Saturday, February 23, 2008

Writer's Strike Fallout

Well I have to admit, I'm really not into movies or TV like I used to be. In fact, there are only a couple of TV shows I watch on a regular basis. Now that the writer's strike is over, word is coming down about the fate of TV shows... Turns out that my favorite show, 24, which was supposed to debut last month, is being delayed until NEXT January! If you haven't seen this show, go down to your video store and check it out! 24 is entering its seventh season now and I just started watching the show all over again with my sister - it's so entertaining!

But at least I can look forward to a couple great movies this summer. Indiana Jones will kick things off and I'm really hoping it will have been worth the wait. The trailer looks awesome and Ford (at age 65!) is still looking and and acting in his usual Indy self. Later in the summer the new Batman movie comes out with Heath Ledger. I have to see this just for the sake of seeing what drove Heath over the deep end. Who knows, he may get a postumous Oscar nomination for best supporting actor - and if you doubt that, just watch the trailer as his acting looks fantastic.

Let's see, how 'bout some other movie news. The writer's strike was good in one way: it delayed the production of the Da Vinci Code prequel! This movie, Angels & Demons, will come out in May 2009. As to long running movie series', a couple new ones are on the way. James Bond will return later this year in the Quantum of Solace - a really dumb sounding name for a Bond film! But at the longest running movie series (at 22 movies), I guess they can call it whatever they want! The next longest running movie series, Star Trek (at 11 movies), has a new movie coming out in May of 2009 - a week or two before Angels & Demons. So I think I'll have to see this the night Angels & Demons comes out just so I can help funnel money away from that anti-Catholic Dan Brown!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Relationship Between Judaism and Christianity

Well since my last post, I’ve received some interesting feedback related to the relationship between Judaism and Christianity. If you recall, I talked a bit about typology – that Old Testament types foreshadowed New Testament perfections. I also talked about two heresies which either rejected all of Judaism (docetic Gnosticism) or accepted all of Judaism but added Jesus (the Judaizer heresy – I mentioned “Jews for Jesus” in this section and am doing more research to find out what exactly they’re all about, though I think they may support some things, like the rejection of Sunday worship, which are inherently Christian).

One response asked about my view on the relationship between Christianity and Judaism. Well I’ll sure do my best at offering Catholicism’s (and historic Christianity’s) view. First off, I’ve noticed that most people take a Protestant view on this question. Only in Catholicism do we find a true bridge between Judaism and Christianity.

So let’s take another look at typology.

I mentioned in my previous post that St. Paul talked about types and used the example of Adam being a type, or prefigurement, of Jesus. Another passage of Paul I think would also be of help: “…when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away” (1 Corinthians 13:10). Take the Passover for example. This Jewish feast celebrated the liberation of God’s chosen people from slavery in Egypt. In was in the context of the Passover that Jesus perfects it, elevating it supernaturally with His own Paschal sacrifice. In the Mass we celebrate Christ’s death and resurrection which liberated us from slavery to sin. Just as the Jews at the sacrificial lamb, we eat of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world – whose one sacrifice could do what the many temple sacrifices could not.

What about the Old Law? In this case Law of Moses is not thrown out but taken to a supernatural level. I laugh at those who say that Jesus made the Law less extreme and easier to follow. Rather Jesus had made the Law so difficult, it is only by the reception of God’s grace that we can have the strength to follow it. Jesus goes for the heart. In condemning adultery, Jesus attacks not only the sin itself but the lust which drives one to commit such a sin. Jesus seeks to pull out sin in its roots – only then can we be free of it.

Now I don’t seek to argue with scripture alone here. I’m not a Protestant. I think for one to ask questions about the connection between Judaism and Christianity he should turn to the earliest Christians; what did they say? They, like the Catholic Church today, saw in the Old Testament the seed which would blossom into the Church.

Let me close this up with a final illustration. Catholics see baptism as the fulfillment of Old Testament types. In Creation we read that the Spirit was over the waters of Creation, sanctifying life. In baptism, the Holy Spirit comes down upon he who is baptized, dwelling in him and giving him sanctifying grace. St. Peter speaks of the waters of baptism being prefigured by the waters of the flood in days of Noah. Where the flood waters eliminate sin in the world by destroying sinners, the waters of baptism cleanses the sinner without any fatal side effects!

In the time of Abraham God establishes circumcision on the eighth day after birth as a sign of his covenant with man. For the first Christians, who rightly saw baptism as the fulfillment of circumcision, the question asked was not whether or not infants could be baptized but if they had to wait until the eighth day! So what’s all important about the eighth day? Eight is number signifying salvation and thus the eighth day signifies eternal life and eternity itself. This explains why Jesus rose on Sunday and why Sunday is the day Christians worship – it’s not the FIRST day it’s the EIGHTH day! Through baptism, the eternity and salvation from God enters into the life of the Christian.

So in closing I want to say how much I love and respect the Jewish people. I hope that with further study, members of the Jewish community will see just how Jewish the Catholic Faith is and seek unity with this the Body of Christ.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Sacramental Economy and the Liturgy as the Work of the Trinity (Part Three)

You’ll have to pardon my lack of posting lately – just been to darn busy! So here comes some information regarding the role of the Holy Spirit in the Liturgy. And if you’re wondering, I’ll be discussing paragraphs 1091-1109 in the Catechism.

It is important to recall that when we speak of the Holy Spirit in the Creed we call Him the “Lord and giver of life.” It is to Him that we attribute the rest of the beliefs of the Creed (the Church, the Communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the Resurrection of the body, and eternal life). In other words, the Holy Spirit is absolutely important – and so often He is forgotten! Perhaps it’s not that He is forgotten; perhaps He is as humble as Christ. In John 14 and 16, Jesus tells us that the Spirit will not speak His own words but only what He has heard, helping us to recall all that Christ taught. How humble of God!

But how can an immaterial Spirit teach us anything? By dwelling in us. This is the Ghost we all need to be haunted by! What’s more important is that by dwelling in us, He gives us divine life. Just as without continuous breathing our bodies die, so too without the breath of the Spirit we die spiritually. Speaking of teaching and life giving, the Catechism states: “In the liturgy the Holy Spirit is teacher of the faith of the People of God and artisan of ‘God's masterpieces,’ the sacraments of the New Covenant. The desire and work of the Spirit in the heart of the Church is that we may live from the life of the risen Christ” (CCC 1091).

A good image of the Holy Spirit, as used in the Acts of the Apostles to describe the Spirit descending upon Mary and the Apostles at Pentecost, is a flame. Fire transforms what it touches. When we enter into God’s grace and the Holy Spirit dwells within us there should be a transformation! “By his transforming power, he makes the mystery of Christ present here and now” (CCC 1092).

The Holy Spirit prepares for the reception of Christ

The Holy Spirit is not simply active today in the Church (though He is active in a wholly unique way in the Church), He was active from the beginning to bring about life in Creation and to help prepare for the newness of life which would come with Christ. He was especially active in the lives of the Jewish people from whom the Messiah would come. Today the Holy Spirit “fulfills what was prefigured in the Old Covenant” (CCC 1093) – this includes elements of our liturgical celebrations: “the Church's liturgy has retained certain elements of the worship of the Old Covenant as integral and irreplaceable, adopting them as her own” (CCC 1093).

I’m sure it doesn’t seem strange to you that we read from the Old Testament, pray the Psalms, and recall Jewish feasts and terminology in our liturgies simply because we’ve grown up with it. This use, however, was at one point argued over by the first Christians – and Christians ever since. In fact, by supporting Gnosticism the Da Vinci Code takes a very anti-Jewish stance. The first two major heresies took extreme positions in relating Christianity to Judaism. The Judiazer heresy (which is still around today in such groups as the “Messianic Jews” and “Jews for Jesus”) taught that Christians must both acknowledge Christ and still follow the Mosaic Law with it’s ritual/sacrificial acts. This belief was condemned by the Apostles themselves in Acts 15 at the Council of Jerusalem.

The other heresy was docetic Gnosticism which believed that there were two gods, one good and the other evil. The evil god created the physical world while the good god created angelic (spiritual) beings. Somehow the evil god imprisoned some of these beings in evil bodies and these beings, through procreation, have helped him in imprisoning more spirits. For the Gnostic, Jesus is the good god (who appeared to be human but was really just a spirit) who gives us the secret knowledge (gnosis) to be free of our evil bodies. Gnostics attributed the Old Testament and the Jewish religion to the evil god and the New Testament to the good god, Jesus Christ.

Gnosticism, by the way, is a very common heresy. It popped up again during St. Augustine’s era in a heresy called Manichaeism (St. Augustine himself joined this sect before his conversion to the Catholic Church!). In the middle ages the Albigensian heresy hated the body so much that they promoted suicide, abortion, and homosexual acts to keep new life from being produced! In other words, Gnosticism is a threat to the human race! Today “scholars” promote a Gnostic agenda and authors like Dan Brown write novels about it. TV commercials that tell us how ugly and horrible our bodies are don’t help either!

Christianity rejected both the Judaizer and Gnostic heresies to promote a “harmony of the two Testaments” (CCC 1094). The Church recognizes the work of God in Judaism, particularly in the Holy Spirit preparing the way for the coming of Christ. When we understand this, we see that in the Old Testament there are many things that prefigure Christ and the Church. St. Paul saw this when writing his epistles. For example, just as in Adam all came to death through sin, in Christ all will come to life through entering into His life. Hence, St. Paul called Jesus the new Adam. In Biblical theology we call this typology. What’s more, when one gets a good grasp of typology the Old Testament comes alive with a deeper spiritual meaning (by the way, this spiritual meaning is called the allegorical sense of scripture).

The Catechism gives us some more examples: “…the flood and Noah's ark prefigured salvation by Baptism, as did the cloud and the crossing of the Red Sea. Water from the rock was the figure of the spiritual gifts of Christ, and manna in the desert prefigured the Eucharist, ‘the true bread from heaven’” (CCC 1094).

Right now we’re in Lent. Big news I know. But just think about the readings from the first week of Lent. In the Gospel we find Jesus in the desert for forty days and in the end tempted by the Devil. Remind you of anything? How about the forty years the Jewish people spent in the desert. Oh yeah, Jesus’ response to the Devil’s three temptations? Those were the exact responses of Moses to the Jewish people in their faithlessness. Thus in Christ we see both a new Moses and a new People of God. Maybe you’ve never heard this before – well according to the Catechism the Church is supposed to teach you that: “For this reason the Church, especially during Advent and Lent and above all at the Easter Vigil, re-reads and re-lives the great events of salvation history… But this also demands that catechesis help the faithful to open themselves to this spiritual understanding of the economy of salvation as the Church's liturgy reveals it and enables us to live it” (CCC 1095).

Moreover, the Church asks us to take more time in study of Judaism to help us understand our own Catholic liturgy. “A better knowledge of the Jewish people's faith and religious life as professed and lived even now can help our better understanding of certain aspects of Christian liturgy” (CCC 1096). This is particularly true of the Passover and the Eucharist. One of my papers in college was written regarding exegesis on the Last Supper in relationship to the rites used in the Jewish Passover meal. The results: very Jewish and very Catholic. Maybe I’ll post it sometime…

It’s important to remember that we have life in Christ. He shared in our human nature so that we can share in His divine nature. We call the Church the body of Christ because it IS the body of Christ! We’re cells in His body which must fully conform to Him Who is the head of the body – Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is the soul which gives life to this supernatural body and His grace is the blood which pumps through the body. This body brings unity among the human race transcending “racial, cultural, social - indeed, all human affinities” (CCC 1097). In other words, the Church is means of our salvation and means of world peace!

Hopefully right now you’re saying “Wow! I should really be thinking more about all this – especially when I’m at Mass!” Indeed the Catechism teaches that the gathering of those at Mass must “prepare itself to encounter its Lord… The grace of the Holy Spirit seeks to awaken faith, conversion of heart, and adherence to the Father's will.” If we want to get something out of Mass we must put something in. As a matter of fact, there is enough grace in one reception of the Eucharist to make us all saints! So why am I not a saint? Because I do not wholly want to be. I keep myself back! Indeed, the proper dispositions for Mass and the Sacraments are the “precondition both for the reception of other graces conferred in the celebration itself and the fruits of new life which the celebration is intended to produce afterward” (CCC 1098).

I hope all this is helping you realize just how important the Holy Spirit is – and I’m nowhere near finished! Unfortunately this is all for one night… More to come soon!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Comparing Christianity & The New Paganism

What follows below is an excellent article by the philosopher Peter Kreeft (who happens to also be my favorite living author). It looks at the “most serious challenge for Christianity today.”

The most serious challenge for Christianity today isn't one of the other great religions of the world, such as Islam or Buddhism.

Nor is it simple atheism, which has no depth, no mass appeal, no staying power. Rather, it's a religion most of us think is dead. That religion is paganism — and it is very much alive.

Paganism is simply the natural gravity of the human spirit, the line of least resistance, religion in its fallen state.

The “old” paganism came from the country. Indeed, the very word “paganism” comes from the Latin pagani, “from the fields” or “country-dwellers.” Country people were the last to be converted to Christianity during the Roman Empire, the last to abandon their ancestral roots in pre-Christian belief. Today, country people are the last to abandon Christianity for the “new” paganism, which flourishes in the cities.

The old paganism was a far greater thing than the new. In fact, Chesterton brilliantly summarized the entire spiritual history of the world in this one sentence: “Paganism was the biggest thing in the world, and Christianity was bigger and everything since has been comparatively small.”

There were at least three elements in the old paganism that made it great. And all three are missing in the new paganism.

The first is the sense of piety (pietas), the natural religious instinct to respect something greater than yourself, the humility that instinctively realizes man's subordinate place in the great scheme of things. “Moderation” or “temperance” went along with this, especially in classical civilization. The motto “nothing too much” was inscribed over every temple to Apollo, along with “know thyself.”

This natural modesty and respect contrast sharply with the arrogant attitude of the new pagan in the modern West. Only Oriental societies still preserve a traditional reverence. The West does not understand this, and thinks it quaint at best and hypocritical at worst.

The new paganism is the virtual divinization of man, the religion of man as the new God. One of its popular slogans, repeated often by Christians, is “the infinite value of the human person.” Its aim is building a heaven on earth, a secular salvation. Another word for the new paganism is humanism, the religion that will not lift up its head to the heavens but stuffs the heavens into its head.

A second ingredient of the old paganism that's missing in the new is an objective morality, what C.S. Lewis called “the Tao” in his prophetic little classic The Abolition of Man. To pre-modern man, pagan as well as Christian, moral rules were absolute: unyielding and unquestionable. They were also objective: discovered rather than created, given in the nature of things.

This has all changed. The new paganism is situational and pragmatic. It says we are the makers of moral values. It not only finds the moral law written in the human heart but also by the human heart. It acknowledges no divine revelation, thus no one's values can be judged to be wrong.

The new paganism's favorite Scripture is “judge not.” The only judgment is the judgment against judging. The only thing wrong is the idea that there is a real wrong.

The only thing to feel guilty about is feeling guilty. And, since man rather than God is the origin of values, don't impose “your” values on me (another favorite line).

This is really polytheism — many gods, many goods, many moralities. No one believes in Zeus and Apollo and Neptune any more. (I wonder why: Has science really refuted them — or is it due to total conformity to fashion, supine submission to newspapers?) But moral relativism is the equivalent of the old polytheism. Each of us has become a god or goddess, a giver of law rather than receiver.

A third ingredient of the old paganism but not of the new is awe at something transcendent, the sense of worship and mystery. What the old pagan worshiped differed widely — almost anything from Zeus to cows — but he worshiped something. In the modern world the very sense of worship is dying, even in our own liturgy, which sounds as if it were invented by a Committee for the Abolition of Poetry.

Our religious sense has dried up. Modern religion is de-mythologized, de-miraclized, de-divinized. God is not the Lord but the All, not transcendent but immanent, not super-natural but natural.

Pantheism is comfortable, and this is the modem summum bonum. The Force of “Star Wars” fame is a pantheistic God, and it is immensely popular, because it's “like a book on the shelf,” as C.S. Lewis put it: available whenever you want it, but not bothersome when you don't want it. How convenient to think we are bubbles in a divine froth rather than rebellious children of a righteous divine Father! Pantheism has no sense of sin, for sin means separation, and no one can ever be separated from the All. Thus the third feature, no transcendence, is connected with the second, no absolute morality.

The new paganism is a great triumph of wishful thinking. Without losing the thrill and patina of religion, the terror of religion is removed. The new paganism stoutly rejects “the fear of God.” Nearly all religious educators today, including many supposedly Catholic ones, are agreed that the thing the Bible calls “the beginning of wisdom” is instead the thing we must above all eradicate from the minds of the young with all the softly destructive power of the weapons of modern pop psychology — namely, the fear of the Lord.

“Perfect love casts out fear,” says St. John; but when God has become the Pillsbury Doughboy, there is no fear left to cast out. And when there is no fear to cast out, perfect love lacks its strong roots. It becomes instead mere compassion—something good but dull, or even weak: precisely the idea people have today of religion. The shock is gone. That the God of the Bible should love us is a thunderbolt; that the God of the new paganism should love us is a self-evident platitude.

The new paganism is winning not by opposing but by infiltrating the Church. It is cleverer than the old. It knows that any opposition from without, even by a vastly superior force, has never worked, for “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” When China welcomed Western missionaries, there were 2 million conversions in 60 years; when Mao and communism persecuted the Church, there were 20 million conversions in 20 years. The Church in East Germany is immensely stronger than the Church in West Germany for the same reason. The new paganism understands this, so it uses the soft, suggestive strategy of the serpent. It whispers, in the words of Scripture scholars, the very words of the serpent: “Has God really said...?” (Gen. 3:1).

The new paganism is a joining of forces by three of the enemies of theism: humanism, polytheism and pantheism. The only five possibilities for ultimate meaning and values are: atheism (no God); humanism (man as God); polytheism (many gods); pantheism (one immanent God); and theism (one transcendent God). The Battle of the Five Kings in the Valley of Armageddon might, in our era, be beginning. Predictions are always unwise, but the signs of the times, for some thoughtful observers, point to a fundamental turning point, the end of an age.

The so-called “New Age Movement” combines all the features described under the title of the new paganism. It's a loosely organized movement, basically a re-flowering of '60s hippiedom, rather than a centralized agenda. But strategies are connected in three places. There may be no conspiracy on earth to unify the enemies of the Church, but the strategy of hell is more than the strategy of earth. Only one thing is more than the strategy of hell: the strategy of heaven.

The gates of hell cannot prevail against the Church; in fact, God uses the devil to defeat the devil, just as He did on Calvary, when the forces of the Hebrew, Greek and Roman worlds united to crucify Christ, as symbolized by the three languages on the accusation sign over the cross.

The very triumph of the devil, the death of God, was the defeat of the devil, the redemption of mankind, “Good Friday” Because God, who spoke the first word, always gets the last word.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI on Church, State, and Elections

Okay, there's more than one reason why Pope Benedict XVI is the coolest guy on the planet!

As you all know, Super Tuesday was this week and many people made it out to vote. Now we're only months away from the election of a new president who is sure to be nominating a new supreme court justice. This is the time to remember to protect life and family and to reject that which is intrinsically evil (like abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, and homosexual marraige).

I could type for days on this, but I'll let Pope Benedict XVI get some words in:

“As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the principal focus of her interventions in the public arena is the protection and promotion of the dignity of the person, and she is thereby consciously drawing particular attention to principles which are not negotiable."

The pope then talks about the intrinsically evil actions I mentioned above and the principles which are fundamentally opposed to them. Moving on, he writes:

"These principles are not truths of faith, even though they receive further light and confirmation from faith; they are inscribed in human nature itself and therefore they are common to all humanity. The Church’s action in promoting them is therefore not confessional in character, but is addressed to all people, prescinding from any religious affiliation they may have. On the contrary, such action is all the more necessary the more these principles are denied or misunderstood, because this constitutes an offence against the truth of the human person, a grave wound inflicted onto justice itself.”

This last quote hits it on the head: Catholics who reject pro-choice politicians do so not for "confessional" reasons but for the reason that abortion goes against human nature. While the Faith rejects these things as intrinsically evil, it does so in part because these things can be known to be evil through the use of human reason alone without divine revelation.

We live in a war between two views of the human person: Christianity holds the highest view, atheist humanism holds the lowest. With Christ, atheist humanism does't have a chance - we need to remember that, fear not, and fight for the truth!

Viva Benedict XVI!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Sacramental Economy and the Liturgy as the Work of the Trinity (Part Two)

In my last posting on the liturgy, I examined God the Father’s role in the liturgy – particularly regarding the role of blessing, and our response of thanks, adoration, and humility. Today I will address God the Son’s role, breaking it down (as does the Catechism) into four parts:

  • Sacrifice and Sacrament
  • The Apostles and Bishops
  • Christ’s Presence in the Liturgy
  • Liturgy as Participation in Heavenly Worship

Sacrifice and Sacrament

As previously mentioned, the sacraments make present primarily the Paschal mystery of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection. “In the liturgy of the Church, it is principally his own Paschal mystery that Christ signifies and makes present” (CCC 1084).

One argument many Protestants make against the Catholic view on liturgy, particularly the Mass, is that it appears that Jesus is being re-sacrificed over and over again. Since the Bible clearly says that Jesus was sacrificed “once are for all” there is no need for the Sacrifice of the Mass. They say Jews, like Catholics, offered many sacrifices but couldn’t get saved because their sacrifices do not do what Jesus’ “once and for all” sacrifice on the cross did.

The Catechism makes it very clear, however, that Jesus’ sacrifice is a one-time event: “… Jesus dies, is buried, rises from the dead, and is seated at the right hand of the Father ‘once for all.’ His Paschal mystery is a real event that occurred in our history…” (CCC 1085). His sacrifice is also very unique in that it “participates in the divine eternity” and is applicable at all times and places. “…all other historical events happen once, and then they pass away, swallowed up in the past. …all that Christ is - all that he did and suffered for all men - participates in the divine eternity, and so transcends all times while being made present in them all. The event of the Cross and Resurrection abides and draws everything toward life” (CCC 1085). If the cross could not transcend 1st century Israel, no one before or after could have any hope of salvation. The Last Supper shows us that the merits of the cross could be given before Christ’s death while the work of the Church thereafter shows how Christ intended the graces of the cross to be ordinarily be communicated.

And if you haven’t already guessed, the sacraments are the ordinary channels of God’s grace, which was merited through the Paschal mystery of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection. And by the way, Catholics do not go to Mass to “get saved” – that is, to be justified before God. Only one who is justified may receive the great Sacrament of the Eucharist. By receiving the Eucharist, one is made holier, more conformed to Christ, and more closely bonded to God, the Church, and the Communion of Saints. There’s much more to Christianity (and salvation!) than getting yourself justified!

“The sacraments are perceptible signs (words and actions) accessible to our human nature” (CCC 1084). We are human beings, not angels. Only angels can conceive of a Christianity of faith alone! When God works with man, he takes our souls and bodies into consideration! Therefore when we receive his grace, we ordinarily do so through a sign that has spoken words (called the "form" of the sacrament and uses physical stuff (like water or oil; this is called the "matter" of the sacrament). When a Catholic receives grace, he physically KNOWS he has!

The Apostles and Bishops

Just as Jesus was sent by the Father, the Apostles were sent by Jesus. These twelve men were empowered by the Holy Spirit to teach, sanctify, and govern the People of God on earth. The chief purpose of these men was to bring sanctification. Again, we need to be justified, but no one can enter heaven if he is not sanctified – we must be “holy as God is holy”! The apostles were not going to live forever, so they passed on Jesus’ own “power of sanctifying” to their successors, the bishops. The Church calls it “apostolic succession” because every bishop in the Church today is a direct successor to one of the apostles and exercises the same authority to teach, sanctify, and govern.

1087 Thus the risen Christ, by giving the Holy Spirit to the apostles, entrusted to them his power of sanctifying: they became sacramental signs of Christ. By the power of the same Holy Spirit they entrusted this power to their successors. This "apostolic succession" structures the whole liturgical life of the Church and is itself sacramental, handed on by the sacrament of Holy Orders.

In other words, apostolic succession is dependant up the sacrament of Holy Orders. If somehow every bishop and priest were to die at once, there would be no more succession, no more popes, no more leadership, no more ordination.

Christ’s Presence in the Liturgy

Lately there has been an argument about where Christ is most present in the liturgy. Two points are important to know: Jesus is “especially present in the Eucharistic species” (CCC 1088), that being the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ! There is a real, physical presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Christ is also present in the one administering a particular sacrament. So present is Christ in this, we say that “Christ himself” (CCC 1088) is the one administering the sacrament. In a third sense, Jesus, who is the Word of God incarnate, is present in the reading of the written Word of God. Lastly, as the Bible says, “where two or three are gathered together in my name there am I in the midst of them.”

Liturgy as Participation in Heavenly Worship

In my Church history class, we’ve been doing a lot of study on the crusades and making pilgrimages to the Holy Land – particularly Jerusalem. In the Book of Revelation, we read about the heavenly Jerusalem coming down upon their earth – as literally heaven on earth! This happens in a foretaste through the Mass, which is the closest we get to heaven on earth! Making a pilgrimage (or a crusader quest!) to Jerusalem is really a very sacramental expression of our longing to return to God in heaven.

Think about that as you read CCC 1090: "In the earthly liturgy we share in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the Holy City of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle. With all the warriors of the heavenly army we sing a hymn of glory to the Lord; venerating the memory of the saints, we hope for some part and fellowship with them; we eagerly await the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, until he, our life, shall appear and we too will appear with him in glory."

Okay more to come on the role of the Holy Spirit in the Liturgy!

Monday, February 4, 2008

We Can't Deny God!

Well, I'm taking a VERY brief break from the Catechism to post a piece I sent in to the local paper in response to an opinion expressed last Friday on God in the public schools. A local woman wrote in stating that God must be kept out of the public sphere! Here is what I had to say:

In response to the letter of Mrs. Gilliland regarding God in the public schools, I must first take issue with her critique of the Bible. Mrs. Gilliland seems to have her facts in reverse: while evolution is a theory not a fact, her history of the Bible and use of Biblical passages were about as accurate as a Dan Brown novel.

What’s more important, however, is the battle being fought between the religious right and the secular progressives. As a Catholic, I take the middle path. Biblical fundamentalism must not be pressured upon students in a public school. Faith, like a wedding engagement, must always be proposed, not imposed.

On the other hand, acknowledging God does not force a religion or denomination upon anyone. “God” can be known by pagans like Socrates, pantheists like Buddha, deists like Thomas Jefferson, monotheists like Muslims or Jews, or by Christians like President Bush and Pope Benedict XVI.

Because God’s existence can be known through human reason and by the existence of the world around us, there is absolutely nothing wrong with recognizing Him in schools, courtrooms, and culture. Moreover, when we deny God, we tacitly deny the dignity and rights which he gives to the human person. The founding fathers saw this, I think we should, too.

Update: This response appeared in the Faribault Daily News on Tuesday, February 5! It was a Super Tuesday in more than one way!

The Sacramental Economy and the Liturgy as the Work of the Trinity (Part One)

Today comes part one of a two part post on the Sacramental Economy and the Liturgy as the Work of the Trinity.

Sacramental Economy

When we think of the word “economy” we generally think of dollars and cents. The English word actually comes from the Greek word “oikonomia” which means a father’s plan for his children. In learning and understanding salvation history, we begin to understand our heavenly Father’s plan for our salvation. From covenant to covenant, God prepared the world for the coming of his Son, who would redeem us of sin through his passion, death, and resurrection.

This “economy” does take a form similar to what we think of as economics – but in this case we are talking about spiritual economics! Paragraph 1076 explains: “[God the Father] acts through the sacraments in what the common Tradition of the East and the West calls 'the sacramental economy'; this is the communication (or 'dispensation') of the fruits of Christ's Paschal mystery in the celebration of the Church's 'sacramental' liturgy.” You see, Christ merited for us all the graces needed for our salvation. Imparted through the Holy Spirit, God the Father is acts like a banker who dispenses (or communicates) graces freely to all who ask, via faith and sacrament.

[In case you're wondering: "Paschal mystery" refers to the the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus and "'sacramental' liturgy" means that Christ works through signs, perceptible to the human body, which actually do what the sign symbolizes. For instance, in baptism the water washing over the body points to the cleansing of the soul of original sin. This may be a bit confusing at the moment, but I will be talking more about it as we move along...]

The Father – Source and Goal of the Liturgy

Paragraphs 1077 to 1083 focus on the idea of blessing. I think we tend to use the word “blessing” quite often without ever really giving it much thought – thus I was happily surprised to run into a whole section on it in the Catechism! Hint: if you want to be happily surprised about your Faith, pick up the Catechism and start reading right now!

From the perspective of God, blessing “is a divine and life-giving action” while from our perspective, blessing “means adoration and surrender to [our] Creator in thanksgiving” (CCC 1078). Yesterday at Mass, Archbishop Flynn spoke of all that we have as a blessing from God. Indeed, the catechism in 1079 says that from “the beginning until the end of time the whole of God's work is a blessing.” I think this is important to remember. One popular author said that each man “is a great might-not-have-been.” We didn’t have to exist, yet the God of such blessings choose to create us out of love, that we might have life and communion with him.

Liturgy must always begin here. It’s called humility. Think about this when you pray (by song or speech) the Gloria at the beginning of Mass next Sunday. And if you are wondering how that Gloria goes:

Glory to God in the highest, and, peace to his people on earth. Lord God, heavenly King, almighty God and Father, we worship you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory. Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father, Lord God, Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world: have mercy on us;you are seated at the right hand of the Father: receive our prayer. For you alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord, you alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father. Amen.

Through liturgy, God is blessed (that is, adored and thanked) by man while man is blessed (that is, given grace - which is divine life). “In the Church's liturgy the divine blessing is fully revealed and communicated. The Father is acknowledged and adored as the source and the end of all the blessings of creation and salvation. In his Word who became incarnate, died, and rose for us, he fills us with his blessings. Through his Word, he pours into our hearts the Gift that contains all gifts, the Holy Spirit” (CCC 1082). Notice here that the Catechism AGAIN focuses on the work of the Trinity as Father, Son (“Word”), and Holy Spirit!

Tomorrow I shall conclude this section with a look at the role of the Son and the Holy Spirit in the Liturgy!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Liturgy: Partcipation in the Work of God by the People of God

For those of you who read my last post, you already know I’m beginning a series on the Catechism of the Catholic Church – and I’m starting in Part Two on the liturgy.

Alright, so maybe I should begin at the beginning – but I’m just not in the mood. I’ve written a lot about Part One (on the Creed) and if I start there I’ll certainly feel like I’m repeating myself again and again – and being that it’s Groundhog Day today, I really don’t want to be playing a Catholic Bill Murray today… Love the movie, but it’s not for me!

I will, however, give you a brief breakdown of the four parts of the Catechism:

Part One: The Creed – this gives us the story of our salvation
Part Two: The Liturgy – this is about how we join into the story
Part Three: The Commandments – this is your script; what part you play in the story
Part Four: Prayer – this is what makes you agile and strong in the story

What can I say, I like epic stories. Nevertheless, I thank Jeff Cavins for the above story format.

Now on to the liturgy which begins on paragraph 1066 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. If you’re a good Christian, you will always keep two key doctrines in mind: the Incarnation and the Trinity. These are two VERY important things that makes Christianity UNIQUE and DIFFERENT from other religions. Christians that go around watering down these two doctrines (like Dan Brown in the Da Vinci Code) are all denying their Christian Faith in doing so. Anyhoo, you’ll notice these two doctrines spoken of over and over and over again in the Catechism.

“In the Symbol of the faith [that is, Part One on the Creed] the Church confesses the mystery of the Holy Trinity and of the plan of God's ‘good pleasure’ for all creation: the Father accomplishes the ‘mystery of his will’ by giving his beloved Son and his Holy Spirit for the salvation of the world and for the glory of his name.”

In paragraphs 1066 and 1067, the Catechism is recapping Part One. To sum it up, God sends us His Son and Spirit to save us from sin and bring us into a family or People of God, the Church. The principle work of this salvation occurred at Calvary when Jesus Christ, God the Son incarnate, suffered for our sins and then rose from the dead on the third day. The fruits of Christ’s paschal sacrifice are applied to us through grace via the work of the Holy Spirit. Don’t forget, all this is a great mystery (which is not something we can’t know anything about, it’s something we can’t know everything about)!

1068 “It is this mystery of Christ that the Church proclaims and celebrates in her liturgy so that the faithful may live from it and bear witness to it in the world…” (emphasis mine).

Okay, so if we want to receive life from the work of Christ, we must ordinarily participate in the Church’s liturgy. So what then is liturgy? While liturgy literally means a “public work” the Catechism teaches us that: “…in Christian tradition [liturgy] means the participation of the People of God in ‘the work of God’” (CCC 1069). In liturgy, the People of God are gathered to participate in the saving work of Christ, who reconciles us to God the Father by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

The concept of liturgy is not something new. The pattern can be found in the Old Testament, particularly with Moses at Sinai, the repentant King Josiah, and Ezra/Nehemiah upon the Return from Exile. In all three cases we see a public gathering of the People of God, the proclamation of God’s saving work and divine revelation, followed by the acceptance of faith by the people which is sealed in sacrifice. In the Christian tradition, the Mass is the gathering of the People of God, who hear His Revelation, profess the Faith, and seal it with the holy sacrifice of the Eucharist.

Though we tend to think of liturgy in terms of the Mass, liturgy, or public work of the People of God in the work of God, occurs in all seven sacraments and even in our day to day work, prayers, and sacrifices. We must never forget, however, that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life, from which we draw strength, purification, and holiness.

The Catechism goes on to say something very interesting to back this up: the Church “shares in Christ's priesthood (worship), which is both prophetic (proclamation) and kingly (service of charity)” (CCC 1070). In liturgy, particularly the Eucharistic liturgy, we as members of the Church participate in Christ’s priesthood – but his priesthood also included a prophetic and kingly dimension. It is precisely because these two dimensions are rooted in Christ’s priesthood that our evangelization and loving service take on a liturgical aspect! At the same time, liturgy is at its apex in the celebration of the seven sacraments, which are the source of our evangelization and love and that which we seek to bring other to through evangelization and love (or in the words of Vatican II’s sacrosanctum concillium, quoted in CCC1074: "The liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; it is also the font from which all her power flows.")

And while I’m talking about bringing others to the sacraments, it is important to reject certain aspects of false ecumenism which seek to bring others into the sacraments without bringing them into the Catholic Church. “As the work of Christ liturgy is also an action of his Church” (CCC 1071). To participate in the liturgy is to participate in the life of the Church – and if one is not a member of the Church, he is not to participate. The Catechism goes on to say that liturgy “must be preceded by evangelization, faith, and conversion. It can then produce its fruits in the lives of the faithful…” (CCC 1072, emphasis mine).

Lastly, there is a HUGE need to catechize Catholics regarding the liturgy. Quoting Pope John Paul II, the Catechism states: “Catechesis is intrinsically linked with the whole of liturgical and sacramental activity, for it is in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist, that Christ Jesus works in fullness for the transformation of men” (CCC 1074). This implies catechesis in general, but also about catechesis regarding the liturgy. People today focus so much on MORALITY (and how we get around it!) and PRAYER (like Hindu meditation!) that we forget Parts One and Two on the story, how we get in it, and WHY it’s so important!

CCC 1075 concludes this opening with a little humility. Basically, the Catechism of the Catholic Church gives us the bare essentials of liturgy and sacrament. There’s more work to be done and our local bishops are supposed to catechize us. Moreover, we are called to take time to read, study, and pray upon these wonderful mysteries we call sacraments.

Tomorrow: The Sacramental Economy and the Liturgy as the Work of the Trinity!

Friday, February 1, 2008

I'm Back...

Well I must say that 2008 has been a crazy year thus far. In the last two weeks my work schedule has changed considerably, I’m looking at a move in the very near future, and now a close workmate has been diagnosed with inoperable cancer and has only a short time to live… So when is 2009 gonna get here? Oh yeah it’s only February.

Well we do what we have to.

Besides, all this negative talk really put things into perspective for me. We don’t have a whole lot of time here so we better figure out what God put us here for and get to work. We’re on a mission after all. So I’m working harder and faster and I’ve decided I need to get more posting done – so here comes some posts on the Catechism.

Perhaps you’re thinking: “Gee, that’s random.” But really, I think too few Catholics really study the Catechism of the Catholic Church when we ought to be spending at least one hour in study every day! So maybe I can help out by giving some guidance to your study.

Oh yeah, I decided to focus on Part Two (the Liturgy and Sacraments), so don’t expect to begin at the beginning. My bad. But I will give a brief explanation in my first real post on the subject.

Get Ready!