A man ought to examine himself…

April 6, 2010

 

A few weeks ago I started a series on the Mass. If you want to catch up click here.

Just like families that get together to share a meal or celebrate a special event have traditions and rituals for the way they do things, our Catholic family has rituals and traditions we practice when we celebrate the Mass together. Ours start with the Introductory Rites. (Rites: Ceremonies surrounding the Sacred Liturgy and the sacraments)

The Mass begins with an entrance song or antiphon prayed by the entire congregation (an antiphon is a prayer, often taken from the Bible). If you drop by a daily Mass you’re more likely to hear the antiphon. Most Sunday Masses begin with a song and the processional which includes an altar server carrying a crucifix and other servers following behind, along with the celebrant (the priest celebrating the Mass).

After the procession, the priest goes to the altar and kisses it. Now don’t worry my Protestant friends, he’s not worshipping the altar and making it an idol. A kiss is a sign of devotion. Just like your favorite aunt who gives you a big kiss on the cheek when she comes to dinner, the priest kisses the altar as a sign of our love and devotion to Christ for His sacrifice.

The celebrant then leads us in making the sign of the cross. Like I mentioned before, this signifies our identity, who we are as the family of God.

Next, he welcomes the family of God gathered for this celebration with a greeting  taken from Scripture. For example: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all (2 Cor. 13:13). And because the Mass is a liturgy (a work of the people) we participate and respond by saying, and also with you.

What follows is known as the penitential rite.  This is where we humble ourselves before God, acknowledge we’ve sinned and fall short of ever measuring up and that is why we need Jesus. We know we can’t approach God on our own merit so before we enter into corporate worship we take time to confess our faults and ask for forgiveness. Ideally, we’ve spent time before Mass examining our hearts for this penitential rite and preparing ourselves to receive Holy Communion.   

This rite may include a couple of traditions. Sometimes at a special Sunday Mass the priest will sprinkle the congregation with holy water as a reminder of their baptismal promises (to reject sin and follow Jesus) and as a symbol of healing and cleansing. 

More often the celebrant asks us to call to mind our sin in silence and ask for God’s forgiveness. Then he leads and we all pray a prayer. My favorite penitential prayer is called the Confiteor. It goes like this:

I confess to Almighty God and to you my brothers and sisters that I have sinned through my own fault. In my thoughts and in my words, what I have done and in what I have failed to do.  And I ask Blessed Mary, ever virgin, all the angels and saints and you my brothers and sisters to pray for me to the Lord our God.

I’ll say this about many parts of the Mass, but…

I love this tradition and rite. It makes so much sense doesn’t it? I mean here we are, gathered to worship and one of the first things we do is humble ourselves before God and one another and ask our brothers and sisters in Christ to pray for us to overcome our faults. This is the beauty of the Body of Christ isn’t it. And, it’s Scriptural. (If you’re not sure about asking Mary to pray for us, click here for a little perspective.)

If you read my letter to Claire about Confession and mortal sin vs. venial sin then you know that the Bible tells us there are some sins we are to pray about for one another (I John 5:16-17). These venial sins are the very ones we’re confessing in our hearts before we prepare to celebrate the Mass. This penitential rite is also part of what St. Paul reminds us to do before we receive Holy Communion: 

Therefore, whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.  A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself…But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgement.  (I Corinthians 11:27-29,31)

These verses explain the Biblical basis for the penitential rite:  Examining our hearts and confessing our sin before recognizing His body and blood and receiving Him in Communion.

These verses also say a lot about Communion and what the early church believed. I must admit that when I was a Protestant and I read those verses in light of what I’d been taught about Communion was faced with several questions, such as… 

If the bread and wine are symbolic and not truly the body and blood of Christ then why does Paul specifically say that taking the bread and wine in an unworthy manner is a sin against the body and blood of Christ? How can you eat bread and drink wine in an unworthy manner? How is it possible to sin against a symbol?

And, if the bread and wine are supposed to be symbolic and not changed into the body and blood of Christ then why would we be judged for not recognizing it as the body of the Lord?  If it’s just a symbol then why would St. Paul risk creating confusion by telling the people to recognize a symbol as the actual body of the Lord?

On the other hand, if it really is the body and blood of Jesus and I take it without confessing my sin, acknowledging His sacrifice and His real presence then St. Paul’s words make sense. I can see how I would be sinning against the actual body and blood of Christ.

Of course those questions and thoughts take me well beyond the scope of the Introductory Rites and this post. They’ll have to be addressed at a later date. But it does make you wonder, what exactly was St. Paul telling us about Holy Communion in these verses?

What is clear is that the Bible says we are to examine our hearts before coming to the Lord’s Table.  There’s no doubt that we Catholics take St. Paul’s words to heart, so much so that it’s a part of our worship at every Mass.

This is all I have time for today. I’ll finish the Introductions tomorrow.

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What He Wants

March 26, 2010

 

Dear Claire and Ella: 

If there’s one thing I pray you understand at a young age, it is this:

God is more interested in your holiness than He is

in your temporal happiness.

This is a lesson I’m still learning but I do know it starts with understanding that holiness comes by way of love — His love for you flowing through you to others. That is is why He wants all of you. He wants all of your heart so He can fill it with His love.

Because He wants your heart He’ll allow all kinds of circumstances in your life in order to draw you to Him. Sometimes He’ll court your heart with wonderful consolations and blessings in this life. Of course we all love these sweet circumstances and moments in life.  But, He also knows our human weakness and tendency to become attached to the consolations instead of The Consoler, attached to the gifts instead of The Giver.

Amazingly, instead of abandoning you in your weakness, He loves you enough to do whatever it takes to get your attention so you will let go of those things which get in the way of love. Sometimes He withdraws his consolations and waits for you to seek Him, to seek His heart and not just His gifts. At other times He redeems the painful consequences of living in a fallen world by using them to draw us to Him.

His desire for your holiness is not based on some puritanical rule but instead a desire for you to have a  heart of pure love for Him and for others. This is what we were created for. 

That’s why he won’t leave you where you are, even if you are happy. No, if you truly desire Him, if you truly want to love Him and love like Him, then He will use the circumstances of your life to challenge you to let go of your selfish attachments to this temporal life and grab hold of Him, of His love, mercy and grace.

It may surprise you to hear this but, this is His gift of grace to you.

Anything that draws you to Him is a grace because left to our own devices we would not seek Him. The key is recognizing his hand at work in these difficult circumstances. Seeing that something greater is going on. This seeing requires eyes of faith. It requires you trust that He really does have your best interests at heart. Acknowledging this truth is the first step in surrender. I say step, because surrender is a process.

Surrendering means you stop fighting His will and you finally let Him do the work in you and through you. But remember, surrender does not make everything all better. The work He is doing may still be painful and difficult. But, when you begin to trust that He is working all things together for your eternal good then you can begin to find moments of peace in the midst of the pain, moments of trust where there used to be fear and worry.

Those moments most often come when you seek Him, when you place yourself before Him in worship, adoration and in stillness and quiet. They come as you receive Him and His strength in Communion. They come as you renew your mind and heart with the truth that this is not your final home; this temporal life is just one part of the journey. And they come when you serve and sacrifice for others.

This is why I take you often to Mass and Adoration. I want you to learn to give Him all of your heart in worship, to turn you eyes from your own circumstances and pray for others, and to spend time contemplating what Jesus did for us on the cross.

I want you to learn now because as you get older there will be times when it seems hard to surrender. In those moments remain faithful, continue to seek Jesus. Things may not change overnight. You  may not change overnight. So be patient with the process. Be patient with yourself.  It’s natural to want to avoid difficulties and pain. Your emotions will tell you to protect yourself in selfish ways, to run or to fight the process. And there will be times when you might give in to your emotions. Do not worry about this. Repent and turn your heart and mind back toward God.

As you give more of your heart to him and learn to constantly turn to Him for your strength you will find that you are more than your emotions; you are His and His Spirit can transform you. And as He transforms you, you will know more of His love and see it flowing  through you to others.

And finally you will see what He has known all along…

In holiness there is more happiness than you could have ever imagined!

Love,

Mom


Sit, Kneel, Stand…Repeat

March 16, 2010
[My last three posts have been about the Mass. This is post #4.]
 

So we’ve finally made it through the door. Now it’s time to have a seat, right?

Wait, not so fast. Not before we start you on the Catholic Calisthenics program.

You think I’m kidding, but if you’ve been to a Mass then you know we use just about every part of body to worship. Some Protestants don’t know what to with us. And most don’t know what to do when they’re with us. 

We Catholics can’t seem to sit still; we kneel, stand, sit, make the sign of the cross, genuflect, and bow several times in the span of one hour. And it begins before you even get in your pew.

Why you ask?

It’s a lot like the idea I mentioned before: We’re a sensing people and God reaches and teaches us through our senses and not just our spirit.

Not only does God reach us this way but we reach out to Him in this way too. We have bodies. Bodies that are temples of the Holy Spirit. Bodies created to worship and glorify God. As Catholics we do this during Mass by kneeling, standing, sitting, bowing, and genuflecting.

You see, the liturgy is literally “the work of the people.” The entire Mass is our worship. We differ from some “contemporary” churches in that we don’t sing a few songs and then sit down to listen to one person speak. We are called to worship throughout the Mass as we participate in the prayers, the music, the reading of the Word and Communion. We do this not just internally with our hearts and minds but with our bodies as well.    

Our participation starts with genuflecting before we sit in our pew of choice. 

Why do we genuflect?

The simple but not so simple answer:

Catholics believe the consecrated bread is the Body of Christ (Read the Book of John Chapter 6). We call the consecrated bread the Blessed Sacrament, the Eucharist, Jesus. And in every Catholic Church Christ’s Body in this Blessed Sacrament is kept in the tabernacle of the Church.

That means we believe that Christ is present in a tangible and real way. His presence in the Eucharist is different than the presence of Christ we each carry in us because of the Holy Spirit.  Just like our experience of Christ’s presence in heaven is different than our experience of Him while we live on earth. Because we believe in Christ’s real presence in the Blessed Sacrament, when we enter and exit our pews or pass the tabernacle we genuflect out of respect and love for Him.

That’s the simple answer. What’s not so simple for some Protestants who might read this is our belief that the consecrated bread and wine actually are Christ’s body and blood. And, I certainly understand why. 

I’ll go into the Biblical and historical reasons for this belief when we talk about the Liturgy of the Eucharist. For now let me say this…

Some may think this believe is far-fetched and ridiculous and scoff at the idea that Jesus would make himself truly present to us, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the substance of bread and wine.

Others may think that God would have no reason to lower himself in such a way. We have no need for such a silly belief in the divine becoming tangible for us humans.

You might be one who looks at the bread and wine and thinks Catholics are crazy for believing this. Afterall, the bread looks like bread. And, the wine looks like wine. It doesn’t look like flesh and blood right?  

If you find yourself scoffing at this belief, consider this…

There were (and still are many)  who thought it was ridiculous to believe that Jesus was indeed God incarnate. They couldn’t conceive that God would lower himself and come to us in human flesh.

There were plenty of people who mocked the disciples for believing He was the Messiah, the Son of God. Afterall, he didn’t look like God, he looked like a man. How could he or anyone else claim that he was divine, holy, the God of the universe.  An impossible, ridiculous, crazy belief right?

Just something to think about.

Ok, back to the Mass.

Once we genuflect, out of love and respect for Jesus and His real presence, we sit down. But, not for long because then we kneel in prayer to prepare our hearts for the Mass. During this time it is common for Catholics to examine their hearts and confess to God any obstacles and sins that have kept them from walking in His love and grace. 

After we kneel and pray we stand for the processional and opening prayer, which starts of course with the sign of the cross. Once again we’re reminded we our children of God, His family, gathered to worship Him.

And now finally, the Mass has begun…

… in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.