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Christmas Proclamation

24 Dec

nativityThe Twenty-fifth Day of December,

when ages beyond number had run their course from the creation of the world,

when God in the beginning created heaven and earth, and formed man in his own likeness;

when century upon century had passed since the Almighty set his bow in the clouds after the Great Flood, as a sign of covenant and peace;

in the twenty-first century since Abraham, our father in faith, came out of Ur of the Chaldees;

in the thirteenth century since the People of Israel were led by Moses in the Exodus from Egypt;

around the thousandth year since David was anointed King;

in the sixty-fifth week of the prophecy of Daniel;

in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;

in the year seven hundred and fifty-two since the foundation of the City of Rome;

in the forty-second year of the reign of Caesar Octavian Augustus, the whole world being at peace,

JESUS CHRIST, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to consecrate the world by his most loving presence, was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and when nine months had passed since his conception, was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Judah, and was made man:

The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.

The Roots of the Messiah

17 Dec

December 17th marks a turning point in the Advent season. We are now unmistakably in the home stretch. As we heard at Mass last Sunday, “the Lord is near”–Christmas is just around the corner.

December 17th also marks the beginning of the “O Antiphons” in Evening Prayer, which draw on some biblical titles of our Lord and Messiah. Today’s “O Antiphon” theme is Wisdom: “O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, You govern all creation with Your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.”

A more literal translation (since we’re into new translations, right?) might be: “O Wisdom, who came from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end and ordering all things mightily and sweetly: come, and teach us the way of prudence.” Check out this chart giving the biblical roots for each of the O Antiphons.

On December 17th, the Gospel readings at Mass undergo a significant shift. Instead of hearing about John the Baptist, we are now delving into the infancy narratives from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Today we start at the beginning, with the genealogy of Jesus, the son of David, the son of Abraham, found in the opening verses of St. Matthew’s Gospel.

There is much more to this genealogy than meets the eye. Continue reading

Why We Care About Marriage (Part 4)

2 Sep

winding road CCHeaven!

It is what we all desire in the depths of our existence. Every longing we experience finds its fulfillment in heaven. Every joy in this life is but a sign of what is to come in eternity. When a joy we experience passes away, we’re reminded that we’re not yet in heaven, where our joy will never end.

Imagine going to a party and not having to leave at the end, but being able to stay at the party with all of your closest friends and family. This is kind of what heaven will be like, except we tend to interpret heaven from our own limited human experience. We think that if heaven is some sort of party that never ends, then eventually we will get bored.

Heaven is not quite like that; it is not an endless succession of days where we have to find something to do. It is more like a fixed moment of joy that is locked into our very existence–for in heaven, there is no time.

Believe it or not, one of the greatest insights we can gain into this eternal existence is by contemplating the mystery of marriage.

Married couples are a sign of God’s existence in heaven, as the Church is wedded to Christ for all of eternity. Heaven is depicted in Sacred Scripture as a wedding feast. Is this a coincidence? I don’t think so. God uses this analogy to help us understand the eternal joy we will experience in heaven.

Let’s face it, wedding receptions are joyous occasions, and He is trying to awaken us to this reality. The Lord is saying, “If you think weddings are fun on earth, wait until you get here!”  And that’s just the beginning.

Imagine a passionately loving couple who are approaching their wedding day. They simply cannot wait to give themselves as a gift to one another at the altar and also to consummate that relationship through the conjugal act.  The joy the couple experiences through the total self-donation of intercourse is intended to be a foretaste of the bliss of participating in the union of Christ and His Bride for all eternity. This may make us blush, but it is God who came up with this analogy to describe what our experience of joy will be like in heaven.

In the Catholic Tradition, we call heaven the “beatific vision.” This description helps us understand that we, the Bride of Christ, will see Christ, the Bridegroom, face to face for all of eternity in a loving, passionate stare. As we gaze in the vision of our Savior, we are filled with His love. His love penetrates us and fills us with His very life. Having received His life, we now have a worthy gift to return to Him, and so, having received, we can now give in return a pleasing gift.

Does that description of the beatific vision sound like anything that a husband and wife experience in their earthly marriage? It should. The marital embrace of husband and wife, where the husband gives his seed of life to his wife and she takes that seed into herself and offers it in return in the conception and bringing forth of new life, is the earthly window where we catch a glimpse of the eternal embrace of Christ and His Bride!

This is but a tiny glimpse of the beautiful vision of marriage that the Church holds out to her children. So, for us it is not a matter of debating whether to change the definition of marriage. We do not believe we have the power to change what we did not create. It is not for us to change; it is for us to understand and live.

Marriage is not an entity unto itself, but it represents the One who created it because He wanted to communicate the truth and beauty of His loving reality. Is it any wonder that as marriage has declined over the past several decades that we have also seen a rise in atheism? I believe they are connected. It makes sense that as we can no longer see the sign as clearly as we should, we cannot recognize what the sign points to. It is like trying to reach a destination without having the proper signs to guide the way. Can you imagine if you went on a road trip and did not have a map, or GPS, or any road signs to tell you if you were on the right path?  It may feel like an adventure at first, but it would soon turn into a frustrating ordeal. In this scenario, it would be surprising if we ever reach our destination.

I think that is what our culture is experiencing. Our society has set out on an excursion and has left all points of guidance behind. The culture thinks it is on an exciting experience of unbridled freedom and happiness, but it will eventually lead to frustration and despair. I am speaking about every form of deprivation of the truth and beauty of matrimony that I have mentioned in this series.

For us married couples, it is our duty to be the sign we are intended to be for the sake of others. When we do that, we will experience joy beyond belief, because we will be living our purpose in life, which is to lead others to Christ. I invite all married couples to intentionally focus on being the sign they are called to be in order to change the culture.  Living our mission as married couples is the most effective way to awaken our culture to the beauty of marriage. To paraphrase St. Catherine of Sienna, if we were who we were created to be, we would set the world on fire!

Why We Care About Marriage (Part 3)

26 Aug

As we discussed in the previous post, marriage is a sign of God as the eternal exchange of love before time began.  Marriage represents this truth because the husband and wife commit and give themselves as a gift to each other. The married couple images God as a communion of persons.  God’s wisdom in establishing marriage as a union between one man and one woman did not stop with signifying Him “as it was in the beginning.” Marriage also signifies God as He “is now.” We have come to experience and know God through time, and so this is the second aspect I would like to explore.

Marriage is a sign of God’s loving existence during time.  In fact, St. Paul reminds us that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent His son . . .” (Gal. 4:4).  Every sacramentally married couple is called to be a sign of Christ’s love for the Church.  By the way a married couple loves each other, they bear witness to the reality that God is a God who is passionately in love with His People, faithful to His promises, and generously merciful and life-giving.

In fact, this truth is at the core of the vows that the bride and groom exchange at the altar. The vows are what establish the sacrament. No vows, no sacrament. The couple has to promise to love each other in the same way that Christ loves the Church. If they are not willing to do that , then they do not become a sacrament.  Let’s look at those vows more intently.

If you have not been to a Catholic wedding recently, let me refresh your memory.  The priest or deacon who is officiating the wedding asks the couple three questions.  The couple is asked is they have come freely.  Next, the couple is asked if they promise to be faithful to one another, and finally, the couple is asked if they will be fruitful and receive children lovingly from God.  Freely, faithfully, and fruitfully are the three hallmarks of Christ’s love for the Church, so for Her part, the Church is doing its due diligence to make sure the couple is not being tricked in any way.  The Church is essentially asking the couple, “Do you want to be a sacrament?  Do you want to be a sign of Christ’s love for the Church?  If you do, we will proceed to the exchange of the vows.” Continue reading

Sheep and Goats

2 Apr

In the past I’ve spilled perhaps an inordinate amount of ink on the Holy Thursday foot-washing rite, which surely has been the cause of some controversy in recent years. At the same time, though, the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper has never ceased to be one of my favorite liturgies of the year, and my family is eagerly looking forward to tonight’s celebration, grateful that there is no conflict with “March madness” or youth sports!

One aspect of this beautiful liturgy that always captures my attention is the first reading, from chapter 12 of Exodus, in which the Lord gives the instructions for the Passover to Moses and Aaron. I tend to zero in on the part about the lamb being taken from either the sheep or the goats. The Lord isn’t particular on this point–the blood of either a sheep or a goat on the doorposts and lintel of the house will save the family’s firstborn from death.

In other contexts, there is a huge difference between sheep and goats. The example that immediately comes to mind is Matthew 25, where Our Lord says that at the judgment He will separate the sheep from the goats. The sheep obviously are those in a state of grace, those who are being saved, while the goats are those who are destined for eternal fire.

I don’t want to make too much of that, because these are two distinct passages with their own distinct messages. But on the night in which we celebrate and praise God for the gift of the New Covenant priesthood, we are reminded that ”in the old days” the Lord made use of both sheep and goats in the rite that prefigured the Mass. I find that to be a reminder of the efficacy of God’s salvific economy irrespective of the holiness or sinfulness of His ministers. When the New Covenant “instructions” are followed, Our Lord is true to His promises, and He becomes the living bread from heaven bearing everlasting life. What an awesome reality!

At the same time, whether we are sheep or goats does have eternal ramifications. And isn’t that what the Last Supper, and more specifically, the Institution of the Holy Eucharist, is all about?  The Good Shepherd, through the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, gives us the means to be recognized as His sheep, enabling us in turn to recognize and serve Him in the least of our brethren (cf. Mt. 25:31-46) and so come to enjoy the fullness of life with Him.

Let It Be Done!

25 Mar

our lady of graceToday when we use the word “fiat,” we typically refer to an arbitrary, capricious, or self-assertive act of the will. In today’s solemnity of the Annunciation we encounter an entirely different sort of “fiat.” Mary’s “fiat” (Latin, meaning “let it be done,” from Lk. 1:38) was a completely self-giving act of the will. The Annunciation was the decisive moment when Mary freely entrusted her entire self to God and consented in faith to become the Mother of the Redeemer (Lk. 1:26-38). She then faithfully devoted the rest of her life as “the handmaid of the Lord”–to the Person and saving work of her Son.

She was in a real sense the first disciple of Jesus, pondering the Word of God in her Immaculate Heart (cf. Lk. 2:19, 51).

Our Lady’s faithfulness was not a one-time occurrence, but rather part of an ongoing pilgrimage that constantly called her to empty herself, to give of herself, in imitation of her divine Son. In the Presentation at the Temple (Lk. 2:22-38), she learned that her beloved Son would be opposed in fulfilling His mission, and that a sword would pierce through her own soul. From the beginning, there was no mistaking that her fidelity would involve suffering (cf. Heb. 5:8).

Mary continued unswervingly in her pilgrimage of faith as the years quietly passed by. At some point, she encountered the natural human suffering of having St. Joseph, her loving husband, pass from this life. She was there at the beginning of her Son’s public ministry. At the Marriage of Cana, where Christ worked His first “sign,” she became a “spokesperson” for her Son’s will: “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn. 2:6). Not only does she hear the Word of God and keep it, but she exhorts others to do the same.

Vatican II (1962-65) beautifully summarized the climax of our Blessed Mother’s mission:

“[T]he Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross, where she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, enduring with her only begotten Son the intensity of his suffering, associated herself with his sacrifice in her mother’s heart, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this victim which was born of her” (Lumen Gentium, no. 58).

Mary’s motherhood did not end with bearing the Son of God. Rather, that’s only the beginning. Nor did it end with Jesus’ death on the Cross. At the foot of the Cross, Jesus entrusted Mary’s motherhood to St. John, the beloved disciple and, by extension, to the entire Church. She became the “New Eve,” the mother of all who are alive in Christ (cf. Jn. 19:26-27; Catechism, nos. 501, 511, and 969). Undoubtedly our Blessed Mother never tires of telling us to do whatever Jesus tells us. May we have “ears to hear” (Lk. 8:8) such wise motherly counsel!

St. Joseph, a Saint for Our Times

19 Mar

St. JosephSt. Joseph is one of the few saints to have more than one feast day. He also happens to be my patron saint, so when my wife and I were getting married, she asked which feast day I celebrated. Before I had the chance to answer, she mused out loud, “Definitely not St. Joseph the Worker.” She was right, though I’ve teased her ever since about this apparent commentary on my work habits!

The Church has traditionally honored St. Joseph during the month of March, so it seems appropriate this month to draw some insights from this great saint, especially today on his feast day.

At the outset of Luke’s Gospel, we read that part of John the Baptist’s role in preparing the people for the imminent coming of the Messiah was to turn the hearts of fathers to their children. In St. Joseph, we find a father whose heart is already exquisitely calibrated.

God was able to accomplish great things through this eminently faithful man of service. Priests, deacons, and laymen do well to pattern their lives after the beloved “Guardian of the Redeemer.”

While St. Joseph wasn’t a priest in the usual sense, this “just man” has much to say in response to today’s crisis of fatherhood–both the spiritual fatherhood of priests and the fatherhood exercised in the home.

St. Joseph was entrusted with the care of the Holy Family, the sanctuary of love where Jesus spent His hidden years. This family was, in embryonic form, the Body of Christ, containing both Christ and the mother of those who would come to believe in Him and keep His commandments (see Rev. 12:17). For this reason, St. Joseph, husband of Mary and foster father of Jesus, is considered the patron saint of the Universal Church.

Some men think St. Joseph got it all wrong. This is the age of Viagra, no-fault divorce, and the “sexual revolution.” The goal seemingly is sex without responsibility, whereas St. Joseph accepts the serious responsibility of marriage and family while foregoing the pleasure of marital intimacy.

Yet, St. Joseph got it exactly right. He tells modern man that it is possible and necessary–in fact, noble and manly–to live in accordance with the Church’s teachings on sexual morality. Certainly this does not mean that all men, particularly married men, are called to perpetual continence. But all men according to their state in life are called to chastity and at certain times in their lives (e.g., before marriage and possibly at times during marriage) are called to continence.

The marital act is a sacred expression of one’s total gift to one’s spouse and must not degenerate into a merely recreational, selfish act of self-gratification. St. Joseph gives himself totally to Mary. He embodies true love and marital fidelity to his beloved spouse even in the absence of physical intimacy.

A significant element of fatherhood is playing good defense–in other words, protecting the precious treasures that have been entrusted to us. Wolves in many forms pose serious threats to families and parishes. Our response as men of faith must not be fear or anxiety in the face of such threats, but rather vigilance and courage.

During this month devoted to the Guardian of the Redeemer, may all of us fathers draw renewed strength from this holy hero. St. Joseph, patron of the universal Church, pray for us!

This article appeared earlier this month in The Leaven, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.