God’s generosity cannot be out-done. It is overflowing. Abundant. Without measure. This is the image of God that comes to me at the consecration of the Eucharist at Mass. There, on the Altar as the wine and bread become the Body and Blood of Jesus, in the words of Saint Thomas Aquinas:
O hidden God, truly hidden beneath these appearances…sight, touch, taste are all deceived in their judgment of you…
There, in the Chalice and on the Paten, God’s generosity is manifested in a way our senses fail to recognize; indescribable grace flows from Jesus’ true presence, like the waters flowing abundantly from the temple (Ezekiel 47).
Today’s first reading (Aug 10 – Feast of St Lawrence) speaks along these lines. We are called to sow bountifully, and God in His abundance provides the means for the work:
The point is this: he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work. As it is written, “He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures for ever.” He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your resources and increase the harvest of your righteousness. – 2 Cor 9:6-10
No matter how generous we are, God is ever the more generous, not to be out-done. God’s boundless outpouring is the means of our success, our “harvest of righteousness”.
Yet, the invitation is intensified in the Gospel of John 12:24-26. Jesus challenges us to be generous without measure, like a “grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies…it produces much fruit.”
Falling, dying to self, is fruitful. Just as it was for Christ to die on a tree, only to have that tree be the root of abundant harvest; of abundant life.
If we attempt to comprehend God’s goodness we will find ourselves desiring to follow his example, even to die to ourselves, and in our dying, bear much, much fruit.
Like many parishes in English-speaking dioceses around the globe, ours began a series of talks to help us understand the revised Missal that will go into effect this coming Advent, November 27, 2011. On our first evening together, we reviewed the people’s responses.
Afterwards, one of our lectors asked me, “Sister, what’s with of the “my faults” in the penitential rite (confesseo)? Doesn’t it place too much emphasis on our sin? It sounds so…guilt ridden.”
Questions like this are good for our dialogue as we prepare for the changes, and one of the great side-effects of the revised English texts is, the new library of formative material to help the faithful better reflect and understand what it is we are celebrating.
One such source is the book, “A Biblical Walk Through the Mass – Understanding What We Say and Do in the Liturgy,” by Edward Sri, published by Ascension Press:
The book goes through the parts of the Mass, giving the revised translation and an explanation of the text. First, within the context of the Liturgy of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as a whole, and secondly, within the context of the Sacred Scripture and Church teaching. For example, the lector’s question regarding the Confesseo is explained in the book under the sub-heading, “My Most Grievous Fault?”:
“…two points about the new translation of this prayer. Both improvements reflect the Latin text of the Mass and help underscore the seriousness of sin…at the beginning of this prayer, we now say “I have greatly sinned.” This reflects David’s repentant words to God, ” I have sinned greatly in that I have done this thing” (1Chr 21:8). Second, instead of simply saying, “through my own fault,” we repeat it three times while striking our breasts as a sign of repentance…This line in the liturgy helps us recognize that sinning against God is no light matter” (p.34-35).
The other aspect of the book is, it goes beyond the explanation of the revised parts of the Mass, making it also a fine catechesis of the Mass on a whole. In the introduction to Part III – The Liturgy of the Word, Sri takes eighteen pages to thoughtfully explain the reading of the Word of God and it’s proper place in the overall liturgy of the Mass, where together with the Eucharist – the “source and summit” of the Christian Life – the Scriptures, form “one single act of worship.” (quoting Pope Benedict, Sacramentum Caritatis, p.44) . He explains:
“We need both the inspired word of God in the Scripture and the Incarnate Word of God present in the Blessed Sacrament. In the 1500s, Thomas à Kempis…expressed how much the soul longs to be nourished from both of these tables” (p.53).”
Sri goes on to review the use of the Sacred Scriptures in the Mass, the liturgical year and feasts; the readings and homily; the Creed and the Prayers of the Faithful. Another example of catechesis from Part IV – The Liturgy of the Eucharist, the Sursum Corda:
“What does it mean to “lift up” our hearts?…In the Bible, the heart is the hidden center of the person from which one’s thoughts, emotions and actions originate. All intentions and commitments flow from the human heart. Therefore, when the priest at Mass says “Lift up your hearts, ” he is summoning us to give our fullest attention to what is about to unfold. This is a “wake-up call” to set aside all other concerns and focus our minds, wills and emotions — our hearts — on the sublimity of what is happening in the Eucharistic prayer.”
This is just one of many insights this book gives to the beauty and purpose of the sacred liturgy of the Mass. The title – A Biblical Walk Through the Mass – promises to tell us about the Mass from a Biblical perspective. It does include many scriptural references to help the reader reflect on the Biblical foundation for Catholic worship., its roots stemming from Jewish tradition, and brings to our memory the Psalms and Old Testament prayers that point to the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, and his sharing intimately with his followers of His very self in the Institution of the Holy Eucharist. One last example, noting the change of the words the Priest says introducing the Lord’s Prayer:
“At the Savior’s command and formed by divine teaching, we dare to say…”
We dare! Sri reminds us of Ancient Jewish practice of not calling God as “Father”, although certainly they believed God is the Father of all the people of Israel. He explains, “it was not at all common for an individual to address God as ‘Father.’ Nevertheless, this is precisely what Jesus calls us to do…” Sri, then, goes on with another catechesis, looking at the seven parts of the Lord’s Prayer.
I have found this book to be very enjoyable reading, a fluid style, easy to understand, that makes it easy for anyone to deepen their appreciation for what we are praying and doing during the Mass. It is also suitable as a source for one’s reflection/meditation. Another point, because of its scripture references, it may be a good book to give to a Protestant friend who has questions about the center of Catholic worship.
There’s also a study guide available in a questions and answers format, that summarizes the changes regarding the people’s responses during the Mass, with a foldout of those changes. So, check it out!
Is your Parish have a program in place to help with the transition to the new translation of the Mass?
“Think of the great cares the Holy Father bears in his heavy mandate as Vicar of Christ. He has need of our prayers to help him be strong and to guard him from his enemies.
“I propose to all readers here a Spiritual Bouquet for Pope Benedict with a ending date of 19 March, the Feast of St. Joseph, which is the Holy Father’s baptismal “name day”.”
It is a good practice for all of us to pray for the Pope on a regular basis. As we might imagine, he carries a lot on his shoulders as he governs the Universal Church; he continues to reach out to others, building bridges towards unity within the Christian community, and in reaching out to people of other faith traditions.
One concern of the faithful for the Holy Father, has been punctuated in the blogosphere as of late, that being the speculation about the “instructions” to be published regarding motu proprio Summorum Pontificum. Some fear the follow-up letter of instruction will ‘water down’ the language of Summorum Pontificum. A good summary of some of the concerns is posted at Te Deum laudamus.
Let us then, hold our Pope in constant prayer, that he may continue to shepherd the Church according to God’s divine will.
This morning was one of those frustrating days at Mass. In truth, the Mass was beautifully reverent, and the small Parish of Saint Joseph’s started off well. As people arrived for the daily Mass, they were welcomed with soft Gregorian chant in the background. This was part of the new Pastor’s doing, to increase the people’s awareness that they are in the presence of the Lord; that they are entering a sacred space. It has been a simple, and effective, measure.
But, old habits die hard.
No sooner had the priest concluded the Mass and made his way out of the sanctuary and into the sacristy, did the place of prayer turn into a clamorous parish hall at a pancake breakfast. Small groups formed here and there in the Church for some small chit-chat before starting their busy week. This happens on a regular basis, with this morning being the worst I have ever witnessed. When it does happen, I try to find that quiet inner-space to offer reparation for the lack of reverence. Usually, the talkers don’t stay long, getting on with their rushed lives. But this morning, it was an never-ending bee-hive of noise. *sigh*.
It appears I am not alone in my frustration. Pat Archbold wrote on this very subject this morning. His article expresses what I would like to say, but won’t: “For the Love of God – Shut Up!” (via ThePulp.it) He is making a case for a “real active participation … fostered by silence, glorious and heavenly silence” , recognizing we can find other places and ways to be that ‘community’ for one another. He shares a remedy the new pastor of his parish asks of the people: “If the Church is not on fire, you should not be talking.”
In reclaiming the sacred space, it is important that we understand why silence is so important in a church setting. I leave you with a few:
"Embraced by the Creator" a sketch by Jon McNaughton
A time of spiritual grace. St. Alphonsus Liguori* said, “There is no prayer more agreeable to God, or more profitable to the soul, than that which is made during the thanksgiving after Communion. It is the opinion of many grave writers (Suarez, Cajetan, Valentia, De Lugo, and others), that the Holy Communion, so long as the sacramental species lasts, constantly produces greater and greater graces in the soul, provided the soul is then constant in disposing itself by new acts of virtue.”
For ones neighbor:
Respect. What happened to recognizing that others might be praying and wanting to take advantage of this grace-time in silence before the Lord?
Help others grow in renewed awareness they are in the presence of the True Presence of Jesus. By simply saying, ‘Hey, let’s go outside…there’s people praying before our Lord’, lets others know of your love for God, and that will inspire them to nurture the same in their lives.
Thanksgiving. What better time is there, than when Christ is closest to us in the reception of Him in the Blessed Sacrament, to give thanks for the many ways He has blessed us? St. Faustina Kowalska* said that she received a private revelation from Jesus who told her: “My great delight is to unite myself with souls…When I come to a human heart in communion, my hands are filled with graces which I want to give to souls. But souls do not pay attention to me: they leave me to myself and busy themselves with other things. They do not recognize love. They treat me as a dead object.”
St. Teresa of Ávila* said: “There is no other time than thanksgiving after Mass when we can so easily enrich our soul with virtues, or so rapidly advance to a high degree of perfection.”
Pope Benedict XVI*, too, reminds us, “The precious time of thanksgiving after communion should not be neglected.”
Let us ask the Lord to help us to desire to grow in union with Him, and that we may be reminded of His desire to be with us. And, maybe the next time we receive Him in Communion, we might spend a few moments in silence, nurturing this union with our God. And then, just maybe, we may truly see our Church ‘on fire’.
Over at his blog, Fr. Longenecker asked the question, “What will it take for us (Catholics in America) to wake up?” He explains:
“…the last forty years Catholics themselves have not taught Catholicism to their children. They’ve taught ‘American Catholicism’ which is a watered down blend of sentimentalism, political correctness, community activism and utilitarianism….(a) ‘feeling good about yourself, being just to others and trying to change the world.’ The next generation have drawn the obvious conclusion that you don’t need to go to Mass to do all that.”
He states that the solution is simple (old-school evangelization like the Apostles of the Early Church did). The difference between today’s evangelization and that of the Apostles though, needs to be addressed:
“The big difference is that the Apostles knew their targets were pagans and the pagans knew they weren’t Christians…It is very difficult to evangelize people who already think they’re fine just as they are…”
Father Zuhlsdorf wrote a commentary on Fr. Longenecker’s post in true-to-FatherZ-fashion, and adds another critical element of the problem to the collapse of cultural Catholicism:
“It may be that some of those pagans of whom Fr. Longenecker speaks above are also wearing Roman collars. They just don’t realize they actually belong to a different religion.”
This is an unfortunate reality indeed.
The correction of the problem, will definitely require an evangelization. Fr. Z adds that, perhaps, the Liturgical reforms have a part to play as well:
“We must return to teaching and demonstrating that there is a supernatural dimension to our lives. We must take people beyond their immanentism-lite. This is why the Holy Father has been trying to point us toward, in small steps, a new approach to liturgical worship. It is precisely in worship that we can make great strides quickly.”
I would like to add another humble point, and that is, the importance of prayer – and in particular, devotional prayer – that has been the door of holiness for many.
Devotional prayer such as the Holy Rosary and Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, helps a person to know our Lord and Savior through the contemplation of the mysteries of his life, death and resurrection, and be better disposed to love Him, and follow His example. Saint Magdalene of Canossa explains this concept in the first rule to the Daughters of Charity:
“Prayer is the exercise by which the soul draws close to the Lord. By thus learning to know him in some way, the soul becomes ever more disposed, and enkindled with the desire, to love Him.”
She goes on to explain how, through prayer and contemplation of our Lord Jesus, and Him Crucified, the soul is better able to correctly imitate the life of Christ, with the same love for the Father that Jesus demonstrated on the Cross. She stressed numerous times to her Daughters and Sons of Charity the essential place of prayer in any work, evangelization being the fruit of it:
“Saint Paul says, even martyrdom would be useless without charity, that is, the love of God, the Source and Substance of Holiness, but also becasue the first fruit produced in our neighbor is all work of Grace.” (Unabridged Rule, Preface – paragraph 4, referencing 1 Corinthians 13:3).
So therefore, in order to properly evangelize the uncatechized Catholic, and to embrace the liturgical reforms and the truths held within them, prayer must be the foundation of this holy work. St Magdalene’s words are echoed throughout the history of the Church through the Saints who have grown close to the desires of God through their prayer, which in turn spurned them into action out of that love. Many of the Saints were uneducated, yet they were able to understand Truth easily, and to recognize folly just as easily.
So too, like the Saints of past centuries, we must begin here, at the font of prayer, through which God fortifies our hearts to Love Him and desire to do all we can to Serve the Church, and bring souls back to Her.
“As Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem, he traveled through Samaria and Galilee. As he was entering a village, ten lepers met him. They stood at a distance from him and raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” And when he saw them, he said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” As they were going they were cleansed. And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.”
Our society has lost the art of gratitude, that capacity to turn and give thanks to those who make a difference in daily life. We are called, however, like the one cleansed leper returning to Jesus, to render thanksgiving to God. Not so much because God has answered a need (healing, job found, relationship issue resolved), but more so because we understand by our action of giving thanks, we proclaim that we are saved only through the action of God in Christ.
When we celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the center of our worship is Jesus himself in the Eucharist. It is a thanksgiving, as suggested by the Greek noun - εὐχαριστία (eukharistia), the verb of which is “to thank”. And so, with our Lord before us, we recall our successes and favors received during the week. Above all, it is here, we contemplate God’s great love, that becomes real at our own discovery of being saved without payment – freely given.
Let us not let this Sunday pass us by without turning to the Lord, and offering him our praise, our thanksgiving, and our love.
O saving Victim, opening wide
The gate of heaven to man below!
Our foes press on from every side:
Thine aid supply, Thy strength bestow:
Immortal Godhead, one in three!
Thy great name be endless praise,
Oh, grant us endless length of days
In our true native land with Thee.
During the celebration of the Eucharist, I often wonder what angels see at the consecration of the Bread and Wine on the Altar. Today’s first reading (Ez 1:2-5, 24-28c) gives us an idea:
As I looked, a stormwind came from the North,
a huge cloud with flashing fire enveloped in brightness,
from the midst of which (the midst of the fire)
something gleamed like electrum. Within it were figures resembling four living creatures
that looked like this: their form was human.
Then I heard the sound of their wings,
like the roaring of mighty waters,
like the voice of the Almighty.
When they moved, the sound of the tumult was like the din of an army.
And when they stood still, they lowered their wings.
Above the firmament over their heads something like a throne could be seen,
looking like sapphire. Upon it was seated, up above, one who had the appearance of a man.
Upward from what resembled his waist I saw what gleamed like electrum;
downward from what resembled his waist I saw what looked like fire;
he was surrounded with splendor.
Like the bow which appears in the clouds on a rainy day
was the splendor that surrounded him.
Such was the vision of the likeness of the glory of the LORD.
When we come before the Lord, let us put all distractions aside, and make an act of faith:
I believe that You are present in the Sacrament of the
Altar. I adore You from the abyss of my nothingness, and I
thank You for all the graces which You have bestowed upon me
and in particular for having given me Yourself in this Sacrament…
From a Prayer by Saint Alphonsus Liguori. This and other prayers are available here.