Sunday, September 6, 2015

Communion from the Chalice
We are all familiar with the words of Jesus when He instituted the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist.  There are four accounts in the New Testament, one in each of the first three Gospels and one in St. Paul’s 1st epistle to the Corinthians.  All four accounts relate that in addition to the words over the bread, followed by the breaking of it and distribution to his followers, Jesus took a cup/chalice and said: take this all of you and drink of it, etc.  We are familiar with these words because we hear them uttered by the priest (in persona Christi) every time we attend Mass.
One of the really big questions we have to ask ourselves as followers of Christ is: how long can we ignore what Christ is telling us what to do and still expect to be on the road to Sanctification.
Those versed in Liturgical history are familiar with the fact that as early as the writing of the New Testament, the Eucharist was simply identified as the “breaking of the bread” and therefore presumed to be sharing from a common loaf rather than individual wafers.  It is also common knowledge that Communion was distributed under both species until the eleventh century ( i.e. in the Western Church; it has always been maintained in the Eastern Rites.)  Even the most recent General Introduction to the Roman Missal admits this.
From the earliest days of the Church believers have always theologized, or tried to probe more deeply into the revealed mysteries.  Thus, e.g. we have had some development in our finite understanding of such mysteries as the Trinity, the Incarnation and the role of Mary, mother of Jesus.  The Eucharist is no exception.  Believers inevitably came to question in what sense is the resurrected and glorious Christ truly present in the Eucharist.  Not surprisingly the answer was not immediately unanimous.  The arguments broke out into controversy in the 8th century among the monks of Flanders (northern modern France and Belgium).   Over the next century or two, the consensus finally became that Christ’s presence in the Eucharist was far more than merely symbolic, but actual physical presence (remember we are dealing with a mystery).  As a result of this realization both clergy and laity became much more concerned about exercising proper reverence for the real presence.  It was at this time that individual hosts were introduced by reason of the fear of spilling crumbs containing the real presence.  Simultaneously the Chalice was now withheld from the laity out of fear that since it continued to taste like wine, it might be spilled or otherwise abused by the laity.   Incidentally, another by- product of the new mentality of extreme reverence led to a severe drop off of communion reception by the laity out of a sense of unworthiness, and replacing reception was the practice of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
So, e.g. during the time of St. Thomas Aquinas, in the thirteenth century,  the Church instituted the feast of Corpus Christi, with the emphasis at the time on processions, benedictions and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.  St. Thomas, by the way is the theologian who finally worked out the doctrine of concomitance, i.e. even though the laity were now receiving only one species, each specie contained both the body and blood of Christ.  This was in direct response to the fact that the chalice had been withdrawn from the laity, and was a defense of the then current practice, because he realized that a defense was necessary.
One should know that nevertheless there were some agitations from time to time that  reception from the Chalice should be restored to the laity out of concern for fidelity to the instructions of Jesus.  The Western Church, however had to face the really worrisome rebellion  in central Europe by the Bohemians led by Jan Hus  in the fifteenth century, who among other things demanded the restoration of the Chalice.  Considering the quirks of human nature, it is not surprising that the response from Rome to such a threatening rebellion was a resounding no!  Not long thereafter in the following century along came Martin Luther, who also advocated restoring the chalice to the laity.  Bear in mind there was now room for considerable confusion among simply folk as to whether they were in a Catholic or Lutheran liturgy.  Rome’s answer, not surprising under the circumstances, once again was no to the chalice for Catholics (to make clear the distinction from Lutherans).  Thus we were frozen in a confrontational reaction to those threatening the unity of the Church.
Only in the beginning of the twentieth century, under the aegis of St. Pius X did the Church allow Communion to be given to children and once again advocate frequent Communion.  For many of us who have studied and lived in the era of Vatican II reforms, it is manifestly evident that fifty years are but a drop in the bucket when trying to get the faithful to embrace reforms.  So, e.g. when the Church’s Canon Law was previously reformed (1917), more than a decade after Pius X’s advocacy, it had to include a law requiring Catholics to receive Communion at least once per year.   Meanwhile as frequent Communion finally came back,  liturgists were once again agitating for the return of the Chalice to the laity, as the original tradition of Christ’s Church, and as uninterruptedly maintained by the Eastern Rites.
It is hardly surprising that Vatican II, called ostensibly to address the role of the Church in the modern world, as the very first item on its agenda, dealt with liturgical reform, and among many other things in reforming the Western (note once again, not the Eastern) Rite, restored the chalice to the laity.
Fifty years later, what do we see in our Parishes?  One in five?  One in six.  Indisputably only a minority listening to Jesus words: “Take and drink, all of you…” seem to be taking Him at His word.  Certainly there are justifiable exceptions, e.g. alcoholism, having an infectious ailment such as a cold or the flu, or having a weakened immune system which can’t tolerate even the chance of contact with germs.  But are these exceptions statistically the majority we see ignoring the Chalice?
The fullness of the Sacrament of the Eucharist is the reception of the bread and the wine as the Sacramental signs indicating Christ’s body and blood.  Listen to His Words!

The Letter to the Hebrews
For the weekday Masses starting  Monday January 12th until Saturday February 7th, i.e. for four weeks, the first reading is from the Letter to the Hebrews.  When heard just a little bit at a time, it may well be difficult to follow what it is all about.  In addition, this letter, because it is written by a convert from Judaism in order to encourage fellow Jewish converts to persevere in their conversion, quotes from the Old Testament Scriptures of the Jews to support his exhortation some 35 times.  But in doing so he doesn’t  explicitly say he is quoting  but rather simply says something like: “it is said, or “just as he said” (presuming the Scriptures are God”s word).  Therefore, unless we are very familiar with the Old Testament, when we hear the Letter from the Hebrews proclaimed from the sanctuary, we may not recognize that at times we are hearing the Old Testament being used to further an argument to believe in the New.
And what might be the basic argument?  It was accepted that the Messiah would be from the family line of David and would therefore be a king.  Jesus fit this expectation.  What they did not expect was that He would also be a priest, one who offered the perfect sacrifice –i.e. obedience – even unto death – to God.
Recall from the Acts of the Apostles that in the early days after Christ’s ascension, the disciples continued to go to the Temple in Jerusalem to pray.  But then, when they reflected that Jesus said that He Himself was a new temple not made of stone, they began to see that the Jerusalem Temple and the old hereditary Levitical  priesthood were no longer relevant.
How to argue this insight?  The author of the letter to the Hebrews used the same style used by his Jewish contemporaries  in interpreting the Scriptures.  He used as a type, the priest Melchizedek  found in the book of Genesis, i.e. one who appeared as it were out of nowhere and therefore we don’t know his background or what might have happened to  him after father Abraham gave him a tenth of his possessions.  And so psalm 110 proclaims that Melchizedek’s priesthood is forever.  The author of the letter to the Hebrew’s takes this as a foreshadowing of the forever priesthood of Christ.
Note that the style used  by the author of this letter– in many ways similar to the way a sermon might progress, often repeats himself in order to drive home his point:  we have a new once and forever sacrifice offered by a new kind of priest based in the person of Christ, and that sacrifice is not of animals but of a perfect obedience to the will of God. As the prophet Amos preached: God desires obedience and not sacrifice in the old sense.  Or as Jesus taught us to pray: “Thy will be done on earth ….as it is in heaven.”
By the way, during the sacrifice of the Mass, what we are called to do before all else is to join Christ’s sacrificial mentality of perfect obedience to whatever God asks of us. Because we have not yet perfectly put on this mind is why we have to keep coming back to try again and again
What was the allure of Baal?
How often do we find in the Old Testament references to the infidelity of God’s chosen people by their worship of the false god called Baal?  Chronologically it seems that this was an ongoing problem for the Israelites which lasted hundreds of years, starting from the time of Joshua right up to at least the Babylonian captivity, some seven hundred years later.  Perhaps it would help to consider the following. During their final days in Egypt, the Hebrews were more or less slaves of the Egyptians, at least to the degree that they were heavily involved – involuntarily, mind you – in some of the major construction projects of the Pharaohs.   As such their time and energies were wholly dedicated to those projects.  It would appear that for the most part, the Pharaohs provided the foodstuffs which kept them going on a daily basis.  Moses became their leader and led them out of Egypt, not because they had as yet personally experienced the true God/Yahweh as he had, but because he reminded them that God had promised their fathers Abraham and Isaac, their own land to the north as their inheritance.  At that point they experienced Yahweh as a powerful God who could overcome the Egyptians and allow them to miraculously escape.  The price was to worship Yahweh and NO OTHER.  The book of Exodus tells us that all too often they longed for “the good old days” in Egypt rather than the hardships of the wilderness, and as a result God punished them by letting a whole generation pass before introducing them into the promised land under Joshua.  Consider therefore, when they entered the promised land they had not been farmers for generations.  They had to learn how to be successful farmers if they were to survive.  Who would teach them how, but the local Canaanites?  How did the Canaanites farm?  Bear in mind this is the pre-scientific age.  Among other things the weather in Canaan is peculiar in that for the most part it rains only in the springtime.  The Canaanites planted their seeds in early spring and then prayed to the fertility gods that the rains might come and their crops be successful (It’s not that important exactly how they worshiped, which had its own enticements).  To oversimplify a bit, the fact is that the rains did come and they did have successful crops and prospered.  What were the Hebrews to think?  Wouldn’t it be easy to think if one is going to be a farmer and therefore to eat isn’t the Canaanite tradition the way to go about it?  All their contemporaries believed in multiple gods (In fact in Biblical Hebrew, the word for god has only a plural form – no singular). Their contemporaries had various gods depending on various needs. The Hebrews experience of Yahweh did not include the experience of successful farming.  Yes, the commandments mediated by Moses demanded belief in only one God.  The challenge to that faith seemed to be that while recognizing Yahweh as the most powerful, wouldn’t it be prudent to play it safe and included the fertility god Baal to make sure there was food on the table?  The issue it would seem was the human tendency to straddle the fence, to compromise.  It wasn’t so much that they were directly denying Yahweh was God as implicitly doing so by hedging their bets, as it were.  As stated above at the beginning, it took a very long time to get the message that God does not tolerate fence straddling and compromise when it comes to our relationship with Him. We can’t have both God and mammon, however alluring a little mammon might be.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Have you said RAQA to another recently?
Today's (Fri. of 2nd week in Lent) Gospel (Matt. 5:20-26) reminds those who believe in the New Law that not only is it wrong to commit murder but it is not permitted to even be angry with another.  In so teaching, Jesus says: "But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother , RAQA, will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoevere says, 'you fool' will be liable to firey Gehenna."
Please note the following:
Jesus started his discourse by saying that he did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.  He then lauches into the Beatitudes as a fulfillment of the ten commandments, and shortly thereafter is the passage cited above.
A pattern appears which occurs time and again:  you have heard it said of old, or something similar, followed by: But I say to you! (i.e. the New Law)
As a whole it would appear that Jesus is trying to get his listeners to see that what God is looking for is far more than exterior or legalistic conformity to the Law.  Rather as is often said, He is radicalizing the Old Testament Law.  He is trying to get at interior dispositions   (note the reaction of the crowd when he finishes:"Jesus finished this discourse and left the crowds spellbound at his teaching.  The reason was  that he taught with authority....")(i.e. beyond mere human opinion)
In this particular passage Jesus uses a word/phrase which is not translated into the original Greek text but is simply transliterated as orignally spoken:  RAQA.  Many scholars have looked to Biblical Hebrew for the meaning of this word.  But, in everyday speech and especially in all likelyhood since he was addressing Gallileans, Jesus would have been speaking colloquial Aramaic rather than Hebrew, and in Aramaic it appears that this word means: I SPIT ON YOU, which obviously is a phrase of derision, and in fact even in Jesus' time , if one actually spit, could get one taken before the Sanhedrin for judgement.
So, once again when we pierce its radical meaning, loving one's neighbor rules out derisive language to or about him.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Although the Sunday readings at Mass are generally on a three year cycle since the reforms of 1970 went into effect, nevertheless, on the 1st Sun. of Lent the Gospel is always St. Matthew’s account of the temptations of Jesus (Mt 4:1-11)
Biblical Scholars tell us that St. Matthew’s Gospel in general presents Jesus to us as the new Moses/Israel, giving us a new law and where the old Israel failed historically in its relations with God, Jesus, as the new Israel (people of God) reverses those failures.
So, e.g. as the Old Law begins with the Genesis accounts of creation, etc. St. Matthew begins his Gospel with the birth of Christ (not dealt with in St. Mark or St. John’s Gospels) and before He begins His public ministry he goes out into the desert as did the original Israelites, and not surprisingly the number 40 is used to describe the period of preparatory testing.
The crux is that three temptations are described and in the history of salvation these were the principal failures of God’s people in the Old Testament, i.e. they came into the Holy Land from the desert unacquainted with farming and had to learn from the people of the land (Canaanites) how to provide themselves with food to satisfy their hunger.  Unfortunately the Canaanites at that time thought that in addition to preparing the ground and planting the seed, it was then necessary to worship the fertility gods (principally Baal) in order to obtain a successful harvest.  We find repeatedly in the Old Testament that Israelites were found to be worshiping fertility gods in order to have success in filling their stomachs.  I think it important to note that it wasn’t so much that they denied the LORD as they thought they could worship both.  Note the commandment: there is only ONE God.  The error was in thinking they could have it both ways.  After 40 days, Jesus too was hungry, but He passed this test which they had so often failed. Of course we don’t have this problem, do we?  We never place material security before God in our everyday priorities.  We never try to have it both ways when it comes to priorities between God and material things – we who have to maneuver our lives through perhaps the most materialistically preoccupied culture ever.  Are we sure we also don’t have a problem here?
The early settlements of God’s people in the promised land saw them waiting for God’s Spirit to lead them in times of crises (e.g. Bk. of Judges).  Eventually, however, the people came to the prophet Samuel and demanded that he anoint for them a king – SO THAT THEY COULD BE LIKE THE OTHER NATIONS!  The prophet Samuel tried to warn them that they were heading in the wrong direction in demanding a human king rather than looking to God as their King. The history that followed is full of episodes of the kings being too much like those of the other nations and leading the people astray.  As the old adage goes: power corrupts.  Satan offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the earth; Jesus passed this test as well.  Of course, this doesn’t apply to us either, does it?  Jesus our king comes to us as an exemplar of humility, so I guess we don’t have to worry about pride, reputation, a lust for power in its many forms – do we?  In our everyday lives do we swim with the current of the values around us? – just like the others?  Or do we let the Gospel be our guide?

Finally the third temptation of Jesus was Satan having Him on the parapet of the Temple and challenging Him to jump off, because as Psalm 90 would have it, the angels would protect Him.  Here lies the sin of presumption.  The Old Testament history of Israel was a series of presumptions.  They were so sure that they had the most powerful God looking after them, that time and again they turned a deaf ear to the prophets and failed to repent!  They knew that God loved them.  They presumed they would be forgiven their unrepented faults.  (E.g. they were shocked when Jerusalem was conquered).  Jesus did not take the bait.  Of course, we don’t have a problem here, do we?   We don’t have any unrepented faults.   We’re going to heaven because God loves us no matter what kind of persons  we are.  That seems to be the general understanding in our contemporary culture. Are we sure it isn’t presumption?
            50 yrs. After SACROSANCTUM CONCILIUM
Fifty years ago (12/4/1963)  the fathers of Vatican Council II issued the first of its official pronouncements intended to bring the Church face to face with the contemporary world.  Blessed Pope John XXIII who called the Council called it aggiornamento, often translated into English as bringing up to date.  That first document called from its opening Latin words Sacrosanctum Concilium  is perhaps better known as the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.  It has since been identified by many commentators of the Council as the first issue addressed by the fathers because it was considered the least controversial on the one hand, while on the other there had been more than fifty years of theological groundwork previously prepared as the foundation for the basic teachings of that Constitution, starting with Dom Lambert Beauduin ‘s address to the National Congress of Catholic Action at Malines, Belgium in 1909 and embraced by such as Odo Casel, Pius Parsch, Romano Guardini and many more too numerous to mention all of whom contributed to what become known as the Liturgical Movement and which led to the 1947 Encyclical of Pope Pius XII Mediator Dei which was the first Papal Encyclical dedicated to the issue of Liturgy.  Bear in mind that before Vatican II  Pius XII had already started some ritual reforms with the 1955 changes he made for Holy Week.
Up until Vatican II, the Church had been using a liturgy largely formulated by the Council of Trent of the Sixteenth Century, and finally fixed in the Western Rites church in the Seventeenth Century, i.e. an era when the Latin language was more widely familiar than in the Twentieth Century as well as before the outbreak of modern science and the philosophic enlightenment and the changed mentalities they generated.  The liturgy, which lives and breathes by means of meaningful symbols, by Vatican II was generally recognized to be in need of reform.  As stated at the time by Cardinal Raul Silva Henriquez of Santiago, Chile during the Council’s discussions: “The Sacramental signs are not to conceal the mysteries of faith but to reveal them” Note: the objective was not to depart from Tradition, but to recognize that liturgy is an organic reality, able to be modified and grow without losing contact with the underlying mysteries it provides. 
The key ideas of Sacrosanctum Concilium which the faithful were asked to absorb and make their own  were that the Liturgy, in particular the Eucharist is the summit and source (fons et culmen) of the very life of the Church, i.e.of all truly Christian activity; that all priests (baptized ) offer worship together (i.e. each contributes) under the authority of the ordained priest (who acts in persona Christi);  and that the key to this  is “active participation” (actuoso participatio –urged as far back as Pope Pius X in his 1903 Motu Proprio).
The Constitution gave rise to many wonderful ritual reforms which were finally available to us in 1970,  e.g. we now pray together in a language we can readily understand (in all seven sacraments).  God’s inspired Word in the Biblical readings have now been increased threefold, presumably  giving us a much greater familiarity  and benefit from Sacred Scripture.  Greater opportunities are now available for participation in the fullness of the sacramental sign of the Eucharist in the sharing of not only the loaf that is broken but the cup that Jesus directed we drink of.  We have access to a meaningful variety of prefaces and canons.  Where there might be a plurality of ordained priests, e.g. religious communities or synods of the ordained,  the ancient rite of concelebration  has been restored. There is now opportunity for a prayer of the faithful, which presumably embraces the current  needs and desires of the particular assembly gathered.  These are but some of the organic changes the Constitution gave rise to.
For those who lived through the period of the ritual changes, there was the very real challenge of letting go of old habits and opening up to the Spirit of the times.  What is terribly important to grasp is that the ritual changes were not an end in themselves.  To borrow the words of Winston Churchill, the ritual changes were  not the end but the end of the beginning.  The fruits of Sacrosanctum Concilium have not yet been attained!  So, e.g. in the nineteen seventies when we first encountered the changes, we heard a lot from the pulpit about active participation, and while it may well continue to be debated exactly what that means, it remains critical if the liturgy is to be the summit and source of our lives as Christians.  Yet this reminder seems to have fallen into a prolonged period of silence, and many attendees continue to do so as passive mute witnesses to the Sacred Mysteries before them.  Article 48 of the Constitution, e.g. teaches that the faithful should take part “ per ritus et preces id (=eucharisticum mysterium) bene intelligentes”  which is generally understood to mean that participation in one’s mind only is inadequate.  Rather, all are called to conscious, prayerful and active participation in the liturgical action.  Joining together in the action is primary. The quest for liturgical meaning and spiritual growth among the faithful to a point where it is the font and source of the very life of the Church/people of God remains ongoing.   Sacrosanctum Concilium provides us with principles and reminds us of this goal and expectation – always still to be obtained.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wolves and Sheep

today's Mass readings: i.e. Acts 20:28-38  Paul to the disciples at Ephesus: "I know that after my departure savage wolves will come among you, and they will not spare the flock.  And from your own group, men will come forward perverting the truth to draw the disciples away after them."  And John 17:11b-19: Jesus' prayer for his disciples: " I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the Evil One."
How many times in the Scriptures  is the imagery of sheep or flock used to depict the followers of Jesus, (who presents himself as the good shepherd) and how many times  is the imagery of wolves use to depict their worst enemy, the Evil one?  Does the contemporary multicultural, non judgmental mentality really recognize that much of the culture around us and to be concrete, many of the people around us are anything but helpful to true discipleship?  When are we going to wake up to the fact that we can't spend our lives floating along with the currents of contemporary mores and still honestly call ourselves followers of Christ?  What does it mean to be " the world, but not of the world"?