One of the greatest dangers with new age thinking on the angels is actually as old as the oldest stories in the world. It is the confusion of earthly things with heavenly things; it is the confusion of the things that are below with the things that properly find their home above. And so one finds in the ancient world men bowing their heads and bending the knee to the very things that were beneath their feet. The soil, the stone, the wood taken from the tree; these very earthly items could and often did become idols because we mistook and misunderstood their participation in creation. And the more the thing from below seemed to participate in God’s beauty or power or knowledge, the more this confusion embedded itself in our common experience.
It is hard to believe but Holy Week is about to begin. This is my favorite liturgical time of the year. This week we are able to relive the last few days of Jesus’ life on earth. Through the liturgy we can join Jesus in living out each of these days. It is Holy Week that shows us the Salvation given to us by God and all of the gifts that surround that, especially the Eucharist. It is in this week that we can truly feel the LOVE that God pours out to us in Jesus. This week begins with Palm Sunday. On Palm Sunday we celebrate the King of Kings, the beggar King, the King of Peace, who triumphantly rides in to the Holy City of Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey. The people are elated to see Him. They had just heard of how He had raised Lazarus from the dead, even though Lazarus had been dead for four days. This miracle worker was coming in to the City of God and the people were singing His praise. This was the One who would finally set them free. They waved palms and proclaimed from Psalm 118, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel.” They sang songs of praise.
Praise is a very important part of the Church’s liturgy. All bishops, priests and deacons and brothers and nuns are required to pray the Liturgy of Hours each day, several times a day. Many lay people also join in with them in this prayer form. This prayer consists of a large number of prayers of praise. If you look at our mass, we are constantly offering prayers of praise. We even say, “It is right to give you thanks and praise”. My initial entrance in to the Church life began back in 1972 when I began attending a Catholic Charismatic prayer meeting. These prayer meetings are filled with praise and I have naturally adapted that in to my every day prayer life. I begin each morning praising God and do so many times throughout the day. Praise of God lifts me up and gives me strength and peace. I love to Praise God. It seems the natural thing to do. I think about when Jesus was told by the Pharisees to tell the people to stop singing their praises. He replied to them, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” All of nature gives praise to God. Isaiah 55:12 says, “For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” You only have to stop for a few moments and observe nature to see how it praises God. I remember going on retreat for a week to the city of Assisi, the home of St. Francis, and waking up in the morning to the chirping of a multitude of birds. What a beautiful song of praise they sing.
We too, the highpoint of God’s creation, are especially called to give Praise to God. Psalm 117:1 says, “Praise the LORD, all you nations. Praise him, all you people of the earth.” When we praise God we are drawn closer to Him. We are then more open to allowing Him to perform miracles in our lives. Praising Him helps bring us humility. It also causes our enemies to flee. Praise is such an important prayer form, and so easy to do. It can be used from the very beginning of the day until the very end. It can be as simple as, “I praise you Lord.” The people of Jerusalem gave praise to Jesus on His triumphal entry in to the City of God. Unfortunately this praise was short lived. It was only a few days later that many of these same people were crying out, “crucify Him, crucify Him”. Our songs of praise cannot be like that. Our prayers of praise must also be part of our acceptance of who Jesus was and is today. We must study Him in the scriptures and hear about Him in homilies and receive Him in the Eucharist. That way our prayer of praise can be lasting and true. To encourage praise, I have included the following scriptures. I also highly recommend listening closely to the words at mass, and the songs at mass, and try praying the Liturgy of the Hours. God bless you in your songs of praise. Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ, King of Endless Glory.
SCRIPTURES CALLING US TO PRAISE GOD:
Psalm 150:1-6 Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens! Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness! Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Exodus 15:2 The LORD is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation: he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
Judges 5:3 Hear, O you kings; give ear, O you princes; I, even I, will sing to the LORD; I will sing praise to the LORD God of Israel.
2 Samuel 22:4 I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies …
2 Samuel 22:50 Therefore I will give thanks to you, O LORD, among the heathen, and I will sing praises to your name.
Psalms 35:18 I will give you thanks in the great congregation: I will praise you among much people.
Psalms 35:28 And my tongue shall speak of your righteousness and of your praise all the day long.
Psalms 43:4 Then will I go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy: yes, on the harp will I praise you, O God my God.
Psalms 138:1 I will praise you with my whole heart: before the gods will I sing praise to you.
Daniel 2:23 I thank you, and praise you, O you God of my fathers, who have given me wisdom and might, and have made known to me now what we desired of you: for you have now made known to us the king’s matter.
Jeremiah 17:14 Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved: for you are my praise.
Hebrews 13:15 By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.
1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should show forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light;
You probably noticed that in the topic I called this a reflection, not a book review. My purpose is to share with you how this book touched me. I will leave a real book review to those more skilled in the process, like Pete Socks from Catholic Stand. To begin with, you must know that I absolutely love the mass. I am a daily communicant and I believe that the mass is the “source and summit” of my faith. When I saw this book I immediately pre-ordered it. I highly respect Timothy P. O’Malley as an author and he was writing about a topic that was dear to my heart. I did worry about the first part of the title, BORED AGAIN CATHOLIC. I saw it as a cute spin on “born again” but I never considered the mass boring. The second part of the title was more to my liking, HOW THE MASS COULD SAVE YOUR LIFE. I know this statement to be true.
From the very beginning I saw what Timothy P. O’Malley was getting at in looking at the “boredom” of the mass. He shows how there is good boredom and bad boredom. The good boredom is the space where you can allow God to work. In it we can ponder on the wonders of God at work in the mass. The bad boredom is really a time where we allow ourselves unhealthy distractions from what God is doing. The author gives great examples of good boredom and bad boredom. He really makes you think about how the mind and its thought processes can lift you up spiritually. There is no doubt that the author has a great love for the mass and for liturgy in general. I see a lot of myself in him.
The book takes just about every part of the mass and applies personal stories, as well as scripture and quotes from theologians, Saints, Popes etc. and creates a space for your own personal reflections. It even includes questions at the end of each chapter to help you reflect on what was just given to you. Some of the questions even challenge you to actions that will help you in better understanding the gift of the mass and liturgy. I cannot think of any adult or teen that wouldn’t learn and grow by reading this book. Whether you are a seasoned Catholic, or a new Catholic, this book is for you. I can also see that it could be used to help non-Catholics better understand the mass (and hopefully decide that they too need the mass).
As I said earlier, I am a daily communicant who really loves the mass. This book gave me some new insights in to the mass and liturgy, even though I have been doing this since I became Catholic in 1973. It gave me a better appreciation for the signs used in the mass. His discussion of how when his mind might wander and then get caught up in the smoke rising from the incense in to the light of the sun made me better appreciate the use of incense (which we really do not use enough). I loved the author’s suggestion of how we really should enshrine THE BOOK in our homes. For many years we always kept a large bible open in a prominent area of our living room. Somehow we got away from this. I now plan on starting doing this again.
I really loved the chapter dealing with the homily. As a person who often does both weekday and Sunday homilies, I was moved by what Dr. O’Malley said. He recalled how one day he took his toddler to the back of the Church because the toddler was fussy. He admitted that he himself was fussy because the homily was not on target and was too long. He recalled that the homily was not on target because it did not connect to the Gospel. It was filled with too many personal stories. Now, I have no problem with some personal stories, but I realize that everything that I say during a homily must connect to God’s word. I recalled what was said to me by the Bishop who was ordaining me. He handed me a book of the Gospels and said, “Believe what you read, Teach what you believe, and Practice what you teach”. I actually keep a small plaque on my desk saying this so that I always remember what being a deacon is all about. We too often hear that the Catholic Church suffers from poor homilies. Actually, I have been lucky that the bishops and priests and deacons that I have been exposed to usually give great homilies. This book inspired me to be better in my preaching. It also reinforced my love of liturgy and the mass. I know that I could tell you more, but I really believe that the best thing that I can tell you is to go out and get the book and read it. Actually, don’t just read it, ponder it. God is so good. Thank you Dr. Timothy P. O’Malley for this gem.
Christ The King statue in Świebodzin, Poland. This is the largest statue of Jesus in the world (yes, even larger than Rio de Janeiro). It is 33 meters (over 108 feet) tall. One meter for each year of Jesus life. Note the gold crown.
The last Sunday of the Church liturgical Calendar is celebrated as the Solemnity of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. Although Christians have celebrated Jesus as the King of Kings since the very beginnings and the Jews have celebrated the Messiah as the coming King long before Jesus, this Feast is relatively new. Pope Pius XI instituted this Feast in 1925 in his encyclical QUAS PRIMAS and it was first celebrated in 1926. Pope Pius XI instituted this Feast as a result of changes that were occurring throughout the world. There was a rise of both Communism and non-Christian dictatorships that tried to keep their people from worshiping God and following the Church. There was a large growth of secularism that had people questioning the role of God and the Church in their lives. People were simply denying Christ and doubting His authority and existence, as well as doubting the Church’s power to continue Christ’s authority.
The truth of the matter is, this seems to be occurring again today. People are putting Jesus aside and are not going to Church. Even our own government has tried to take away the Church’s authority over its people. God has been taken out of our government, and schools and courts. That is why this Feast is so timely even today. Our recent Presidential elections have shown a great divide in our country and some people seem lost. The problem is, our hope should not be fully in who is leading our country. Our hope should be in the Lord. I saw a sign before the elections that really brings this home. It said:
Today’s Feast day celebrates that very thought, and much more. Let us look at what Pope Pius XI hoped to accomplish in celebrating this feast:
1 – That nations would see that the Church has the right to freedom, and immunity from the state (Quas Primas 32).
2 – That leaders and nations would see that they are bound to give respect to Christ (Quas Primas 31).
3 – That the faithful would gain strength and courage from the celebration of the feas, as we reminded that Christ must reign in our hearts, minds, wills, and bodies (Quas Primas 33)
The first two of these are a constant battle. We need to make sure that the State recognizes our rights to freely worship God as we are called to do. The second is also difficult. We must elect leaders who can give respect to Jesus. The third, and last, is where we ourselves need to work the hardest. We MUST see Jesus as King of everything that we are. He must reign in our hearts, minds, wills and bodies. Today individualism has been so embraced that for many, the only authority is the individual self. They reject the idea of Jesus as ruler. Many see the title of King or Lord as archaic and borrowed from oppressive systems of government. Certainly some Kings have been oppressive, but Jesus surely is not that kind of King. He himself said in Mark 10: 42-45, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” and Jesus replied in John 18: 36-37, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Jesus certainly knew the oppressive nature of some Kings and in contrast to them he showed His role as King as one of humble service and commanded all His followers to do the same. He tied His Kingdom to His own suffering and death. He will come again as King to judge the nations. However He showed us that His Kingdom is one of love and mercy and peace and forgiveness. Jesus turned around the concept of Kingship. We know that when we make Him King of all that we are and all that we do, we will experience that Kingdom.
Let us all strive to make Jesus our King. Here is a prayer that may help us in doing that:
Act of Dedication of the Human Race to Jesus Christ the King
Most sweet Jesus,
Redeemer of the human race,
look down upon us humbly prostrate before you.
We are yours, and yours we wish to be;
but to be more surely united with you,
behold each one of us freely consecrates himself today
to your Most Sacred Heart.
Many indeed have never known you;
many, too, despising your precepts, have rejected you.
Have mercy on them all, most merciful Jesus,
and draw them to your Sacred Heart.
Be King, O Lord,
not only of the faithful who have never forsaken you,
but also of the prodigal children who have abandoned you;
grant that they may quickly return to their Father’s house,
lest they die of wretchedness and hunger.
Be King of those who are deceived by erroneous opinions,
or whom discord keeps aloof,
and call them back
to the harbor of truth and the unity of faith,
so that soon there may be
but one flock and one Shepherd.
Grant, O Lord, to your Church assurance
of freedom and immunity from harm;
give tranquility of order to all nations;
make the earth resound from pole to pole with one cry:
Praise to the divine Heart that wrought our salvation;
to it be glory and honor for ever. Amen.
Also known as “Iesu dulcissime, Redemptor”
Inside the Cave in Bethlehem , next to where Jesus was born, where Saint Jerome lived and translated the Bible.
Saint Jerome was a very learned man who loved the scriptures. He is the one who said, “Ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of Christ”. We celebrate his memorial on September 30th every year. Let us take a look at this very interesting man.
St. Jerome, was born Eusebius Hieronymous Sophronius in the year 342, in the small town of Stridonius at the head of the Adriatic Sea. His father was a Christian and made sure that Jerome received the best education possible, both in classical studies and in religion. His father eventually sent him to Rome to study under some of the best teachers available. Jerome became fluent in Latin and Greek. Initially he was overtaken with the hedonistic pleasures offered by the city, but in the year 360 he was baptized by Pope Liberius. Saint Jerome said, “it was my custom on Sundays to visit, with friends of my own age and tastes, the tombs of the martyrs and Apostles, going down into those subterranean galleries whose walls on both sides preserve the relics of the dead.” Here he enjoyed deciphering the inscriptions that were found on the walls.
Jerome spent about three years in Rome and then set out to see other parts of the world. He continued to be an avid reader and intellectual and lover of scripture. There really were no uniform selections of the scriptures then. During his travels Jerome made a whole hearted decision to dedicate himself to God. Because of his intellect, and love of reading, he started assembling a library of Christian writings. After several years of scholarly study, Jerome decided to head to Syria for solitude and prayer. Even in this solitude and prayer, his hedonistic desires that were set off in Rome began to surface again. He said, “In the remotest part of a wild and stony desert, burnt up with the heat of the sun, so scorching that it frightens even the monks who live there, I seemed to myself to be in the midst of the delights and crowds of Rome…. In this exile and prison to which through fear of Hell I had voluntarily condemned myself, with no other company but scorpions and wild beasts, I many times imagined myself watching the dancing of Roman maidens as if I had been in the midst of them. My face was pallid with fasting, yet my will felt the assaults of desire. In my cold body and my parched flesh, which seemed dead before its death, passion was still able to live. Alone with the enemy, I threw myself in spirit at the feet of Jesus, watering them with my tears, and tamed my flesh by fasting whole weeks. I am not ashamed to disclose my temptations, though I grieve that I am not now what I then was.”
To help with his growth away from passion and towards Jesus, Jerome began to study Hebrew. He said, “When my soul was on fire with wicked thoughts, as a last resort, I became a pupil to a monk who had been a Jew, in order to learn the Hebrew alphabet. What labor it cost me, what difficulties I went through, how often I despaired and abandoned it. I thank our Lord that I now gather such sweet fruit from the bitter sowing of those studies.” This new knowledge of Hebrew allowed him to later translate the Hebrew Scriptures.
Jerome moved to Bethlehem where he opened a free school and also a hospice for pilgrims. Now Jerome had some years of peaceful activity. He describes Bethlehem as a place of peace where travelers come from all over the world. He said, “They come in throngs and set us examples of every virtue. The languages differ but the religion is the same; as many different choirs chant the psalms as there are nations…. Here bread and herbs, planted with our own hands, and milk, all country fare, furnish us plain and healthy food. In summer the trees give us shade. In autumn the air is cool and the falling leaves restful. In spring our psalmody is sweeter for the singing of the birds. We have plenty of wood when winter snow and cold are upon us. Let Rome keep its crowds, let its arenas run with blood, its circuses go mad, its theaters wallow in sensuality….”
While in Bethlehem, living in a cave right next to where Jesus was born, Jerome began translating the Hebrew Scriptures in to Latin. He also had to learn a new language, Chaldaic, because parts of the Old Testament were written in that. He strived to have the most authentic translation that was possible. He also worked with many Church leaders and scholars to put together the full text of the Bible as we have it today. It should be noted that in the sixteenth century, the Council of Trent, affirmed St. Jerome’s Vulgate Bible as the most authentic and authoritative Latin text of the Church. Besides his translation of the Bible, St. Jerome produced many biblical commentaries. He was a great preacher and fought many heresies that were springing up. St. Jerome’s love for scripture has given all of us a gift that we must give thanks to God for. He did so much to bring the Word of God to Life, so that people could read and understand it. May he always help us to love and devour God’s Word.
In the very center of the picture, under the altar, is a hole where you can reach down and touch the rock of Calvary where the Cross of Jesus was placed.
The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
On September 14th we celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. This remembers that St. Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, discovered the True Cross in the year 326. We must remember that shortly after Jesus was crucified, the Romans destroyed the city of Jerusalem. They wanted to remove all access to the holy sites. The early Christians venerated the Holy Sites, especially Calvary and the Tomb. To eradicate the influence of Christianity, Hadrian leveled the top of Mount Calvary and erected a temple to the pagan goddess Venus. He also cut away and leveled the hillside where Jesus tomb stood and built a temple to the pagan god Jupiter Capitolinus. Ironically, this destruction actually preserved the sacred sites.
In 312 the Emperor Constantine issued the edict of Milan making Christianity legal. His mother, Helena was a convert and was given permission to go to the Holy Lands to try to locate the original holy places. Christian zeal motivated St. Helena. The historian, Eusebius described her as follows: “Especially abundant were the gifts she bestowed on the naked and unprotected poor. To some she gave money, to others an ample supply of clothing; she liberated some from imprisonment, or from the bitter servitude of the mines; others she delivered from unjust oppression, and others again, she restored from exile. While, however, her character derived luster from such deeds … , she was far from neglecting personal piety toward God. She might be seen continually frequenting His Church, while at the same time she adorned the houses of prayer with splendid offerings, not overlooking the churches of the smallest cities. In short, this admirable woman was to be seen, in simple and modest attire, mingling with the crowd of worshipers, and testifying her devotion to God by a uniform course of pious conduct” (The Life of Constantine, XLIV, XLV).
With the help of the local bishop, St. Macarius, and a learned Jew named Judas, they discovered three crosses hidden together in a cistern. The plaque (titulus) which said, “Jesus Nazaranus Rex Iudaeorum” was found with the three crosses. Surely one of those three had to be the true cross. The three crosses and the titulus were removed from the cistern. A woman, dying from a terminal disease, was brought to the spot by St. Helena. She touched the crosses, one by one. After she touched the third cross, she was cured, thereby identifying the true cross. Most importantly, St. Ambrose preached that when St. Helena found the true cross, “she worshiped not the wood, but the King, Him who hung on the wood. She burned with an earnest desire of touching the guarantee of immortality.”
Constantine then built a large shrine to mark the place of Calvary and the tomb of Jesus. It has been modified over the ages, but the current structure dates back to the time of the Crusaders. Thanks to the Romans for building temples over the exact places of Calvary and the Tomb, we today know their actual location. Thanks to the Holy Spirit leading St. Helena, we have the True Cross.
St. Paul said “but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” 1 Corinthians 1:23. We continue to preach Christ crucified. We honor and exalt the cross of Christ because it is through the cross that we have been redeemed. Jesus was highly exalted upon the cross by God and continues to be by His Church. Let us all lift high the cross of Jesus.
The church has given us so many tools to help us to grow in our faith. One of those tools is the Liturgy of the Hours. This form of prayer is sometimes known as the Divine Office or The Hours or The Breviary. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, “The hymns and litanies of the Liturgy of the Hours integrate the prayer of the Psalms into the age of the church, expressing the symbolism of the time of day, the liturgical season, or the feast being celebrated. More over, the reading from the Word of God at each hour, with the subsequent responses and readings from the fathers and spiritual masters at certain hours reveal more deeply the meaning of the mystery being celebrated, assist in understanding the Psalms, and prepare for silent prayer.” (CCC 1177). As a person who has prayed the Liturgy of the Hours for over 40 years now, I can tell you that it is an extremely good way to grow in our Catholic spirituality. As an ordained deacon, I am required (just as all bishops, priests, sisters and brothers) to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. I do not consider it a burden, but rather an extremely uplifting way of Growing In Our Catholic Faith. Though not required of lay people, it is something that I would highly recommend.
Along with the celebration of the mass, the Liturgy of the Hours is one of the oldest prayer forms in the Church. As a matter of fact, the reciting of prayers at different hours of the day and evening goes back into our Jewish roots. In the Psalms we find expressions like, “I will meditate on You in the morning”, and “I Rose at midnight to give praise to Thee” and “evening and morning and at noon I will speak and declare and He shall hear my voice.” It also says “seven times a day I have given praise toThee.” The early Christians continued the practice of the devout Jewish people by praying different hours of the day. As a matter of fact, in the book of Acts we learn that the Apostles prayed at midnight and at mid-morning (Terce) and at midday (Sext) and at mid afternoon (None). The prayers at this time consisted of the reading and chanting of the Psalms, the reading of the Old Testament, and then the Christians began adding readings from the Gospels and Acts and the Epistles. The prayers we do today are very much like what the Church has done from the beginning. By the fifth century, the Office consisted of Lauds (Morning Prayer), Prime (first prayers), Terce (Mid-morning Prayers), Sext (Midday Prayer), None (Mid-afternoon Prayers), Vespers (Evening Prayer) and Complin (Night Prayer). We still have these prayer times with some minor modifications. See the following list for today’s Liturgy of the Hours.
Current Roman Catholic usage focuses on three major hours and from two to four minor hours:
- The Officium lectionis or Office of Readings (formerly Matins ), major hour
- Lauds or Morning prayer, major hour
- Daytime prayer, which can be one or all of:
* Terce or Mid-Morning Prayer
* Sext or Midday Prayer
* Non or Mid-Afternoon Prayer
- Vespers or Evening Prayer, major hour
- Compline or Night Prayer
The praying of the Liturgy of the Hours only takes a few minutes (about 15+ for the major hours) but is worth every minute you put in to it. The Liturgy of the Hours can be prayed individually or in a group. Usually when in a group it is prayed antiphonally, alternating from left to right sides of the Church. Parts of it can also be sung. However, praying it privately can be a real help in your own spiritual growth. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this about the Liturgy of the Hours: From #1174 “The mystery of Christ, his Incarnation and Passover, which we celebrate in the Eucharist especially at the Sunday assembly, permeates and transfigures the time of each day, through the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours, “the divine office.” This celebration, faithful to the apostolic exhortations to “pray constantly,” is “so devised that the whole course of the day and night is made holy by the praise of God.” In this “public prayer of the Church,” the faithful (clergy, religious, and lay people) exercise the royal priesthood of the baptized. Celebrated in “the form approved” by the Church, the Liturgy of the Hours “is truly the voice of the Bride herself addressed to her Bridegroom. It is the very prayer which Christ himself together with his Body addresses to the Father.”
So, you are probably asking yourself, “how do I pray the Liturgy of the Hours”. It used to be that you had to buy the Four Volume book set, or abbreviated one volume set, but today we have it available on the Internet and through smart phone apps. I own the Four Volume Set and used to use that continually. However, about four years ago I started using the Ibreviary app and I love it. There are also websites to help you pray it on a full sized computer or tablet. Instead of listing these out, there are so many, I would suggest you search on “liturgy of the hours”. You won’t be disappointed in what you find.
Prayer is at the heart of our relationship to God. The Liturgy of the Hours is one of the best forms of Prayer that I have found. I pray it every day, along with my rosary and attendance at daily mass. All of these bring us closer to the God who loves us so much and wants us to have an abundant life. Please try praying this beautiful prayer form. It isn’t just for the Clergy and Religious. It is for lay people too. God bless you in your journey.
June 29th marks the Catholic Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul. Since these two men are usually considered the most important Christians of the apostolic age, you would think that they would each have their own Feast day. However the Church, in its wisdom, has always celebrated these two men together. We can learn a great deal about living as a Christian, and about Church structure, by looking at these two fascinating men and their relationship to each other. They both died in Rome and their bodies remain there to this day.
According to Roman legend, Rome was founded by twin brothers, Romulus and Remus. Their background and early raising was quite tumultuous and their decision to found together a new city proved fatal for Remus. Ambition and sibling rivalry reared its ugly head, but the city of Rome was founded. Rome became one of the most powerful cities (and Empire) in the world, but it lost its worldly power about 400 years after Jesus was born. About 25 years after Jesus died and resurrected, two new brothers (in the Lord) founded a new spiritual city of Rome which to this very day maintains its spiritual power throughout the world. St. Peter and St. Paul have been considered the new co-founders of this spiritual city of Rome. Early Christian writers made this comparison many times. We know St. Peter as being the first Pope and St. Paul as being the greatest evangelist, and scripture writer. Let us take a look at their relationship.
St. Peter was hand chosen by Jesus to lead the Church. Peter had known Jesus and followed Jesus for many years. He was a true disciple of Jesus. St. Paul, on the other hand, never met Jesus until after Jesus died and rose again. In actuality, St. Paul was an arch enemy of the early Christians because of his zeal to remove the followers of the Jesus sect from his most loved Judaism. St. Paul was even there for the first martyrdom of St. Stephen. St. Peter fervently loved Jesus, and St. Paul fervently loved Judaism. When St. Paul met the Resurrected Jesus, on his way to Damascus to persecute Christians, St. Paul was literally knocked to the ground. This one time meeting with the resurrected Jesus was enough to totally change St. Paul from persecutor of the Church to evangelizer for the Church. The early Christians, including St. Peter, were quite skeptical but came to see the change in St. Paul and his zeal for building the Church.
We don’t know for certain how many times St. Peter and St. Paul met, but scriptures tell us of three incidents. The first one seems to occur around the year 51 when in Galatians 1:18 Paul tells us that he went to visit St. Peter in Jerusalem for 15 days. The interesting part of this is that the word that St. Paul uses for the visit is historeō which has a very rich meaning. It implies meeting to gather data, to learn, observe and inquire. Our word history comes from that root. That must have been an interesting meeting. St. Peter was probably still somewhat skeptical of St. Paul, and St. Paul was probably trying to learn as much as possible about Jesus and His followers.
In Galatians 2:1 St. Paul tells us of another meeting he had with St. Peter 14 years after the first meeting. St. Paul came to Peter and James and John, the pillars of the Jerusalem Church, to present to them his form of evangelization and to verify the fruits of his evangelization. He seems to have been checking with them to make sure he was doing it well. St. Paul records that they found nothing to add to what he had been preaching and that they recognized him as being the evangelizer to the Gentiles. They gave him their right hand of fellowship and encouraged him to keep preaching to the Gentiles while they preached to the Jews. He ended by saying, “They only asked us to remember the poor– the very thing I also was eager to do.”
The third time that scriptures (again Galatians) mention the two meeting is at Antioch. This some people play up as a confrontation between the two. However, it appears that it is a great example of collegiality, and fraternal correction. The background for this meeting goes back to the Council of Jerusalem where St. Peter made the judgment that Gentile converts to Christianity did not have to observe the Jewish kosher laws. Now when St. Peter was in Antioch, he was staying with many Jewish Christians who felt that new Gentile converts should keep the kosher laws. Peter even followed the kosher laws when he was with them. St. Paul brought to the attention of St. Peter that he was being hypocritical. It appears that St. Paul really did this out of love and for fraternal correction and that the bond of love that they each had for Jesus triumphed. Later scriptures and tradition show that these two men kept their fraternal love for each other.
We know that towards the end of their lives, both St. Peter and St. Paul move to Rome. All of the early Christian writers talk about them being the new brothers who formed the new Rome. This time, however, there was no ambition or rivalry to separate them; quite the contrary. Tertullian, an early Christian writer born in 155 tells how both St. Peter and St. Paul were imprisoned together during Nero’s persecution and both were martyred by Nero. He recalls that they spent many hours together in jail sharing their stories of spreading the Gospel and he added that they blessed each other for their upcoming martyrdom. St. Peter was crucified upside down (he said he was not good enough to die the same way as Jesus) in the Vatican square and immediately buried in a nearby cemetery, now below St. Peter’s in Rome. St. Paul was beheaded with a sword. He was a Roman citizen and due a quick death. He was beheaded at quae Salviae, which is now known as Tre Fontane (three fountains). According to legend, when the sword cut off St. Paul’s head, it bounced three times and at each spot where it landed, a spring of water sprung forth from the ground. His body was taken away and buried nearby. The beautiful Church of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls stands over his burial place. It is interesting to note that the Tiber River flows through Rome. St. Peter was martyred and was buried on one side of the Tiber, and St. Paul was martyred and buried on the other side. Early Christian writers see this as both “founders” having given their blood to bless both sides of the city. Though these two dynamic men were individuals, they were seen as a major force of a unified two.
St. Peter was a simple Jewish fisherman with probably little education. St. Paul was well educated (taught by the best rabbi in the land) and a Roman citizen. They both were good Jews. St. Peter was married and St. Paul was a celibate. St. Peter was impulsive and St. Paul was enthusiastic. They certainly had their differences. They both have in common that when they met Jesus their lives were totally changed. They both loved Jesus and His Church. Even though both were quite dynamic men with great leadership skills, they learned how to work with each other for the good of the Church.
For us today, we should see that when we truly love Jesus, we change for the good. When we truly love the Church that Jesus founded, we learn to work together with each other, even when we don’t always agree with each other. It is almost incomprehensible to understand how these two men accomplished so much in such a short time. The only way we can understand that is to see them as lovers of Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, who respond to “go forth” and spread the good news and build up the body of Christ. I can only imagine the great time the two of them are having with Jesus right now. I look forward to meeting them some day. St. Peter and St. Paul pray that we too can love Jesus with all that we are.
Most Dioceses have their ordinations in the month of June, so I thought this would be a good time to look at Holy Orders in the Church. The word ORDER comes from the ancient Roman language and means an established civil body, or governing body. All organizations need some form of hierarchy, and the Church is no exception. However, the Church is not like any other organization, it is supernatural in nature, established by Jesus himself. When the Spirit came upon the apostles at Pentecost it made a significant change in them. It empowered them to spread the good news and to develop the church. Our modern design of Holy Orders (Bishop, Priest and Deacon) dates back to the very beginnings of the Church. Since the Apostles were all good Jews, as Jesus himself was, and since God was at work from the very beginnings with the Jewish nation, it is not surprising that our Holy Orders closely resemble the Jewish priesthood.
In the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), the chosen people were constituted by God as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” He even chose one of the twelve tribes, Levi, and set it apart for liturgical service. The priests were “appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.” Our present day liturgy reflects that close relationship to the Jewish priesthood of Aaron and the Levites. Here is a sample from the Church’s liturgy:
The Church prays in the consecratory preface of the ordination of bishops:
God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, . . .
by your gracious word
you have established the plan of your Church.
From the beginning,
you chose the descendants of Abraham to be your holy nation.
You established rulers and priests
and did not leave your sanctuary without ministers to serve you. . . .
At the ordination of priests, the Church prays:
Lord, holy Father, . . .
when you had appointed high priests to rule your people,
you chose other men next to them in rank and dignity
to be with them and to help them in their task. . . .
you extended the spirit of Moses to seventy wise men. . . .
You shared among the sons of Aaron
the fullness of their father’s power.
In the consecratory prayer for ordination of deacons, the Church confesses:
Almighty God . . .,
You make the Church, Christ’s body,
grow to its full stature as a new and greater temple.
You enrich it with every kind of grace
and perfect it with a diversity of members
to serve the whole body in a wonderful pattern of unity.
You established a threefold ministry of worship and service,
for the glory of your name.
As ministers of your tabernacle you chose the sons of Levi
and gave them your blessing as their everlasting inheritance.
The Church today has, just as the early Church had, three main offices of ordination. The first, and highest, is the Bishop. The second, and closely related, is the Priest. The third is the Deacon. The Bishop and Priest are together seen as Sacerdotal (priestly) while the deacon is seen as helpers to the Bishops first, and Priests second. Usually the Bishop is seen as a Pastor of a diocese and is often needed as a teacher. The Priest offers the mass in local churches and the Deacon is called to serve where He is directed to by the Bishop. All three are ordained. You can see how early this structure was by looking at a quote by St. Ignatius of Antioch, who was born only 17 years after Jesus died. He said, “Let everyone revere the deacons as Jesus Christ, the bishop as the image of the Father, and the presbyters (priests) as the senate of God and the assembly of the apostles. For without them one cannot speak of the Church.”
The Ordination of Bishops, Priests and Deacons are done only by Bishops who are in the line of apostolic succession. That means that when Bishop John R. McGann ordained me, back in 1980, I know that he was ordained by a Bishop who was ordained by a Bishop who was ordained by a Bishop…..going back all the way to the Apostles. This is called Apostolic Succession. The Church keeps records to ascertain that this occurs. The power of ordination has thus been passed down by the Apostles to all of us who are validly ordained. So what is this power? Quite simply, it is the power of the Holy Spirit. This is a permanent grace given to allow the ordained minister to carry out his mission within the Church that Jesus himself formed.
We know that no Bishop or Priest or Deacon is perfect, indeed they are human, but the grace of the Holy Spirit still works through them for the building up of the Church. It is Jesus, and His Spirit that ultimately works through the ordained minister. The unworthiness of the minister does not keep Jesus from working through him. St. Augustine states this quite strongly when he says, “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.”
The man who is ordained must go through a substantial training and preparation program. At the heart of it has to be his own conversion to Jesus and His Church. St. Gregory of Nazianzus says it so beautifully, “We must begin by purifying ourselves before purifying others; we must be instructed to be able to instruct, become light to illuminate, draw close to God to bring him close to others, be sanctified to sanctify, lead by the hand and counsel prudently. I know whose ministers we are, where we find ourselves and to where we strive. I know God’s greatness and man’s weakness, but also his potential. [Who then is the priest? He is] the defender of truth, who stands with angels, gives glory with archangels, causes sacrifices to rise to the altar on high, shares Christ’s priesthood, refashions creation, restores it in God’s image, recreates it for the world on high and, even greater, is divinized (make divine) and divinizes.” And the Cure of Ars says, “The priest continues the work of redemption on earth. . . . If we really understood the priest on earth, we would die not of fright but of love. . . . The Priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus.”
Being a Bishop or a Priest or a Deacon is not an easy thing. However, it is a great thing. I thank God for calling me and giving me the strength and power to minister as a Deacon. God knew what he was doing when he set up the Church. The call to ordained ministry is an important call. We should all do what we can to encourage men to look in to the ordained ministry. We should also say a “thank you” to those who serve us now. God is good.
I know, the title of today’s Feast is The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. But in all actuality, scripture and the Church see the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant. You have to really appreciate the links between the New Testament and the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures) to fully understand this. I won’t go in to the full explanation of TYPOLOGY, but suffice it to say that many things in the New Testament point to the Old Testament. Many things in the Old Testament are better understood because of the New Testament. Saint Augustine said that “the Old Testament is the New concealed, but the New Testament is the Old revealed” (Catechizing of the Uninstructed 4:8). One easy example of TYPOLOGY is when Jesus himself refers to the bronze serpent of Moses (that was hung on a pole to bring life to the Israelites) as a type of his own crucifixion.
If you remember the stories from the Old Testament, the Ark of the Covenant was seen as God’s own presence to his people. It was carried forth in battle to assure victory and was kept in the Holy Temple to be worshipped. It was so holy that no one could touch it. When Uzzah, the son of Abinadad touched it, he immediately died. The Ark of the Covenant contained three items; the tablets on which God wrote the ten commandments, a piece of manna from when God fed the Israelites in the desert, and the rod of Aaron, the symbol of priesthood of the first priest of Israel. This ark was prominent in the life of David and Solomon and many others until it was hidden when invaders came in to Israel. It was never found and is still hidden somewhere in Israel. Just in case you are wondering, Indiana Jones did not find the Ark of the Covenant; that was just fiction.
So why do we consider the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant? There are many reasons, but I will list a few. First of all, when Mary was told that she would give birth to Jesus, the angel told her that the Holy Spirit would overshadow her. This word overshadow is the same word that the Old Testament used for God’s Spirit overshadowing the Ark of the Covenant. The only place this word is used in the New Testament is here, overshadowing Mary. This shows the parallel of the Holy Spirit overshadowing the Ark of the Covenant and that same Holy Spirit overshadowing Mary, the New Ark of the Covenant. Today’s Feast shows another very good example of TYPOLOGY. Mary comes to visit Elizabeth when both of them are carrying child. Mary is pregnant with Jesus and Elizabeth is pregnant with John the Baptist. As soon as Mary greets Elizabeth, we are told that John the Baptist leapt for joy in the womb of Elizabeth. This makes us look back to King David when he danced before the Ark of the Covenant and leapt for joy. The words, “cried out for joy” here for both Mary and the King David before the Ark of the Covenant are the words used for liturgical dance and joy. The readers of that day would have understood this.
Another interesting thing is that when King David was able to retrieve the Ark of the Covenant he said, “How can the Ark of the Covenant come to me?” Elizabeth said to Mary, “How is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” See how close these are. Luke also tells us that Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months in the hill country. The Old Testament tells us that David kept the Ark in the hill country for three months. There are other parallels, but I would like to end with one final thought. Let us compare what the Old Testament Ark of the Covenant contained and what the New Testament Ark of the Covenant (Mary) contained.
The Old Testament Ark of the Covenant had within it the very Word of God, written on stone. The New Testament Ark of the Covenant had within it the Work of God, made flesh. The Old Testament Ark of the Covenant had within it the Manna that God sent to feed the Israelites. The New Testament Ark of the Covenant contained the Bread of Life, Jesus, who feeds His people with the Eucharist. Finally, the Old Testament Ark of the Covenant had within it the rod of Aaron, the first high priest of Israel. The New Testament Ark of the Covenant had within it the New High Priest, Jesus. Isn’t God AWESOME?
In these pictures of the Upper Room, you see first, the interior; second signs of the Muslim Mosque; third, a brass olive tree donated to Israel by the Catholic Association, and lastly, a column showing a Pelican feeding its young by taking blood from its side. This was an early Christian symbol of the Eucharist. When the Ottomans took over Upper Room, they removed all Christian symbols but this one. They did not understand its meaning.
In Jerusalem there is a building known as the Upper Room (or Cenacle). The present day structure is in Jerusalem on Mount Zion and dates to the 1200’s. It is a reconstruction made by the Crusaders using three out of the four original walls of the original structure from the time of Jesus. There were earlier reconstructions as well. It is a very HOLY building since it was used by the disciples for The Last Supper, The Washing of the Disciple’s feet by Jesus, Several Resurrection Appearances by Jesus, and the Election of Matthias as an Apostle to replace Judas. Lastly, it was the place where the Holy Spirit descended upon the Disciples on the Feast of Pentecost. It is such a Holy place that the early Christians used it as a place of worship, a synagogue (remember the Early Christians in Jerusalem practiced Judaism). In 384 the first large Christian Church was built right next to it and was known as the Church of the Apostles. The traditional Tomb of David is right below it. The Church of the Apostles, next to the Upper Room, was torn down by the Muslims in 1009 but Crusaders later took back the area and built the present reconstruction of the Upper Room. The Franciscans kept custody of it until 1552 when the Ottomans overtook it and they turned the Upper Room in to a Mosque. You can still see signs of the Muslim usage. In 1948 the government of Israel took it over and gave the Franciscans administrative control again.
This Holy room, the Upper Room is where our Church first began. The Disciples were unable to do much of anything after Jesus Ascended in to Heaven. They seem lost and powerless. However, with the Blessed Virgin Mary amongst them, the Power of the Holy Spirit came upon them at Pentecost and they were given the power to go out and form the Church. It is interesting here to throw in a little typology. In scripture study, we use the term typology to show the way that the Old Testament (Hebrew scriptures) and the New Testament are related. I would like to point out one thing about Pentecost regarding this. In yesterday’s post, Dan Gonzalez showed how Pentecost is a Jewish feast day. We, as Christians, see it as the birthday of our church. In looking at this we should look back to the Old Testament book of 2 Chronicles where we hear the story of the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem that Solomon built. In this account, the scriptures tell us that 120 priests gathered for the dedication and a sacrifice was put on the altar. We are told that when the Ark of the Covenant was brought in to go in to the Holy of Holies, God sent fire from the sky to burn the sacrifice on the altar. When we look at the New Testament book of Acts we hear that the disciples and other followers, totaling 120 people, gathered in the Upper Room. The mother of Jesus, Mary, who is known as the New Ark of the Covenant gathered in the center of them all. God sent down the Holy Spirit upon them all as tongues of fire. In both accounts of the beginning of the Temple and the beginning of the Church, 120 people gathered with the Ark of the Covenant and God sent down fire. Our Lord is awesome.
As we celebrate this Holy Feast of Pentecost, let us give thanks to God for giving us the gift of the Holy Spirit and for the gift of the Church. Our Pentecost liturgy has a Sequence put in along with the normal scripture readings. This really should be read at every mass of Pentecost, but is quite often skipped over. Here is a copy of this Sequence. Read it over and see the precious gift that God has given to us in the Holy Spirit.
Sequence — Veni, Sancte Spiritus
Come, Holy Spirit, come!
And from your celestial home
Shed a ray of light divine!
Come, Father of the poor!
Come, source of all our store!
Come, within our bosoms shine.
You, of comforters the best;
You, the soul’s most welcome guest;
Sweet refreshment here below;
In our labor, rest most sweet;
Grateful coolness in the heat;
Solace in the midst of woe.
O most blessed Light divine,
Shine within these hearts of yours,
And our inmost being fill!
Where you are not, we have naught,
Nothing good in deed or thought,
Nothing free from taint of ill.
Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour your dew;
Wash the stains of guilt away:
Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
Guide the steps that go astray.
On the faithful, who adore
And confess you, evermore
In your sevenfold gift descend;
Give them virtue’s sure reward;
Give them your salvation, Lord;
Give them joys that never end. Amen.
Note: Veni Sancte Spiritus is a true masterpiece of Latin poetry. In rhyme scheme, it is complex and gorgeous; lines one & two rhyme with each other, and line three always ends in the syllable –ium. In meter, the sequence is a very faithful example of trochaic dimeter. In content, it is a magnificent meditation on the Spirit’s guidance through consolation & desolation. So much is lost when this sequence is not sung in its original Latin.
For six years I was fortunate enough to design for a graphics firm that specialized in creating calendars for the Jewish market. After designing over 50 of them, I’ve acquired first-hand knowledge of how they differ from international calendars (also known as Gregorian, Western or Christian calendars). To begin with, rather than starting on January 1 with New Year, Jewish calendars begin in September with Rosh Hashanah—the Jewish New Year. Jewish calendars list the candle lighting times for Shabbat & holidays as well as the assigned weekly Torah readings (Parashat ha-Shavua). In a Jewish calendar (for the U.S. market) you’ll also find, right along side the familiar holidays of Labor Day and Presidents Day, some unfamiliar ones such as Tu B’Shevat, Lag B’Omer and Tisha B’Av.
My boss was a kind Orthodox Jewish Rabbi who had a love of teaching. His extensive knowledge of Judaism, coupled with my thirst for it, proved my stint at the firm to be incredibly edifying. I learned about the roots and reasoning for each and every holiday I placed on the calendar. And, if I had a question that needed clarification, I had a mentor who was more than willing to share what the Scriptures, Mishnah, Talmud or sages had to say about that particular holiday.
This weekend we celebrate one of the three most important festivals on the Jewish calendar, Shavu’ot (The Festival of Weeks or Pentecost)—the other two being Pesach (Passover), and Sukkot (The Feast of Tabernacles).
At the time of Jesus, pilgrims would travel to the temple in Jerusalem to offer sacrifice on these three festivals. In fact, as we will hear in the first reading this Sunday, that’s why all of Jesus’ followers were gathered together in the upper room, to celebrate the Jewish festival of Shavu’ot:
“And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other languages, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” —Acts 2:1–5
To some it may come as a surprise to learn that Pentecost is not of Christian origin. The roots of Shavu’ot—both agricultural and historical—lie in ancient Israel.
Agriculturally, it celebrates the wheat harvest—the most important grain for the ancient Jewish people. Some historians suggest that wheat, in all its forms, provided nearly 80% of the daily caloric intake for the Israelites. It’s no wonder that a holiday to commemorate it’s gathering would be celebrated.
Historically, it marks the giving of the Torah to Moses by God on Mt. Sinai. After the exodus from Egypt, the Jewish people wandered the desert before arriving at the foot of Mt. Sinai 7 weeks later. The Hebrew word Shavu’ot means “weeks.” In Jewish tradition 7 is the perfect number (the number of creation) and 7 times 7, even more so. It is a week of weeks or 7×7 which is 49 days. The Ten Commandments were given by God on the sixth day of the Hebrew month of Sivan, which was 50 days from the crossing of the Red Sea.
Greek Jews gave the festival the name Pentecost or fiftieth day. The same Greek prefix pente, meaning 5, is in the words:
- Pentagon: A five-sided polygon
- Pentagram: A five-pointed star
- Pentameter: A line of verse consisting of five metrical feet
- Pentathlon: A contest with five different events
Shavu’ot commemorates the time when God gave the Israelites the 10 Commandments, the way by which they were to live their lives. It is on that day that the Hebrews became a nation.
For the first Christians, Pentecost was the day they received the Holy Spirit, which dwells in the hearts of all believers, commanding the way they are to live their lives. Pentecost celebrates the unity of the first Christians and the birth of the Church.
Visit Dan Gonzalez at his website: http://www.massexplained.com