Tuesday, March 31, 2009


After all the readings are read at mass, the priest gives a homily. Once the homily is over, we make our profession of faith by saying the Nicene creed.

Growing up where I did, creeds were something viewed with suspicion. There was a clear dichotomy set up between biblical truth and man made creeds.

But in actually reading the creed, I found it to be quite biblical in content. And it's a wonderful thing to be able to state clearly and with confidence what it is the main tenants of our faith are, and especially to do so together with fellow Christians at mass.

A couple years back, comedian Stephen Colbert gave a nice recitation of the Nicene Creed on his show, lol.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The De-Deification of the American Faithscape
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorNASA Name Contest

You can follow along here:

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God,
begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven:
[bow during the next two lines:]
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered, died, and was buried.
On the third day he rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.
And in Latin:

CREDO in unum Deum, Patrem omnipotentem, factorem caeli et terrae,visibilium omnium et invisibilium.

Et in unum Dominum Iesum Christum, Filium Dei unigenitum, et ex Patre natum ante omnia saecula. Deum de Deo, Lumen de Lumine, Deum verum de Deo vero, genitum non factum, consubstantialem Patri; per quem omnia facta sunt.

Qui propter nos homines et propter nostram salutem descendit de caelis. Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine, et homo factus est.

Crucifixus etiam pro nobis sub Pontio Pilato, passus et sepultus est, et resurrexit tertia die, secundum Scripturas, et ascendit in caelum, sedet ad dexteram patris.

Et iterum venturus est cum gloria, iudicare vivos et mortuos, cuius regni non erit finis.

Et in Spiritum Sanctum, Dominum et vivificantem, qui ex Patre Filioque procedit.

Qui cum Patre et Filio simul adoratur et conglorificatur: qui locutus est per prophetas.

Et unam, sanctam,catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam.

Confiteor unum baptisma in remissionem peccatorum. Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum, et vitam venturi saeculi. Amen.
And here you can practice singing the Credo Gregorian Chant in Latin. ;-)

There is so much reference to scripture packed into the creed, that I'll just provide this link rather than posting all the scripture, because the post would be a page long! The page is not Catholic so the wording is slightly different, but the ideas are the same.


After the introductory rites, the next part of the mass is the Liturgy of the Word. This is when scripture is read. There is a reading from the Old Testament, then a psalm is sung, then a related reading from the New Testament, and then most importantly a reading from one of the four Gospels. We stand in honor of Christ's own words in the Gospel, and before it is read we sing Alleluia (except during Lent.)

Here's a lovely Alleluia from Vivaldi.

(I was tempted to put Mozart's well known Alleluia, but since I already posted one Mozart I thought I'd restrain myself!)

The gates of Jerusalem shall sing hymns of gladness, and all her houses shall cry out, "Alleluia! "Blessed be God who has raised you up! may he be blessed for all ages!" For in you they shall praise his holy name forever. (Tobit 13:18)

Alleluia! Give thanks to the LORD, who is good, whose love endures forever. (Ps 106:1)

After this I heard what sounded like the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying: "Alleluia! 1 Salvation, glory, and might belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments. He has condemned the great harlot who corrupted the earth with her harlotry. He has avenged on her the blood of his servants."

They said a second time: "Alleluia! Smoke will rise from her forever and ever."

The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sat on the throne, saying, "Amen. Alleluia."

A voice coming from the throne said: "Praise our God, all you his servants, (and) you who revere him, small and great."

Then I heard something like the sound of a great multitude or the sound of rushing water or mighty peals of thunder, as they said: "Alleluia! The Lord has established his reign, (our) God, the almighty.
(Rev 19:1-6)


After the Kyrie, the Gloria is (usually) sung by all. During the penitential seasons of Lent and Advent, the Gloria is not sung. It's one of the best parts of Christmas, and especially Easter masses, singing the Gloria for the first time in weeks! It's such a joyous prayer.

The first part is probably easily recognizable, even to non-Catholics, because of such Christmas hymns as Angels We Have Heard on High.

The text of the prayer in Latin:

GLORIA in excelsis Deo et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis.
Laudamus te, benedicimus te, adoramus te, glorificamus te, gratias agimus tibi propter magnam gloriam tuam, Domine Deus, Rex caelestis, Deus Pater omnipotens.

Domine Deus, Agnus Dei, Filius Patris, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis; qui tollis peccata mundi, suscipe deprecationem nostram. Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris, miserere nobis.

Quoniam tu solus Sanctus, tu solus Dominus, tu solus Altissimus, Iesu Christe, cum Sancto Spiritu: in gloria Dei Patris. Amen.

And the English translation we use in mass:

Glory to God in the highest,
and peace to his people on earth.
Lord God, heavenly King, almighty God and Father,
we worship you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory.
Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father,
Lord God, Lamb of God,
you take away the sin of the world: have mercy on us;
you are seated at the right hand of the Father: receive our prayer.
For you alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord,
You alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ,
with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father. Amen.
Here's a beautiful Gloria from William Byrd, one of my faves!

And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests." (Luke 2:13-14)


The beginning parts of mass are called the introductory rites. We always start off acknowledging our sins and asking God for mercy and pardon, we do this in the pentitential rite, and in the Kyrie.

I once heard a joke about an old lady who was lamenting all the changes to the mass and the movement away from Latin. She complained that the only part they said in Latin nowadays was the Kyrie. Ha ha ha!

If you don't get the joke, it might help to know that the Kyrie is not Latin but Greek. ;-)

The priest (or cantor if being sung) says, and we respond with the following:

Priest: Kyrie, eleison. All: Kyrie, eleison.
Priest: Christe, eleison. All: Christe, eleison.
Priest: Kyrie, eleison. All: Kyrie, eleison.

It is sometimes said in the vernacular as well, in English the translation is:

Priest: Lord, have mercy. All: Lord, have mercy.
Priest: Christ, have mercy. All: Christ, have mercy.
Priest: Lord, have mercy. All: Lord, have mercy.

There are some beautiful musical versions of the Kyrie in sacred pieces and masses composed. I remember in my music history class in college learning about early sacred music, and at the same time outside of school learning about Catholicism and the mass. I remember realizing that all these sounds (which I always found beautiful) that I had known in some of my favorite pieces were actually prayers of the mass. Since then, my absolute favorite pieces of music are sacred music, especially now that I know what words are being said in these prayers being sung.

For instance, here is the Kyrie from Mozart's Mass in C minor. Can anyone listen to this, know the meaning of the words, really internalize those words, make them their own, and NOT be moved to tears? It's the music of angels.

And for my fellow children of the 80s, remember this song? Turns out Mr. Mister wasn't saying "Carrying a laser" after all, lol.

Have mercy on me, LORD; see how my foes afflict me! You alone can raise me from the gates of death. (Ps 9:14)

And as Jesus passed from thence, there followed him two blind men crying out and saying, Have mercy on us, O Son of David. (Matt 9:27)

And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. (Matt 15:22)

And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. (Luke 17:13)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Seal of God

Our modern world is one full of easily recognizable brands and logos. We see a simple check mark, a bitten apple, or some golden arches and know immediately what they stand for. Humans are drawn to visible, simple representations of larger wholes.

The sign of all signs is that of the cross. This can be drawn on the forehead with the thumb, or it can be a larger sign touching the forehead, chest, left shoulder, then right shoulder. We make the sign of the cross before and after every prayer, we make it when we enter and leave the presence of Christ in a church, we make it simply as a prayer itself, in thanks or in times of suffering. It's a beautiful and visible sign which, while simple, professes the deepest mystery of our faith.

Before he became Pope, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger wrote the following in The Spirit of the Liturgy.

The most basic Christian gesture in prayer is and always will be the Sign of the Cross. It is a way of confessing Christ crucified with one's very body, in accordance with the programmatic words of St. Paul: "[W]e preach Christ Crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gen­tiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor 1:23). Again he says: "I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (2:2).

To seal oneself with the sign of the Cross is a visible and public Yes to him who suffered for us; to him who in the body has made God's love visible, even to the utmost; to the God who reigns not by destruction but by the humility of suffering and love, which is stronger than all the power of the world and wiser than all the calculating intelligence of men.

The sign of the Cross is a confession of faith: I believe in him who suffered for me and rose again; in him who has transformed the sign of shame into a sign of hope and of the love of God that is present with us. The confession of faith is a confession of hope: I believe in him who in his weakness is the Almighty; in him who can and will save me even in apparent absence and impo­tence....

Thus we can say that in the sign of the Cross, together with the invocation of the Trinity, the whole essence of Christianity is summed up; it displays what is distinctively Christian.

We make the sign of the cross at the beginning and end of each mass. The sign of the cross leads us into the mass, and the following posts will be continuing that walk through the various prayers of the mass, and examining their significance.

Here's a video with some more info about the sign of the cross, as well as a look at a beautiful cross found in nature, in the thorns of a certain bush.

Pass through the city (through Jerusalem) and mark an X on the foreheads of those who moan and groan over all the abominations that are practiced within it. To the others I heard him say: Pass through the city after him and strike!...wipe them out! But do not touch any marked with the X. (Ez 9:4)

"Do not damage the land or the sea or the trees until we put the seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God." (Rev 7:3)

They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or any tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. (Rev 9:4)

Then I looked and there was the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads. (Rev 14:1)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Ave Maria

We move now from talking about general forms of prayer, to looking at specific prayers. Probably the most recognizable Catholic prayer is the Hail Mary. It's a prayer that tends to make a lot of non-Catholic Christians squirm a bit, but a closer look at the words themselves reveals that it is partly comprised of scripture, and partly a mere petition to ask for intercessory prayer (as talked about here.) The parts in brackets are not direct quotes from scripture.

Hail [Mary], full of grace, the Lord is with thee. (Luke 1:28)
Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, [Jesus]. (Luke 1:42)
[Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.
And just because I find it beautiful, here is the text in Latin.

Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum.
Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus.
Sancta Maria, Mater Dei,
ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae.

In looking at sacred art and the many images of Mary, it's common to see Mary staring at, pointing to, or holding up the child Jesus for us to adore. And this embodies her role, and provides an image of why it is we ask for her prayers at all. Mary, the first to receive Christ into her body, always helps us to draw closer to Him, she points the way to true union with Him.

Here's a lovely Ave Maria with some beautiful sacred art to accompany it. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Praise Him, Praise Him

The last kind of prayer we'll examine is prayer of praise. We can praise God in many ways, in our actions, in our words, and in our hearts. At the heart of praise is an acknowledgement of who God is.

The catechism continues:

2639 Praise is the form of prayer which recognizes most immediately that God is God. It lauds God for his own sake and gives him glory, quite beyond what he does, but simply because HE IS. It shares in the blessed happiness of the pure of heart who love God in faith before seeing him in glory. By praise, the Spirit is joined to our spirits to bear witness that we are children of God, testifying to the only Son in whom we are adopted and by whom we glorify the Father. Praise embraces the other forms of prayer and carries them toward him who is its source and goal: the "one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist."
One thing that struck me when I became Catholic was the realization that one could sing (or chant) prayer. We often praise God through song, and this itself is a form of prayer. (As a side note, this helped me realize that while I condemned "rote prayers" as vain repetition, I had no qualms repeating praises in song, and I didn't consider this to be vain.) There's a saying, commonly attributed to St. Augustine, which says "Qui bene cantat bis orat," - Who sings well prays twice.

2641 "[Address] one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart." Like the inspired writers of the New Testament, the first Christian communities read the Book of Psalms in a new way, singing in it the mystery of Christ. In the newness of the Spirit, they also composed hymns and canticles in the light of the unheard-of event that God accomplished in his Son: his Incarnation, his death which conquered death, his Resurrection, and Ascension to the right hand of the Father. Doxology, the praise of God, arises from this "marvelous work" of the whole economy of salvation.
Once again, the mass itself is one big prayer, and it envelopes all the various forms of prayer, rolling them into a flawless whole.

2643 The Eucharist contains and expresses all forms of prayer: it is "the pure offering" of the whole Body of Christ to the glory of God's name and, according to the traditions of East and West, it is the "sacrifice of praise."

Then I will go to the altar of God,
to God my exceeding joy,
and I will praise you with the lyre,
O God, my God.
(Ps 43:4)

Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name;
make known his deeds among the peoples!
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
tell of all his wondrous works!
(Ps 105:1-2)

They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (Acts 2:46-7)

He leaped up, stood, and walked around, and went into the temple with them, walking and jumping and praising God. (Acts 3:8)

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. (Heb 13:15)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Happy Feast of the Annunciation!

Today we celebrate the Annunciation, and you know what that means...Christmas is only nine months away, start your shopping now!!

Ha, just kidding. A blessed day to all!

The angel Gabriel was sent from God
to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,
of the house of David,
and the virgin's name was Mary.
And coming to her, he said,
"Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you."
But she was greatly troubled at what was said
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Then the angel said to her,
"Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.
Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his Kingdom there will be no end."
But Mary said to the angel,
"How can this be,
since I have no relations with a man?"
And the angel said to her in reply,
"The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the child to be born
will be called holy, the Son of God.
And behold, Elizabeth, your relative,
has also conceived a son in her old age,
and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
for nothing will be impossible for God."
Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word."
Then the angel departed from her.

(Luke 1:26-38)

Ora Pro Nobis

One of the beautiful things about love is that it causes us to turn outward, it causes us to look outside ourselves and to be concerned with those around us. And so it follows that when we pray fervently for the things which we need ourselves, and we experience God's loving kindness in return, we will naturally start to pray for those around us as well. This is what we call prayer of intercession.

Christ himself is, of course, THE intercessor of all men. He died for us so that we might live. But as Thomas à Kempis put it in The Imitation of Christ, we are called to be "little Christs," and this means, as much as we can, doing for others what Christ did for us.

The catechism explains further:

2634 Intercession is a prayer of petition which leads us to pray as Jesus did. He is the one intercessor with the Father on behalf of all men, especially sinners. He is "able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them." The Holy Spirit "himself intercedes for us . . . and intercedes for the saints according to the will of God."

2635 Since Abraham, intercession - asking on behalf of another has been characteristic of a heart attuned to God's mercy. In the age of the Church, Christian intercession participates in Christ's, as an expression of the communion of saints. In intercession, he who prays looks "not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others," even to the point of praying for those who do him harm.

2636 The first Christian communities lived this form of fellowship intensely. Thus the Apostle Paul gives them a share in his ministry of preaching the Gospel but also intercedes for them. The intercession of Christians recognizes no boundaries: "for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions," for persecutors, for the salvation of those who reject the Gospel.

Catholics also believe that this call extends even beyond the grave, and that those Christians who have died and gone to Heaven continue to intercede for those on Earth. Let us be imitators of Christ, and continually lift each other up in prayer!

But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you (Matt 5:44)

In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God's will. (Rom 8:26-7)

It is Christ (Jesus) who died, rather, was raised, who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. (Rom 8:34)

[Christ] is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he lives forever to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:25)

Bear one another's burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal 6:2)

Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but (also) everyone for those of others. (Phil 2:3-4)

As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them"; and when he said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:60)

Peter thus was being kept in prison, but prayer by the church was fervently being made to God on his behalf. (Acts 12:5)

With all prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit. To that end, be watchful with all perseverance and supplication for all the holy ones and also for me, that speech may be given me to open my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel for which I am an ambassador in chains, so that I may have the courage to speak as I must. (Eph 6:18-20)

Brothers, pray for us (too). (1 Thess 5:25)

To this end, we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith, that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, in accord with the grace of our God and Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thess 1:11-12)

First of all, then, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity. (1 Tim 2:1-2)

A Wish List?

The next kind of prayer we'll take a look at may be the kind of prayer people are inclined to most often...prayer of petition. After all, that's when we ask God for stuff!

But even if we start out with a child-like image of God as the great vending machine in the sky, nevertheless the act of turning to God to ask Him for our desires is already itself an implicit acknowledgement that He is creator and Lord of all. Sincere prayer, even if imperfect in object, helps us adjust our attitudes, our perceptions - it humbles us.

One may wonder, if God knows our every need, why is it we need to pray anyway? The answer is, because prayer isn't to help God, it's to help us. Petitioning God first and foremost causes us to recognize our relationship with God as dependent upon Him, and therefore requires humility to even begin to ask for anything.

The catechism explains:

2629 The vocabulary of supplication in the New Testament is rich in shades of meaning: ask, beseech, plead, invoke, entreat, cry out, even "struggle in prayer." Its most usual form, because the most spontaneous, is petition: by prayer of petition we express awareness of our relationship with God. We are creatures who are not our own beginning, not the masters of adversity, not our own last end. We are sinners who as Christians know that we have turned away from our Father. Our petition is already a turning back to him.

Secondly, it requires us to think about what it is we need and why, and therefore helps us to prioritize and hopefully, with maturity and humility, to stop pestering God for that million dollars to drop from the sky and realize that what we should really be asking for (in other words, what we really need) is more patience/humility/charity/[insert virtue here], and not necessarily more stuff.

Of course, one of the primary things we should be asking for often is God's forgiveness. Once again, this requires humility, it also requires repentance, an acknowledgement of wrongdoing and a willingness to accept the grace needed to stop.

2631 The first movement of the prayer of petition is asking forgiveness, like the tax collector in the parable: "God, be merciful to me a sinner!" It is a prerequisite for righteous and pure prayer. A trusting humility brings us back into the light of communion between the Father and his Son Jesus Christ and with one another, so that "we receive from him whatever we ask." Asking forgiveness is the prerequisite for both the Eucharistic liturgy and personal prayer.

Our God is merciful and loving, ready and willing to forgive us our sins when we acknowledge them and turn from them, desiring to give us our every need. The catechism says that "Christ, who assumed all things in order to redeem all things, is glorified by what we ask the Father in his name." And so let us ask boldly and with confidence, glorifying God in acknowledging His sovereignty.

But if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and he will be given it. (James 1:5)

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asks for a fish? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.
(Matt 7:7-11)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Thanks Be To God

In the last couple of posts, one thing you may notice is that typically when fasting is mentioned, prayer is mentioned right alongside it. That's because they go hand in hand.

We all know the exhortation to "pray without ceasing." We renew our focus to do just that during the penitential seasons especially. Prayer is really the foundation of all we do, it fosters our relationship with God and strengthens us. The mass itself is filled with prayer, in fact it is one giant prayer. We'll be taking a closer look at many of the prayers we say at mass in a bit. First, I want to look at some different kinds of prayer, basically what it is we pray for and why.

The first form of prayer we'll be examining is prayers of Thanksgiving.

The catechism says:

2637 Thanksgiving characterizes the prayer of the Church which, in celebrating the Eucharist, reveals and becomes more fully what she is. Indeed, in the work of salvation, Christ sets creation free from sin and death to consecrate it anew and make it return to the Father, for his glory. The thanksgiving of the members of the Body participates in that of their Head.

2638 As in the prayer of petition, every event and need can become an offering of thanksgiving. The letters of St. Paul often begin and end with thanksgiving, and the Lord Jesus is always present in it: "Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you"; "Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving."

The word eucharist itself means thanksgiving. Before the main Eucharistic prayer during mass, the priest says "Let us give thanks to the Lord our God," and we respond "It is right to give Him thanks and praise."

The act of thanking God, whether in our nightly prayers before bed, in our prayers before mealtime, or at mass is something that reminds us of both our dependence upon God, and His goodness and mercy for all the blessings He bestows upon us.

It seems that often the people who are most thankful for what they have are those who have less than the norm. And so it makes sense that during Lent, while we try to empty ourselves through almsgiving and fasting, while we try to do away with excess and minimize consumption of stuff in general, we in turn learn to recognize the things that truly matter, and to be more thankful than ever for them.

Here's a lovely polyphonic canon sung with simply the words, Deo Gratias - Thanks be to God.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever. (Ps 107:1)

Riches and honor are from you, and you have dominion over all. In your hand are power and might; it is yours to give grandeur and strength to all. Therefore, our God, we give you thanks and we praise the majesty of your name. (1 Chron 29:12-13)

Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. (Phil 4:6)

A Musical Interlude

Just thought I'd post the lyrics to a lovely Lenten hymn (the text of which dates back to the 6th century). I thought it fitting to squeeze in between the previous post and the next post to come, especially because of the focus on fasting and prayer.

You can hear the tune here.

The glory of these forty days
we celebrate with songs of praise;
for Christ, through whom all things were made,
himself has fasted and has prayed.

Alone and fasting Moses saw
the loving God who gave the law;
and to Elijah, fasting, came
the steeds and chariots of flame.

So Daniel trained his mystic sight,
delivered from the lions' might;
and John, the Bridegroom's friend, became
the herald of Messiah's name.

Then grant us, Lord, like them to be
full oft in fast and prayer with thee;
our spirits strengthen with thy grace,
and give us joy to see thy face.

O Father, Son, and Spirit blest,
to thee be every prayer addressed,
who art in three-fold Name adored,
from age to age, the only Lord.

So That Christ May Increase

Probably one of the most well-known and recognizable forms of penance is fasting.

The requirements for fasting have changed over the years in order to accomodate various times and cultures. Currently Catholics in America are required to fast the whole day on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. This means we are to eat only one meal, but we can also have two snacks during the day that don't add up to one meal. These are also days of abstinence, requiring us to refrain from eating meat. We are also required to fast one hour before mass, meaning only water and any medicine needed is allowed. Abstinence from meat is required during the Fridays of Lent, and some kind of sacrifice is encouraged for Fridays throughout the whole year. (As many know, it used to be that abstinence was required on all Fridays of the year. The Church may change such disciplines the way a parent may change a curfew for their child if they feel it proper.) Of course there are exceptions to the fasting requirements such as the young, elderly, sick, and pregnant.

The Catechism explains that fasting helps us to "acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart" (CCC 2043). One of the most frequent messages of Christ is that in order to be truly free, we must die to self. The idea of "freedom" as being able to do whatever we want is an illusion, because "doing whatever we want" typically means giving into our cravings, desires, and passions without restraint. In doing so, we actually become slaves to our desires, unwilling and for some unable to say no to them.

I like how simply and yet firmly the Baltimore Catechism puts it:

Q. 1346. Why does the Church command us to fast and abstain?

A. The Church commands us to fast and abstain, in order that we may mortify our passions and satisfy for our sins.

Q. 1347. What is meant by our passions and what by mortifying them?

A. By our passions are meant our sinful desires and inclinations. Mortifying them means restraining them and overcoming them so that they have less power to lead us into sin.

The scriptures say that after Jesus fasted in the desert for 40 days, he was hungry. This seems kind of obvious, but I think it actually makes an important point. Hunger is an emptiness, it's a readiness to be filled. And this is why we fast - to empty ourselves so that we may be filled with Christ. We must decrease so that Christ may increase.

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. (Matt 4:1-2)

When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you. (Matt 6:16-18)

Then the disciples of John approached him and said, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast (much), but your disciples do not fast?" Jesus answered them, "Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. (Matt 9:15)

Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher...never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer. (Luke 2:36-7)

While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." Then, completing their fasting and prayer, they laid hands on them and sent them off. (Acts 13:2-3)

They appointed presbyters for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, commended them to the Lord in whom they had put their faith. (Acts 14:23)

Friday, March 20, 2009

A Call to Alms

During penitential seasons such as Lent, we are called especially to certain forms of penance. One of these is almsgiving.

The Catholic Encyclopedia defines almsgiving as "any material favour done to assist the needy, and prompted by charity."

The following is a collection of excerpts from the beautiful message (written for last year's Lent) from Pope Benedict XVI on the purpose of almsgiving during Lent. I'm not nearly as eloquent as he, so I'll let him do most of the talking for this post. :-)

"For this year’s Lenten Message, I wish to spend some time reflecting on the practice of almsgiving, which represents a specific way to assist those in need and, at the same time, an exercise in self-denial to free us from attachment to worldly goods."

"According to the teaching of the Gospel, we are not owners but rather administrators of the goods we possess: these, then, are not to be considered as our exclusive possession, but means through which the Lord calls each one of us to act as a steward of His providence for our neighbor."

"[Jesus] made Himself poor to enrich us out of His poverty (cf. 2 Cor 8,9); He gave His entire self for us. Lent, also through the practice of almsgiving, inspires us to follow His example. In His school, we can learn to make of our lives a total gift; imitating Him, we are able to make ourselves available, not so much in giving a part of what we possess, but our very selves. Cannot the entire Gospel be summarized perhaps in the one commandment of love? The Lenten practice of almsgiving thus becomes a means to deepen our Christian vocation. In gratuitously offering himself, the Christian bears witness that it is love and not material richness that determines the laws of his existence. Love, then, gives almsgiving its value; it inspires various forms of giving, according to the possibilities and conditions of each person."

"Dear brothers and sisters, Lent invites us to “train ourselves” spiritually, also through the practice of almsgiving, in order to grow in charity and recognize in the poor Christ Himself. In the Acts of the Apostles, we read that the Apostle Peter said to the cripple who was begging alms at the Temple gate: “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, walk” (Acts 3,6). In giving alms, we offer something material, a sign of the greater gift that we can impart to others through the announcement and witness of Christ, in whose name is found true life. Let this time, then, be marked by a personal and community effort of attachment to Christ in order that we may be witnesses of His love."

You cannot serve God and mammon. (Luke 16:13)

For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sake he became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich. (2 Cor 8:9)

Now, however, I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the holy ones. For Macedonia and Achaia have decided to make some contribution for the poor among the holy ones in Jerusalem; they decided to do it, and in fact they are indebted to them, for if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to serve them in material blessings. (Rom 15:25-7)

If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him? (1 Jn 3:17)

But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. (Matt 6:3-4)

In every way I have shown you that by hard work of that sort we must help the weak, and keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus who himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.' (Acts 20:35)

He sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums.
A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents.
Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, "Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury.
For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood."
(Mark 12:41-4)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Penance, Penance, Penance

"No Pain, No Gain." We hear it all the time when it comes to exercise of the body and practicing various sports. But Catholics also hold to this rule of thumb when it comes to our spiritual health as well.

Now, sometimes this is misunderstood as a kind of masochism, a desire for pain, but it is no such thing. It is a willingness to bear our sufferings (with the help of God's grace, of course), to take up our cross as Christ did, and to offer reparation for our sins.

Penance requires several things, as the catechism tells us:

"Penance requires . . . the sinner to endure all things willingly, be contrite of heart, confess with the lips, and practice complete humility and fruitful satisfaction." CCC 1450

In this post, I'm mostly focusing on the "fruitful satisfaction" part of penance, because while the other parts of penance are things even many non-Catholics embrace and practice, the satisfaction aspect tends to be something particularly unique to Catholics.

Many non-Catholics have a hard time understanding why we think penance is even necessary. "Didn't Christ finish all the work on the cross?" they ask. And we respond, He did more than just do it for us, He asks us to join our work with His, He sanctifies our work, which without Him could do nothing to save us. What penance is NOT is "earning" our salvation. It's abundantly clear by our actions that we don't deserve it! Yet whenever we ask for forgiveness, it's given to us, thanks be to God. There is still our mess to clean up, though.

A common analogy is one of a boy playing baseball, who hits the ball through a neighbor's window. He goes to the neighbor, apologizes, and the neighbor graciously forgives him. But, the window is still broken. His penance would be the act of perhaps working to get enough money to replace that window.

When we sin, we harm ourselves and possibly others. Penance is working to repair the harm done, it's attempting to clean up our mess.

The catechism continues:

1459 Many sins wrong our neighbor. One must do what is possible in order to repair the harm (e.g., return stolen goods, restore the reputation of someone slandered, pay compensation for injuries). Simple justice requires as much. But sin also injures and weakens the sinner himself, as well as his relationships with God and neighbor. Absolution takes away sin, but it does not remedy all the disorders sin has caused. Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must "make satisfaction for" or "expiate" his sins. This satisfaction is also called "penance."

1460 The penance the confessor imposes must take into account the penitent's personal situation and must seek his spiritual good. It must correspond as far as possible with the gravity and nature of the sins committed. It can consist of prayer, an offering, works of mercy, service of neighbor, voluntary self-denial, sacrifices, and above all the patient acceptance of the cross we must bear. Such penances help configure us to Christ, who alone expiated our sins once for all. They allow us to become co-heirs with the risen Christ, "provided we suffer with him."

The satisfaction that we make for our sins, however, is not so much ours as though it were not done through Jesus Christ. We who can do nothing ourselves, as if just by ourselves, can do all things with the cooperation of "him who strengthens" us. Thus man has nothing of which to boast, but all our boasting is in Christ . . . in whom we make satisfaction by bringing forth "fruits that befit repentance." These fruits have their efficacy from him, by him they are offered to the Father, and through him they are accepted by the Father.

The practice of denying ourselves in a culture obsessed with immediate satisfaction is a truly beneficial spiritual exercise. It reminds us of our weaknesses and our utter dependence upon God, it makes apparent our attachment to earthly trifles.

But even more, Christ's sacrifice has given value to any sacrifice, however small, that we unite with His cross. Catholics have a saying, I've been told one that is heard often from mothers and teaching nuns, which is "Offer it up." The smallest discomfort, the slightest pain, up to the most difficult struggles can be offered up as personal sacrifices, accepted as personal crosses, and joined with Christ's sacrifice which gives it value. We receive grace for accepting our crosses, by the power of Christ's sacrifice we help make reparation for our own sin, and since we are one big family, we can also offer up suffering for the reparation of others as well.

As a simple child, St. Bernadette was told by Our Lady of Lourdes during one of the apparitions to pray to God for sinners. She also said, "Penance, penance, penance." This exhortation to penance is something we recall especially during this season of Lent. We must empty ourselves in order to be filled with Christ's peace and grace. In upcoming posts, we'll look in more detail at some of the specific ways we do that.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me." (Matt 16:24)

We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Rom 5:3-5)

The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,
and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.
(Rom 8:16-18)

But we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles (1 Cor 1:23)

So I ask you not to lose heart over my afflictions for you; this is your glory. (Eph 3:13)

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church, of which I am a minister in accordance with God's stewardship given to me to bring to completion for you the word of God (Col 1:24-5)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

If you don't know the story, here is some audio of an ADORABLE little Irish child telling it, set to animation. :-D

Monday, March 16, 2009

Up, Down, Up

If you've been following my Lenten series of posts, you've probably noticed in various pictures and videos that Catholics move around quite a bit! There is genuflecting going on, kneeling, standing, bowing, lots of action. This is because Catholics believe that we're not only to worship God with our hearts and minds, but we're to worship Him with our body too.

I think it's sometimes easy to forget just how important our body is. When we think of God and spiritual things, we often tend to discount the physical world as unimportant or unnecessary, or in some cases even as evil (as is the case with gnosticism, a heresy which continues to pop up in various forms today.) But countering this is a central mystery of our Catholic faith...the Incarnation. God became flesh and dwelt among men! This, in and of itself, should remind us just how important the physical is, and that it is a good because it was created by God.

So while Catholics pray to and adore God with our hearts, we feel it is also useful and more holistic to adore God with our bodies as well. It takes thoughts, feeling, and intent to the next level, and turns it to action, which then reinforces those thoughts and feelings and so on. It's like a cycle that makes itself stronger the more we do it!

What are some of the ways we incarnate reverence and adoration?

Genuflection is one of those ways. This is when, upon entering or leaving a pew for instance, a Catholic will bend down on one knee to acknowledge Christ's presence in the Eucharist, and many make the sign of the cross as well. (As a side note, there is a popular tradition that one genuflects on the right knee to God alone. To show honor to royalty or clergy such as one's bishop, one genuflects on the left knee.)

A double genuflection is when one genuflects, then brings the other knee to the ground (as in a kneeling position) for a moment before getting up. This is done during any exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, as when entering a pew for adoration, which again emphasizes our belief that Christ is truly present in front of us.

Kneeling, for me, is one of the most personally humbling forms of reverence. I remember at my first mass, seeing all the people, young and old, kneel together at the time of the consecration. I couldn't help but know, even as an outsider, that something special was happening then. I'd never before seen a group of people so simply, visibly, and uniformly humble themselves in this manner. At that point I probably could have counted the number of times I'd actually knelt in prayer or worship of God myself on one hand, it was just not something I ever really thought to do.

Bowing, either a bow of the head or a "profound bow" from the waist, is also a way to show reverence. Many bow before receiving the Eucharist, and we also bow during creed while stating the mystery of the Incarnation (when we say, "By the Power of the Holy Spirit He was born of the Virgin Mary and became Man"). It has also long been a tradition to make a slight bow of the head any time the name of Jesus is mentioned. It's a beautiful way to remind ourselves of the Lord's sovereignty.

Standing is a position of prayer and honor. We still stand when a judge enters the room out of respect, and it used to always be proper etiquette for a man to stand when a woman entered the room. At mass, "let us pray" is typically code for "stand up." We stand for many of the prayers we recite together, and we also stand out of reverence for the gospel reading, acknowledging the preeminence of Christ's words among scripture.

Prostration is a posture of reverence which isn't used often, but is a beautiful way to show humility and submission to God. This is when one lays completely on the floor, face down. It is used during the Rite of Ordination, as can be seen at the right. (I love the fact that one of the men prostrating has a cast and a crutch, lol, that's dedication.)

For more on the subject, here is another great episode of That Catholic Show called Sit, Stand, and Kneel.

Opening the windows in his upper chamber towards Jerusalem, he knelt down three times a day, and adored, and gave thanks before his God, as he had been accustomed to do before. (Daniel 6:10)

I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands to the Lord my God (Ezra 9:5)

Enter, let us bow down in worship; let us kneel before the LORD who made us. (Ps 95:6)

Then going out [Jesus] went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives...and kneeling, he prayed. (Luke 22:39, 41)

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2: 9-11)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Venite Adoremus

We move now from God's dwelling place, the tabernacle, to a vessel called a monstrance in which the Eucharist is exposed to us, visible and vulnerable so that we may adore Him. The word monstrance itself comes from the Latin monstrare, which means "to show." It's typically a beautiful and ornate vessel, with a transparent center so that the host which is placed in it can be seen by and shown to those present.

The monstrance is used for several occasions. One is adoration, where the Blessed Sacrament is exposed in the monstrance, and left on the altar so that people can come and pray or simply be in Christ's presence, and adore him. A famous story from the Curé d'Ars, St. Jean Vianney, relates the tale of a peasant who would spend hours apparently doing nothing but sitting quietly in church. When asked what he was doing, he responded, "I look at Him, and He looks at me." This is what many do in adoration. Some pray. Some read scripture or devotionals. Some even sing...recently at adoration, it was calmly quiet as usual, when a lone lady began singing hymns to Our Lord. It was touching, hearing one lone voice echoing in the cathedral in hymns of adoration.

I have a special place in my heart for adoration, as my very first time in a Catholic Church was in the middle of the night during adoration. I wasn't yet 100% convinced of the truth of Catholicism...and before attending my first mass, I took an opportunity to simply check out the church from the inside first. Many parishes will have perpetual adoration, and when this is the case people sign up for typically around hour long slots, so that the exposed Christ is never left alone, even in the dark of the night. There was one or two other people there praying, but what I remember most was a beautiful and surprisingly tangible sense of calm and peace (and this in a quite turbulent time of my life.) This was my first encounter with Christ in the Eucharist, and I look back on it fondly!

Benediction is when the priest takes the Eucharist in the monstrance and blesses the people with it. When he does this, he wears a shawl-like vestment called a humeral veil, to cover his hands when picking up the monstrance so that he doesn't touch it. This is to symbolize the fact that this blessing is not from him, but from Christ present in the Eucharist.

Another use of the monstrance is in a Eucharistic Procession. This is especially common on the feast of Corpus Christi (the Body of Christ.) Once again, the monstrance is held by the priest using the humeral veil, and it is processed outside under a rectangular canopy called a baldachin (which can be seen in the two pieces of artwork which portray a procession). It's quite a powerful way to bring Christ to those in the street.

The following video is one that was made to promote and encourage vocations, but it shows a Eucharistic procession in the streets of New York. The juxtaposition of the modern streets in the background with this long held tradition is really very beautiful.

"In thy presence there is fullness of joy" (Ps 16:11)

"Be still, and know that I am God." (Ps 46:10)

"Can you not watch one hour with me?" (Matt 26:40)

"And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the ancients, and about the living creatures; and they fell on their faces, and adored God, saying: ‘Amen. Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving, honor and power and strength to our God forever and ever. Amen’" (Rev 7:11-12).

Come, let us adore Him, indeed!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

God's Dwelling Place

At every mass, during the consecration, we believe Christ becomes truly present to us under the appearance of bread and wine. After we receive the Eucharist, there are typically hosts still leftover, and once they are consecrated, they remain so. We wouldn't dare throw the Eucharist away, and so in every Catholic Church, you could say as the heart of the church is the tabernacle, Christ's dwelling place.

photo by marylea
Once again, this is a Jewish concept brought into Christianity. In Exodus, we first read of Moses asking God to dwell among them (34:9). This is indeed a dangerous thing, and God warns against it at first (33:3) but graciously agrees at Moses' request and acknowledgement of their unworthiness. And so, a tent is set apart as a sacred space to be God's dwelling place. A whole chapter (35) is taken to describe the very detailed requirements for this space. The numbers used and materials used all have great meaning, they all point to wholeness, to purity, and the best stones, linens, metals, and woods are called for. Obviously, this is no light matter, and nothing is too precious for the dwelling place of God! No expense is spared for this most holy of places, and the Tent is brought with the Israelites through the desert.

Later in the Old Testament, the Temple replaces the tent as there is no need for it to be portable any longer. Once again, great care is taken and no expense spared for the building of this Temple. Directions are given in 1 Chorinthians 28, and in the following chapter we can see His dwelling place was to be beautiful, crafted by the best artisans, and created with the wealth given willingly by King David and his people.

But now, because of the delight I take in the house of my God, in addition to all that I stored up for the holy house, I give to the house of my God my personal fortune in gold and silver: three thousand talents of Ophir gold, and seven thousand talents of refined silver, for overlaying the walls of the rooms, for the various utensils to be made of gold and silver, and for every work that is to be done by artisans.(1 Chorinthians 29:3-5)

Sometimes, non-Catholics have a hard time understanding why we often include such ornate and beautiful objects in our churches. The simple answer is because, as Moses and Kind David knew, nothing is too precious for God. If Jesus were coming to one's house to have dinner, I imagine we'd all bring out our best china and crystal, our richest foods...nothing would be too good for God Himself!

And so, the Christian equivalent of the Tent and the Temple, the dwelling place of God, is the Tabernacle. It is often a beautiful and ornate golden box. Outside of every tabernacle is a lamp, called an altar lamp or sanctuary lamp. This lamp is kept lit at all times when the Eucharist is inside to remind us of Christ's presence there. (Also a concept carried over from the Jews, as in Exodus 27:20-21.)

Out of respect, any time one crosses in front of the tabernacle it is customary to bow or genuflect to acknowledge Christ's presence. People are welcome to come and pray, knowing Christ is there. His presence makes it a holy place, and our actions reflect that. The scriptures remind us, too, that our bodies are also to be considered temples of the Holy Spirit. (1 Cor 6:19) We can look to the beautiful tabernacles to remind us of the amazing gift residing within it, so that when we receive it ourselves we recognize our unworthiness and praise God accordingly.

A recent, somewhat controversial issue concerning the tabernacle has to do with its placement in the church. It has become more common to place it off to a side rather than being centrally located, and sometimes even off in a separate room not visible in the main part of the church. It may not seem like a huge deal, but it's likely no coincidence that as the tabernacle became less visible, less central in some places, belief in the Real Presence has seemed to diminish alongside it. Ornate tabernacles replaced with simple wooden boxes could make it easier to forget the precious gift that is dwelling within it. We are physical creatures, and physical attributes remind us of spiritual truths.

The video below shows some examples of tabernacles, both some modern simplistic tabernacles placed off to the side, and more ornate tabernacles cenntrally located. At the end of the day of course, what matters is what is inside...God Himself, who humbly comes to us in the form of bread and wine. May we never forget what a precious gift this is!

How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty.
I long, yes, I faint with longing to enter the courts of the Lord. With my whole being, body and soul, I will shout joyfully to the living God.
Even the sparrow finds a home there, and the swallow builds her nest and raises her young at a place near your altar, O Lord Almighty, my King and my God!
How happy are those who can live in your house, always singing your praises.
(Ps 84:1-4)

And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

After this I will return and will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild it’s ruins, and I will set it up so that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, says the Lord who does all these things. (Acts 15:16-17)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

God's Holy Altar

A prominent and central object in every Catholic Church is the altar. This is where the bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, He who is both sacrificial victim and High Priest.

As this article explains,

The Christian altar is one of the earliest elements of the liturgy. In the first years when Christianity was illegal, the Eucharist was typically celebrated in the homes of the faithful. The altar could have been the dinner table in the home or the wooden chest in which a bishop would carry needed materials for celebrating the Eucharist from place to place.

Fixed altars made of stone became prevalent when Constantine established that Christianity would no longer be illegal and more churches were erected for the purpose of celebrating the Mass...

Early altars were not placed against walls, but set apart so that the bishop or priests would stand facing the people. Around the 5th century, it became popular for the altar to face the East or be set against a wall. The priest would celebrate the Mass facing east, and the people would face East with him, symbolic of looking toward Christ as the Dawn. In the Middle Ages, the altar ceased to resemble the table of the early Church. Altars of Medieval times began to be designed very ornately, and were adorned with statues, relics, and paintings, and of course the tabernacle. In the mid-20th century, in many countries, the altar was moved away from the wall again, with the priest celebrating the Mass facing the people.

As for the meaning behind the altar, it reaches back to Jewish times and the sacrifices done to atone for sins. Some Christians feel that such a thing is no longer relevant to Christians, but as we believe Christ didn't come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it, we see the Eucharist as the intended perfect sacrifice for which the Jewish peoples were prepared for so long.

The Catholic altar is both a sacrificial altar, and a table for a communal meal. In Jesus’s time, altars where animal sacrifices took place as atonement for sin were common under Jewish norms and traditions. The passion of Christ was the ultimate sacrifice, to atone for the sin of mankind. Therefore, the Christ’s sacrifice is enacted each Mass at an altar. The altar is also a table because we are all “called to the Lord’s supper.” The sense of the Catholic altar as a table calls to mind the last supper and the tables around which the early Christians celebrated the Eucharist, as well as the fact that we as a faithful community are sharing in the saving meal.

The altar is traditionally made of stone, calling to mind Christ as the living cornerstone of the Catholic faith:

“So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:19-20)

“Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God's sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture: "Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and he who believes in him will not be put to shame.” (1 Peter 2:4-6)

Some more scripture related to altars:

Then Jeshua, son of Jozadak, together with his brethren the priests, and Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, together with his brethren, set about rebuilding the altar of the God of Israel in order to offer on it the holocausts prescribed in the law of Moses, the man of God. Despite their fear of the peoples of the land, they replaced the altar on its foundations and offered holocausts to the LORD on it, both morning and evening. (Ezra 3:2-3)

Do you not know that those who perform the temple services eat (what) belongs to the temple, and those who minister at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings?
In the same way, the Lord ordered that those who preach the gospel should live by the gospel.
(1 Cor 9:13-14)

When he broke open the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered because of the witness they bore to the word of God. (Rev 6:9)

Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a gold censer. He was given a great quantity of incense to offer, along with the prayers of all the holy ones, on the gold altar that was before the throne. (Rev 8:3)

Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet, and I heard a voice coming from the [four] horns of the gold altar before God (Rev 9:13)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

American Idol?

I'm going to take the easy way out this time and just post a video! This is another episode of That Catholic Show, called Statues and Icons. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Via Dolorosa

When you walk into a Catholic church, one of the things you may notice along the walls is a series of pictures or engravings of Jesus in various states with roman numerals above them. These are called the Stations of the Cross, or the Way of the Cross. If you've seen Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, you'd likely recognize the sequence and various scenes depicted. These scense are based on both Scripture and Tradition. Especially during Lent, and particularly on Fridays of Lent, it is a common practice in most parishes to pray the stations one by one and reflect on each one as they go.

This practice originated in the Holy Land, where the Via Dolorasa (the Way of Sorrows) has long been travelled by people following what are believed to be Christ's footsteps on His way to the crucifixion, recalling His Passion along the way.

The stations are as follows, accompanied by an image of each scene, and scripture and prayer to accompany it. There is often a reflection on each event as well, and a hymn called the Stabat Mater sung between each one, but in the interest of brevity I'm leaving them off. If you'd like, here are the commonly used reflections from St. Alphonsus Liguori.


We adore you O Christ and we bless you
Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Matthew 27:22-26

Pilate said to them, ‘Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?’ All of them said, ‘Let him be crucified!’ Then he asked, ‘Why, what evil has he done?’ But they shouted all the more, ‘Let him be crucified!’

So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.’ Then the people as a whole answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!’ So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.


We adore you O Christ and we bless you
Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Mark 15:16-20

Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. And they began saluting him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.


We adore you O Christ and we bless you
Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

John 12: 23-25

Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.


We adore you O Christ and we bless you
Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Luke 2:22, 25, 34, 35

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’


We adore you O Christ and we bless you
Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Luke 23:26

As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus.


We adore you O Christ and we bless you
Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Matthew 25: 25-36, 40

"for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me." And the king will answer them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me."


We adore you O Christ and we bless you
Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Isaiah 53:7

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.


We adore you O Christ and we bless you
Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Luke 23:27-28

A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children, for indeed, the days are coming when people will say, 'Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.'


We adore you O Christ and we bless you
Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

John 15:18-20

‘If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, "Servants are not greater than their master." If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also.


We adore you O Christ and we bless you
Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Mark 15:22-24

Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.


We adore you O Christ and we bless you
Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Luke 23:35, 49

Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.’ Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, ‘Do not write, "The King of the Jews", but, "This man said, I am King of the Jews." ’ Pilate answered, ‘What I have written I have written.’


We adore you O Christ and we bless you
Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Matthew 27: 45- 46

From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

Luke 23: 44-46

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last.


We adore you O Christ and we bless you
Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Mark 15:42-45

When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time. When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth.


We adore you O Christ and we bless you
Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Mark 15:46-47

Joseph then laid the body in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid.