Tag Archives: Mass

Be On Your Guard!

11 Nov

millstoneToday’s Gospel from Luke 17:1-6 brings together some important teachings of Jesus. First He says that while scandals will happen, woe to the person through whom they occur. Better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone around one’s neck than to cause a little one to sin.

Then He tells His disciples that even if their brother sins against them seven times in a day, each time he returns to say he’s sorry they should forgive him.

Lastly, the Apostles ask the Lord to increase their faith. It’s just one of many instances in which Scripture confirms that faith comes in many shapes and sizes. It is not a one-size-fits-all or all-or-nothing proposition, but rather is something that can and should grow within us as we cooperate with God’s abundant graces.

And why would St. Luke this include this request to increase the Apostles’ faith right after the discussion on scandal and forgiveness?

Scandals will come, but Our Lord says be on guard. By “scandal” the Church means conduct that leads others to sin (see Catechism, nos. 2284-87). Some sins are quite complementary. For example, sins of immodest dress and behavior can lead others to lust and sexual sins. Misconduct among Church leaders, even without the rhetorical flourish and exaggeration that we come upon in the media, can cause us to sin against faith and charity, and possibly provide the impetus for people to leave the Church. I’ve seen it happen.

Just because scandalous activity occurs, however, doesn’t mean we have to let it lead us astray, as though the millstone were around us, too! Our Lord gives us two positive things we can do when confronted with scandal: forgive and pray for an increase of faith. The latter helps us to see things through God’s eyes, and the former enables us to be “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Cor. 5:18-20).

The Difference the Eucharist Makes

22 Aug

pope celebrating MassAt Mass, we encounter the mystery of Christ becoming truly present under the appearance of bread and wine. Even though the sacred species look exactly the same after the consecration as they did before the consecration, we know by faith that there’s a world of difference.

Our Lord and Savior is truly present in our midst as our spiritual food. The change could not be more dramatic, nor more imperceptible.

That’s the objective reality of what we call “transubstantiation.” Bread and wine cease to be bread and wine but truly become the Body, Blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ, even though all the physical properties, such as size, taste, appearance, and composition, remain the same. We cannot see the difference, but we accept this teaching through the vision of faith.

But what does our encounter with this mystery actually do to us? In other words, what about those of us who are standing in line for Holy Communion? Do we look any different as we walk back to the pews? After all, we have the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ inside us. Are we any different fifteen minutes later, in the church parking lot or in the parish hall? Are we any different two or three days later? Does the Eucharist actually change us?

First, we need to understand that all the sacraments are meant to change us. A baby girl right after she is baptized looks exactly the same as she did before, yet now she is a child of God and a member of Christ’s body, the Church.

A young man, once he wipes off all the holy oil, looks exactly the same right after his Ordination, but now he is able to consecrate the Eucharist and to absolve us from our sins.

And we sinners look the same after we walk out of the confessional, but we have had our relationship with the Lord restored and renewed.

In all cases, we look the same on the outside, but at the core of our being we’ve been radically changed.

It’s no different with the Eucharist. As Pope Leo the Great wrote in the fifth century, “the partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ has no less an effect than to change us into what we have received.” The eternal Word of God took on flesh so that we might participate in the divine life, that we might truly become what we eat. The transformation of a sinner into a saint is the goal of every Christian life without exception. Therefore, all of us must be committed to leading changed, “Eucharistic” lives.

We use the Latin expression ex opere operato (literally, from the work having been done) to express the guarantee that Christ’s Real Presence and superabundant grace will be available at every validly celebrated Mass. However, just as we benefit from food’s nutrients only to the extent we digest them well, we benefit from the grace of the Eucharist only to the extent we effectively assimilate this spiritual food. We need to be properly disposed if we want to tap into the grace of the sacrament.

Pope John Paul II likened our “Amen” when we receive Communion to our Lady’s fiat at the Annunciation, when she consented to Our Lord’s making His dwelling in her virginal womb (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, no. 55). Our “Amen,” in a real way, gives the Lord permission to come in, change us imperceptibly from within, and orient us toward our true and eternal good. But this “Amen,” this permission, often comes with strings attached on our part, as we don’t necessarily want Him to change everything. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit gently and relentlessly guides us to the truth that we will find everlasting happiness as we fully surrender ourselves to the life-changing power of the most holy Eucharist.

The next time we’re at Mass, let’s consider the amazing reality that it’s not only the bread and wine that are being changed.

The foregoing is adapted from a book I coauthored entitled, Catholic for a Reason III: Scripture and the Mystery of the Mass, which is available through Emmaus Road Publishing.

Food for Thought

11 Apr

april showersI don’t know about you, but I have found the daily Mass readings for the second week of the Easter season to be overflowing with food for meditative prayer and daily Christian living. I thought I would share this “top ten” list of verses that have been especially meaningful to me this week, realizing of course that I’m only scratching the surface of these rich passages.

And by the way, we all know that April showers bring May flowers. But what do May flowers bring? The answer is found at the end of this list of verses.

(1) “Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe’” (Jn. 20:27, Sunday).

This episode in which Our Lord confronts “doubting” Thomas is perhaps the most compelling post-Resurrection appearance of Christ, which provides solid encouragement for those of us who have not seen, yet have believed.

(2) “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me” (Heb. 10:5, Monday).

This passage, which explicitly applies Psalm 40 to Our Lord, fittingly speaks of the Lord’s Incarnation, which we celebrated on Monday with the transferred feast of the Annunciation. But even more, we see that His becoming flesh, His taking a body, is connected to sacrifice. Our bodies too are instruments of sacrifice: “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1; see also Col. 1:24).

(3) “Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word’” (Lk. 1:38, Monday).

The Annunciation is ordinarily celebrated on March 25th, exactly nine months before Christmas, but was moved this year out of deference to Easter, which is an eight-day feast in the Church. So we had a temporary break from St. John’s Gospel as we heard anew Our Lady’s remarkable “fiat,” as she consents to becoming a living tabernacle of the eternal Son of God. We too become living tabernacles whenever we worthily receive Our Lord in Holy Communion.

(4) “The community of believers was of one heart and mind” (Acts 4:32, Tuesday).

The Catechism (no. 2790) links this verse to the Lord’s Prayer: When we pray “our Father,” we acknowledge our communion with all our brothers and sisters in the Lord.

(5) Jesus said to Nicodemus: “‘You must be born from above’” (Jn. 3:7, Tuesday).

This famous episode points to the regenerative waters of Baptism, which truly enable us to become partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4) and heirs of heaven as God’s beloved children.

(6) “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. . . . whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God” (Jn. 3:16, 21, Wednesday).

Okay, this is a bit of a “two-fer.” Despite its familiarity, John 3:16 should never lose its freshness in our hearts. And God’s love calls forth not only a notional assent, but even more it demands a committed love, such that we not only profess the truth, but live it–even when nobody is watching.

(7) “But Peter and the Apostles said in reply, ‘We must obey God rather than men’” (Acts 5:29, Thursday).

Even though this passage gets misused at times, the premise here is a crucial one. Often we can live the ambiguity, in a sense obeying both God and man. But when push comes to shove, when our faith calls us to a higher standard, do we have the integrity of St. Thomas More to obey God, not men?

(8) “He does not ration his gift of the Spirit” (Jn. 3:34, Thursday).

God is more generous, more powerful, and even more present than we often give Him credit for, at least in practice. The Christian life, when all is said and done, is life in the Spirit. If our faith isn’t all-encompassing, it’s because we’re rationing God, and not that God is rationing His Spirit.

(9) “If this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God” (Acts 5:38-39, Friday).

These remarkably wise words of Gamaliel have proven to be prophetic, haven’t they? In addition, wisdom has a timeless quality, and so Gamaliel’s words provide sound guidance whenever we encounter purported private revelations, new spiritual movements, or other religious enterprises of questionable origin.

(10) “Jesus said, ‘Let the people recline’” (Jn. 6:10, Friday).

Okay, this one is a little tongue-in-cheek. My daughter Brenda likes to cite this verse whenever I ask her to get off the sofa and do something. But even this lighthearted anecdote shows how Scripture verses can be manipulated and taken out of context when removed from their natural habitat (i.e., the liturgy) and interpreted apart from the authority of the Church.

And by the way, the answer to my question at the beginning of this post is . . . pilgrims!

I Wanna Know What Hope Is

14 Mar

faith hope loveThere was a popular song by the rock band Foreigner some years ago entitled, “I Wanna Know What Love Is.” I think the song title is reflective of the thirst we all have to know and experience true love, which can be so elusive in light of all the counterfeits that surround us.

While there are no hit songs about it, I think we also want to know what hope is. So many people go through the day without realizing that there is hope for them. Others have given way to despair or presumption (cf. Catechism, nos. 2091-92).

For those of us who want to know what hope is, we have the following passage from St. Paul (Phil. 3:12-14) as part of the second reading at Mass this Sunday. For my money, it is the most profound reflection on Christian hope found in all of Scripture:

It is not that I have already taken hold of it
or have already attained perfect maturity,
but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it,
since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ Jesus.
Brothers and sisters, I for my part
do not consider myself to have taken possession.
Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind
but straining forward to what lies ahead,
I continue my pursuit toward the goal,
the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.

St. Thomas teaches us that hope is oriented toward a future, difficult good. Let’s briefly look at that from the perspective of natural hope. Hope deals with the future, as it wouldn’t make sense to hope for something that has already happened. Hope deals with the difficult, or at least uncertain. I don’t hope that tomorrow is Friday, because there’s no reasonable chance (barring the Second Coming!) of tomorrow not being Friday. And hope pertains to the good, as we only hope for things that at least seem good to us.

Let’s take it up a notch, and see how this applies to the theological virtue of hope, which helps those of us who have not yet reached “the prize of God’s upward calling” (Phil. 3:14; cf. Catechism, nos. 1817-21). Our hope is ordered to the future. We have been reborn in Christ, but we still haven’t reached our eternal destination. Our hope pertains to the difficult, or uncertain (in fact, the humanly impossible–see Mt. 19:25-26). Now this one can be tricky, as we joyfully affirm that God is true to His promises. We can count on His gracious assistance. The difficulty or uncertainty comes into play because of human freedom. Even though God offers us heaven, we remain free to reject Him through unrepented mortal sin. We all must persevere through some spiritual battles before happily coming to the end of our earthly pilgrimage.

And finally our hope is ordered to our ultimate good, which eye has not seen and ear has not heard (1 Cor. 2:9).

So in these remaining days of Lent, as we embrace our new Holy Father Francis, let’s strain forward to what lies ahead, as we redouble our commitment to our beloved Savior.

We Believe in Love

9 Jan

St. John and JesusThe first reading at Mass today (and any day) is not taken from the Gospel, but it sure is good news! Below is the text, with verses that I find especially inspiring highlighted:

Beloved, if God so loved us,
we also must love one another.
No one has ever seen God.
Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us,
and his love is brought to perfection in us.

This is how we know that we remain in him and he in us,
that he has given us of his Spirit.
Moreover, we have seen and testify
that the Father sent his Son as savior of the world.
Whoever acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God,
God remains in him and he in God.
We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us.

God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.
In this is love brought to perfection among us,
that we have confidence on the day of judgment
because as he is, so are we in this world.
There is no fear in love,
but perfect love drives out fear
because fear has to do with punishment,
and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love. (1 John 4:11-18)

Why Football Fans Can Sing . . . And Catholics Still Can’t

28 Dec

liturgical musicI need to begin this post on liturgical music with the disclaimer that I’m neither a liturgist nor a musician. My perspective is that of someone who loves the Mass and who can usually carry a tune.

In addition, I want to focus on a very narrow aspect of liturgical music–namely, the selection of hymns for Sunday and Holy Day Masses. To understand my concern, bear with me as I draw a comparison with the music at a professional sports event.

Has anyone ever been to a game where to get the fans fired up they continually play songs that nobody knows (or likes)? Or where they played loud music or otherwise elicited noise while the home team had the ball? (For those of you who might not know, the idea is to be quiet when your team has the ball, so the other offensive players can hear the quarterback better.) Or has anyone been to a baseball game in which they substituted a new song for “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” for the seventh inning stretch?

The answer to these and other such questions is “definitely not.” In other words, professional sports teams recognize the importance of playing the right music at the right time to help create the appropriate environment for cheering on the home team. It’s not rocket science, and any team organist not on board with that concept will soon be looking for other work.

For some reason, though, this concept is lost on many parishes that I’ve visited over the years. So many times I’ve gone to Mass absolutely ready to worship–and sing!–only to experience music selections that are so foreign to me (if not banal or repulsive) that it’s more of an annoyance or distraction than an aid to prayer. Does it have to be that way? Continue reading

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”?