The Meaning of the Agony in the Garden

Seeing as it’s now Lent, and Lent is a penitential season, it seems like the opportune time to talk about something that’s been on my mind for the last week: the agony in the garden.

It’s one we’ve all heard before on the many Palm Sundays we’ve lived through. After the Last Supper, Jesus Christ goes with His disciples to the Mount of Olives, instructs them to stay awake and pray, then goes off to pray Himself, saying: “Father, if Thou wilt, remove this chalice from Me; yet not My will, but Thine be done” (Lk. 22:42, Douay-Rheims).

We are told that the suffering experienced by Our Blessed Lord was so intense that, even after an angel came to comfort Him in His agony, His sweat became “as drops of blood, trickling down on the ground” (22:44).

434px-Christ_in_Gethsemane

According to Matthew’s gospel, His prayer (Remove this chalice, yet Thy will be done) was repeated three times in all. Here comes the intriguing part. What caused such anguish in Our Lord’s soul that the presence of an angel, the sweating of blood, and a threefold repetition of His prayer were necessary before it was over? That, my dear friends, is what I will show you now.

It would be a mistake to think that Our Savior was merely afraid of approaching suffering and death. To be sure, His physical suffering went to the utter limit of human capacity; to be sure, it caused immense pain, which no one but a person in total union with God (or in our case here, God Himself) could handle. But the anguish in Gethsemane was not related, at least primarily, to upcoming physical pain.

The suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane was the pain of sin. Think for a minute now. How many times have you sinned mortally? Obviously that’s something you yourself will know (at any rate, I don’t want to know). Then, how many times throughout a given day have you sinned venially? How many times have you resolved within the past month or two to never sin again, with the help of God’s grace, only to fall again? How many times have you done this throughout your whole life? I don’t know about you, but I can’t count my own number of times. Then consider all the people presently alive, who sin, have sinned, or will sin, multiple times every day. And all those of a previous generation who have died and sinned either gravely or slightly, from Adolph Hitler to Henry VIII to Thomas Aquinas to the Pharisees to the ancient Egyptians, all the way back to Adam and Eve. And if all those countless sins aren’t enough to think about, consider all those in the future who will sin over and over again who haven’t yet done so, all the way to the end of the world.

Every. Single. Sin. Big and small, public and private, communal and individual, through all ages, past, present, and future. In the Garden of Gethsamene, Our Lord felt that weighing upon His soul—the weight of the world’s sin, and all those who would reject Him and choose Hell, past, present, and future (and if we are to take His words in Matthew 7 at face value, the majority end up doing that).

It must be remembered that the same One who was Almighty God from eternity became really man at the Incarnation. He became really man, and thus, as man, became really finite. He really had emotions, really experienced suffering, and all the knowledge that His suffering was necessary couldn’t mitigate the emotional devastation brought about by sin.

I don’t say this to make you feel unnecessarily terrible, of course. If you’re in the state of grace, praise God, and thank Him for what He went through for you and for the world. If you’re not, think of what was done for you and repent. And indeed, if you think about it, the suffering of the agony in the garden was itself a clear display of the Divine Mercy. No one except a person with an infinite capacity for love could go through that. But it’s very interesting to think about, and hopefully this episode beginning Our Lord’s Passion can light a fire within your soul that will help you persevere more faithfully through Lent. However countless our sins may be, they are not, in fact, infinite, and never can be, and God will always have greater power than they.

God bless, and may the Blessed Virgin Mary keep you under her protection.

Categories: Religion | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“….And The Truth Shall Set You Free.”

Salvete, my dear readers. Below you will find a piece I originally wrote for the new Fire of the Spirit blog, a blog I highly recommend you check out and support. You can read more about said blog over there, but suffice it to say, it’s run by Catholic young people who want to further the cause given by Christ of spreading the Gospel to all nations. So without further ado, my post. Enjoy.

“What Is Truth?” – John 18:38

The question which Pilate asked Our Lord before having Him scourged is perhaps more relevant in today’s world than when it was originally asked. In our own day, however, the question is no longer, “What is truth?” (as in, which proposed truth is correct) but rather the much more blind, “What is truth at all?”. Indeed, many people today have lost or have never received any concept of objectivity. This past weekend I was talking to a very good friend of mine who happens to be Presbyterian, and one thing led to another and by the end of it I said quite directly what I believed: “My religion is true, yours is not”. Rather than responding with an equally objective claim about the truth of Presbyterianism, however, my friend said, “Well, no, they’re all true, but they’re true in different ways”. After the March for Life this year, the crew at the Detroit-based Church Militant.TV interviewed a score of Catholic teens and asked them whether the Catholic Faith was superior to other religions, and most of them gave a murky, confused answer that ultimately resulted in “no, it’s not”.

I can’t count the number of devout, well-intentioned Catholics who refuse to bring up differences in religious beliefs on the grounds that they cause division or are opposed to Our Lord’s prayer that all may be one as He and the Father are one. Back when the new translation of the Novus Ordo Mass was promulgated, there were many who grieved over the loss of the (quite frankly laughable) previous translation since it was a supposed blow to ecumenism. Catholic churches with no trace of Catholic identity and removable altars are built so they can be shared with Protestant denominations, Catholics are told growing up that there are no differences between their Church and others, and people put COEXIST bumper stickers on their cars as a way of quietly saying, “Oh, do be quiet with all your differences! Can’t we all get along?”

Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and one of my favorite modern theologians, spoke about this in April 2005, just before being elected Pope. “Today,” he said, “having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labelled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be ‘tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine’ (Eph. 4:14), seems to be the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires” (Homily at the Mass for Electing the Roman Pontiff, April 18, 2005).

“Having a clear faith based on the Creed is often labelled as fundamentalism”—it doesn’t take much to see how correct those words are. Whether it was the examples I mentioned at the beginning of this post or the example of a very holy priest I once knew who, after mentioning other religions, quickly followed up with, “….and that’s not to say other religions are bad”, people today either willfully refuse to see that there is objective truth or honestly don’t see it. I really do hope, for their souls and for the sake of charity, that it is the latter.

But we must get ourselves out of this lethargy. The catechisms used before the Second Vatican Council were exceedingly clear about the existence of objective truth and the falsity of non-Catholic religions. Even the Council itself, argued by some as being far too vague, made a statement about the Catholic Faith rarely, if ever, heard nowadays, which is still sufficiently clear for the purpose of establishing the truth of Catholicism: “This is the one Church of Christ, which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Saviour, after His Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd . . . which He erected for all ages as ‘the pillar and mainstay of the truth’. This Church, constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him” (Lumen Gentium 8).

And even if the quote from the Council itself gives some amount of leeway by using the verb “subsists in” rather than simply “is”, the Credo of the People of God by Paul VI supplies any clarity lacking.

Do we have to go out into the streets and preach the truth of the Roman Church? No, not necessarily. But we must live our lives in a way that communicates the Catholic Faith, we must keep and spread the Faith, and we must pray for nonbelievers. How do we start? I’d suggest we begin by doing what was suggested by Fr. Dwight Longenecker: be bold with your Catholic vocabulary. Don’t just say, “Real Presence”, which is used even by some Protestants, but instead say, “Transubstantiation”, which definitively communicates the total disappearance of bread and wine and the total presence of Christ in the consecrated elements. Rather than merely calling it the vague term “liturgy”, call it the “Sacrifice of the Mass”, which communicates clearly the re-presentation of Christ’s death on the altars of our churches. Instead of saying simply, “Mary”, say “Our Lady” or the “Blessed Mother”. Instead of simply “Jesus” or “the Lord”, try “Our Lord”. These types of things are non-threatening ways of communicating a distinctly Catholic faith, and though they may feel awkward at first, they soon become second nature, and the people around you might find themselves following your lead (and please be aware, I’m not saying there’s anything sinful about not doing them; it’s up to you in the end, but it’s highly worth it). Only by a resurgence of Catholic identity will a recognition of Catholicism’s objectivity be able to take hold in the minds of the faithful, and only then will they bother evangelizing the non-Catholics around them. There aren’t many different truths where we have an option of picking the one that suits us best. There is one truth, and Our Lord died for it, so let us pray that He will give us the grace to recognize and hold firmly to it.

“If you continue in My word, you shall be My disciples indeed, and you shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32).

May the Holy Trinity bless you, and may Our Lady keep you under her protection.

Categories: Catholicism and everyone else, God, Religion | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

The Holy Trinity & the Crucifixion

Good afternoon, readers, followers, and visitors.

I find myself very reluctant in posting this, since it doesn’t concretely lead anywhere and instead just stimulates possible discussion. I thought about simply not posting it, but I’d be curious, if there are any, to know thoughts on the matter outside my own. So, in the end, here’s the post, posted.

This is something that I would warn you not to try just skimming. You’ll end up confused, disappointed, or both. Read it when you have time to read it, then you’ll find it more appreciable.

Recently I saw a blog post somewhere that was highly critical of Catholicism for its supposedly violent character. As you might guess, one of the primary examples of this violence that the blogger used was the Crucifixion. The argument went like this, and if you’ve ever come across someone opposed to Christianity, you’ll recognize it all too well: “What kind of God would make his own son go down and die like that?”

In response, I—well, I helping someone else—pointed out that Jesus, the Only-Begotten Son, is Himself God together with that God that sent Him to die, and the Son, having the same divine will as the Father, chose to die of His own accord (as is implied in John 10:18, Matthew 26:52-53, Ephesians 5:25, and many others, I’m sure). Viewing it this way shifts it from being “mean old God sending child to die” to being “God suffering and dying of His own will for the well-being of others”. At the same time, this shifting of focus makes the Crucifixion look no longer like a cruel act of a mean God, but a loving act of a merciful God.

Now, a thought sort of spontaneously occurred to me while I was making that response, and while I ultimately decided to take it out (since it was only loosely connected to the blogger’s argument), I wasn’t ready to let go of it completely. And that discarded thought, my friends, is what you’ll be reading about shortly (we’ll need to make a detour or two before the idea is finally given, though).

Ultimately, the “discarded thought” was a further response to the accusation that God the Father is cruel for sending the Son to die, and it rests on the fact that anything done by or to one of the Divine Persons will affect all three. For example, any time we pray the Our Father, we’re only actively addressing the Father, but it has to be the case that we’re also addressing the Son and the Holy Spirit. Any time we adore the Holy Eucharist, we are not adoring the Son in isolation, but are also adoring the Father and the Holy Spirit. Any time we pray for the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we’re asking those same gifts from the Father and the Son. This is not because we’re modalists. We don’t believe that the Father is the Son or the Son is the Holy Spirit or any of that. Each Person is wholly Himself. However, there is only one divine nature and only one allotment of that divine nature which can be possessed. Let me attempt to prove that point as succinctly as possible—”succinctly” for me, though perhaps not in your view of things—before moving on.

Stating that there’s only one nature and one allotment of it stands in contrast to us here below. We all have “human nature”, and indeed, every human is alike insofar as he is a rational animal with five senses, two arms and two legs, etc… But as you’ll readily agree, each human has his own share of “humanness”. I’m a different human than Joe, Joe is a different human than Stephanie, Stephanie is a different human than Rick. However, this cannot be the case with the divine nature of God. Why?

Because the divine nature carries with it claims of infinity: infinite knowledge, infinite justice, infinite love, infinite power, and infinite whatever else. So if the divine nature is infinite, then there can only be one of it. Two infinites can’t exist. If something is infinite, it is endless. An endless thing will be greater than everything else. It keeps on going when other things have reached a limit due to their finitude. So, if an infinite thing will be the only thing that keeps on going, it has to be isolated. It has to be by itself, only one, not many. This being the case, there’s only one divine nature. Not one divine nature for the Father, one divine nature for the Son, and one divine nature for the Holy Spirit. No, They all must have the exact same, identical one (and They must possess it completely, each of Them, since it is infinite and can’t be split among Them like a thing with a boundary could)*. It would be kind of as though two other persons possessed, as much as you possess it, the exact same humanity that makes you you. Because they have your humanity, anything you do affects them, and anything they do affects you, because they are acting with your individual nature.

After that perhaps mentally painful detour, we finally get to that “discarded thought” I mentioned up above. It was this:

If the Persons of the Trinity possess the exact same divinity (just like if someone possessed your particular allotment of humanity), and one of these Persons (the Son) experienced intense suffering and death, could it be that His suffering and death affected the Father and the Holy Spirit in some mysterious, hypothetical way?

Obviously I’m not trying to say that the Son’s divine nature underwent suffering, thus making the Father and Holy Spirit feel that suffering, too. The Son didn’t suffer in His divinity; He suffered in His humanity. Nor am I trying to say the Father and Holy Spirit suffered and died. They did not assume a human nature as the Son did, and so could not suffer or die. But the Son, possessor of both human and divine natures, is a single Person. The same one who experienced suffering, death, and agony in His humanity from the time after the Last Supper until His death is united infinitely, unfathomably, to God the Father and the Holy Spirit, in a unity so intense that even if the First and Third Persons did not experience suffering properly speaking, They must still have shared somehow in the anguish of the Second Person. We can see a hint of this in our own lives. If we see loved ones sick, for example, or on the verge of death, we feel a certain degree of heartache for them, especially if they are remarkably upright individuals. We’re not sick or dying ourselves, and may not be even close to death, but our love for them makes their suffering ours. And this is the case with our small, imperfect, finite natures. Is it not possible, is it not likely, that this is the case further with that infinite and perfect God, Whose communion with the suffering and perfectly innocent Christ is so strong, Whose love for Him is so intense, as to be only glimpsed at by the greatest of minds?

We need to be very careful here, however, because from the outset, any notions of the Father and the Holy Spirit heaving sighs of grief over the Son or feeling the nails of the Cross cut into Them need to be thrown out. The Father and Holy Spirit, and also the Son according to His divinity, do not possess human emotion or physical senses. But even with that being the case, the unity and love of the Godhead suggests that, somehow, in a way perhaps known only to God, the suffering experienced by the Divine Son affected the other Persons. I don’t pose the question to you as one that I expect or attempt to give proof about. Rather, I give it for you to ponder amidst the fog it brings. Have you considered this before? What do you think? Let me know.

Though please, if possible, keep comments limited to this topic. If you want to talk about the impossibility of the Trinity or something like that, keep it to yourself for now.

*Edit: If anyone feels, like I do, that the explanation of why there’s only one particular divine nature is not exactly relevant to the topic, let me know and I’ll see about removing it. I felt it was necessary for the purpose of highlighting the profound unity of the Three Persons, but now I’m thinking it might just be a confusing and unnecessary addition.

Categories: Christology, Trinitarianism | Leave a comment

Why Call God a He?

Hello, readers, a a pleasant beginning of Advent to you!

One thing I would request is that if you’re going to make a comment on this post arguing against it, please make sure you read the whole thing before doing so. Few things are more frustrating than having someone argue against a point you make when it turns out that you answered the person’s objection, but they didn’t read the post carefully or long enough to notice. Anyway, to business… ;)

Somewhat recently I was asked to do a post on the feminist view which tries to make God female—the view which uses the pronoun “she” when referring to God, the view which almost always wants women to be ordained to the priesthood, and the view which, rather than saying, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”, says, “In the name of the Creator, the Word, and the Sanctifier”, so as to avoid obviously male titles. Now, I suppose that in order to discuss this issue, we need to look at it from two angles: firstly, is there a legitimate problem with calling God a “she”, and secondly, why does the Church have a tradition of calling God a “he”?

There a Problem, Officer?

This may surprise some of you, but there is nothing intrinsically wrong with calling God a she. But you want to be very careful for a few reasons. One, the Church has always called God “He” for a reason (more on that later). Two, you must be well-learned on this issue and don’t do it unless you’re ready to give a good explanation for it; if you can’t explain it well, you may spread confusion to your hearers, which is never good. Three, there’s a certain sense in which the people or ideas associated with a neutral thing can taint it and make it bad (in this case, the feminists who want God to be called a “she”). For example, although there’s nothing wrong in and of itself with receiving Holy Communion under the species of both bread and wine, the Church decided to restrict the practice for a good while because heresies were going around, asserting that one did not receive Our Lord whole and entire without receiving both. So to drive home the point that yes, Christ is received entirely in one species or the other, the Church did not allow Communion under both species, even though it’s not evil in and of itself (and yes, I know it’s allowed now; I don’t dispute that).

Anyways, while I would perhaps question the prudence of the statement you’re about to read, it’s nevertheless true that Pope John Paul I said the following in his Angelus Address on September 10th, 1978:

…we are the objects of undying love on the part of God. We know: he has always his eyes open on us, even when it seems to be dark. He is our father; even more he is our mother. He does not want to hurt us, He wants only to do good to us, to all of us. If children are ill, they have additional claim to be loved by their mother. And we too, if by chance we are sick with badness, on the wrong track, have yet another claim to be loved by the Lord (http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_i/angelus/documents/hf_jp-i_ang_10091978_en.html).

Once again, I would urge caution. The reason this statement can be made is that God is sexually neutral. To have a gender is the property of a body. God became a man at His Incarnation, but in and of Himself, according to His divinity, He is neither male nor female. Additionally, man and woman both are created in God’s image, so God has properties associated with fatherhood (justice, strength, the tendency to sacrifice oneself for the good of others) and also properties associated with motherhood (gentleness, mercy, a capacity to nurture, and what have you). So God is not more male than female. He is neither male nor female, yet reflects both.

Another thing you want to be aware of is that when the Holy Father said, “…even more [God] is our mother”, a couple things must be taken into account. The way it’s worded here, it looks as though he’s saying, “It would be more correct if we stopped calling God ‘Father’ and started calling Him ‘Mother’ instead”. Well, not so fast. The statement I quoted is a translation of the original text, and it’s quite possible that in the Italian there is a clearer nuance which the English doesn’t convey. Also, if the text appears as shady, be aware that this Angelus Address was not an act of the pope’s infallible magisterium. A pope can speak error. He cannot define error as a dogma of the Faith, but in speaking, he is able to slip. So while I’m not saying that what he said is wrong, it’s certainly not a dogmatic statement and does not require the assent of faith.

Back on the main issue of “is there a problem with referring to God in feminine terms”, you’ll sometimes find that Christ Our Lord is portrayed as a mother pelican (such as in St. Thomas Aquinas’ Adore Te Devote). Same logic applies: God has properties of both the male and the female. It’s not inherently wrong to speak of Him in female terms, but should be done carefully, with the right audience, and not too often, so as not to spread unnecessary confusion.

Why Speak of God as Masculine?

While I’m going to save the best argument for last, I feel like for the Catholic, the fastest initial explanation is that Christ Himself constantly called God “Father” and commanded us to do likewise. He could have said, “When you pray, say, ‘Our Father or Mother, who art in Heaven…”, but He did not. He told us to call God “Father” and continually did so Himself. And don’t let anyone tell you that was just because of the times He was in. He had no problem breaking protocol elsewhere if necessary (eating with sinners, bypassing ritual hand washing, claiming to be divine, what have you). If it were really imperative that God be thought of as feminine, I feel like He would have let us know.

Another argument is that Our Lord, in becoming human, became male. Think for a moment. Jesus Christ is the fullness of God’s revelation, because Jesus Christ is God “manifested in the flesh” (1 Tim 3:16). Given that the Incarnation was God’s greatest chance to make Himself known, is it not likely that He would have become female if He wanted people to think of God as feminine? If it were truly better to call God a “she”, would it not have been more sensible for Christ to be a woman? It seems so to me, and yet He became a man.

I’d like to give one last argument, which is superior to the above two and points simultaneously to why God became male and why God is referred to in male terms at all. The crux of this one is that man gives and woman receives, God reflecting the male tendency to give, creation reflecting the female tendency to receive. It is the nature of God to give of Himself. You can see this in the life of the Trinity, as the Three Divine Persons constantly love One another and give this love without limit. You can see it in the Incarnation, when God condescended to human frailty for our welfare. You can see it in the Crucifixion, where He laid down His human life for us. And finally, you can see it in the Holy Eucharist, where Christ condescends to the frailty of bread and wine, but does so that we might be filled with His grace. This need to give, to sacrifice, is a masculine thing. Man gives, woman receives. You could use any number of situations to demonstrate this, but here’s what I would argue by the end of it all:

Yes, God is neither male nor female. Yes, God could feasibly be considered female if necessary. Yes, man and woman are both made in the image of God, without favoritism. But in spite of all of this, it is most appropriate to call God “He” because not only in His divinity, but also in His earthly life, God did what men do primarily: He selflessly gave Himself for the welfare of others. God reflects the masculine, while all of creation—the human soul as well as the Bride of Christ, the Church—is the feminine, which is receptive, as the female is, to God’s giving. I can write more about the female quality of the genderless human soul in another post, but for now, simply except that fact, regardless of any discomfort it causes to the men who read this. Although they are both without any sex, God reflects the masculine, while the human soul (whether belonging to male or female) reflects the feminine. Thus, it belongs to God to be called “He” and it belongs to creation to be called “she”. Anyone who wants God to be a woman fails to grasp this essential fact.

Now, this is partly why I asked you up above to read the entire thing before arguing. I’m not saying that women don’t give or sacrifice, or that men can’t be receptive. Indeed, men and women alike are called to offer their own personal sacrifices together with the great Sacrifice of Christ, and men are “feminine” in the relationship with God, receiving His graces in their souls. But the point is that, primarily, the male acts as giver, the female as recipient. It doesn’t need to work all the time like that, but generally, it holds true.

And so we reach a rather informal conclusion. Any other arguments I didn’t give here are welcome. I hope you’ve found this post intriguing.

Farewell, until next time.

Categories: God | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

On Angels: Part 3: Demonic Abilities and Limitations (Heavily Belated)

Hello, readers, and happy Thanksgiving to my fellow Americans!

This post is incredibly late, but I either a) had school or b) wanted to do something else with my free time. But at last, I have the time and motivation to conclude what I began months ago, and hopefully, with this out of the way, can post on this blog concerning other topics. So, when I last posted, I said that the next post would go into demonic power (and by extension, the power of all angels). Let’s do this, then!

The Power of Demons In and Of Itself

First, I want to go into the power of demons considered by itself, without any external restraints placed upon it. A primary thing you should realize is that, because demons are angels, they have all the powers God gave to angels. God did not withdraw their angelic abilities when they sinned, thinking that because they’re now evil, they don’t deserve to be powerful. No, their angelic powers remained, which means that they’re a great deal more powerful than humans. What is the extent of demonic/angelic power? It varies. But even the lowest angel is intensely more powerful, whether intellectually or otherwise, than a human person. I assume, though, that you’d like a basic list of powers possessed by all angels, regardless of rank, so here you go (and since we’re referring in this post to demons, the list will as well; just know that it applies to good angels unless otherwise noted):

  • Demons have vastly superior minds compared to humans. In Fr. Francis J. Remler’s excellent book How to Resist Temptation, he says that demons know more about the material universe and the expansive cosmos than scientists could know in a million years. In the same book, he says that although demons cannot read our minds as God can, they are nevertheless able to have a generally-correct idea of what we’re thinking at a given moment (Fr. Remler compared it to having a friend whom you know so well that you can “read him like a book”—you don’t know exactly what he’s thinking, but can guess pretty well).
  • Demons have a great deal of power over the material world and the people in it. I recommend you read Part 1 for more on that, but I do have something else to add to the stuff listed over there. In Theology For Beginners, Frank Sheed says that “…angels could, so powerful as they are, destroy our material universe if the mightier power of God did not prevent them” (Chapter Two: Spirit, pg. 15).
  • Demons, as with the good angels, have wills that are unobstructed by emotions. Because of this, they are able to think far more decisively and clearly than humans. There’s no question of how a given thing makes them feel at a particular moment; they’re not one moment happy, another moment sad. They know what they want and they act accordingly.
  • Specifically with regard to demons, the temptations they give to man would at least almost always induce him to sin if he were not given God’s grace to combat them.
  • Demons can appear as good angels, as a saint, or even as Our Lord Himself! This is why one must be very, very deliberate and careful if he claims to have seen a vision from Heaven.

Limits on Demonic Power

Notice that I said previously, “I want to go into the power of demons considered by itself, without any external restraints placed upon it”. That means that there are, in fact, limits on what demons can know and do.

For example, Matthew and Mark’s gospels are at one in agreeing that the angels do not know when the end of the world will be (Mt. 24:53, Mk. 13:32: and just for the record, when it says the Son does not know, it is another way of saying He was not sent to tell us; He and the Holy Spirit do know when it is, because They share the divine intellect that is God the Father’s).

Another limitation placed on demons is that they cannot force us to sin. They can tempt us, and indeed they can tempt us very greatly, but they cannot make us sin. That’s ultimately up to us. Further, demons are prevented by God from tempting us beyond what we can handle. That’s not to say that temptations sent our way won’t be intense, but simply that, with God’s aid, we will be able to handle whatever temptations we encounter, no matter how bad they are.

Yet another limitation on demons is that they are bound to obey a direct command made by God. Note that whenever Christ tells a demon to leave a possessed soul in the Gospels, it listens to Him. This makes sense, since He created all the demons, but it’s still worth noting. I say the demons are bound to obey a direct command for this reason: you might say, well, they didn’t obey God when He gave them the choice between Heaven and Hell. The key difference is that when God offered the demons eternal life, He did not say, “You MUST love Me”, but rather, gave them the chance to do so or not, at their own peril. In the case of the demons, He definitely ordered them to get out, and they did, despite whatever protests and blasphemies they made first. Further, I say they’re bound to obey a direct command from God (as opposed to others) because the Scriptures record instances where men were unable to do cast out demons (Mt. 17:19-20). I’ll admit that on this last point, I may be oversimplifying the situation. It could be that demons must obey anyone who possesses the authority of Christ, but I honestly am not sure. I’d gladly accept pointers here.

There are two final limitations on demonic ability or knowledge that I can think of. The first was one placed on Satan by God in Job 1:12, where the former was not permitted to harm Job. The last and more interesting one appears within the Gospels. It would seem to some degree that Satan was unaware that Jesus Christ was the Only-Begotten Son of God and Redeemer of the world. During Satan’s temptation of Christ before His public ministry in Matthew 4, Satan kept saying, “If you are the Son of God, do yadda yadda yadda…”, going so far as to ask Our Lord to worship him. Now the question is, if Satan did know Who Christ was, wouldn’t he know that asking such a thing was not only pointless but even impossible, considering that God is incapable of sin? The only reason I can think of that he would even bother with the series of temptations is that he was honestly unsure about Our Lord’s identity. This is St. Thomas Aquinas’ take on it as well, who said that demons “can be misled with regard to supernatural matters; for example, on seeing a dead man, they may suppose that he will not rise again, or, on beholding Christ, they may judge Him not to be God” (Summa Theologica I:58:5).

In conclusion, it’s all very intriguing, isn’t it? Perhaps we’ll know more in the next life. In the meantime, I hope these posts have not been too shallow regarding their treatment of these issues, but if you have anything else you’d like me to write about, let me know. Once again, my apologies for taking so awfully long with this.

Happy Thanksgiving and God bless you and yours,

—Michael

Categories: Angels, Scripture | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

On Angels: Part 2: Reason for Angels and the Fall Thereof

The Reason They Exist

A question worth asking is, “Why do angels exist at all?” I mean, we know why humans exist–so that God’s goodness could be demonstrated and so that we could share in God’s happiness, both in this life and in heaven. We know why animals exist–to provide companionship for mankind and (after the Flood) to provide food for man.

But why do angels exist?

I can think of a few explanations, but I’ll save the best one for last. For starters, it could be the same reason that humans exist: to be happy in a life with God, the source of all beatitude. Or it could be that God, using “foresight”, if you will, and knowing that man would fail the temptation and commit sin, decided to create a higher order of rational creatures in advance, to serve as helpers whenever humans need them. Or perhaps it could simply be God’s way of showing His power. But really, all except the first of these explanations fall short to some degree.

If I had to guess, I would give the following explanation:

There are two “orders” in creation, the spiritual and the physical. This is obvious. There are purely spiritual entities (angels and God), purely physical entities (the earth, non-rational animals), and entities comprised of both the spiritual and the physical (humans). Does there not seem to be some structure here? Look at the order of things:

  • First God creates the spiritual (angels)
  • Then God creates the physical (the earth and the animals)
  • Then, finally, God makes a creature having properties of both (man)

So could it be that, with those two “orders”, it is most logical that there be each one alone and then the two joined together? The Incarnation of Our Lord mirrors this same concept: first there is God, then there is man, and then with the Incarnation those two things are joined: God becomes man and man is given the chance to become (to an extent) like God. I wonder if that’s an order God works in purposefully: first the greater, then the lesser, then both joined. But of course, the very first explanation I gave also works: in creating the angels, God knew they would be happy living with Him.

The Angels Who Sinned

This is perhaps the most interesting part of angelic study. I must begin by making sure two points are clear: first, the angels who sinned (“demons”) are just as much angels as those who did not; second, demons are not red guys with tails, horns, and pitchforks. That second statement might seem like a joke, and it is, mostly, but it’s worth pointing out. The depiction of demons you commonly see is not what they’re like at all.

The Sin and the Motive

Now, we know that the fallen angels, as creatures of God, were created “good”. We know that they were tempted and sinned. So, what motivated them to sin? The answer is not a very clear one. We know only that it was a sin of pride, of “rejection of God and His reign” (CCC 392). It’s commonly theorized that the angels who sinned–Satan especially–desired to be like God. This is implied in Isaiah 14:12-14 (Douay-Rheims translation), speaking of Satan before his fall:

How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, who didst rise in the morning? How art thou fallen to the earth, that did wound the nations? And thou saidst in thy heart: I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God, I will sit in the mountain of the covenant, in the sides of the north. I will ascend above the height of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.

It would make a lot of sense that this was the angelic sin, because look at what Satan says to Eve when he gives temptation to her: “You will be as God” (Gen. 3:5). It’s quite likely that he had said that to himself first.

The question, however, is not only “What tempted the angels to sin?”, but also, “What could have possibly made them go through with it?” As I said previously, they don’t have emotions to cloud their vision and they knew entirely what they were doing, knowing as well that forgiveness would be unattainable.

St. Thomas Aquinas posits something interesting regarding the motives of Satan’s sin, which, despite not answering the question of what the motive was, gives some form of direction. Lucifer was the highest of the angels, such that Pope Gregory I said he “wore all the angels as a garment, transcending all in glory and knowledge” (qtd. in What About God?, G. Creighton Bradshaw). Now, this being the case, Thomas Aquinas says that “the motive for sinning existed more in the higher angels than in the lower. For, as has been said, the demon’s sin was pride: and the motive of pride is excellence, which is greater in the higher spirits” (Summa Theologica, Prima Pars, Quaestio LXIII, Articulus VII, Corpus). Then, going on to the fall of the other demons, he says, “The sin of the highest angel was the cause of the others sinning: not as [forcing] them, but as inducing them by a kind of exhortation, [which appears from the fact that] all the demons are subjects of that highest one” (Quaestio LXIII, Articulus VIII, Corpus).

Unfortunately, insightful as that may be, it doesn’t answer what the motive was very clearly. If you’ve read the revelations to St. Bridget of Sweden, which may or may not be officially approved by the Church, there was one interesting part I remember reading, which may provide an answer (though of course, I would caution you not to dogmatize this; we really just don’t know). Anyway, at one point in these revelations St. Bridget received, Satan was speaking to Our Lord and said the reason he sinned was this: he knew that if he sinned, God would suffer and die (i.e., the cross). That actually makes sense, but the problem I have with that is, did Satan not realize that the death of God would be his [Satan's] undoing? Seems very counter-intuitive. But then, sin isn’t rational, is it? I suppose if Satan truly hates God, then His death would be the best victory Satan could achieve.

Still others have said that perhaps the angels were shown the fact that God the Son would become man, thus taking a nature lower in dignity than theirs, and having to adore God incarnate wounded their pride. Finally, others have said the angels were shown the Blessed Mother and the fact that she, a mere human, would be the greatest creature, and this fact supposedly was an occasion of pride. But in the end, we can only speculate. Each position has its talking points.

And so Part 2 is concluded. Part 3 (yes, I know this keeps being extended…) will go into demonic ability.

May the Incarnate Second Person of the Trinity keep you in His graces. Thanks for reading.

Categories: Angels | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

On Angels: Part 1: An Overview

Angels aren’t spoken of enough. According to Genesis 1:1, “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. We’re given a relatively complete list of the things God made on earth, but there’s no mention of what He made in heaven.  Angels show up in the Bible a few times in visions or as the Lord’s messengers or what have you, and in the Mass they’re given a few mentions, but still, they’re not spoken of much.

Frankly, a lot of people don’t know much about angels and what they do know isn’t often correct. Angels aren’t cute little baby heads with wings attached, or winged adults with harps and long hair, or human beings who have made it to heaven. But it does no good to give a list of what something is not. We need to know what the angel IS. So then, what is an angel?

Perhaps the best definition of angel is “a created and finite spirit, separate from humans, that will never die”. Now don’t let the deceptive simpleness of that definition fool you, because there’s a lot of meaning in it. So we’ll take it piece by piece.

A) A Created and Finite Spirit

You mustn’t think of a spirit as an outline of a person’s body where nothing is filled in. Spirits are entirely nonphysical. They occupy no space, have no weight, measurements, they make no sound detectible by the ears, and they can’t be seen or felt. But once again, it does no good to have only a list of what something is not. So for more definitions, a spirit is “a nonphysical but truly existing entity that has two main abilities, under which all actions are categorized: knowledge and love” (personal definition). We humans are spiritual beings, but we are not spirits. That’s an important thing that distinguishes us from angels. Angels are spirits, while we only have spirits. Spirituality is only part of our being (since we have bodies as well), while with angels being a spirit occupies the totality of their existence. God is the same way–although the Son became man and so now it can technically be said that God has a body, it is still the case that in and of Himself, God is purely a spirit, and the physicality of a human nature is not something He inherently would possess.

Despite the fact that both God the Trinity and the angels are purely spirits, we need to remember that angels are created by God and are finite. They’re created, so they depend upon their Creator for existence and owe their existence to Him. They’re finite, which is to say, they’re limited. They don’t know all things like God does–though they know much more than humans–and they can’t do all things like God can–though they can do much more than humans.

B) Separate From Humans

I’m sure you’ve heard people say, after the death of a loved one, “There’s another angel in heaven”. As well-meaning as such a person is, it needs to be stated that angels are not humans, nor can humans ever become angels. The two creatures are entirely separate. There are similarities (we both have intellect and will), but angels will never be the same as a human anymore than a horse will be the same as a turkey.

C) They Will Never Die

Death is a bodily property, defined as the separation of the soul (the soul being the nonphysical life-principle) from the body. Angels, pure spirits, don’t have bodies and so cannot die. They live forever. And bear in mind that the spirits of humans will also live forever, because death does not mean “annihilation”. It’s simply the time when body and soul separate. Spirits are destined to exist forever after they’ve been created, angelic or human.

Now for the interesting stuff…

Emotionless and Forever Unrepentant

Angels are by nature greater than humans. Not as if God loves them more, but rather, they are more powerful than we are. Now angels are put into different groups, each group progressively becoming greater than the previous one. Yet even the lowest angel is quite a bit greater than a human. Why is that? It has to do partly with their being purely spirits. You see, angels don’t have passions or desires which influence their actions. Those are specific to bodily creatures, being dictated by hormones or whatever else. So you could say angels are emotionless.

But you want to be sure you get what’s that means. To say angels are emotionless does not mean they’re cold or devoid of any sort of liveliness. Think for a minute. Passions, emotions, or whatever you want to call them are constantly fluctuating. One minute you’ll like something, the next minute you won’t. One minute you’ll want to do good, the next minute you’ll be drawn to something bad. Yet in spite of all these emotions you KNOW right from wrong. To be emotionless, as with angels, is simply to not be encumbered by the constant change of feelings. You would know something to be right or wrong and act in accordance with that knowledge, without having to worry about the bias that feelings bring with them. God, too, is without emotions. He simply loves infinitely all the time, unchanged by feeling.

Now then, there’s something that makes the lack of emotions in angels quite fascinating. Whereas we humans are continually tempted to sin because of our constantly fluctuating passions that cloud our moral vision, the angels were tempted once: at the beginning of their creation. Those who surpassed the temptation have never been tempted since, living forever in Heaven with God, and those who sinned will never be forgiven, living forever apart from God in Hell. It’s not that God lacks mercy toward the angels who sinned. If it were possible for them to repent, God would forgive them. But the angels who sinned, commonly called demons, knew without any uncertainty what they were doing when they made the choice to sin. There were no external circumstances, pressures, or feelings that would let them turn back afterward and say, “Wait, I wouldn’t have done that if I had known what would happen”. And indeed, their choice was further sealed because they knew they couldn’t be forgiven, and so they are entirely guilty in the truest sense.

Inferior to God Yet Superior to Man

Everything that is not God is inferior to God, so it goes without saying that angels are less than God. Indeed, they’re infinitely less than God, because the infinite and the finite are forever apart. Even though they’re finite, however, angels are quite a bit greater than humans. The fact of their superiority over humans is evident in the first place from the Scriptures. For example, in Revelation 19:10 and 22:9, John is so struck by the glory of an angel that he tries to give him adoration (for which he is rebuked and is told to adore God). Then it’s directly stated in 2 Peter 2:11 that angels are “greater in strength and power” than men.

Also, if we look at the implications of Revelation 7:1-4, Job 1:12, and Our Lord’s temptation by Satan (remember, Satan is a fallen angel), it seems that angels have some degree of power over the physical world. Revelation 7:1-4 says that the angels have power stop wind from blowing anywhere on the earth and to harm the earth; in Job 1:12, God gives Satan power over all of Job’s belongings; and finally, during the temptation of Our Lord, Satan says he has the power to give the Lord all the kingdoms of the world. The power of angels over man is implied yet further in Ephesians 6:12, where Paul calls fallen angels the “hostile rulers of the world of this darkness”.

Finally, Catechism says they are “surpassing in perfection all visible creatures” (paragraph 330).

There Isn’t Really a “Nature of Angels”

While it can be said that there is a human nature (i.e., something about humanity that makes all humans the same) and that that there is a Divine Nature (something that makes God uniquely God), there is not an “angelic nature”. Indeed, each angel is his own species, if you will. The word “angel” is not referring to what the being is (as is the case with man and God), but rather, it refers only to the role of the creature. Thus, to quote the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 329 (which in turn is quoting St. Augustine):

‘Angel’ is the name of their office, not of their nature. If you seek the name of their nature, it is ‘spirit’; if you seek the name of their office, it is ‘angel’.

—————————-

Now, I know this is a terrible closing of this post, but there’s a lot more I ought to say on the subject, which will need to be said tomorrow in a second post. Right now I’m tired, and besides, I doubt you could focus well if I kept going. In the next post I hope to go more into the evil angels and their sin. But for now, goodnight and God bless you.

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A Post On One of Many Great Mysteries of the Holy Trinity

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me thine eyes!

One of the tenets of the doctrine of the Trinity is that each Person possesses the Divine Nature in its entirety. Thus, it’s wrong to say that each Person comprises 1/3 of God. This, in turn, means that one can’t say, “We only have God whole and entire if we take all three Persons together”. Rather, it can rightly be said–as mind-boggling as it seems–that with the Father alone, we have God in His totality. With the Son alone, we have God in His totality. With the Holy Spirit alone, we have God in His totality. Then of course, with all three Persons together, we have God (you guessed it) in His totality. So how does this work? If God is three Persons, how can it be that all three taken together don’t make up any more of a whole than one taken alone? Read on, m’friend. Be prepared for confusion, too, especially if you don’t read about the Trinity often. But Ill do my best to explain why this is the case, and I hope by the time you’re done reading, you will come away with a new appreciation for the holiness and majesty of God.

Reason 1: All Three Persons are Infinite

So first of all, the infinite can only be equal to itself. If “infinite” is “limitless”, then one limitless thing can not have more or less “limitlessness” than another “limitless” thing. If there were differences between two limitless things, then one of them would not actually be limitless at all. Ponder that for a minute, and read it as many times as you need to. Now, if the Father is limitless, the Son is limitless, and the Holy Spirit is limitless, there can be no inequality between Them. Fair enough. But one limitless thing can’t be more limitless than another limitless thing. Thus, the Trinity is not more limitless or infinite than one of the three Persons individually. It’s simply impossible that such a thing would be the case. The Father is as great as the three Persons together, the Son is as great as the three Persons together, and the Holy Spirit is as great as all three Persons together.

Reason 2: One Nature

It is Catholic doctrine that the three Persons are distinct from one another. Each is wholly Himself. Thus, the Father is not the Son or the Holy Spirit, the Son is not the Father or the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father or the Son. However, despite the singular identity of each Person, there is only one Divine Nature. There can’t be any more than one because there can’t be two separate, infinite things. Now, each distinct Person possesses the totality of this single Divine Nature. Think about that for a second. Each one has 100% of the Divine Nature. The Divine Nature can only be possessed completely, since the infinite can’t be cut in parts. Now, this being the case, if someone were to say that each Person alone is not equal to all three Persons together, that would mean that all three Persons together would have 300% of the Divine Nature, which is simply impossible. As baffling as it is, there is not “more of the Divine Nature” in three Persons together than in one alone.

Reason 3: All Three Persons are Perfect

This is rather like reason #1. If something is perfect, it is complete. It lacks nothing. The Father is perfect, the Son is perfect, the Holy Spirit is perfect, and all three together are perfect. But there can’t be more perfection in three together than in one alone. Perfection means nothing is lacking. Nothing is lacking in one Person alone, and nothing is lacking in all three, and that means that one Person has to be equal to the three together.

Reason 4: Inseparable

Because there is one and only one Divine Nature, and it is only able to exist completely, that means that whoever has this Divine Nature must be inseparable from whomever else happens to have it. For example, the Son can’t decide to “cut away” His portion of the divinity so as to be isolated from the Father and the Holy Spirit. It just doesn’t work like that. It can’t be sliced up or separated. Ergo, because They possess the same nature, the Father is where the Son and Holy Spirit are, the Son is where the Father and the Holy Spirit are, and the Holy Spirit is wherever the Father and the Son are.

What does that mean? It means that in the womb of the Virgin Mary, although the human nature of her child was possessed by the Son alone, the Father and the Holy Spirit were there present. Not because They were the owners of the newly conceived Body (something only belonging to the Son), but because They’re inseparable from the Son. Because He has the one same nature They do, They must be present wherever He is present. Likewise with the Eucharist. The Father and Holy Spirit are present in the Eucharist not because the Body and Blood which It has become is Theirs, but because the Divine Nature of the Son–the very same one possessed by Them–is present in the Eucharist.

Mind-boggling, isn’t it? I hope I’ve gotten you to think of something new in reading this. It’s really quite something, and if you ask me, it’s proof that the Trinity is real.

You can’t come up with this stuff by yourself.

Eadem Trinitas sancta benedicat vos (if you didn’t get that, try Google Translate).

Categories: Trinitarianism | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

So…Lemme Talk About Mass Music

I’s probably fair to say that one of the most radical changes in the last fifty years has been the music used during Mass. Most typical parishes nowadays have a lame “gathering song”, a vanilla “offertory hymn”, a “Communion song” about “breaking bread” and “sharing the cup of blessing”, and finally, a “song of sending forth”. In Masses for gatherings of youth, we’ll usually find a praise and worship band, or if nothing else, a lot of acoustic guitars and emotional songs. Then in traditionalist circles, we’ll find either chant or some old, reverent hymns. This last category is a rare bird, though. Most of the time, the music heard at Mass is unoffensive, non-theological, very community-oriented, and thought of as a direct fruit of Vatican II.

Now, I tend to be a pill (by the standards of many) when it comes to the question of what music should be used in Mass. I’m staunchly anti-Praise & Worship where the Mass is concerned, and I also dislike nothing more than the above-mentioned community hymns by the likes of Dan Schutte, David Haas, and Marty Haugen. But the question is, why am I against it? Can’t people worship God however they want? Can’t people sing whatever music they feel connects them to Our Lord? If it would get teenagers (and by the way, I am one) to go to Mass, would Praise and Worship really be that bad? These questions, my friends, are what I shall attempt to answer right now.

Objection 1: We Should Be Able to Worship God However We Want

The thing wrong with this argument is that it is using the word “worship” as an arbitrary form of praise given to God, one that’s kinda blurry and simply needs to end in acknowledging the greatness of the Lord. And while there’s some truth to that, the Mass is not “worship” in that way. Protestants have worship when they get together and read the Scriptures and have songs, the man kneeling next to his bed is worshiping while he recites his evening prayers. But that’s not all that goes on at Mass. Yes, the first reason for which Mass is offered is the adoration of God. But this adoration is not subjective worship like prayer. This adoration is done in a concrete, most perfect way, a way that is within the context of another act. What is this act? It is the act of giving God the only offering totally and completely acceptable to Him: the infinite offering of God Himself. It is so perfect an act of adoration, so beyond what we would think of ourselves, that God Himself had to institute it during His Last Supper on Holy Thursday. And because God was the One Who had to give it to us, that means God is the One Who determines how it’s done, rather than us.

Further proof that God is the director of liturgical acts comes from the fact that He Himself had to proscribe even finite sacrifices in the Old Testament. Remember how, in Exodus, Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh to ask him for a time of freedom, so that God’s people could offer Him sacrifices in the wilderness. Pharaoh asks why they can’t just offer God their sacrifices without leaving, and they reply, “We must take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God, as He commands us” (Ex. 8:27). Pharaoh keeps trying to make deals with them, and they say, “until we get there we will not know what we are to use to worship the Lord” (10:26). They can’t just do whatever they feel like, they have to do what God wants. If this was the case with their finite offerings, how much more would it be the case with that infinite offering that is the Mass?

Objection 2: It Should Be Allowed In Mass Because It Might Bring People Such as Teens Closer to God

Well first of all, considering that I’m a 16-year-old myself, this obviously isn’t universally the case. But that’s not the point. I’m going to talk here specifically about Praise and Worship, since I don’t know any teens inspired by Schutte, Haas, or Haugen. However much Praise and Worship might make Mass exciting for a teen–even, for a time, inflamed with enthusiasm for Our Lord–it does so purely within the realm of subjectivity, at the cost of obscuring what the Mass actually is. As I said above, the Mass is objective. Praise and Worship turns the Mass into a play of pleasant emotions, when in actuality, the thing going on at the altar is far from “pleasant”. “Good”, sure, but not pleasant. You have to realize, when the priest says the words of consecration elevates the Eucharist, you’re observing far more than you’d think. Under the veils of bread and wine, you are looking at the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity stretched out upon the Cross, scourged, beaten, suffering intensely, DYING for you. I’d like to repeat that:

Your senses may not grasp it, but at Mass you are observing your Creator, Lord, and God being willfully destroyed, due to YOUR OWN SINS (and mine). It might sound harsh, but is it untrue? It’s not the time to sing upbeat, emotional music that takes away that reality of the Mass, and changes that objective thing into something shaped by our own tastes. It’s a time to say, “Thank You, O Lord, for the gift of the Mass as You have given it to us. In gratitude for Your sacrifice I will put myself aside to adore You within the liturgy as You please”.

If we’re talking upbeat music, then that makes the music the focus of the Mass, rather than Our Lord on the altar. And this next part is important: I’d even say this is the case if we have solemn, operatic music. Any music that makes itself and not God the center of attention has no place in Mass.

Finally, music is not just something added to the liturgy for the sake of enhanced effect, and a lot of folks don’t know that. Liturgical music properly speaking should be an extension of the liturgical texts themselves, which is why there are pre-composed “Entrance Chants” and “Offertory Chants” and “Communion Antiphons” in the missal for every Mass of the year. It is the thought of the Church that these would be sung, not the random four hymns every week. The random four hymns is an exception. The norm is to chant the Propers of the day, which are connected with the Mass of the day, and don’t just add to it to sound nice, but are truly a part of the Mass itself. It’s quite odd, therefore, that most parishes choose four hymns all the time instead of the set-in-stone, actual liturgical texts the Church has given us.

On the Question of Haas-Haugen-and-Schutte-style Music

As I said at the beginning of this post, the problem with modern “community-style” hymns is that they make the Mass purely into a fraternal social gathering. But again, the Mass is not just the community getting together to worship God arbitrarily. It is a concrete offering made to Him on His own terms, and He is to be the focus. Thus, hymns that are a celebration of ourselves are quite a problem. They totally distort the character of the Mass into what Pope Emeritus Benedict called “the self-enclosed circle”. With this type of music, God is worshiped in our own way, and thus, it’s not really God being worshiped at all, but our perception of God. When we worship our perception of God rather than the true God, we end up worshiping ourselves.

It’s time parishes do a deep-cleaning where music is concerned.

 

The Lord bless and keep you this Holy Week.

 

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A Brief Post on the Problem of Too Much Liturgical Diversity

The Novus Ordo is currently the “ordinary expression” of the Roman rite in the Catholic Church. As such, that means that most priests within the Roman rite will celebrate this form of the Mass, which means, in turn, that this will be the form of Mass that is most widely seen.

This fact alone would make one expect uniformity in its celebration. Moreover, the Novus Ordo is but a single rite of the many rites in the Western Church. Thus, a person wouldn’t expect a great amount of diversity when looking at this one rite. Yet find diversity he will. In the present situation of the Church, there are as many forms of the Novus Ordo as there are parishes to celebrate it.  Indeed, one might reasonably say there are more differences between various celebrations of the Novus Ordo than there are differences between older Western rites that are entirely distinct from each other.

Permit me, my friends, to give examples of this great diversity. In the Novus Ordo, you have several options. You can choose among the following for any celebration of Mass according to this missal:

  • Celebration with the priest ad orientem or facing the people
  • Celebration entirely in Latin or entirely in the local language
  • Celebration with a mixture of Latin and the local language
  • Reception of Holy Communion on the tongue or in the hands
  • Reception of Holy Communion kneeling or standing
  • Celebration where the music is either the Propers found in the missal or four hymns of choice
  • Celebration with boys serving at the altar, or girls
  • Celebration with both boys and girls serving at the altar
  • Celebration where the priest alone distributes Holy Communion, or where he is helped by laypeople
  • Celebration where the priest may use the Roman Canon or one of the new replacement Eucharistic prayers
  • Celebration where the Confiteor and Kyrie are said, or where one of the a new penitential acts is used instead
  • Celebration that begins with the priest saying, “The Lord be with you”, or one of the new options

I needn’t go on. You get the point. Please note that the list is arranged in such a way that the traditional practice is mentioned first. Note also that the “or” options are what most parishes use, which is especially troubling since, by using the “or” options, these parishes introduce inevitable differences from other churches (particularly as regards the choices of music, penitential form, Eucharistic prayer, language, and gender of altar servers).

What if there’s a really traditional church that wants to have only the traditonal options (the first choices on each part of the above list)? That’s all well and good, but a Novus Ordo said like that will look nothing like the Novus Ordo a few miles away. Is it really good for the Church to have so many different forms within a single rite?

My suggestion, then, would be the following [maybe the next Holy Father could implement them... :) ]:

  • Mandate ad orientem (after reasonable preparation)
  • Mandate reception of Holy Communion kneeling on the tongue (giving good explanations as to why)
  • Mandate that the priest alone may give Holy Communion, and not laypeople (after giving a good explanation as to why)
  • Mandate that only the Propers may be sung, in Latin, and to a set tune, instead of the constantly-changing four-hymn platter we’re constantly served
  • Mandate boys only as altar servers (after giving a reasonable explanation why)
  • Mandate the Roman Canon as the only Eucharistic Prayer
  • Mandate the Confiteor and the Kyrie as the only option for the penitential act
  • Mandate “The Lord be with you” as the initial thing the priest says to the people, getting rid of the new options

That leaves the question of Latin vs. local language. I would say the Canon should be in Latin, but the mandating of that should wait, so as not to bombard the faithful with too much change at once.

I’m convinced that the Novus Ordo would be uniform and beautiful if such mandates as listed above were made. Anyone want to agree?

As always, thoughts are welcome.

Categories: Mass, Religion, The Holy Eucharist | Tags: , , , , , | 14 Comments

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