Pope Francis Has Asked You For a Favor: Will You Do It?

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J.M.J.

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Pope Francis – Depending on the crowd referred to, he’s a man liked or disliked for his distinct approaches, his frequent and various public statements, and, in some cases, his attire (public domain image from Papist’s Flickr account).

Inside and outside the Catholic world, Pope Francis has undeniably become (to borrow a somewhat trite phrase from social media) a “trending” figure since March 2013. It seems to me that, since his election, hardly a week has been able to go by before some new article or blog post has been published about him (like this one). His off-the-cuff remarks and airplane interviews are quickly seized by news outlets, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, and quite often are used to paint him as a more-or-less revolutionary figure, one who is finally willing to discuss hot topics that were previously closed-off. Within the Church, to give a hugely oversimplified summary of things as I’ve seen them (one not meant to be exhaustive in any sense), it seems that those on the left see him as either a disappointment (since he hasn’t gone as far as they’d like) or as a long-overdue savior who has helped to rescue the Church from the Middle Ages—a savior from whom promising changes are sure to come. It appears that Catholics on the right see him either as a disappointment (since he has thoroughly maintained and even deepened the “modern status quo”) or, depending on how “far” right one looks, as a genuine danger to the wellbeing of the Church.

There’s also the interestingly-polarizing issue (largely discussed in the Catholic blogosphere, but in secular sources as well if the issue can be used to set up an easy dichotomy between this man and those who have come before him) of the pope’s clothes. Some people treat his wardrobe like a breath of fresh air, seeing in him a genuinely “human” pope whose prompt abandonment of papal trappings and customs is a move well-worth praising. Jesus, after all, lived a humble life from His birth to His death, so why should the pope treat himself like medieval royalty? Others, generally those who would be designated by titles such as “conservative” (or the more stigmatizing “traditionalist”), are unsettled by this same approach, seeing in it a disrespect to the dignity of the Papal office, an attempt to make the pope “just like everyone else,” or a political statement about the “humility” (or lack thereof?) of his predecessors. Still others couldn’t care less what the pope wears.

As for me, I’ve generally avoided sharing any personal opinions concerning our much-talked-about Pontiff. I’ve also avoided talking about the controversial issues that so many of his statements have caused. Those are left to people smarter than I, and besides, although this is certainly not true across the board, I think that, in some cases, no one besides Pope Francis knows clearly what Pope Francis means when he says the latest ambiguous or unsettling comment. I still don’t plan to delve into those areas, really, as I don’t think it’s necessary for me to do that.

But I just remembered something that would do everyone, and most especially Pope Francis himself, a lot of good.

Remember when Pope Francis first stepped out onto the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica two years ago? What did he ask people to do as his pontificate went forward?

“Pray for me.”

Let me ask you this: do you remember to pray for Pope Francis? Whether people like or dislike the man, he needs prayers. He’s human. He may be the Vicar of Christ on Earth, but he has strengths and weaknesses, just like anyone else. I can’t speak for others, but I, for one, get so distracted by the frequent discussions about Pope Francis that I rarely remember to ask God to give His divine aid to the man who leads His Church. On and off the internet, I’ve heard people say they wish the Holy Father would measure his words more carefully, so as not to give way to unorthodox interpretations of his statements. I’ve heard some say they wish he’d not be so quick to hurl names at groups he disagrees with. I’ve heard people say they wish he’d stop giving his own opinions about so many things. Those are all perfectly understandable wishes, especially considering that the pope is a prime target for secular news outlets that are eagerly awaiting for new statements to spin.  But (and again, I can’t speak for others—this is purely food for thought) no amount of frustration over the Latest Papal Comment, however well-founded (and they frequently are well-founded), will have any good effect compared to frequent and genuine prayers on the Holy Father’s behalf. If people want the pope to become a fierce and unambiguous defender of orthodoxy, they ought to frequently and ardently pray that God would move him to be one. To some extent, one might say the goodness of the pope is as good as the number of people who pray for him.

Whether people like or dislike Pope Francis, there is one request of his that everyone can, and indeed must, fulfill: the request to charitably pray for him as he fulfills his Petrine ministry.

As one who has frequently forgotten to do this, I now want to assure the Holy Father that I will do my best to remember to pray for him, frequently and genuinely, from now on.

Would others please do so with me?

Zeal For Our Own Houses: Lent, Purifications, and Keeping Our Souls Upright

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J.M.J.

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My dear friends,

Tomorrow, March 8th, we’ll hear one of the more unsettling Gospel readings of the liturgical cycle. St. John relates the happenings for us (Jn. 2:14-17):

Jesus found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money changers seated there. He made a whip out of chords and drove them all out of the temple area, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves He said, ‘Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a market place.’ His disciples recalled the words of Scripture: Zeal for your house will consume me.

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The temple referred to here is, of course, a physical building, and Christ here is attempting to cleanse it of those who would use it improperly. But this reading, coming as it does during Lent, that penitential time of the Church’s calendar, makes me think of a second, and much more important, type of temple: human persons.

 I have such a difficult time remembering that my body and soul, really and truly, constitute a temple of God.  Being in God’s grace does not just mean that one is “without mortal sin,” or that one is “kinda, sorta right with God.” Being in the state of grace means the real, genuine, and personal indwelling of God within the soul. Our Lord said to His disciples, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My words, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our dwelling with him” (Jn. 14:23). This wasn’t some kind of nice figure of speech that has no real effect on reality—it’s a genuine assurance, a real sign of God’s love for each person individually. The person who follows God is not just given a ticket to heaven when he dies, but rather, he receives the true indwelling of the Three Divine Persons in his soul.

Not only the soul, but the body, too, constitutes a temple. “Do you not know,” St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you? You are not your own. You were bought at a price. Therefore, bear and glorify God with your bodies” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

“You are not your own.”

It’s hard to remember that, isn’t it?

The passage from John’s Gospel quoted above says that “zeal for God’s house” consumed Our Lord as He drove everyone from the temple. If we, too, human persons, are temples, then what is Lent but a time to drive damaging vices, corruptions, and influences from ourselves? Zeal for the physical temple consumed the Lord Jesus, yet any physical temple is destined for decay.  The human soul, however, is a temple which will last forever, either in heaven or hell, depending on whom we have followed in our time on earth. The human body, too, the temple of the Holy Spirit, will be resurrected at the end of time, to add either to our glory and happiness in heaven with God, or our torment in hell apart from Him.

Part of the idea behind the customary Lenten sacrifices that Catholics take on is that they might be an aid in purifying the soul, quelling vices, and bringing one closer to God. But without a zeal for the soul as God’s temple, they can become an arbitrary chore that might as well not be taken on. Are you performing a sacrifice this Lent out of a sense of obligation, or do you truly want to grow closer to God through this offering? Is there some vice you want to eradicate? Perform your sacrifice with the mind of Christ in this Gospel: get a whip, knock over tables, and drive out that which makes your relationship with God a kind of contract, but not a relationship of personal and genuine love.

Let zeal for your house, for your temple, consume you.

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May God bless you all, and have a holy Lent.

Beautiful But Rarely Used: The Canon of the Mass, Part 2

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J.M.J.

Greetings, one and all!

In the last post on this topic, I told you that this post (admittedly a rather long one, but hopefully interesting all the same!) would be dealing with the Roman Canon, the first Eucharistic Prayer, from the Consecration onward. Well, as it turns out, that was just slightly misleading, because I want to take take a minute briefly to address a chief difference between the Canon and its newer rivals.

The Holy Spirit: Strangely Absent?

The difference is this: for better or worse, the Roman Canon has no direct prayer asking the Holy Spirit to sanctify the offerings (also known as an Epiclesis).

It might seem insignificant, but this was something which made liturgists both before and after Vatican II (like the author of Eucharistic Prayer III, for example) dissatisfied with the Canon, many thinking the Canon surely used to have an Epiclesis and it somehow got pushed out or reworded as time went on (The Mass: A Study of the Roman Rite by late nineteenth and early twentieth-century liturgist Adrian Fortescue gives many and various ideas from liturgists of that time about how this might’ve occurred, but gives no solid evidence of whether or not it’s true). At any rate, the new Eucharistic Prayers have an Epiclesis (would the plural be Epicleses?) in some form or another, and this was lauded among liturgists at the time they were written as being a happy return to a more ancient practice now restored. It was also seen as a pleasant way to connect the West with the East, since the Churches of the East are known for utilizing the Epiclesis in their Eucharistic Prayers (more correctly, their “anaphoras”).

This Eucharistic Prayer is notable for its lack of an invocation to the Holy Spirit upon the offerings.

This Eucharistic Prayer is notable for its lack of an invocation of the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying power upon the offerings.

If someone were to ask me, I would say the Roman Canon doesn’t particularly need an Epiclesis, as it has multiple prayers preceding the Consecration which ask God to bless and accept the offerings, and it also has its own prayer that, while not expressing the same idea as an invocation of the Holy Spirit, expresses an idea of comparable weight and gives the Canon its own particular character. This is the Supplices te rogamus. More on that below, though.

Now, onwards to the Consecration!

The Prayers of the Consecration Itself

Yet another difference between the Roman Canon and the newer prayers is the introduction to the Consecration. I said that the inclusion of an invocation to the Holy Spirit within the new prayers was seen by many as a happy way to unite the liturgies of East and West. Well, what I’m about to mention is rather less significant, but still interesting. In the new prayers, one might notice that the priest uses words along the lines of, “On the night He was betrayed,” “At the time He was betrayed,” or “The night before He died.” Well, as it turns out, this, too, was seen as a way to assimilate a little bit of the East’s practices into the West. The Roman Canon has always used a different formula, one which is particular to it, if I’m not mistaken, and thus particular to the Roman Rite. It has it this way: “The day before He was to suffer” (“qui pridie quam pateretur”). I remember reading somewhere—perhaps it was the book mentioned above—that it was worded like this to focus the minds of those present on the Passion of Christ, but I can’t recall for certain. Anyway, it’s an interesting little difference.

A more obvious thing one might note when comparing the Roman Canon to the newer prayers is the heightened reverence for Our Lord present here. It does not just say that Our Lord “took bread,” but that He took it, as the Latin says, “in sanctas ac venerabiles manus suas,” that is, “in His holy and venerable hands.” This might sound like the product of excessive piety, but it’s actually quite interesting. The Lord Jesus Christ is a Divine Person Who has assumed a human nature. He is God, in a human nature, and so, as the prayer bears out, His Person sanctifies everything about the nature He has taken, including something so seemingly insignificant as His hands. This is a fact which should bring wonder to every priest called upon to repeat His action in the Holy Mass. The very hands of Christ are sacred, yet in the Mass, the entirety of Christ is made present.

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Any chalice used to hold the Blood of Christ, from the one He used at the Last Supper to any chalice used at a Mass since that night, is going to be “precious” from then on.

Again, in the Consecration of the Chalice, it does not just say He took “the chalice,” but rather, “this precious chalice,” — “hunc praeclarum calicem.” Why? Because any chalice which has been called upon to hold the Blood of the Lord, from a golden one embedded with jewels to a wooden and uninspired one, is, from then on and ever afterward, perpetually sanctified, perpetually made holy. It becomes no longer just an object, but indeed, one might argue that every chalice which has held the Eucharistic Presence is a genuine Tabernacle for as long as it serves that purpose, and also for as long as it will continue to serve that purpose in the future. It’s no longer just a chalice. It’s the holiest of man-made vessels, for it contains the Holy of Holies within itself.

After the Consecration

Following the Consecration, there is heard what is, in my opinion, the most striking text of the entire Mass: “Therefore, as we celebrate the memorial of the blessed Passion, the Resurrection from the dead, and the glorious Ascension into Heaven of Christ, your Son, Our Lord, we . . . offer . . . from the gifts you have given us, this pure Victim (hostiam puram), this holy Victim (hostiam sanctam), this spotless Victim (hostiam immaculatam), the holy Bread of eternal life and the chalice of everlasting salvation.” Right there, on the altar, offering Himself for our sake now, without death, just as He offered Himself in death on the Cross, is the One Whom Peter called “the Lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:19).

The Lamb has things said of Him which can only be said of God without the one saying them being guilty of sin.

As the priest mentions “this pure Victim, this holy Victim, this spotless Victim,” it’s difficult not to think of the sacrificed Christ, the Lamb of God, as depicted in the Book of Revelation.

 

Going back to what I mentioned earlier about the propitiatory character of the Mass as affirmed at Trent, this next segment is very interesting. The current translation has it this way: “Be pleased to look upon these offerings with a serene and kindly countenance.” That sounds nice, surely, but if one looks at the Latin original, he’ll find something more striking: “Supra quae propitio ac sereno vultu respicere digneris,” literally, “deign to look upon them with a propitious and serene gaze.” Such a translation clearly brings to mind the Mass’ propitiatory, or sin-forgiving, character. The Canon goes on to mention the Old Testament forerunners of our sacrifice, Abel, Abraham, and Melchizedek, whose offerings foreshadowed, and are perfected in, the Holy Eucharist. The Holy Eucharist is, as the prayer says, the “holy sacrifice” and “spotless Victim” of the New Covenant.

As the Canon draws to a close, it reaches that peculiar moment that has no parallel in the new prayers, known as the Supplices te rogamus. This prayer, I think, could be rightly called the “Epiclesis of the Canon,” for although there isn’t a direct prayer asking for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, there is nonetheless a definitive request that the Sacrifice be “ratified” by God. This prayer is, interestingly, one of the places where the profoundly reverential rubrics of the older form of Mass have been retained to this day, and, if other people are at all like me, this is likely a place where they will take notice. Bowing low over the altar, the priest asks God’s angel (considered by some to be a reference to Christ Himself, the “Angel of the Lord” in many an Old Testament text) to carry the Sacrifice to the altar in Heaven, “in the sight of [God’s] Divine Majesty,” such that all who receive the Holy Eucharist from the altar here below may be filled (literally translated) “with every heavenly blessing and grace” (“omni benedictione caelesti et gratia”). Those last words also mark the only point remaining inside the Mass (i.e., the “current” Mass) where the priest is to make the sign of the Cross over himself, and that moment, coupled with the profound bow for the duration of this prayer, make the Canon definitively more striking and beautiful to me than any of the other Eucharistic Prayers. But beyond the mere gestures of the prayer, the reference to God’s “altar on high” helps the faithful to realize that the same Sacrifice of Christ they take part in during Mass is going on perpetually in Heaven, and that the Mass, for as long as it lasts, is a union of the Church in Heaven and the Church still on Earth.

The second-to-last prayer, the Memento defunctorum or Remembrance of the Dead, once again points in a clear way to the fact that the Sacrifice of the Mass is to be offered for the souls of the faithful departed, or, as the Canon calls them, “those who have preceded us with the sign of faith and sleep in the slumber of peace” (“qui nos praecesserunt cum signo fidei et dormiunt in somno pacis”). Here there is yet another string of that “rhythmic,” repetitious wording as the priest asks that the faithful departed be admitted into a “place of refreshment, light, and peace.”

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Archbishop Fulton Sheen praying briefly for particular deceased persons at the “Memento” for the dead (note the joined thumbs and forefingers, which is a mandatory rubric of the older missal to safeguard any particles of the Host on the fingers of the priest).

At this point, there is a last prayer for those present, who, sinners though they are, can trust that God, in His kindness, will welcome them into Heaven along with “His holy apostles and martyrs,” with many of those martyrs being mentioned by name. This section begins with the words “Nobis quoque peccatoribus, famulis tuis,” literally, “to us sinners also, your servants.” This section also has retained a rubric from the older form, namely, that the priest strikes the breast upon saying, “peccatoribus” (sinners). Like the gestures of the Supplices te rogamus, this rubric makes the Roman Canon all the more beautiful to me. Certainly, a recognition of sin, if too self-effacing and pervasive, is the problem of scrupulosity, but in my opinion, the newer prayers would have done well to emulate the humility of the Roman Canon, which is indeed humility in the true sense: not saying that man is unworthy and leaving it at that, but rather, that man is unworthy, yet able, in the words of this prayer, to have confidence in the “multitude of God’s mercies.” The newer Eucharistic Prayers, while they mention the sinfulness of man, do not convey it in as moving or profound a fashion, nor do they give those present at Mass continual reminders of their place before the Divine.

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And so, my dear readers, these have been my various thoughts about this beautiful, but rarely used, prayer. I do hope more priests begin to see the beauty of it and will use it more. In my opinion, one of the simplest ways to recover a healthy theology of the Mass at the parish level would be to use the Roman Canon as the Sunday Eucharistic Prayer. At this point, one can only pray, though.

Before I go, I would highly recommend, for those interested in further reading, that you check out this article by Fr. Cassian Folsom, OSB, and published in 1996: “From One Eucharistic Prayer to Many: How it Happened and Why.” It gives a very interesting look at the surrounding situation—largely disobedience in the beginning, as history frequently has it—that brought about the new prayers, and the characteristics of the Roman Canon (some mentioned here) which the authors of the new prayers sought to alter.

I do hope you’ve found all this enjoyable.

Have a holy Lent!

“To you, therefore, most merciful Father” – (Somewhat) Theological Observations About the Canon of the Mass, Part 1

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J.M.J.

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Until the current form of the Mass was officially promulgated in late 1969, Catholics of the Roman rite would have only known one Eucharistic Prayer. That prayer, now the first option among many (and commonly known as the Roman Canon), had sustained the Church almost entirely unchanged for over a millennium, and was, it might be argued, a hallmark of the Church’s liturgical faith against the ideas of people such as the founders of Protestantism.

The Council of Trent gave a glowing endorsement of this particular prayer with the following statement (read carefully, as it’s a bit of a mental tongue-twister): “And since it is becoming that holy things be administered in a holy manner, and since, of all things, this sacrifice is the most holy, the Catholic Church, to the end that it might be worthily and reverently offered and received, instituted many centuries ago the holy canon, which is so free from error that it contains nothing that does not in the highest degree savor of a certain holiness and piety, and raise up to God the minds of those who offer. For it consists partly of the very words of the Lord, partly of the traditions of the Apostles, and also of pious regulations of holy pontiffs” (Session XXII, Ch. IV).

Despite such high praise, despite the fact that the Church fostered it for centuries, and despite the generations of Catholics who were formed by it, it has been virtually thrown out of the ecclesial window and into the ecclesial trash heap since the end the of Second Vatican Council. Most often used in its place are Eucharistic Prayer II (a significantly shorter prayer with a much thinner level of substance) and Eucharistic Prayer III (a prayer which was written to be, in many ways, a reworking of the Canon so as to fix its perceived problems). Unless they have a priest who particularly likes it, Catholics today will generally hear the Roman Canon a few times a year (probably at Christmas, Easter, and All Saint’s Day—the last one due to the lists of individual saint names present in the prayer). But otherwise, several centuries of tradition have been discarded, with priests finding the Canon too long, the new prayers more streamlined, or the content of the new prayers more appealing (if a priest is reading this and has other reasons for not using the Canon, let me know; I don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouth). As for me, though, I’ve felt a strong affinity for the Roman Canon ever since the Mass was retranslated a few years ago, and I feel like some of my readers might appreciate reflections going into why I like it and why I wish it were once again prayed frequently.

NB: a) Before I go into my many thoughts on the matter, let it be said that I’m not an academic, and I’ve only studied this stuff at the level of personal interest, so I recognize that many solid objections could probably be brought up against the things I say. 

b) Where there is a portion of Latin in this post, it will be the case for the most part that the translation used is the one promulgated in 2011. If it’s my own translation, I’ll have written something like, “literally translated as…”

The Opening of the Prayer

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The beginning of the Canon in a missal from 1962 (the last edition promulgated of the previous liturgical form). Considering the sweeping changes which would take place in the years following Vatican II, it’s almost surprising that, at least as far as text is concerned, this prayer was virtually untouched (there is a difference in the immediate Consecration formulas, but that might be better discussed elsewhere).

The beginning of the prayer is already markedly different from most of the other options. Most of the other Eucharistic Prayers, making a direct connection with the Sanctus, the Holy, Holy, Holy, address God with the words, “You are indeed holy, O Lord.” Some perceive this as a definitive strength of the new prayers, since they have a greater connection to what has preceded them. That’s a topic for a different post, but at any rate, for those who aren’t used to the Roman Canon and have gotten used to hearing a correlation between the Holy and the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer, the introduction of the Canon might seem strange: “To you, therefore, most merciful Father, we make humble prayer and petition, through Jesus Christ, your Son, Our Lord.” This already establishes a different tone than the other prayers, most of which begin, not with an immediate statement of humility, but a statement of praise. Now, before somebody jumps on that, I’m not saying there’s something wrong with praise and that we should be always and everywhere approaching the Lord in sackloth, ashes, and lamentations. But to me, the tone of these words suggests the weight, the responsibility, the majesty of the action the priest and faithful are going to take part in, and, for me, it provides a deeper mental preparation going forward than the comparatively “joyful” characteristics of the newer prayers. The faithful in Mass are going to be present to God and to all the angels and saints of Heaven, yes, but they’re also going to be transported to the scene of the Cross, the scene of our Good Lord’s suffering and death, and this, I think, is aided by words that recognize, like the centurion, “Lord, I am not worthy” (Mt. 8:8).

The Prayers Before the Consecration

One of the things immediately noticeable about the Roman Canon is that, both in its Latin text and when translated literally (as opposed to the translation approved in the late 1960s), there is an almost poetic quality to it throughout. It uses strings of words that give it an arguably rhythmic tone. It begins, for example, asking God to accept and bless, in the Latin, “haec dona, haec munera, haec sancta sacrificia illibata”—as the current English translation renders it, “these gifts, these offerings, these holy and unblemished sacrifices.” As the priest offers them for the Church, the reader will notice there is yet another set of rhythmic phrases as the priest asks God to “be pleased to guard, unite, and govern her throughout the whole world” (“quam pacificare, custodire, adunare, et regere digneris toto orbe terrarum”).

Going on, it makes immediate mention of the Pope, the bishops, and the clergy, almost as a way of saying that prayers for the Vicar of Christ, whom Our Lord has made His spokesperson on Earth and the Rock of His Church, belong in a prominent place during the Sacred Action. The priest prayers also for all those who “cultivate” or “hand on” the Catholic and Apostolic faith (“et omnibus orthodoxis atque Catholicae et Apostolicae fidei cultoribus”). There is no sense of vagueness in this prayer. It is certainly declaring the Church headed by the Pope and bishops to be the universal faith, the same faith given from the Apostles themselves.

The next section, coupled with its counterpart later in the prayer (which some liturgists suggest were together in the Canon’s earlier development) shows an important truth about the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as affirmed by the Council of Trent: that the Mass is a propitiatory sacrifice, able to forgive our sins and able to be offered for the souls of Christians both living and dead.

Known as the Memento vivorum, the Remembrance of the Living, the section begins, “Remember, Lord, your servants, and all those gathered here, whose faith and devotion are known to you.” The next line is important, because it clearly enunciates a truth only able to be grasped in the other prayers by way of interpretation. This truth is that the Eucharist is offered, not just communally as a “we,” but separately as well. “I” offer it for my own needs, “you” for yours, and the ordained priest does so differently than the laity present.

And so the prayer says, “For them we offer you this sacrifice of praise, or they offer it for themselves and all who are dear to them”—and pointing to the propitiatory, or sin-forgiving, nature of the Offering, it goes on— “for the redemption of their souls, in hope of health and well-being.” Something to notice is that the word “health” here is a translation of the Latin word “salutis,” which could also be translated as “salvation.” However it’s translated, it’s difficult not to notice, again, that repetitious, almost rhythmic quality I mentioned: the Mass is offered for “redemption, health, and well-being,” things which can all be taken to mean similar things, but which add a poeticism to the prayer by their individual presence.

The next section, the Communicantes, is, like so much of this prayer, clearly Catholic through and through, beginning with a clear and direct affirmation of Mary’s divine maternity. “Communicantes et memoriam venerantes, in primis, gloriosae semper Virginis Mariae, Genetricis Dei et Domini nostri Jesu Christi“—literally, “Having communion with and venerating the memory, in the first place, of the glorious ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ.” The mention of the many individual saints calls to mind the host of holy men and women who have made it to Heaven, and also helps those present at the Mass to remember that they have intercessors in Heaven constantly praying for their sake. There is a clearly Catholic air, too, as the prayer closes, with the priest asking that by the “merits and prayers” of the saints mentioned, and all the saints in Heaven, the Christian faithful might always experience God’s protection and aid.

In the prayer preceding the Consecration, one can’t help noticing, yet again, that rhythmic repetition which marks so much of the prayer, as the priest asks God to (literally translated) “make this oblation blessed, approved, ratified, reasonable, and acceptable,” that it might become the Body and Blood of His Beloved Son.

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More to come, my dear readers, in Part 2, which will take a look at the rest of the Canon from the Consecration onward. That, in fact, is when I’d say things get most striking.

God bless, and may you all have a holy Lent until next time!

And the Light Shone in the Darkness: Liturgical Abuse as a Demonstration of … Our Lord’s Love?

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J.M.J.

My dear friends,

Few things are more important to me than the proper celebration of the Mass. One of the most commonly-heard phrases about the Eucharist from the Church’s last Council, which points to how important the Blessed Sacrament is and how highly it should be regarded, is that this Sacrament is the “peak and the font” (culmen et fons) of the entire Christian life (Lumen Gentium, ch. II, 11)In similar words, now-Saint John Paul II wrote in his 2003 letter of the same name that “Ecclesia de Eucharistia vivit”—”the Church lives from the Eucharist.” In one well-known statement, the former pope, when Cardinal Ratzinger, blamed the “crisis” in the Church today on the “collapse of the liturgy.” Indeed, those who have read Ratzinger know the importance he places on the liturgy done properly, and they might be familiar with his comparison of “badly done” liturgical celebrations with the life of Israel (that is, whenever Israel worshipped God improperly, things went south). Such a view might appear pharisaical to some. A response to that objection is the topic of another posting, but suffice it to say, I very much agree with the former pope’s line of thought, and I want to make it clear that what you’re about to read is in no way going to be a dismissal of liturgical problems as something that “people shouldn’t be focused on since Jesus is present and that’s all they should really ask for.”

With that said, however, I’ve been struck more and more recently by one interesting fact with regard to liturgical abuses, whether great or small. Before I take you there, think for a moment: what if God treated man like man treats man? One would think, with all the abuses, many times quite terrible, that the Holy Eucharist has been shown, or even just because of the general irreverence, casualness, and disbelief with which so many approach the Blessed Sacrament today, that the Holy Trinity would have long ago “pulled the plug” and stopped performing the miracle of transubstantiation for those of us here below. Is this Sacrament not, after all, the true, real, substantial, and personal presence of the Divine Son, one with the Father and the Holy Spirit? Is this Sacrament not, much as it might come across as too pious or too obsessive to say it, the abiding and real presence of God? Are we, who participate in the Mass, not present to, and in as much contact with Christ as were His disciples, His immaculate Mother, and all those crowds who pressed constantly about Him? And this being the case, did not God, in the Old Testament, perform many harsh punishments for those who treated mere objects which were sacred with irreverence? How much more would we expect Him to deal still worse punishments to those who treat badly, not just some sacred thing, but His very own self? Was Christ our Lord not mocked, blasphemed, and treated with irreverence enough already in His earthly life? Why should He put up with the abominations man comes up with in the name of creativity, inclusiveness, ignorance, or disbelief?

Indeed, these are the types of questions which people who love God might reasonably ask themselves, and if God treated man on man’s own terms, these questions might have some weight. But the more I’ve considered liturgical abuses, the more deeply I’ve come to realize that even though He would be justified in “pulling the plug,” the Good Lord does not treat man like man treats man. He treats man better. He treats man selflessly. Just as He forgave the denial of Peter which He knew would occur, just as He forgave the ardent disbelief of Thomas, just as He forgave His disciples who, all except John, fled from Him during the Passion, and just as He asked the Father to forgive His executioners as nails were hammered through His already-wounded members, so His love for mankind is such that, in the words of an excellent priest who was once my theology teacher, “He set the bar so low” for the Mass to occur validly.

There’s the slightly cheesy statement that “nails did not keep Christ on the Cross: love did.” Well, such a statement could be equally applied to the Sacrifice of the Mass and the abiding presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist: it is not our own worthy treatment of this mystery which makes Jesus Christ present on the altar, or in the Tabernacle outside of Mass. It is His own love, His own fidelity to His assurance that “I will not leave you orphans. I will come to you . . . And behold, I am with you always, even until the consummation of the world” (Jn. 14:18, Mt. 28:20).

Now, as an important little side note, there is a limit to this: if a priest does not use lawful matter (bread and wine meeting the bare minimum of requirements), use the correct form (at the very least generally considered, by most theologians, to be the words “This is My Body” over the bread and “This is My Blood” over the wine), and/or have the correct intention (to consecrate the elements), then the Mass is not valid and transubstantiation does not take place. However, barring some debates as to whether or not some priests have adequate knowledge of what they’re doing (thus calling the validity of the Mass into question), I would guess that upwards of 95% of the time, the three elements are present.

To be sure, liturgical abuses are an affliction upon the Church. To be sure, liturgical abuses should not be simply ignored on the grounds that the Real Presence is the ultimate thing, and that anything else, even the most troubling acts of disregard for Our Lord in the Eucharist, are a matter of mere window dressing. But the fact that Our Blessed Lord makes Himself present with conditions as they are, and the fact that He has “set the bar so low,” should give everyone pause, and should move each person with love when he considers that the Lord lets Himself be put through so much, out of a desire to be present to His beloved.

Further, with things being as they are, it is important to remember that no amount of complaining, or even rational and well-thought-out denouncing, of the various abuses (or even just the general liturgical casualness) prevalent today will fix them. I know firsthand that those are the tempting routes to take, but believe me when I tell you that they, at least by themselves, will not fix the Church’s liturgical problems. Prayer will fix them, constant, unwavering prayer, even when it’s tough as a well-done steak, even when things don’t seem to improve, even when things seem to be getting even worse. Reasonable arguments against abusive liturgical practices, while necessary, will not be effective, no matter how logical, if they do not rely upon prayer. Those of us who want to see an end to liturgical abuse must pray, and keep praying, and never allow ourselves to waver. As I hope to be of service to you, my dear reader, I would request that you do the following: look for novenas that seem applicable to the problems you’re dealing with. Attach yourself to a patron saint, and pray to former (deceased) priests and parishioners from your parish who might be in Heaven. But most of all, I would suggest two practices: offer every Mass you can, those you go to and those you don’t, even the most abusive ones, for an end to said abuses, and pray the Rosary as often as you can for them. If the Rosary doesn’t move you, I would very strongly encourage that you get a copy of (or find online) a very short book by St. Louis de Montfort called The Secret of the Rosary. It’s short, it’s simple, it’s easy to read, and whether you’re attached to the Rosary right now or not, it will light a new fire within you.

But, as with responding to critics of Cardinal Ratzinger’s liturgical views, I think discussing the merits of the Rosary is a topic for another post.

Gratefulness, Guardian Angels, and Us: Why We Shouldn’t Forget Our Guardian Angels

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J.M.J.

Merry Saturday, everyone. Look at this picture for a moment, if you would.

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What we have here is a painting of a child and his guardian angel.

Wonderful.

Now let me ask you a question: how often do you end up forgetting that your guardian angel is there? I know that this happens to me quite a bit. It may even be tempting for you to think of guardian angels as something little kids have, but as something adults don’t need. If you do think that, I can hardly blame you. The popular prayer to guardian angels (“Angel of God, my guardian dear…”) is child-like in tone, and since guardian angels are almost never talked about among adults, it can be very easy for adults to forget about them. In fact, the words of the Lord Jesus Himself only seem to indicate that “little ones” have guardian angels, since He only mentions children specifically and doesn’t refer to adults (Mt. 18:10).

And yet, adults do have guardian angels, and although this may not be blatantly laid out in Sacred Scripture, it has, nevertheless, been a constant tradition of the Church. St. Thomas Aquinas writes that, “. . . as guardians are appointed for men who have to pass by an unsafe road, so an angel guardian is assigned to each man as long as he is a wayfarer. When, however, he arrives at the end of life, he no longer has a guardian angel; but in the Kingdom he will have an angel to reign with him, in Hell, a demon to punish him” (Summa Theologica, Prima Pars, Q. 113, Art. 4). Pope St. John XXIII said in 1959, “In this earthly life, when children have to make their way along a path beset with obstacles and snares, their fathers take care to call upon the help of those who can look after them and come to their aid in adversity. In the same way our Father in heaven has charged His angels to come to our assistance during our earthly journey which leads us to our blessed fatherland, so that, protected by the angels’ help and care, we may avoid the snares upon our path, subdue our passions and, under this angelic guidance, follow always the straight and sure road which leads to Paradise” (Meditation for the Feast of the Guardian Angels, October 2, 1959). There is also a multitude of quotes from the Church Fathers concerning guardian angels, and, most recently, Pope Francis said that the existence of guardian angels is a “reality”, and that we should actively attempt to form a relationship with ours.

I think it’s a little backwards when we primarily associate guardian angels with children. I would say that adults should be the ones to give their guardian angels more focus, because adults are well past the so-called age of reason, and therefore are going to be held more accountable than children when they sin. One of the best ways to avoid sin is to have your focus continually on what is “above”, since this puts priorities and even temptations into their proper perspective. Being mindful of the presence of your guardian angel can serve to keep temptations at a distance, as it will keep you aware of God and the things of God.

Furthermore, speaking of temptations, guardian angels have power to defend us against the allurements that demons and life’s circumstances give us. They can help us fulfill difficult tasks, they can remind us of things which need to be remembered, they can aid us while we pray (and pray on our behalf), and, if nothing else, they can remind us we’re never going to be alone in life. The point is, you and I should give our guardian angels more focus. They’re given to us to benefit our lives in so many ways, and really, it seems hardly grateful to forget they exist.

 

 

 

“…Then the Son Himself Will Be Subject to Him…” — Explaining 1 Corinthians 15:24-28

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J.M.J.

For better or for worse, some passages of Scripture are just confusing. I’m sure you’ve all had times where you’ve mulled over the meaning of some Bible verse, wondering why in the world the Good Lord couldn’t have had the inspired author write more clearly.

One of those passages is 1 Corinthians 15:24, 25, & 28, verses which are frequently employed by those who don’t believe in the Divinity of Christ: “He must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet…then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to [God the Father] … When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself will be subjected to the one who put all things beneath Him, that God may be all in all” (NASB).

Does this not sound like the Son will reign for a time, and then stop reigning, give everything to the Father, and undergo voluntary subjection to the Father? Doesn’t it imply, almost, an inferiority of the Son? Well, it seems to. But there’s a lot to be unpacked here, so let’s take it piece by piece.

We’ll start with the issue of the Son “handing over the kingdom”, then go into the issue of His subjection to the Father, and finally, we’ll address the problem of Him “reigning until” He has subjected all things. In the first respect (that of Christ handing the Kingdom over to Father), it’s helpful to turn to three particular verses from the Gospel of John. Early on in there, John the Baptist says (3:35), “The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand.” Then in John 16:15, Christ Himself says to the Apostles, “All things that the Father has are Mine”; and finally, in His prayer to the Father, He says, “All that is Yours is Mine, and all that is Mine is Yours” (17:10).

We need to bear this principle in mind: all that is the Son’s is the Father’s, and all that is the Father’s is the Son’s. What does this mean with regard to the Son “handing over the Kingdom”? It means that, although the Son gives it to the Father, the Father, having “given all things into Son’s hand” out of love for the Son, does not seize it for Himself, however much He would have a right to do so, but instead gives it back to the Son, due to the infinite and selfless love between the two. Furthermore, because “all things that the Father has” are the Son’s, then even though the Son gives the heavenly Kingdom to the Father, He does not lose it Himself, because as long as the Father has it, the Son has it in equal measure. Either way, the Son does not lose the Kingdom or cease to rule over it by giving it to the Father.

Now, let’s look at the issue of the Son “being subjected”, shall we?

There are several ways to answer this, but for the moment, we’ll stick with the most commonly-used one. Many who comment on difficult Christ-centered passages of Scripture use the following principle to interpret them. Some of you are probably familiar with it already, but it’s good to bear in mind whether you’ve heard it or not. As mentioned by St. Augustine in his work On the Trinity, “[T]he Son of God is both understood to be equal to Father according to the form of God … and less than the Father according to the form of a servant which He took” (Book II, Chapter I). Now, we do want to be careful here, so that we avoid Nestorianism. The Son is not two persons, one divine, one human. He is one divine Person, who has taken to Himself a human nature. Although He is a divine Person, however, He still has, in His human nature, all the “attributes” of humanity (except sin), attributes which include inferiority to God.

With this principle in mind, that the Son is equal to the Father as God, but less than the Father as man, let’s consider it more deeply. St. Paul writes that Christ “became obedient” in His “humbled” nature (Phil. 2:8). So one of the primary arguments you’ll find to explain the Son “subjecting Himself” is that He is subjected as man, and that’s what the passage is getting at. This might seem too simple at first glance, but with further inspection, it actually makes a lot of sense, as we’ll see, and it isn’t just a weak attempt to explain the verse. So how does this work?

St. Paul says in the context of the verse above that Christ humbled Himself and became obedient in that form He took “as a servant” (2:7). Well, we know that Christ kept His human nature, His “servant” and “obedient” nature, even after the Resurrection, and has it even now in Heaven. So  it actually makes perfect sense to say that He would still be obedient and subservient in this form, for as long as He has it (which will be forever). Yes, He is equal to God. Yes, the Father’s kingdom is going to be the Son’s, since the Father gives it to the Son as much as the Son gives it to the Father, as I hopefully demonstrated above. Thus, there should be no question for us about the inferiority of one Divine Person to another, and we shouldn’t think that one Divine Person possesses the Kingdom of Heaven while another is without it. And yet, precisely because He is permanently man, and thus permanently obedient, the Son will always be subservient as man (though not as God), and will always be “subjected” to the Father according to that subservient nature.

St Augustine had somewhat similar explanation for this issue. He said it’s possible that the passage was written this way in order to show that the Son does not give up His “subjected” nature of humanity, that it does not go away at the end of time, but that He is now, forever, man as well as God, inferior as well as equal, to the Heavenly Father (De Trinitate, Book I, Ch. 8).

Finally, there comes the issue of what seems to be the “temporary” nature of the Son’s reign, thanks to the word “until” (“He must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet”). The first thing I’d like to do is point out something that the infallible voice of God the Father says to the Son, according to St. Paul: “But to the Son, God says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; the scepter of Your kingdom is a scepter of justice'” (Hebrews 1:8, emphasis mine). If God Himself says the Son will reign forever, that should give us pause in interpreting any verses that seem to run contrary to this idea. Something to remember here is that, many times in Scripture, the word “until” will be used in such a way that it doesn’t mean “up to a certain point, but not after that”. For example, in Genesis 28:15, God says to Jacob, “I will be with you and protect you wherever you go, and I will bring you into this land, for I will not leave you until I have done as I have said” (emphasis mine). Would anyone say in this case that God is going to depart Jacob after He has done as He promised? Or, from the New Testament, there is the statement concerning Joseph that he did not “know Mary” (i.e., engage in marital relations with her) until she gave birth to Jesus (Matt. 1:25). But this does not by any means imply that Joseph and Mary did anything of the sort after the birth of Christ. Indeed, the stance of the Catholic Church in this regard, as well as that of John Calvin and Martin Luther, has been to interpret the word “until” in such a way that it doesn’t imply that the consummation of their marriage occurred later (you can read Calvin’s commentary here, and many sources from Luther on the matter are quoted here). In any case, the use of the word “until” concerning the reign of the Son does not, by any means, imply that His reign is going to end.

With all this said, I hope I’ve been helpful in some way with regard to this passage. God bless and keep you as we approach Christmas.

 

Getting Down to Basics: What Is the Mass?

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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. The Mass is the source and summit of the Faith, according to the Second Vatican Council, so its imperative that we know as much as we can about it. What is the Mass? What happens during it? If you, my good reader, are unable to answer those questions, then I hope I can be of service to you in answering them as we go along.

I think the three most prevalent misconceptions about the Mass today are these:

  1. The Mass is above all re-enactment of the Last Supper, and that, also above all else, it’s a communal meal.
  2. The Mass is the community worshipping God as it has traditionally done (I’ve encountered this one a lot: the Mass is just “Catholic worship”, and, to quote from the Fiddler on the Roof: “Where do we get these traditions? I’ll tell you: I don’t know.”)
  3. The Mass is a sacrifice in some sense, but we’re not sure what that sense is.

If those are misconceptions or incomplete notions of the Mass, then let’s ask the question, one last time, whose answer will clarify it all: what is the Mass, if it isn’t just “the way Catholics worship God,” or a re-enactment of the Last Supper, or a sacrifice in some vague sense?

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. But it’s the same sacrifice, for the priest is the same, and the victim of the sacrifice is the same, Jesus Christ, offering Himself in eternity now as He did on the Cross in 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.

Great is Your Faith: Pray Confidently and Constantly.

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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 Divine 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.

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“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.

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

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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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