Archive for the ‘Liturgy and Sacraments’ Category


St. Bob on the Eucharist

Friday, September 17th, 2010

Today the universal Church celebrates the feast of St. Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621). “St. Bob” was a Jesuit priest who eventually became the Bishop of Capua. He was a brilliant theologian and defender of the faith, and he served in various Roman congregations in the immediate aftermath of the Protestant revolt and the Council of Trent. He has been named a doctor of the Church and is invoked as the patron saint of catechists and catechumens.

In honor of St. Bob, I thought I would provide an excerpt from a most remarkable teaching he gave on the Eucharist. I”m especially moved by the last paragraph. Enjoy! 

Take and eat: This is My Body. Weigh carefully, dear brethren, the force of those words. . . .

Suppose a prince promised one of you a hundred gold pieces, and in fulfillment of his word sent a beautiful sketch of the coins, I wonder what you would think of his liberality? And suppose that when you complained, the donor said, “Sir, your astonishment is out of place, as the painted coins you received may very properly be considered true crowns by the figure of speech called metonymy,” would not everybody feel that he was making fun of you and your picture?

Now Our Lord promised to give us His flesh for our food. The bread which I shall give you, He said, is My flesh for the life of the world. If you argue that the bread may be looked on as a figure of His flesh, you are arguing like the prince and making a mockery of God’s promises. A wonderful gift indeed that would be, in which Eternal Wisdom, Truth, Justice, and Goodness deceived us, its helpless pensioners, and turned our dearest hopes to derision.

That I may show you how just and righteous is the position we hold, let us suppose that the last day has come and that our doctrine of the Eucharist has turned out to be false and absurd. Our Lord now asks us reproachfully: “Why did you believe thus of My Sacrament? Why did you adore the host?” may we not safely answer him: “O Lord, if we were wrong in this, it was You who deceived us. We heard Your word, THIS IS MY BODY, and was it a crime for us to believe You? We were confirmed in our mistake by a multitude of signs and wonders which could have had You only for their author. Your Church with one voice cried out to us that we were right, and in believing as we did we but followed in the footsteps of all Your saints and holy ones . . .

Chrysostom on the Denial of Communion

Monday, September 13th, 2010

The day that just ended was the feast of St. John Chrysostom, the “golden mouthed.” Tomorrow I”m going to comment on abortion and politics. For now, as sort of a “warm up,” I thought I would offer an excerpt from St. John Chrysostom”s homily “On the Institution of the Eucharist.” I think you”ll agree that it”s quite instructive on the subject:

“I speak not only to the communicant, but also I say to the priest who ministers the Sacrament: Distribute this gift with much care. There is no small punishment for you, if being conscious of any wickedness in any man, you allow him to partake of the banquet of the table: ‘Shall I not now require his blood at your hand?’ (2 Sam. 4:11). If some public figure, or some wealthy person who is unworthy, presents himself to receive Holy Communion, forbid him. The authority that you have is greater than his. Consider if your task were to guard a clean spring of water for a flock, and you saw a sheep approach with mire on its mouth–you would not allow it to stoop down and pollute the stream. You are now entrusted with a spring, not of water, but of blood and of spirit. If you see someone having sin in his heart (which is far more grievous than earth and mire), coming to receive the Eucharist, are you not concerned? Do you try to prevent him? What excuse can you have, if you do not? [more]

“God has honored you with the dignity of priesthoood, that you might discern these things. This is not to say that you should go about clothed in a white and shining vestment; but this is your office; this, your safety; this your whole crown.

“You ask how you should know which individual is unworthy to receive? I am speaking here not of some unknown sinner, but of a notorious one. If someone who is not a disciple, through ignorance, comes to Communion, do not be afraid to forbid him. Fear God, not man. If you fear man, you will be scorned and laughed at even by him; but if you fear God, you will be an object of respect even to men. But if you cannot do it, bring that sinner to me, for I will not allow anyone to dare do these things. I would give up my life rather than give the Lord’s Blood to the unworthy.

“If, however, a sinful person receives Communion, and you did not know his character, you are not to blame, however. I say the things above concerning only those who sin openly. For if we amend these, God will speedily reveal to us the unknown also; but if we let these flagrant abuses continue, how can we expect Him to make manifest those that are hidden? I say these things, not to repel sinners or cut them off, but I say it in order that we may being them to repentance, and bring them back, so that we may take care of them. For thus we shall both please God and lead many to receive worthily. And for our own diligence, and for our care for others, we will receive a great reward. May we attain that reward by the grace and love that God gives to man through Our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory, world without end. Amen.”

Happy Baptism Day!

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

This has been a banner week for the Suprenant family. Last Saturday, of course, our daughter entered the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. Then yesterday was the fifth anniversary of the finalization of our son Raymond’s adoption.

And now today we are celebrating the 18th anniversary of our daughter Mary Kate’s Baptism–yes, the same daughter who just entered the convent.

We celebrate “Baptism Days” in our family, as we see them–with firm biblical and theological support–as second birthdays. Needless to say, this concept is a real hit with our kids. (So is “birthday week,” but I”ll save that for another post!) We consider these celebrations as excellent reminders to thank God for the mustard seed of faith that was planted in our children–and in us–at Baptism. And it also reminds us of our duty to nurture this life that God has entrusted to us as parents.

We usually at least sing and have cake to recognize the day. Sometimes we will get more elaborate and even light the candle the child received at his or her Baptism. Do the readers of this blog know their Baptism days and those of their children? If so, do you do anything to celebrate these special days? 

Protected: Christ”s Sacrifice, Once and for All

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

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Dare to Rejoice

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

This past weekend I was considering my own mortality. You see, yesterday was the 32nd anniversary of the death of my second-oldest brother, Ray. Also, a couple days ago was the birthday of my oldest brother, Bob, who passed away just a few weeks ago.  It really struck me that the 32-year gap between their deaths really isn”t that big, even though during that time I”ve gone from being a teenager to a middle-aged grandfather. How, in practical terms, do I understand God”s involvement in the relentless progression of time?

So, I really connected with the familiar readings at Mass yesterday. One was from Ecclesiastes (“For what profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun”), Colossians (“seek what is above”), and Luke (“You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you . . .”)

There were so many things in these readings that really spoke to me. I guess I can sum up my thoughts this way: Life can really beat us up if we lose track of our heavenly prize (cf. Phil. 3:12-15; Mt. 6:25-34; 1 Cor. 9:24-27).  Without Christ, life is a cross without resurrection. And further, I”d say that part of life that beats us up is time itself. I may not have understood that when Ray died 32 years ago, but I understand it now.

And the answer? Well, yes, the daily crosses in our lives are real. Suffering is a given. Are we going allow our suffering to be an absurdity, a waste, or “vanity”?  Or are we going to truly abandon ourselves to Christ and unite everything in our lives to Him–not just in theory but in the way we live from day to day, even moment to moment?

I think that part of the “renewal of the mind” (Rom. 12:2) that St. Paul is talking about is exactly that–we need to change our way of looking at things that bring us down. Why live as slaves, when Christ came to set us free? When we commit ourselves to daily meditative prayer and frequent recourse to the sacraments, when we seek what is above, then our perspective down here is changed for the better. 

Joy comes with the experience of attaining that which we hope for. As Christians, our daily struggles can be a cause of great joy for us. After all, they bring us a foretaste of the fullness of life for which we”re striving.

So join with me this day and every day: Dare to rejoice!      

Martha, Martha

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

As Catholics, we try to balance in our lives of faith the active Martha and the contemplative Mary. Sometimes in the process Martha gets a bad rap. She’s anxious and worried about many things (Lk. 10:41), so at times we might picture her as a frantic busybody flitting around doing 101 things, while the serene Mary sits at the feet of Jesus.

But today (in two hours) is the feast of Saint Martha. She is a full-fledged saint, with all the rights and privileges that go with it! While activism without prayer can quickly turn into mere workaholism, prayer without active apostolate also lacks authenticity. 

At this exciting time in the Church, lay people are specifically called to roll up our sleeves and actively participate in the great work of the new evangelization. There’s plenty to do to keep all of us Martha’s busy.

May we imitate the faith of St. Martha, who said, “I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God” (Jn. 11:27). And, like St. Martha, may we express this faith in active works of charity.

As we do so, we must keep in mind the clear teaching of Scripture. Our Lord said that Mary chose the better part, the one necessary thing (Lk. 10:42). Our Lord is truly present at every Mass and in every tabernacle throughout the world. If we truly desire to be saints, we do well–frequently and with much love and devotion–to return to the Source: Jesus, Our Eucharistic Lord.

I think St. Martha would wholeheartedly agree. 

Having a “Vested” Interest in the Mass

Friday, July 9th, 2010

Last Sunday my family had a most spiritually uplifting experience at a parish church we were visiting. As we discussed our experience we came up with many things that we liked, including the beautiful church building, traditional music, solid homily, and overall sense of reverence.

My children noticed one additional factor that made a difference to them (and to my wife and me). Namely, the faithful in the pews were dressed modestly and well–in their “Sunday best”–a phenomenon not experienced in many parishes anymore.

There are many motives for dressing up for Sunday Mass. We want to make the Lord the priority in our lives. More specifically, we understand Sunday Mass to be the high point of our week. What does it say when we put more effort into dressing up for work or school or company than we do for the Lord Himself?

The Catechism discusses the issue in the context of preparation for the worthy reception of the Eucharist: “Bodily demeanor (gestures, clothing) ought to convey the respect, solemnity, and joy of this moment when Christ becomes our guest” (no. 1387).

Further, a restored sense of modesty should inform the way we present ourselves in public, especially at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. During the hot summer months, there is a tendency to “underdress” for Mass, and pastors and parents alike do not sufficiently address this issue. (Bishop Yanta did do a very good job of this a few years ago in this pastoral letter.)

Here I would like to provide an additional incentive to dress well for Mass. I suggest that we consider our Sunday clothes to be a kind of vestment. We rightly associate “vestments” with the special clothes worn by the priest and other ministers on the altar. Yet, the word “vestment” comes from the Latin verb vestire, which more generally means “to clothe.”

How would we feel if our parish priest processed down the aisle at the beginning of Mass wearing a tank top, shorts, and flip flops? Of course we’d be offended, and rightly so. As the General Instruction of the Roman Missal provides, “vestments should . . . contribute to the beauty of the rite” (no. 297). The flip side is that the lack of appropriate attire on the part of the priest takes away from the beauty of the rite.

When it comes to the lay faithful, the Church in our time has emphasized that our common Baptism is ordered to our full, conscious, and active participation in the liturgy. How we conduct ourselves, even the way we dress, is an outward expression of our interior disposition to enter fully into the liturgical action as a participant, and not as a mere spectator.

So, I would suggest that instead of merely throwing on a t-shirt and jeans that we would see getting dressed for Mass as a type of vesting. It can be part of our proximate preparation for Mass and indeed a concrete way in which we prepare to offer ourselves in union with Our Eucharistic Lord (Rom. 12:1). And surely the way that we prepare and carry ourselves can be an edifying witness to others, who in turn may be encouraged to follow “suit.”

Do clothes make the Mass? No. But how we prepare ourselves, including conscious decisions regarding our attire, is an important first step toward fostering a renewed sense of reverence in our own backyard and indeed in our own hearts.

This article originally appeared, in slightly modified form, over at the CUF blog.  

Is Liturgy Possible?

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

In late June, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. of Denver gave a stirring address entitled, “Glorify God by your life: evangelization and the renewal of the liturgy.” The address was the Hillenbrand Distinguished Lecture, given at the Liturgical Institute of the University of St. Mary of the Lake, Chicago, IL. Here is the PDF version.

Archbishop Chaput”s point of departure was a letter from Fr. Romano Guardini to a liturgical conference held shortly after Vatican II published Sacrosanctum Concilium, the document that set in motion the liturgical changes and reforms of the past 40-50 years. Fr. Guardini was a significant player in his time, and his book The Spirit of the Liturgy is now considered a classic. In his reflections on the liturgy, Fr. Guardino asked this stunning question: [more]

“Is not the liturgical act, and with it all that goes under the name ‘liturgy,’ so bound up with the historical background—antique or medieval or baroque—that it would be more honest to give it up altogether? Would it not be better to admit that man in this industrial and scientific age, with its new sociological structure, is no longer capable of the liturgical act?”

If that weren”t enough, Archbishop Chaput adds:

“So is Guardini right?  Does modern man seem incapable of real worship?  I think so. But the more important question for us is this: If he is right, what are we going to do about it?”

Archbishop Chaput eventually answers his own provocative question. I won”t quote what he said, because I think everything leading up to his conclusions should be read and contemplated as well. Especially moving are the various quotes and stories from the early Church that drive home the centrality and purpose of the sacred liturgy in the Christian life. 

As we read Archbishop Chaput”s commentary, it”s fair to ask about our own personal ability to enter into liturgy, the public prayer of the Church, where we pray as a body, including but not limited to others in the pews, where truly heaven and earth meet.

Am I aware of the divine presence? Am I open to God and invisible realities? Do I recognize the reality of sin and my need for Christ”s mercy and transformative love? Have I become my own pope–or even my own god? Do I strive for the “Lord’2012-04-24 18:35:56′s Day” or am I merely “working for the weekend”?

Read Archbishop Chaput”s address. You”ll be glad you did.

Lyre, Lyre, Sanctifier!

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

Today the universal Church celebrates the feast of St. Ephrem the Syrian, a fourth-century doctor of the Church. Of all the doctors of the Church, I believe he is the only one who became what we would today call a “permanent deacon.”


I have to admit that the feast of St. Ephrem is especially significant to me, as it happens to be the 50th birthday of my beloved wife Maureen. I would be eternally grateful if the readers of this post would offer a prayer for Maureen today on her special day.

This fascinating saint early in life attended the ecumenical Council of Nicaea and ran a catechetical school in Nisibis, which was in Syria. After the Persians annexed the area Ephrem was a refugee, and he ended up as a monk and deacon in Edessa, in present-day Turkey.

St. Ephrem is known as the “Lyre of the Holy Spirit” because of the beautiful hymns he composed. He is the most famous of the Syriac Fathers of the Church, and in addition to his hymns he wrote many works of a biblical and apologetic character.

Despite the range and volume of his writings, St. Ephrem is best known as the “Marian Doctor” because of the doctrinal character of his Marian hymns, which aided the Church in her development of Marian doctrines, such as the Immaculate Conception.

I thought I would offer our readers a few brief snippets of St. Ephrem’s work. [more]First, here is a passage from one of his Nisibine Hymns that speaks of Mary’s sinlessness:

You alone and your Mother
 are more beautiful than any others;
For there is no blemish in you,
 nor any stains upon your Mother.
Who of my children
 can compare in beauty to these?

In this passage, St. Ephrem compares the virgin birth with the Resurrection:

The womb and Sheol shouted with joy and cried out
about Your resurrection. The womb that was sealed,
conceived You. Sheol that was secured,
brought You forth. Against nature
the womb conceived and Sheol yielded.
Sealed was the grave which they entrusted
with keeping the dead man. Virginal was the womb
that no man knew. The virginal womb
and the sealed grave like trumpets
for a deaf people, shouted in its ear.

Lastly, St. Ephrem’s biblical insight led him to see Mary as the New Eve and a symbol of the Church. For example, he saw both Mary and the Church as bearers of the living bread from heaven, the Holy Eucharist: 

The Church gave us the living Bread,
in place of the unleavened bread that Egypt had given.
Mary gave us the refreshing bread,
in place of the fatiguing bread that Eve had procured for us.

For more historical background on St. Ephrem as well as more information on his various mariological works, see Luigi Gambero, Mary and the Fathers of the Church, which is available through Ignatius Press.