Saturday, January 19, 2013

Devotion for today: Ours is the Church of the Suffering

This is a passage from the book “God is Near: The Eucharist, The Heart of Life” by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVII). I found it to be an interesting discussion on the idea: was Jesus’ death on the cross a failure? I know, shocking, but read on…

Some years ago, Gonsalves Mainberger-who was at that time still a member of the Order of Preachers-shocked his audience in Zurich, and soon after that his readers right across Europe, with the assertion: “Christ died for nothing.” Bultmann (a German scholar) says: We do not know how Jesus met his death, how he endured it. We must leave open the possibility of his having failed.

Did Jesus fail? Well, he certainly was not successful in the same sense as Caesar or Alexander the Great. From the worldly point of view, he did fail in the first instance: he died almost abandoned; he was condemned on account of his preaching. The response to his message was not the great YES of his people, but the Cross. From such an end as that, we should conclude that Success is definitely not one of the names of God and that it is not Christian to have an eye to outward success or numbers.

God’s paths are other than that; his success comes about from the Cross and is always found under that sign. The true witnesses to his authenticity, down through the centuries, are those who have accepted this sign as their emblem. When, today, we look at past history, then we have to say that it is not the Church of the successful people that we find impressive; the Church of those Popes who were universal monarchs; the Church of those leaders who knew how to get on well with the world.

Rather, what strengthens our faith, what remains constant, what gives us hope, is the Church of the suffering. She stands, to the present day, as a sign that God exists and that man is not just a cesspit, but that he can be saved.

This is true of the martyrs of the first three centuries, and then right up to Maximilian Kolbe and the many unnamed witnesses who gave their lives for the Lord under the dictatorships of our own day; whether they had to die for their faith or whether they had to let themselves be trampled on, day after day and year after year, for his sake. The Church of the suffering gives credibility to Christ; she is God’s success in the world; the sign that gives us hope and courage; the sign from which still flows the power of life, which reaches beyond mere thoughts of success and which thereby purifies men and opens up for God a door into this world.

So let us be ready to hear the call of Jesus Christ, who achieved the great success of God on the Cross; he who, as the grain of wheat that died, has become fruitful down through all the centuries; the Tree of Life, in whom even today men may put their hope.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Devotion for today: the epiclesis: calling upon God to bless our gifts

For many of us, the Epiclesis is sometimes said so quickly at Mass that if we are not following along in the Mass Guide or in the Magnificat, we really don’t catch all that is being said. I have printed the four versions that are used in your basic Sunday and weekday Masses, with the exception that I did shorten Eucharistic Prayer I as it is quite long, but very beautiful. If you would take time today to read these carefully, you will find that we are never assuming that God will accept our sacrifice; we ask Him to do so. We do not acknowledge that the bread and wine are acceptable sacrifices: we ask God to send the Holy Spirit to make them holy. The language in these prayers is quite lovely, even in the very short ones, with words such as “dewfall” and “from the rising of the sun to its setting." I hope that you  take a little more time on Eucharistic Prayer IV, for here you will find a summation of salvation history, from the fall of man until the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, always emphasizing God’s mercy for mankind. This prayer is very similar to the ancient Jewish prayers, where the table blessing included a prayer to God to send the Messiah. Here we are asking God to send the Holy Spirit to bring Jesus, the Messiah, into the bread and wine we offer. At this part of the Mass, let us pray that as the priest asks God to bless and make our gifts holy, we pray that God come to us as well, so that the sacrifice we make of our lives will be blessed and made holy, and that the Holy Spirit will fall upon us to fill us with Christ.

Eucharistic Prayer I: Therefore, Lord, we pray: graciously accept this oblation of our service, that of your whole family; order our days in your peace, and command that we be delivered from eternal damnation and counted among the flock of those you have chosen.  Be pleased, O God, we pray, to bless, acknowledge, and approve this offering in every respect; make it spiritual and acceptable, so that it may become for us the Body and Blood of your most beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Eucharistic Prayer II: You are indeed Holy, O Lord, the fount of all holiness. Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall, so that they may become for us the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Eucharistic Prayer III: You are indeed holy, O Lord, and all creation rightly gives you praise, for through your Son our Lord Jesus Christ, by the power and working of the Holy spirit, you give life to all things and make them holy, and you never cease to gather a people to yourself, so that from the rising of the sun to its setting a pure sacrifice may be offered to your name. Therefore, O Lord, we humbly implore you: by the same Spirit graciously make holy these gifts we have brought to you for consecration, that they may become the Body and Blood of your Son our Lord Jesus Christ, at whose command we celebrate these mysteries.

Eucharistic Prayer IV: We give you praise Father most holy, for you are great and you have fashioned all your works in wisdom and in love. You formed man in your own image and entrusted the whole world to his care, so that in serving you alone, the Creator, he might have dominion over all the creatures. And when through disobedience he had lost your friendship, you did not abandon him to the domain of death; for you came in mercy to the aid of all, so that those who seek might find you. Time and again you offered them covenants and through the prophets taught them to look forward to salvation. And you so loved the world, Father most holy, that in the fullness of time you sent your Only Begotten Son to be our Savior. Made incarnate by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, he shared our human nature in all things but sin. To the poor he proclaimed the good news of salvation, to prisoners, freedom, and to the sorrowful of heart, joy. To accomplish your plan, he gave himself up to death, and, rising from the dead, he destroyed death and restored life. And that we might live no longer for ourselves but for him who died and rose again for us, he sent the Holy Spirit from you, Father, as the first fruits for those who believe, so that, bringing to perfection his work in the world, he might sanctify creation to the full. Therefore, O Lord, we pray: may this same Holy Spirit graciously sanctify these offerings, that they may become the body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ for the celebration of this great mystery, which he himself left us as an eternal covenant.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Devotion for today: We are part of a treasure

We have just praised God and joined with the angels in singing Hosanna! Now we kneel and face the altar, ready to begin the most solemn part of the Mass. This is called the Canon of the Mass and it has several parts. Today we will look at a brief summary of each part before looking individually at the history and purpose of each. Again, my prayer is that by studying the Mass in a slow and systematic fashion, we can come to appreciate its rich heritage and roots in the Bible, and see the tremendous gift Christ gave us at the last supper. It is up to us, however, to bring our whole being into the Church, and to work hard to concentrate on the words being said. To go to Mass simply to fulfill an obligation, to avoid sin or because our parents once told us we had to do it, is to miss the incredible gift of grace that awaits us at every Mass. Let us not waste time worrying if the priest is a great homilist or if the altar servers are well trained or if the music is modern/traditional enough for us. Rather, let us thank God that we can attend a Mass, and let us pray for the many people in the world who suffer persecution, and who are willing to die, to appear before the altar of God. It is a reality for much of the world, so being present at the Eucharistic feast is a tremendous gift and treasure. We should treat it as such by dressing up, maintaining a respectful silence in the Church before Mass, receiving Communion in a reverent fashion, staying until the priest leaves the church and teaching our children the importance and beauty of what is unfolding before them. A treasure mistreated and neglected eventually becomes a treasure lost.

The Important parts of the Canon of the Mass (the major body of the Eucharistic prayer)

1)       Epiclesis: the priest places his hands over the bread and wine, blesses them and prays to God to send down the Holy Spirit that, through His power, the gifts will become the body and blood of Christ.
2)      Institution narrative: the words of Christ, used at the Last Supper are now used by the priest (in union with the Holy Spirit) to consecrate the bread and wine, and through transubstantiation, make sacramentally present the body and blood of Christ.
3)      Anamnesis: “remembrance”: Here we remember the passion, death and resurrection of Our Lord, His eminent coming again, and His presence now in our living mystery of the Mass.
4)      Supplices: The priests asks God to take the sacrifice we have just offered to His heavenly altar so that those who will receive it will “be filled with every heavenly grace and blessing”.
5)      Petitions: “We pray for”: Here we invoke the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, the Apostles, martyrs and all the saints to help us pray for the intentions of our Pope, Bishop, and the living and deceased members of the Church. (adapted from Straight Answers II, Rev. William P. Saunders, PhD., Cathedral Foundation Press, 2003)

 Psalm 96: Call to Worship the Lord the Righteous Judge

Sing to the Lord a new song;
Sing to the Lord, all the earth.
 Sing to the Lord, bless His name;
Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day.
Tell of His glory among the nations,
His wonderful deeds among all the peoples.
For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised;
He is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are idols,
But the Lord made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before Him,
Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.
Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory of His name;

Bring an offering and come into His courts.
Worship the Lord in holy attire;
Tremble before Him, all the earth.
Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns;
Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved;
He will judge the peoples with equity.”

 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
Let the sea roar, and all it contains;
Let the field exult, and all that is in it.
Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy
 Before the Lord, for He is coming,
For He is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
And the peoples in His faithfulness.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Devotion for today: blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord

We have arrived at the part of the Mass where men and angels are joined in their hymn of praise. The Bible is filled with references to what heaven is like: angels surrounding the throne of God praising him with songs of “Hosanna! Holy! Holy! Holy!”It is somewhat sad to think that for most of us, this is just a rote and uneventful prayer. I listened carefully at Mass one Sunday when we had no choir to sing this, and the congregation could not have sounded more lifeless if it had actually tried to do so. How Sad, I say again. Here we are, standing before God, united in a hymn of praise with His angels, getting ready for the most important part of the Mass, where Jesus will truly become present on the altar, and we rattle off our prayer while probably wondering what our favorite football team is going to do in the game that afternoon. We must make a change in our attitude at Mass. When we get to these familiar parts, and I know from experience how hard this is to do, we really must try to picture what is happening on the spiritual level, and not as man sees it. Picture the heavens opening, and the angels appearing, and in their “frightful” glory, inviting you to sing along with them in praise of the almighty God. Who knows, and one can hope, that this is just the practice session we need to be invited one day to sing in the heavenly chorus!! Go ahead; sing it out with all your heart:

Holy! Holy! Holy! Lord God of hosts;
Heaven and earth are full of your glory, Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest!!!

Edward Sri tells us: …we repeat the words which the crowds used to greet Jesus as He processed into Jerusalem: “Hosanna” and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Both expressions were originally in Psalm 118, a pilgrimage hymn recited on the way to the Temple for major feasts. Hosanna is a transliteration of a Hebrew word meaning “Save us,” which became an expression of praise in liturgical worship. The blessing upon “he who comes in the name of the Lord” was normally invoked on the pilgrims coming into the Temple. On the day we know as Palm Sunday, the crowds used these words to welcome Jesus as the one coming in the Lord’s name – in other words, the one representing God and acting on his behalf. It is fitting that we repeat these words at this moment in the Liturgy. Just as the crowds in Jerusalem welcomed Jesus into the holy city with these words from Psalm 118, so do we welcome Jesus into our churches, for he is about to become present in the Eucharist on our altars. (The Mass, Ascension Press, 2011)

Scripture for reflection:

Isaiah 6:2-3: Above him were Seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.  And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
Matthew 21:9: The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Revelation 5:13: And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.”

Prayer: Psalm 118:26-29
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
From the house of the Lord we bless you
 The Lord is God, and he has made his light shine on us.
With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession
 up to the horns of the altar.
You are my God, and I will praise you;
 You are my God, and I will exalt you.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
 his love endures forever.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Devotion for today: the Christmas Season wrap-up

As you know, the official Christmas Season of the Church wrapped up on Sunday, with the Baptism of Our Lord, although in the Vatican the decorations will remain until February 2, which is the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the temple. Our Churches are now stripped of poinsettia plants and nativity sets, green vestments replace the white or gold, and standard hymns replace Christmas Carols. Someone asked me why we don’t sing Christmas Carols during the month of December. Good question and the answer is simple: the Church doesn’t follow the secular calendar for the season of Christmas. For the rest of the world, Christmas starts the day after Thanksgiving, but for the Church, we spend December in the season of Advent, which is a time of preparation and longing for Christ to come. We were cleansing our hearts and souls of sin and pride and setting our minds on things of God and not of man. It would make no sense to sing “The Lord has come” when he had not yet been born, so to speak. So the Church sings “Happy Birthday to Jesus", or Christmas Carols as they are popularly called, on His birthday and for a few weeks after that. Remember the Twelve Days of Christmas are the days from Christmas until the feast of the Three Wise Men!! Today we will take a look back at a few Bible passages concerning the role of Angels in the Infancy narratives of Jesus, and leave the season behind with a parting commentary from Bishop Fulton J. Sheen

Luke 1:26-28:  In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee,  to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.  The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Matthew 1:20: But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 2:13: Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him."

Luke 2:8-14: And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

Matthew 2:11-12: On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Angels, by Bishop Fulton J. Sheen
Many people, having seen my "angel" clean my blackboard on television, will ask on meeting me, "How is your angel?" So, let us talk about angels and their role in our lives. However, here we use the word angel in a very restricted sense — not as a spiritual invisible messenger, not a special illumination or a winged creature bearing a summons, not even as a vision or anything preternatural. By an angel we mean here any person or event that has changed the whole course of our life, influenced our behavior, made us turn right when we were about to turn left, and in general made us better. What lifts such a concept out of the natural order is that eventually it is seen as being an act of God.

Take, for instance, in the book of Tobit, the story of young Tobias, who was sent by his father Tobit to the land of Media on a kind of economic mission. His mother was worried about sending the son on such a long journey, so she went out and found a guide, whose name was Raphael. Raphael not only protected Tobias from dangers and helped him to collect a debt, but even found a good wife for him. The Book of Tobit says, "Raphael was an angel, but he knew it not."

God sets many angels in our paths, but often we know them not; in fact, we may go through life never knowing that they were agents or messengers of God to lead us on to virtue, or to deter us from vice. However, they symbolize that constant and benign intervention of God in the history of men, which stops us on the path to destruction or leads us to success or happiness and virtue. God is generally operating behind secondary causes, like an anonymous benefactor. His direction of our lives is so hidden that most of us are unaware of how we were made an angel to help a neighbor, or how a neighbor was made an angel for us.

When I finished college, I took an examination for a national scholarship worth several thousand dollars. I was anxious to complete my education by working to a Ph.D., but at the same time, ever since my earliest recollection, I had wanted to be a priest. Accepting the university scholarship would have meant postponing my call to the priesthood and maybe endangering it. During the summer vacation after college graduation, I visited our professor of philosophy and told him with great glee that I had won the university scholarship. He grabbed me by the shoulders and said, "Do you believe in God?" I told him the question was silly. However, he challenged me, "But do you believe in God practically?" When I answered in the affirmative he said, "You know your duty. Go to the seminary now and begin studies for the priesthood. Tear up the scholarship." However, I protested, "Why cannot I work now for my Ph.D. and then go later to the seminary?" He retorted, "If you make that sacrifice, I promise you that after your ordination to the priesthood you will receive a far better university education than before."

I tore up the scholarship, followed my duty, and after ordination as a priest, I spent almost five years in graduate studies — most of them in some of the great universities of Europe.
The professor was my angel. I saw it then, but I see it more clearly now.
 (Excerpt from "In Media Ecclesiae — Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen: master preacher, pastor of the air waves," by John Baptist Ku, O.P.)

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Devotion for today: a wonderful prayer to start the day

The Universal Prayer by Pope Clement XI

O my God, I believe in Thee; do Thou strengthen my faith. All my hopes are in Thee; do Thou secure them. I love Thee, teach me to love Thee daily more and more. I am sorry that I have offended Thee, do Thou increase my sorrow.

I adore Thee as my first beginning; I aspire after Thee as my last end. I give Thee thanks as my constant benefactor; I call upon Thee as my sovereign protector.

Vouchsafe, O my God, to conduct me by Thy wisdom, to restrain me by Thy justice, to comfort me by Thy mercy, to defend me by Thy power.

To Thee I desire to consecrate all my thoughts, words, actions, and sufferings; that henceforward I may think of Thee, speak of Thee, refer all my actions to Thy greater glory, and suffer willingly whatever Thou shalt appoint.

Lord, I desire that in all things Thy will may be done because it is Thy will, and in the manner that Thou willest.

I beg of Thee to enlighten my understanding, to inflame my will, to purify my body, and to sanctify my soul.

Give me strength, O my God, to expiate my offenses, to overcome my temptations, to subdue my passions, and to acquire the virtues proper for my state of life.

Fill my heart with tender affection for Thy goodness, hatred of my faults, love of my neighbor, and contempt of the world.

May Thy grace help me to be submissive to my superiors, condescending to my inferiors, faithful to my friends, and charitable to my enemies.

Assist me to overcome sensuality by mortification, avarice by alms-deeds, anger by meekness, and tepidity by devotion.

O my God! Make me prudent in my undertakings, courageous in dangers, patient in affliction, and humble in prosperity.

Grant that I may be ever attentive at my prayers, temperate at my meals, diligent in my employments, and constant in my resolutions.

Let my conscience be ever upright and pure, my exterior modest, my conversation edifying, and my comportment regular.

Assist me, that I may continually labor to overcome nature, to correspond with Thy grace, to keep Thy commandments, and to work out my salvation.

Make me realize, O my God, the nothingness of this world, the greatness of heaven the shortness of time, and the length of eternity.

Grant that I may prepare for death; that I may fear thy judgments, and in the end obtain heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.