Archive

The Mass

Kala Nila’s great post on the gift of tears really spoke to me; I’ve been known to shed a tear or two during Mass (don’t get my kids started on that subject). Hey, what’s odd about people tearing up when they find themselves face-to-face with the Creator of Heaven and earth present on the altar? The question isn’t “why do those people have tears running down their cheeks?” but rather “why don’t you have tears running down yours?” I realize that I am not the Lone Sniffler at Mass, but I have sometimes had to ask myself: Am I the only person who cries during the Offertory?

Perhaps an explanation is in order….

We Catholics pray the Lord’s Prayer many times during the day. When we pray the words “Give us this day our daily bread,” we’re not just asking for a 20% off coupon to Panera Bread. We’re asking that God provide for our physical needs, yes, like the food we eat. But we also ask that God provide for our spiritual needs by giving us the Eucharist, the true Bread from Heaven. And we are asking that God’s will be done (the first petition in the Our Father) in and through us because that, too, is our bread. How so? Remember the incident in which the disciples urged Jesus to eat something, and He told them that He had food that they didn’t know about, saying, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work”? Thy will be done – give us this day our daily bread – this is what we pray. God confronts us each day with His holy will – that, too, is our daily bread. That fulfillment of His will is my offering that I place among the gifts. As the collection basket is passed, I offer back to Him not only a couple of dollars, but also my thoughts and actions, my prayers and devotions, my pains and my cares, my joys and sorrows; I mentally place them in the hands of those bearing the gifts up to the altar. I do that so that Jesus can make those things HIS – HIS thoughts and actions, HIS prayers and devotions, HIS pains and HIS cares, HIS joys and sorrows.

Can it be?

This is how the Incarnation continues to work itself out in our world; as you and I offer up our “daily bread” to be united with His sacrifice, Jesus continues to live and act in His body, the Church. This “bread,” our works, taken up to the altar, is then no longer ours. It is offered up by Jesus to the Father, Who, looking down, sees only Jesus and what He has done in this world:

We are on the altar under the appearance of bread and wine, for both are the sustenance of life; therefore in giving that which gives us life we are symbolically giving ourselves. Furthermore, wheat must suffer to become bread; grapes must pass through the wine-press to become wine. Hence both are representative of Christians who are called to suffer with Christ, that they may also reign with Him.

As the consecration of the Mass draws near our Lord is equivalently saying to us: “You, Mary; you, John; you, Peter; and you, Andrew – you, all of you – give Me your body; give Me your blood. Give Me your whole self! I can suffer no more. I have passed through My cross, I have filled up the sufferings of My physical body, but I have not filled up the sufferings wanting to My Mystical Body, in which you are. The Mass is the moment when each one of you may literally fulfill My injunction: ‘Take up your cross and follow Me.'”

On the cross our Blessed Lord was looking forward to you, hoping that one day you would be giving yourself to Him at the moment of consecration. Today, in the Mass, that hope our Blessed Lord entertained for you is fulfilled. When you assist at the Mass He expects you now actually to give Him yourself.

Then as the moment of consecration arrives, the priest in obedience to the words of our Lord, “Do this for a commemoration of me,” takes bread in his hands and says “This is my body”; and then over the chalice of wine says, “This is the chalice of my blood of the new and eternal testament.” He does not consecrate the bread and wine together, but separately. The separate consecration of the bread and wine is a symbolic representation of the separation of body and blood, and since the Crucifixion entailed that very mystery, Calvary is thus renewed on our altar. But Christ, as has been said, is not alone on our altar; we are with Him. Hence the words of consecration have a double sense; the primary signification of the words is: “This is the Body of Christ; this is the Blood of Christ;” but the secondary signification is “This is my body; this is my blood.”

Such is the purpose of life! To redeem ourselves in union with Christ; to apply His merits to our souls by being like Him in all things, even to His death on the Cross. He passed through His consecration on the Cross that we might now pass through ours in the Mass. There is nothing more tragic in all the world than wasted pain.

Think of how much suffering there is in hospitals, among the poor, and the bereaved. Think also of how much of that suffering goes to waste! How many of those lonesome, suffering, abandoned, crucified souls are saying with our Lord at the moment of consecration, “This is my body. Take it”? And yet that is what we all should be saying at that second:

“I give myself to God. Here is my body. Take it. Here is my blood. Take it. Here is my soul, my will, my energy, my strength, my property, my wealth-all that I have. It is yours. Take it! Consecrate it! Offer it! Offer it with Thyself to the heavenly Father in order that He, looking down on this great sacrifice, may see only Thee, His beloved Son, in whom He is well pleased. Transmute the poor bread of my life into thy divine life; thrill the wine of my wasted life into thy divine spirit; unite my broken heart with thy heart; change my cross into a crucifix. Let not my abandonment and my sorrow and my bereavement go to waste. Gather up the fragments, and as the drop of water is absorbed by the wine at the offertory of the mass, let my life be absorbed in thine; let my little cross be entwined with Thy great cross so that I may purchase the joys of everlasting happiness in union with Thee.

“Consecrate these trials of my life which would go unrewarded unless united with Thee; transubstantiate me so that like bread which is now thy body, and wine which is now thy blood, I too may be wholly thine. I care not if the species remain, or that, like the bread and the wine I seem to all earthly eyes the same as before. My station in life, my routine duties, my work, my family – all these are but the species of my life which may remain unchanged; but the “substance” of my life, my soul, my mind, my will, my heart – transubstantiate them, transform them wholly into Thy service, so that through me all may know how sweet is the love of Christ. Amen.” Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen

See why I’m crying? I will never perform a greater act than this offering of myself to be united with Jesus!

And lest anybody call these tears “feminine,” allow me to present a manly man who actually prayed that he might be no stranger to the tissue box!

Grant me that visible sign of Thy love, a cleansing ever-flowing fountain of tears, that these tears may also bear witness to Thy love in me, that they may show, that they may tell, how much my soul doth love Thee: that in the too-great sweetness of Thy love it cannot withhold its tears. St. Augustine of Hippo

Go ahead. I’ll share the Kleenex.

 

On the memorial of St. Giuseppe Moscati

Deo omnis gloria!


I don’t go to Mass for the preaching.

I’ve heard bad homilies, mediocre homilies, good homilies and even great homilies, but I do not go to Mass for the homily.

I don’t go to Mass for the music.

I’m not even going to get into the “Gather” debate….

I don’t go to Mass because it’s expected of me.

“Good” people go to church, and “good” Catholics go to Mass, so the thinking goes. Well, I’m not a “good” person. None of my neighbors would have a stroke if I didn’t go to Mass, and I could use the extra sleep on Sunday morning.

I don’t go to Mass to see and be seen.

There are nice people at my parish, but if I wanted to see some really interesting people I’d go to the local Baptist church where Tim Tebow has been a guest speaker.

And believe me, nobody comes to Mass to see me.

I don’t go to Mass for the fellowship.

I think we have some pretty good fellowship at our parish, but everyone has their own dream team of personal encouragers, and I could hang out on Sunday morning with them in my kitchen over homemade blueberry strudel. Or better yet, in their kitchen.

I don’t go to Mass because they’ve got a great children’s ministry.

Or a great youth ministry, or a great singles ministry, or a great couples ministry, or a great seniors ministry. I don’t go to Mass for the Ladies of Charity, or the Knights of Columbus, or the RCIA team, or the Social Ministries Outreach.

I don’t go to Mass to please family or friends.

My family and a lot of my friends would be much happier if I’d stop going to Mass and start going to their Methodist-Baptist-nondenom-charismatic affair. I’m really not pleasing much of anybody I know by going to Mass.

I don’t go to Mass because I like robes and incense, or because I’m rebelling against my upbringing, or to show support for the reforms of Pope Francis, or because it makes me feel better about myself as a person.

I go to Mass because Jesus Christ, the creator of the universe and my Savior, is physically present, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Holy Eucharist.

If that isn’t true, then there is no reason to go to Mass.

The sanctuary lamp glowing red before the Tabernacle says it all – He is here! Eucharistic miracles cannot be explained. The demons flee before the consecrated Host. At every hour of the day, Mass is being offered somewhere in the world to fulfill the prophecy of Malachi 1:11: For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering: for my name shall be great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts. At every hour of the day, people somewhere in the world are kneeling in worship before the physical Presence of Jesus Christ the King, the One Who insisted that unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you have no life in you.

If you’ve left the Catholic Church, Jesus in the Eucharist is what you’ve left behind. It is His Real Presence that we celebrate today.

Your Lord is as close as the nearest Catholic church, and
He is waiting for you!

I believe in my heart and openly profess that the bread and wine placed upon the altar are, by the mystery of the sacred prayer and the words of the Redeemer, substantially changed into the true and life-giving flesh and blood of Jesus Christ our Lord, and that after the consecration, there is present the true body of Christ which was born of the Virgin and offered up for the salvation of the world, hung on the cross and now sits at the right hand of the Father, and that there is present the true blood of Christ which flowed from his side. They are present not only by means of a sign and of the efficacy of the Sacrament, but also in the very reality and truth of their nature and substance.

Come home! We’ll leave the lamp burning….

 

On the solemnity of Corpus Christi

Deo omnis gloria!

Photo credits: Lamp in sanctuary of Immaculate Conception Church in St. Helena, Nebraska, by Ammodramus

https://i2.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/dc/Johann_Burgmann_-_Agnus_Dei.jpg/358px-Johann_Burgmann_-_Agnus_Dei.jpg We’ve spent the past month exploring the Mass from the perspective of an understandably apprehensive Evangelical. We’ve looked at the practices (genuflection, the sign of the Cross), the sacramentals (the crucifix, holy water, incense), the Church calendar, the liturgy and the prayers. I hope that by now you can see how Christ-centered and Biblical the Mass actually is. There is Biblical and historical justification for every aspect of the Mass. But the one thing we haven’t talked about is actually the thing that Protestants really get into, the thing most Protestants get up and go to church for on Sunday morning, the sine qua non of the Protestant service – the homily, or as Protestants would say, the sermon.

For me as an Evangelical, Sunday morning was about preaching. Yeah, there was singing, there was fellowship, there was prayer. But I’m not much of a singer, I’m shy, and the prayers always left something to be desired. I went for the preaching, to hear the pastor open up the Word to us. I always brought my Bible, and at many churches we were encouraged to take notes. For someone like me who’s into research and study, it was a delight. I was inspired by on-fire-for-the-Lord, anointed, Spirit-filled preaching that called sin “sin,” and challenged me to make a radical commitment to the Lord. I was intrigued by Biblical exegesis that made the Word come alive in my life, as the pastor showed us how it all fit together.

As good as it often was, though, I couldn’t help but notice that our bold, confrontational preaching style in actual fact was pulling punches when we came to certain passages of Scripture. There apparently were things we couldn’t talk about, verses that were better left unread and sermons left unpreached. There were connections that we were reluctant to make, and conclusions that we deliberately never reached. Our theology depended to a certain extent on sweeping some things into theological closets; it was the only way our belief system could be made to work.

Take the book of James. Seniors at the local Baptist high school, to give an example, devote 9 weeks to the study of the 5-chapter-long book of James – 9 weeks. It takes that long to indoctrinate the kids into the “proper” understanding of verses like James 2:24, “A man is justified by works, and not by faith alone,” a very straightforward, eleven-word refutation of the doctrine of faith alone. At the Evangelical churches I used to frequent, verses like James 2:24, John 20:22-23, Colossians 1:24 and 1 Peter 3:21 weren’t brought up. If they did come up, phrases like “Now WE KNOW that this verse ISN’T MEANT be taken literally,” or “Now WE KNOW that this passage does NOT mean what it appears to be saying” were employed to defuse a potential belief bomb. Awkward moments arose when our theology bumped into a compelling chain of logic along the lines of “Jesus is God, Mary is Jesus’ mother; therefore, Mary is the mother of… WHOA!!!” Our on-fire-for-the-Lord, anointed, Spirit-filled preaching suddenly pulled up short. We just couldn’t go there….

As a Protestant I was absolutely fascinated by Old Testament “types” – nonverbal “prophecies” of people, things or events ultimately fulfilled in the New Testament. Types are an Old Testament “object lesson,” if you will. I was right in my glory on Sundays when the pastor would preach on Old Testament types like Abel’s sacrifice, Jacob’s ladder, and Solomon’s temple, explaining that they were all fulfilled in their New Testament “antitype” Jesus.

One firm rule of typology is that the New Testament fulfillment must be considerably more glorious than the Old Testament type; so Solomon’s Temple, for example, couldn’t be merely the “type” of the Second Temple in the New Testament – Solomon’s Temple was ultimately a “type” of Christ’s body, which He raised up in three days. As Hebrews 10:1 hints, an Old Testament type is “but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities.” It’s like the difference between Jesus’ mortal body and His glorified body. The mortal body is fearfully and wonderfully made – the glorified body can walk through walls. That’s a memorable difference.

And so our pastors preached that Adam, Melchisedek, Isaac, Moses, Joshua, Boaz, David, Solomon, and Jonah are all Old Testament types of Christ – great men in and of themselves, but vastly overshadowed by the One to Whom their lives pointed. We recognized the rock struck by Moses, the brazen serpent and the scapegoat as types of Christ. We recognized Jewish festivals as types. We scoured Exodus for every little detail of the Tabernacle, all “types” as far as we were concerned. The Old Testament was like the site of an enthusiastic Sunday-morning scavenger hunt for us; we were all over it, ferreting out every detail. But when we came to the Passover, we had to check our enthusiasm lest it lead us where we couldn’t afford to go….

Of course, we noted that the Passover was a type of the suffering and death of Jesus who redeemed us by His blood. This wasn’t just conjecture on our part – St. Paul in 1 Corinthians calls Christ “our Passover.” St. John the Baptist loudly proclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” In St. John’s Revelation we see in Heaven “a Lamb, standing as if slain,” and the multitudes proclaim “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain….” The Old Testament lamb had to be without blemish (Ex 12:5), as was Christ (1 Pet 1:19), bones unbroken (Ex 12:46), as were Christ’s (Jn 19:30). The blood of the Passover lamb was what saved the firstborn of Israel from death (Ex 12:13), and the blood of the Lamb of God is what saves us (Rom 5:9). And it wasn’t enough to spread the doorposts with the blood and then go to bed – the Passover lamb had to be eaten (Ex 12:8)…. Hmmm……

Don’t go there!!

This spotless Lamb of God in John 6 proclaims His Flesh to be “true food” and His Blood “true drink.” And He repeats, over and over, that we must eat this true food and drink this true drink, or we have no life in us.

Don’t go there!!!

The Old Covenant was inaugurated with blood (Ex 24), the blood of bulls which was sprinkled on the altar and on the people. Moses said to the people “Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.” And we find the New Testament antitype, Hebrews 10:29 tells us, in the New Covenant by which we are sanctified. It was Jesus Himself, the Mediator of the New Covenant, who taught us this: “And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.” What a glorious New Testament antitype! In Exodus it is the actual blood of slaughtered bulls which establishes the Old Covenant. In Matthew, it is a chalice filled with the actual Blood of… grape juice???

Don’t go there!!!

As I was saying, some sermons are better left unpreached, and some connections better left unmade, at least from an Evangelical Sunday-morning-sermon point of view. But if you ever get weary of what’s being left unsaid, come on over!

We “go there” every time we have Mass.

On the memorial of St. Andrew

Deo omnis gloria!

Postscript: If you’ve got a hankering for more of this, Justin Geldart has raised this kind of “connection-making” to a fine art. He blogs at Veritas Lux Mea. These posts “go there” in fine fashion!


So here we are, on our knees singing the Agnus Dei:

Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us!

Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us!

Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world, grant us peace!

You, my Evangelical friend, recognize this as the most solemn point of the Mass, as we kneel to ask Jesus to “only say the word” and our souls shall be healed. In a moment we will rise to go forward and receive our Lord in Holy Communion.

As we come to the climax of our worship service, I think you can see that our emphasis and yours coincide – Jesus Christ is the entire focus of the Mass, just as He is the entire focus of your Protestant worship service. This is a great point of agreement between Catholics and Protestants. And yet, ironically, we have just come to our biggest point of disagreement. The fact that Catholics believe that Jesus is really present, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the Holy Eucharist strikes many Protestants as odd. Not grossly offensive – more of a small, peculiar irritant than a major provocation. It’s weird, all this Body and Blood stuff, you admit, but there are other Catholic doctrines a lot more objectionable. Actually, from the Catholic perspective, you’re wrong about that. The Real Presence is the watershed doctrine separating Catholics and Protestants – not “faith ALONE,” not “once-saved/always-saved,” not Mary’s place in the divine scheme of things, not the Pope’s authority or infallibility…. It’s Christ Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. A Catholic who believes that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist can wholeheartedly confess with the likes of Flannery O’Connor that the Eucharist “is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.” It’s THAT important.

Why in the world do Catholics believe in the Real Presence?? I used to think I knew exactly why the Catholic Church taught that Jesus is really present in Holy Communion. I believed it was a doctrine developed in the Middle Ages to keep believers chained to the Church. If you can convince people that Jesus really is present in Holy Communion, and if only a priest can preside over the Mass that makes Jesus present, then obviously the priest, and by extension the Church, has power over all Catholics. If you don’t toe the line, they withhold Communion – and you think you’re gonna die and go to hell. Brilliant power play – deceive the masses by teaching them that Jesus actually meant what He said at the Last Supper, “This IS My Body” and “This IS My Blood,” as well as in His sermon in John 6, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves.” They’ll be slaves of the Church, because only the Church has this Body and Blood. Sheer genius!

Then I began doing a little research on that hypothesis, testing out my theory. When exactly did the Church hatch this diabolical plot and start teaching that Jesus is really physically present on the altar?

Well, going back to the thirteenth century, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote a prayer to be recited before reception of Holy Communion:

Almighty and Eternal God, behold I come to the sacrament of Your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. As one sick I come to the Physician of life; unclean, to the Fountain of mercy; blind, to the Light of eternal splendor; poor and needy to the Lord of heaven and earth. Therefore, I beg of You, through Your infinite mercy and generosity, heal my weakness, wash my uncleanness, give light to my blindness, enrich my poverty, and clothe my nakedness. May I thus receive the Bread of Angels, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, with such reverence and humility, contrition and devotion, purity and faith, purpose and intention, as shall aid my soul’s salvation.

Grant, I beg of You, that I may receive not only the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of our Lord, but also its full grace and power. Give me the grace, most merciful God, to receive the Body of your only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, in such a manner that I may deserve to be intimately united with His mystical Body and to be numbered among His members. Most loving Father, grant that I may behold for all eternity face to face Your beloved Son, whom now, on my pilgrimage, I am about to receive under the sacramental veil, who lives and reigns with You, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, world without end. Amen.

The Angelic Doctor obviously believed in the Real Presence. Slightly earlier, St. Albert the Great wrote:

I adore You, Blood of the new, eternal Testament, flowing from the veins of Jesus in Gethsemane, from the flesh torn by scourges in the Praetorium, from His pierced hands and feet and from His opened side on Golgotha. I adore You in the Sacraments, in the Eucharist, where I know You are substantially present….

All right – this proves my point! These two conspicuously medieval Catholic priests proclaimed the literal interpretation of Matthew 26 and John 6. See? The doctrine was invented in the Middle Ages to enslave the faithful!

Hang on a second…. Going back a little earlier in time, to the eighth century, St. John Damascene wrote:

How can this come about?” Mary asked. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you,” the angel answered, “and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow.” And now you are the one who puts the question: “How can bread become Christ and wine His Blood?” I answer: “The power of the Holy Spirit will be at work to give us a marvel which surpasses understanding.

Okay, the eighth century, that’s still the Middle Ages, right? But wait a minute, the roots of the nefarious plot stretch back farther still…

St. John Chrysostom (5th century):

How many of you say: I should like to see His face, His garments, His shoes. You do see Him, you touch Him, you eat Him. He gives Himself to you, not only that you may see Him, but also to be your food and nourishment.

St. Augustine (5th century):

Your eyes are looking at bread and cup. This is the evidence before your physical sight. But your faith must be instructed concerning it- this bread being Christ ‘s Body and the cup containing His Blood. Though perhaps these words may be enough to initiate faith, faith must be further instructed in accordance with the Prophet’s words: ‘Believe that you may understand’ ( Is 7:9).

Now that’s pushing it – my “medieval myth of the Real Presence” is beginning to fray around the edges. This idea of the bread and wine actually becoming the Body and Blood of Christ was clearly propagated at the very dawn of the Middle Ages, even as the Roman Empire wheezed its last. And look at what St. Ambrose prayed in the fourth century:

I beg of you, O Lord, by this most holy mystery of Your Body and Blood, with which You daily nourish us in Your Church, that we may be cleansed and sanctified and made sharers in Your divinity. Grant to me Your holy virtues, which will enable me to approach Your altar with a clean conscience, so that this heavenly Sacrament may be a means of salvation and life to me, for
You Yourself have said: “I am the living bread that has come down from heaven. If anyone eat of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

Most Sweet Bread, heal my heart, that I may taste the sweetness of Your love. Heal it from all weakness, that I may enjoy no sweetness but You. Most pure Bread, containing every delight which ever refreshes us, may my heart consume You and may my soul be filled with Your sweetness. Holy Bread, living Bread, perfect Bread, that has come down from heaven to give life to the world, come into my heart and cleanse me from every stain of body and soul. Enter into my soul; heal and cleanse me completely. Be the constant safeguard and salvation of my soul and body. Guard me from the enemies who lie in wait. May they flee from the protecting presence of Your power, so that, armed in soul and body by You, I may safely reach Your Kingdom.

And St. Ambrose’s contemporary, St. Basil, prayed these words:

We give Thee thanks, O Lord our God, for the Communion of Thy holy, pure, deathless and heavenly Mysteries, which thou hast given for the good, the hallowing, and the healing of our souls and bodies. Do Thou, O Sovereign of the world, cause this Communion in the Holy Body and blood of Thy Christ to nourish us in unashamed faith, sincere charity, ripe wisdom, health of soul and body, separation from all ills, observance of Thy Law, and justification before His awful Judgment Seat. O Christ our God, the Mystery of Thy Providence has been accomplished according to our ability. We have been reminded of Thy Death and we have seen a figure of Thy Resurrection; we have been filled with Thine Infinite Life, and we have tasted Thine inexhaustible joy; and we pray Thee to make us worthy of these things in the life to come, through the grace of Thine Eternal Father and of Thy holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now and forever, eternally: Amen.

And St. Cyril of Jerusalem obviously believed along the same lines:

Even of itself the teaching of the Blessed Paul is sufficient to give you a full assurance concerning those Divine Mysteries, of which having been deemed worthy, you have become of the same body and blood with Christ. For you have just heard him say distinctly, That our Lord Jesus Christ in the night in which He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks He broke it, and gave to His disciples, saying, Take, eat, this is My Body: and having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, Take, drink, this is My Blood. Since then He Himself declared and said of the Bread, This is My Body, who shall dare to doubt any longer? And since He has Himself affirmed and said, This is My Blood, who shall ever hesitate, saying, that it is not His blood?

…Do not, then, regard the eucharistic elements as ordinary bread and wine: they are in fact the body and blood of the Lord, as He Himself has declared. Whatever your senses may tell you, be strong in faith.

You have been taught and you are firmly convinced that what looks and tastes like bread and wine is not bread and wine but the body and the blood of Christ.

And St. Athanasius – Athanasius contra mundum – remember him? He put it very clearly:

…after the great and wonderful prayers have been completed, then the bread is become the Body, and the wine the Blood, of our Lord Jesus Christ….

Let us approach the celebration of the mysteries. This bread and this wine, so long as the prayers and supplications have not taken place, remain simply what they are. But after the great prayers and holy supplications have been sent forth, the Word comes down into the bread and wine – and thus His Body is confected.

So, the hoax known as the Real Presence began with the Church Fathers??? Well, Constantine had by this time legalized Christianity – could creeping pagan influence have had something to do with this?

Yet going back even farther in time, to the third century – that is, nearer to the time of Christ – St. Cyprian of Carthage wrote:

And therefore we ask that our bread— that is, Christ— may be given to us daily, that we who abide and live in Christ may not depart from His sanctification and body.

St. Justin Martyr wrote in the second century A.D. to a Roman emperor, explaining Christian beliefs:

This food we call the Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake except one who believes that the things we teach are true, and has received the washing for forgiveness of sins and for rebirth, and who lives as Christ handed down to us. For we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink; but as Jesus Christ our Savior being incarnate by God’s Word took flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food consecrated by the Word of prayer which comes from him, from which our flesh and blood are nourished by transformation, is the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus.

Medieval conspiracy, my foot! Pagan influence – puleezze! This literal understanding goes back as far as 120 years after the Resurrection, and even farther back….

St. Ignatius of Antioch (between 98 and 117 A.D.):

They (the heterodox) abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not admit that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, the flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in His graciousness, raised from the dead.

Less than 100 years after the Resurrection, the very Real Presence of Christ Jesus was being proclaimed by the martyrs who went to their death for their Christian beliefs! This was no medieval priest conspiracy, and it wasn’t a case of half-baked believers sliding down the pagan slope, either! This was the belief of Christians from the very beginning! This was a faith literally worth dying for, a faith in the literal meaning of Christ’s words, a faith that cried out in blood the words that still reverberate in our souls: Jesus in the Holy Eucharist is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable!

A faith that my Protestant belief system proudly rejected.

And yet He said what He said:

In John: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”

Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.”

In Matthew: While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.”

In 1 Corinthians: For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.

Why, oh why do Catholics believe that it’s His actual, real, literal Body and Blood??

Because He said so….

On the memorial of St. Catherine Labouré

Deo omnis gloria!

I’m so glad you’ve stuck with me this far for the Mass. As you’ve seen, in some ways it’s like your Protestant worship service, because Protestants, when they separated themselves from Catholicism, took certain elements of the Mass with them. We share the music, the Scripture reading, and the preaching. At some of your worship services you also offer Holy Communion. That is where we part ways. Holy Communion, or the Eucharist as we call it, is not an addendum to an otherwise complete Sunday morning service. Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist is the entire point of the Mass.

We come to Mass to hear about Him, to pray to Him, to worship Him and then to receive Him, to have “communion,” meaning “union with.” It is from this word that we get the oft bandied-about noun “excommunication,” meaning to exclude someone from the sacraments and thus from union with Christ in the Eucharist. Given your Evangelical views on worship, that probably doesn’t impress you too terribly much. After all, how could any church cut someone off from Jesus? Obviously, until we understand Who is really present in the Eucharist, we cannot understand the gravity of the sentence of excommunication.

It is clear that many Catholics do not really understand, deep down in their bones, what we are calling for when we demand that someone be excommunicated. It has Biblical roots, of course; St. Paul writes to the Corinthians that they must “deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” Pretty serious stuff, handing someone over to Satan. Yet excommunication is at its heart a radical act of charity – a refusal to pretend that someone is what he actually is not. It is the ultimate expression of truth in love.

It is also the very last step to be taken, for the Church is literally cutting a person off from the grace received by partaking of Christ’s Body and Blood, handing her over to Satan – so that she may recognize the real horror of her situation and repent in this life while repentance is still an option.

When Catholics call for the excommunication of their more outrageous coreligionists, they feel that they are doing it for the good of the body of Christ. How many have been deceived into sin by following the teaching of Catholic politicians who have set themselves up as quasi-bishops and hold forth on doctrines which they themselves have never understood, the Joe Bidens and Nancy Pelosis of the world? The Vice-President uttered these regrettable words during the vice-presidential debate:

Biden: My religion defines who I am, and I’ve been a practicing Catholic my whole life…. With regard to abortion, I accept my Church’s position on abortion as what we call a de fide doctrine—life begins at conception. That’s the Church’s judgment. I accept that in my personal life… I refuse to impose that on others… I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people, women, that they can’t control their body.”

(In other words: I know it’s wrong, but go ahead, ladies – what the heck! Endanger your immortal souls!)

Minority Leader Pelosi has even less excuse to spout such evil ; she met with Pope Benedict in 2009, and according to the Vatican:

“His Holiness took the opportunity to speak of the requirements of the natural moral law and the Church’s consistent teaching on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death,” the Holy See said in a statement.

Benedict emphasized that “all Catholics, and especially legislators, jurists and those responsible for the common good of society” should work to create “a just system of laws capable of protecting human life at all stages of its development.”

Taken as spiritual directors by the unwitting, these prominent Catholics certainly have the ability to lead many astray. A Catholic who belongs to the “diocese” of Bishop Pelosi will react very differently from a Catholic belonging to the diocese of Bishop Jenky of Peoria, for example, when she hears that her law-school-bound son has impregnated his girlfriend. A Catholic who belongs to the “diocese” of Bishop Biden will react very differently from a Catholic belonging to the diocese of Bishop Olmsted of Phoenix when he learns that his daughter has missed her period.

And thus our Catholic response to the misguided preaching of the Bidens and Pelosis among us is one of justifiable outrage. The harm that they are perpetrating is unconscionable and cannot be borne. But we who believe we stand must take care that we do not fall when our outrage approaches bloodthirst. We fall when we respond to evil with evil: “Wipe them out –
all of them!It’s for the good of the Empire!

If, as Evangelical-turned-Catholic David Currie has written, the Eucharist is the battle-cry of the Lamb, then those rendered deaf to this cry by virtue of their excommunication are left wandering on the field. Excommunication is, in a certain sense, the last hope of the obstinate sinner, a wake-up call of towering proportions. But, as the old hymn warns us: “Good Christians – FEAR! For sinners here, the silent Word is pleading… This, this is Christ the King Whom shepherds guard and angels sing. Haste! Haste to bring Him laud!” As a child, I couldn’t understand this use of the word “fear.” What’s to fear?? It’s Baby Jesus, meek and lowly, lying in a manger! Yes, it is – and they are our Catholic siblings for whom the silent Word is pleading, and they are deaf to His pleas. Haste! Bring Him laud! – praise, adoration, worship – recognize Him for Who He truly is! If I don’t, how can they?? If I name myself with the name of “good Christian,” then my reaction to their indifference to the teaching of the Christ’s Church MUST be one of dread. The Old Testament reading from last Sunday articulated this in a frightening way:

“Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake;

some shall live forever,

others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace.

I cannot, I must not be merely defiant of their defiance – for I as a “faithful” Catholic know two things: that this is Christ the King they are defying, the One Who will destroy evil by the splendor of His coming, and that they are members of His body, and therefore my brothers and sisters in Christ. If my reaction is anything other than one of horror at the thought of the loss of their eternal souls, then I unwittingly have thrown my support into the camp of the Defiant, for I too am ignoring the clear teaching of the Church:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. Jn 13:34

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Rom 12:10

Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart…. 1 Pet 1:22

We for whom the celebration of the Solemnity of Christ the King is an occasion of overwhelming joy must be doers of the Word. We who recognize the King of Kings and Lord of Lords as we kneel in awe before the Body and Blood must weep and mourn, fast and pray for those who do not. For He is the One Who told us that He does not desire the death of the sinner, but that he be converted and live. On our knees before His Real Presence we must fervently petition Heaven for the salvation of those who obstinately defy Church teaching, and who teach others to do the same, because if it is really Him before Whom we kneel – no other response is conceivable.

It’s really Him.

And when the world sees the Church weeping and mourning as it contemplates the excommunication of the Bidens and Pelosis among us, the world will begin to believe that, too.

On the Solemnity of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

Deo omnis gloria!


It wasn’t till I got home after my first Mass that something very strange occurred to me: I hadn’t heard a word about Mary in the Mass. Wait a minute…. I thought Catholics were all about Mary! I thought one of our main Protestant objections to the Mass was that Catholics worshipped Mary! If that was the case, why hadn’t I heard anything about her that morning at Mass?

It turned out that I actually had heard a few words about Mary in the Mass that morning, but they were so few and so low-key that I, expecting to be slapped in the face with the wet mackerel of Mary-worship, hadn’t noticed them. The Mass I attended had actually mentioned her twice, first in the Creed:

For us men and for our salvation He came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit

He was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.

As you can see, this profession of faith is one that Protestants make all the time. Conservative Protestants are staunch defenders of the Virgin Birth of Christ. This mention of the Virgin really isn’t so much about her as it is about Him. That’s why I didn’t even notice that we’d mentioned Mary in the Mass.

The second time Mary came up was in the Eucharistic Prayer:

May He make us an everlasting gift to You, and enable us to share in the inheritance of Your saints, with Mary, the virgin Mother of God, with the apostles, the martyrs, and all Your saints on whose constant intercession we rely for help.

Now that would have gotten the attention of most Protestants; after all, we’re not just talking about Christ born of the Virgin – we’re calling the Virgin Mother of God. That’s like waving a red Marian handkerchief in front of an already irritable Protestant bull.

Many Protestants experience misplaced outrage when they hear Mary referred to as the “Mother of God,” due to a misunderstanding of what is meant by the phrase. No one is claiming that Mary is divine, and no one is saying that she somehow predates God the way our human mothers predate us. “Theotokos” (“the one who gives birth to the One Who is God”) was a theological term applied to Mary in the fifth century to defend not her, but Jesus from the implications of heretical doctrine. Catholics insisted and continue to insist that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man, both divine and human, while heretics were asserting various doctrinal aberrations – Nestorian heretics, for example, believed that Jesus’ divinity and humanity were two separate issues, dividing Jesus into two distinct persons, God and man. Catholics were struggling to proclaim Christ’s full humanity and full divinity in one Person, a complete and perfect union of His human and divine natures, and thus objected to the depiction of a human Jesus who was the son of Mary, and a divine Jesus who was not. The Catholic contention is that Mary gave birth to Jesus, and Jesus is God. Therefore, Mary is the Mother of … God! Again, this really doesn’t say as much about her as it does about Him. By insisting that Mary is the Mother of God, Catholics are primarily insisting that Jesus is God, a proposal that no conservative Protestant Christian would contest.

In my investigation of Catholicism up to that point, I had already become convinced that the term “Mother of God” applied to Mary was simply a statement of Biblical fact, and thus the announcement of it at Mass didn’t jab me in the eye the way it might have another Protestant. I had no problem with Marian doctrines like the Virgin Birth or the Theotokos, because they were obviously attempts to protect doctrinal truths essential to our understanding of Who Jesus is. In other words, these doctrines aren’t really about Mary – they are about Jesus, and I had no problem with that.

Had I attended a different parish which used a different form of the Eucharistic Prayer, I would have heard variations on this theme, all referring to her as the Mother of God, and referring to the blessed apostles, the holy martyrs and all the saints, asking that we be numbered among them and admitting that we rely upon their prayers for help. And had I attended my first Mass during the Lenten season, we might have begun by praying the Confiteor, asking for the intercession of said saints.

So I did hear Mary’s name mentioned at my first Mass, but not in the way I thought I might. When you’re fearing that Mary, a mere human being, will be playing just as great a role (or even greater!) in Catholic worship as Jesus, then these glancing references to the part she plays in the Communion of Saints don’t really register. Other than that, no reference is made to Mary in the Mass – surprising from a Protestant standpoint, but true.

Certainly a Protestant can’t condemn an occasional sermon devoted to Mary. Especially around Christmastime Protestant thoughts turn to the woman who was asked to trust God enough to bear His Son, and Protestant pastors may choose to mention her in passing, or even to devote the entire sermon to her role in salvation history, although heavy on the disclaimers. And in the Catholic Church we too will devote homilies to Mary on special days when we contemplate events in her life or aspects of her calling. But at the average Mass on an average Sunday – you’re just not going to hear a lot about Mary.

You may not realize it, but Catholics agree with you on this point. Protestants are quite right about insisting that no creature, no human being, ever be allowed to distract us from the worship of God. It is ALWAYS wrong when a creature attempts to usurp the worship due the Creator. It is wrong when a preacher subtly or not so subtly calls attention to himself by his sermon antics, building a following inadvertently more devoted to him than to the One he claims to promote. It is wrong when music ministers turn worship into a concert, the musicians into “stars” and the sanctuary into a baptized mosh pit. It is wrong when worship leaders whip the faithful up into a charismatic froth Sunday after Sunday, until believers are so wrapped up in themselves and their ephemeral, subjective experiences that they lose sight of the truth of the God they came seeking….

No human being can be allowed to commandeer the attention of the worshippers, distracting them from the worship of God.

The Mass is about Jesus Christ, period. It’s no more about Mary than it is about the priest who’s officiating or the cantor who leads the singing. Fortunately it’s no more possible to interject Mary worship into the Mass than it is to interject worship of self; the liturgy is designed to make that impossible. The liturgy is a powerful defense against the twisting of Mass to personal purposes. Protestant critics complain that the liturgy is so unbending, so uniform, the same in parish after parish, country after country, year after year. Get with the times, the spirit of the age! they cry. People leave the Catholic Church to go to a Protestant assembly with more “vibrant” worship – yet it is precisely this liturgy which makes the Mass
the ultimate Christ-centered prayer. When Catholics follow the liturgy, worship flows within totally Christ-centered boundaries, like a mighty river flowing within its banks. When worship overflows the banks of the liturgy, it is worship’s Proper Object Who gets swept away in the flood….

So, where’s Mary in the Mass? She’s right there – with all the other worshippers. And how could she not be there where her Lord is receiving glory, honor and praise? At Mass we “behold our mother” present as she was at the foot of the Cross, the woman who said, “My soul magnifies the Lord” and “Do whatever He tells you,” the woman who would be the last to try to preempt our attention at Mass. The Mass, the Church’s greatest prayer, isn’t about Mary. The Mass is no more about her than it is about me or you or any other human being. And from the Catholic perspective, that’s exactly as it should be.

 

On the memorial of Blessed Miguel Agustín Pro

Deo omnis gloria!

Paperwork by Aaron Logan

I suppose by now you’ve noticed that the priest is wearing a green chasuble, the fancy poncho-like thing he wears over his white vestments.  If you come back next Sunday, he’ll have on a different outfit, because he dresses according to the liturgical season.  Next Sunday will be the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King, and the priest will wear white or gold.  The Church calendar has different seasons, and we will soon be entering a new season, so the colors we use at Mass will change.  Until Advent begins, we are celebrating what we call Ordinary Time.

When I became Catholic, I was overwhelmed by the joy of constant celebration in the Church. To my delight, Christmas and Easter were not just one day to look forward to, but rather entire seasons in which to meditate upon the Incarnation and the Resurrection. No longer did I suffer through the euphemistically entitled “holiday season” – Advent was emphasized as a time of preparation not only for the coming of the Christ Child to us in the past, but also for the soon coming again of Christ the King of Glory. Lent with its communal fasting and abstinence only served to heighten the meaning of the Suffering, Death and incredible, unfathomable Resurrection of the Lord. Solemnities like the Most Holy Trinity or Corpus Christi emphasized how real these theological concepts are to Catholics and how important their contemplation. I reveled in the seemingly constant celebration.

And then along came poopy old Ordinary Time. I experienced the letdown that as a child I felt after Christmas, when the decorations are packed away, the doll I wanted so badly has a broken arm, and tomorrow we go back to school. It’s OVER. Now real life intrudes on my happy little world….

Fortunately our priest once made the connection in his homily between Ordinary Time and the hidden life of Jesus, the years between the Finding in the Temple and the beginning of His public ministry – a lot of years on which the Bible remains completely silent. Much speculation, a lot of it outrageous, has been generated concerning this time in the life of the Son of God. What was He doing all those years? Why is there no discussion of it in Scripture? God in the Flesh didn’t do anything noteworthy for nearly 20 years of His earthly life? Hard to believe! Was He just twiddling His thumbs, waiting in the wings while the voice crying out in the wilderness warmed up?

Not exactly. God Incarnate was busy doing what I do every day. He was waking up, helping His mother, going to work, eating, conversing, playing, caring, aiding, praying, sleeping again. Wasted time?

We moderns tend to think that God put us here on this earth to perform Tasks. The importance of the Tasks we perform has become the yardstick whereby to measure the worth of a human being. This leads invariably to a devaluation of human life, since a very large number of humans perform tasks that our society holds in low esteem. A woman who serves on a Board of Directors is “important” and therefore admirable; a woman who stays home and directs bored children – not so much. A man who holds public office performs a “valuable” service – a man who faithfully goes to the office every day and carries out the duties of a job he doesn’t particularly like is just treading water. When Jesus stays quietly at home and planes wood, He is a nobody – no reason to pay any attention to Him. When Jesus goes out into the world and heals lepers, He is Somebody.

False. The Son of God remains the Son of God whatever He is doing. The very name of God is “I AM THAT I AM,” so to judge Jesus by what He happens to be doing at the moment would be a worldly error. Judging me by my so-called accomplishments would be equally misguided. I am called to follow Jesus at every moment, and the yardstick I am measured by is the same one His Father measured Him by – the yardstick of faithfulness. “This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased!” He proclaimed concerning the Man who had just emerged from 18 years of radio silence. Obviously this “nothing” that Jesus had been doing had been executed faithfully and well. If herding children is what I am called to at the moment, I must prove faithful to that task. If shuffling office paperwork is how I spend forty years of my life, I must prove faithful to that task. To judge a person by the task to which he has been called is folly – some of us have been called only to the task of waking every morning to offer up the pain He has allowed into our life. Our faithfulness at that task is what will make us shine brightly in the Kingdom of Heaven, potentially far brighter than any mere Fortune 500 corporate director or world leader. And this is the beauty that we see in Ordinary Time – it is a Catholic celebration of what we have all been called to do – live in daily faithfulness to our calling as children of God.

Ordinary Time is nearly over for this year, and “exciting” times are at hand: the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the Feast of the Nativity, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God – Big Stuff. Yet the decisions I make on the Big Days of my life are the same ones I must make on days in my own personal ordinary time, as the reading from Mass yesterday morning emphasized:

“The wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever.”

And in that sense, there is no such thing as “ordinary” time.

On the memorial of St. Mechtilde of Hackeborn

Deo omnis gloria!