Getting Down to Basics: What Is the Mass?

J.M.J.

I think it’s not unreasonable to say that many Catholics today, through no fault of their own, don’t really know what the Mass is. The majority of Catholic youth now aren’t formed using the simple, direct memorization format of the question-and-answer Baltimore Catechism, and most of what Catholic kids do learn is often given to them through Sunday school courses that (in my experience, at least) teach some basic elements of the Faith, but don’t clearly pinpoint certain doctrines and fully explain them. Principle among these “not fully explained” doctrines has been, unfortunately, the question of what the Mass is.

I, personally, was homeschooled and grew up with the Baltimore Catechism (the teaching tool of most American Catholics prior to the late 1960s). I’m genuinely grateful, to God and to my mother who taught me, because from early on I’ve known the answer to the question of what the Mass is pretty well. I’m thankful for that not to be an arrogant know-it-all, but simply because it strengthened my faith in those years. But I also had to go through parish CCD and other forms of religious education later, and this was my experience of them:

  • When they got to the point where they talked about the Eucharist, they said, quite correctly, that it was the true Body and Blood of Christ
  • They emphasized that it’s what we Catholics do as a community, following the command of Christ: “Do this in memory of Me.”
  • They pointed out that Protestants believe the Eucharist is merely symbolic, and not actually the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of the Lord
  • But what they did not say was what the Mass is for, what goes on during Mass, and the fact and meaning of the Mass being a sacrifice.

And this last point is incredibly unfortunate, because although it’s necessary to know that the consecrated bread and wine are Our Lord’s Body and Blood, it is equally important and necessary that Catholics be taught about the nature of the Mass. What is the Mass? Why do we have it? What happens during it? If you, my good reader, are unable to answer that question, then I hope I can be of service to you in answering these questions as we go along. If you don’t know the answers clearly, don’t worry: I’m not here to make you feel stupid; I’m here to make things clearer for you. I can’t and won’t pass any judgement on those who have educated you in the Faith, nor am I saying that your practice of the Faith has until now been displeasing to God, but if I may speak candidly for  just a moment, I do believe the following:

  • If the education you’ve received has not given you the ability to understand the nature of the Mass, you’ve been malnourished on a spiritual level.
  • If you’ve been left with just the hazy notion that the Mass is the “way we worship God”, or that it’s a re-enactment of the Last Supper, or it’s a recollection of Christ’s life and work, you’ve been malnourished on a spiritual level.
  • If you’ve been left with the vague notion that the Mass is some kind of sacrifice, but aren’t sure how it’s a sacrifice, you’ve been malnourished on a spiritual level.

Again, my point is not to make you feel stupid or attack those who, with every best intention, taught you your Catholic Faith. God bless them for teaching you. God bless you for whatever you’ve learned. But if this is where you’re at in your knowledge of the Mass, we need to plunge deeper, and I hope I can help you out with that.

So let’s simply go ahead and ask that question, shall we? What is the Mass? If it’s not just “the way Catholics worship God” or a re-enactment of the Last Supper or whatever . . . what is it?

Here is the definition of the Mass, which I’m going to explain further after you’ve read it, to make sure any misconceptions are clarified: the Mass is Christ’s offering of His Body and Blood to the Father, just as He did on the Cross, but this time in a “non-bloody” way, which means that, unlike the Cross, Christ offers Himself in each Mass without dying. 

We can clarify this definition further here in a minute, but given this definition, the Church has always considered that the Cross and the Mass are really the same thing: on the Cross, Christ sacrificed Himself and died; in the Mass, Christ still offers Himself in sacrifice to God, but does not die, since He has died already and cannot die a second time.

Now, a couple important clarifications…

Clarification 1: the Mass is not the “repetition” of the Cross, as though Our Lord’s death on the Cross wasn’t good enough, and He needs to be offered over and over again. That’s the objection Protestants use against the Mass, and it’s quite simply untrue. Christ is not re-offered in the Mass. Rather, as the Scriptures tell us, He is still offered (Revelation 5:6, for example, says that Christ, the Lamb of God, is in Heaven “standing as though slain”—because He offers Himself in sacrifice even after having died; and Hebrews 7:24-25 say that Christ has a “permanent priesthood, always interceding for us”). Indeed, He died only once, and this single act of dying brought about the Redemption; but He didn’t offer Himself in death and then be done. Instead, even after having risen from the dead and ascended into Heaven, He still offers Himself, immortal and glorified, as the perfect Sacrifice to God the Father. His offering is continual and unceasing, and the Mass “brings it down” from Heaven and makes it present on the altars of our parishes. It’s equally correct to say that the Mass takes the Crucifixion of Our Lord from 33 A.D. and brings it to the altar in our present place and time. Whether we want to think of it as “tapping into” and making present the death of Christ on Calvary, or tapping into and making present the self-offering of the Risen Christ in Heaven, both are correct: it’s all one, continuous, unending Sacrifice, which is offered in the Mass under the appearances of bread and wine, through the instrument of the ordained priest (and, by extension, us the laity; more on that below).

Clarification 2: the Lord offered Himself by Himself on the Cross; in the Mass, He uses the ordained priest, who acts in the Person of Christ and functions as His instrument. It is still Christ who offers Himself in the Sacrifice of the Eucharist, but He does it through the priest. The priest, Father Whoever, acts as Christ’s instrument (rather like a person using a piano to make music: the musician [Christ] plays the music [the offering of the sacrifice], but the piano [the ordained priest] is what allows the music to be played).

Because of all this, we can see that the Mass is really Christ’s action more than it is ours. It can be so tempting to think of the Mass as what we do to or for God; but really, the Mass is what God, the Second Person of the Trinity incarnate, does for us, and anything we do within the context of the Mass is merely a participation in the priesthood of Jesus Christ.

But at the same time, it would be incorrect to assume we do nothing. There is a reason that Malachi 1:11 prophesies that “From the rising of the sun to its going down, in every place, a pure offering will be made to [God's] name.” For the Sacrifice of the Eucharist is, in addition to being the action of Our Lord, the action of us, too. We, priest and laity alike, are all “priests” in our own way. The ordained priest is the one who can be the direct instrument of Our Lord in the offering of Him, the one who can act in His place and actually do the offering, as it were. He alone has been given authority by God (through his ordination) to stand at the altar and “make it happen.” But we the laity have a priesthood about us as well, and we are able—and required—to offer the Lord to the Father ourselves, doing so, as the concluding doxology of the Canon says, “Through Him, and with Him, and in Him.” In every offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Christ the Lord is the “true” priest, the ordained priest is the instrument priest through which Christ directly offers Himself, and we the laity are all priests, too, called upon to offer the Sacrifice of the Eucharist—the Sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Christ—together with the ordained priest and, in the end, with Jesus Himself.

This has been a great deal of information, and a great deal more could be said still, but I hope it was informative, if you didn’t know these things before. If you did know these things before, I hope this has clarified the nature of the Mass further. As a parting gift, I’d like to leave you with this image. Especially if you had not known clearly about the nature of the Mass before reading this, this picture makes more sense now, doesn’t it?

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The good God bless you, until next time.

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Great is Your Faith: Pray Confidently and Constantly.

J.M.J.

My good people,

I’m just going to say it: We need to trust God more. You, I, all of us: whether we pray constantly or never, most of us don’t trust in God enough.

How do you go into prayer if you want something?  Does it run along these lines, like mine often does? “…I ask for this, and I really want it, but it probably won’t be answered…I mean, I’ll ask anyway, but it’s probably not going to happen.”

Or when you think of dying, do you think that you’re pretty certainly going to wind up in Purgatory, and that God doesn’t really expect or want you to go straight to Heaven with no delay? Or when you pray for the conversion of a soul (say, a notorious politician…) do you retain that judgement in the back of your mind, no matter how ardent your prayer, that it “probably won’t happen”?

Let’s turn to Matthew 15, shall we?

Our Lord is stopped by a Canaanite woman, who begs Him to heal her daughter possessed by a demon (Mt. 15:22). Our Lord says no. The disciples even tell Him to make the woman leave. And yet, she continues, kneeling down and pleading. Still, He says no. And still she asks, and finally, commending her faith, Our Lord heals her daughter, who is well from then on.

There’s a good deal we can take from this. First, there’s no lack of humility if you “bother” the Lord for something. If you want something, pray, and pray ardently for it. Should worse come to worst, your prayer simply isn’t answered. But there’s nothing wrong with asking repeatedly—or even incessantly—for the same thing, and you shouldn’t take a lack of answering on God’s part as an indication that your prayer is opposed to His will. Indeed, St. Paul urges us to “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). If your prayer is not answered quickly, keep praying for it, even if you end up praying for ten years.

Of course, there is a caveat: you want to be sure that, in all circumstances, you’re open to the Divine Will. Weighed down by His agony in Gethsemane, Our Lord prays repeatedly that He might not suffer His Passion, and yet, despite His ardent prayer, He ends on the note of resolution to the Father: “Not My will, but Thine be done” (Luke 22:42). This must be the conclusion of all our prayers as well.

Now, there’s other things we can learn from the episode with the Canaanite woman as well. Primarily, we must be humble in the true sense of the word, which is to say, we need to have a healthy recognition of our place before the Supreme Being (basically, we need some sizable doses of piety and fear of the Lord).  God and we are incomparable. God doesn’t need us, despite His infinite love for us, and He doesn’t need to answer our prayers. He will, if we are in accord with His will, because He loves us, but we don’t even have the semblance of a right to answered prayers. Not only that, we’re especially undeserving of having our prayers answered because we constantly sin. We constantly turn away from God who loves us, and it would be entirely reasonable of Him not to answer any of our prayers. So be sure to bear in mind when you pray that it is entirely within God’s right not to answer you, whether you’re wondrously holy or horrendously sinful. The good Lord only answers prayers because of the greatness of His love, not because we somehow deserve what we’re asking for. Thus, the woman kneels down before Our Lord and pleads: a position of humility, piety, and reverence; an acknowledgement of lowliness before Him who wills, despite our constant failings, to hear and grant our prayers.

CanaaniteWoman_Drouais

“O woman, great is thy faith…”

When Our Lord finally grants her request, notice what He tells her: “O woman, great is thy faith…” (Mt. 17:28). Anything truly worth having will be worth pursuing, even in the face of adversity. I am convinced that part of the reason He let her beg and plead was so that she would demonstrate the extent of her faith; so that she would be tested. It was Our Lord’s way of saying, “How much do you really want this? How important is it, really? Will you give up on Me if I don’t give it to you now?” And as we know, the woman didn’t give up. She repeated her prayer, with confidence not only in the ability of Our Lord to answer her prayer, but in His will and desire to grant her request as well. But she had to play her part first, which included a great deal of prayer.

Our Lord says in John 14:14, “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it”; in John 16:23-24, He strengthens this assurance still more: “Amen I say to you, if you ask anything of the Father in My name, He will give it to you . . . ask and you will receive, that your joy may be made full.” Our Blessed Lord says anything asked in His name will be done. Not “might be done”, but will be done. Certainly, sometimes prayers aren’t answered, either because God has other plans or because the prayer is against the Divine Will, but it must be pointed out that Our Lord wouldn’t say something without there being a founded belief in its reliability.

“…it will be given to you…” 

How much do we believe this to be the case? Do you trust that God will give you what you ask, even if it takes years of asking for it? Or do you pray with the repeated idea in the back of your mind that it’s really a futile enterprise?

Don’t pray like that. Follow St. Paul and the Canaanite woman, praying constantly. And if you’re resigned to God’s will, whatever it might be, it’s wholly probably that Our Lord will say to you what He did to that distressed mother: Great is your faith. And all will be well from that hour.

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“Heaven Is a Place On Earth”? Indeed It Is!

J.M.J.

I think that maybe the biggest problem with us is that by repeating things, they become routine. This applies to everything: work, school, play, the company we keep, pastimes we enjoy, prayer, worship, and on and on. Allow me to point out a few moments in Scripture before we truly begin:

When the angel visited the Virgin Mary and announced to her Whose mother she would be, she said, “Let it be so” (Lk. 1:38), and at that moment, the Holy Spirit came down and formed, in her virgin womb, the human nature of God’s eternal Son. John the Baptist found such joy in the presence of the incarnate Lord and His Blessed Mother that he leapt for joy in the womb of Elizabeth, while she herself was moved to say, “How does this happen, that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Lk. 1:41, 43). Then, when Our Lord was born, all the angels appeared and acclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest” (Lk. 2:14). When Simeon saw the Child Jesus, he considered his life finished at last and said with complete contentment, “Now you may dismiss your servant” (Lk. 2:29).

Much later in the life of Christ, in the 14th chapter of St. John’s Gospel, Our Lord is speaking to the Apostles about the place He is going to after His resurrection. Philip, in all sincerity, blurts out, “Lord, show us the Father, and it will be enough for us” (Jn. 14:8). There is a certain frustration in Our Lord’s response: “Have I been with you so long, yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father. Do you not know that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me?” (Jn. 14:9-10).

Why do I mention all this? Because of the privilege which we have even today, which can be so often forgotten about due to the routine nature of our lives. When Our Lady said, “Let it be done to me according to your word” and Our Lord was made flesh in her womb, God became tangible. He became something we could see, touch, speak to, and hear, with the senses. In His new nature He became limited also, not losing but voluntarily placing aside the Divine Majesty so as to live like us and, ultimately, redeem us to the Father. The Lord, who until now had been infinitely distant, became intimately close. And this brought immense joy to all those who recognized what had happened: to Elizabeth, to John the Baptist, to Simeon, and to the whole Host of Heaven. Our Lord wanted Philip to recognize that He, Jesus Christ, is truly Emmanuel, “God with us”.

So now comes the important part: Do you, my fellow Catholics, recognize that the very same miracle which occurred in the womb of the Blessed Mother happens at every Consecration in the Mass? When Our Blessed Lady said to the angel, “Let it be done to me”, the Lord was made present there, physically, where He had not been so before, and all of Heaven was “concentrated” into Our Lady’s womb. The same thing happens in the Mass. When the priest repeats the words of Our Lord, “This is My Body . . . this is My Blood”, the Host and the wine are changed into Christ, and so, as at His conception, He is made physically present where He was not before, and all of Heaven is concentrated into what once was bread and wine on the altar.

It can be so difficult to remember this when we go to Mass, Sunday after Sunday, with our off-key choirs and boring homilies and unedifying church buildings and whatever else. But it is the reality of what happens in the Mass. Whether it is a Mass where the red is perfectly and reverentially adhered to and the black is perfectly and reverentially said, or a Mass where the priest makes up half the prayers and tries to be the center of attention, it is still the reality of the Mass (provided the correct words and matter are used, the correct intention had on the part of the priest, and the priest validly ordained, of course): God the Son, and in fact the entire Trinity due to the union of the Divine Nature, comes down to us in our own church and lifts us up to the sphere where, even now, He is “as a Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8). The only difference between Heaven itself and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is that in Heaven, we will see Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as He is, while here we see Him only veiled, and in Heaven there will be no more barrier of sin to separate us from sharing in His life.

Fr. Calvin Goodwin, FSSP, said the following concerning the Mass: “…at the moment of Consecration, it’s not so much that Christ merely comes down, but that He lifts us all to the sphere where He lives in glory, once again beyond time and the limitations of this world, to the very presence of God” (qtd here, “Roman Catholic Mass Explained”). The Mass itself says, before the Sanctus, that we sing of God’s holiness together with the hosts and choirs of Heaven. The Holy Mass is not just the worshipping act of your or my particular parish, it is the act of the entire Church, both in Heaven and on Earth, a unitive act where you might say that Heaven and Earth are temporarily joined together. So in a certain sense those who say Heaven is a place on Earth are correct: they need look no farther than the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

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What, Precisely, Makes Your Participation “Full, Conscious, & Active” In The Liturgy?

J.M.J.

Greetings to all of you, my good readers!

I’m going to begin with a dichotomy, one you’ve probably heard quite a bit if you’ve gone to Mass within the past 50 years. Here it is, with its mixture of truth and untruth:

Before Vatican II in the 1960s, Catholics didn’t participate in the Mass. It was in Latin, so they couldn’t even understand it, the priest was up there talking quietly toward the wall, and the people didn’t even get to say anything during Mass.

After Vatican II, the people have a much greater role in the Church’s liturgy: the Mass is in the local language, the people make the responses and read the readings and perform ministries during Mass, the priest was turned around—it’s all much more inclusive now.

Fair enough. It’s a huge oversimplification, but most people can hardly be blamed if that’s their perception, or worse yet, if that was their experience with the Mass in the Church before the Second Vatican Council. Still, an oversimplification it is, which is in desperate need of a deeper look. And so, my friends, take a deeper look we shall.

I’d like to let you all know right now that this post won’t be saying anything about the old or new Mass forms, or any of the specific practices in either one. So you can breathe easily in that respect; the controversy level will be pretty low for liturgy devotees. Instead, I want to help you unpack the meaning of a commonly thrown-around phrase from the Second Vatican Council which declared that the peoples’ participation in the Sacred Liturgy should be “fully conscious and active” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 14). Most people (quite understandably) take this to mean that the people need to make the responses and perform ministries and whatnot, since the phrase was from Vatican II and since the Mass that came out of Vatican II seems to put so much stock into people doing things.

But then we get to the question: is that indeed what full, conscious, and active participation is, or is it something deeper than that?

As with most questions that run like that, you’re probably able to guess that this active participation is indeed more than just external activity. At the risk of surprising some of you, I’m going to go out on a limb and say the following: fully conscious and active participation can be accomplished whether a person makes every response devotedly or whether he never opens his mouth during Mass. In fact, fully conscious participation can be accomplished even when one does not receive Holy Communion! The quiet Irishman sitting in his pew who keeps his eyes shut and hands folded during the entirety of the Mass can technically achieve the same level of participation in Mass as the reader who reads and makes all the responses with attentiveness and devotion.

So what, then, is active participation in the Sacred Liturgy? It is when you crucify yourself along with Our Good Lord and give your life, yourself, to Him in four ways: 1) adoration; 2) contrition; 3) thanksgiving; and 4) supplication.

Those are the four ends of the Mass, the four reasons the priest stands at the altar and offers the Eucharist to God. Our participation in the Mass, therefore, is nothing more than an extension of those four things.

Firstly, Christ offers Himself (through the priest) to the Heavenly Father as an act of adoration. “To adore God is to acknowledge him as God, as the Creator and Savior, the Lord and Master of everything that exists, as infinite and merciful Love” (CCC 2096). We must adore God simply because God is God, because God is the sustainer of all that is, because God has all perfection, because God is the source of good and love, the One Who creates all that is good and lovable.

Secondly, Our Blessed Lord offers Himself to the Father as an act of contrition. Not for Himself, since He is without sin, but for us, that we may obtain forgiveness for our sins. He said on the Cross concerning His killers, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Douay-Rheims Bible, Luke 23:34).

Thirdly, Christ offers Himself to the Father in thanksgiving, because of the greatness of the Father’s love, His mercy shown toward sinners, and for His very self, which can only be loved when known.

And finally, Our Lord offers Himself in supplication, mediating for us to the Father, praying with His human nature for us and our needs, using His Crucified Self as a prism through which the Father looks at creation and grants all its prayers. “Holy Father, keep them in thy name . . . that they may be one, as we also are . . . I pray that thou wouldst keep them from evil and sanctify them in truth” (John 17).

My good readers, this is what you must do in Mass: offer yourself in adoration of God, with all your fears and imperfections and worries. Offer yourself in contrition, repenting of sin and asking for the Divine Mercy; offer yourself as an act of thanksgiving for all God has done for you, in good times and in bad; and offer yourself in supplication, asking the Lord to grant those prayers compatible with His will. And be mindful of that fact that you don’t do this alone, disconnected from others, but rather, you do it with Christ, placing your “little” cross next to His Cross on the altar during and after the Consecration. He said that in the Scriptures that anyone who would be His disciple must take up a cross (Mt. 19:24) and, further, that anything asked of God the Father in His name would be granted (Jn. 16:23). Our participation in the Mass takes up these two passages of Scripture and turns them into reality: we crucify ourselves with Jesus Christ, offering ourselves to God through Him, in His name, in virtue of His status as God, Man, Lord, and Redeemer.

It is not enough merely to say the responses of the Mass carefully or to focus on the text of what’s being said or to perform some special liturgical function, which are all very commendable things. Rather, in the words of Archbishop Fulton Sheen, “In order to take a part in [the Mass], you have to bring little crosses” (Fulton Sheen, “The Meaning of the Mass”). The Baltimore Catechism was very insistent on this point as well, and although I don’t remember the exact words it used, it was speaking about the phrase “assist at Mass” and said something along the lines of, “One never merely attends Mass. One must consciously unite himself with the Sacrifice of Christ, and thus it is said that he assists at Mass”. That has always stuck with me. One never merely attends Mass. It’s not like a lecture where we’re passive spectators, contrary to the perceptions of many in the pre-Vatican II Church, and perhaps more importantly to be driven home is the point that it’s not just about doing things, saying things, or having a role to play. It’s about making a sacrifice of oneself so as to be united with Christ, Our Lord, the Head of His Mystical Body, whose members we are.

At this point I hope it’s evident that one can participate just as well in the pre-Vatican II liturgical form as in the one prevalent now, and that such dichotomies as commonly heard lack a certain degree of substance. Participation in the Holy Mass has always been essentially the same, the offering of the self with the offering of Jesus the Christ.

Now, because the current form of the Mass desires the vocal participation of the faithful, it is good to be an obedient son or daughter of the Church and participate vocally. But it is not essential, and it’s no skin off my back if the person two pews away never opens his mouth. For all I know, he’s more concretely focused on his ultimate liturgical mission than 90% of the congregation present. In the end, disregarding the goodness—or not—of external participation, the thing to be remembered as essential is that liturgical participation is about self-offering with the Crucified Savior. If you have that down, then you’re doing your job correctly.

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Since You’ll Need To Suffer In the End—Why Not Begin Now?

J.M.J.

I hate suffering.

I also hate to say that so bluntly, but to put it any other way would be dishonest. I don’t imagine anybody likes suffering, or else it wouldn’t be suffering at all. You and I, we like comfort: we like our warm beds, we like our food to taste good, we find ourselves complaining, inwardly or outwardly, when things don’t go as we want. I would venture to say that this very desire for pleasure is an indication that we are made by and for the Good Lord: it shows that happiness is the goal of life. God made us to be happy, and that’s what we spend most of our time wanting to be.

And yet, the state of happiness we exist for isn’t reached by being happy as we think of the word (i.e., as pleasure). Paradoxical as it may be, we can only make ourselves permanently and truly happy if, throughout our lives, we willingly bear that which makes us unhappy. 

In other words, if we suffer.

Suffering is not the end of our life: happiness, beatitude, is the end of our life. But suffering, allowing ourselves to be unhappy here and now by offering our sufferings for the sake of holiness, is the means to achieving the beatitude for which we live. Think for a moment: Christ Our Lord shows how to live an ideal human life. And as Fulton Sheen so eloquently put it in Life of Christ, “. . . to Christ, death was the goal and fulfillment of His life, the gold that He was seeking. Few of His words or actions are intelligible without reference to His Cross . . . The story of every human life begins with birth and ends with death. In the Person of Christ, however, it was His death that was first and His life that was last” (Life of Christ, Ch. I, pg. 5). If Christ’s life, centered on suffering, is the exemplary life, then should we not view suffering as our own modus operandi?

Our Good Lord said to the Samaritan woman at the well that those who adore the Heavenly Father must do so “in spirit and in truth”, for that is the adoration God desires (John 3:24). Additionally, we’re all familiar with the section of Scripture where Christ said that “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Douay-Rheims Bible, Luke 9:23). In light of these two passages, our participation in the Sacrifice of the Eucharist is gaged not by how lively we are in making responses or by how many roles we perform in the sanctuary, but rather, by how much we manage to unite our personal sacrifices with the sacrifice of Our Lord presented on the altar. The Roman Canon mentions “these holy and unblemished sacrifices“, Latin sacrificia, and there’s a reason for the plural use: the Mass isn’t just the Sacrifice of the Cross, it’s our own sacrifices, too. And if we don’t suffer, we have no sacrifices, and if we have no sacrifices, our assistance at Mass is pointless, our relationship to Christ is more or less severed, and our very lives have their purpose obstructed.

If the Eternal Son of God, perfect, innocent, and infinite, did not begrudge suffering, why should we, who are so much more deserving of suffering than He? If the Blessed Virgin Mary, the one sinless member of this fallen race, needed to suffer with the Lord at Calvary, why should we demand less for ourselves, who sin daily? We have a job to perform, which St. Paul was able to see clearly: we must use our sufferings to complete whatever is lacking in the effectiveness of Our Lord’s death (Col. 1:24). No one will deny that the sacrifice of Christ covers all the sin of the world; no one will deny that it was complete, infinite, and entirely pleasing to the Father. But we humans have free will. We can spurn the grace which Our Lord handed to us on the Cross, and so He has established that, taking up that cross we’ve been given, we work to ensure that people turn to the Cross and the graces it won. Christ opened the floodgates of Heaven and offered the grace to man, but He would never force man to accept it. And so, because those who refuse it won’t use their free will for His purposes, He asks for our free will instead, and uses that to soften the hardened wills of unbelievers.

Thankfully, any suffering fits the bill. You can offer any and all of your sufferings for the well-being of yourself and others. Don’t want to get out of bed in the morning? Offer it in union with the Cross of Christ. Having trouble sleeping? No good food in the refrigerator? Have house cleaning to do? Is an obnoxious sibling pestering you? Do you feel self-conscious, lonely, or bored? Are you stressed about something? All of it can be used for the higher purpose of uniting yourself with God. To borrow from St. Paul again, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (NIV, Col. 3:17). 

It’s worth pointing out that suffering not only unites us with Our Lord and works for the welfare of souls (our own and those of others), but it also can remove the temporal punishment we receive as a result of our daily venial sins: that is to say, it shortens our time in Purgatory. If we don’t willfully suffer now, we’ll need to spend a greater amount of time in Purgatory, the pain of which, to borrow from St. Augustine, “will be more painful than anything man can suffer in the present life” (Comment on Ps. 37:3. Journel, no. 1476, qtd. here). As I wrote earlier, we human beings are made for God. If we suffer here and now, we will be united with God in Heaven much sooner and might very possibly bypass Purgatory altogether. If we wait until Purgatory to suffer, however, not only will we have to wait longer (possibly a good deal longer!) before we enter Heaven, but the very pain of being absent from God in Purgatory will make the suffering there all the greater!

Like I said, I hate suffering. If we—you, I, and everyone—didn’t hate suffering, it wouldn’t be suffering. Of course it’s tough. But if you ask for the grace to bear your sufferings, not only will they become less difficult, but you’ll even begin to actively appreciate suffering, as an opportunity to unite yourself and others around you more closely with your Creator, Who has purchased you with His own Blood (Acts 20:28). And it’s highly likely that, the more you offer up your sufferings for the cause of holiness, Our Blessed Lord’s words will become reality for you: “My yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light” (New Living Translation, Matt. 11:30). 

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Are You Required (These Days) To Confess How Many Times You Committed a Mortal Sin?

Good morning, my good people,

A few years ago I heard a priest (whom I suppose we’ll call “Priest W”, for no reason) give a little presentation about Confession, and thank the Good Lord, almost a whole room of people ended up making use of this Sacrament that evening. Unfortunately, Priest W made a common mistake, which I’m sure you’ve heard: he said that although people used to confess the number of times they committed their given sins, it’s not done like that these days.

And considering that’s what I had heard for years and no one ever mentioned doing it the “old way” to me, I was rather surprised to learn that the old method still holds: according to the 1983 Code of Canon Law, “A member of the Christian faithful is obliged to confess in kind and number all grave sins committed after baptism” which have not already been confessed (Can. 988 §1).

Pope St. John Paul II also wrote the same thing in his 2002 Motu Proprio, “Misericordia Dei”:

3. Since ‘the faithful are obliged to confess, according to kind and number, all grave sins committed after Baptism of which they are conscious after careful examination and which have not yet been directly remitted by the Church’s power of the keys, nor acknowledged in individual confession’ (Can. 988 §1), any practice which restricts confession to a generic accusation of sin or of only one or two sins judged to be more important is to be reproved. Indeed, in view of the fact that all the faithful are called to holiness, it is recommended that they confess venial sins also.

So what does this mean? It means that if you (unfortunately) have a mortal sin to confess, try your best to remember how many times you ended up doing it. If you can’t remember precisely, then make an approximation. If you can’t do that, you should tell the priest you really can’t count how many times it was but you are sincerely sorry anyway.

Now, that’s all well and good, but what if you haven’t confessed your mortal sins in number before? You don’t need to confess them again, do you? Thankfully not. You confessed them previously with invincible ignorance of the actual protocol. They’re gone. You’re good to go. But do bear it in mind for the future. Venial sins are not required to be confessed in number (since they’re not required to be confessed at all). Still, for the sake of getting into the habit of confessing mortal sins properly (if, God forbid, you have any in the future), it wouldn’t be a bad thing to confess even venial sins in number.

As Fr. Z so bluntly put it over here at his blog, “Pay no attention to the liberals who belittle the necessity of confessing in kind and number by stupid phrases like ‘laundry list’.” It’s not about legalism or scrupulosity or OCD. It’s about giving an admission of all your sins so that all your sins can be forgiven and, furthermore, it’s so that you can know they’ve been accounted for.

Who knows? It might even deter you from mortally sinning in the future so you won’t have to go through the added mental process of counting how often the sin was committed!

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The Problem With Liturgical Pickiness—From A Guy With Very Specific Liturgical Views

Good evening, everyone!

I’m not gonna be going on about Latin or English in the Mass right now, but as a background to the topic of this post, I was talking about the liturgy recently (big surprise there) and it was on the very subject of Latin vs. English. My opinion may strike some as almost being schizophrenic: I actively like the vernacular, and when I go to a Mass in Latin I find it takes an extra effort to pay attention, but as a matter of fact I don’t like the vernacular and think we should go back to using Latin.

But why in the world would I argue we should use something (Latin) other than the thing I technically prefer (English)? That, my dear readers, is an idea I want to talk to you about now.

In a word, I would say this: in the end, the Mass is just not about us. To be sure, some liturgical principles should be maintained everywhere. To be sure, any liturgical celebration should be entirely founded on the traditions of the Church (a topic open to varying interpretations itself), and to be sure, I have my own opinions and pray about them. But in the end, I think we need to remember something: it’s not about us.

Did you notice that across the whole spectrum, especially across countless Catholic blogs, there’s a bunch of opinions about what would make the best liturgy? In conversation, I’ve heard many older Catholics say that they like the reverence and feel of the Mass before 1965, but don’t miss not being able to understand what the priest is saying; so basically they’re saying that, if they could pick, they’d take the reverence and aura of the older liturgy and do it in their own language. A ton of examples could be used to illustrate this mindset. What if you like Praise and Worship in the Mass, a distinctively new thing, but like to receive Holy Communion kneeling down and on your tongue, a distinctively old thing? What if, say, you like it when only the priest gives Communion, but you like Communion under both species rather than Communion under one kind only, so you start pressing for intinction? I’m not saying you can’t have your likes and dislikes. That isn’t my point. But how good is it, do you think, if we keep picking and choosing all these different aspects, as so many Catholics invariably end up doing? At what point do we begin to see the liturgy as a great big set of opinions, with our individual opinion—rather than the countless individual opinions of other people—representing the ideal liturgy? Before the 1960s, such an idea would have generally been unheard of. The liturgy was codified in all its different parts and was viewed as something that the Church was given and meant to safeguard. Now, whether someone is labelled a traditionalist or a liberal, it seems like the liturgy is viewed as something you can tinker with at will—making the liturgy what Cardinal Ratzinger once called a fabricated and on-the-spot product.

How do we get out of this? Honestly, I don’t know. In the end there will inevitably be varying opinions about what makes “good liturgy” and “bad liturgy”, but in my humble opinion, this would be helped partially by slimming down the huge number of options for everything in the current missal, giving us instead a set formula for each part, which would be used every Mass. This would give greater stability to the celebration of the liturgy in general; then, though many will disagree with me, I think we should do all we can (to borrow from the Pope Emeritus again) to bring the “current” Mass in line with the “previous” Mass, thus, again, limiting the differences. Finally, it would be my hope that we would, after many, many years, perhaps, have once again a single liturgical form, founded soundly on Church tradition, without a plethora of options and variations. This, to me, would decrease the “mental narcissism” of many Catholics—including me!—and would allow us to view the Mass, once again, as something objective, codified, and not formed by majority opinions. And if we were to reach such a point of resignation, we could repeat the outstanding principle laid out by St. John the Baptist: “He must increase, and I must decrease” (Jn 3:30).

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Genuflecting, Tabernacles, and You—What is the Correct Protocol?

Greetings, my dear readers,

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted anything liturgically related, but I feel I should write about what you’re going to read for the sake of everyone involved. Every time I go to a Catholic church, whether the Tabernacle is located in the sanctuary or not, 90% of the congregation invariably skips genuflecting and makes a bow, unless they’re getting into pews, where genuflecting seems to be a more ingrained habit.

Part of this confusion comes from the separation of the altar and Tabernacle in the 1960s. Without going into my thoughts on that, I will say simply that before the postconciliar changes, it was simple: the Tabernacle and the altar were typically one unit, and so when you passed the altar (which was also the Tabernacle containing the Blessed Sacrament), you genuflected. Now, people hear conflicting directions: genuflect to the Tabernacle, but bow to the altar when the Tabernacle is absent. And it has confused people enough that now, they mostly bow whether the Tabernacle is present or not. I’ve heard priests and laypeople alike say that the “profound bow” (a bow of the torso) is sufficient before the Blessed Sacrament, but I’d like to clear up some things. What does the Church currently expect you to do when you pass by or in front of the Tabernacle? Is it any different than it was in the pre-Vatican II days? Read on!

The current document of guidelines on these matters, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, distinguishes between a) the reverence given to the Tabernacle inside Mass and outside of Mass; b) the reverence given to the Tabernacle inside Mass, which differs between those who have a liturgical role to perform and those sitting in the pews. Easy guideline first.

Although there are individual exceptions, 99% of the time you will only need to remember this one rule: the GIRM says that “all who pass before the Most Blessed Sacrament genuflect” (274). I’ll get to the exceptions in a second, but like I said, they will only rarely affect you, so just genuflect most of the time. I think it’s important to underscore something, not to be a Pharisee, but to ensure that the importance of the Holy Eucharist, the reverence due to God present in It, is properly conveyed by our movements. Genuflecting is the required gesture before the Blessed Sacrament. The profound bow is only allowed if you truly cannot genuflect. If you can’t genuflect without something to hold onto, then by all means, grab onto a nearby pew and genuflect that way. Please, consider the truth of the Real Presence and use the profound bow as a truly last resort, like if you have genuine leg problems and nothing to grab hold of. 

Now, what are the exceptions to genuflecting? Like I said, they’re rarely going to apply to you. They actually apply to the priest and other ministers, and only during Mass (GIRM 274):

If the tabernacle with the Most Blessed Sacrament is present in the sanctuary, the priest, the deacon, and the other ministers genuflect when they approach the altar and when they depart from it, but not during the celebration of Mass itself.

There we go.

Rule 1) Outside of Mass, everyone genuflects to the Tabernacle, whenever it is passed and whenever entering or leaving a pew. This trumps bowing to the altar. At the risk of sounding irreverent, just ignore the freestanding altar if the Tabernacle is there and make a genuflection.

Rule 2) During Mass, if you’re just a member of the faithful in the pews, genuflect before the Tabernacle. The profound bow, contrary to common belief, is reserved only for those with a true inability to genuflect, rather than being just an easier and equally acceptable gesture.

Rule 3) If you’re performing some ministry within the Mass, then you do not genuflect to the Tabernacle. If you’re the priest or an altar server, you genuflect upon approaching the altar if the Tabernacle is present, and also upon leaving it, but not during Mass itself.

Rule 4) Only if the Tabernacle is not present, make a profound bow to the altar instead.

And you know what, I’ll even throw in a personal pity plea: I’m confined to a wheelchair. I wish that I could genuflect, but I can’t. Please, I beg you, use the working legs God gave you and perform this gesture of reverence before Him in the Eucharist. It’s worth a few seconds of stopping for.

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Quick Theological Musings: #1

NB: Unless I can think of topics for longer posts, there will be…..well, who knows how many more posts similar to this on various topics in the near future. Sometimes quick little posts like this end up far more interesting than longer ones anyway. Have fun reading!

“…and immediately there came out blood and water.” – John 19:34

One of the great things about Sacred Scripture is that there’s never just one rigid way of looking at things. An area where this is especially noticeable is in the quote I gave just above. 

The first reaction of . . . most anyone . . . is going to be, “Okay, Jesus seemed dead, and to be sure He was dead, they thrust a lance into His side, and water and blood came out. Cool story. Kinda random too. But hey, John felt like including that, I’m good with it.”

Understandable. Quite so. But as with everything, there’s more to it than that. 

I’m going to go out on a limb here and make a proposal. Let’s pretend for the remainder of this post that in the Gospel, water is a symbol of the human and that two things, wine and blood, are symbols of the divine.

I think it’s no mistake, for example, that in John’s Gospel, the wedding at Cana immediately follows John the Baptist. John had his own preliminary baptism with water (which, again, we’re going to say is a symbol of the human), while the miracle at Cana, turning water into wine, symbolized the true baptism which Christ brought with Him: the lifting up of the human (water) to the divine (in this case, wine) which was the ultimate goal of the Redemption and which would be the goal of the baptism He would shortly preach about. With this in mind, that the wedding at Cana symbolizes baptism, I also don’t think it is a mistake that Our Lord begins preaching about this baptism almost immediately after the Cana miracle (Cana is the second chapter of John, the mention of baptism is the third chapter). 

Now I also said blood was a symbol of the divine. We are told that when Our Lord had His Sacred Heart pierced with a lance, blood and water came out of the wound.  If we keep rolling with this idea that water is the human and blood (or wine) is the divine, then this begins to really come together into something neat.  When the Blood of Christ came out with water on the Cross, it was a symbol of the new union between God, the Creator, and man, the Created. Up until that moment, only blood came out of the wounds of Jesus, but now, the purpose of His life accomplished and the Divine Goal fulfilled, there was union—and thus, as a way of saying, “Look at the reunited state of God and man!”, the Scriptures tell us that “immediately there came out blood and water.”

Have a good summer. I’ll post next whenever I can. God bless you all, in the meantime.

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Couldn’t the Redemption Have Been Accomplished…..well….More Easily?

D.J.C.M.N

One of the questions that arises when we really put our minds on the Crucifixion goes along the lines of: WHY that? Here you have what was one of the most agonizing types of deaths of the time, and not only that, you have an omnipotent God who could have used a much simpler and less unsettling method, while achieving the exact same thing.

And to give credit to anyone who wonders this question, it really is quite reasonable: God could have done anything. He could have said, “You’re redeemed” and all could have gone on quite rosily. 

And yet, He did not. 

I’ve come to realize recently that there is far more to the death of Our Lord than just to be redemptive. Let’s backtrack a bit and look at God. It sounds like a funny question, but what does God do with Himself? We know what He does to us: He sustains our existence, so that we don’t all of the sudden vanish into the nothingness from which He made us; He loves us, desiring what is beneficial to us; He gives us grace to avoid sin; He desires that we be united to Him in Heaven, the purpose for which we were created; and He does countless other things. 

But in Himself, God is much simpler—and yet, much more profound. We profess Faith in a single Divine Being Who possesses the distinct quality of being more than one person. I don’t need to go farther into that specific doctrine for the time being. It’s sufficient for us to know that among the three Persons Who are God, there is a continuos outflow of love from one to the other, a total lack of self-interestedness, a total emptying of self for love of the others—in a word, a total gift of self between Them. That is what God does in His own life. The Father totally and infinitely gives Himself to the Son, the Son to the Father, both to the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit to both.

What God does infinitely in Himself is what we are called to do—despite our finiteness—in our earthly lives. God wants us to be self-expending, both for others and for Himself. This is why Our Lord makes such commands as, “….if any man would go to law with thee, and take away thy coat, give him thy cloak also; and whosoever shall compel thee to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee, turn not away” (Mt. 5:40-42). Now obviously, we humans are limited by our very nature. We cannot be totally self-expending like God can.

But believe it or not, we can come close. We know that Our Lord Jesus Christ is God possessing a human nature. Would not the actions of God in a human nature essentially mirror the action of God in His divine nature? God is necessarily self-exhaustive. He must necessarily go to the limit of self-giving, and if a human nature would not allow Him to be self-sacrificing on an infinite scale, He would spend every last ounce of the finite nature He had. 

In short, He would give His entire life. Because that is how God works. Certainly Christ our Lord had the power to redeem us in any fashion, and such an act as a mere declaration and then POOF might seem far nicer to us, sparing Christ His suffering. Yet even if He could have done such a thing, I doubt He would have wanted to. He said to the disciples shortly before the episode in Gethsemane that there is no greater love than for a man to lay down his life for his friends (Jn. 15:13). To merely declare us redeemed rather than to sacrificially make us redeemed would not follow the nature of God, and it would lose for us two important teaching opportunities: 1) to demonstrate the extent of the Divine Love for us; 2) to show us how God acts in Himself and how we must act also. 

Now because these are just a few reasons, if anyone else has anything to add, please do that. I have a tendency to overlook interesting things and would love additional insights on the matter.

Farewell for now, please pray for me, and may God and His Blessed Mother protect you now and always.

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