Saturday, January 12, 2013

Devotion for today: Why Study the Mass? And more on lifting up our hearts…

…Our Church has a beautiful and precious treasure in the Mass. None of us must ever take the Mass for granted or become lukewarm toward it. Moreover, priests should offer the Mass reverently and joyfully. The Second Vatican Council reminded the laity in particular of their role; “The Church, therefore, earnestly desires that Christ’s faithful, when present at this mystery of faith, should not be there as strangers or silent spectators. On the contrary, through a good understanding of the rites and prayers, they should take part in the sacred action, conscious of what they are doing, with devotion and full collaboration. They should be instructed by God’s Word, and be nourished at the table of the Lord’s Body. They should give thanks to God. Offering the Immaculate Victim, not only through the hands of the priest, but also together with him, they should learn to offer themselves. Through Christ, the Mediator, they should be drawn day by day into ever more perfect union with God and each other, so that finally God may be all in all” (The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 48). (Reverend William P. Saunders, PhD: Straight Answers II, Cathedral Foundation Press, Baltimore, MD, 2003)

Commentaries on the Priest’s Request: Lift up your hearts

St. Cyprian (d.A.D. 258): When we stand praying, beloved brethren, we ought to be watchful and earnest with our whole heart, intent on our prayers. Let all carnal and worldly thoughts pass away, nor let the soul at that time think on anything but the object only of its prayer. For this reason also the priest, by way of preface before his prayer, prepares the minds of the brethren by saying, Lift up your hearts, that so upon the people’s response, We have them before our Lord, he may be reminded that he himself ought to think of nothing but our Lord.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem: Lift up your hearts: For in this sublime moment the heart should be lifted up to God, and not be allowed to descend to the earth and to earthly concerns. With all possible emphasis the sacrificing priest exhorts us in this hour to lay aside all the cares of this life, all domestic worries, and direct our hearts to God in heaven who hath so loved men.... Let there be none among you, who shall confess with his lips: We have lifted up our hearts, and allow his thoughts to remain with the cares of this life.

Part of a prayer of St. Padre Pio

Stay with me, Lord, for it is necessary to have You present so that I do not forget You. You know how easily I abandon You.

Stay with me, Lord, because I am weak and I need Your strength, that I may not fall so often.

Stay with me, Lord, for You are my life, and without You, I am without fervor.

Stay with me, Lord, for You are my light, and without You, I am in darkness.

Stay with me, Lord, to show me Your will.

Stay with me, Lord, so that I hear Your voice and follow You.

Stay with me, Lord, for I desire to love You very much, and always be in Your company.

Stay with me, Lord, if You wish me to be faithful to You.

Stay with me, Lord, for as poor as my soul is, I wish it to be a place of consolation for You, a nest of Love.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Devotion for today: Lift up your hearts

We return to our study of the Mass. Up until now, we have looked at the historical and biblical roots of the Introductory Rites, the Liturgy of the Word, and the Preparation of the Gifts, which ushers in the most solemn part of the Mass: the Liturgy of the Eucharist. In the Offertory, the priest, in following the ancient Jewish blessing prayer at every supper (the Barakah) blesses the bread and wine while giving thanks to God, the Lord of all creation. Following his purification rite, he now turns to the people and implores them to join with him as he is about to perform the most sacred of all acts. This part of the Mass is called the Preface, and it literally means, “To say beforehand.” The priest offers the invitation and we respond: “The Lord be with you, and with your spirit. Lift up your hearts. We lift them up to the Lord. Let us thanks to the Lord our God. It is right and just.” He follows with a prayer which is explained below. We must look upward at this time to God our Father, and remember that earlier in the Mass we asked forgiveness for our transgressions (the Penitential Rite), received His mercy (Kyrie) and praised and thanked Him for it (Gloria). Now we must place our hearts in our hands and lift them up to him, as a child presents his father with a precious gift. We must always try to come to Mass with pure hearts, having forgiven those who have hurt us, having asked forgiveness of those we have offended, and having prepared our hearts to be open to the graces we are about to receive. By lifting our hearts to God, we give ourselves into His hands, just as Jesus did on the cross. Here in the Mass we are now united with our Savior as the holiest event on earth is about to transpire. Be awed!

1 Samuel 16:7: But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."

Psalm 62:8: Trust in Him at all times, you people; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.

Luke 24:32 And they said to one another, "Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us."

Proverbs 3:3-5: Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false he will receive blessing from the LORD and vindication from God his Savior.

Psalm 84:2: My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.

...   We are used to seeing a “preface” in many books. The point of the preface is to set out the purpose and scope of the work, which will then be explored in detail.   In the same way, the Preface to our Eucharistic Prayer states the reason for the praising God. 

 Seasons of the Church year have an assigned Preface, as do many feast days and votive masses.  The current Sacramentary contains more than 80 individual Prefaces, but all follow the same formula.

The Preface begins with a dialogue, and the tradition of this dialogue dating from the earliest Christian celebrations is a testament to its importance. The presider proclaims, “The Lord be with you”, to which we respond “and with your spirit.”  The phrase “Lift up your hearts” is found in Lamentations 3: 41.  Finally, “Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God” probably stems from Jewish table prayer, where it was part of the prayer of blessing over the cup.

In this opening dialogue, we are conscious of our union with the presider in offering this prayer.  The presider speaks in the name of us all. The body of each Preface follows the pattern of the Jewish barakah, or blessing prayer.  It is a statement of the special reason for praising God, especially God’s work in creation and redemption.  Focusing attention on a particular aspect of salvation history or giving a quick glance at some mystery or feast, the Preface is the keynote of the praise and thanksgiving that will follow in the Eucharistic Prayer.  Steve Raml
Hymn: One Bread, One Body

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Devotion for today: What do you read?

A friend of mine told me that she has resolved to watch less television and read more spiritual books. She asked me for a list of books that I felt would help her get started. I am going to post a few books I have found to be helpful to me in my spiritual journey, a few novels that I have recently read, the book I am now reading, and a few others that may hit an interest in some of you. I do ask you to send me the spiritual reading that has helped you grow in your Catholic Faith and in your relationship with God. I will do this more often in the coming Year of Faith. By the way, what a great New Year’s resolution!

Current book:  I am currently reading an excellent biography Bonhoeffer, Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy written by Eric Metaxas. Here is what the first paragraph of the inside book cover states: As Adolf Hitler and the Nazis seduced a nation, bullied a continent, and attempted to exterminate the Jews of Europe, a small number of dissidents and saboteurs worked to dismantle the Third Reich from the inside. One of these was Dietrich Bonhoeffer – a pastor and author, known as much for such spiritual classics as “The Cast of Discipleship” and “Life Together” as for his 1945 execution in a concentration camp for his part in the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. That should get your attention!

Some of the greatest books I have ever read: The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis, The Story of a Soul by St. Therese of Lisieux, Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales, The Confessions of St. Augustine by St. Augustine.  I tend to choose the most modern translations of these great classics, but there are a variety of translations out there.

Two Good Novels I have recently read:  The Father’s Tale by Michael O’Brien, a fascinating novel about a father’s search for his son in Russia, and what he learns about true faith, and Replenish the Earth by Philip Bulman, a very good story which takes place during the persecution of early Christians.

Short, excellent non-fiction: A Heart on Fire and Render Unto Caesar by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, the current Archbishop of Philadelphia.  These two works give you excellent commentary on the state of the Church in today’s society.

For Lovers of History: History of the Church by Eusebius. Eusebius was one of the earliest writers of life after the resurrection of Christ. His account is nothing short of fascinating, including how the Herods both died from an attack of worms, among other things. (I know, ew).

Favorites: Consoling the Heart of Jesus and Thirty-three Days to Morning Glory by Fr. Michael Gaitley, Our Lady of Kibeho by Immaculee, Catholicism by Fr. Robert Barron, The Mass by Edward Sri, and Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry Weddell.

This is just the beginning. I will share many more as we proceed through this year, and I sincerely pray you share your favorites with me. And now, a word about the greatest book of all: the Bible. If you would like a good guide to help you through the entire Bible, go to EWTN and go to the Audio Library. You will find “Our Father’s Plan” by Scott Hahn and Jeff Cavins. You can listen to it for free, and follow it at your own pace. These two biblical scholars will make sense out of the Old Testament and tie it into the New Testament in a clear and concise fashion. Have many good reading adventures in 2013!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Devotion for today: wash me from my iniquity

We now come to the part of the Mass where the priest steps to the side of the main altar and washes his hands. This is a practice steeped in Jewish tradition. Read the passages below and see how God ordered this practice for the Jewish priests:

Exodus 29:4"Then you shall bring Aaron and his sons to the doorway of the tent of meeting and wash them with water.

Numbers 8:7 "Thus you shall do to them, for their cleansing: sprinkle purifying water on them,

Exodus 30:17-21: Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a bronze basin, with its bronze stand, for washing. Place it between the tent of meeting and the altar, and put water in it.  Aaron and his sons are to wash their hands and feet with water from it.  Whenever they enter the tent of meeting, they shall wash with water so that they will not die. Also, when they approach the altar to minister by presenting a food offering to the Lord, they shall wash their hands and feet so that they will not die. This is to be a lasting ordinance for Aaron and his descendants for the generations to come.”

Many people believe the priest washes his hands to cleanse them for the Consecration, but that is not entirely true. The rite of hand-washing is really a part of the priest’s prayer for the purification of his soul. He wishes to be freed from sin and iniquity. In the Sacramentary, the ritual book for the Mass, it clearly states that this prayer is to be inaudible, which suggests that it is intended for the priest alone:

"Lord, wash away my iniquity and cleanse me of my sins."

Psalm 51:2: Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

Psalm 24:3-4: Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord?
And who may stand in His holy place?
 He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood
And has not sworn deceitfully.

Edward Sri tells us in his book The Mass (Ascension Press, 2011): With this biblical background, we can see that the priest’s hand-washing at Mass indicates that he, like the Levitical priests of old, is about to stand in a most holy place – one that is even more awe-inspiring than the tabernacle or temple. God’s presence sometimes manifested itself visibly in the form of a cloud in the Old Testament sanctuaries (Ex 40:34; 1 Kings 8:10-11). But in the Mass, God is about to come to his people in an even more intimate way. On the altar before which the priest stands, the gifts of bread and wine will soon be changed into Christ’s very body and blood, and Our Lord will soon dwell within us as we receive him in Holy Communion. Jesus, the one true High Priest, will accomplish this through his priest’s hands. In preparation for this most sacred moment, the priest washes his hands like the priests of old as he approaches a new “holy of holies.” And he echoes David’s humble prayer of contrition to prepare his soul for this holy task: “Wash me, O Lord, from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin” (see Psalm 51:2).  The congregation sits silently in awe as they watch the priest prepare for his sacred role in word and ritual.

From now on, let us sit in “silent awe” at this part of the Mass as we ask God to prepare our hearts and souls  for the great mysteries which are about to unfold!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Devotion for today: Blessed are you, Lord God of all Creation

We halted our study of the Mass in 2012 by wrapping up our look at the Liturgy of the Word. Someone asked me why I left out the Creed. It is a study of its own and we can do that later. Today we will enter into the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The opening prayers of this section are so reflective of our lives and those of so many people in the Old Testament. Picture Abel offering the first fruits of his harvest to God. Picture Abraham offering the ram as a sacrifice in place of his son Isaac. Now picture yourself taking all you have and offering it back to God, acknowledging that everything we have comes from God. It is His to give and His to take away. Here we acknowledge that the very bread and wine we place on the altar before Him are gifts of His earth, and it is under His power that they will become the ultimate, perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Let us always pray this part of the Mass with fervent hearts and pure consciences. Abel’s sacrifice was accepted by God because it was pure. We must present ourselves in the same condition.

Blessed are you, Lord God of all
creation, for through your
goodness we have received the
bread we offer you: fruit of the
earth and work of human
hands, it will become for us the
bread of life.

Blessed are you, Lord God of all
creation, for through your
goodness we have received
the wine we offer you: fruit of
the vine and work of human
hands it will become our
spiritual drink.

With humble spirit and contrite
heart may we be accepted by
you, O Lord, and may our
sacrifice in your sight this day
be pleasing to you, Lord God.

The Liturgy of the Eucharist begins with the preparation of the gifts.  When the bread and wine are placed upon the altar and raised by the Priest as an offering to God, we often hear two prayers spoken aloud over each element (they can also be spoken quietly by the Priest).

….The prayers accompanying the offering of the bread and wine are very important, because they express the sacramental reality of the Sacred Liturgy.  Through our human work amidst creation, we offer back to God what is already His (the new translation highlights that we first “received” these gifts from Him), and He brings it to its heavenly fulfillment.  In an overarching sense, this applies to our entire Christian lives on earth.  Just as the bread and wine become Christ’s Body and Blood, we look forward to our resurrection in glorified bodies (as we profess in the Creed), and also to the perfection of all creation in the heavenly Jerusalem.
The people’s response to both prayers remains, “Blessed be God for ever” (a phrase that is actually a traditional introduction for Jewish prayers).

The entire preceding exchange during the preparation of the gifts bears similarity to prayers found in an episode from the Book of Daniel, when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are cast into a fiery furnace for refusing to worship an idol created by King Nebuchadnezzar.  Abednego (also known as Azariah) utters a prayer from within the furnace that begins, “Blessed are you, and praiseworthy, O Lord, the God of our fathers, and glorious forever is your name” (Dan 3:26).  And as the three men are kept safe by an Angel while in the furnace, they sing a litany of praise, wherein they repeatedly bless the Lord and extol His name “above all forever.”
After offering the bread and wine, the Priest then quietly recites, “With humble spirit and contrite heart…”  More than a simple rearranging of the current translation, the new text is a much clearer allusion to a portion of the same prayer spoken by Abednego in the furnace: “But with contrite heart and humble spirit let us be received; as though it were holocausts of rams and bullocks, or thousands of fat lambs, so let our sacrifice be in your presence today as we follow you unreservedly; for those who trust in you cannot be put to shame” (Dan 3:39-40). 

This also recalls Psalm 51 (50), which affirms that the Lord desires a humble heart over burnt sacrifices.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Devotion for today: rid yourself of pride

Our Lady of Kibeho stressed to her visionaries that man’s pride is a great offense to God. We live in a very prideful world, a world which has been this way since the time of Adam and Eve. It was pride, was it not, that caused the fall of man in the Garden and the fall of the angels from heaven? God warned his people in the Old Testament to avoid pride, and He continued to do so in the New. Is it no wonder we struggle so severely with this sin? To be a true disciple of Christ, and bring others to Him, we must work as hard as we can to obey God in all things, to stop reinventing our religion to accommodate our sins, and to find the strength to go up against the temptation to think more of ourselves than we do of God and our fellow man. We can only do this with the grace of God, and with an awareness of how much He hates what pride does to His beloved Children. Our goal in life should be to become saints. To do that, we must accept God's will for our lives, and live that will purely, humbly and with great love. If we are to be proud of anything, let us be proud of our role in God's plan for salvation. Performed well on the stage of life, it is the only role worthy of a reward, an eternal reward received in the arms of our Father. "Well done, my good and faithful servant." (Matthew 25:21)

Micah 6:8: He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.

Job 35:12: There they cry out, but he does not answer, because of the pride of evil men.

Proverbs 8:13: The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.

Proverbs 11:2: When pride comes, then comes disgrace; but with the humble is wisdom.

Proverbs 16:18:  Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.

Proverbs 29:23: A man's pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.

Isaiah 2:11, 17: The haughty looks of man shall be brought low, and the pride of men shall be humbled; and the LORD alone will be exalted in that day.

2 Chronicals 7:14: If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin....

Sirach 10:12-13: The beginning of man's pride is to depart from the Lordhis heart has forsaken his Maker. For the beginning of pride is sin, and the man who clings to it pours out abominations. Therefore the Lord brought upon them extraordinary afflictions, and destroyed them utterly.

Matthew 18:4: Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 23:12: Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Luke 1:49-53: for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.

2 Timothy 3: But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good,  treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

Prayer for humility: Jesus, help me to be authentically humble in the challenges of each day. Teach me what it means to be humble. Help me to wait my turn to speak and to be at peace when others outshine me. Grant that I may listen with a spirit of objectivity rather than an ‘I know it all’ attitude. Lord, grant that I not only be content with who I am, but have confidence that your grace can make me better! Help me to be obedient without resentment and ready to do Your Will. I ask that You make up for whatever I lack and increase those desires within me that lead to true humility. Most of all, help me to believe in your revelations, hope in Your word and love you more than myself. Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like unto Thine! Amen. (Deacon Bill Steltemeier EWTN)

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Devotion for today: the shepherds represent the Jews, the Kings represent the Gentiles

adoration of the magi - Epiphany
This excerpt from an Epiphany sermon of Pope St. Leo the Great (Sermo 3 in Epiphania Domini, 1-3. 5: PL 54, 240-244) is used in the Roman Office of Readings for the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6.  "Epiphany" means the revelation or appearance of a King.  On this feast, the church celebrates the revelation of Christ as King, messiah, Lord, and God to the Gentiles represented by the Magi from the east.
The loving providence of God determined that in the last days he would aid the world, set on its course to destruction. He decreed that all nations should be saved in Christ.
A promise had been made to the holy patriarch Abraham in regard to these nations. He was to have a countless progeny, born not from his body but from the seed of faith. His descendants are therefore compared with the array of the stars. The father of all nations was to hope not in an earthly progeny but in a progeny from above.

Let the full number of the nations now take their place in the family of the patriarchs. Let the children of the promise now receive the blessing in the seed of Abraham, the blessing renounced by the children of his flesh. In the persons of the Magi let all people adore the Creator of the universe; let God be known, not in Judaea only, but in the whole world, so that his name may be great in all Israel.

Dear friends, now that we have received instruction in this revelation of God’s grace, let us celebrate with spiritual joy the day of our first harvesting, of the first calling of the Gentiles. Let us give thanks to the merciful God, who has made us worthy, in the words of the Apostle, to share the position of the saints in light, who has rescued us from the power of darkness, and brought us into the kingdom of his beloved Son. As Isaiah prophesied: the people of the Gentiles, who sat in darkness, have seen a great light, and for those who dwelt in the region of the shadow of death a light has dawned. He spoke of them to the Lord: The Gentiles, who do not know you, will invoke you, and the peoples, who knew you not, will take refuge in you.

This is the day that Abraham saw, and rejoiced to see, when he knew that the sons born of his faith would be blessed in his seed, that is, in Christ. Believing that he would be the father of the nations, he looked into the future, giving glory to God, in full awareness that God is able to do what he has promised.
This is the day that David prophesied in the psalms, when he said: All the nations that you have brought into being will come and fall down in adoration in your presence, Lord, and glorify your name. Again, the Lord has made known his salvation; in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice.

This came to be fulfilled, as we know, from the time when the star beckoned the three wise men out of their distant country and led them to recognise and adore the King of heaven and earth. The obedience of the star calls us to imitate its humble service: to be servants, as best we can, of the grace that invites all men to find Christ.
Dear friends, you must have the same zeal to be of help to one another; then, in the kingdom of God, to which faith and good works are the way, you will shine as children of the light: through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with God the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen.
  St. Leo the Great was pope during the middle of the fifth century, a troubled time when barbarian armies were ravaging the once mighty Roman Empire.  He is perhaps most famous for persuading Attila the Hun to abandon his plans to sack the city of Rome.  Leo, one of the Early Church Fathers, was such an extraordinary teacher that he is one of the few Popes of history to have been dubbed "the Great."