Saturday, July 28, 2012

Blog # 259 Who is Jesus? Who are we?

Blog # 259    Who is Jesus? Who are we?

A person's name is unique to that person.   Our name may have the same spelling and sound as the name of our mother or father, uncle, aunt, or cousin, but as our name it is ours alone.  A name identifies a person, tells who he or she is, all throughout a person's life.

The color of our eyes, the number of hairs on our heads,  the number of our friends, the hopes and desires we hold in our hearts are all contained in our name.

So there is more to knowing a person's name than knowing the sound of it.  I could go that far and no further, but that is not all there is of the possibilities. As we grow in the closeness of friendship, I could discover and share our joys and sorrows, our hopes and disappointments, our struggles fears conquests goodness and love.   All of this would be discovering ever more perfectly who you are, your name.

One of my brothers has the name Thomas.  I know how to spell it.  I know how it sounds.  What other content might it have for me?   He was eight years older than I so he was already living in our house when I was born.  I had no way of knowing he was my brother other than by faith, on the word of another who was present at the time I was born.  He was a professional chemist, a university professor, the father of six, a very close friend.

When he died, with him at 86 and I at 78, we were well along in our experience of discovering who we were, in ourselves, and in our relationship with one another.  His name had much more in it for me as I stood at his bedside and watched him die than back during World War II  when I prayed God would protect him during his service in the US Navy. 

Our relationship and the content of his name continues to grow even to the present day.  In my memory of him I find myself inspired and encouraged in the life I am currently called to live.  I find myself wanting to think and speak and do things in  the way I remember Tom thinking, speaking, and doing things.

It is somewhat similar to this with Jesus.  We can ask the same questions of the name of Jesus as we can ask of the names of others.  He was born,lived, and died before we were born..  To know He lived we must believe, take it as true on the word of another.  A Jewish carpenter and rabbi, He claims to be the fulfillment of God's promise to Adam and Eve, to Abraham and his descendants, and to all seven billion human creatures now living on earth. His name is Jesus , Savior,  the name proclaimed for Him by Gabriel to  Mary before He was conceived in her womb.

 As time goes on we can discover  more and more of the meaning of that name, in the life and teachings of Jesus in the Bible, in  the Church, in history and the lives of holy people and of sinners, in our conscience, and in our everyday experiences.

Jesus claims to be the Savior of all, our personal  Savior, not only as model of good living or by way of an example for us to follow, but as a source of new life for  us, as God's children.

Jesus claims to be sent by the Father to teach us truth, and by sharing this truth, to send us into our world to bring His salvation there. (Jn 14: 6;  8 : 32;  20: 21)  .  Through faith and Baptism we are made one with Jesus.  His name is to be ours!  (Jn 15:5; Gal 2:20;  Col 3: 10).  We, with and in Him have a  part to play in bringing Salvation to  the world.  How few these days, even among believers, seem to realize the full impact of this truth.  Salvation,  to ourselves, to those around us, in our homes work places schools, here wherever we are, and  now.   

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Blog # 258 More on the Mass

Blog # 258  More on the Mass

This will be the fourth  in a series of blogs dealing with the subject of Catholic worship as it is experienced in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  Catholic folks in my age category between the ages of fifty and eighty four will easily be able to identify significant changes in the experience of  the Mass as it occurs Sunday after Sunday in our present year of 2012 and as it was thirty and forty years ago,  as for example the change from Latin to the vernacular, Holy Communion under both species,  the reception of  Communion in the hand and in a standing position,  lay readers of the first two lessons of the Mass,  girl servers, permanent Deacons preaching the homilies,  few people praying the rosary during Mass, more emphasis on  congregational singing,  use of  missalettes and the  entire congregation making the responses that were reserved to the altar boys years ago.

Some people had difficulty appreciating and accepting such changes. I know a few Catholics who stopped going to church because they viewed the changes as our 'becoming Protestant'.

The changes I have listed were significant but were  not essential to the identity or definition of the  Mass itself.  They were in the category of what you saw and heard, what the Mass looked like and sounded like rather than what the Mass was.  The ritual of the Mass and the Liturgical Year could be seen analogously as the wrapping in which the theological identity of the Mass was enfolded. 

In the course of several recent decades of years new opinions touching upon  the identity of  the Mass  appeared on the horizon and began to grow in popularity among some theologians and catechists.  An example of this would be the common reference to the Sacrifice of the Mass both in our adult and elementary religious education programs and literature with greater and sometimes almost total emphasis on the Mass as a holy meal  and less on it as a sacrifice in the context of a holy meal.

I found a typical manifestation and expression of this change in an article in a Diocesan Magazine that I had filed away about fifteen years ago.  The various parts of the liturgical celebration of the Mass are identified and presented in a way that corresponds to the various elements that go into an ordinary family reunion.  We agree to come together at a certain time and place,  next Sunday at a nearby State park ( 10:30 Mass at St. Thomas').   We share out stories, what happened in our lives since the previous reunion ( Epistle, Second  reading,  Gospel). We eat our meal together (Holy Communion). We thank one another for the happy reunion and go home ( Go in peace! Thanks be to God!).

A short article  in America magazine that I had filed away in March of  2000  gives evidence of a way of identifying a good  fruit or effect coming from  Mass attendance that should be recognized and cultivated but never to the extent of overshadowing or diminishing our awareness  of the  identity of the Mass as worship, directed to God alone as the primary goal and purpose of our celebration.   After negatively criticizing the Bishops who had just attended their  annual conference in Washington, DC  and issued a document on art and architecture in the church in line with the theme of the Conference ( Domus Dei - The House of God),  the author of the article I filed has this to say: "How refreshing and reassuring it would have been had some bishop stood up to say: "Jesus did  not institute the Eucharist to change bread and wine into his body and blood, but to  change us into his body.  The Mass is not meant to transform elements, but to transform people.  When he said, 'Behold I am with you always, until the end of the world,'  Jesus was not referring to his real presence in the Eucharist;  he was referring to his real presence in his people, the members of his body."  I am well aware of and supportive of the power and intent of offering the Mass  to sanctify us personally and as a community both in the experience of sacrificial worship and that of receiving Jesus into our lives in Holy Communion with the effect that experience should have in sanctifying our whole day. Both are gifts of God's redeeming merciful love and there is no conflict or competition between them. One is directed toward God alone and the other is directed toward those who offer the sacrifice and through them toward all of creation. One is in fulfillment of the first and greatest Commandment and the other in fulfillment of the second.   The opinions expressed in the article I just quoted are dangerous and untenable in the light of our Catholic  faith.     

Another article in my file from America Magazine from May, 2003 contains ideas that are also dangerous and untenable in the light of our Catholic faith.  Here is a quote from the article.  " A common definition of  sacrifice is "a gift to God in which the gift is destroyed or consumed".  Symbolizing the internal offering of commitment and surrender to God, its purpose is to acknowledge the dominion of God, effect reconciliation with God and give thanks for blessings or petition for further blessings.  That isn't bad. It may be what most people think of when they hear the word 'sacrifice'.  But as a definition of Christian sacrifice, it is a disaster.  Why?  Because when Jesus Christ invited us into the paschal mystery he did away with this kind of sacrifice.  To begin with the religions of the world in which the destruction of a gift or victim is the essential characteristic of sacrifice, and then try to verify this in the sacrifice of Christ and in Christian sacrifice - this is completely and disastrously backwards.  Essentially, it is asking non-Christian sacrifice to tell us what Christian sacrifice is.."  This is so clearly untrue that I would have had a very hard time imagining anyone taking it seriously and publishing it  in a national Catholic periodical as an argument against the official practice of the Church recognizing  the sacrifice of Calvary as an act of obedience to the Father and the greatest love for the Father Jesus could have experienced.  "There is no greater love than this..."

There are several other serious errors in the article to which I am referring.  If anyone 'out there' reading this blog would like further details in my thinking and response to them  just drop me a comment and I will be happy to accommodate you.

One more example of what was going on in the recent saveral decades of the Church's experience and local catechesis  as the percentage of Catholic regularly attending Mass went down, comes from the cover of a parish bulletin we were using in the parish where I was Pastor up in North Carolina  in 1991.  The brief article says: "studies show that the people who approached Mass with a positive attitude and a sense of purpose find weekend Eucharistic liturgies to be much more meaningful."  The article concludes by giving five "Positive reasons for attending Mass" :  a desire to find life's deepest meaning,  a sense of belonging to a praying community,  a hunger for the loving  presence of Christ in Word and Eucharist.  a need for forgiveness and healing, and a longing for renewed strength amid life's difficulties. " Worship was not mentioned among the motivating forces that give purpose and meaning to our attendance at Mass and the word sacrifice did not appear in the article!  Meanwhile the percentage of Catholics who reguarly attend Mass each week continues to decline. 

My concern is a question  about whether and why the possible  ignorance or unawareness of the nature of the Mass as sacrificial worship on the part of many in the congregation on a typical Sunday in our Catholic parishes may have come to be the actual situation throughout the country.  As parishes in our large metropolitan areas have grown to memberships numbering in the thousands the role of the priest was expanded to require skills and much time and energy devoted to other forms of work than the primary identifying role of a priest, namely that of representing the people in the Eucharistic Sacrifice.  At the same time qualified Catholic laymen and women began to activate their Baptismal covenant in the field of education, hospital staffing and administration, psychological  and spiritual counseling, and the Church's ministry to the poor.  There was a danger of the role of a priest , essentially and uniquely identified with sacrificial worship, becoming regarded as one among many roles in ministry a Catholic could choose.

The role of the priest is not to be seen as competitive or even compared with other roles of Christian ministry but in a category by itself.  The  meaning and value of the priesthood will be more or less depending upon a particular culture's knowledge, awareness, and response to God as the unique Creator of all that exists. To exclude or stand in ignorance or unawareness of sacrifice as the official God-given Christian method of worship would be like thinking sunshine comes from the moon! 


Also there has been an emphasis on the suffering of Jesus on Calvary as plaating the wrath of God rather than on the part of Jesus our high priest as a joyful act of perfect unconditional trust and total love offered to the  Father in sacrificial worship.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Blog # 257 The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass

Blog # 257   The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass

Blog # 256 ended with a promise  of  another blog that would share a few further insights focusing  upon the identity of the Mass as an act of sacrifice.  Blog # 256 was originally published over a week ago.  I can  hardly believe this but after that, on three different occasions, I actually composed a text for  Blog # 257 and on  all three occasions somehow or other I must have pressed a wrong key and lost  the texts that I had composed, just before the words I intended to be the conclusion of the  Blog !   I felt like letting the whole thing drop and get on to something else but then decided to give it one more try, so here I am at the beginning of Blog # 257 with hope it will come out OK.

The blog  started out with a reference to what I had encountered in my experience of conversations with  many of our typical non-Catholic fellow Christian believers as a serious flaw in the Church's presentation of the Gospel message. It is the universal Catholic practice of referring to an ordained minister as "Father".  The practice is judged as wrong based upon an inaccurate interpretation of a few Biblical passages and at its worst is seen as an arrogant and haughty contradiction of the entire message of the Bible as an assumption on the part of a man of a title and identity that belongs to God alone.  This is not true of course, but for anyone who thinks it is true it can be a definitive obstacle for that person in considering seriously the claims of the Catholic Church that are actually true.

  There is one such claim based upon a distinctive Catholic practice that to my surprise does not seem to be offensive to our non-Catholic friends.  It is the practice of identifying ordained ministers as  priests. There is an apparent  parallel in our Catholic practice of referring to a man as  Father  seen  by some of our  non-Catholic friends as an assumption of an identity and title on the part of  a mere human creature that belongs to God  alone, and  in our Catholic practice  of referring to a man as priest  if this is seen as an assumption of an identity and title on the part of a mere human creature that belongs to Jesus alone as the sole Redeemer of the entire human race and the sole fulfillment of the promise made to Adam and Eve that a Redeemer would come who would atone for sin.

An essential difference in these two Catholic practices lies in the fact our reference to ordained ministers as Father is not an assumption of the sole identity and title we profess in reference to our sole Creator, but rather a reminder  and proclamation of our  heavenly Fathers love,  whereas the reference to an ordained priest is proclaimed by us as giving the ordained person a new real supernatural identity AS SHARING THE IDENTITY OF JESUS THE PRIEST.  As in the case of calling a man Father, this practice is not a contradiction of or in  competition with  the identity and title of Jesus as Redeemer. Rather in God's design and with  God's authority it identifies and proclaims such a close union with Jesus and the ordained human priest we see at the altar during Mass, that the ordained priest  not just guides a worshipping community in memory of what Jesus said and did  at the Last Supper, quoting Jesus as it were: "Jesus said   This is My Body...", but actually takes the offered bread in his human hands and proclaims "This is My Body...",  referring now to the Sacramental Body of Jesus. Our Catholic practice  also recognizes the ordained priest  as officially identified and authorized in union with Jesus to represent the people offering the sacrifice of  the Mass, one of the conditions required in the definition of an official act of sacrifice. 

Underlying all that  I have been saying about Calvary, the Last Supper, and the Mass is the identity of Jesus as priest and the experiences of Calvary, the Last Supper, and the Mass as experiences of  sacrifice,  with Jesus exercising the role of priest in all three experiences.  The unconditional trust and total love that is expressed in sacrifice is referred to as worship.   The definition of sacrifice is: an offering to God alone by an official representative of the people of some material gift, with the change or destruction of what is offered in recognition of God's supreme dominion and our complete dependence upon God.

We know by faith  it was God's design and plan from the very first sin that was ever committed down to the last,  that Jesus  was is and will be the fulfillment of the Father's promise to Adam and Eve in the third Chapter of Genesis.  Jesus is the sole redeemer and His the only name in whom sins are forgiven and the love of God is restored to the sinful soul.  That is solid secure Catholic theology. 

Sin is a turning away from God, a separation from God, a betrayal  of God's love.  Love that is lost by sin is restored by the love of Jesus.  Since Jesus the Man and the Eternal Word of God are two names for a single person ,  anything  Jesus  said or did could be of infinite value before the Father and thus sufficient to atone for any and all sin. Yet, since there is no greater love a man can have than to lay down his life in love for another, it was most fitting that Jesus should  lay down His life, once on Calvary and again at the Last Supper, and again and again  and again, all around the world, every day until the end of the world in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass so that sinners need not be afraid of God but rather come to Him and receive the gift of forgiveness and a new love through the sacrificial worship of  Jesus the Redeemer of all who are redeemed.

Some of this fundamental Catholic theology may seem strange and unfamiliar even to Catholics who are regular church-goers Sunday after Sunday.  The music, the preaching, and the prayers we pray may be enough for them to satisfy their intention and desire to praise and thank God for His goodness to us and His merciful forgiveness in and though Jesus His Son.  But if this, wonderful as it is, be so, they are missing the  essence of what is going on before them at the altar during Mass.

This blog has grown long and heavy so I will end it here and hope to continue tomorrow with a few more insights.   Thank You, Father!  Thank You Jesus!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Blog # 256 Theology of the Mass

Blog # 256 Theology of the Mass

Blog # 255  focused upon the essential connection between the Last Supper and Calvary. The love offered to the Father on Calvary by Jesus,(the Word of God Among us called Jesus,) and the love offered to the Father at the Last Supper by Jesus,(continuing as the Word of God Among Us called Jesus,) is the same love.

In Jesus, identified as one of us, it is a total love. It cost Him His life. It was a gift of all that He possessed. This act of total human love would be possible for Him physically only once in the entire history of creation. Once His human life was given in the mystery of death, as for us, it was no longer His to give. ( 1 Peter 3 18; Heb 9: 11,12,  25,28; 10: 10-12 ).

 We know, however, by force of our faith in the incarnation of the Eternal Word of God in Jesus, the total love  that was offered the Father on Calvary was not confined to the love involved in the human death of Jesus  . By force of the Incarnation the person known as the Word and the person called Jesus is the same person.

Consequently the infinite eternal love of the Word for the Father was present, and shared in the total love  the crucifixion of Jesus entailed. Coming among us in the Incarnation the  Word of God  never did nor could cease being divine, being God. Jesus, the name given the Word come among us never ceased being God. In other words in seeing Jesus walking from Jerusalem to Jericho we see God walking there. " Phillip, if you see me, you see God."(Jn 14: 9). "I and the Father are one!" (Jn 10: 30; 14: 7; 17: 11,22).

 In the light of this, the death of Jesus in its human dimension was final. However, understood in the light of the identity of Jesus and the Word and therefore in its completeness it cannot be spoken of in the past tense as if it ended on Calvary, as if Jesus and the Word were two persons and there were two deaths on Calvary rather than one, identified as human and divine. The love of Jesus for the Father on Calvary and the love of Jesus for the Father at the Last Supper was the same love, expressed in two different modes.  This is similar to the way a five dollar bill and a five dollar check are both worth a certain amount of money in different modes.   

Now it remains for us to identify the theological connection between Calvary, the Last Supper, and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  In all three instances we are dealing with love.  Love by its nature is an  act of self-giving in  response to a value we have perceived in another. The more we love, the more we give. A handshake, a smile, a birthday greeting, a letter of sympathy, cutting a neighbor's lawn when he is a patient in the hospital are all examples or expressions of responses to a loving relationship. "There is no greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for a friend."

Since we believe in one God, our loving response to God is unique.  It is a total love..." with your whole heart, with your whole soul, and with all your mind." (Mat 22: 37).  It is called worship. None but God deserves such love. ( First Commandment).  From as far back as Cain and Abel, the sons of Adam and Eve, through Noah, Moses,  the tribe of Levi set apart by God to represent God's Chosen People as their priests, Melchizedek,  Abraham, and Jesus on Calvary,  the unique act that was identified,  authorized, and commanded by God as the official mode of expressing our total love for God was sacrifice. The strict technical theological definition of  sacrifice identifies it as an offering to God alone of some material  gift by an official representative of the people with the change or destruction of what is offered in order to recognize  the supreme dominion of God and our complete dependence upon God. 

The death of Jesus on Calvary was a death of perfect love chosen by Jesus in obedience to the Father. Before His death on Calvary Jesus walked away from  angry crowds who wanted kill Him.  His 'hour', in the design of the Father, had not yet come . (Lk 22: 42;  Lk 4:29 f;  Jn  7:30; 8;20).  

His death on Calvary fulfilled all the conditions listed in the technical  theological definition of an act of worship through sacrifice. The experience of Jesus and the Apostles at the Last Supper also fulfilled these conditions.   But like the  Crucifixion itself, physically in history, the  event of  the Upper Room did  happen and was experienced physically almost two thousand years ago once and for all in the entire history of creation.  Either experience could be created anew, physically and in history, with new blood and new bread and wine.  But that is not what our Catholic faith teaches of those events.  We believe the redeeming love of Jesus on  the Cross was once and for all time infinite. We believe that love was shared  in the experience of the Upper Room and is shared today in the experience of  the Sacrifice of the Mass. 

 It remains for us to connect the event of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass which we experience daily in our churches throughout the world with the previous two events two thousand years ago. All three events, the Crucifixion, the Last Supper, and the Sacrifice of the Mass  fulfill the conditions listed in the definition of  sacrifice, but in  different modes. 
The claim of our Catholic faith is that  the love, unconditional and total, that  Jesus presented to the Father in His bloody crucifixion and in the event of the Last super is presented to the Father in the experience of the Mass but in an unbloody Sacramental mode.   The task at hand is to authorize this connection.  The authorization to identify and connect  Calvary and the Upper Room  comes from the words of Jesus: " body given for you",  "my blood poured out for you.".  The authorization to identify and connect Calvary and the Upper Room with the Sacrifice of the Mass  down through the  Centuries until now comes  from the simple but very clear words of Jesus at the Last Supper : "Do THIS in memory of me." 

This blog is long and may seem complicated.  There are further thoughts  on this subject I think would be useful so I'll be back with another blog stemming from this one.   May the Lord bless you!