kind of fundamental decision each and every day.  Do we choose to follow the old Adam within our selves, or do we choose to follow Christ and cooperate with his grace in our lives?

Thus, we see in these two passages why the Father’s plan requires that Jesus must be fully God and fully human.  Jesus truly becomes God’s mercy and reconciliation to man and at the same time he becomes man’s obedience and reconciliation to God.  Because Jesus is truly human, His perfect obedience to the Father atones for the disobedience of the first man Adam.  But also because Jesus is God, He has the power to become in himself the New Tree of Life that restores humanity’s communion with God that was lost through Original Sin.  All of salvation history culminates at this moment, bringing out the depth of Christ’s meaning as He hung upon the tree and exclaimed the words, “It is finished!”

Forgive Me Father for I Have Sinned: Why Confession?

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

 

     Often called our “second baptism”, the sacrament of Penance cleanses us of our sin and restores us to new life in Christ.  It is a great sacrament of healing, one which ought to be approached often and with great confidence and trust, and is truly a fountain of mercy and grace flowing from the heart of Christ himself through the Church.  But many times, the question is asked:  “Why must we confess our sins to a priest?”  This is a great question frequently asked by non-Catholics and even many Catholics.  Let’s explore these reasons more closely. 

     First, it is Christ himself that established the sacrament of Penance and the confession of sin to one who shares the apostolic ministry entrusted to the apostles and their successors. He gave the apostles and their successors the power of the Holy Spirit to forgive or retain sins on the evening of his resurrection (see John 20: 19-23).  Thus, we confess our sins to a priest first and foremost because it is the will of Christ.  But it goes much deeper than that.  As with any sacrament, the priest is ministering in persona Christi which means “in the person of Christ”.  That simply but powerfully means that Christ is really present and working through the priest.  Thus, it is Christ who baptizes, Christ who confirms, and Christ who hears our sins and forgives them.  We are not just telling our sins to a mere man, but to Christ himself who is truly present and working through the priest. 

     The second reason has to do with the nature of sin and the healing that is needed to bring about true penance or reconciliation.  First, when we sin and deliberately choose to disobey God and turn against his goodness, it wounds or in the case of mortal sin severs our relationship with God.  It is we who break the relationship, not God.  God, like with Adam after the first sin, always searches for us and calls us back to himself.  This is what we call the divine dimension of sin.  Sin always affects our relationship with God and either diminishes or destroys the life of grace within us.  Through confessing our sins to the priest, we are confessing our sins to Christ himself who restores us to our relationship to the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit.  We come to the foot of the Cross and lay our sins before the Lamb of God who washes them away through the blood that flowed from his side.  That is what really happens when one goes to confession.   

    Secondly, when it comes to sin, there is no such thing as a “private sin.”  Yes, sin can be done privately in that no other person knows about it (but God does), but even a sin that is done in private still hurts and effects others.  Every time we sin, even if it is alone, it affects our ability to love, to be in relationship, and to live in communion with others.  This is certainly true when we commit a sin that directly affects or hurts another, but even sins committed in private, and even our sinful thoughts hurt others indirectly as well.  Sin by its nature isolates and wraps us in ourselves.  Thus, every sin has social consequences, harming and even destroying our relationship with others.  Even more powerfully, as a member of the mystical Body of Christ the Church, sin wounds our communion with the Church and in the case of mortal sins severs our relationship with the Church.  This is called the human dimension of sin.  By confessing our sins to the priest, we are also confessing to the leader and representative of the community and the Church, and therefore our relationship with others and the Church is also reconciled.  Therefore, by confessing our sins to a priest, both the divine and human dimensions of sin are reconciled and our communion with God and the Church is fully restored.    

     The third reason we confess our sins to a priest has a lot to do with our human nature.  God in his wisdom knows that the confession of our sins brings about a deeper and more complete healing of ourselves.  The more we become isolated the more sin is allowed to fester and become worse.  Sin loves to operate in the dark.  When we keep sin inside ourselves it becomes like a cancer eating at our souls and our humanity.  The best way to defeat sin, like cancer, is to get it out and to bring it into the light of Christ.  The reality is that unless sin is brought into the light and brought out of ourselves, true healing is very difficult.

     This is the beauty of the sacrament of Penance.  It brings about in us a true healing.  When we confess our sins to another, we are required to look the sin squarely in the eye, take ownership and responsibility for it, and admit it to another.  We literally empty ourselves of sin so we may be filled with the grace of Christ.  The Catechism powerfully brings out this aspect of the confession of sins: 

    

The confession (or disclosure) of sins, even from a simply human point of view, frees us and facilitates our reconciliation with others. Through such an admission man looks squarely at the sins he is guilty of, takes responsibility for them, and thereby opens himself again to God and to the communion of the Church in order to make a new future possible. (1455)

  

     This is the most powerful aspect of the sacrament of Penance.  Remember that all the sacraments are visible tangible signs that make present to us in a natural way what God is doing supernaturally.  God is communicating his grace to us in a way that we can really know and experience his love for us.  Penance is an extraordinarily human and tangible experience of God’s mercy and forgiveness.  If we were to only ask God for forgiveness, we would simply have to trust that he has forgiven us.  But through confessing our sins in the sacrament of Penance, we have in a real and fully human way given our sins to Christ, and then we in turn experience and know Christ’s forgiveness in a real, human, and tangible way through the ministry of the priest.  At the end of confession, the priest lays his hand upon us calling down the power of the Holy Spirit, and we hear and know the reality and power of Christ’s mercy and forgiveness through the prayer of the Church:

 

God, the Father of mercies, through the death and the resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

 

     Therefore, by confessing our sins to a priest, not only are we participating in the sacrament of Penance that Christ established and is working through, but it also fully heals us from the consequences of sin, brings about a more real and complete healing of our human nature, and we also come to know and experience in a real and powerful way God’s love and mercy that pours forth from the heart of Christ.  May we, through this season of Lent, come to a new and deeper appreciation and practice of this powerful sacrament of Christ’s healing, grace, and forgiveness. 

 

Go in Peace to Love and Serve the Lord

Monday, June 27th, 2011

     Pope Benedict XVI, on the Feast of Corpus Christi, preached a very powerful homily on the Eucharist as the antidote to the many evils in the world.  However, the Eucharist is the antidote only if we, who receive the Real Presence of Jesus Christ, allow the Body and Blood of Jesus to transform our hearts and minds so that we can go out and transform the culture by being a true witness of Christ.  This is why we are commissioned at the end of Mass to “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”  We come to Mass not only to worship, but we  ourselves are sacrificed to the Father with Christ really present in the Eucharist so that we may be graced, transformed, and prepared to go out and do Christ”s work, and to be his presence in the ordinary places of secular life.   This is at the very heart of our mission as lay members of the Church.   As the Second Vatican Council teaches us: 

But the laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity. Therefore, since they are tightly bound up in all types of temporal affairs it is their special task to order and to throw light upon these affairs in such a way that they may come into being and then continually increase according to Christ to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer. (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, 31)

 

     Therefore, we must resist the temptation to leave our Catholicism at the door of the church and realize that each one of us is empowered by the Eucharistic Christ to go out and make a difference in the world, to be the presence of Christ and the Church where there is much darkness and sin.   Only through our presence enlightened, transformed, and graced by the Real Presence of Christ can our culture be transformed from a culture of death to the culture of life. We cannot afford to sit on the sidelines anymore, there is too much at stake!  We must have the courage and the consolation to know that Jesus is truly with us, and that he will give us the strength, the words, and the wisdom to make a difference in world.  Communion with Jesus Christ in the Eucharist calls us to mission, and the mission fields are not in a far away country.  The mission fields are here, in our families, in our parishes, in our schools, in the workplace.  These are the places where we must make a difference and make the light of Christ known to all!

     With all this in mind, let us meditate on the powerful words of the Holy Father who is reminding us of the power of the Eucharist in our lives and our calling to go out and share in his redeeming work and be his witnesses to all we encounter:

So from the gift of Christ”s love comes our special responsibility as Christians in building a cohesive, just and fraternal society. Especially in our time when globalization makes us increasingly dependent upon each other, Christianity can and must ensure that this unity will not be built without God, without true Love. This would give way to confusion and individualism, the oppression of some against others. The Gospel has always aimed at the unity of the human family, a unity not imposed from above, or by ideological or economic interests, but from a sense of responsibility toward each other, because we identify ourselves as members of the same body, the body of Christ, because we have learned and continually learn from the Sacrament of the Altar that communion, love is the path of true justice.

Let us return to Jesus” act in the Last Supper. What happened at that moment? When he said: This is my body which is given to you, this is my blood shed for you and for the multitude, what happened? Jesus in that gesture anticipates the event of Calvary. He accepts his passion out of love, with its trial and its violence, even to death on the cross; by accepting it in this way he transforms it into an act of giving. This is the transformation that the world needs most, because he redeems it from within, he opens it up to the kingdom of heaven. But God always wants to accomplish this renewal of the world through the same path followed by Christ, indeed, the path that is himself. There is nothing magic in Christianity. There are no shortcuts, but everything passes through the patient and humble logic of the grain of wheat that is broken to give life, the logic of faith that moves mountains with the gentle power of God. This is why God wants to continue to renew humanity, history and the cosmos through this chain of transformations, of which the Eucharist is the sacrament. Through the consecrated bread and wine, in which his Body and Blood is truly present, Christ transforms us, assimilating us in him: He involves us in his redeeming work, enabling us, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, to live according to his same logic of gift, like grains of wheat united with him and in him. Thus unity and peace, which are the goal for which we strive, are sown and mature in the furrows of history, according to God”s plan.

Without illusions, without ideological utopias, we walk the streets of the world, bringing within us the Body of the Lord, like the Virgin Mary in the mystery of the Visitation. With the humble awareness that we are simple grains of wheat, we cherish the firm conviction that the love of God, incarnate in Christ, is stronger than evil, violence and death. We know that God is preparing for all people new heavens and new earth where peace and justice prevail — and by faith we glimpse the new world, that is our true home. Also this evening as the sun sets on our beloved city of Rome, we set out again on this path: With us is Jesus in the Eucharist, the Risen One, who said, “I am with you always, until the end of world “(Mt 28:20). Thank you, Lord Jesus! Thank you for your fidelity, which sustains our hope. Stay with us, because the evening comes. “Jesus, good shepherd and true bread, have mercy on us; feed us and guard us. Grant that we find happiness in the land of the living.” Amen.

Got Jesus?

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

     This Sunday, we celebrate the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, or the Body and Blood of Christ.  It is the day in which the universal Church celebrates with great joy and thanksgiving the gift of Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist, in which he is truly and really with us until the end of time.  We recall the words of Jesus himself in the Gospel of John:  “For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”  (John 6:55-56)  This teaching was and has been a hard teaching for many.  The truth of these words is especially evident when many of Jesus’ followers abandoned him after he spoke them.  Jesus does not apologize or give a further explanation for his teaching but instead he turns to the twelve apostles and says, “Do you also want to leave?”  Simon Peter replies with the great his great words of faith, “Master, to whom shall we go, for you have the words of everlasting life.”  (Jn 6:68)

     One of the major stumbling blocks concerning the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist for some Catholics and non-Catholics alike is that it seems so impossible that Christ could be really and substantially present in the Eucharist when it looks, tastes, smells, and feels like bread and wine.  It is a mystery and it goes against what our senses are telling us.  Our senses perceive what appears to be bread and wine, when in fact, through the power and miraculous work of the Holy Spirit, the substance itself has been changed from bread and wine into Christ himself.  This doctrine of transubstantiation literally means “change of substance.”  This is relatively simple miracle for us to comprehend, much more so than the mysteries of the Trinity, the Incarnation or the Resurrection of Christ.  Let’s look at how all this happens.

     To better understand this doctrine, we need to do just a little philosophy.   We need to delve into some metaphysics, or the study of being.  Now, everything that exists has what we call its substance and its accidents, or properties.  For example, if I have an apple, the substance put quite simply, is what it is objectively apart from it’s individual characteristics: an apple or its “appleness.”  Now, the accidents or properties of the apple are things like size, shape, taste, color, texture, etc.  So, if I am holding an apple, the substance is an apple and the accidents would be red, round, sweet, crunchy, smooth, etc.  Now, could it be possible to change the accidents of a substance, but the substance remains the same?  Sure.  Let’s say I put the apple in a blender.  What happens?  The accidents change, but the substance remains the same.  It is still an apple, but now it is liquid, yellow, etc.  Let’s take another example.  How about water?  Here is a substance that remains the same while the accidents change quite drastically.  It can be a liquid, solid or gas, but regardless it remains water. 

     Now that we have a better understanding of substance and accidents, we can better comprehend that what God does in the Eucharist through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Instead of the accidents changing in the bread, it is the substance which changes.  When the priest says the words of Jesus, “this is my body” over the bread, the Holy Spirit suspends, or keeps the same, the accidents and appearance of bread, but changes the substance from bread to Christ himself.  The very substance of the Eucharist is Jesus, though the accidents remain those of bread.  Therefore, though we see the accidents of bread and wine, the reality of the substance is truly the Son of God who chooses such a humble means to present himself to us and come in our hearts to dwell.  Not a hard miracle for God to perform, but it really throws our minds for a loop!

     Now we need to do some epistemology, or the study of knowledge.  How do we come to know things?  Our intellect or mind is part of our soul, but it interacts with the physical world through the information from our senses to come to know things.  Our mind relies on our senses of sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing to know and understand the physical world.  Our senses, however, only perceive the accidents of a substance.  When my mind perceives furry, small, four legs, and bark, it knows the object as “dog.”  Our minds completely rely on the accidents of a substance to know what it is.

     However, in the Eucharist, God has changed the substance of bread and wine into Jesus, but has kept all the accidents of bread and wine the same.  Thus, our senses are still telling our mind that the Eucharist is bread and wine, which is all that our senses can perceive.  This is where we must make that intellectual and spiritual “leap of faith.”  Christ has revealed, both through his own words and through the teaching of the Church, that He is truly present in the Eucharist.  So while our senses are screaming to our intellect that what we hold in our hands is ordinary bread, our faith tells us that God has changed the substance to Christ himself!  St. Thomas Aquinas writes a beautiful depiction of this mystery in a much loved traditional hymn of the Church, the Tantum Ergo:

Down in adoration falling,
This great sacrament we hail.
Over ancient forms of worship,
Newer rites of Grace prevail:
Faith will tell us Christ is present,
When our human senses fail.

 

Come Holy Spirit!

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

     This Sunday, we celebrate the great feast of Pentecost, when the fullness of the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles and they burst out of the upper room and began to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  This feast is one of the most important events in salvation history for two reasons.  First, Pentecost fully reveals the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity.  The strong driving wind and the tongues of fire that fell upon the apostles are the visible signs of the Holy Spirit, the love of the Father and the Son poured forth transforming the apostles and empowering them to be the witnesses of Christ to the ends of the earth thus fulfilling the words of Christ:  “But you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

     The coming of the Holy Spirit also institutes the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.  Pentecost is the birthday of the Church and all four of these marks of the Church are present at Pentecost.  When you carefully read the Pentecost account in the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke makes it very clear that this is not just an individual experience of the coming of the Holy Spirit by the apostles and other disciples, but is in fact above all an ecclesial event.

     First, St. Luke makes it clear that all the nations of the ancient world are present in Jerusalem, and, in fact, if you had a map of the ancient world at the time, Luke mentions almost all of the major regions and cities that encompassed the entire world at this time.  And yet, each person by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit is able to hear the Gospel of Christ preached in his own language.   What is happening here?  St. Luke is making strikingly clear that the same humanity that was scattered in the Book of Genesis at the Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9) is now being intimately united in the power of the Holy Spirit in the Church.  A humanity that was once scattered and divided in sin is now, by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, newly created as the Body of Christ, the Church.  Thus, we see that this gathering of the human family at Pentecost is the Church that is both one and Catholic, or universal.  In other words, the Holy Spirit brings about the Church that is intimately united in the Spirit and also knows no boundaries, for the Church is open to every person of every race, language and culture. 

    Secondly, we also see that this Church is holy, first and foremost because it is filled with the Holy Spirit.  We also see that those who are joined to the Church are joined to her by virtue of the Sacrament of Baptism through which they die to their old sinful selves and become a new creation in Christ.  The Holy Spirit sent by Christ not only inaugurates the presence and mission of the Church, but that same Spirit makes the Church holy.

     Thirdly, we also see in the Pentecost event that the Church is Apostolic in that it is Peter and the other eleven apostles that are charged with handing on the Deposit of Faith that has been entrusted to them by Christ.  This is the profound beauty of the Church, that Christ instituted the Church upon the Rock of Peter and the other apostles, and then filled them with a unique charism of the Holy Spirit to hand on, protect, and interpret the Deposit of Faith to each generation.  This handing on of the faith beginning at Pentecost and continuing to this present day in the successors of the apostles, the Pope and the Bishops, is guided, protected, and guaranteed by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

     Two years ago, I had the awesome privilege of visiting Rome and St. Peter’s Basilica where we celebrated Mass at the Altar of St. Peter.  Above the altar at the very front of St. Peter’s is the famous stained glass window of the Holy Spirit pouring down from heaven over the Chair of St. Peter.  This was one of the most moving experiences as I truly sensed the power of the Holy Spirit as he guides and protects the Church throughout the centuries.  It is this presence of the Holy Spirit first given at Pentecost that inaugurated the mission of the Church that has also protected and kept the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church alive and well as the instrument of salvation in the world for over 2,000 years. 

     As we celebrate the great feast of Pentecost, let us not only give thanks to God for the gift of the Holy Spirit in our own lives, but for the great gift of the Catholic Church that is truly the “church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15)

The Name Above All Names

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

Today is the memorial of the Holy Name of Jesus. The saints through the ages have borne witness to the Holy Name of Jesus. Here are a few noteworthy examples:

“At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” –St. Paul (Philippians 2:10-11)

“St. Paul bore the Name of Jesus on his forehead because he gloried in proclaiming it to all men; he bore it on his lips because he loved to invoke it; on his hands, for he loved to write it in his epistles; in his heart, for his heart burned with love of it.” –St. Thomas Aquinas

“Jesus, Name full of glory, grace, love and strength! You are the refuge of those who repent, our banner of warfare in this life, the medicine of souls, the comfort of those who mourn, the delight of those who believe, the light of those who preach the true faith, the wages of those who toil, the healing of the sick. To You our devotion aspires; by You our prayers are received; we delight in contemplating You. O Name of Jesus, You are the glory of all the saints for eternity. Amen.” 
St. Bernardine of Siena

In our online Faith Foundations course at www.mycatholicfaithdelivered.com, we discuss how devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus [more]is truly the antidote for sins against the Second Commandment. (Thou shall not take the name of the Lord in vain.) The goal is to duly honor and praise Our Lord, and not simply avoid blasphemy or cursing. Here are some of the ways we keep the Lord”s name holy:

–Fostering a sense of the sacred, of God”s presence and action in our midst.
–Proclaiming without fear our belief in the Holy Trinity.
–Listening attentively to the Word of God.
–Offering prayers of praise and thanksgiving, and by invoking His name in times of need.
–Taking oaths very seriously, in honesty and integrity, as taking an oath (“swearing to God”) is to call upon God as a witness to the truth of what we are saying.

Are names important? What are the first three words of our prayer? “In the name . . .” And He doesn”t call us in some generic fashion. Rather, He calls us by name. For more, check out Catechism, nos. 2142-67.

What About the Tree?

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

For many people, Christmas ends on Christmas day, so over the ensuing few days, amidst the various after-Christmas sales, the trees are unceremoniously taken down and dragged out to the curb.

But for those of us who do have a sense of Christmas extending beyond December 25th, the question still remains: When does Christmas season actually end? When should we take down not only our tree, but also other seasonal items such as nativity sets?

Traditionally, Christmas season is twelve days (like the song), which would take us to January 6th, the traditional date for celebrating the Epiphany, when the wise men brought gifts to the child Jesus. Now Epiphany is only approximately 12 days after Christmas, as it falls on the second Sunday after Christmas. This year, since Christmas was last Saturday, the feast of the Epiphany will take place this coming Sunday, January 2nd. 

But while Epiphany is an important feast within the context of the Christmas season, it doesn”t bring about the end of the Christmas season. The Christmas season ends on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, at which point “Ordinary Time” begins. The Sunday after the Baptism of the Lord is thus the second Sunday of Ordinary Time.

The Baptism of the Lord usually falls on the Sunday after Epiphany, which this year will be January 9th.

Lastly, prior to the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), the Christmas season extended all the way to February 2nd, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord (aka Purification of Our Lady or Candlemas), based on Luke 2:22-38. While that is no longer the case, there is still something of a Christmas “flavor” to the early weeks of Ordinary Time leading up to the Presentation of the Lord.

But what does all that have to do with taking down my tree? And besides, if I wait too long to take it down, the garbage trucks won”t take it!

Well, rest assured there are no “rules” on all this. My recommendation, based on the liturgical season, is to keep Christmas decorations up till the Baptism of the Lord (January 9th). If that seems a little extreme for your household, I”d counsel at least waiting till after Epiphany (January 2nd). That”s especially true for nativity sets that include the three wise men.

And after all, why cut short “the most wonderful time of the year”?

The End of the Innocents?

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the little boys who were massacred by Herod in an attempt to put the Christ Child to death. These “innocents” are now venerated as martyrs.

There is an obvious connection between the Holy Innocents and the victims of abortion, whose deaths are also made possible by political regimes that really want to kill God. After all, not only does Christ present Himself as an alternative to Caesar, but His Church is the definitive bastion of the natural law, objective truth, and moral goodness in the public square. In other words, the Church is the leading voice against the “tyranny of relativism” and immoral expedience imposed by modern-day Herods.

But there is yet another set of innocents. I’m thinking of today’s youth, whose psychosexual development has largely been left in the same hands as those who wanted them killed in the womb.  And so, in the name of “sex education,” today’s youth are robbed of their human dignity, their reproductive capacity, and ultimately the spark of the divine that makes them capable of receiving the gift of eternal life.

Against these odds, we have the Feast of the Holy Innocents to remind us that God’s mercy and goodness will triumph, though our witness requires courage and possibly martyrdom.

Father, the Holy Innocents offered you praise by the death they suffered for Christ. May our lives bear witness to the faith we profess with our lips. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Christmas Eve

Friday, December 24th, 2010

When you think about it, doesn’t “Christmas Eve” sound like an apt title for the Blessed Virgin Mary?

As Christmas day rapidly approaches, I thought our readers would appreciate a snippet of a sermon by St. Augustine, which is the reading for today’s Office of Readings (matins) in the Church’s liturgy:

“Awake, mankind! For your sake God has become man. Awake you who sleep, rise up from the dead, and Christ will enlighten you. I tell you again: for your sake, God became man. . . .

“Let us then joyfully celebrate the coming of our salvation and redemption. Let us celebrate the festive day on which he who is the great and eternal day came from the great and endless day of eternity into our own short day of time.”

Come Lord Jesus, do not delay; give new courage to Your people who trust in Your love. By Your coming, raise us to the joy of Your kingdom, where You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.