Thursday, April 29, 2010

Patristics: The Didache, Part II

In Part I we reviewed the moral precepts laid out in the First Century Christian writing called The Didache. Specifically, we looked at its strong teaching against abortion. The Didache describes the Christian moral outlook in terms of “the way of life” versus “the way of death” – in much the same way that Pope John Paul II spoke of “the culture of death” and the “Gospel of Life.” We also recalled that the early Christians accepted the teachings of their church leaders as authoritative and binding. Concerning one who preaches and teaches the Word of God, The Didache instructs the faithful to “honor him as the Lord.” This is corroborated by other First Century Christian writings which state that the authority of Church leaders is drawn from the authority of Christ. So too, the Bible tells us that those who hold authority in the Church deserve our obedience.

But what about doctrine? The early Christians may have been similar to Catholics on moral issues and obedience to the hierarchy, but what about specific matters of faith? We will examine now a few examples from the text of The Didache:


On baptism The Didache has something interesting to say concerning the proper form of the Sacrament:

“And concerning baptism, baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if you have not living water, baptize into other water; and if you can not in cold, in warm. But if you have not either, pour out water thrice upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit.”

Full immersion is the preferred method of baptism in the Catholic Church today. But the general form of the Sacrament in most parishes is a pouring of water three times on the head while invoking the Trinity, just as described in the passage above. Considering the scarcity of water in some Middle Eastern locations (where Christianity first took root) and the secretive nature of the Church during times of persecution (making it difficult to gather in open areas near fresh water), the pouring of water was certainly used as a matter of practicality. First Century Christians would have been well aware of this form as practiced in their local churches.

Now some Fundamentalists or Evangelicals today might be surprised to discover that First Century Christians were not the “immersion only” baptizers that they are imagined to be. In fact, they resemble the Catholic Church in their sensible approach to this Sacrament.


Concerning confession of sins and doing penance we find in The Didache a few references that should pique our interest. First this:

“Be not a stretcher forth of the hands to receive and a drawer of them back to give. If you have anything, through your hands you shall give ransom for your sins.”

We can understand from this that the First Century Christians had some sense that our good actions, our charity, can counteract in some way our personal sins. Our good works can affect the state of our soul. This may imply some form of indulgence (that is, the remission of punishment owed for a sin) or penance. At any rate, the early Christians believed that if we give charitably to those in need, our actions can “give ransom” for our sins, thus covering over our past transgressions. This means that even believing, practicing Christians (the audience of The Didache) have an ongoing need of removing the stain of sin from their souls. This is not unlike the Biblical principle stated in 1Peter:

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms.” (4:8-10)

Did this also involve a verbal “confession” of sins, or was it simply the individual response of every believer to God’s grace? A second passage we find in The Didache seems to allude indirectly to an answer:

“In the church you shall acknowledge your transgressions, and you shall not come near for your prayer with an evil conscience.”

The phrase “in the church” does not make clear whether the Church provides a formal confessional-style airing of a person’s sins, a public renouncing of sins, or some other style of verbal confession, but we can again turn to Scripture for further clarification, where we read:

“…If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” (James 5:15-16)

The Bible plainly says that verbal “confession” of sins to another Christian is the norm. If we consider all of these things together we must assume that the early Christians “confessed” their sins to someone “in the church,” and did some form of penance or charitable service to “give ransom for their sins” or to “cover over their sins” in some way. Regardless of the precise form, this sounds very similar to Catholic confession and penance.

The Lord’s Supper (Eucharist):

The First Century Christians gathered on Sundays to share the Eucharistic feast. In the text of The Didache it is interesting to note how the other Sacraments are related to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. For instance, confession of sins prior to reception of Communion was essential…

“…every Lord's day gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving [Eucharist] after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure…”

First we must note that the offering of bread and wine was seen as a “sacrifice” – not a mere symbolic meal – and it was a sacrifice that could be sullied by the sinfulness of the participants. Confession was necessary before reception of Communion. And who was allowed to participate in this sacrificial meal?

“…let no one eat or drink of your Thanksgiving (Eucharist), but they who have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this also the Lord has said, Give not that which is holy to the dogs.”

So the Sacraments of baptism and penance were both linked directly to the Eucharist, both leading toward and preparing the Christian for participation in the Sunday gathering. Only baptized Christians who had gone to confession were allowed to come forward and receive Communion. Likewise, for Catholics today the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of spiritual life; the other Sacraments (such as Baptism and Confession) point toward the Sacrificial Reality of the Eucharist and prepare us for Communion in His Body and Blood.

Eucharistic unity:

Among the First Century Christians, the unity of the Church was an important component in the sharing of the Eucharist. If a person stirred up division among his fellow Christians or was at odds with the rest of the congregation this would prevent him from receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. The Didache warns us that if we allow someone who is in conflict with their fellow believers to receive the Eucharist we would again profane the “sacrifice.”

“…let no one that is at variance with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned. For this is that which was spoken by the Lord: In every place and time offer to me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great King, says the Lord, and my name is wonderful among the nations.”

This unity among Christians was not applied merely to the local congregations, but extended to the whole Church throughout the world. Under the Kingship of Christ, all of the local churches are gathered into one Kingdom as the universal Church. The Didache expresses this idea in Eucharistic language:

“Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Your Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Your kingdom; for Yours [Father] is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever.”

The same Eucharistic unity was expressed by Ignatius of Antioch (as we previously examined in his writings):

“Take heed, then, to have but one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup to [show forth] the unity of His blood; one altar; as there is one bishop, along with the presbytery and deacons, my fellow-servants: that so, whatsoever you do, you may do it according to [the will of] God.” (From Ignatius’ letter to the Philadelphians)

Leadership within the Church:

We recall that Ignatius wrote of unity under the leadership of a bishop. The Didache affirms this practice of appointing bishops at the head of local churches:

“Therefore, appoint for yourselves bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord, men meek, and not lovers of money, and truthful and proven; for they also render to you the service of prophets and teachers. Despise them not therefore, for they are your honored ones, together with the prophets and teachers.”

The Didache also tells us that from our leaders we should expect unity of doctrine – not a system of individual interpretation, but a strict adherence to the norms laid out in this ancient text:

“Whosoever, therefore, comes and teaches you all these things that have been said before, receive him. But if the teacher himself turn and teach another doctrine to the destruction of this, hear him not…”


Many Christian groups today claim that the ancient Church was a loose collection of local churches, unorganized and free of any hierarchy or human authority. They claim that Christians of the first few centuries believed and worshipped as Evangelical Protestants do today, relying on individual interpretation of Scripture and a limited understanding of doctrine. These ancient Christians supposedly rejected the sacrificial aspect of the Eucharist as well as confession of sins, and practiced only full emersion baptism…

None of this is true, according to The Didache. And furthermore, when we consider together all of the First Century Christian writings we have studied so far, we find that the early Church was remarkably united under a defined hierarchy and had a strong sense of the sacramental realities that Catholics hold today.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Patristics: The Didache, Part I

Thus far in our review of Patristic writings we have surveyed texts by or about: Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, and Polycarp of Smyrna - all of whom lived during the First Century A. D. Because of their close connection to Apostolic times and because they were in contact with one or more of the Apostles, these men are called “Apostolic Fathers.” Their lives and writings bear profound witness to Christianity at the time of its formation and they provide valuable insight into the structure and function of the early Church. Knowing the names and life stories of these early Christians affords us a tremendous opportunity for building spiritual communion with our Christian past. Through their eyes we can understand the story of the Church on a personal level.

But not all writings from this period are from
known authors – some are anonymous. This does not detract from the value or authenticity of the writings. There are many important insights to be gleaned from texts that are of unknown authorship. One such source is The Didache (or The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles). This brief instructional guide was written around A.D. 70, so it is well within the time of the Apostles and was highly regarded by the Church of the first few centuries. Some of the Church Fathers included The Didache in their list of Scriptural books. But even among those who rejected it as “scripture” it was at least a close second in importance to those books that were truly inspired.

It is important to remember here that the Bible as we know it was not compiled in the First Century…or even in the Second. It was not until the late Fourth Century that we begin to see a final list of books considered “Scripture.” Until that time,
The Didache was one among many manuscripts that were passed around within the Church alongside our familiar four Gospels, the Epistles, the Book of Revelation and Acts. Amid this confusion, the “Hand of God” did not come down out of the clouds, sort through these texts, and bind them into a Biblical Cannon. Rather, the final “table of contents” was an open question for hundreds of years. To understand the Church of the first few centuries we must understand that writings such as The Didache were a powerful teaching force in the eyes of the first Christians.

Keeping that in mind, we will consider a few excerpts from
The Didache and compare these texts to what we have learned from the Father’s we have so far reviewed…
The Didache opens with a solemn warning:
“There are two ways, one of life and one of death; but a great difference between the two ways…”

Upon reading these words, we might immediately call to mind the Church’s present struggle against the “culture of death” versus the “Gospel of Life” as described by Pope John Paul II. The late pontiff preached that we are surrounded on all sides by a culture that promotes
death – not only spiritual death through sin and an abandonment of God’s Law, but also real physical death through anti-life practices such as contraception, discrimination against the aged and disabled, through euthanasia and most horribly the scourge of abortion. Christians are called to respond with the “Gospel of Life” – the message that Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that His way is not the way of the world. There are certainly two paths: one that leads to eternal life with God, and one that is marked by death and the destruction of our souls. The Church has always testified to this truth.

As we read further we find the following command:
“…you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is begotten.”

Many people mistakenly believe that abortion is a recent phenomenon – a product of the modern medical practitioners in lab coats and sterile operating rooms. Surely our ancient predecessors never grappled with the moral dilemma with which we are now faced. This false perception of history leads some to assume that Christians of today could fairly come down on either side of the abortion debate. The procedure is so new that the first Christians would never have dreamed of such things and so we could never learn from them how to apply Christian moral principles to abortion. But ask a First Century Christian about abortion and he might very well cite
The Didache as an authoritative rejection of the “culture of death.” First Century Christians would have been very attuned to the powerful message of the modern the Catholic Church against the “way of death.”
The Didache continues:
"The way of life, then, is this: First, you shall love God who made you; second, your neighbor as yourself…And of these sayings the teaching is this: Bless those who curse you, and pray for your enemies, and fast for those who persecute you. For what reward is there, if you love those who love you? Do not also the Gentiles do the same? But love those who hate you, and you shall not have an enemy…If someone gives you a blow upon your right cheek, turn to him the other also, and you shall be perfect. If someone impresses you for one mile, go with him two. If someone takes away your cloak, give him also your coat. If someone takes from you what is yours, ask it not back, for indeed you are not able. Give to every one that asks you, and ask it not back; for the Father wills that to all should be given of our own blessings…”

Obviously this text was heavily influenced by the sayings of Jesus as found in the Gospels. Scholars believe that these sayings were circulated by word-of-mouth prior to the writing of the New Testament books and later found their way into many First Century texts. This segment of
The Didache is like a mini-gospel, relating the teachings of Jesus in a compressed format to instruct the faithful. So the “way of life” as described here is truly the “Gospel of Life” of which John Paul so often spoke. The First Century Christians would have recognized the same message reflected in John Paul’s preaching.

Some might argue that the First Century Christians may possibly agree to the pope’s message, but they certainly would not have accepted his authority as bishop of the whole Church. The Catholic Church invented the power of the hierarchy, did they not?

In answer to this challenge we see that
The Didache speaks highly of Church leaders and preachers of God’s Word and saintly men and women in the Church:
“My child, him that speaks to you the word of God remember night and day; and you shall honor him as the Lord; for in the place whence lordly rule is uttered, there is the Lord. And you shall seek out day by day the faces of the saints, in order that you may rest upon their words.”

We are to
“honor him as the Lord” those who preach God’s Word to us. This closely echoes what we have read in other First Century Christian writings:
“See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop.” (Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Smyrnaens)

And this:
“…your bishop presides in the place of God, and your presbyters in the place of the assembly of the apostles, along with your deacons, who are most dear to me, and are entrusted with the ministry of Jesus Christ, who was with the Father before the beginning of time, and in the end was revealed…Let nothing exist among you that may divide you; but be united with your bishop, and those that preside over you…” (Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Magnesisans)

But what could be more forceful on this point than Scripture itself:
“Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith...Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Heb 13:7,17)

If we seek to understand the First Century Church then we must admit that obedience to Church leadership was a vital component of the early Christian experience...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Patristics: A continuing series

About a year and a half ago I was confronted by a fellow Christian blogger who claimed that the Catholic Church was a corruption of true Christianity. He said that Catholics had added doctrines to the pure message of the Gospel, thus cluttering genuine Christianity with unnecessary teachings and even outright blasphemous beliefs. He asserted that the Catholic Church could really only trace itself back perhaps as far as the 400s, but before that time he assured me that one would find Christians of the first three or four centuries believed and worshiped closer to the way Protestant or Evangelical/Fundamentalist Christians do today. In his mind the early martyrs and those Christians who were persecuted under the Roman Empire were his spiritual counterparts and coreligionists.

I told him that I too claim the early Church as my own. I insisted that the first few centuries of Christianity were decidedly Catholic not Protestant, and that the Catholic Church can trace itself back in an unbroken chain through the centuries to Christ Himself. I challenged him to examine the historical record with me to see which of us is correct. The materials needed for such an endeavor are readily available online. Many Christian writings from the first three or four centuries A.D. survive to this day, and we need only examine these ancient manuscripts to find out what the early Church truly believed. Together we could discover what the first Christians had to say for themselves about their beliefs.

To this end, I began a series of blog posts designed to examine the writings of the early Christians. Obviously I am not the first to undertake such a task, and I am certainly not the most qualified. I don’t claim that any of these posts are the best writing on this subject, but hopefully they do answer the challenges that are posed by many non-Catholics concerning the history of Catholic doctrine.

The earliest Christian writers are called the “Fathers of the Church.” So what we are studying here is called Patristics – from the Latin pater or “father.” These early Christian Fathers have left behind a written record of their beliefs, and taken as a whole it is a vast treasure trove of information from which we can build an idea of what the early Christians thought and believed on a host of issues and matters of faith. Many of these Christian authors gave their lives for their faith – so we at least owe them an honest read of what they wrote about their faith before we claim them as our forbearers.

After studying what these Church Fathers had to say we can compare their thoughts to the doctrines taught by today’s Christian denominations and come to see which church, if any, can truly claim an authentic relationship with the Apostolic Church.

So far, over the course of a little over a year, I have examined three writers:
Clement of Rome (Part I, II)
Ignatius of Antioch (Part I, II, III, IV, V)
Polycarp of Smyrna (Part I, II, III, IV)

All of these men lived during the First Century A.D. and all of them knew and learned their faith from at least one or more of the Apostles. All three men were leaders of the Church and held the rank of bishop. The links above include everything I have written so far in summarizing their writings and picking up on key themes and doctrines that go toward my thesis that the early Church was in fact “Catholic.” (Also see this brief Introduction)

Having neglected this series on Patristics for several months, I intend to pick up again where I left off and my next post will cover another First Century text…

Friday, April 9, 2010

Children grow like weeds...

Spring is in full bloom at our house – trees are getting their leaves, birds are singing, the days are warming, and the flowers are bursting with color…especially the vibrant yellow of the dandelions that carpet my yard. Yes, I know that dandelions are considered weeds and that most homeowners fight a perpetual battle to defeat this arch nemesis of gardeners everywhere. And to be honest, in the past I have tried my share of chemical herbicides and lawn treatments…but not for long and not with much success. I gave it up. It just wasn’t that important to me. I have other priorities that deserve my money and time more than killing weeds.

This became especially evident when my daughter (a preschool-aged bundle of girl-energy) took an interest in the dandelions as they came into bloom one spring. “Look at the pretty flowers, Dad!” she squealed, as she ran barefoot through the grass collecting a bouquet of the otherwise un-loved little blossoms. As every child does, she especially enjoyed blowing the fluff of the mature flower and watching the seed scatter in the wind. In a child’s world, an endless supply of dandelions means an endless supply of fun. So how was I supposed to tell her: “Stay off the lawn for a couple of days, honey. Daddy just sprayed a chemical that’s going to kill all of your precious flowers”?

Besides the fact that I would be a killjoy for taking away my children’s outdoor entertainment, there is also the cost to consider. Now in the grand scheme of things I suppose the money I would spend on a couple of herbicide treatments each year would be pretty insignificant. But then again, why not fertilize the grass as well? I mean, if you are going to kill the unwanted plants like dandelions and crabgrass you should probably encourage the growth of the desirable grasses while you’re at it. Perhaps I should re-seed? Maybe de-thatch, and do a little landscaping, or have my trees professionally trimmed. You know, really get the yard looking nice.

I suppose I could spend some money on all of that and have a pretty fabulous yard. But my wife and I made a conscious decision several years ago that we want a simple life, uncluttered by needless expenses and modern material obsessions. To that end, we are probably the only ones in our neighborhood who do not have cable television or a satellite dish. We have never owned a cell phone, and while it is true that we do own a computer with internet connection, it is the most inexpensive dialup service we could find. We only have one vehicle because we both work within a quarter of mile from each other, and our kids are at a daycare that is within walking distance of our jobs, and we pass our son’s school during our three minute commute each morning from our home. So why buy a second car when we would all ride together anyway?

Granted, not every family is in a position to forego the purchase of a second car. We are unique in that respect. But certainly most people could eat out less, or not splurge on the latest iPod technology or cell phone upgrade, or spend more time at home with family and friends instead of spending money on expensive entertainment. This doesn’t mean cutting out all of life’s enjoyments. But enjoying less stuff usually means that the stuff we do enjoy is appreciated more! And that is an important lesson to teach our kids.

And for my wife and I, it really is about the kids. With the birth of each of our three children we found new ways to save money or make better use of the resources we have. We cut coupons, buy generic foods, check out movies from our public library instead of renting. We do without cell phones or cable TV. And we let the dandelions grow in our yard. If we are blessed with more children in the future (which I pray we are), then I am sure we will find more ways of cutting corners and making do with what we have.

Our kids learn from our example, but we can learn from them as well. As my daughter collects dandelions in our yard on a spring afternoon she follows her usual ritual. She bundles the limp stems together in her tiny fist and makes her way to the statue of Mary holding the Christ Child on display at the front of our house. She gently lays her precious gift at the feet of Our Lady and pats the statue on the head. The field of dandelions is her field of prayers offered at the feet of Mary. They may just be weeds to most people, but I have faith that Mary accepts this gift as gratefully as she would a dozen of the finest roses presented in the same fashion – perhaps more so.

They say that children grow like weeds…In my experience that old adage rings true. I hope to one day lay at Mary’s feet the bouquet of little dandelions that I tended in my yard. I believe I’ll keep my weeds even when the world tells us we should shun them for a well manicured lawn.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Joyful, Suffering People

Lent is a time of spiritual reflection and growth, which often requires breaking away from the physical world and retreating to an interior peace. For the forty days of Lent Catholics fasted and abstained from meat; we purged ourselves of earthly attachments; we did away with simple pleasures in life and caused ourselves to suffer in union with Christ. Catholics not only embrace suffering as it is thrown our way by chance or circumstance - we actively seek it out. We set aside a special time every year in which we go above and beyond the burdens that life hands us, and add crosses of our own making to carry on our journey…
Those crazy Catholics. Are they not allowed to simply enjoy life?
But then again…Aren’t Catholics the ones who drink alcohol and gamble? Don’t their church’s host bingo tournaments and serve beer at street festivals? And Catholics certainly know how to host a wedding reception; Catholics are no strangers to a good party. And then there is the wine (with real alcohol!) that is used at Mass. And look at all of those statues and paintings, stained glass and ornate architecture, the candles and the incense – Catholics do seem to enjoy, and make use of, their physical surroundings. We seem to embrace the physical world. Why, some of those paintings and sculptures are even nude!
Those crazy Catholics. Perhaps they enjoy life a bit too much…
It would be easy to assume that Lenten Catholics and Easter Catholics are somewhat contradictory. On the surface, the two faces of Catholicism as described above certainly appear to contradict: Are Catholics self-loathing masochists, who wallow in their own suffering while rejecting worldly pleasures? Or are Catholics over-indulgent lovers of the material world, who put too much emphasis on the physical? These are of course exaggerations… but we might ask more fairly: Are Catholics a Lenten people or an Easter people?
Make no mistake, Catholics do get accused of both extremes depending on who you ask. So to correctly understand these two competing impressions of Catholic behavior we must view them in light of Christ and His Incarnation together with His suffering, death and Resurrection.
First the Incarnation: The Son of God became flesh, and in so doing He took upon Himself His own creation in bodily form. He became a man and lived in the physical world. Catholics have always viewed this reality as a sign of God’s love for the material world which He made. Indeed, the act of creation itself was an act of Love.
God loves His creation so much that He is willing to enter into it. And He participated in His creation most fully as the man Jesus. Jesus gave us physical signs of God’s love by working miracles: restoring sight to the blind so that they could see the physical beauty of the world, making the lame walk so that they could walk and run and play and live life to the fullest, and changing water into wine at a wedding feast. Catholics learned their joy of life from Jesus (who also knew how to throw a good wedding reception).
But then there is His Passion and death: Jesus was rejected by the world which He loved so much. He was despised and made to suffer. He was cut off from those He loved and subjected to an excruciating death. He told us that we too will be hated and rejected by the world and made to carry our own crosses. We may not face the save gruesome death (though many have indeed been martyred) but death will certainly come for us, and we will be cut off from the physical world. We must be prepared to give it all up as He freely gave up His life for us.
So the God who gave us wine to drink at our wedding feasts and eyes to see the beauty of the created world also promises us that these things are passing joys. Do not store up earthly treasures, but rather store up treasures in heaven. Jesus wants us to enjoy life, but also be willing to give it all up in an instant when He calls for us.
Catholic behavior may seem like a contradiction to those who do not understand, but Jesus also seemed like a contradiction to the people of His time – a man who also claimed to be God; a prophet who preached against sin and yet ate with sinners; the King of kings and who was nailed to a cross instead of seated on a throne. He came into the world, but was not of the world. He loved the world, but freely gave up His life.
The Resurrection merges these two contradictions together and gives us a deeper understanding to both sides. The Incarnation and the life of Jesus certainly show us God’s love of creation. And Jesus’ Passion and death show us the depth of suffering and separation from the physical world we must endure. Then finally, the Resurrection teaches us that our enjoyment of physical creation here and now will be restored, or rather fulfilled and made complete, after it has been perfected. When we are raised up body and soul as a new creation, then we will know the full joy of what it means to be created beings.
God loves His creation and wants us to love it too. But He warns us to not become too attached to what is around us, not because it is evil to enjoy life, but because it is not yet perfected.
Having completed our observance of Lent and now celebrating the joy of the Easter Season, many Catholics are returning to some of their favorite worldly things, like eating chocolate or drinking coffee or enjoying some other decadent treat which they had given up during the penitential time leading up to the Resurrection. As we fall back into our old luxuries, we must always be keenly aware that our joy is not complete, not fulfilled. It is fleeting. Just as the wine eventually was drank to the last drop at Cana, we can enjoy what God gives to us, but must be ready to lay it aside at the proper time.
But while there is wine to be had and we celebrate the bridegroom’s triumph over death this Easter, there is nothing wrong with enjoying the fruits of His creation.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Christ is Risen

Have a Blessed Easter!

+ + +

God our Father,
by raising Christ your Son
you conquered the power of death
and opened for us the way to eternal life.
Let our celebration today raise us up
and renew our lives by the Spirit that is within us.
Grant 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.

+ + +

Queen of Heaven rejoice, Alleluia;
The Son whom you merited to bear, Alleluia,
has risen as He said, Alleluia.
Pray for us to God, Alleluia.
Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, Alleluia,
For the Lord is truly Risen, Alleluia.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Easter Triduum

Tonight marks the beginning of the Triduum – the three days from Holy Thursday evening to Easter Saturday evening – during which Catholics commemorate the Last Supper, the Passion and Crucifixion, and finally the vigil at the tomb awaiting the Resurrection. This three-day Liturgical celebration caps off Holy Week which began the preceding weekend on Palm Sunday (which recalls Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem).

Holy Thursday

Tonight we remember the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. In preparation for His death, Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with His disciples, His last meal before His death. And at that celebration Christ gave new meaning to the unleavened bread and the cup of blessing, by proclaiming: “This is my Body” and “This is my Blood” – linking His sacrificial death to the Communion meal now celebrated at every Mass.

Also at that meal final Jesus washed the feet of the Apostles to demonstrate the humble service to which they would be called as leaders of the Church. If Jesus - their Master - washed their feet, then how much more ought they to wash the feet of others. On this night, during Mass members of the congregation are selected to have their feet ceremoniously washed by the presiding celebrant (the priest or bishop presiding at Mass.)

At the end of the Mass, the consecrated Eucharist (which Catholics believe to be the Body and Blood of Jesus – His Real Presence in our midst) is transferred from the main altar to a temporary location, usually outside of the main sanctuary at a suitable altar of repose. There members of the faithful can wait with the Lord through the night, just as the Apostles were called to do in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus was

The service ends abruptly, with no concluding hymn or procession. All leave in silence. The liturgy does not end…it continues the following day.

Good Friday

On Good Friday the death of our Savior is recalled. In the afternoon of this day the Liturgy begins (or rather, takes up again where it left off on Thursday) in silence, as the priest prostrates himself (lies flat upon the floor) before the altar as a sign of reverence and humility in honor of Christ’s sacrifice. A cross or crucifix is brought forward for the faithful to reverence (with a kiss, a touch, or a bow).

Scriptural readings include the story of the Passion from John’s Gospel. As the story of Jes
us’ suffering and death are recounted, the faithful are given a part to play. When Pilate asks what ought to be done with Jesus, the man who claims to be King of the Jews, we cry out, “Crucify him!” We also are given the role of taunting and ridiculing Jesus on the Cross. This aspect of Good Friday is meant to emphasize the point that we are all guilty and we all cause Jesus to suffer by our sinfulness. We are the ones who bear the blame for His death.

There is no consecration of the Eucharist on Good Friday. When Communion is distributed, the Body is taken from the altar of repose where it has been kept since the previous evening.

Afterward, all leave in silence…for again, the Liturgy does not truly end, but will continue the following evening.

Holy Saturday

Since the time of the Second Vatican Council and the renewal of the Liturgy, the Holy Saturday celebration has become a sort of “crowning jewel” of the Liturgical Season. Filled with multiple symbols and significance, this night stands out among other Masses as a real point of inspiration (when it is celebrated faithfully and with reverence).

We begin outside (whenever possible) around a fire, in the dark of the evening. The fire is blessed, and a large candle (the Paschal Candle or Easter Candle) is also blessed and lit from the fire. The flame of the Paschal Candle represents Christ “the Light of the World.” The congregation lights smaller candles from the larger Paschal Candle as we all receive our light from Christ. We process into a darkened church which is soon aglow in the light of the many small candles, as we pass flames from one to another, until the whole congregation is assembled. Then the proclamation of Christ’s Resurrection is read or sung and the lights of the church are turned on. Then the Mass continues.

Among some of the other features of Holy Saturday, those seeking full communion with the Church are baptized and Confirmed and receive their first Communion. After completing many weeks of training in the faith, Holy Saturday is the traditional day of accepting these new Catholics into the fold. For this purpose, holy water is blessed and the chrism (holy oil used for anointing), which was only recently consecrated at the beginning of Holy Week, is used in the ceremony.

Also, the “Alleluia” is sung for the first time since the beginning of Lent. Since Lent is a time of penance, a somber reflective season, the grand Alleluia, which is usually sung before the Gospel, has been omitted for forty days. The Alleluia makes a glorious return on Easter Saturday evening.

And with that the Gospel is proclaimed that Jesus has risen, and the long wait of Lent is over.

I would strongly urge anyone who is able to participate in all three days of the Triduum if at all possible. It encapsulates the entire Passion of Christ and plays it out in real time before your eyes with liturgical precision. In the Triduum the true meaning of Easter is celebrated within the Universal Church, as the whole Body of Christ’s believers await the risen Christ.