Friday, April 29, 2011

"A Virile, Muscular Catholicism"

One of the greatest days of my life: February 20, 2000

From the ubiquitous Fr. Z in the Washington Post:

Pope John Paul II: Fearless in hope and love By Fr. John Zuhlsdorf In some cities in the USA when a local team wins a basketball game, crowds burn cars. But when John Paul II’s body was lying on view in St. Peter’s Basilica, one first responder, police officer and volunteer worker after the next told me that there had not been a single act of civil disobedience or problem reported. That means something. During the days which preceded his funeral, armed with media credentials I was able to move freely through the checkpoints and channels for the millions, literally, of people who stood in slow moving lines for scores of hours to see the dead Pope’s body for the last time. Peacefulness, prayer and patience reigned.
 At the end of the funeral, the wind blew closed the cover of Book of the Gospels. Men lifted John Paul’s onto their shoulders. They stopped before the open doors of the Basilica and slowly pin-wheeled, as if to give him one last public wave. A shout went up, simultaneous because of the huge video screens along the nearby streets. That shout, which echoed across a silent and motionless Rome, may have been the single loudest purely human sound ever raised on high in that City of over 3000 years.
 There began the rising chant of the people, “Santo Subito… Sainthood Soon”. It may have been a manifestation of the old adage Vox Populi Vox Dei… The Voice of the People is the Voice of God. I don’t know that, but it was unlike any chant I had ever heard before. Of course when in Rome you hear the word “subito,” especially from a waiter, you almost never expect what you’ve requested to happen quickly. And yet here we are at his beatification.
 Leaving aside the issue of the record-breaking speed of the late Pope John Paul II’s beatification (2220 days, 15 days faster the Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta), we should all be able to remember and agree on some of the achievements of his life as a good man, a faithful member of his Catholic Church, and life-long disciple of the Lord and Savior he so obviously loved. 
 A pebble can prompt a tumultuous landslide. John Paul dropped a great many stones. Many of them are still gathering speed. On the geopolitical plane, the visit of John Paul II to his native Poland after his election as pope helped to diminish worldwide the soul annihilating forces of atheistic communism. Within the church, after a decade and more of internal rebellion and chaos, John Paul’s manifest confidence, love of neighbor and focus on the Redeemer of man initiated the gradual rebuilding of order and morale, especially among young people, which continues still under the pontificate of Pope Benedict. 
From the early loss of his parents and the hardship of a youth under Nazi occupation, including forced labor and serious injury, to the sorrow of seeing his beloved Poland and her people suffer under communism, from witnessing open defiance on the part of clergy and theologians within the church to being shot by an assassin in St. Peter’s Square, from the horror of emerging of stories about abuse of children, to the ever increasing agony of Parkinson’s Disease which sapped his vitality and imprisoned him in physical weakness, John Paul radiated hope.
 Even as he became smaller, he seemed to become all the greater, for it was Christ who increased in him. Young people were inspired by his joy. The frail elderly man gradually brightened as a beacon of hope to us all. Let us not forget that we too are daily drawing closer to our own decline and death with their attendant pains and challenges. We will be no less precious and valuable when we grow weaker. In his choice to suffer publicly, John Paul taught us that love of God and beauty of soul are the truly human values which matter, not wealth or youthful beauty or passing worldly goods. John Paul stood as a sign of contradiction in an increasingly shallow and materialist age.
 John Paul strode onto the church’s stage announcing a virile, muscular Catholicism even as he relentlessly taught in his writing and preaching about the dignity of the human person, that we must not treat others – especially women, unborn and elderly - as objects to be used or discarded for our own selfish convenience. Each person, from the defenseless unborn to the defenseless senior, is precious in God’s sight and made in God’s image and likeness. John Paul’s “theology of the body,” as it has been dubbed, presented a view of man with which countless young people were able to resonate.
 As Blessed John Paul, or just plain pope, or simply Karol, he was a giant of a man who persevered in his simple message to his very last heartbeat: Do not be afraid to love your Lord with all your heart and strength and love your neighbor as you love yourself.
 Fr John Zuhlsdorf, a convert from Lutheranism, is a writer for various Catholic publications. He wrangles a popular blog with frank commentary on Catholic issues ( He was ordained a priest in 1991 by Pope John Paul II.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Homily: Holy Thursday

“Christ our Paschal Lamb has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the festival.”
-1 Corinthians 5:7

My dear sisters in Christ,

1. In the film The Passion of the Christ there is a great scene from Holy Thursday where Mary the Mother of Jesus and Mary Magdelene are sleeping, and Mary the Mother of Jesus suddenly awakens from sleep. Mary Magdelen asks here “What Mary. What is it?” The Blessed mother responds “Listen. “Why is this night different from every other night?” Magdelene looks at her knowing that something is very wrong, and responds saying “because once we were slaves and we are slaves no longer.” This question and its response is one of great importance, because it a question that is asked every time a Jewish family gathers to celebrate the Passover meal. It sets the tone for everything that will transpire during that sacred meal wherein the sacrificial lamb is eaten. The Last Supper, the event that we mystically enter into this evening, is the Passover of the New Covenant, where Christ the Paschal Lamb is sacrificed and given to us as the food of eternal life. So why, my dear sisters, is this night different from every other night? Because once we were slaves and we are slaves no longer.

2. Pope Benedict points out in his latest book, the second part of Jesus of Nazareth, that
in St. John’s Gospel, he goes to great lengths to indicate that the Last Supper was not a Passover meal. On the contrary: the Jewish authorities who led Jesus before Pilate’s court avoided entering the praetorium, “so that they might not be defiled, but might eat the Passover” (18:28). The Passover, therefore, began only in the evening, and at the time of the trial the Passover meal had not yet taken place; the trial and crucifixion took place on the day before the Passover, on the “day of preparation”, not on the feast day itself…According to this chronology, Jesus dies at the moment when the Passover lambs are being slaughtered in the Temple. Jesus dies as the real lamb, merely prefigured by those slain in the Temple. (Benedict XVI, 83).”

In order to grasp the significance of Jesus being the true and final paschal lamb let’s take some time to examine the requirements for the Passover meal, including the sacrificing of the paschal lamb and see just how well Jesus fulfills the law and the prophets.

3. The Passover meal during the time of Jesus had four general steps, although there are many more small steps involved. First, as we heard in our first reading, the father of the family is to procure a male lamb in its prime, one year old, that is without blemish of any kind. It is not to be sick, diseased, or imperfect in any way whatsoever.

4. Second, the lamb was to be sacrificed without breaking any of its bones so that it would be sacrificed in its perfection. In the time of the Exodus it was the father of the household that slaughtered the lamb in virtue of their familial priesthood, but by the time of Christ, it was the priests in the temple who slaughtered all the paschal lambs in the temple, and their blood was poured out at the base of the altar. This is why it was necessary for every Jew at the time of Christ to celebrate the Passover it Jerusalem, since it was only there that the lamb could be sacrificed. Since every Jew who wanted to fulfill the law and celebrate the Passover had to travel to Jerusalem, the streets would be teeming with people, the temple would be filled with men bringing their families lamb to be slaughtered by the priests in the temple. Josephus the great historian of the time of Jesus gives us a fairly detailed description of what it was like in Jerusalem and in the Temple at Passover time. He says

So these high priests, upon the coming of their feast which is called the Passover, when they slay their sacrifices, from the ninth hour (about 3pm) to the eleventh (about 5pm), but so that a company not less than ten belong to every sacrifice (for it is not lawful for them to feast singularly by themselves, and many of us are twenty in a company, for the number of sacrifices as 256,500; which, upon the allowance of no more than ten that feast together, amounts to 2,700,200 persons (Josephus, War 6:423-27).

Another fascinating bit of information about how the paschal lambs were sacrificed in the time of Jesus is that they were, get this, crucified! This is described in a book entitled Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist:
As the Israeli scholar Jospeh Tabory has shown, according to the Mishnah, at the time when the Temple still stood, after the sacrifice of the lamb, the Jews would drive “thin smooth staves” of wood through the shoulders of the lamb in order to hang it and skin it (Pesahim 5:9). In addition to this first rod, they would also “thrust” a “skewer of pomegranate wood” through the Passover lamb “from its mouth to its buttocks” (Pesahim 7:1). As Tabory concludes, “An examination of the rabbinic evidence…seems to show that in Jerusalem the Jewish paschal lamb was offered in a manner which resembled a crucifixion (Brant Pitre, 53).

This is also attested to by St. Justin, Martyr and the mystic Blessed Anne Catherine Emmeric in their writings.

5. So, my dear sisters, imagine for a moment what it must have been like to witness this sort of spectacle. Imagine the veritable hemorrhage of blood that would be flowing from altar of sacrifice as the blood of these two hundred thousand lambs was dashed against the altar. Imagine the sound of the sheep bleating as their throats were slit. Imagine the smell of the animals and the blood. Imagine the lifeless, bloodless, bodies of those perfect unblemished lambs on those wooden crosses waiting to be roasted and eaten.

6. This leads to the third step, the roasting and eating of the Paschal lamb. This step was of the utmost importance for the Jewish people, and ultimately for God who commanded them to do this. To just sacrifice the lamb was not enough, it had to be roasted and eaten. In order to be saved from the final plague, the death of the firstborn son, you had to both sacrifice and eat the Paschal Lamb. Again a quote from the book Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist will drive home this point. The author says

If they took the lamb, sacrificed the lamb, spread the blood of the lamb (on the doorposts), but did not eat the lamb, what would have been the result? Well, the Book of Exodus does not say. But it’s a good guess that when they awoke the next morning, their firstborn son would be dead. For, as any ancient Jew would have known, the Passover sacrifice was not completed by the death of the lamb, but by eating its flesh…The Passover was not completed by the death of the victim, but by a “communion” of sorts – by eating the flesh of the sacrifice that had been killed on your behalf (Pitre, 49).

7. The fourth and final step is that the Passover was to be repeated every year, it was to be a perpetual memorial of how God had delivered the Israelites from slavery to the promised land. And this memorial was no mere commemoration of a past event, but in the Jewish mind, when celebrating a memorial of this sort, one actually entered into the past event. It was somehow mysteriously made present even though in time it was a past event.

8. So, my dear sisters, what does this lesson on the Passover have to do with anything? It has everything do with Jesus and the great gift which he instituted on this most holy of nights. Jesus, the Messiah, while celebrating the Passover was at the same time fulfilling Jewish law and inaugurating a New Passover, not one that freed us from the slavery of the Egyptians, but one that freed us from the slavery of Sin. Jesus did all of the things required of the law, yet he altered the Passover so as to make it His own, the Passover of the Messiah.

For instance, whereas the Passover usually focused on the covenant with Abraham, Jesus focused on the New Covenant in His Blood. Whereas the Passover usually focused on the body and blood of the lamb of sacrifice. First, the lamb would be slaughtered, and the priests in the Temple would pour out the blood of the lamb on the altar. Then the Jews would bring the body of the lamb from the Temple to the Passover meal, and the father would explain its meaning at the meal. Yet at the Last Supper, Jesus did something entirely different. With his words of explanation, he shifted the focus away from the body and blood of the Passover lamb (of which there is no mention), and turned it toward his own body and blood (Pitre, 58).

When we compare Jesus’ actions to these ancient Jewish traditions, it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out his point. By means of his words over the bread and wine of the Last Supper, Jesus is saying in no uncertain terms, “I am the new Passover lamb of the new exodus. This is the Passover of the Messiah, and I am the new sacrifice.” (Pitre, 59)

9. We also see Jesus setting up this new Passover as a perpetual memorial, one that would allow those who partake in it to enter into the first Passover of the Messiah, the Passover where He, the true Lamb of God is slain to set us free from sin. This Passover of the Messiah began at the Last Supper, and ended as He, the true Lamb of Sacrifice was slaughtered on Calvary. Imagine, dear sisters, how, according to the chronology of the Gospel of St. John, just outside of the gates of the City of Jerusalem, and facing East toward the Holy of Holies, Jesus the spotless and unblemished Lamb of God, without a bone being broken, is nailed to a cross, and his blood is dashed upon the altar of the cross as it flows from His Sacred Wounds. This is the Passover of the Messiah.

10. My dear sisters, tonight we have the privilege of entering once again into that great Passover of the Messiah. Tonight, I, unworthy as I am, will make present that moment when the True Lamb was slain. We blood is poured out. His body is crucified. He gives his life so that we may be set free from the slavery of sin, and it will all happen right here before our very eyes. Then, so that the sacrifice may be complete and we may indeed share in the freedom He is holding out to us, we will eat the very flesh of the Lamb and we will smear our lips with his life-blood. We will become one with the Lamb, and thus it becomes possible for eternal death to pass over us.

11. My sisters, why is this night different from every other night? Because once we were slaves and we are slaves no longer. “Christ our Paschal Lamb has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the festival.”

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Everything You Wanted To Know About Why We Veil Sacred Images But Were Afraid to Ask

Ever wonder why the images are veiled in Church from the Fifth Sunday of Lent until the Easter Vigil? Here is your answer from the New Theological Movement:

It has been the custom of the Roman Church, at least in modern times (we mean from the 17th Century forward), to veil the crosses and the images of the saints from the 5th Sunday of Lent until Easter. This has been, and ought to continue to be, one of the defining characteristics of the season of Passiontide – a season which, if after the postconciliar liturgical reforms lost in name, need not be lost in spirit.
Still in many churches throughout the West, crosses and statues are veiled now and will remain veiled for two full weeks. The Catholic Encyclopedia describes this custom as follows: “Before Vespers of Saturday preceding Passion Sunday [i.e. the 5th Sunday of Lent] the crosses, statues, and pictures of our Lord and of the saints on the altar and throughout the church, with the sole exception of the crosses and pictures of the Way of the Cross, are to be covered with a violet veil, not translucent, nor in any way ornamented. The crosses remain covered until after the solemn denudation of the principal crucifix on Good Friday. The statues and pictures retain their covering, no matter what feast may occur, until the Gloria in Excelsis of Holy Saturday.” However, it is noted that the statue of St. Joseph may remain uncovered, if outside the sanctuary, during the month of March, which is dedicated to his honor.
Of course, this practice is no longer mandatory in the Novus Ordo, but it is certainly permitted. However, if the custom is to return to popularity, it will be necessary to come to some understanding of the meaning behind the veiling. Why does the Church veil the cross in these final days of Lent, a time when she is most intent on meditating upon the Lord's dolorous passion?

The Mystical Interpretation
Abbot Gueranger enlightens us with a mystical interpretation of the Gospel which, in former times, was read on this Sunday: As Christ hid himself from the rage of the Jewish authorities (John 8:59), so now he is hidden from the world in preparation for the mysteries of his passion.
“The presentiment of that awful hour [of our Savior’s passion] leads the afflicted mother [the Church] to veil the image of her Jesus: the cross is hidden from the eyes of the faithful. The statues of the saints, too, are covered; for it is but just that, if the glory of the Master be eclipsed, the servant should not appear.
“The interpreters of the liturgy tell us that this ceremony of veiling the crucifix during Passiontide, expresses the humiliation to which our Savior subjected Himself, of hiding Himself when the Jews threatened to stone Him, as is related in the Gospel of Passion Sunday [John 8:46-59, They took up stones therefore to cast at him. But Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple (John 8:59)]. The Church begins this solemn rite with the Vespers of the Saturday before Passion Sunday.”
The Spiritual Interpretation
Dom Gueranger continues and directs us to acts of devotion for the Cross: “Twice during the course of the year, that is, on the feasts of its Invention and Exaltation, this sacred Wood will be offered to us that we may honour it as the trophy of our Jesus’ victory; but now, it speaks to us but of His sufferings, it brings with it no other idea but that of His humiliation.”
Considering that, in the season of our Lord’s passion, all the strength of our devotion should be directed to the Cross of Christ, we may be surprised that the images of the Cross are to be covered in these days. However, when we recognize that we now venerate the Cross not so much as an emblem of victory (as in the Triumph of the Cross) but as an instrument of humiliation and suffering, we will soon understand the spiritual realities which are conveyed through the covering of the crosses.
In his passion, our Savior’s divinity was almost totally eclipsed, so great was his suffering. Likewise, even his humanity was obscured – so much so that he could say through his prophet: I am a worm and no man (Psalm 21:7). His face and whole body were so disfigured by the blows and scourges that our Jesus was scarcely recognizable! Thus, the wounds he endured hid both is divinity and his humanity. For this reason we veil the crosses in these final days of Lent – hiding our Savior under the sad purple cloth.
The Historical Interpretation
We will reproduce here the historical study offered by Fr. Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University (taken from Zenit):
“It probably derives from a custom, noted in Germany from the ninth century, of extending a large cloth before the altar from the beginning of Lent. This cloth, called the ‘Hungertuch’ (hunger cloth), hid the altar entirely from the faithful during Lent and was not removed until during the reading of the Passion on Holy Wednesday at the words ‘the veil of the temple was rent in two.’
“Some authors say there was a practical reason for this practice insofar as the often-illiterate faithful needed a way to know it was Lent. Others, however, maintain that it was a remnant of the ancient practice of public penance in which the penitents were ritually expelled from the church at the beginning of Lent. After the ritual of public penance fell into disuse — but the entire congregation symbolically entered the order of penitents by receiving ashes on Ash Wednesday — it was no longer possible to expel them from the church. Rather, the altar or ‘Holy of Holies’ was shielded from view until they were reconciled to God at Easter.
“For analogous motives, later on in the Middle Ages, the images of crosses and saints were also covered from the start of Lent. The rule of limiting this veiling to Passiontide came later and does not appear until the publication of the Bishops' Ceremonial of the 17th century.”
Another possibility?
We would like to propose another possibility, one which need not conflict with any of those give above. It may be possible that the Church covers the images of the Cross during these days, for the same reason that she refrains from offering the Sacrifice of the Mass on Good Friday. Namely, in this time in which we mystically enter into the historical realities of Jesus’ final days, it is not fitting to have the image, sign or sacrament of the Cross presented to the faithful.
Indeed, St. Thomas tells us that “the figure ceases on the advent of the reality. But this sacrament [i.e. the Eucharist] is a figure and a representation of our Lord's Passion, as stated above. And therefore on the day on which our Lord's Passion is recalled as it was really accomplished, this sacrament is not consecrated.” (ST III, q.83, a.2, ad 2) In an analogous way, it is fitting that, as the liturgical year recalls the events leading up to the Crucifixion, the Church should hide the effigies of the Cross from the vision of her faithful.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

This morning during Matins I was struck by the second reading by St. Leo the Great, so I thought I would share it with you. The bold sections are the sections that really struck me as being important points to come to realize in our own spiritual life.

True reverence for the Lord’s passion means fixing the eyes of our heart on Jesus crucified and recognizing in him our own humanity.

The earth—our earthly nature—should tremble at the suffering of its Redeemer. The rocks—the hearts of unbelievers—should burst asunder. The dead, imprisoned in the tombs of their mortality, should come forth, the massive stones now ripped apart. Foreshadowings of the future resurrection should appear in the holy city, the Church of God: what is to happen to our bodies should now take place in our hearts.

No one, however weak, is denied a share in the victory of the cross. No one is beyond the help of the prayer of Christ. His prayer brought benefit to the multitude that raged against him. How much more does it bring to those who turn to him in repentance. Ignorance has been destroyed, obstinacy has been overcome. The sacred blood of Christ has quenched the flaming sword that barred access to the tree of life. The age-old night of sin has given place to the true light.

The Christian people are invited to share the riches of paradise. All who have been reborn have the way open before them to return to their native land, from which they had been exiled. Unless indeed they close off for themselves the path that could be opened before the faith of a thief.

The business of this life should not preoccupy us with its anxiety and pride, so that we no longer strive with all the love of our heart to be like our Redeemer, and to follow his example. Everything that he did or suffered was for our salvation: he wanted his body to share the goodness of its head.

First of all, in taking our human nature while remaining God, so that the Word became man, he left no member of the human race, the unbeliever excepted, without a share in his mercy. Who does not share a common nature with Christ if he has welcomed Christ, who took our nature, and is reborn in the Spirit through whom Christ was conceived?

Again, who cannot recognize in Christ his own infirmities? Who would not recognize that Christ’s eating and sleeping, his sadness and his shedding of tears of love are marks of the nature of a slave?

It was this nature of a slave that had to be healed of its ancient wounds and cleansed of the defilement of sin. For that reason the only-begotten Son of God became also the son of man. He was to have both the reality of a human nature and the fullness of the godhead.

The body that lay lifeless in the tomb is ours. The body that rose again on the third day is ours. The body that ascended above all the heights of heaven to the right hand of the Father’s glory is ours. If then we walk in the way of his commandments, and are not ashamed to acknowledge the price he paid for our salvation in a lowly body, we too are to rise to share his glory. The promise he made will be fulfilled in the sight of all: Whoever acknowledges me before men, I too will acknowledge him before my Father who is in heaven.