Friday, April 29, 2011

This Week's Headlines

As another week comes to an end, this is your chance to top off your glass with a final helping of news, current events, and just plain interesting stuff that may not have made into the mainstream media. A chance to linger for a few more moments before we close the door on the week. Below are some links to articles, blogs, and miscellaneous happenings that caught my eye over the past few days. Sample what you like - I'll serve up more next Friday...

Easter Vigil Homily of Pope Benedict XVI - "We celebrate the definitive victory of the Creator and of his creation. We celebrate this day as the origin and the goal of our existence. We celebrate it because now, thanks to the risen Lord, it is definitively established that reason is stronger than unreason, truth stronger than lies, love stronger than death."

Who Saw Christ Rising from the Dead? - "Neither the guards who were on watch through the entire night, nor the women who came in the morning saw the Resurrection itself."

Making Sense of the Resurrection Accounts - Are There Discrepancies? - "Frankly, one would be surprised if every detail in the account of an astonishing event were exactly the same...But as they are, these accounts have every hallmark of the accounts of people who experienced the events truly, but, due to their ecstatic and disorienting quality, recall the details differently or emphasize different facets." See also this follow-up piece.
Jesus Didn't Just 'Die for Our Salvation': Why He Rose from the Dead - "Most people know that Jesus died for their sins. But, as we shall see, according to the New Testament Jesus also rose for our salvation."

The Last Supper, Good Friday, And Transubstantiation - "How does one explain transubstantiation at the Last Supper? If Jesus had not yet sacrificed His human nature, how could he offer his body and blood to the Apostles in the form of bread and wine?"

Transcript of Papal Q&A on Italian TV - "In a papal first, Benedict XVI today went on Italian state TV to respond to seven questions from the general public, chosen from among 3,000 submissions from all around the world."

Pope John Paul II's Legacy of Love - "Only a strong man can recognize the way that moral weakness can corrupt the soul and undermine the confidence of others. John Paul II understood the lethal nature of a compassion that refuses to acknowledge an objective order of what is good and what is not."

Revelation: Cardinals Petitioned For John Paul II Sainthood In Conclave - "Influential Italian Cardinal Camillio Ruini says inside the secret Conclave to elect John Paul's successor, he was given a signed petition from his brother Cardinals to push for fast-track sainthood for the recently deceased pontiff."

George Weigel: Remembering Pope John Paul II - "When the Church puts the title “Blessed” or “Saint” on someone, the person so honored often drifts away into a realm of the unapproachably good. We lose the sense that the saints are people just-like-us, who, by the grace of God, lived lives of heroic virtue..." 

Sunday’s beatification will be of a holy pope who began the fightback against the smoke of Satan - "[John Paul's] greatest achievement...was that he did more than any pope of the last century to defend and reassert beyond any doubt the stable and objective character of Catholic teaching."

Civilization Killers – On the Decline of Three Basic Cultural Indicators and What it Means for America - "...there are significant differences between economic classes in this Country that sheds important light on the cultural crisis we are facing. In effect, economic class is a big indicator in moral behavior today."

How to Respond when a Loved One Leaves the Church - "There are thousands of hurting Catholic moms and dads out there, begging God to bring their children back to the Church and dealing with immense feelings of guilt over the possibility that they are responsible for their child’s lack of faith."

Tending the New Catholic Subculture - "Signs of a new Catholic subculture can be seen in things like a handful of proudly orthodox colleges and universities, media ventures like EWTN and Catholic radio, a growing number of websites and periodicals and a few publishing houses, and organizations and movements that work to promote a dynamic Catholic spirituality..."

Ecumenism and the Pope of Christian Unity - "The 'ultimate purpose' of ecumenism, the pope told Vatican doctrinal officials last year, 'consists in the achievement of the full and visible communion of the Lord’s disciples.' By that standard, Pope Benedict XVI is the pope of Christian unity."

Virtues Gone Wild - "...when I first began studying Catholicism...I saw the big picture of human morality, the full articulation of the rules of love written on every human heart."

A Case for Hell - "Doing away with hell, then, is a natural way for pastors and theologians to make their God seem more humane. The problem is that this move also threatens to make human life less fully human."

What? No Easter Greeting? - "By comparison, the White House has released statements recognizing the observance of major Muslim holidays and released statements in 2010 on Ramadan, Eid-ul-Fitr, Hajj, and Eid-ul-Adha."

Newt Gingrich: Why I Became Catholic - "Over the course of a decade, the depth of faith and history contained in the life of the Catholic Church were increasingly apparent to me, and the centrality of the Eucharist in the Catholic Mass became more and more clear."

Is the Antichrist Approaching? - "...we are not experiencing the time of Antichrist, or even his imminent arrival. What we do seem to be experiencing is a minor chastisement that precedes the major chastisement of Antichrist. Between the two chastisements is widely prophesied an age of great peace."

Royalty and Ritual - [I did not follow the wedding of Prince William at all...but this article points out nicely the importance of ceremony/ritual/formality (and liturgy) in our lives.]

This is just too silly, yet it's true: Drive-Thru Jesus

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

An Old Post to Begin the Easter Season

I still find myself too busy to write as the Easter Season begins, so I thought I would re-post something I wrote a couple of years ago, which was originally written as a reply to an online question from a non-Catholic friend...

Spirit of Truth: The Word of God as Taught by the Magisterium of the Church

All Christians agree that the Bible is the Word of God. Its text is believed to be inspired by the Holy Spirit; it is the written source of Revelation from which doctrines are formed, and moral and spiritual guidance is assimilated. Prophets and Apostles were guided by the Holy Spirit to write the words of this ancient text, and these writings were compiled into what is called “Holy Scripture” or the “Bible.” This book has been preserved down through the centuries by faithful Christians. No Christian would dispute the importance of Scripture in the life of the believer in Jesus Christ.

The question then arises: Does the Bible ALONE guarantee the soundness of Christian doctrine? Did God give us ONLY the Bible for the preservation of His Word?

There are many thousands of Christian denominations and sects, which claim that “Scripture Alone” is in fact the sole source for Christian teaching. They reject the authority of any ecclesial  body or hierarchy to interpret Scripture and they reject any other source besides the Bible for Revealed Truth. They claim that the Bible Alone, as read and interpreted by every Christian, is the means by which God preserves His Word. They say that the Spirit guides each individual to discover the Truth of Scripture, and that Scripture’s meaning is plain and literal in every word of every page, so that anyone can grasp its meaning.

And so the next question inevitably follows: Why is it that no two “Bible Only” churches agree on doctrine? How can it be that the Spirit has guided all of these individuals down separate paths to different Truths? Is there not one Truth? Why does the Bible Alone yield a plethora of churches with competing doctrines? As these “Bible churches” quarrel and disintegrate into break-away factions that spawn new churches every year, one might wonder what the Holy Spirit was thinking in leading so many astray. Is this really the way Christ established His Church?

Is this what Christ prayed for when He said: “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one…” (John 17:20-22)

Jesus prayed for the unity of all believers, a unity that mirrors His own union with the Father – “so that they may be one, as we are one.” It is clear that the “Bible Alone” does not provide that kind of unity for the Church. Would the Father and the Son disagree on doctrine; would They quarrel, and then decide to go Their separate ways, and form Their own churches? Because that is what “Scripture Alone” has given us. Scripture Alone has given Christ a shattered and broken Body. This cannot be what Christ intended. We know that Jesus prayed for unity in the Church. Jesus’ prayer would surely be answered more effectively than the Bible Alone doctrine has done throughout history.

The Catholic Church counters the weakness of the “Bible Only” doctrine in two ways:

1) The Word of God is found not in Scripture Alone, but rather Scripture AND Tradition.

It must be emphasized that the Catholic Church has always taught that the Bible does contain the Word of God. The Bible is the sacred written record of God’s revelation to mankind. The Catholic Church shares this belief with other Christian denominations. Make no mistake, Catholics love and revere Scripture.

if we are to accept the “Bible Alone” as a sound doctrine, then the “Bible Alone” doctrine must be found in Scripture. The problem is the Bible makes no claim for itself to be the ONLY source of God’s Word.  Bible-Only Christians claim that all authentic Christian doctrine should come from the pages of Scripture. But if this is true then we must reject the "Bible Alone" doctrine since it disproves itself.

Nowhere does Scripture say that the Bible is the ONLY source of God’s Word. To the contrary, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states:

“In keeping with the Lord's command, the Gospel was handed on in two ways: - orally 'by the apostles who handed on, by the spoken word of their preaching, by the example they gave, by the institutions they established, what they themselves had received - whether from the lips of Christ, from his way of life and his works, or whether they had learned it at the prompting of the Holy Spirit'; - in writing 'by those apostles and other men associated with the apostles who, under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit, committed the message of salvation to writing'." (CCC 76)
And this teaching agrees with Scripture: “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.” (2 Thessalonians 2:15)

So we see that the Word of God can be passed on orally as well as in written form. Again we read in Acts: “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” (Acts 4:31)

And again, Paul tells us that his own spoken words are truly the Word of God: “And we also thank God continually because, when you received the Word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the Word of God, which is at work in you who believe.” (1Thessalonians 2:13)

So the Church teaches rightly that God’s Word comes to us in two forms: oral and written. Obviously the written form is called the Bible or Scripture (as we have already established). The oral form is referred to simply as Tradition. This is not to be confused with the various customs and practices adopted by the Church down through the ages. These are not equal to God’s Word, but are merely expressions of faith as the gospel has been lived out from generation to generation. As the Catechism puts it:

“Tradition is to be distinguished from the various theological, disciplinary, liturgical or devotional traditions, born in the local churches over time. These are the particular forms, adapted to different places and times, in which the great Tradition is expressed. In the light of Tradition, these traditions can be retained, modified or even abandoned…”CCC 83)
Thus a clear distinction ought to be maintained between Tradition (with a capital “T”) and traditions (lower case “t”). The customs and practices common among Catholics are not to be confused with the Word of God. Much misunderstanding among non-Catholics stems from this unfortunate mistake in terminology. Sacred Tradition would include such things as the papacy (but not specific ceremonies surrounding the pope), the Mass (but not the precise arrangemnt of words or gestures used at the Mass); Tradition, like Scripture, is unchanging (although our understanding of it may grow) – whereas customs and traditions can be altered.

With that in mind, the Catholic Church maintains that Scripture and Tradition are derived from the same source:

"'Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move towards the same goal.' Each of them makes present and fruitful in the Church the mystery of Christ, who promised to remain with his own 'always, to the close of the age'." (CCC 80)
In fact, Scripture is itself nothing more than a written form of Tradition that grew out of the early Church:
“The Tradition here in question comes from the apostles and hands on what they received from Jesus' teaching and example and what they learned from the Holy Spirit. The first generation of Christians did not yet have a written New Testament, and the New Testament itself demonstrates the process of living Tradition.” (CCC 83)
Scripture and Tradition are thus inextricably linked. They grew out of the same source – the preaching and example given by the Apostles under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The two must be viewed and interpreted together to achieve sound doctrine and to appreciate the whole Word of God:

"As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, 'does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.'" (CCC 82)
But how can we be certain that our interpretation of God's Word is correct? Even if we accept both forms of the Word of God, how can we be sure that we are not led to false doctrine?

2) The Church’s Magisterium authoritatively interprets the Word of God as found in Scripture and Tradition.

We know that "Scripture Alone" does not work. It brings us only division and a broken church founded on divergent interpretations of the Bible. Sacred Tradition assists us in interpreting Scripture correctly by shedding light on Scripture and clearing up shades of meaning in the text. Scripture and Tradition together give us a fuller view of God's Word. But still, if it were left up to each individual to sort out doctrine on his own, we would again be left with the same confusion that the Bible Alone doctrine has yielded. It cannot be that God has given us His Word in Scripture and Tradition, but then left us in the same mess from which Bible-Only churches suffer, with individual interpretation and competing doctrines.

Thankfully, Christ did not leave his followers with such confusion and lack of guidance. To give order to His Church, He first called the Twelve Apostles to a role of leadership and gave them an authority that is recognized both in Heaven and on Earth: "I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." (Matthew 18:18)

He promised this authority to the Twelve, but He spoke similar words to Peter (using the singular word for “you”) and also bestowed on him the "keys" to symbolize Peter’s unique position of authority: "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." (Matthew 16:19)

Obviously the Apostles received a special authority as a group, and individually Peter. This teaching authority was passed on to selected men who would continue as bishops of the Church, as the Catechism tells us:

"'In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church the apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them their own position of teaching authority.' Indeed, 'the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time.'" (CCC 77)
The early Christians (from the first few centuries A.D. bear witness to this line of succession:

"Through countryside and city [the apostles] preached, and they appointed their earliest converts, testing them by the Spirit, to be the bishops and deacons of future believers. Nor was this a novelty, for bishops and deacons had been written about a long time earlier. . . . Our apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife for the office of bishop. For this reason, therefore, having received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed those who have already been mentioned and afterwards added the further provision that, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry" (Clement of Rome, Letter to the Corinthians 42:4–5, 44:1–3 [A.D. 80]).

"It is possible, then, for everyone in every church, who may wish to know the truth, to contemplate the tradition of the apostles which has been made known to us throughout the whole world. And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the apostles and their successors down to our own times, men who neither knew nor taught anything like what these heretics rave about" (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3:3:1 [A.D. 189]).

"Far be it from me to speak adversely of any of these clergy who, in succession from the apostles, confect by their sacred word the Body of Christ and through whose efforts also it is that we are Christians" (Jerome, Letters 14:8 [A.D. 396]).
The authoritative teaching office which has been passed down from the Apostles is called the “Magisterium.” Rather than drawing our certainty about God’s Word from our own individual interpretation, we can instead turn to the Magisterium of the Church, the teaching office established by Christ and maintained down through the generations. This is not to say that the Magesterium has power over God’s Word, but rather the Magisterium is in the service of God’s Word and is bound by it…
"[T]his Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith." (CCC86)
So the division and the in-fighting that is so often found among the “Bible Only” churches is avoided within the Catholic Church where there can be surety of doctrine and unity of belief just as Jesus prayed for his followers. Interpretation is not left up to each Christian, but rather, the Holy Spirit works through the teaching office of the Church. The Apostles appointed bishops for this very task. In fact, the “Bible Only” doctrine is a rebellion against God’s plan of unity within His Church. Holy Scripture should never be isolated from the Tradition from which it came. Nor should God’s Word be misused by those to whom no authority has been given to interpret authoritatively. Rather Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium work together to bring us the Truth of Revelation:
"'The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ.' This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome." (CCC 85)

"It is clear therefore that, in the supremely wise arrangement of God, sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others. Working together, each in its own way, under the action of the one Holy Spirit, they all contribute effectively to the salvation of souls." (CCC 95)
By this we can be certain that Christ’s promise is fulfilled: “…when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth.” (John 16:13)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter!

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!

Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendor,
radiant in the brightness of your King!
Christ has conquered! Glory fills you!
Darkness vanishes for ever!

Rejoice, O Mother Church! Exult in glory!
The risen Savior shines upon you!
Let this place resound with joy,
echoing the mighty song of all God's people!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Triduum: Holy Saturday

The Holy Saturday celebration might be called 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).

Having already witnessed the Crucifixion on Good Friday and now waiting in anticipation at the tomb, we begin Mass 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 Alleluia, 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 our eyes in a liturgical setting. 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.

Friday, April 22, 2011

This Week's Headlines

As another week comes to an end, this is your chance to top off your glass with a final helping of news, current events, and just plain interesting stuff that may not have made into the mainstream media. A chance to linger for a few more moments before we close the door on the week. Below are some links to articles, blogs, and miscellaneous happenings that caught my eye over the past few days. Sample what you like - I'll serve up more next Friday...

Save Formality, Save the Liturgy - "At the heart of liturgy is the concept of ritual.  Instead of fitting the Liturgy into our lives, it is in the liturgy that we are taken up into something much bigger, the cosmic worship of God. "

It's Not Just the Economy - "The economy doesn’t operate in a vacuum, and the American people are more than the sum of their 401ks. A society that pursues economic prosperity while ignoring the health of its foundational cultural and social institutions will not prosper for long."

Catholic Social Teaching About Unions - "I think one would have quite a task ahead if they were to argue that the unions of which Leo XIII spoke are the same as those of today.  They are not, for multifarious reasons, not the least of which is their support of political positions that contradict other aspects of Catholic social teaching: abortion, homosexuality, contraception, home education, etc."

The Easter Triduum - "The Easter Triduum holds a special place in the liturgical year because it marks the culmination of the yearly celebration in proclaiming the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ."

Pope Benedict on Keeping Vigil this Triduum - "The liturgies of these days invite us to ponder the loving obedience of Christ who, having become like us in all things but sin, resisted temptation and freely surrendered himself to the Father’s will."

Traditional Latin Mass - videos of Latin Mass being celebrated (one is narrated by Fulton Sheen).

Taking the Measure of Relics of the True Cross - "Helena took a portion of the cross back to Rome, where she had it enshrined in the chapel of her palace (now the Basilica of the 'Holy Cross in Jerusalem')."
The Crucifixion: Wednesday or Friday? - "In some Protestant churches, especially Fundamentalist ones, every year at Easter time there are sermons explaining that Jesus didn’t really die on a Friday but on a Wednesday."

I Scream, Therefore I Am - "We rage and weep because of suffering because we know deep down that we are destined for something better. Our existential wail in the face of suffering is so deep because we know that we were made for infinite happiness."

"Do We Really Desire Him? Are We Anxious To Meet Him?" - Homily given by Pope Benedict XVI for Holy Thursday Mass [For an interesting analysis of this homily click here.]

Viri Selecti - [Reflections on foot washing for Holy Thursday] "Recall that the event of the Last Supper was also the institution of the priesthood. Christ, who came to serve and not to be served, tells the disciples, as priests, to do unto others as he has done unto them. The ritual of the feet washing is an imparting of the mission of charity and service in the priesthood."

Palm Sunday: an example so perfect that it has the power to transform us - A reformed Ordo for Holy Week was issued in 1955 and took effect on 25 March 1956.   That is when the Sunday of Holy Week came to be called “The Second Sunday in Passiontide, or Palm Sunday”."

Got a minute? Make a cross. - Video showing how to transform blessed palms into a cross...with a link to more creative designs.

On the sixth anniversary of Pope Benedict's election...a few thoughts from Benedict himself on the meaning of the papacy, and a video of that moment in Rome.

What I Learned From A Muslim About Eucharistic Adoration - "If I believed that thing that looks like a little round piece of bread was really Allah Himself, I think I would just faint. I would fall at His feet like a dead man."

Super Pig, Super Pig, Super Pig - "As we introduce the changes to the new translation of the liturgy, we have an ideal opportunity for better catechesis of the faithful. The new translation is not perfect, but it is better than what we have." [Note: You will understand the title of this piece after reading it.]

American Church in Decline - "Instead of wringing our hands about the demise of American Catholicism perhaps we had better look on the bright side. Catholicism is still the largest single Christian grouping in the USA by far. Catholics still have political clout and are arguably, the only Christian group that does."

150 Bloggers, An Additional Rome Blognic and a Guild of Catholic Bloggers - "Apparently 750 or so bloggers applied to receive an invite, and the list of 150 bloggers invited to attend has now been released."

The list of 150 bloggers invited to attend in person the meeting at the Vatican - [Well, I didn't make the cut :) but I do recognize a few names.]

A very modest (and not at all ironic) proposal - "Proposed guiding principles for Catholic Bloggers of America."
Catholic Kung Fu? - "...the overall question of whether Martial Arts and Catholicism are compatible depends upon which set of lenses you look through."

Photograph's destruction likely 'what the artist wanted,' charges art historian - "The art installation... “Piss Christ,” had already been subject to weeks of protest by local Catholics. Demonstrations reached such a level on April 17 that some protesters broke into the gallery and attacked it with hammers and screwdrivers."

The Wackiest Holy Week...Evah! - Some outrageous happenings from the atheistic secular mob as they lash out against this holy time for Christians.

Triduum: Good Friday

On Holy Thursday night we celebrated the last Supper with our Lord, commemorating the institution of the Eucharist and the establishment of the priesthood. Through the night we waited and prayed with Him in the garden and saw Him arrested and brought to trial. Now on Good Friday we recall the death of our Savior.

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).

Scripture readings include the story of the Passion from John’s Gospel. As the story of Jesus’ 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 as the crowds did that day. This aspect of Good Friday is meant to emphasize that we are all guilty of dishonoring Jesus 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. If Communion is distributed, the previously consecrated host 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.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Triduum: Holy Thursday

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).

The liturgy for these three days - Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday - form one seamless whole. Beginning with the Last Supper and ending at the tomb, we follow Jesus step by step, hour by hour, through His Passion. We remain "in the moment" even as we leave the church and go about our daily routine. The services are designed to draw us into the real-time events of Christ's Passion and death. The liturgical celebration of Holy Thursday does not come to its final conclusion until we pass through the agony of Good Friday and finally the joy of Saturday's Vigil Mass. They form one Liturgy that allows us to walk with Jesus through these events. And so with Jesus we leave the Last Supper in silent anticipation of the Cross; and we leave Good Friday service in somber reflection, and anxious to witness the Risen Christ; and we are there at the tomb to witness His triumph over death. The Triduum draws us into a lived experience of the coming Easter by recalling those events as they actually happened.

And so, tonight we begin that journey...

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. 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 final meal 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). 

Holy Thursday commemorates the institution of the priesthood. Those men who are ordained as Catholic priests are called to a life of service (symbolized by the washing of the feet) and these men provide for us the Sacraments, most especially the Eucharist (which is remembered this night). When Jesus, after washing their feet, calls on His Apostles to do as He does, He is calling them to priestly service in the Church. So this night we especially remember the priestly vocation and pray for those who accept that call.

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 until Jesus was arrested. 

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

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Break for Holy Week

As this is Holy Week, I have not been writing as frequently as I sometimes do, and so I do not have any new posts prepared for this week. However, among the blogs I frequent, I stumbled across a piece posted at Roma locuta est on "formality" in the liturgy, which fits nicely with the reflections I have been posting on certain aspects of the Mass. Here's an excerpt: 
 "...At the heart of liturgy is the concept of ritual.  Instead of fitting the Liturgy into our lives, it is in the liturgy that we are taken up into something much bigger, the cosmic worship of God.  The liturgy is a great drama that is being played out on a cosmic scale, and simply by being there, we are taken up into this drama.  This is exactly why having specific rituals in the liturgy is so important.  When there are 'lines' that need recited, 'actions' or 'stage directions' that need followed, the structure of the liturgy itself teaches that the liturgy is bigger than us; we are taught that it is not something that we can create, but something that must be received.  This is all a very complicated way of saying that the liturgy is an objective reality.
"In contrast, when the liturgy becomes the result of the creative efforts of a 'liturgy committee,' the congregation is given the impression that the main focus of the action is not on God but on the people, that we are the creators, not God.  How the liturgy is presented and the way in which it includes us affects how we come to think of the essence of the liturgy and of ourselves as human agents.  This is the basic principle of sacramentality in its most general form.  The principle states that “we are how we act.”  In other words, the way in which we act forms the views we hold and even the type of person we become.  If the Mass is presented as a ritual, people are given the correct impression that it is something bigger than themselves, a sacred action into which they are taken up.  They then come to realize that they are not the center of reality.  If it is presented as self-created, then people come to see themselves as self-creators.
"Without a concept of ritual, the faithful are not equipped to enter into the liturgy.  But the concept of ritual is intimately related to the question of formality..."
The post is titled Save Formality, Save the Liturgy and can be found here.

Friday, April 15, 2011

This Week's Headlines

As another week comes to an end, this is your chance to top off your glass with a final helping of news, current events, and just plain interesting stuff that may not have made into the mainstream media. A chance to linger for a few more moments before we close the door on the week. Below are some links to articles, blogs, and miscellaneous happenings that caught my eye over the past few days. Sample what you like - I'll serve up more next Friday...

Politics and the Devil - (speech from Archbishop Chaput) "...if a citizen fails to bring his moral beliefs into our country’s political conversation, if he fails to work for them publicly and energetically, then the only thing he ensures is the defeat of his own beliefs." 

Veiling in the New Translation - "The last two weeks before Easter are known as 'Passiontide,' and it has been a long standing tradition to place veils over crosses and statues." 

Those Overzealous New Converts - "Overcome with emotion about the upcoming big day, she gushed about how much the Church has already enriched her life."

Love, Sex, and the Cross - "What I had assumed were restrictions on freedom, especially in sexual matters, were actually signposts along the way that marked off dangerous territory, that guided our desires away from those things that are always seductively appealing, but are fleeting, distracting -- and damaging -- so that we could be free to seek the only thing that truly fulfills our desires: union with God." 
Girl Altar Servers? - "I think having only boy altar servers is best. Here's why: boys and girls like to do things separately...Boys doing things with other boys and men help them to become men. Girls doing things with other girls and women help them to become women."

Blessed John Paul II: Feast Day and Collect - "October 22 has been chosen as the Feast Day of the soon-to-be-Blessed Pope John Paul II.  The date is the anniversary of his formal inauguration to the papacy in 1978."

Of Saints Celebrities and Superheroes - "In getting to know the saints it seems to me that they are the perfect antidote to the celebrity culture (or should I say cult) that so many in our world fall prey to."

What's a Baby Cost? - "You spend what you’ve got. If you have more, you’ll spend more — and you’ll think you need more. But if you have less, you’ll spend less and you’ll need less. You find other ways to do things besides money...What’s really important in parenting is to let the light of love shine through us as we care for our kids..."

Obama Administraton Castigates Vatican Over Family Planning - "..many medical clinics in Africa...are empty of essentials like penicillin but overflowing with condoms – so many that children have taken to blowing them up like balloons and playing with them as toys."

Holy See to U.N. on Population Control - "This distorted world-view regards the poor as a problem to be commoditized and managed as if they were inconsequential objects rather than as unique persons with innate dignity and worth who require the full commitment of the international community to provide assistance so that they can realize their full potential."

The Mass of Vatican II - "With regard to the Mass we have now two extremes and a moderate position. One extreme position is the kind of informal Mass, all in English, facing the people, with contemporary music, which does not at all correspond with what the Council had in mind. But it is legitimate, it is permitted; it is not wrong. And we have on the other extreme those who have returned, with permission, to the Mass of 1962 and, as others have noted, it is thriving and growing. But it is not what the Council itself specifically had in mind, although it is the Mass of the ages. Then you have the moderates." [I highly recommend this article. It is lengthy...but well worth the read.]

Primitivism and Progressivism - "Instead of judging something by it's age we should judge it according to the greater criteria of whether it is beautiful, good and true."

America the Literal - "...Protestant practicality was woven into the political soul of America." [It's not easy reading a criticism of your own country, but there is truth written here.]

Top choral director calls modern Church music 'ecclesiastical karaoke'  - "Joseph Cullen, choral director at the London Symphony Orchestra, says that since the 1960s there has been a 'glaring lack of sympathy' for 'worthy sacred music.'

God Works Wonders With Wood – A Meditation on the Cross and How God Prefigured It In the Old Testament - "As we draw near to Holy Week, and on this Friday when many of us pray the Stations of the Cross, we do well to meditate on the wood of the cross."

For even more reading enjoyment, here's a roundup of posts at Father Z's blog.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Liturgical Thoughts: Praying to the East

If there are two things that stand out most concerning the changes to the Mass after Vatican II, they would have to be the use of the vernacular in place of Latin, and that the priest now faces the people at the consecration. In this post I would like to examine the latter of these…

I grew up post-Vatican II. The only Mass I have ever known is the Novus Ordo, said in English, with the priest facing the people (versus populum). I have never attended a Mass where the priest offered the Holy Sacrifice ad orientem, that is “to the east” – meaning the “liturgical east” or towards the risen Christ who is represented by the rising sun. Traditionally (that is before the Second Vatican Council) Catholic worship had always been conducted with the priest and the people facing Christ together, in the same direction, so that the prayers spoken by the priest are directed to God – not to the people. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, in his book Spirit of the Liturgy, explains briefly this traditional form of worship:

“In the early Church, prayer toward the east was regarded as an apostolic tradition. …[I]t is certain that it goes back to the earliest times and was always regarded as an essential characteristic of Christian liturgy (and indeed private prayer). This “orientation” of Christian prayer has several different meanings. Orientation is, first and foremost, a simple expression of looking to Christ as the meeting place between God and man. It expresses the basic Christological form of our prayer.

“The fact that we find Christ in the symbol of the rising sun is the indication of a Christology defined eschatologically. Praying toward the east means going to meet the coming Christ. The liturgy, turned toward the east, effects entry, so to speak, into the procession of history toward the future, the New Heaven and the New Earth, which we encounter in Christ. It is a prayer of hope, the prayer of the pilgrim as he walks in the direction shown us by the life, Passion, and Resurrection of Christ. Thus very early on, in parts of Christendom, the eastward direction for prayer was given added emphasis by a reference to the Cross. …[T]he symbolism of the Cross merges with that of the east. Both are an expression of one and the same faith, in which the remembrance of the Pasch of Jesus makes it present and gives dynamism to the hope that goes out to meet the One who is to come. But, finally, this turning toward the east also signifies that cosmos and saving history belong together. The cosmos is praying with us. It, too, is waiting for redemption. It is precisely this cosmic dimension that is essential to Christian liturgy. It is never performed solely in the self-made world of man. It is always a cosmic liturgy. The theme of creation is embedded in Christian prayer. It loses its grandeur when it forgets this connection That is why, whenever possible, we should definitely take up again the apostolic tradition of facing the east, both in the building of churches and in the celebration of the liturgy.” [pages 68-70]

Not surprisingly, as Pope Benedict XVI, Ratzinger has been known to occasionally celebrate Mass ad orientem. It seems that the Holy Father strongly encourages (in his writing as well as in his own actions) the celebration of the Mass with the priest facing away from (or more correctly with) the people. It is, as he points out, a part of apostolic tradition and brings a rich symbolism into our worship.

Also it is important to note that Vatican II did not forbid Mass to be celebrated ad orientem. In fact, in this very helpful article on the Liturgy after Vatican II by Fr. Joseph Fessio, publisher of Ignatius Press, we read the following:

“The Council did not say that Mass should be celebrated facing the people. That is not in Vatican II; it is not mentioned. It is not even raised in the documents that record the formation of the Constitution on the Liturgy; it didn’t come up. Mass facing the people is not a requirement of Vatican II; it is not in the spirit of Vatican II; it is definitely not in the letter of Vatican II. It is something introduced in 1969.”

(I encourage everyone to read the entire article for more details about this and other liturgical distortions that came about after the Council.)
Now, none of this means that the typical Mass of today, with the priest facing the people, is illegitimate or not allowed. But it appears that the complete abandonment of ad orientem worship, in favor of versus populum was not the intention of the Fathers gathered at Vatican II. It seems that our current practice constitutes an abrupt break with the traditional form and it removes much of the symbolic richness of the liturgy as celebrated facing with the people.

As far as I can tell, there is nothing standing in the way of any parish priest, on any given Sunday, turning to face away from the people during the parts of the Mass (specifically the consecration) which are addressed to God. If the congregation is properly informed beforehand, it may prove to be an uplifting and spiritually enriching event for him and for the congregation. I read recently of a priest who tried just that. He immediately realized that in facing away from the people he no longer felt like a “performer” with an “audience.” The Mass felt more like prayer to the Almighty, rather than a staged drama in front of spectators. He could more freely pray to God instead of engage a gathered assembly. In other words, the Mass became what it was designed to be…an act of worship.

Put yourself in the place of the priest. It is inevitable when all eyes watch your every move that a priest feels a certain burden to “perform” when celebrating versus populum. But much of that feeling melts away when the priest faces with the people, in solidarity with them, toward the symbolic east…toward the risen Christ. Then Jesus becomes the focal point rather than the priest.

Unfortunately many people react negatively the first time they witness an ad orientem This could certainly be remedied through proper catechesis and by selecting the right Sunday Mass to introduce this practice. Many parishes (such as the one I attend) have more than one service on Sundays, with at least one service featuring a more traditional liturgy. The ad orientem celebration could be limited to this Mass. celebration of the Mass.

Catholic parishes that have re-instituted this ancient practice often report a renewed sense of sacredness among parishioners. When the celebrant turns his back and approaches the altar (facing away from the congregation) there is a palpable sense that something solemn and out-of-the-ordinary is about to occur. The readings and the homily are still proclaimed facing the people, but the moment of consecration is distinctly set apart by the priest’s orientation. He is united with them (all facing one direction) in reverence before God, rather than “putting on a show” as a performer on a stage.

I do not mean to suggest that every Catholic parish ought to revert back to ad orientem worship. A less radical compromise, in congregations where such a switch would not be pastorally prudent, might be to place an altar crucifix on the altar in front of the priest, so that an image of Christ is between him and the people. In this way, all will be facing Christ rather than each other. The image of Christ becomes the “east” to which we look in worship. The important point here being that our worship is directed to God, not to the priest or to the people gathered there. In re-thinking our orientation during Mass, I believe we can all benefit if we realize that God is the focus, and not our fellow parishioners or the priest.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Liturgical Thoughts

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I plan to post a few of my own thoughts on some liturgical matters that I think could be improved upon with some prayerful reflection. To a certain extent, I suppose some of these may be matters of opinion or personal taste. On the other hand, I do believe that there is a solid argument in favor of the positions that I advocate in each of these cases. With the issuance of the new liturgical translations due out this Advent, this may be a good time to reevaluate some of our current liturgical practices. Besides just the words that we speak, there are also gestures, symbolic actions, and music that may be in need of reform. As we adopt the new translation this Fall we may take this as an opportunity to ensure that other areas of liturgy comply with the rubrics and reflect a profound reverence for Sacred Tradition.

Here is a list of the topics I plan to address:
  • The orientation of the priest during worship
  • The use of Latin
  • Holding hands during the Our Father
  • Proper musical selections
  • Art and architecture
These are just a few topics that immediately come to mind. I may add to this list or change the order, and I may post on other topics outside of this series in the meantime. But each topic from this list will have its own brief post under the title Liturgical Thoughts (which will serve as a title for this series of posts). I do not intend any of these to be exhaustive treatments of the topics at hand, but they will at least give a brief account of what I think could be improved or how we might approach these issues differently than we do now.

I tend to think along "traditional" lines on these matters, but I am in no way an advocate of a complete return to the pre-Vatican II, Tridentine form of the Mass (however, I do favor greater access to this form). As I stated above, these are largely a matter of taste and opinion (though I think the case could be made that some opinions do weigh more heavily than others). As I am not trained in liturgy, I do not have the authority to say what is the correct path to follow. But I do have a pretty strong opinion on these issues, and I would like to convince fellow Catholics to rethink some of the practices we have come to accept as the norm.

For now, check out this post from the blog Roma locuta est. Blogger Jake Tawney tends to agree that the new Missal translation may spur a renewal of the liturgy in general. When the new translation is issued, the rubrics will be published more prominently, in the Sacramentary, where priests are more likely to read and obey:
"Many of these rubrics exist in General Instruction of the Roman Missal in one form or another, which is why I said that the rubrics themselves will not be changing with the new translation.  However, and here is the point, they do not exist in the Sacramentary.**  Having these rubrics printed in the Roman Missal, the very book from which the priest will read the Mass texts, will inevitably bring them to the forefront of his attention.  In this sense, perhaps the new translation will bring a change, not in the rubrics themselves, but in the degree to which they are followed."

Friday, April 8, 2011

This Week's Headlines

As another week comes to an end, this is your chance to top off your glass with a final helping of news, current events, and just plain interesting stuff that may not have made into the mainstream media. A chance to linger for a few more moments before we close the door on the week. Below are some links to articles, blogs, and miscellaneous happenings that caught my eye over the past few days. Sample what you like - I'll serve up more next Friday...
Do Our Children Belong to Us, or to God? - "...the insidious message at the core of the culture of death: The worth of a new human being is determined entirely by his or her parents. An unborn child is does not have dignity until her parents say she does."

It's a Crying Shame When Babies Aren't Welcome in Church - "...I know there’s the old saying that children should be seen and not heard, but when it comes to church, I disagree."

Parents of Children: Love Them and Let Them Learn Latin - "...children who study Latin outperform their peers when it comes to reading, reading comprehension and vocabulary, as well as higher order thinking such as computation, concepts and problem solving." 

My Advice to Catholic Parents: Don’t Let Your Kids Date Non-Catholics - "...more often than not, mixed marriages (i.e., when a Catholic marries a non-Catholic) are a recipe for serious problems down the road..."" 

On Biblical Interpretation - "...[T]he Bible is not a Book, it is a library of many books from different periods and using different genres. Christians sometimes get asked, “Do you read the Bible literally?” But this is like asking, “Do you read the Library literally?”
The Real History of the Crusades - "...the Crusades to the East were in every way defensive wars. They were a direct response to Muslim aggression -- an attempt to turn back or defend against Muslim conquests of Christian lands." See also: Four Myths About the Crusades

The Truth about the Spanish Inquisition -  "From the perspective of secular authorities, heretics were traitors to God and king and therefore deserved death. From the perspective of the Church, however, heretics were lost sheep that had strayed from the flock. As shepherds, the pope and bishops had a duty to bring those sheep back into the fold..."

Friar Who Evangelizes in the Mall - "Many shoppers asked who he was and that led to encounters, some brief, some lengthy. Everyone seemed impressed that a man representing deep matters had set up in a place devoted to fashion, skin products and fast food."
New Media Meet-Up - "A meeting for bloggers will take place in Rome on the afternoon of Monday 2 May 2011."

Crunchy Catholicism - "Faith is a trampoline not an easy chair. It's a risk and an investment in which you give all and receive more than you bargained for in return." 
Choosing a Feast Day for John Paul II - "Most beatified popes’ feast days are chosen to commemorate the date they entered Heaven (in John Paul II’s case, that would be April 2nd) and this has applied to almost all beatified popes. "
Church demands reforms to Cuban health-care system - [Calls for more privatization - America Beware!] "According to the editor of Palabra Nueva, the depth of Cuba's health-care crisis can be diagnosed from the death of 26 mental patients suffering cold and malnutrition in 2010 at a Havana psychiatric hospital, a case he believes is only the 'tip of the iceberg.'"

On World Health Day Government Wants You to Fund Abortions - "Planned Parenthoodhood is currently receiving over $350,000,000of your hard earned dollars to help them carry out the eugenic dream of their founder, Margaret Sanger,  once a partner to Adolf Hitler’s pre-Nazi regime."

Beyond Pink Ribbon Blues - "...three of the most protective things a woman can do to reduce breast cancer risk: have children earlier in life, refrain from artificial contraception, and avoid induced abortions."

Full page ad exposing Sanger’s racist, eugenic roots - "a full page print ad by the Susan B. Anthony List...highlighting PP founder Margaret Sanger’s roots in the eugenics movement and making the case that the business model of the organization is centered on abortion, not women’s health."

6 of the Most Unexpected Converts - These are pretty surprising...Includes John Wayne(?)

Episcopal Church: Littering is Just Like Crucifixion - "I think it's about time someone took away the fax machine from the Episcopal Church’s office of Economic and Environmental Affairs."

On Burning Books - "By burning a Koran, we tell the Muslim radical, 'Here I stand. You shall not pass.' It may not be prudent, it may not be useful, but it is a stand worthy of respect." [I'm not entirely sure what my opinion is on this, but I must admit this is a bold and well argued point presented in this piece.] 
Who Portrayed the Best/Worst Jesus? - A review of some of the more famous (and infamous) portrayals of Christ in film and television.