Archive | November, 2012

We Are Family

29 Nov

Today in our series on the documents of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), we turn to the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium). As the focus of Vatican II was on the nature, composition, and mission of the Church, it should come as no surprise that this document on the Church would be considered the central document of the Council. As we will see over the next couple posts in this series, Lumen Gentium has largely shaped our generation’s understanding of what it means to be “Church.”

Today I want to focus on what I consider to be one of the most significant passages from Lumen Gentium, taken from paragraph 9:

“At all times and in every race, anyone who fears God and does what is right has been acceptable to him (cf. Acts 10:35). He has, however, willed to make men holy and save them, not as individuals without any bond or link between them, but rather to make them into a people who might acknowledge him and serve him in holiness.”

God does not desire to save us as isolated individuals, as if salvation were ever simply a “me and Jesus” thing. Rather, He desires to save us as His holy, beloved people (cf. 1 Pet. 2:9-10). This beautiful insight has led to “People of God” becoming one of the most popular titles or descriptions of the Church in recent decades.

Yet to modern ears “people” can sound a little generic and impersonal. Therefore, “People of God” can sound so big that our personal commitment to Christ and the irreplaceable value and contribution of the individual believer can seemingly get lost in the shuffle. That’s why I think there has been more of an emphasis in recent years on the Church as the “family of God.” It’s the same idea as the “People of God,” but in my opinion the word “family” captures the reality better for our culture, which sadly tends to think of the Church more as a bureaucracy than as a family.

The best analogy I can think of to describe our relationship to the Church is marriage. When Maureen married me, it definitely was—and is—a personal commitment. Yet, it has never been simply a “me and Leon” thing for her. Before I married her, she knew some members of my family, but she wasn’t a part of it. She was on the outside looking in. But when she married me, she didn’t just get a husband. My nephews and nieces became her nephews and nieces. My siblings became her siblings. My mother became her mother. She entered into the reality of my family. And then together with me, we have welcomed children and even a grandchild into our expanding family, which incidentally Vatican II called a “domestic Church.”

Similarly, when we are baptized, we not only become God’s children by adoption (cf. Gal. 4:4-7), but through what we call the “communion of saints,” we become part of a much larger familial reality known as the Church. We are united to our brothers and sisters in the Lord with ties that are stronger than flesh and blood–ties that will last for eternity. We are connected with those who have gone before us, but also with all our fellow Christians, with whom we share profound bonds of fraternity and solidarity. Because of the overflowing love and goodness of our supernatural family, we desire that all men and women may share this family unity with us (cf. 2 Cor. 5:14). That surely was at the heart of Christ’s prayer:

“I pray . . . 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” (Jn. 17:20-21).

So during this Year of Faith, as we seek to nourish and strengthen our faith, the Holy Father calls us to a greater awareness that our faith is necessarily ecclesial, which is Churchspeak for “familial.” The Church is not some faceless institution that gets in the way of our relationship with Christ, but rather is our home–our family–where we are always welcome, and where our faith is celebrated, lived, and shared.

Thanks be to God.

For more on the Church as “family of God,” check out the “Catholic for a Reason” series which I co-edited with Scott Hahn.

Catechesis on the Fifth Commandment

27 Nov

This week we come to what at first blush seems to be the most straightforward of commandments:

You shall not kill.

As a child preparing for Confession I would routinely pass over the Fifth Commandment. After all, I hadn’t killed anybody that month! I was completely missing the spirit of the commandment, and in fact I was–and still am–frequently guilty of injuring others in thought, word, and deed. I failed to see that just as the positive antidote to sexual sins is chastity, the positive antidote to sins of anger, strife, and violence is kindness–loving others as myself.

In our sexually permissive society, it is critically important to reaffirm–clearly, firmly, and sensitively–the implications of the Sixth Commandment (“you shall not commit adultery”). Yet sometimes we may act as though Moses put an asterisk next to the Sixth Commandment, as though that’s the only commandment we really need to be concerned about. The truth is that we also live in an increasingly violent world. This has everything to do with the Fifth Commandment.

For most of us, the Fifth Commandment comes into play when we become angry or frustrated, or perhaps when we’re thinking too much of ourselves and not enough of our neighbor. Our Lord gives this beautiful application of this commandment in the Sermon on the Mount:

“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Mt. 5:21-24).

To live this commandment, we should proactively practice acts of kindness (random or otherwise!), and reactively practice acts of reconciliation (sometimes a not-so-simple “I’m sorry” will work wonders!) when we cause friction with our neighbor. Continue reading

The Church and Media of Social Communication

26 Nov

The Second Vatican Council (1962-65) promulgated two documents at the conclusion of its 1963 session. By far, the more influential (and controversial) of these documents was the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy, which we examined last week. The other document was the Decree on the Media of Social Communication (Inter Mirifica), the subject of today’s post.

Clearly in the 50 years since Inter Mirifica, there has been an explosion of new information technologies that create new opportunities—and challenges—for the Church. In the years since Vatican II, the Church has continued to develop her approach to this changing landscape, from the annual World Communications Day to her reaching out to those engaged in new media technologies at both the national and international level.

Despite the many changes in this sphere of human activity, Inter Mirifica does articulate some timeless principles that are just as applicable today as they were in the pre-Internet 1960s. The Council was clearly concerned about the responsible use of media to promote what is good, true, and beautiful. And clearly the Church has always seen advances in the field of mass communications as creating new, appropriate means of evangelization—from Vatican Radio in the 1930s to EWTN and now to the proliferation of Catholic blogs, podcasts, and apps. Continue reading

Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Address of 1863

22 Nov

Thanksgiving has been an annual tradition in the United States since 1863, when President Lincoln proclaimed a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” This is yet another case-in-point that our forefathers never envisioned, let alone desired, that our country would ever fail to give homage to the Lord. Here is the text of President Lincoln’s proclamation:

“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

“In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

“Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battlefield; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

“No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

“It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.

Catechesis on the Fourth Commandment

19 Nov

This week we transition from the first three commandments, which set forth our responsibilities to God, to the last seven commandments, which specify how we are to love our neighbor. The first of these commandments is:

Honor your father and your mother.

It’s no accident that our duty to honor our parents comes next. In the first instance, we must honor those to whom we owe our very lives. St. Paul goes so far as to say that human parents are a reflection of God’s fatherhood: “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph. 3:14-15; cf. Catechism, no. 2197).

The Fourth Commandment is the only commandment dealing with love of neighbor that is not expressed in terms of “Thou shall not.” Rather, the commandment points how we should act to foster life-giving relationships in the home, which has been called a “domestic Church” or “Church in miniature” (cf. Catechism, nos. 2204-06).

The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church beautifully summarizes the duties of children toward their parents:

“Children owe respect (filial piety), gratitude, docility, and obedience to their parents. In paying them respect and in fostering good relationships with their brothers and sisters, children contribute to the growth in harmony and holiness in family life in general. Adult children should give their parents material and moral support whenever they find themselves in situations of distress, sickness, loneliness, or old age” (no. 459).

Meanwhile, there is a beautiful section of the Catechism (nos. 2221-33) that describes the duties of parents toward their children. I think every Catholic parent would find guidance and even food for meditation in that section. I would only highlight here the parents’ role as the “first heralds” of the Gospel to their children as well as their ongoing responsibility to form their children in the faith and Christian virtue.

When children become adults, parents should welcome and joyfully respect the Lord’s call to one (or more!) of their children to the priesthood and religious life. Sure, parents should also rejoice should their children be called to Christian marriage or the single life, but in today’s social climate calls to the priesthood or religious life are too often opposed or even thwarted by Catholics parents who don’t fully appreciate the beauty and goodness of such vocations.

The Fourth Commandment does not only apply to family relationships.  It calls upon us to honor and respect all who hold positions of lawful authority.  Examples would include our bishop and pastor as our spiritual fathers, as well as our secular leaders. Only God’s authority is absolute, but we are to respect all those with authority in our lives, and obey legitimate exercises of such authority.

Authority should always be exercised as a service, putting the community ahead of one’s own interests.  It should respect:

Those subject to authority should regard those in authority as representatives of God.  All citizens should collaborate with public authorities for the sake of the common good (see Catechism, nos. 1905-12).  This moral obligation on the part of all citizens includes these duties, among others:

  • Pay taxes
  • Exercise the right to vote
  • Defend one’s country
  • Voice just criticisms in defense of others or the community

While citizens are generally called to submit to lawful authority, a citizen is obliged in conscience not to obey the laws of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral code.  “We must obey God, rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

Liturgy Matters, Vatican II

15 Nov

Earlier this week, we began a series on the 16 documents of Vatican II with a reflection on the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium), the first document promulgated by the Council. We focused on the document’s emphasis on the “fully conscious and active participation” of all the faithful in the sacred liturgy, and how this objective helped to guide subsequent liturgical reforms.

Given the significance of the widespread liturgical reforms following Vatican II, I thought that before we move on to the next conciliar document I would offer this “top ten list” of other teachings found in Sacrosanctum Concilium that I have found to be particularly interesting, important, or misunderstood. I have chosen to let the quotes speak for themselves rather than “spin” them through the use of commentary (aside from the captions!).

(1) Source and Summit (no. 10)

“[T]he liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows.”

(2) Continuity and Change (no. 21)

“In order that the Christian people may more certainly derive an abundance of graces from the sacred liturgy, holy Mother Church desires to undertake with great care a general restoration of the liturgy itself. For the liturgy is made up of immutable elements divinely instituted, and of elements subject to change. These not only may but ought to be changed with the passage of time if they have suffered from the intrusion of anything out of harmony with the inner nature of the liturgy or have become unsuited to it.”

(3) Don’t Mess with Our Mass (no. 22, sec. 3)

“[N]o other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.”

(4) Catholics Are “Bible Christians” (no. 35, sec. 1; see also no. 51)

“In sacred celebrations there is to be more reading from Holy Scripture, and it is to be more varied and suitable.”

(5) Latin or English? (no. 36; see also no. 54)

“[T]he use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites. But since the use of the mother tongue, whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or other parts of the liturgy, frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended. This will apply in the first place to the readings and directives, and to some of the prayers and chants . . .”

(6) Where the Bishop Is, There Is the Church! (no. 41)

“The bishop is to be considered as the high priest of his flock, from whom the life in Christ of his faithful is in some way derived and dependent. Therefore all should hold in great esteem the liturgical life of the diocese centered around the bishop, especially in his cathedral church; they must be convinced that the pre-eminent manifestation of the Church consists in the full, active participation of all God’s holy people in these liturgical celebrations, especially in the same Eucharist, in a single prayer, at one altar, at which there presides the bishop surrounded by his college of priests and by his ministers.”

(7)  Parts of the Mass (and check out the second sentence) (no. 56)

“The two parts which, in a certain sense, go to make up the Mass, namely, the liturgy of the word and the Eucharistic liturgy, are so closely connected with each other that they form but one single act of worship. Accordingly this sacred Synod strongly urges pastors of souls that, when instructing the faithful, they insistently teach them to take their part in the entire Mass, especially on Sundays and feasts of obligation.”

(8) The Return of RCIA (no. 64)

“The catechumenate for adults, comprising several distinct steps, is to be restored and to be taken into use at the discretion of the local ordinary. By this means, the time of the catechumenate, which is intended as a period of suitable instruction, may be sanctified by sacred rites to be celebrated at successive intervals of time.”

(9) The Liturgy of the Hours Is for Everyone (no. 100)

“Pastors of souls should see to it that the chief hours, especially Vespers [commonly known today as ‘Evening Prayer’], are celebrated in common in church on Sundays and the more solemn feasts. And the laity, too, are encouraged to recite the divine office, either with the priests, or among themselves, or even individually.”

(10) Not Everyone Got This Memo (no. 116; same goes for pipe organ in no. 120)

“The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.”

Now, Sacrosanctum Concilium had many other significant teachings, from general liturgical principles to specific statements about particular liturgical/sacramental celebrations. Are there any other quotes that you readers would include in your own “top ten”?

Catechesis on the Third Commandment

14 Nov

We turn this week to the Third Commandment, the final commandment that relates to our responsibilities toward God. The remaining commandments will specify how we are to live out our vocation to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Remember to keep holy the LORD’s Day.

The seventh day of the Jewish week is called the sabbath day. The Third Commandment, originally given to Moses for the chosen people, is all about observing “rest” on the sabbath, thereby making it holy, or set apart for God. As Scripture says: “Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD” (Ex. 31:15).

The Lord Jesus observed divine law. At the same time, however, He gave us a new perspective for understanding the Third Commandment: “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath” (Mk. 2:27).In other words, the sabbath is for our own well-being. This commandment does not contain a “Thou shall not” but simply a “Remember.” This commandment is nothing other than a reminder to do something that is truly good for us.

Before getting into what that means for us in practical terms, we should briefly note that Christians keep holy the Lord’s Day (Sunday), not the seventh or sabbath day (Saturday). This transfer took place early in the life of the Church (see Catechism, nos. 2174-76). The reason Sunday was selected is because it is the day of the Resurrection of Christ, “the Lord even of the sabbath” (Mk. 2:28). As “the first day of the week” (Mk. 16:2), Sunday recalls the beginning of creation. As the “eighth day,” or the day following the sabbath, it symbolizes the new creation (see 2 Cor. 5:17) brought about by Christ’s Resurrection. For us, then, the “day of the Lord” (Dies Domini) has become the first of all days and of all feasts, as we find our rest in God alone (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 452).

There are two ways in which we are called to “remember” the Lord’s Day.

First, all Catholics are obligated to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation. As the Church especially stressed at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), Sunday Mass is the high point of our week, and the source of our strength for the week to come. For that reason, it should be a joy and not a burden to fulfill this duty, which is one of the precepts of the Church. The deliberate failure to attend on Sunday is a serious sin against the Third Commandment.

Second, Catholics “are to abstain from those works and affairs which hinder the worship to be rendered to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s day, or the suitable relaxation of mind and body” (Code of Canon Law, canon 1247). Mass is only one hour of the day. This commandment is about refreshing ourselves and our families all day. It is a day of “protest” against the servitude of work and the worship of money (Catechism, no. 2172).

On Sundays we remember to give praise and thanksgiving to God the Father, from whom all blessings flow. We remember to join with our brothers and sisters in Christ for the celebration of the Eucharist, where we receive Jesus, the living bread from heaven. And we remember to set aside our labors as much as we are able, choosing instead activities that build us up spiritually and in every other way.

Sounds more like a divine prescription than a commandment!

Are You Fully Conscious?

13 Nov

During the “Year of Faith,” Pope Benedict has asked us to take a fresh look at the teachings of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), which he and Bl. John Paul II have called a “sure compass” for the Church at this crucial moment in human history. Therefore, over the next several weeks, we will post reflections on key teachings from the 16 documents of Vatican II, and will also provide references and resources for further study.

We will first turn to Sacrosanctum Concilium, also known as the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. It was the first document promulgated by the Council, and it is one of the four “constitutions.” The constitutions are considered Vatican II’s most significant documents. And of course, given the dramatic liturgical changes that came from the Council, it is important to understand the mind of the Church as reflected in this pivotal document.

Today I want to focus on paragraph 14 of Sacrosanctum Concilium, which provides, in part:

“Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation by the Christian people as ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people’ (1 Pet. 2:9; cf. 2:4-5), is their right and duty by reason of their baptism.

“In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else . . .”

The Council clearly teaches that all men and women are called to a “fully conscious and active participation” at Mass. As one of the aims of the Council was to reinvigorate the faith of the people, the Church desired to make the sacred liturgy more accessible, but without sacrificing substance or the overarching sense of reverence we must have in the face of this sacred mystery. Fifty years later, we still recognize the need for a “new evangelization,” a “new springtime.” Therefore, fostering greater participation at Mass–what Vatican II called the “source and summit of the Christian life”–continues to be a significant objective for the Church (see Pope Benedict XVI, Porta Fidei, no. 9).

But this needs to be understood properly. Continue reading

Why Do We Ring Bells at the Consecration?

8 Nov

The bells at the time of the consecration at Mass signify the coming of the Person of Jesus Christ under the appearances of bread and wine at the consecration. It is interesting to note that bells are mentioned several times in Scripture, and in every instance it is in connection with liturgical worship (e.g., Ex. 28:31-35; Zech. 14:20; Sir. 45:9). In most instances, the bells draw attention to the coming of a sacred person.

When it comes to the use of bells during the Eucharistic Prayer, as the assembly anticipates and welcomes the coming of Christ under the appearances of bread and wine, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (“GIRM”) provides:

“A little before the consecration, when appropriate, a server rings a bell as a signal to the faithful. According to local custom, the server also rings the bell as the priest shows the host and then the chalice” (no. 150).

By “a little before the consecration” is generally understood the epiclesis, when the priest put his hands over the gifts and calls down the Holy Spirit upon them. The priest “shows” the host and chalice immediately after the consecration by elevating them so that the faithful can see them.

In 1972, the following question was posed to the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments: “Is a bell to be rung at Mass?” The Vatican’s authoritative reply provided this illuminating explanation:

“. . . From a long and attentive catechesis and education in liturgy, a particular liturgical assembly may be able to take part in the Mass with such attention and awareness that it has no need of this signal at the central part of the Mass. This may easily be the case, for example, with religious communities or with particular or small groups. The opposite may be presumed in a parish or public church, where there is a different level of liturgical and religious education and where often people who are visitors or are not regular churchgoers take part. In these cases the bell as a signal is entirely appropriate and is sometimes necessary. To conclude: usually a signal with the bell should be given, at least at the two elevations, in order to elicit joy and attention” (Notitiae 8 (1972), 195-196, as quoted in Documents on the Liturgy 1963-1979: Conciliar, Papal, and Curial Texts, 1452, emphasis added).

 

Catechesis on the Second Commandment

7 Nov

Last week we began at No Place Like Home a catechetical series on the Ten Commandments by focusing on the First Commandment (“I am the Lord your God; you shall not have strange gods before me”).

Today we turn to the Second Commandment:

You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.

The name of the Lord is holy. In the Old Testament, the Lord’s name was considered so holy that it wasn’t even spoken aloud (see Catechism, nos. 206-09).

As Christians, we have been baptized “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” We recall our Baptism when we begin our daily prayers or activities with the Sign of the Cross (“In the name of the Father . . .”).

The Second Commandment calls us to show reverence and respect to God’s name. When we do this, we are simply showing Him the respect He deserves (see Catechism, no. 2144).

Here are some of the ways we keep the Lord’s name holy:

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

The two principal sins against the Second Commandment are blasphemy and perjury.

Blasphemy is any speech, thought, or action involving contempt for God. It forbids the use of the names of the persons of the Trinity–as well as the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints–in an offensive way. Blasphemy is a sinful failure to respect God.

Perjury is the deliberate lying or withholding of truth when under oath. This also shows a serious lack of respect for God, whom we ask to be a “witness” to our dishonesty.

Not only do we invoke the name of the Lord, but He likewise calls each one of us by name (see Isaiah 43:1). Every Christian man, woman, and child has his or her own personal vocation to follow Jesus, as each individual follower is unique and precious to Him. This truth also reminds us of the significance of the Christian name given to us at Baptism.

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

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

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

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