A change of seasons

April 1, 2010

 One thing I love about the Catholic faith is the seasons of the liturgical calendar. I’ve said this before but it bears repeating, especially today, the beginning of the Paschal Triduum.

Paschal Triduum: A period of three days for the most exalted liturgical celebration of the year, beginning with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday evening and concluding with Vespers on Easter Sunday, recalling the passion, death and resurrection of Christ, along with His Institution of the Holy Eucharist and Holy Orders.

For the last 40 days, the Mass Scripture readings, the prayers and the music have pointed us toward the this triduum celebration. I love this about the Church. There’s no way that Good Friday and Easter can just creep up on you in the Catholic faith.  Instead we’ve been slowing creeping up on it, preparing our hearts and minds through prayer, fasting, going to confession and meditating on Christ’s humility and self-sacrificing love.

And here’s what is so beautiful: We won’t just celebrate Easter for a day and then move on or go back to studying a randomly  selected book of the Bible. We spent 40 days in Lent, a season of repentance and dying to self. For the 50 days following Easter we will celebrate, rejoice and focus on Christ’s resurrection and his time on earth after his resurrection. All the prayers, Scripture readings and music will emphasize this. All of this then leads us to the celebration of Pentecost when He sent His Holy Spirit to lead and guide His Church.

I treasure these seasons and the rhythm of living them with our parish community. I love the preparation and then the joyful celebration. I think we humans are hardwired this way. Just look at the secular world, even they enjoy a change of seasons, reasons to celebrate. It’s so fitting then that God would redeem this part of our human nature and give us a Church that leads us through seasons and celebrations that emphasize the true meaning of life — the grace, salvation and love of God the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit.

So tonight begins the Triduum. We call this Holy Thursday. It’s the night Christ  instituted the Eucharist. He celebrated the Last Supper, consecrated the bread and the wine, and called his 12 disciples to do the same. This is why we also celebrate the institution of Holy Orders today.  

With respect to Holy Orders and the priesthood here’s something to think about…

On the night before He died, Jesus even called Judas to this role of priest. He knew Judas was going to fail him as a priest and betray Him and His Church. The same goes for Peter whom He called to be the rock of the Church and the first pope (click here if you need more Scriptural support for this), except Peter repented. 

It’s interesting to note that the human failings of the disciples didn’t stop Jesus from building His Church and giving us priests to celebrate the Eucharist.  He knew all along there would be faithful priests who would still fall but repent and there would be some unfaithful, unrepentant priests. Maybe we need to have a little more faith and trust that God is in charge of the Church no matter how grieviously some our leaders might fail us.

Tonight my family and I plan to go to the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. This is a beautiful liturgy. After which the priest removes the Blessed Sacrament (the Body of Christ) from the Tabernacle.  The removal of his tangible, physcial presence from the church is symbolic of His death. 

At my parish, Jesus, who is present in the Blessed Sacrament is taken to an auxiliary chapel, reminiscent of the Garden of Gethsemane. Like the first disciples, we are invited to come and pray with Him “in the Garden” until midnight. After that the Blessed Sacrament is removed. Just as Jesus was taken from the Garden by the soldiers and His disciples were left without Him we too are left without the tangible presence of Christ until we celebrate His resurrection at Easter Vigil on Saturday night.

Last year was the first year Claire understood what was going on at this Mass. As the priest took the Body of Christ from the Tabernacle Claire started to cry. She leaned over and whispered, Mommy, I know Jesus lives in my heart but I don’t want Him to leave the Tabernacle tonight.  I imagine the disciples felt the same when the soldiers dragged their beloved Jesus away.

I don’t know if your church celebrates the Paschal Triduum but if you’re looking for a way to recognize these three solemn and holy days I encourage you to check out your local Catholic Church. You are always welcome and I guarantee that if you come with an open heart and mind you will be blessed by this liturgy.

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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.


What’s up with the holy water?

March 12, 2010

 

I promised in my last post that I’d follow-up on the holy water “thing.”

We’ve probably all watched those movie scenes where the priest throws holy water on the possessed man who then writhes in pain as his skin comes into contact with this substance. Entertaining for some I suppose but its a bit dramatic. And no, it doesn’t happen at Mass. 🙂  Although on some ocassions the congregation gets a good sprinkling (more on that later).

Holy water isn’t some “magical” cure-all Catholics use as it’s often portrayed in the movies or on TV. And it’s not something we place our faith in above or apart from our faith in Jesus. But, as I explained in my last post, it is a daily part of the practice of our faith at church and the sacramental life of the Church.

Catholics believe in sacramentals which are sacred signs that possess a likeness to the sacraments.

 [Note: A sacrament is an outward sign of an inward grace. We celebrate seven sacraments in the Church–Baptism, Reconciliation, Holy Communion, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders and the Anointing of the Sick.]

Holy water is a sacramental.

Jesus, God, became a man and used the things of this earth to communicate the truths of the faith. Because we’re not just “spirit” but we have bodies and we’re a sensing people he gave us tangible sacred signs of the faith for the Sacraments he instituted through his ministry and the Church. (i.e. He used bread and wine for Communion. He was baptized with water.)

The Bible is full of stories about how God used water to cleanse and set His people free (Noah, the parting of the Red Sea, baptism). At a baptism the priest or the deacon prays and blesses the water. Scripture tells how the Spirit hovered over the waters of the earth in Genesis. In a similar way he asks the Spirit to come upon the water.

 It’s important to say that the blessed water is not all of the sudden some magical remedy or potion. But, by faith we trust that the Holy Spirit comes upon the water, thereby making the water a holy sacramental.  

As the priest or deacon baptizes with this water in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit this person is washed of their sin, born again in Christ and given the Holy Spirit (see my last post for Scripture references). The holy water is the sacramental sign of having your sins washed away, of purity and holiness. 

I like how our pastors put it, God takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary The bread and the wine, the water, the oil, they’re all ordinary things but in God’s economy they become extraordinary. That even goes for us.

We are, in a certain way, like sacramentals – we are ordinary a part from God’s touch of grace but through His Spirit we become sacred signs of the faith for the world to see. We’ll talk about that more when we get into the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

As a Protestant I probably would have shunned the ideas of sacramentals or so I thought. However, our deacons and pastors often anointed people other with oil when we prayed. When I served on a women’s retreat we prayed over the crosses given to the women to wear. We had baptismal fonts and we used bread and grape juice for our symbolic remembrance of the Last Supper.

Although we never called these sacramentals, the idea was very similar. Like holy water, they were material signs and reminders of our faith. And just like Protestants who anoint with oil for different types of blessings and prayers, we use holy water for different blessings. The most common being when we enter the church, which was the focus of my last post. 

Bottom line: When Catholics use holy water it’s as a sacramental sign that points us back to Christ, our baptism, holiness and the forgiveness of sin. This practice is rooted in our faith and trust in what He’s done and is doing for us.

So there you have it. Amy’s unofficial explanation of holy water.

Whew, we’re finally through the church doors (took a while I know). Come back soon. Mass is about to begin…


“I just don’t get it”

March 10, 2010

 

When I was in the initial stages of studying the Catholic faith a close Protestant friend said to me, I just don’t get it. That dead old liturgy. It’s meaningless.

She’s not alone.

There are plenty of people (Catholics, ex-Catholics and Protestants alike) who don’t get it. They think the liturgy of the Mass is dead and out-dated. Many Catholics have left the Church in search of worship that feels good, is more simple and some claim more Biblical. 

The interesting thing is, few, if any, who leave the Church ever study the parts of the Mass in an effort to understand the significance of the traditions or the Biblical basis for the liturgy. Instead many (not all) have simply labeled what they don’t understand as meaningless. And that which doesn’t appeal to their feelings or personal preferences is deemed out-dated and irrelevant.

On some level I can’t blame them.

If you were brought up Catholic and no one (starting with your parents) ever taught you the meaning of the Mass then how could you engage and grow in your relationship with Jesus. Of course it’s more than just being taught. If the other six days of the week your parents didn’t live in the grace, love and the life of Jesus received in the Eucharist at Mass on Sunday then it’s likely it would have little to no meaning for you at all. It might just seem like an empty meaningless ritual.

But just because someone never learned or their parents never “lived the Mass” doesn’t mean it’s meaningless. It just means they probably never experienced the depth of the love, grace and purpose of the Mass. 

And just because a Protestant visits a Mass and doesn’t “get it,” it doesn’t mean there’s nothing to get. It just means they don’t know and understand the Mass. And how could they? They weren’t raised Catholic.

So, in an effort to shed light on what it is we Catholics do in Mass and why, I thought I’d write a little about it based on my own studies and my own personal experience.

The first thing you may be wondering…

Why does the Church place such an emphasis on the Mass?

Answer: The Mass is the highest form of prayer for Catholics.

Why? You ask. 

The simple answer…

The Holy Eucharist, which is central to the celebration of the Mass, is the source and summit of our Catholic faith. The Eucharist being of course, Jesus–His Body and Blood, which is given to us as a means of grace and spiritual life through Holy Communion. Consequently, there is no liturgy more powerful or meaningful for Catholics than the Mass.

I know the Eucharist will require much more attention and explanation than that. However, for now, I’ll have to let that simple answer stand.

If you’re one of those who “just doesn’t get it” come back and visit again. I’ll do my best to explain just why the Mass is not a meaningless, out-dated-ritual but instead the most Christ-centered form of worship I’ve ever known.

More to come in future posts…