Abraham – Father of Faith and Works

Abraham – Father of Faith and Works
From the Footprints of God series

The Footprints of God DVD series takes us through the landscape of our faith, with each title focusing on a Biblical personality. The passionate presenter Stephen Ray combines the familiar stories of these personalities with explanations and links from the Bible as well as the teachings of saints, the Church Fathers and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. All of this is shot on—beautiful—location in the Holy Land and other important sites.

The first title in the series, Abraham – Father of Faith and Works, explains how God sets His plan of salvation in motion with the calling of Abraham. It emphasises how Abraham is saved not just because of his faith but also his obedience to God and his good works. At each significant step in his life, he is faced with a challenging call, for example, to leave his family’s home and go to the unfamiliar Canaan, or to sacrifice his son Isaac, but he obeys. While Abraham is thus our father of faith whom God made His covenant with, the overarching assurance is that God has a plan, it will prevail and He will keep His promises.

This title also highlights the instances of typology found in the story of Abraham. For example, the offering of bread and wine by the priest Melchizedek prefigures the Eucharist, and the wedding of Isaac and Rebekah prefigures the marriage of the Lamb (Christ) and His bride, the Church. There is also God’s visit to Abraham in the form of the three men, who are seen as representing the Holy Trinity. Here, Ray asks us to reflect on how we receive the Lord. Are we sons and daughters of Abraham in welcoming the Lord or are we like the chief priests and scribes who rejected Jesus?

Places featured in this title include the Temple of Ziggurat (main temple in Ur, where Abraham came from), Bethel (where he built an altar to God), Hebron (where he settled) and Mamre (where God visited him), and Mount Moriah (where Isaac was supposed to have been sacrificed).

written for Spotlight (May 2016)

♫ Makes me think of Yahweh, You Are Near

Other titles in the Footprints of God series include:  Jesus – the Word Became Flesh, Mary – the Mother of God, Moses – Signs, Sacraments, Salvation, Paul – Contending for the Faith, and Apostolic Fathers – Handing on the Faith.

Making Sense of Saints

saints

Making Sense of Saints
Patricia Ann Kasten
(Our Sunday Visitor, 2004)

This is like a handbook on a variety of “saint” topics, with clear and lively explanations, and lots of examples.

The making of a saint
“Saint” comes from the French seinte, which comes from the Latin sanctus (“holy”) and sancire (“consecrated”). The original Greek word was hagios (a word used for holy and sacred things).

In the early days, it was usually “popular outcry” (vox populi) that led to people being declared saints. The public practically demanded the recognition of a “saintly” person, based on his or her well-known holiness and life of good works.

The earliest formal canonisation on record is that of St. Ulrich of Ausburg, canonised by Pope John XV in 993. In 1234, Pope Gregory IX brought the process under the Pope’s purview and in 1588, Pope Sixtus V instituted the Sacred Congregation for Rites, the precursor of today’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

Therefore, the process now formally included “ecclesiastical authority”, with a “competent bishop” in charge of each case, but the sensus fidelium (“sense of the faithful”) is still important in modern times, as in the case of the sainthood causes of, for example, Frs. Jean-Baptiste Marie Vianney and Damien of Molokai in the 19th century, as it was in the sainthood causes of, for example, Lydia of Thyatira in the 1st century and Nicholas of Myra in the 4th century.

The earliest saints
The first groups of people who were recognised as saints were those in direct contact with Jesus, such as the Apostles, and, naturally, His earthly family members, Mother Mary and St. Joseph, as well as those who spread the Good News in the Apostolic Age, such as St. Paul.

The first formal saints were martyrs, with St. Stephen the first among them. “Martyr” is from the Greek martus (“witness”), originally a term referring to the Apostles, and our history tells us there were countless martyrs in the early centuries, mostly victims of Roman persecution.

The next group that was recognised were the “confessors of the faith” (from the Latin confiteor, meaning “profession”, which is also the name of the “I confess” prayer at Mass), those who had suffered for the sake of the faith, hence also being “witnesses” in publicly confessing their faith, but were not killed for it.

Some martyrs and confessors were disciples of the Apostles.

Another group of early saints were the monastics, the Desert Fathers and Mothers, some of whom were also students of the Apostles, and students of these students. Monastics lived apart from the world, in imitation of Jesus’ life of “poverty, obedience and chastity”, with the aim of coming closer to God. Some lived in community while others lived and prayed in solitude.

Early monastics include St. Mary of Egypt and St. Jerome. The first formal monastic rules were drawn up by St. Benedict of Nursia in the early 6th century, from whom we have the Benedictine motto ora et labora (“pray and work”).

By medieval times, monasteries had become the centres of towns and from there emerged religious orders (for example, the Franciscans, Norbertines, Dominicans and Trappists), and more saints of course, such as St. Francis of Assisi and St. Anthony of Padua. Thus, with all the spirituality and teaching that came out of  monasteries, we all can track our way back to the monastics!

Relics

st-laurent-imbert
There is much evidence in the catacombs that from the early days, Christians venerated the relics of saints. For example, the first formal churches were built over or near the graves of martyrs. Early Christians also chose to be buried near or within the burial ground of martyrs.

The Second Council of Nicaea (787) ruled that all new churches should have relics of saints interred in their altars. (This was no longer compulsory after Vatican II.)

Relics are classified as follows:
First class     the bodies or body parts of saints, any instruments of Christ’s Passion
Second classobjects clearly associated with the saint, such as what they wore often or items they used
Third class    objects that had some contact with or which have touched first or second class relics or the graves of saints

Buying or selling relics is part of the sin of simony and the Church never approved this practice (nor the sale of indulgences).

The canonisation process
Canonisation is from the word “canon” (as in “canon laws”), from the Greek kanon (“straight”) and Hebrew kaneh (“need”).

The Canon of Saints is the list of all the holy people whose lives led them straight to God and what canonisation means is that the Church believes that this particular person is with God and can intercede for those still alive, and that his or her life and work are an exemplary model for us in our efforts in leading holy lives.

Servus Dei – Servant of God
When a “saint” is identified, the process to declare him or her a saint starts at the diocese where he or she died, under the charge of the bishop of the diocese (there are some exceptions, such as for John Paul II, for whom the process began in the diocese where he worked).

There is a waiting period of five years, to give time for excitement to die down and for the real picture to emerge (the Pope can decide to shorten the waiting time, as in the cases of John Paul II and Teresa of Calcutta). After the five years, the bishop seeks approval to start the sainthood cause.  When the petition is approved, the proposed saint is called “Servant of God”.

Venerable
The diocese then collects proof of the “virtuous” life of the Servant of God, and also studies his or her writings (if there are formal works). When there is enough evidence, the bishop hands over the case to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, which puts everything together and sends the Decree of Heroic Virtues to the Pope for his approval. Once this is approved, the proposed saint is called “Venerable”.

Beatified
Evidence of a miracle attributed to the proposed saint is then sought, with the local bishop playing an important part here. The criteria are that the miracle must be “immediate”, “complete”, “permanent” and “unexplainable by scientific means”.

When the miracle is confirmed, the proposed saint is beatified (“raised to the altar”).

Saint
A second miracle (after beatification) is then sought, and when confirmed, he or she is declared a saint.

Doctors of the Church
“Doctor” is from the Latin docere (to teach, show, inform) and is a term for theologians of the highest order. All Doctors of the Church are saints who were the master teachers of our Faith.

The first four Doctors, declared at the end of the 13th century, were Sts. Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine and Gregory the Great, followed by St. Thomas Aquinas in 1568. The long gap between St. Gregory (1298) and St. Thomas shows the rarity of Doctors.

Patron saints
“Patron” is from the Latin patronus, which is from the word for “father”. During the time of the Roman empire, the patron was one’s “legal advocate”, and patronus also referred to senators and former owners of freed slaves.

It is common practice to turn to our patron saints for their intercession, and they could include the saints we were named after, saints whose feast days are on the day we were born, saints whom we came to learn about (and from) and became devoted to, or the patron saint of particular occupations or places.

Depiction of saints in art
Certain symbols are used for different types of saints.

Palm branch, a symbol of victory (Rev 7:14) – for martyrs

White clothing, symbolising purity, a lamb or crown of flowers – for virgins, e.g. St. Agnes

Books – for the evangelists and Doctors of the Church, e.g. St. Teresa of Avila

Church – for those who founded a church, diocese or abbey, e.g. Sts. Jerome, Ambrose, Cyril and Methodius

Crown – for those who were royalty on earth and also to show “heavenly reward”, e.g. St. Elizabeth of Hungary

Shells – for pilgrims, e.g. St. Augustine

Lilies, symbolising purity of heart, e.g. for Mother Mary, St. Joseph, St. Anthony of Padua

There are also other recognisable symbols, such as the religious habit of the saint, or objects specifically related to the saint, e.g. the green shamrock for St. Patrick, the arrows in St. Sebastian (the instrument of death), and the key in St. Peter’s hand.

Halos
Halo is from the Greek halos (“disk of the sun”), and is a symbol appropriated from ancient Egypt and Greece.

Halos started to be used for Jesus around the 3rd century, usually when representing Him in a “royal” context. By the 5th century, halos were also used for Mother Mary, angels and saints.

Why bother about the Saints?
It is important to note the difference between the honour we give to God and to the saints. The book explains the Greek terms dulia (connoting obedience) and latria (connoting homage). Latria is always and only used for the honour we give to God while dulia refers to the honour we give to other human beings, in this case the saints (hyperdulia for Mother Mary). What the phrases “pray to Mary” and “pray to saints” really mean is to ask Mary or the saints for their help in praying for us (intercession).

The CCC explains that saints “show the power of the Spirit alive within the Church and sustain the hope of believers through their examples and intercession.”

The familiar phrase communion of saints (communion sanctorum – “the participation in holy, spiritual things”, “the participation of the holy ones”) encapsulates the universality of the Catholic context we are all a part of, in which the Church Militant, Church Suffering and Church Triumphant are one.

happy-saints
source: Happy Saints

Some prayers composed by saints have become so famous and inspiring that they have been turned into song.

Prayer of St. Francis (Make me a channel of your peace)

 

 

The Mass of the Early Christians

mass-of-the-early-christians

The Mass of the Early Christians
by Mike Aquilina
(Our Sunday Visitor, 2007)

Beginnings
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42)

As Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire, Christians “everywhere” were known by their unity and love, and “the breaking of bread and the prayers”. For the earliest Christians, this celebration was “inseparable from the mystery of the Passover”, and when they recognised Jesus in the “breaking of bread”, it was for them the fulfilment of the Jewish rites they had known. In all its glory, this was the new Covenant the Lord sealed with His blood.

Not surprisingly, then, many elements were “transferred” from Jewish practice to Christian worship. Prayers and songs from Jewish liturgy and tradition became part of the Mass, such as the Sanctus from Isaiah 6:3, used in the Sabbath service, the Alleluia from the Hallel Psalms, and various “common refrains”. What was different was that the first Christian liturgies infused Christological and Trinitarian references into the Mass texts.

Meanwhile, the Christian clergy also emerged from Jewish tradition. The “dignity” of the Jewish priesthood, beginning from the time of Moses, was carried over, and early descriptions report how the bishop presided at Mass, assisted by priests.

Records show that wherever there was Mass, the theology, understanding of the Eucharist, liturgical practices and attention to ritual were the same “everywhere”. The Eucharist was always referred to as the Body and Blood of Christ, and it was in the Mass that early Christians “encountered the Scriptures”.

What was it called?
The Mass of the early Christians was known by these terms, which Catholics everywhere now would be familiar with:
the breaking of the bread, the sacrifice, the offering, the oblation, the liturgy (Greek leitourgia – “public service”), the sacrament, the mysteries, the table of the Lord, the Lord’s supper, the chalice, the altar, the passion of the Lord, the presence, the communion, the Eucharist (Greek eucharistia – “thanksgiving”).

“Mass” is from medieval English, derived from the Latin “missa” of the words of dismissal, “Ite, missa est” (“Go, it is ended”).

Growth
Mass was first celebrated in secret, due to active persecution of Christians. After Christianity was legally accepted by the Roman Empire (in 313), the Church was finally able to use and own buildings, many of the early ones provided by wealthy families that had converted. Reverence for everything connected to Mass was preserved, from the words of the liturgy to the altar, chalices, and so on.

Part II of the book, The Testimony of Witnesses, comprises chapters featuring the “witness” from the writings and teachings of the early Christians, including the relevant New Testament texts, teachings from the Didache and the Council of Nicea, sermons and reflections from specific “witnesses”, excerpts of early liturgical texts, as well as reports of pagan rumours about the Mass and “apocryphal and heretical texts”!

Here is a small selection from the section.

The New Testament
The texts quoted here are: The Last Supper (Luke 22:14-20), The Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:25-35), the Bread of Life discourse (John 6:1-14, 22, 25-69), the Eucharist at Corinth (1 Cor 10:1-22, 11:17-34), the Breaking of the Bread (Acts 2:41-47), the Heavenly Jerusalem (Heb 12:18-29), the Liturgy of Heaven (Rev 4:6-11), the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rev19:4-9).

The Didache (Greek – “teaching”)
The Didache, The Teaching of the Lord Through the Twelve Apostles to the Gentiles in full, very likely the oldest Christian record besides Scripture, has three chapters on the liturgy. These include prayers as well as advice on preparation and participation of the faithful in the liturgy. There is the Eucharistic Prayer, and a post-Communion Thanksgiving Prayer, which we would recognise some of: “Remember, Lord, your Church, to deliver it from all evil and to make it perfect in your love…” (excerpt from the Thanksgiving Prayer). The Didache also explains the sacrificial nature of the Mass and the need to confess our sins: “Every Lord’s day gather yourselves together and break bread, and give thanks after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure.”

St. Ignatius of Antioch (d. 107)
St. Ignatius famously referred to the Eucharist as “the medicine of immortality”, and with the Eucharist the “beating heart” of his teaching, he considered the denial of the Eucharist as “the very mark of heresy”. He is known to be the first to use the term “Catholic” for the Church, and to write about the “priest” (presbyter) as part of the clergy.

“So, clothing yourselves with meekness, be renewed in faith, that is the flesh of the Lord, and in love, that is the blood of Jesus Christ.”

St. Justin Martyr
St. Justin gives us the “most complete description” of the early Mass and he is also known as the “first great Christian apologist”. He explained the Old Testament “types” that “foreshadowed” the Mass.

“We do not receive those as common bread and drink. For Jesus Christ our Savior, made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation.”

St. Irenaeus of Lyons
In Against Heresies, his refutation of Gnosticism, he produced the first “comprehensive, systematic theological reflection on Christian doctrine”. He explains the Eucharistic sacrifice as the fulfilment of the Old Testament offering of the “first fruits” of the earth. The Eucharist is also the “pledge of the resurrection of the body”, and the Mass is “earthly participation in the liturgy of heaven”.

“Sacrifices… do not sanctify a man, for God stands in no need of sacrifice; it is, rather, the conscience of the offerer that makes the sacrifice holy when it is pure, and thus moves God to accept the offering as from a friend”.

St. Hippolytus of Rome
From St. Hippolytus, we have what is considered the “most complete liturgy” recorded from the first two centuries. This includes the Eucharistic Prayer, and we would recognise most of it, such as this introductory part –

Bishop:           The Lord be with you.
And all shall say: And with your spirit.
Bishop:           Lift up your hearts.
All:                   We lift them up to the Lord.
Bishop:           Let us give thanks to the Lord.
All:                   It is proper and right.

Origen of Alexandria (d.254)
Origen is considered by many to be the “greatest biblical scholar” of the early Church, notably for his “spiritual interpretation of the Bible”. He was another who taught about “types”, and his writing includes explanations of the “foreshadowing” of the Eucharist in the Old Testament.

“… if someone celebrates with Jesus, he is in a great room above, in a furnished room made clean, in a furnished room adorned and prepared. And if you go up with him in order to celebrate the Passover, he gives to you the cup of the New Covenant, he gives to you the bread of blessing, he makes a gift of his body and his blood.”

St. Cyprian of Carthage (d. 222)
St. Cyprian’s works emphasise how “any tinkering with the symbolism of the sacraments will have devastating consequences—in theology and in life”. As bishop, he dealt with many who were persecuted for their faith, including the “confessors”, those who had stayed firm in their faith when tortured, as well as the “lapsi” (“fallen”), those who had survived by giving in to performing “acts of idolatry”. Some of the lapsi sought readmission to the sacraments, and he is known for his teaching on the “pastoral applications of the Church’s teaching on the sacrament”.

“When the water is mingled in the cup with wine, the people are made one with Christ… that mixture cannot any more be separated”.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem
From St. Cyril we have the first recorded explanation of the “Eucharistic species as a change in substance”: “The bread of the Eucharist, after the invocation of the Holy Spirit, is no longer merely bread, but the body of Christ.”

“… you must be clad in the garments that are truly white, shining, and spiritual…”

dscf0120

The Mass of the early Christians is our Mass. As Aquilina writes, “… we can share in the same table they shared with Christ; for the bread is one, not just everywhere but always; and from one chalice alone has wisdom come to man, from the time of the Fathers to our own day.”

♫ Makes me think of One Bread, One Body

 

The Church Under Attack

The Church Under Attack

The Church Under Attack:
Five Hundred Years That Split the Church and Scattered the Flock
by Diane Moczar
(Sophia Institute Press, 2013)

In this sequel to her earlier book, Moczar discusses the changes of the 16th century onwards that challenged the integrity and survival of the Church. The general pattern was that in most places, the Church was squeezed out, notably even in France, the “eldest daughter of the Church”. The biggest challenges were dealing with political and social movements throughout Europe, as well as battling the Ottoman Turks, Protestantism and the onslaught of “modern” ideas. Needless to say, the Church was not always left in the best of positions at the end.

Massive social, economic and intellectual changes also emerged and I will focus more on the “intellectual” attacks in my summary because – “Ideas Have Consequences” (one of the book’s subtitles).

As always, even in the darkest times, the Lord to provides, even though His Hand may not be recognised all the time, and perhaps some of us still struggle to see Divine Providence behind the many tragic developments of modern history.

  1. The Busy 16th Century

Protestant Reformation, Catholic Counter-Reformation, Colonialism, Struggle with the Ottoman Turks

  • flourishing of the arts
  • the Council of Trent (1545-1563) and its “great codification of Catholic doctrine”
  • Persecution in strong Protestant areas such as Northern Germany, England and Puritan America and resulting efforts to protect the faith
  • Spanish colonisation of the Americas, presenting an interesting contrast to the English and Americans as colonial masters
  1. The 17th Century

The Scientific Revolution and its consequences

  • Historical approach to science: the study of “all of reality” based on the idea of “causes” (philosophy and theology, for example, were considered sciences); recognised the “distinction” (not “conflict”) between faith and reason
  • New approach: the study of material things, resulting in the eventual denial of any “nonmaterial cause”; the “how” (descriptive) was more important than the “why”

Persecution of Catholics in England and Ireland

  • “hedge schools” which held on to and maintained Catholic life and heritage

 The “classical” period in France

  • flourishing spirituality, mirroring the artistic achievements of the time
  • Saints Vincent de Paul, Francis de Sales, John Eudes, Margaret Mary Alacoque (but the failure of King Louis XIV to consecrate France to the Sacred Heart), Joseph Cupertino, Martin de Porres, Peter Claver, (just some of the more famous ones from this era)
  1. The 18th Century

The Enlightenment

  • search for the ultimate answers to life in the “laws of nature”
  • important features: liberalism, idealism, glorification of human nature, a utopian view of the future, atheism/deism (there was great interest in the occult during this period too)
  • rise of revolutionary ideas about society and government
  1. Revolutionary Catastrophe

The French Revolution

  • political model for Christendom since the 5th century: monarchy (with general recognition of its authority and legitimacy) + self-government of towns and villages
  • traditional view of revolution against legitimate authority: “a great evil”
  • traditional view of “rights”: “rights” are “counterparts of duties”

what the French Revolution brought in (as with the American Revolution):

  • “universal” rights that were “abstract”, compared to the traditional understanding of “rights”, and de-linked from any “social context” or “obligation”
  • Christian Brother Schools founded by St. John Baptist de La Salle
  1. Napoleon and After

The French Revolution and the Napoleonic era with the new catchwords: liberty, equality and fraternity

liberty – “rights of man”

equality – became the substitute for religion in Marxism

fraternity – became the basis for nationalism and “socialist brotherhoods”

  • clampdown on religious orders, thus disrupting their contribution to society in the areas of education, healthcare, care for the poor, etc
  • rise of Romanticism: renewed interest in preserving the past
  1. The 19th Century

Industrial Revolution

– social and economic upheaval with the decline of traditional livelihoods and unprecedented migration to cities

Darwinism and Marxism, which grew out of the Enlightenment obsession with science and the prevailing idea of “determinism”

  • Both the “struggle for survival”-“survival of the fittest” and the inevitability of class struggle ideas deny the role of Divine Providence and human free will
  1. The Late 19th Century

Socialist and Communist revolutionary movements all over Europe, including in France and Germany, and the rise of modernism

  • Saints Catherine Laboure, John Bosco, Anthony Mary Claret
Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Guangzhou (built in the 19th century)
  1. The Century of Total War: Part One

Modernism – “the compendium of all heresies”

  • many of these ideas were not exactly “modern” but rehashed ideas of the major heresies from the Middle Ages through the Reformation; what was “modern” was the idea that doctrine evolves (Darwin link) – what had happened with and to Protestantism had started creeping into the Catholic Church
  • Pope St. Pius X denounced this as man “substituting” himself for God
  • Fatima – Marian apparition like never before or after
  1. The Century of Total War: Part Two

Rise and spread of Communism; advocacy of eugenics and birth control even outside Germany (e.g. in the USA) and before the rise of Hitler

  • examples of perspectives of history, post World War II

initially – the term “holocaust” referred to the loss of life (about 50 million dead) caused by the Axis powers; later – the term was capitalised and referred exclusively to the killing of the Jews by Hitler

initially – it was publicly known that Jews appreciated what the Church had done to try to save them (and the chief rabbi of Rome was baptised after the war!); later (starting in the 1960s) – propaganda portrayed myths about the Church not doing what it could against Hitler or to prevent the killing of the Jews

  1. Postwar and Post-Cold War  

Persecution of Catholics in East Europe, China and other areas under the Communists, Vatican II (not covered in detail in this book)

Something interesting that I learnt was that when the old priests of the Soviet Union finally returned from prison or exile and were all ready to rebuild the Church and the faith, Vatican II had already taken place. How bewildering it must have been for them.

inside the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Guangzhou) today

I didn’t know that many of the cherished ideas and concepts of today’s world have such an anti-Catholic history. The change in the way man viewed himself and his life, vis a vis others, the past and future, and existence, lies behind the modern world. All the major political, economic and social changes grew from there, everything “evolving” and seemingly spinning out of control.

I think that the Church and its teachings, on the other hand, need to remain a rock but being so practically invites very hard knocks (to put it mildly) and, because it is filled with human beings making choices and decisions for all sorts of reasons, the knocks have their consequences. “That is why ideas matter” (as Moczar says).

Still, God is with us. “The Church, after all, is Christ in the world, and He will not be vanquished.” (Moczar again)

Every time the Church is attacked, do we hear the Lord’s call?
Restore My Church

Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist

20160424_101342

Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist
by Brant Pitre
(Doubleday, 2011)

 A fascinating read!

Pitre draws on material from the different sources in ways that we may not have heard the Eucharist explained before.  His study situates Jesus’ life and teaching within the Jewish culture of His day and this gives us a fuller understanding of the meaning of His words and actions.

His sources are the Old and New Testaments, writings of the Church Fathers, as well as Jewish writings not found in the Scriptures – the Dead Sea Scrolls, the works of the historian Josephus, the Mishnah, the Targums, the Babylonian Talmud and the Midrashim.

The Messiah whom the Jews were waiting for
We are often told that the Jews were expecting a Messiah who would liberate them from the Roman occupation – a political-military sort of leader.

Pitre says that indeed, there were Jews who just wanted to be free of the Romans. From the Old Testament and other Jewish sources, however, he shows that beyond this, the expectation was for a “new Moses” (Deut 18:15-18) who would lead Israel in a “new exodus”. They were expecting a prophet and a “miracle worker” who would provide new manna, one who would bring them into a new Covenant (e.g. Jer 31:31-33), a new Temple (e.g. Mic 4:1-2) and a new Promised Land (e.g. 2 Sam 7:10), which he points out would not have referred to the territory of Israel since they were already living there at the time.

Many Jews who heard Jesus’ teaching were drawn to Him and what He was offering and, Pitre argues, recognised in Him the signs of the Messiah. However, the idea of eating His flesh and drinking His blood was a hindrance as it was understood to be “directly against” what was taught in the Scriptures.

How the Jews understood “bread”
Manna
Manna was seen as “bread from heaven” (Ex 16:4-5, 11-15; God also rained down “flesh” from heaven) and “bread of angels” (e.g. Ps 78:23-25, 29), and the “eternal bread in the heavenly temple” (various Jewish sources). The miraculous bread was one of the holy items to be kept in the Holy of Holies.

Bread of the Presence
The Tabernacle was the centre of worship, the “visible sign of the invisible heavenly place of God”, and in it, Moses was instructed to keep: the Ark of the Covenant, the gold Lampstand (Menorah) and the golden table of the Bread of the Presence, which was also called the Bread of the Face of God, recalling when Moses, Aaron and the other leaders ate on the mountain and saw the Face of God (Ex 24:9-11).

Every Sabbath, the priests were to offer the holy Bread in the Temple. It was a sign of the “everlasting Covenant” (Lev 24:5-7) and was also a sacrificial offering (Ezek 41:21-22). When the Bread of the Presence was in the Tabernacle, the Menorah was to be kept burning (Lev 24:1-4) and when the priests took the golden table out of the Tabernacle, it was to be veiled (Num 4:1-5).

During the holy festivals which the Jews celebrated in Jerusalem, the priests would display and lift up the holy Bread, saying “Behold, God’s love for you.”

Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse (John 6:35-58)
Jesus’ teaching on the Bread of Life:

  • comes after the miraculous feeding of the five thousand;
  • is spoken in connection with the manna of Moses’ time – He begins by addressing the Jews’ question about what sign He was going to perform, after they stated that their ancestors were given “bread from heaven”.

Jesus then explained that He is the bread of life and they had to eat His flesh and drink His blood: “This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.” (Jn 6:58)

In response, the Jews said, “this is a hard saying”. Pitre argues that it was not because they did not understand what Jesus was saying; they did understand but could not accept it and “murmured”, just like the Israelites “murmured” about the manna. He compares this with other instances when Jesus explains what He said when people did not understand Him, such as the meaning of parables or about the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Mt 16:5-12). However, in this situation, He did not have to explain it to them.

This is also the only instance in the Gospels when disciples left Him because of His teaching. He let them go.

Corpus Christi

The Last Supper as a new Passover
Technically, there are points where Jesus’ last Passover with the twelve looks like the standard Passover – it was celebrated at night (after the time of the sacrifice of the lambs) in Jerusalem, having the unleavened bread and wine that other Jews would also have, with Jesus their leader presiding over the meal as a father would in the family Passover meal, and with the hymns of the Passover.

The annual Passover then required: the sacrifice of unblemished lambs by the Levitical priests in the Temple in Jerusalem (in the 1st century A.D. the lambs were skewered “in a manner which resembled crucifixion”), pouring of the blood of the lambs (collected in containers during the sacrifice) by the priests, then eating the flesh of the lamb in the family meal during which the father would explain the significance of the Passover and of eating the flesh of the lamb (it was never a “symbol” that was eaten but the actual flesh of the lamb).

We know that Jesus instituted a “new Passover”.

What exactly was “new” in Jesus’ Passover?

  • He spoke about the bread and wine as His Body and Blood instead of explaining the flesh of the lamb.
  • He was the unblemished Paschal Lamb, Whose Body and Blood were offered in sacrifice.
  • He spoke of a new Covenant instead of recalling the Covenant of Moses.
  • He told His apostles to “do this in remembrance of Me” (1 Cor 11:25), thus instructing them to keep His memorial and also handing over to them the duty of the Temple priests.

The cups of wine
During the Passover meal, four cups of wine were mixed: the first cup (sanctification) accompanied the introductory rites; the second cup (proclamation) was followed by the proclamation of Scripture; the third cup (blessing) started the actual meal; the fourth cup (praise) accompanied the concluding rites and the singing of the rest of the Hallel Psalms. The Passover meal was completed when this fourth cup was drunk.

Pitre suggests that Jesus and His disciples did not finish the Passover meal as they went out after singing the hymns but before finishing the final cup of wine. It was only when His sacrifice was “complete” and His blood “poured out like that of the Passover lambs” that Jesus drank the final cup (Jn 19:23-30). Thus, the “new Passover” concluded with His Passion and Death.

How does the Eucharist reflect all this?
For the Jews, a proper sacrifice requires a priest, an offering and a liturgy. All of these are embodied in Jesus and this is exactly what the Eucharist “makes present” for us – it is the memorial of Jesus’ words and actions in the Last Supper and His sacrifice on the Cross.

A re-look at a couple of familiar passages, in relation to Jesus the Bread of Life
The Our Father
Pitre discusses the line “Give us this day our daily bread”. Why the repetition – “this day” and “daily”? Was Jesus asking us to pray for “ordinary food and drink” (when He also teaches us not to worry about food but instead “seek first the kingdom of heaven”)? How does this line fall in place with the other petitions of the prayer, which are “focused on things spiritual”?

The Greek word that has been translated into “daily” is “epiousios” but there is no way now to know if it was a literal translation of the original Hebrew or Aramaic, and its use in the Gospels is the first known use of the word! There are some possible meanings, such as “for the coming day”, “for existence” [making it something like “bread for sustenance”, which is found in some translations], or it could also mean “supernatural” (“on, upon or above” + “being, substance, nature”). The Latin Vulgate done by St. Jerome renders the line as “Give us this day our supersubstantial bread” (Mt 6:11).

 [I read elsewhere that this Greek word is “obscure” and has been translated in different ways. A number of the early Church Fathers did see this line as referring to the Eucharist. The Douay-Rheims Bible also uses the word “supersubstantial”.]

The Disciples on the Road to Emmaus
Most of us would know that the two disciples realised it was Jesus when they recognised the pattern of Jesus’ “breaking of the bread” – He took the bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to them. Pitre points out a detail that I have overlooked all this time – that Jesus did this after they invited Him to “stay” with them.

Luke writes:
He appeared to be going further, but they constrained him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. (Lk 24:28-29)

The breaking of bread was His response to the invitation to “stay with us”.

That is such an interesting way to look at this passage and we all thought we knew it inside out, right?

IMG_0266

Pitre reminds us that the “Old Testament prefigurations (types) are never greater than their New Testament fulfilments.” Jesus is greater than the Old Testament Temple of God; He is the “very presence of God”, the Lord of the Sabbath Who is greater than the Sabbath. He is the Bread of Life that is greater than the manna and the Bread of the Presence.

The book fittingly ends with Jesus’ words: “I am with you always, even to the end of time.” (Mt 28:20)

♫ What else should I be listening to but Panis Angelicus

[what’s in the square brackets are things I added]; the rest of the content is summarised from the book

 

 

 

Great Christian Thinkers

20160420_135310

Great Christian Thinkers
From the Early Church through the Middle Ages
by Pope Benedict XVI
(Fortress Press, 2011)

It began when my non-Catholic friend said that she had learnt quite a bit from the writings of the Church Fathers. “Church Fathers?” I scanned my mind for something to say to that but could not find a thing that was useful. I could only think “St. Augustine”. How I have kicked myself for not having been able to engage with her on this topic. When I saw this book, I knew that I needed it.

This is a collection of Pope Benedict XVI’s sermons on our Church’s very important thinkers, delivered at his public audiences at St. Peter’s Square between 2007 and 2010. He covers the historical background, activities and theological contributions of these great men and women, some of whom I had never heard of before, such as Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, Rabanus Maurus and Marguerite d’Oingt.

The thinkers are classified as:
Heirs of the Apostles (such as Origen and Tertullian)

• ŸGreat Teachers of the Ancient Church (such as Sts. Basil, Jerome and Augustine and other Church Fathers)

Ÿ• Monks and Missionaries (such as Bede the Venerable, Sts. Boniface, Cyril and Methodius)

Mystics, Mendicants and Scholastics (such as Sts. Anselm, Hildegard, Francis and Clare of Assisi, Thomas Aquinas and Catherine of Siena).

It makes for interesting reading when their feast days come round. However, many but not all of them are saints so we can’t just use feast days to get to know more about the movers and shakers of our history. Well, any time of the year is a good a time to learn something from these great Christian thinkers.

fides et ratio

Today is the memorial of St. Athanasius of Alexandria, who not long after his death was already proclaimed “the pillar of the Church”. Why was this the case?

He was, Pope Benedict explains, the “most important and tenacious adversary of the Arian heresy”. As a deacon and secretary to the Alexandrian bishop at the time, Athanasius was part of the Council of Nicaea, at which the belief in the “full divinity” of Jesus Christ was enshrined in the creed.

In 328, Athanasius became bishop but the Arian heresy came back to the fore and he had to leave Alexandria a number of times. However, these years of “exile” brought the opportunity to spread the faith expressed in the Nicene Creed as well as the “ideals of monasticism”. One of the results was the growth of monasticism in Egypt, among hermits such as St. Anthony Abbot. Eventually, Athanasius returned as bishop of Alexandria, and worked towards “religious pacification” and the “reorganisation of Christian communities”.

His most famous doctrinal work was De Incarnatione (On the Incarnation of the Word), from which we have the well-known quotation that the Word of God “was man so that we might be made God; and he manifested himself through a body so that we might receive the idea of the unseen Father; and he endured the insolence of men that we might inherit immortality”. His other important works include teachings on the divinity of the Holy Spirit, Easter preparations, meditational texts on the Psalms and the biography of St. Anthony Abbot.

♫ Makes me think of Take and Receive

Pilgrimage in the Footsteps of Jesus

Binz

Pilgrimage in the Footsteps of Jesus
by Stephen J. Binz
(Twenty-Third Publications, 2006)

We’re used to making our Advent and Lent spiritual journeys. We might also walk further with Jesus, then, or walk where He walked.

Pilgrimage in the Footsteps of Jesus is one of the titles in the Threshold Bible Study series, in which Bible study programmes are organised according to themes that run through different parts of the Bible. This is an alternative to Bible study by book.  It takes us on a reading and study pilgrimage of the “geography of salvation”. We visit significant places of Our Lord’s life and study the related events and Bible passage(s) at each stop.

There are 30 chapters, moving from Nazareth (the Annunciation) to the Mount of Olives (the Ascension). Each chapter is anchored at a pilgrimage site, such as the Basilica of the Annunciation and Shrine of the Ascension, with a (rather small) picture of each place. There is a Bible passage (sometimes more than one), a write-up and reflection on the passage, questions for reflection and discussion, and a prayer.

For example, session 28 is at the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The Bible reading is Mark 15:42-16:8, recounting Jesus’ burial and resurrection. The reflection reminds us that this may be the “last station of the sorrowful way of the cross” but it is also the “beginning of the glorious way of resurrection.” The angel points out the empty tomb but also says “He has been raised; he is not here”. Binz writes that the “truest pilgrimage is going out to tell others the good news and living the new life given to us by our risen Lord.”

This chapter is followed by the last two stops: Church of Peter’s Primacy at Tabgha (John 21:1-19) and Shrine of the Ascension (Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:6-12). The final chapter reiterates a life-giving purpose of pilgrimage: “the other side of pilgrimage means going somewhere else in order to bring God in a new way to that place… We can discover God’s presence in the least likely places, and we can bring the presence of God to places that wait in darkness for the dawning light of our Risen Lord.”

In other words, we are called to share our Easter joy with others.

P1170804

Happy Easter!
Join in the Dance

Other titles in the Threshold series include Advent Light, The Resurrection and the Life, The Mysteries of the Rosary, The Beast and the Lamb and The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts.