Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Bread of Life

The last tool of the series I hesitate to even call a "tool," because it is so much more, a "hard saying" that sets Catholics apart, the most blessed of all the sacraments, and the core of our very faith - the Eucharist.

There is so much to be said about Christ in the Eucharist, Christ who humbles Himself to appear before us under the appearance of bread and wine. This is the reason for every mass, the source of our strength, the most precious gift on earth. There is so much to be said that I feel overwhelmed at even attempting to encapsulate what the Eucharist means to us as Catholics, and compelled simply to let scripture do the talking for me.

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, "Take and eat; this is my body." Then he took a cup, gave thanks, 16 and gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matt 26:26-28)

Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.
But I told you that although you have seen (me), you do not believe.

The Jews murmured about him because he said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven," and they said, "Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, 'I have come down from heaven'?"
Jesus answered and said to them, "Stop murmuring among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day.

Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.
I am the bread of life.
Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die.
I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."
The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us (his) flesh to eat?"
Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.
For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever."

Then many of his disciples who were listening said, "This is a hard saying; who can accept it?"
Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, "Does this shock you?
What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?
It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.
But there are some of you who do not believe." Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father." As a result of this, many (of) his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, "Do you also want to leave?" Simon Peter answered him, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
(John 6:35-36, 41-44, 47-58, 60-68)

The following is one of the most touching pieces of music concerning the Eucharist ever written, in my opinion...Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus.

(*Note that the last few words are not an exact translation of the Latin!)

I hope this series has been of some interest, it has certainly helped me to learn more about the wonderful tools we have as Catholics, and to more fully appreciate them.

A blessed and glorious Easter to all! Christ is Risen! Alleluia!

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Emblem of True Love

We're going to take a slight detour away from sacraments for a moment, and return to a certain sacramental, something that is above all others associated with Catholicism...that is, the crucifix.

Today is Good Friday, one of the most solemn days of the year. Christ has died, and we await His resurrection. There are no masses today, the only day of the year on which mass is not said. Holy water fonts are dry, tabernacle doors in churches all over the world are left open, revealing their hauntingly empty interiors. The altar lamp signifying Christ's presence in the tabernacle is extinguished. In many churches, statues are covered with violet cloths. In Catholic Churches everywhere today, there is a tangible emptiness, a somberness, a heaviness of heart.

Christ has died.

His passion is recalled with special emphasis in the stations of the cross today. It's a day of both fasting and abstinence from meat, and as mentioned before, when there is fasting there is prayer alongside it. Today above all days, we strive to unite our sufferings with Christ on the cross.

And Christ on the cross is the focus of this whole day. All year long Catholics see crucifixes in their churches, in their homes, many wear one around their necks at all times. The crucifix is a constant reminder of Christ's love for us. I once heard a wise priest say something in a homily that struck me and has remained with me since. He said, very simply, there is no true love without sacrifice. God is love, and he proved it with the ultimate sacrifice, and that is what the cross, and especially the crucifix bearing the corpus of Christ, reminds us of constantly. Today in many churches, crucifixes are taken down from their central location and a tradition from the early centuries is practiced called the veneration of the cross. Catholics come and kiss the foot of the cross, both honoring Christ's immeasurable sacrifice, and reminding ourselves in a very tangible way that as Christ embraced His cross, so, too, are we to embrace our lesser crosses and in this way unite our suffering with His. It is in this way that we proclaim the true love of Christ.

We adore You, 0 Christ, and we praise You.
Because by Your Holy Cross You have redeemed the world.

And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up... (Jn 3:14)

O stupid Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?(Gal 3:1)

But may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Gal 6:14)

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

For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.(1 Cor 2:2)

Till Death Do Us Part

The next sacrament we'll be looking at is the sacrament of matrimony. Catholics believe that God actually grants a special grace to couples getting married, to help them live out their lives in service to Him, to have a fruitful union. Marriage is such an important institution in the Church that it was raised by Christ himself to the level of a sacrament, and it is a sign of Christ and His Bride the Church. It was at a wedding that Christ's public ministry began with his first miracle. The family unit plays a central role in the life of the Church, as well as in society at large. As is the case with all sacraments, once validly done it cannot be undone.

One interesting thing to note about the sacrament of matrimony is that, while most sacraments are conferred by the priest, in the West matrimony is understood to be conferred by the spouses themselves.

1623 In the Latin Church, it is ordinarily understood that the spouses, as ministers of Christ's grace, mutually confer upon each other the sacrament of Matrimony by expressing their consent before the Church.
More from the catechism on this sacrament:

1601 "The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament."

1638 "From a valid marriage arises a bond between the spouses which by its very nature is perpetual and exclusive; furthermore, in a Christian marriage the spouses are strengthened and, as it were, consecrated for the duties and the dignity of their state by a special sacrament."

The marriage bond

1639 The consent by which the spouses mutually give and receive one another is sealed by God himself. From their covenant arises "an institution, confirmed by the divine law, . . . even in the eyes of society." The covenant between the spouses is integrated into God's covenant with man: "Authentic married love is caught up into divine love."

1640 Thus the marriage bond has been established by God himself in such a way that a marriage concluded and consummated between baptized persons can never be dissolved. This bond, which results from the free human act of the spouses and their consummation of the marriage, is a reality, henceforth irrevocable, and gives rise to a covenant guaranteed by God's fidelity. The Church does not have the power to contravene this disposition of divine wisdom.

The grace of the sacrament of Matrimony

1641 "By reason of their state in life and of their order, [Christian spouses] have their own special gifts in the People of God."[145] This grace proper to the sacrament of Matrimony is intended to perfect the couple's love and to strengthen their indissoluble unity. By this grace they "help one another to attain holiness in their married life and in welcoming and educating their children."

1642 Christ is the source of this grace. "Just as of old God encountered his people with a covenant of love and fidelity, so our Savior, the spouse of the Church, now encounters Christian spouses through the sacrament of Matrimony." Christ dwells with them, gives them the strength to take up their crosses and so follow him, to rise again after they have fallen, to forgive one another, to bear one another's burdens, to "be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ," and to love one another with supernatural, tender, and fruitful love. In the joys of their love and family life he gives them here on earth a foretaste of the wedding feast of the Lamb:
How can I ever express the happiness of a marriage joined by the Church, strengthened by an offering, sealed by a blessing, announced by angels, and ratified by the Father? . . . How wonderful the bond between two believers, now one in hope, one in desire, one in discipline, one in the same service! They are both children of one Father and servants of the same Master, undivided in spirit and flesh, truly two in one flesh. Where the flesh is one, one also is the spirit.

Some Pharisees approached him, and tested him, saying, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?" He said in reply, "Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate." (Matt 19:3-6)

"For this reason a man shall leave (his) father and (his) mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church. (Eph 5:31-2)

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Laying on of Hands

During Holy Thursday mass, one of the things we celebrate is the institution of the Priesthood, which happened at the Last Supper along with the institution of the Eucharist. So in honor of the institution of the priesthood which we celebrate on this day, the next sacrament we'll examine is that of Holy Orders.

1536 Holy Orders is the sacrament through which the mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles continues to be exercised in the Church until the end of time: thus it is the sacrament of apostolic ministry. It includes three degrees: episcopate, presbyterate, and diaconate.

1544 Everything that the priesthood of the Old Covenant prefigured finds its fulfillment in Christ Jesus, the "one mediator between God and men." The Christian tradition considers Melchizedek, "priest of God Most High," as a prefiguration of the priesthood of Christ, the unique "high priest after the order of Melchizedek"; "holy, blameless, unstained," "by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified," that is, by the unique sacrifice of the cross.

1545 The redemptive sacrifice of Christ is unique, accomplished once for all; yet it is made present in the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Church. The same is true of the one priesthood of Christ; it is made present through the ministerial priesthood without diminishing the uniqueness of Christ's priesthood: "Only Christ is the true priest, the others being only his ministers."

1548 Christ is the source of all priesthood: the priest of the old law was a figure of Christ, and the priest of the new law acts in the person of Christ.

1554 "The divinely instituted ecclesiastical ministry is exercised in different degrees by those who even from ancient times have been called bishops, priests, and deacons." Catholic doctrine, expressed in the liturgy, the Magisterium, and the constant practice of the Church, recognizes that there are two degrees of ministerial participation in the priesthood of Christ: the episcopacy and the presbyterate . The diaconate is intended to help and serve them. For this reason the term sacerdos in current usage denotes bishops and priests but not deacons. Yet Catholic doctrine teaches that the degrees of priestly participation (episcopate and presbyterate) and the degree of service (diaconate) are all three conferred by a sacramental act called "ordination," that is, by the sacrament of Holy Orders:
Let everyone revere the deacons as Jesus Christ, the bishop as the image of the Father, and the presbyters as the senate of God and the assembly of the apostles. For without them one cannot speak of the Church.

1581 This sacrament configures the recipient to Christ by a special grace of the Holy Spirit, so that he may serve as Christ's instrument for his Church. By ordination one is enabled to act as a representative of Christ, Head of the Church, in his triple office of priest, prophet, and king.

1582 As in the case of Baptism and Confirmation this share in Christ's office is granted once for all. The sacrament of Holy Orders, like the other two, confers an indelible spiritual character and cannot be repeated or conferred temporarily.

1584 Since it is ultimately Christ who acts and effects salvation through the ordained minister, the unworthiness of the latter does not prevent Christ from acting. St. Augustine states this forcefully:
As for the proud minister, he is to be ranked with the devil. Christ's gift is not thereby profaned: what flows through him keeps its purity, and what passes through him remains dear and reaches the fertile earth.... The spiritual power of the sacrament is indeed comparable to light: those to be enlightened receive it in its purity, and if it should pass through defiled beings, it is not itself defiled.
If we were to look through scripture for examples of ordination, we would first need to know what we were looking for. This describes the actions called for during ordination:

1573 The essential rite of the sacrament of Holy Orders for all three degrees consists in the bishop's imposition of hands on the head of the ordinand and in the bishop's specific consecratory prayer asking God for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and his gifts proper to the ministry to which the candidate is being ordained.
Our priests and bishops are our shephards on this earth, and without them we would not have the most precious of the sacraments, the Eucharist. We should remember to pray for priestly vocations, and especially to keep our own local bishops, priests and deacons in our prayers.

There's more about the three tiered priesthood in the Old Testament and its fulfillment in the New Testament here.

Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word." The proposal was acceptable to the whole community, so they chose Stephen, a man filled with faith and the holy Spirit, also Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas of Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles who prayed and laid hands on them. (Acts 6:3-6)

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 12:2-3)

Do not neglect the gift you have, which was conferred on you through the prophetic word with the imposition of hands of the presbyterate. (1 Tim 4:14)

I have given you a model to follow

Today is Holy Thursday, the first day of that most powerful of times, the triduum, the pinnacle of Lent and of the entire liturgical year. One of the special things that happens during Holy Thursday mass is the washing of the feet, following the example Christ himself gave. This beautiful tradition reminds us of our baptismal commitment to be servants to one another. It is truly an act of humility, and it's deeply touching to see priests and bishops worldwide humbling themselves as Christ did, kneeling down and washing the feet of members of their flock. May we take this message of humility to heart and strive to follow Christ's example of deepest humility!

So, during supper, fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God, he rose from supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist.
Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and dry them with the towel around his waist. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Master, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus answered and said to him, "What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later." Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered him, "Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me." Simon Peter said to him, "Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well."
Jesus said to him, "Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed, for he is clean all over; so you are clean, but not all." For he knew who would betray him; for this reason, he said, "Not all of you are clean."
So when he had washed their feet (and) put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them, "Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me 'teacher' and 'master,' and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.
(Jn 13:2-15)

Is Anyone Among You Sick?

The second sacrament of healing is the annointing of the sick. The catechism tells us:

1511 The Church believes and confesses that among the seven sacraments there is one especially intended to strengthen those who are being tried by illness, the Anointing of the Sick:
This sacred anointing of the sick was instituted by Christ our Lord as a true and proper sacrament of the New Testament. It is alluded to indeed by Mark, but is recommended to the faithful and promulgated by James the apostle and brother of the Lord.

1512 From ancient times in the liturgical traditions of both East and West, we have testimonies to the practice of anointings of the sick with blessed oil. Over the centuries the Anointing of the Sick was conferred more and more exclusively on those at the point of death. Because of this it received the name "Extreme Unction." Notwithstanding this evolution the liturgy has never failed to beg the Lord that the sick person may recover his health if it would be conducive to his salvation.
The type of miracle we see most often in scripture is the healing of the sick. We don't expect, of course, that today the annointing of the sick will necessarily heal people physically. The primary purpose of the sacrament is to heal and prepare the soul for possible death, but we may also hope for physical healing.

1508 The Holy Spirit gives to some a special charism of healing so as to make manifest the power of the grace of the risen Lord. But even the most intense prayers do not always obtain the healing of all illnesses. Thus St. Paul must learn from the Lord that "my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness," (2 Cor 12:9) and that the sufferings to be endured can mean that "in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his Body, that is, the Church." (Col 1:24)
Christ the physician came to earth and showed us physically what he would be doing for us spiritually...healing us and making us whole. Even beyond that, he took on our suffering, and made it possible for us to join our own suffering with his so that it can become valuable as redemptive suffering.

1499 "By the sacred anointing of the sick and the prayer of the priests the whole Church commends those who are ill to the suffering and glorified Lord, that he may raise them up and save them. And indeed she exhorts them to contribute to the good of the People of God by freely uniting themselves to the Passion and death of Christ."
They drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them. (Mark 6:13)

Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint (him) with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven. (James 5:14-5)

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Forgive Me, Father

The next sacrament is confession, a beautiful and healing balm for the soul. I'll let this episode of That Catholic Show do most of the talking for this one!

And there people brought to him a paralytic lying on a stretcher. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Courage, child, your sins are forgiven." At that, some of the scribes said to themselves, "This man is blaspheming." Jesus knew what they were thinking, and said, "Why do you harbor evil thoughts? Which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" --he then said to the paralytic, "Rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home." He rose and went home. When the crowds saw this they were struck with awe and glorified God who had given such authority to human beings. (Matt 9:2-8)

(Jesus) said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained." (Jn 20:21-23)

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. (James 5:16)

Anointed with the Holy Spirit

The next sacrament is that of confirmation, it is a further pouring out of the Holy Spirit on us, a completion of the grace we receive in baptism. The Second Vatican Council document Lumen Gentium states that Catholics “are more perfectly bound to the Church by the Sacrament of Confirmation and the Holy Spirit endows them with special strength so that they are more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith, both by word and deed, as true witnesses
of Christ” (Par. 11).

The catechism explains further:

1285 Baptism, the Eucharist, and the sacrament of Confirmation together constitute the "sacraments of Christian initiation," whose unity must be safeguarded. It must be explained to the faithful that the reception of the sacrament of Confirmation is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace. 89 For "by the sacrament of Confirmation, [the baptized] are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed."

1287 This fullness of the Spirit was not to remain uniquely the Messiah's, but was to be communicated to the whole messianic people. On several occasions Christ promised this outpouring of the Spirit, a promise which he fulfilled first on Easter Sunday and then more strikingly at Pentecost. Filled with the Holy Spirit the apostles began to proclaim "the mighty works of God," and Peter declared this outpouring of the Spirit to be the sign of the messianic age. Those who believed in the apostolic preaching and were baptized received the gift of the Holy Spirit in their turn.

1288 "From that time on the apostles, in fulfillment of Christ's will, imparted to the newly baptized by the laying on of hands the gift of the Spirit that completes the grace of Baptism. For this reason in the Letter to the Hebrews the doctrine concerning Baptism and the laying on of hands is listed among the first elements of Christian instruction. The imposition of hands is rightly recognized by the Catholic tradition as the origin of the sacrament of Confirmation, which in a certain way perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church."

1289 Very early, the better to signify the gift of the Holy Spirit, an anointing with perfumed oil ( chrism ) was added to the laying on of hands. This anointing highlights the name "Christian," which means "anointed" and derives from that of Christ himself whom God "anointed with the Holy Spirit." 100 This rite of anointing has continued ever since, in both East and West. For this reason the Eastern Churches call this sacrament Chrismation , anointing with chrism, or myron which means "chrism." In the West, the term Confirmation suggests that this sacrament both confirms and strengthens baptismal grace.
Confirmation is the sacrament of spiritual maturity, and once we have received it we are called in a special way to be witnesses for Christ.

I will pour out water upon the thirsty ground, and streams upon the dry land; I will pour out my spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing upon your descendants. (Is 44:3)

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you. (Jn 14:16)

And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim. (Acts 2:4)

Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who went down and prayed for them, that they might receive the holy Spirit, for it had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. (Acts 8:14-7)

He said, "How were you baptized?" They replied, "With the baptism of John." Paul then said, "John baptized with a baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus." When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul laid (his) hands on them, the holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. (Acts 19:3-6)

Therefore, let us leave behind the basic teaching about Christ and advance to maturity, without laying the foundation all over again: repentance from dead works and faith in God, instruction about baptisms 1 and laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.(Heb 6:1-2)

Sunday, April 05, 2009

The Door of the Church

During the last stretch of Lent, Holy Week, we'll be taking a look at those most precious instruments of grace, the sacraments. There is enough information out there to write volumes on each sacrament, but I'm going to try to keep it short by hitting the highlights.

The first sacrament, the one which opens the door to all the others, is baptism. The effects of baptism are as follows (taken from the Catechism):

We enjoy the remission of all sin, original and actual, as well as the remission of all temporal punishment.
1263 By Baptism all sins are forgiven, original sin and all personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin. In those who have been reborn nothing remains that would impede their entry into the Kingdom of God, neither Adam's sin, nor personal sin, nor the consequences of sin, the gravest of which is separation from God.
We become New Creatures
1265Baptism not only purifies from all sins, but also makes the neophyte "a new creature," an adopted son of God, who has become a "partaker of the divine nature," member of Christ and co-heir with him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit.

1266 The Most Holy Trinity gives the baptized sanctifying grace, the grace of justification:
- enabling them to believe in God, to hope in him, and to love him through the theological virtues;
- giving them the power to live and act under the prompting of the Holy Spirit through the gifts of the Holy Spirit;
- allowing them to grow in goodness through the moral virtues.
Thus the whole organism of the Christian's supernatural life has its roots in Baptism.
We are incorporated into the Church, the Body of Christ
1267 Baptism makes us members of the Body of Christ: "Therefore . . . we are members one of another." Baptism incorporates us into the Church. From the baptismal fonts is born the one People of God of the New Covenant, which transcends all the natural or human limits of nations, cultures, races, and sexes: "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body."
It creates a bond of unity among all Christians
1271 Baptism constitutes the foundation of communion among all Christians, including those who are not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church: "For men who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in some, though imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church. Justified by faith in Baptism, [they] are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church." "Baptism therefore constitutes the sacramental bond of unity existing among all who through it are reborn."
It leaves an indelible mark on the soul
1272 Incorporated into Christ by Baptism, the person baptized is configured to Christ. Baptism seals the Christian with the indelible spiritual mark (character) of his belonging to Christ. No sin can erase this mark, even if sin prevents Baptism from bearing the fruits of salvation. Given once for all, Baptism cannot be repeated.
Catholics accept various forms of baptism, including baptism by immersion and baptism by infusion, and has done so since the Early Church as evidenced by the Didache which dates to the last half of the first century:
7:1But concerning baptism, thus baptize ye: having first recited all these precepts, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in running water;

7:2 but if thou hast not running water, baptize in some other water, and if thou canst not baptize in cold, in warm water;

7:3 but if thou hast neither, pour water three times on the head, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

7:4 But before the baptism, let him who baptizeth and him who is baptized fast previously, and any others who may be able. And thou shalt command him who is baptized to fast one or two days before.
No other sacraments can be received until baptism is received, and it is for this reason that it is called the Door of the Church.

I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities (Ezekiel 36:25)

"And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, [even] unto the end of the world. Amen." (Matthew 28:18-20)

"And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." (Mark 16:15-16)

"Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and [of] the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." (John 3:3-5)

"And all the people that heard [him], and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him." (Luke 7:29-30)

"And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought [us], saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide [there]. And she constrained us." (Acts 16:15)

Saturday, April 04, 2009


Palm Sunday is upon us! It's the first day of Holy Week, and the countdown begins for Easter. I started this Lenten series off with a look at a certain sacramental we receive at the beginning of Lent - Ashes. Rounding out the season of Lent, on Palm Sunday we receive another sacramental - Palms. We remember, of course, Christ riding in on a donkey and the people placing palms before him, celebrating his triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. Palms are a symbol of victory and triumph.

The Catholic Encyclopedia says the following:

Palm branches have been used by all nations as an emblem of joy and victory over enemies; in Christianity as a sign of victory over the flesh and the world according to Psalm 92:13, "Justus ut palma florebit "; hence especially associated with the memory of the martyrs. The palms blessed on Palm Sunday were used in the procession of the day, then taken home by the faithful and used as a sacramental. They were preserved in prominent places in the house, in the barns, and in the fields, and thrown into the fire during storms. On the Lower Rhine the custom exists of decorating the grave with blessed palms. From the blessed palms the ashes are procured for Ash Wednesday.

It's a common custom for people to braid their palms or shape them into crosses, and then keep them in their homes through the year. (Being blessed, they shouldn't be just thrown in the trash.) These palms can help us recall Christ's victory year round.

The just shall flourish like the palm tree, shall grow like a cedar of Lebanon. (Ps 92:13)

On the next day, when the great crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they took palm branches and went out to meet him, and cried out: "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, (even) the king of Israel." (Jn 12:12-3)

Agnus Dei

I have to admit that I have a special fondness for the Agnus Dei. I think it was probably the first prayer in Latin that I learned (because it was one of the rare ones actually sung in Latin frequently at mass.)

I'm also quite partial to it because it reminds me of Scott Hahn's account of his first mass, which was a major point of transition for me, even before I ever attended my first mass. Reading his book, The Lamb's Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth was a huge eye-opener for me. It made me realize just how scriptural the mass is (and how liturgy itself is mostly taken straight from scripture, as seen throughout this series of posts), and most importantly, it explained that crazy book of Revelation to me for the first time in a way that made sense, lol. All of it is centered around the Lamb of God, and His Supper.

Here is an excerpt that touches on some of what he writes about in more detail in the book:

My most vivid memory of the first Mass I attended was that powerful moment in the Communion Rite where the people say, "Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us." "Lamb of God." "Lamb of God." Then they knelt, and the priest held up the host and said, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world"—that was "Lamb of God" four times in less than a minute.

I was sitting in the back pew as simply an observer. But suddenly I knew where I was: I was back in the Book of Revelation where Jesus is called the Lamb of God no less than 28 times in 22 chapters. He’s only called "Lamb" in one other book in the entire New Testament: the Gospel of John, and there just twice. But in the Apocalypse, that’s his main title, more than all the other titles: Lord of Lords, King of Kings, Alpha and Omega, and all the rest. He’s the Lamb of God.

I went back to Mass the next day. I had my pad and pencil, and I had my Bible. This time I had it open to Revelation and I saw things I’d never seen before. I saw a connection in these liturgical actions. Not just one or two. Not even just eight or ten. I made a list of 30 elements: white-robed priests, an altar, a congregation chanting "Holy, holy, holy," the alleluias, the amen, the golden chalices, the book, the invocation of angels and saints. I hardly knew which way to turn—toward the actions on the pages of the Apocalypse, or the action up at the altar. After about 15 or 20 minutes of the second Mass, suddenly I realized they were one and the same action. What I was reading on the page was exactly what I was watching up there at the altar.
Looking back, I truly think this prayer helped me to make an important transition in my life. Up until then, the Bible had been the focus in my spiritual life, the center of my faith. But seeing all this liturgical action centered on the Lamb in the scriptures, in the very last book of the Bible, it was like a launching pad for growth in understanding beyond the words on the page. This allowed me to venture past the scriptures alone, and let go a bit of the skepticism for all this Catholic nonsense I had been clinging to and to feel a sense of surprising confidence in the actions I saw around me at mass, because they were actions I saw in The Book I trusted completely. And the words on the page and the actions around me all pointed to one thing...the Lamb of God.

And it is He who is now the focus of my spiritual life, the center of my faith, and the reason I'm a Catholic.

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world: have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world: have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world: grant us peace.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi: miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi: miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi: dona nobis pacem.

Here's a beautiful Agnus Dei from the wonderful Palestrina.

Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured, While we thought of him as stricken, as one smitten by God and afflicted. But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins, Upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed. We had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way; But the LORD laid upon him the guilt of us all. Though he was harshly treated, he submitted and opened not his mouth; Like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers, he was silent and opened not his mouth. (Is 53:4-7)

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
The next day John was there again with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, "Behold, the Lamb of God."
(John 1:29, 35-6)

Now if you invoke as Father him who judges impartially according to each one's works, conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your sojourning, realizing that you were ransomed from your futile conduct, handed on by your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ as of a spotless unblemished lamb. (1 Pet 1:17-19)

I looked again and heard the voices of many angels who surrounded the throne and the living creatures and the elders. They were countless in number, and they cried out in a loud voice: "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing."
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, everything in the universe, cry out: "To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor, glory and might, forever and ever." The four living creatures answered, "Amen," and the elders fell down and worshiped.
(Rev 5:11-14)

They cried out in a loud voice: "Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb." (Rev 7:10)

Friday, April 03, 2009

Peace Be With You

After reciting the Our Father, we turn to each other and offer the Sign of Peace to those around us. (This is actually optional in the mass, but it's done most places.) This may be a brief hug and/or kiss with close family and friends, or a handshake in our culture with those around us. In many times and cultures, it has typically been the kiss of peace.

This is what is said during the sign of peace:

Sign of Peace:

Priest: Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles: I leave you peace, my peace I give you. Look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church, and grant us the peace and unity of your kingdom where you live for ever and ever.
All: Amen.

Priest: The Peace of the Lord be with you always.
All: And also with you.

Deacon or Priest: Let us offer each other a sign of peace.

[The ministers and all the people exchange an embrace, handshake, or other appropriate gesture of peace with those near them, according to local custom.]
It's a lovely thing, really. I know I can get crabby and impatient around people, especially in crowded places. I always try to make an effort to really remind myself to offer a heartfelt "Peace be with you!" to those around me, especially when I've been feeling irritated or grouchy!

Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matt 5:23-4)

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. (John 14:27)

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, "Peace be with you."
(Jesus) said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you."
(John 20:19, 21)

Greet one another with a loving kiss. Peace to all of you who are in Christ. (1 Pet 5:14)

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Pater Noster

After the Memorial Acclamation and Doxology, we stand and sing together the prayer the Christ Himself gave to us.

The catechism explains:

The Lord's Prayer is the most perfect of prayers. . . . In it we ask, not only for all the things we can rightly desire, but also in the sequence that they should be desired. This prayer not only teaches us to ask for things, but also in what order we should desire them.

The first communities prayed the Lord's Prayer three times a day, in place of the "Eighteen Benedictions" customary in Jewish piety.

According to the apostolic tradition, the Lord's Prayer is essentially rooted in liturgical prayer:

[The Lord] teaches us to make prayer in common for all our brethren. For he did not say "my Father" who art in heaven, but "our" Father, offering petitions for the common body.

In the Eucharistic liturgy the Lord's Prayer appears as the prayer of the whole Church and there reveals its full meaning and efficacy. Placed between the anaphora (the Eucharistic prayer) and the communion, the Lord's Prayer sums up on the one hand all the petitions and intercessions expressed in the movement of the epiclesis and, on the other, knocks at the door of the Banquet of the kingdom which sacramental communion anticipates.

In the Eucharist, the Lord's Prayer also reveals the eschatological character of its petitions. It is the proper prayer of "the end-time," the time of salvation that began with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and will be fulfilled with the Lord's return. The petitions addressed to our Father, as distinct from the prayers of the old covenant, rely on the mystery of salvation already accomplished, once for all, in Christ crucified and risen.

From this unshakeable faith springs forth the hope that sustains each of the seven petitions, which express the groanings of the present age, this time of patience and expectation during which "it does not yet appear what we shall be." The Eucharist and the Lord's Prayer look eagerly for the Lord's return, "until he comes."


Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.


Pater noster, qui es in caelis:
sanctificetur Nomen Tuum;
adveniat Regnum Tuum;
fiat voluntas Tua,
sicut in caelo, et in terra.
Panem nostrum cotidianum da nobis hodie;
et dimitte nobis debita nostra,
Sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris;
et ne nos inducas in tentationem;
sed libera nos a Malo.

In honor of the 4th anniversary of the death of our late Holy Father, John Paul the Great, here is a recording of him singing the Pater Noster.

"This is how you are to pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread;
and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors;
and do not subject us to the final test, but deliver us from the evil one.
(Matt 6:9-13)

Wednesday, April 01, 2009


The creed concludes the liturgy of the Word, and from there we move to the liturgy of the Eucharist.

The priest begins his prayers for the preparation of the gifts (of bread and wine just brought up to him), and the next longish prayer we all say or sing together is the Sanctus. In it, we praise God for His glory with all the angels of Heaven.

In English:
Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

In Latin:
SANCTUS, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth.
Pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria tua.
Hosanna in excelsis.
Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini.
Hosanna in excelsis.

This is the Sanctus from one of my favorite masses, Bach's Mass in B Minor.

I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, with the train of his garment filling the temple. Seraphim were stationed above; each of them had six wings: with two they veiled their faces, with two they veiled their feet, and with two they hovered aloft. "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts!" they cried one to the other. "All the earth is filled with his glory!" (Is 6:1-3)

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. We bless you from the LORD'S house. (Ps 118:26)

The crowds preceding him and those following kept crying out and saying: "Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest." (Matt 21:9)

they took palm branches and went out to meet him, and cried out: "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, (even) the king of Israel." (Jn 12:13)