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)

 

 

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Jesus of Nazareth – The Infancy Narratives

infancy-narratives

Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives
by Joseph Ratzinger, translated by Philip J. Whitmore
(Bloomsbury, 2012)

 This book follows Ratzinger’s two earlier Jesus of Nazareth works, From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration and Holy Week: From the Entrance in Jerusalem to the Resurrection. In it, he explains the theological, contextual and historical significance of the infancy narratives from the Gospels according to Matthew and Luke.

Here is a selection of the points discussed.

“Where are you from?”
Matthew’s and Luke’s genealogies end with Joseph. Mary marks the point of the “new beginning”, carrying Jesus, Whose origin is no man but Who is a “new creation”. Through Him, we have a new genealogy that we can trace back to God.

The Annunciation of the Birth of John the Baptist and the Annunciation of the Birth of Jesus
Zechariah, an ageing priest, hears the angel’s message during the Temple liturgy, while Mary, a young almost-nobody, receives her message in a personal setting in a small town. The contrast of the circumstances of the two annunciations begins the different missions of John the Baptist and Jesus.

Annunciation and Birth of John
John’s story begins in the Old Testament world, with his parents both from priestly families. As a representative of the Old Covenant priesthood, John points the way to Jesus.

Annunciation to Mary
“Rejoice, full of grace!” The angel’s greeting does not begin with the expected Hebrew shalom (“peace be with you”) but the Greek chaire (“rejoice”, “hail”). This is the same “rejoice” that appears in Luke 2:10 (“I bring you good news of a great joy”); John 16:22 (“I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you”); and John 20:20 (“The disciples were glad when they saw the Lord”).

In Greek, “joy” and “grace” share the same root, highlighting this combination in Mary as well as the joy-cum-grace that is to come through her – Jesus and His message.

The Birth of Jesus in Bethlehem
Luke situates Jesus in a concrete place and time: the “eternal logos”, our true God, truly became man.

Jesus’ birth
Historically, this is during the reign of Augustus Caesar. An inscription indicates that Augustus (Greek: “worthy of adoration”) was expected to be the one to bring about “universal peace”. He was called “saviour” and “redeemer”, titles that belonged to gods like Zeus. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, these terms refer exclusively to God.

By his decree for “all the world” to be registered, Augustus Caesar indirectly sets in motion the fulfilment of Micah’s prophecy that the “shepherd of Israel” would be born in Bethlehem (5:1-3). Unknown to him, this is the “fullness of time”, the time for the appearance of the true Saviour and Redeemer of all peoples, and so Augustus’ reign ushers in the period of peace foretold by the Old Testament prophets, but brought about not by him but by the Son of God.

Ratzinger writes:
“God, who is the God of Israel and of all peoples, shows himself to be the true guiding force behind all history.”

nativity

From the historical and political context, we then look at Jesus’ birth in humble circumstances.

There is “no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:6), and significantly, 33 years later, he is “crucified outside the city” (Hebrew 13:12). From the time He is born, Jesus is excluded from what would be considered “important and powerful”, but it is He who is the “truly powerful one”.

The exact spot of Jesus’ birth is still debated today but early Christians living in Palestine were able to point out the cave (one of many in Bethlehem that were used as stables) in which Jesus was traditionally believed to have been born. When the Romans overran Israel, they took this story seriously and turned the cave into a shrine for Tammuz-Adonis.

What we do know from Luke is that Jesus is placed in a manger. St. Augustine explains how the manger, the place where animals had their food, was turned into the “table of God”. Thus, from His lowly birth, Jesus brings about our redemption.

In addition, the first ones to hear of His birth are shepherds in the area, representing the “lowly” and also known for their “watchfulness”. In humility, silence and waiting, the Lord comes to us.

Presentation
The Law required mothers to be “purified” 40 days after the birth, and first-born sons to be dedicated to God. Mary brought into the world the One who would purify it but she and Joseph still obey the Law. Families were not required to go to the Temple for the sacrificial offerings but Jesus makes a first public appearance in the Temple, with this event marking His dedication to God as well as Simeon’s and Anna’s recognition that hope had come. Their prophecies draw the “light” of hope that Jesus brings together with the way of the Cross.

The Wise Men from the East and the Flight into Egypt
The Magi show how the really wise are the ones who “search for truth, and for the true God”. A later Magi, mentioned in Acts 13:10, represents the result of resisting Jesus and His witnesses.

The Magi are outsiders, and they ask for the “king of the Jews”, using a Gentile form of reference; this is the same term that is used in Pilate’s inscription (the Jewish people would have used the term “king of Israel”). This is an early reference to the universality of Jesus’ kingship and a link to the Cross as well.

Although their arrival troubled “all of Jerusalem”, even Herod’s experts do not appear moved to respond to the new king, and it is the Magi, the Gentiles, who go on to search for Him and to pay homage. Hence, we have the coming of the King of all the universe, as indicated by the Magi’s gifts, who is rejected by the people among whom He appears.

Once the wise men find and adore Jesus, the star disappears. It was not the star that defined or determined His life – it is He who “directs the star”.

Flight to Egypt and Return to the Land of Israel
There has been some debate about whether the killing of the innocents actually took place. It is known that Herod executed three of his own sons, so it was not out of character for him to have ordered the murder of boys two years and under.

This put Jesus on the road to Galilee. Joseph is instructed to go there when they return from Egypt, and the fact that Jesus was from Galilee later becomes “proof” that people would cite when they argue that He could not possibly be the Messiah.

The 12-Year-Old Jesus in the Temple
Jesus’ parents went on the yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover, as part of the “great pilgrim community”.

The three days during which Jesus is missing and His parents keenly experience His absence anticipate the three days from His death on the Cross to His resurrection. From the human perspective, His wandering off from the family party could be seen as an act of “disobedience or inappropriate freedom” but in essence, this was Jesus’ obedience to the Father’s will and the work that the Father had set out for Him, work that He “must” do. Here, it is the same “must” that is used when the Gospels refer to Jesus’ “readiness to submit to God’s will”, for example, that He “must suffer greatly, be rejected, be killed and rise again” (Mk 8:3).

Nevertheless, He does return with His parents and “was obedient to them”, and grew in “wisdom” and “stature” in His family and community setting.

In contrast to Jesus’ focused actions to follow the will of the Father, Mary and Joseph do not understand clearly His words or behaviour. Mary’s response is to “ponder” and “(keep) all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:50-51), which she does earlier (Luke 2:19) as well, a useful pointer for all believers in their response to hearing the word of God.

In summary, the book explains what at Jesus’ birth was already clear about His identity, His fulfilment of the promise of hope and salvation for all mankind, and the Cross and resurrection that were to come.  God is with us.

O Little Town of Bethlehem

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…”

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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 Lamb’s Supper

the-lambs-supper

The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth
by Scott Hahn
(Doubleday, 1999)

 This was one of the books that got me reading in greater earnest. I didn’t have any idea then about Scott Hahn or his story and I was taken by his tale of his first Mass:
As the Mass moved on… something hit me. My Bible wasn’t just beside me. It was before me—in the words of the Mass! One line was from Isaiah, another from the Psalms, another from Paul. The experience was overwhelming. I wanted to stop everything and shout, “Hey, can I explain what’s happening from Scripture? This is great!”

This kind of reaction to the Mass both saddens yet amuses me because it makes me wonder what exactly people think we are doing at Mass. A more important question, of course, is how we Catholics understand it ourselves, and it was enlightening to read of it in relation to the Book of Revelation.

Right there at his first Mass, Hahn understood that the focus of Mass is Jesus, the “Lamb of God” of John’s Gospel and Who is mentioned 28 times in Revelation. Several Masses along, he recognised in the liturgy more elements of the Bible, especially from Revelation. His book explains this link and it is the fruit of his years of study of Revelation and liturgy, and his coming to the Catholic faith.

Hahn emphasises that the early Church Fathers were the first to explain the relationship between Revelation and Mass. For them, Revelation was “incomprehensible apart from the liturgy”. In the Jewish worship of the Old Testament, Israel prayed “in imitation of the angels” but in the Mass, we worship “together with the angels” (Rev 19:10), as stated in the Preface, and then done when singing Holy, Holy, Holy and in the Eucharistic prayers, hence his view of the Mass as “heaven on earth”.

He acknowledges the “futuristic” sense of Revelation but focuses on how Revelation is relevant to us in the here and now of Mass. On one level, Revelation looks to the parousia (“coming” of Christ; original meaning in Greek – “presence”), the new Jerusalem, and new heaven and earth. At the same time, it also points to Jesus’ “real and abiding presence”, nowhere more “real and abiding” than in the Mass.

A historical nugget recorded by St. Epiphanius was about Hadrian’s arrival in Jerusalem in 130AD. Jerusalem was “still in ruins” and what was left standing were “a few houses” as well as “the little church of God on the spot where the disciples went to the upper room”. The upper room, believed to be the scene of Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, had survived the sack of Jerusalem (70AD)…

One of Hahn’s perspectives is of Revelation as a “courtroom scene”, with God as judge and Jerusalem on trial, and the angels helping to “execute” God’s judgment in some clearly liturgical scenes. Every time we attend Mass, we find ourselves within this judgment scene.

The Mass also mirrors the structure of Revelation. The first 11 chapters contain the “proclamation” of the letters to the churches and the opening of the scroll, with the word “repent” appearing eight times in the first three chapters. This is reflected in the Penitential Rite and the Liturgy of the Word in the first part of Mass. From Chapter 11 onwards, we are brought to God’s Temple and move towards the climactic ending of the marriage supper of the Lamb, reflected in the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

Here is part of his list showing that “the golden thread of liturgy is what holds together the apocalyptic pearls of John’s vision”.

an altar 8:3-4; 11:1; 14:18
priests (presbyteroi) 4:4; 11:15; 14:3; 19:4
vestments 1:13; 4:4; 6:11; 7:9; 15:6; 19:3-14
lamp stands (Menorah) 1:12; 2:5
penitence Chp 2 & 3
incense 5:8; 8:3-5
the book, or scroll 5:1
the Eucharistic Host 2:17
chalices 15:7; Chp 16; 21:9
the Gloria 15:3-4
the Alleluia 19:1, 3, 4, 6
Holy Holy Holy 4:8
Lamb of God 5:6 and throughout
intercession of angels and saints 5:8; 6:9-10; 8:3-4
antiphonal chant 4:8-11; 5:9-14; 7:10-12; 18:1-8
readings from Scripture Chp 2-3; 5; 8:2-11
the priesthood of the faithful 1:6; 20:6
the marriage supper of the Lamb 19:9, 17

Indeed, at every Mass, our Lord says:
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Rev 3:20)

mass

Come, Lord Jesus! (Rev 22:20)

♫ Makes me think of Behold the Lamb

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

The Scripture Source Book for Catholics

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The Scripture Source Book for Catholics
by Rev. Peter Klein
(Our Sunday Visitor Curriculum Division, 2008)

Simply put, this book is for Catholics who want to know more about Scripture. It explains the many aspects in which the Church is scriptural. Its two broad areas – Scripture from the Catholic perspective and Scripture in the life of the Catholic Church – are covered in seven chapters.

Scripture from the Catholic perspective

  1. Word of God – Revelation

God revealed Himself to Adam and Eve, then by His covenant with Noah, by His promise to Abraham, by His freeing of the Israelites from slavery through Moses and by the Incarnation of His Son, from Whom we receive the “ultimate” revelation of God’s Word. From then, it has been the responsibility of the missionary Church to transmit this divine revelation. This is done through Sacred Scripture and Tradition, what was handed down to the Apostles and through them. Along with Tradition and Sacred Scripture stands the Magisterium of the Church – “no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:20).

  1. Words of People – Sacred Scripture

Klein notes that “Christianity is not first of all a religion of the book but of a person” and that for the early Christians, what was “canonical” was what Peter, James and Paul preached, “in continuity with what Jesus had proclaimed”.

After years of depending on oral tradition, people began to write and document so that the teachings could be passed down in a concrete and “accurate” way. The books of both the Old and New Testaments were put together by the communities and edited over many years.

Only “fragments” of written works date back to the time of the Exodus, and these include the Song of Miriam and the Song of Deborah. It was around the time of David’s establishment of his capital at Jerusalem (1000BC) that written records were produced in great earnest.

The earliest Christian Scriptures were the letters of Paul and the others, the first complete one being 1 Thessalonians (around AD50). A first version of the Gospel (Mark’s) emerged around AD70. By around the 300s, the 39-book Old Testament canons were “widely recognised” and by around 400, the 27-book New Testament was “generally accepted”.

There was also other early Christian literature, such as letters, sermons and the Didache.

  1. Book of Covenants – Moral formation in the Old and New Testaments

The Old Testament can “stand on its own” and it “prepares for the New”. The New Testament reveals the fulfilment of God’s divine plan and Jesus’ role in our salvation. Therefore, the Gospels are “the heart of all the Scriptures”. One significant thread that ties the Old and New Testaments is typology, by which Jesus (as well as other New Testament people or events) is revealed in the Old Testament through “types” or prefigurations.

  1. Journal of God’s People – The Word of God

The Church’s mission is: first and foremost, message (kerygma, coming from Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition), followed by fellowship (koinonia) and service (diakonia). The Church’s stewardship of the message includes translating, interpreting and analysing the Scriptures, and producing commentaries. Here, the Magisterium functions as “servant” of the word: “it teaches only what has been handed on to it… listens to it devoutly, guards it reverently and expounds it faithfully”.

Scripture in the Life of the Church

  1. The Lectionary – Liturgical catechesis

Scripture is organised in the Lectionary (“collection of readings”) for liturgical proclamation. The three-year cycle of Gospel readings for Sunday Masses provides a “semi continuous” reading of a particular Gospel in the assigned year. Scriptures specific to Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter are thematically organised for those liturgical seasons.

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On top of this, Scripture features significantly throughout the Mass, from the first Sign of the Cross and greeting, to the end of Mass.

The sacraments are founded on Scripture and so “preaching of the Word is an essential part of the celebration of the sacraments”. Sacramentals, such as anointing, and the use of candles, incense and ashes, also have scriptural foundation.

  1. Prayer Book of the Church – Integration of daily prayer

The Liturgy of Hoursconsecrates to God the whole cycle of day and night, as it has done from early Christian times”. It includes hymns, antiphons, psalms, Gospel canticles, Scripture reading and prayers, with Fridays, Sundays as well as feast days and liturgical seasons given a “special character”.

  1. Light of the Faithful – Personal prayer life of the faithful

The Scriptures underlie devotions such as the Sacred Heart devotion, the Way of the Cross, Litanies, Holy Hours, Novenas and the mysteries of the Rosary. We are also encouraged to pray with Scripture. For example, we might use the Lectio Divina method (reading, meditation, responding, contemplation) or pray prayers from Scripture.

If you happen to read this reference book from cover to cover (which I did!) you will find yourself at the end of it at four very interesting appendices:
– The Four-fold sense of Scripture (literal, allegorical, moral, anagogical)
– Figures of speech in Scripture
– Words & phrases with a Scriptural origin or allusion
– A history of the translation of Scripture into English.

So much to learn!

God dwells in His Word
♫ How Lovely is Your Dwelling Place

Lord, Have Mercy

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Lord, Have Mercy
by Scott Hahn
(St Pauls, 2009; first published by Doubleday, 2003)

Confession is often mocked or misunderstood. Just look at how the confessional is portrayed in shows – such as when people use the confessional to pour out their troubles (rather than to make their confession), or when it is used as a hiding place (so if I’m the bad guy, I’d head straight for the confessional to look for the person I’m chasing!) or a convenient place to dump a dead body.

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This book gives a comprehensive overview of it for anyone who needs to explain confession, or who wants to understand the sacrament better. It covers:

  • Sin, its consequences and making reparation for our sins
  • Confessing, penance and reconciliation in the Old Testament
  • Jesus’ instructions and teaching

Sin, its consequences and making reparation for our sins
We know we have to try to “be perfect… as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) but invariably we sin. One big consequence is that “sins engender other sins, not only in the sinner but in others as well”. Our perfect heavenly Father provides the way for us to recognise, admit and renounce our sins, and then to repair the damage they cause.

Confessing, penance and reconciliation in the Old Testament
Right from the start, God gently guided the earliest sinners, to show them how they could be healed. His questions gave Adam, Eve and Cain the opportunity to confess and repent but they didn’t and so faced the consequences of their sins.

By the time of the Covenants, there were specific guidelines for confessing one’s sins and making reparations. Acts of sacrifice, fasting, sackcloth, ashes and open weeping showed that while turning away from sin was an individual’s response and responsibility, the public process, “humbling and costly” though it may be, as well as the intercession of the priest were also necessary.

The New Testament era did not do away with this, as Jesus did not come to “replace something bad with something good”.  He came to “take something already great and holy… and bring it to divine fulfilment.”

Jesus’ instructions and teaching
Some points explained in the book:
Binding and loosing
The apostles would have understood what Jesus meant, in their Jewish context. This referred to the authority of priests of the past to “bind” and “loose” – to “judge someone to be in communion with the chosen people or cut off from that group’s life and worship”.

“Do not sin again”
When Jesus forgave and healed sinners, He told them “do not sin again” (such as in John 8:11), which Hahn calls His “absolution”. This “renews” the sinner and restores him/her to the community and it is also an exhortation to turn away from sin.  Thus, as we keep sinning, we need to keep coming back to Jesus for forgiveness and healing.

Reconciliation-related stories
The story of the prodigal son and the last moments of the good thief show God reaching out to sinners “while they are still on the road to true contrition”.

In the story of the wedding feast (Matthew 22:1-14), the only guest who was thrown out was the one did not wear his wedding garment – the one who was not properly ready for the feast.

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The sacrament of Reconciliation invites us to prepare for the wedding feast of the Lamb. It could be helpful to start with reminding ourselves of what confession is all about, then regularly do our examination of conscience (a version based on the Ten Commandments is included in the appendix) and finally step into the confessional. Our merciful God waits for us.

♫ Makes me think of Loving and Forgiving