Sunday, November 30, 2008
As we begin the Church year once again on this First Sunday of Advent, we naturally start at the end. Instead of looking at the beginning of Creation in the Garden of Eden, we look first to the end of time and Christ’s return in glory. Certainly, it does seem an odd place to start a ‘New Year,’ but what the Church wants to do in starting in such a way is to give us a focus for our lives by focusing on what is of most importance to the Church. This focus on the End is a call to mind that we are to cooperate with the Grace of Christ in building up the Kingdom of God here on Earth, that at some point which we do not know, Christ will come again and we will be called to give account of the stewardship of the gifts that God has given to us to share.
Ok, great, how do we do this? That’s the challenge, and it really is a challenge that each one of us has to face individually; but there are some common elements that each disciple goes through. To highlight that example, I want to focus on the Saint who would be celebrated today, if today was not a Sunday.
November 30th is set aside to honor St. Andrew, one of the initial disciples of Jesus, and the one, importantly, who brought Peter to meet Jesus while they were in the wilderness with John the Baptist. It is a fairly simple story from the First Chapter of the Gospel according to John: Andrew is listening to John the Baptist when Jesus walks by, and John simply says: “Behold, the Lamb of God.” Intrigued, Andrew follows after Jesus who turns and invites Andrew to ‘Come and See’ where he is staying. But before he goes, he first finds his brother Simon and brings him along.
This little episode, comprising all of 8 versus in the Scripture, provides a paradigm of how we are to be prepared for the Coming of Christ at the End of Time. Simply, through our own quest of Discipleship, through our own pilgrimage of faith, our witness to others in both grand and small ways, should be an invitation to that other person to ‘Come and See’ where Jesus is, both here in the Church and personally in our lives as Christian disciples.
The challenge, and how this becomes ever new in the lives of the Christian Believer, is that the situation is always changing, Our Lord keeps upping the ante on us, so that he is always putting us in new situations where we might respond to His invitation of Grace at an ever deeper level. We must be prepared to give our witness no matter where we are, no matter what we are doing.
Yikes, I know this sounds extremely Protestant, but it was ours before it was theirs! And, in fact, in talking with Protestant converts to the Catholic faith, even Protestant clergy members who have left behind everything to come to the One True Faith, one of the biggest stumbling blocks that they have found is the witness of ordinary Catholics who seem to not realize the treasures that we have here in the Faith. Their eyes start to be opened to the great mystery of the Eucharist, to the wonders of all the Seven Sacraments, yet they see a lackadaisical attitude among so many Catholics that they are confused.
So, what are we to do? We have to be constantly aware of opportunities that God presents us with to share our faith, and not be afraid to take advantage of that chance to invite someone else to ‘come and see.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
While it was a great to spend time with the family; but as poorly as we shot, all the kids are starving tonight!
The good news, I beat my brother!
Friday, November 28, 2008
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Sometimes it is sung as the remains are incensed, which may be allowed (who knows anymore?), but another prayer, "Saints of God, come to his aid" is normal there, too bad not to have both.
FYI, if you have even a small number of competent singers as a choir, a chant such as In Paradisum works very well (hint, get a group together and offer such services in your parish). I know a parish priest who sings it himself.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
After spending nearly two of the last three weeks out of the office, to say nothing of the family funeral; wow, this week is crawling by.
alas, more meetings tonight. Tomorrow looks better, thankfully.
Friday, November 21, 2008
“I hope you have all the joys as a priest that I have had.” With these words, John Cardinal Foley welcomed a few of our seminarians as he was in Cincinnati to celebrate an occasion with Sacred Heart Radio. It was a humbling testimony to a life of prayer and wonder that has been shared by a modern day Prince of the Church, whom one can tell by the sheer joy rolling out of him that he just loves being a priest. He continued to our seminarians: “I’ve never had a bad day as a priest.” In a career that has spanned four popes and an unlikely ascension to the ‘Pope’s Senate,’ all he wants to do is be a simple priest, what a great gift to witness the faith and devotion of this man.
However, this love and desire to be a simple parish priest is not held by Cardinal Foley alone. Over this past summer, I spent a weekend with a priest friend in Akron, Ohio. At the end of a long day where we celebrated Mass together, heard confessions and relaxed with other friends; he looked at me and opined: “Why are we not turning men away from the seminary? This is the greatest life, if only they knew!” I nodded in agreement: four plus years a priest, never a dull day, and the impact that the laity have had in my life, that impact I hope I have had in theirs. Again, humbling that Our Lord could have called me, unworthy though I am, to this wonderful ministry. “Who am I, Lord, that you should call me?”
Unfortunately, the joy of the priesthood is something that we do not see too often in our modern day. The media often presents priests as frustrated old men, yet that is not the priesthood that I know. The priests whom I know are dedicated, holy, prayerful men; men who love to serve Our Lord, who love to serve His people; men who want to be a bridge between heaven and earth, recognizing that it is only through God’s great gift that we are able to stand in such a way.
I admit, even when I was in the seminary, I did not think this was possible. I was meeting new priests on a seemingly weekly basis, and there was something about each one of them that made me want to be like them. It was not an effervescent bubbly joy that would turn sour quickly, but a deep sense of purpose that I did not see anywhere else in this world. I have come to realize that it is the joy that comes from knowing Christ, which comes from giving one’s life over to Him, and realizing that in that giving over, there truly are many rewards, nearly all of which are unexpected.
Does this mean that every day is easy as a priest? Certainly not, just as every day as a parent is filled with both great joys and deep hardships. In fact, one of the most memorable days I have had as a priest was one of the greatest struggles, in how to make sense of the death of a ten year girl who was stricken with Cerebral Palsy. It was extremely difficult to celebrate her funeral with joy, with hope in the Resurrection, yet, looking back, it is a day that I will always remember as a priest.
Because priests have declined in numbers over the last forty years, I fear that many of the faithful, especially the young faithful, have never experienced the joy that radiates from a priest on fire for the priesthood.
Thank your priest for his service to the Church, for his willingness to give it all over to Christ. But more importantly, encourage the same self-sacrifice among our young people of today. I am convinced God is calling many more than those who are responding. With your prayers and support, the seminary will again be filled with young men eager to be Fishers of Men.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
What I wanted to do tonight was focus a bit on just one small section of the Mass, the Communion Rite. I feel it is a terribly important aspect, but one that is not always reflected upon. I’ll try to give a few of the historical developments as we go through, as well. One note of clarification, I will general use the term ‘Mass’ for the celebration, while using the term ‘Eucharist’ for the Sacred Species themselves. It is true that ‘Eucharist’ can be used for the celebration, but I do it just for the sake of clarity.
As we start, one definition: A Liturgist is someone inflicted on the People of God so that those who do not live during a period of active persecution may know what it is like to suffer for the Faith.
The section of the Mass that I want to focus on is the Communion Rite, the simple rite after the Consecration in which the faithful are prepared to and then actually do receive the Eucharist. The distinct parts of this segment are as follows:
1) The Lord’s Prayer and Embolism
2) The Kiss of Peace
3) The Fraction Rite and the Commingling
4) The Invitation to and Distribution of Communion
During some of these aspects, the priest says a few prayers silently, which we will also discuss their significance and how that can apply to the Faithful.
The Lord’s Prayer and the Embolism to the Doxology
It seems as if in the earliest rites of the Church, the Lord’s Prayer was not said during the Eucharistic Assembly, but only said during what has come to be known as the Liturgy of the Hours. However, by the Fourth Century, the Our Father started to be incorporated, but at different points; some said it before the Fraction Rite, others afterwards. It came to win out at the point where it is commonly said now, an innovation by Gregory the Great, because it was felt that it was appropriate to pray the prayer that Jesus himself gave us after saying the Canon, which was a prayer composed by men. At the time of Gregory the Great, up until the reforms of Vatican II, the Our Father was said solely by the priest. This is not a denigration of the faithful, but rather it is the children being led in prayer by their father, something that we will return to and has its roots in the Jewish customs that were incorporated into the Mass, something we will return to.
At the same time that the Our Father was being incorporated into the Mass, embolisms (statements of praise) were often added in as well. Especially where the prayer was said by the priest or bishop alone, the people would add an ‘Amen’ at the end of each petition. Now, this has been formalized in the ‘Libra Nos’ or ‘Deliver Us’ prayer.
The Doxology is something new, actually. It was added to the Mass after Vatican II, and is a quotation from the Didache, the First Century ‘Teaching of the Apostles.’ As a fun note, Protestants, who claim ‘sola scripura’ often include the Doxology no matter when they say the Our Father, even though it is not part of Scripture. In its present form, the Doxology serves to unite the Prayer and give a proper conclusion and transition to the Our Father.
The Kiss of Peace
Again something that flows in and out, and has had various arrangements throughout the history of Liturgical Development of the West. In various places, including still in the Ambrosian Rite of Milan, the Kiss of Peace is placed before the Presentation of the Gifts, following Our Lord’s command: “Before you bring your gifts to the Altar, make peace with your brother.”
The prayer that leads to the Kiss of Peace is an adaptation of a private prayer of the priest that originated in Spain and France, but echoes the words of Our Savior, keeping in mind that the Mass is absolutely dripping with Scripture. Still, as is seen in the Ambrosian Rite, the Kiss of Peace is a following of Jesus’ command to make peace with one another. It should be a rather simple affair, and appropriate to the cultural settings of the place. It seems likely that the exchange of peace at this point in the Mass became normative as the Lord’s Prayer also became normative, for there is a further connection with the Lord’s Prayer, specifically the petition ‘forgive us our trespassers as we forgive those who trespass against us.’
The Fraction Rite and the Commingling
Just as Jesus actual physical body was broken, poured out for us, His Body in the Eucharist is also broken and given out for us. This is the third of four Dominical Elements to the Mass, emulating Jesus when he takes, blesses, breaks and then gives the bread to his disciples at the Last Supper. Vatican II encouraged a return to the ancient practice that the faithful should be given the Lord’s Body from the same sacrifice, and not from the reserved species from the Tabernacle. (Both are legitimate, and it is one Body of Christ, but the visual connection is stressed, and was even more strongly worded in the revisions of the Third Typical Edition of the Mass of Paul VI, promulgated in 2000. This connection is seen from the very earliest days of Christianity, as St. Paul attests in his First Letter to the Corinthians: “The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the Body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”
But it is not just the bread broken that is symbolized here, but also the Lamb of God. In the Seventh Century, Pope Sergius I added the singing of the Lamb of God to the Mass at this point indicating the Lamb slain in the Jewish Passover ritual. Interestingly, in the Jewish ritual, the lamb is broken by the father of the family, who then gives it to his family. He leads the family in prayer, and symbolically gives of himself for his family, a clear connection with the Priesthood.
During the Lamb of God, usually, there is one small rite that is easily overlooked, but has a great symbolism: the commingling. You may notice that the priest breaks off a small portion of the Eucharistic Species and places it in the Chalice, while saying silently these words: “May the mingling of the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ bring us all to Everlasting Life.” The book I consulted offered four explanations, of which I want to focus on just two:
1) Fermentum as a sign of unity: In the earliest days of the Church, the Christian Community gathered all together in one place on Sunday mornings (the day of the Lord) to worship in the new way. However, as the community spread, it soon became impossible for everyone to gather with the bishop of a particular place and the early foundations of the modern parish system arose. In order to show the unity of the diocese under the leadership of the bishop, a small portion of the Eucharist was brought from the Bishop’s celebration to each local parish celebration and ‘co-mingled’ with the Blood in the Chalice as a sign of that unity.
2) A sign of the Resurrection: This was something new for me. At the Crucifixion, Jesus poured out His blood to the last drop, completely separating his blood from his body, resulting in death. This sign, where the body and blood are brought back together is symbolic of his Resurrection, where the body and blood are re-united. In fact, in some places of the East, hot water is added to the Chalice at this point as well to indicate the warmth of a body that is alive.
The Invitation and Distribution of Communion
There is to be a moment of silence at this point, as the priest prays a prayer for his own worthiness in receiving the Sacrament: “Lord Jesus Christ, with faith in your love and mercy, I eat your body and drink your blood. Let it not bring me condemnation, but health in mind and in body.” As the priest prays this, the people, too, are to recognize what they are preparing for in receiving the Body and Blood of Christ.
As the priest shows the Eucharistic Species to the people, again Scripture drips from the Mass: “Behold, the Lamb of God, behold He who takes away the sin of the world” from John the Baptist’s testimony to Jesus in the Gospels, to which is added Revelation 19:9: “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” The response then echoes the words of the Centurion from Luke 7:6-7: “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof, but only say the word and my servant shall be healed.” One thing to note is that these are obviously not direct lifts from Scripture, but are translations through the Latin and filtered through the history of the Liturgy. The priest receives first, then the deacon, before distribution to the laity. This is not a denigration of the laity, but respects the hierarchy of the Church.
In the reforms after Vatican II, there was a desire to return to more ancient practices during the distribution of Communion than had been practiced just prior to the Council. One fruit of this is Communion in the Hand, which has ancient sources and is not an innovation of the Council, see the Jerusalem Catechesis from the year 400. This was originally abandoned in the Middle Ages as a sign of respect for the Eucharist, that poor and dirty hands should not touch the Sacred Species. However, now it is argued on the flip side that to stick your tongue out at the priest is not very dignified either. The truth is in there somewhere, and I have a preference to distribute on the tongue, but that is simply my preference.
A second change was the distribution from the Chalice, which was called for by the Council in special circumstances, but was widened in the promulgation of the GIRM in 1970. Not taking anything away from Trent, which taught that one receives the fullness of the Eucharist no matter how big or small a portion one receives, sought this reform out for the fullness of sign: as Jesus said take and eat, take and drink; it was felt this would be good to re-introduce.
Third, Extraordinary Ministers of Communion were introduced to aid in the distribution of Communion to the Faithful. The important distinction as to why EMOC’s do not take the ciborium or chalice directly off the altar, but instead have it handed to them, is that only the bishop and priest is able to take from the altar directly, since they are, in a way, one with the altar. EMOC’s are simply to aid in the distribution to their brethren through a human mediation; it is important in the Church’s mind to hear the words and to respond: The Body of Christ, Amen; the respondent giving consent to what he or she is receiving.
These are my thoughts on the importance of the Communion Rite in the Church. It is the time when we are most connected with Our Lord, for we take Him really and truly, fully and completely into our very self. How marvelous it is that we are able to do such a thing.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Saturday, November 15, 2008
God's Rest, Grandpa. We all love you much.
It is something that still exists today in Pop Culture, as those who are presented as ‘holy’ are usually also presented as ‘dour.’ They have no fun, they are always serious, there is never enjoyment to be found, rather they spend all of their time on the knees in reparation for sins.
It does not take long for anyone who has known my Grandfather, even for the shortest amount of time, to recognize that this is not who he was. Over the last few days, after Grandpa passed on, the one comment that always comes to the fore about Grandpa: “He was quick with a joke.” Seemingly, he never met a joke he didn’t like, and he was always on the lookout for an unsuspecting new acquaintance on whom he could pull out the old stand-bys, in addition to the latest he heard from where ever. For his grandchildren, this was always a nerve-wracking position as we introduced an unsuspecting girlfriend or boyfriend for the first time at a family gathering. Grandpa would get this sly little look on his face, slowly slide over by the neophyte, and unleash a torrent of his recent favorites. The appropriate grandchild would dutifully role his or her eyes and want to climb into a hole somewhere, embarrassed.
But, grandpa’s love for jokes was not self serving; he never did it to bring attention to himself, but used this great love for humor to make others feel welcome and at home. He could take a tense and anxious situation and bring a relaxing calm to all present. What a wonderful gift that is to be able to share with so many, friends and family alike. And what a wonderful way to acknowledge the Love that God has for each one of us through the mystery and gift of laughter. As Fr. Pat led us through the discussion about Grandpa the other day, this was the idea that Jim, Larry, Mom, Diane, Mark and Lora all kept coming back to: Grandpa used the jokes to break down barriers, to establish friendships, and make people feel at ease.
While this love of humor was certainly one Grandpa’s most public aspects, it was not the deepest aspect of who he was. Being a farmer, something which never leaves the blood, is a great lesson in the trusting in the deep providence of God in all things. The family was reminiscing how during planting time, Grandpa was always testy, anxious for the coming year and how the crops would turn out. This deep reliance on the providence of God, though, was expressed in many ways. I remember learning to serve at morning Masses here at Immaculate Conception, and Grandma and Grandpa were always sitting in the same pew, praying the rosary, saying their prayers after Mass. Just as prayer marked the rhythm of life in a monastery, prayer was what marked the rhythm of life for grandma and grandpa, and very little would stand in his way. In fact, so important was Sunday Mass, that at one point the farm was snowed in. Even though he felt it was too dangerous for the children to come into town for Mass, he walked both ways so that he would not miss his Sunday obligation. (Either that, or he was tired of being cooped up with Jim and Larry, and decided a walk through several feet of snow was a good thing!)
As it is for so many who work the land and rely on the Providence of God to survive, prayer was something real, something personal, something powerful, and any opportunity to steal a moment in prayer was taken advantage of. Grandma related on Thursday that he would often pray a rosary while either planting or plowing, bragging often: I got two full rosaries in today! (As an aside, this is much better than Uncle Larry’s option of falling asleep at the wheel of the tractor!)
One final aspect that cannot be skipped over is his devotion to his family. While his was not a love that was worn on the sleeve, the love and concern that he had for his family was something that was always present, guiding how he treated his children, grandchildren and now great-grandchildren. Family was always important and he was generous in his own way. While for many years, all you would receive is a hearty handshake and a firm ‘yep!’, his devotion to grandma, especially in their years of retirement, is an example to us, his friends and descendents.
The legacy that he passes on to us continues these three themes: humor as a way of inviting others into relationship, faith, and family. Through all of this, his dedication and hard work provide the blue-print to a success that is not measured in dollars, but is measured in friends. Last night, as we were leaving the funeral home after the visitation, I thought of the funerals I have had for those in their 90’s. The crowds tend to be small, a few friends who are remaining, family scattered about. Grandpa, as he did with so many things, greatly exceeded expectations. So many friends, so many family members (many of whom I did not even know!), came to pay respects for a man who was deeply loved and respected, who enjoyed his life, but also had a deep and profound faith.
And the common consensus was: where are we going to get our jokes now?
Yesterday was a marathon session: the four hours of scheduled visitation turned more into 6 (we did get about an hour's break for some chow), as the crowds just kept piling in. I was thinking that we scheduled too much time, but I forgot how popular of a man my grandfather was: he knew everyone in town, and it seemed like mostly everyone had come by for a visit.
We are starting to get wound up for the funeral today. I'm doing everything except the final committal at the gravesite. Writing out the homily was pretty tough, so any extra prayers would be greatly appreciated.
Two special notes of thanks:
1) Fr. Pat Sloneker, pastor here in Botkins, did a wonderful job of leading the family through the planning of the funeral. He asked all the right questions, was very kind to Grandma especially, and help us all to make the appropriate decisions.
2) While there was a large mass of flowers at the funeral home (having visited the Biltmore estate last week, it seemed we were in the running for 'most flowers' distinction), one small bouquet was very kind, simply signed 'The Bloggers.' It never occurred to me that starting this little project would result in good friendships from around the country. I was deeply touched by your thoughts and prayers. Thank you.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
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Tricia and I went up last night and I was being very selfish at first thinking a night at home going to bed early would be so much nicer after having kids waking up during the night the last three nights. But I knew it was something I needed to do so off we went. It was a great visit, they both were good. When we got there he was in Grandmas room with the door closed, getting their privacy maybe even pretending they were back at home. He was talking, told me some jokes, etc. He was a little confused but I never would have imagined that would have been his last night with us or that Tricia and I would have been the last to see him. He went peacefully, without suffering which we should all be grateful for.
Monday, November 10, 2008
Stacks of emails
Almost not worth taking the time away!
Quick update on Grandpa, and now Grandma, too:
Grandpa has rebounded well to treatments and is getting stronger and better, for 91 that is! He is still in the hospital, but is expected to be released to a long term care facility sometime this week, hopefully. He could be released now, but.... Last Monday, Grandma (his wife) fell and broke her femur about an inch or two below her hip, and got taken to the same hospital where she went through surgery and is now in recovery. She should also be ready to move to a transitional care facility within a few days, so they are going to release them together.
I was teasing Grandma yesterday that Grandpa was getting too much attention and wanted some of her own. They both seem to be in good spirits, but please pray for their continued recovery.