Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Christmas Mystery

Merry Christmas to all bloggers out there! May the Lord bless you abundantly in the coming year.

What a joyous time of year! Christmas is the solemnity where we remember and make present again God becoming man. The Incarnation, the "enfleshment" of God, plays a pivotal role in our history and our lives.

God sent His only Son into the world to redeem the people who had wondered far from the path of holiness. The eternal God, the God Who exists outside of time, enters human history and becomes one of us in our nature, in all but sin.

God came into this world as a baby because babies are irresistible. Who can say God is vengeful when you see the holy child in the manger? God loves us and He wants us to be one with Him. The Father sent His Son in the world by the power of the Holy Spirit to save us and live with us.

As you celebrate with family and friends with Christmas, please remember that the Father is calling you to be one with Him, one with His Son, one with the Spirit. He wants you to want this.

Hodie Christus natus est! Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Published Article

One of my articles has been published in the Quincy University student-run newspaper, The Falcon. Vol. 82, Issue 4: Dec. 7, 2011.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

What is Liturgy?

Many people tend to think that liturgy is the work of the people. What they forget, though, is that it is God who is working in the liturgy. God works through man and man carries out the action of God. Liturgy, then, is the very essence of Christianity: Not my will, but your will be done.

My whole problem with many liturgical and sacramental theologians is that they forget this subtle nuance. This subtle nuance, though, is the key to understanding liturgy. The Church is the fundamental Sacrament of Christ and Christ is the primordial Sacrament of God.

When we understand the nature of Christ and His Church, we understand God ever more clearly. God the Father sent Christ into the world and the Church is Christ's Mystical Body on earth. When we do the will of the Church, we are doing the will of God. The Church is Christ present to the the world through witness, service, and worship.

When we worship God, we worship Him according to the way He wants to be worshipped. How do we know how he wants to be worshipped? Simple, the Church does the will of God. Christ acts through the members of His Church in all they do, especially in the liturgy. God is the object to whom we worship and the person through whom we worship.

Liturgy is not the work of the people. Rather, it is Christ who is acting through us. Forgetting this makes us forget Christ. In all we do, we worship God the Father through His Son by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Somewhat Bittersweet Post

At approximately 9pm this evening, I turned in my last research paper as a graduate student. Needless to say, I have a far way to go before I am done with my degree (oral, written, and Spanish comps, and thesis), but this is a milestone nonetheless. The focus of my paper was Father Alexander Schmemann's Eucharistic theology in the Catholic Church in the modern world.

If anyone knows who Father Schmemann was, the topic of my paper may seem a little strange. Father Schmemann was a Russian Orthodox liturgical theologian who was born in Estonia in 1921. When he was seven years old, he emigrated to Paris with his parents where he stayed to study for the Orthodox priesthood and pursued further studies in Church History. Father Schmemann and his theology overall was based in the Catholic Church's Liturgical Movement, a movement stressing the inherent meaning of the Church's prayer (the liturgy) in the life of the everyday faithful.

The Liturgical Movement coined a term, the ressourcement. A French word meaning "going back to the sources." The Movement was primarily interested in seeing the Church, all of her members both clerical and lay, see the centrality of the liturgy in the life of the Church as it once was in the early Church. While this was one part of the Liturgical Movement's mission, it summed up the reason why the Church was seeking this idea all over again. The faithful merely went to Mass and, the closest thing to participation was the laity praying a rosary while the priest said all of the prayers of the Mass.

Schmemann, though writing for a primarily Orthodox audience, saw what the Catholic Church was doing and took it upon himself to revitalize the Orthodox Church's liturgical life. He once wrote in For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy, that "The only real fall of man is his noneucharistic life in a noneucharistic world." Catholicism, as well as Orthodoxy, became merely a religion that was practiced. Schmemann, as a Church historian, went "back to the sources" and saw that the early Church did not merely practice their belief, they lived it. With this thought in mind, he wrote that Christianity is not a religion in the strict sense of the word, rather, it is a way of life that must be lived. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. To be a Christian, one has to live the life that Christ lived, one of continual self-sacrifice back to the Father in heaven.

This may seem like an extremely foreign concept in the twenty-first century, but it is one that cannot "go out of style." The Church is impelled by God to come to the liturgy where we learn how to be a Christian. In this sense, the liturgy is the classroom of life. I must admit, this is a concept that even I have trouble grasping. The secular world has much to offer that is fun, exciting, and, dare I say, dangerous. Whether man wants to admit it or not, even the atheist is grasping for God, though he does it in the darkness of sin. To be fair, even Christians do this. The trick is, and it is not a trick at all, is to be a person who sacrifices himself for the life of the world.

In the movie "Bruce Almighty," Morgan Freeman's character, God, tells Jim Carrey's character to "be the miracle." Carrey's character then goes out into the world and helps people in ways that may not have been extraordinary to him, but made all the difference to the person he was helping. This is the answer - self-sacrifice. When we help our fellow man and do things for him, that is what God wants of us. When we help anyone, we are helping God.

Now before you say that all is required to get to heaven is be helpful, there is caveat. How are we to know how to help our fellow man? We come to know this in the classroom of the liturgy. God speaks to man through the scriptures and shows Himself in the breaking of the Bread. We come to the Heavenly Banquet and are taught how to act. The liturgy teaches us how to act in the world and be those miracles to those around us. We cannot know, though, how to be of service if we do not know the one who is service Himself, Jesus Christ.

The liturgy is where God acts through us and we respond to God's call in our lives with faith. It is here we will learn how to live a Eucharistic life in a noneucharistic world and transform it.
Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Worship as a Revelation

About two-and-a-half years ago, I bought a book entitled Worship as a Revelation: The Past, Present and Future of Catholic Liturgy. In my haste to buy the book, I assumed it was a history, as I was, at the time, majoring in history at Quincy University.

Once I started reading the book, I felt way over my head. The book is not a history, so much as it is a philosophical treatise on God's revelation to man through the Church's liturgy. This evening, as I was preparing to say Night Prayer and go to bed, I felt impelled to pick up the book and read a few pages. I read two chapters, "Liturgy as Revelation" and "Liturgy as Communion." The first chapter is the point of this blog post.

If there is one thing that the laity (and liturgiologists, such as myself) need to understand it is that the whole point of liturgy is two-fold: 1) God initiates the essential action in the liturgy; 2) man responds to God in the liturgy. To put it another way, God calls us to the liturgy to reveal Himself to us and we respond with faith, hope, and love (charity). Liturgy, therefore, is comprised of two actions, God revealing Himself to man, and man responding to God's revelation.

How does God reveal Himself in the liturgy, though? Is it not the laity and the priest that make the liturgy and perform it? Well, yes and no. Yes in the sense that the Church on earth carries out the ceremony of the liturgy as it is handed-down to us by the Church who safeguards it, but it is God acting through the assembly, His Mystical Body on earth, that these ceremonies are able to be carried out.

Dr. Hemming, the author of Worship as a Revelation, notes that the liturgy is handed-down to us by the Church who safeguards the liturgy because that is how Christ handed-down to us how to worship. Therefore, the rubrics of the liturgy are there to be observed, not broken, because if the liturgical ceremony is altered, the Church cannot receive the fullness of God's revelation to man through His Church.

The liturgy is where the Church, the assembled members of the Mystical Body of Christ on earth, respond to God's call in their lives to encounter God in His revelation; this revelation is the liturgy. Praying the liturgy is not so much learning how to talk to God, but how to listen to Him. In the liturgy, then, we learn to listen for God calling to us so we may respond more fully to His revelation to us.

P.S. Here is the link to the book on Amazon.

Friday, October 14, 2011

My Sacrifice and Yours

For too long now many Catholics have assumed that it is the priest that is performing the actions of the Mass solely by himself and mutually exclusive of the laity. While others have assumed that the laity is the one acting while the priest is just "there." Both of these are wrong, and the Church's liturgical theology makes this quite apparent.

After the Offertory Prayers ("Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, through your goodness we have this . . . .") the prayer of the priest to the people is "Pray, my brothers and sisters, that this our sacrifice may be acceptable to God the almighty Father." In the Third Edition of the Roman Missal in English, which is being put into effect the First Sunday of Advent, November 27, 2011, the priest will now say, "Pray, brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God the almighty Father." What is "my sacrifice and yours"?

In the Mass, the people AND the priest offer sacrifice back to God in heaven. Although this have been overlooked in the past 50 years of the Church, this theology is coming back into the Church's liturgy. But you may be asking, "How can the laity offer a sacrifice to God? We are not priests." Yes and no. The laity are priests by virtue of their baptisms. In 1 Peter 2:9, Saint Peter writes, "But you are 'a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises' of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light."  This idea that the people of God are a chosen priesthood is repeated through the Bible (Cf: Ex 19:6Is 61:6Rev 1:620:6).

The laity are priests and therefore can offer a sacrifice of praise back to God the Father in heaven. Jesus, as the High Priest of the New Covenant, left us an example when He did the will of His Father, to redeem of all creation and bring it back in union with God the Father in heaven. The laity offer their daily sacrifices, whether that be of praise, struggles, joys, sorrows, whatever. The laity offer themselves and their prayers, works, joys, and sufferings in union with the priest's sacrifice in the Mass.

While the laity may be priests, they are members of the Priesthood of the Baptized. The Priesthood of the  Baptized still participates in the one priesthood of Jesus Christ. Part of Christ's one priesthood is the ministerial priesthood. The ordained priesthood still has the duty to perform the actual sacrifice of the Mass, but it cannot be done without the help of the Priesthood of the Baptized. If you try to separate the two, you are separating Christ's essence as a priest. Christ came to call all sinners to righteousness, not some and others not.

Next time you attend Mass, listen to the words of the prayers. Many time pronouns such as "we," "us," and "ours" will be used. Reflect on this as you offer back to God the many sacrifices in your life. Offer back to God the Father the sacrifice of yourself.

The words of Psalm 51:

Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness.
In your compassion blot out my offense.
O wash me more and more from my guilt
and cleanse me from my sin.

My offenses truly I know them;
my sin is always before me
Against you, you alone, have I sinned;
what is evil in your sight I have done.

That you may be justified when you give sentence
and be without reproach when you judge,
O see, in guilt I was born,
a sinner was I conceived.

Indeed you love truth in the heart;
then in the secret of my heart teach me wisdom.
O purify me, then I shall be clean;
O wash me, I shall be whiter than snow.

Make me hear rejoicing and gladness,
that the bones you have crushed may thrill.
From my sins turn away your face
and blot out all my guilt.

A pure heart create for me, O God,
put a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
nor deprive me of your holy spirit.

Give me again the joy of your help;
with a spirit of fervor sustain me,
that I may teach transgressors your ways
and sinners may return to you.

O rescue me, God, my helper,
and my tongue shall ring out your goodness.
O Lord, open my lips
and my mouth shall declare your praise.

For in sacrifice you take no delight,
burnt offering from me you would refuse,
my sacrifice, a contrite spirit,
a humbled, contrite heart you will not spurn.

In your goodness, show favor to Zion:
rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
Then you will be pleased with lawful sacrifice,
holocausts offered on your altar.

Monday, October 3, 2011

How Can Man See Christ in the Eucharist?

How Can Man See Christ in the Eucharist? This may seem like a "loaded" question. The short answer is "faith." The long answer, though, requires some explanation.

The Sacraments (Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Holy Orders, Marriage, Penance, Anointing of the Sick) were instituted by Christ in a way that man is able to have an encounter with the Divine through signs and symbols which are perceptible and understandable to man. What does this mean?

In Baptism, water is no longer just water; it is a symbol of death and new life, a new life in Christ. Water's sacramental purpose is to take something that may seem ordinary for man and transform it into something that is truly mysterious. In this case, water makes one die to oneself and be born into Christ and His Church. In the Eucharist, the "source and summit of the Christian life," bread and wine are no longer merely bread and wine; they become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

But how do we see Christ in the bread and the wine. After all, it looks like simple bread and wine on the altar, it feels like bread and wine, and it tastes like bread and wine. What gives, you ask? Well, part of approaching the Sacraments is that we, as Catholics, need to understand is that we need to see with eyes of faith. If we put our faith glasses on, we will no longer see JUST bread and wine, but bread and wine that is truly the Body and Blood of Christ in the form of bread and wine.

How do we acquire faith? That's simple: Surrendering your will to God and believing in Him. (Okay, easier said than done.) But the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, is where we can be filled with grace to have faith. By partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ from the altar, we allow Jesus to become one with us, one with us in our daily struggles and He will give us the strength to proceed throughout the day. We don't just eat bread and wine to remember Jesus' Sacrifice on the Cross; we eat the Flesh and Blood of our Lord and Savior so we can be one with Him and Him us.

Though the bread and wine look like they are bread and wine, they symbolize, or make present a reality, that is the Flesh and Blood of Jesus. Saint Thomas Aquinas explains the change as Transubstantiation: The accidents of the bread and wine, their external appearance, remains, but their substance is transformed into Christ's Body and Blood with the Words of Institution ("This is my body," "This is the chalice of my blood"). Though this is a very rationalistic and Aristotelian way of explaining Transubstantiation, Platonism holds a cosmic way of looking at this most beautiful change; it is simply a mystery of God.

Next time you are at Mass, look at the bread and wine on the altar, not as twenty-first century students of science and doubt, but look at the bread and wine and see Jesus Christ's Body and Blood with the sacramental eyes looking through faith glasses.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

In Principio Erat Verbum

"In the beginning was the Word. . . ." This is the opening line of Saint John's Gospel where he sums up the essential divine Christology; Christ (the Word) was present in the very beginning with the Father. Because Christ is God, He is present throughout all ages and transcends time itself. Christ, though, through His Incarnation (becoming man), entered man's history, or timeline, and lived among us so He could redeem us. This is a fundamental, anthropological, and theological way to understand the person of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Because Christ became a man to save man, He elevated all of creation for the possibility of becoming like God. As Saint Athanasius says, "God became man so man could become like God." What does this mean for man in the twenty-first century?

The whole point of my master's thesis is explaining what this very idea means to man in the present time. What does it mean that Christ is present throughout all time and yet became part of man's history to redeem him for the purpose of saving him? Pardon the cliche, but "long story short," Christ is with us now to be an example to us so we can be like Him. This may seem like a theological idea that is too difficult to grasp, or it may seem to non-believers to be a big, steaming pile of (garbage). But this idea, Christ is with us, even more, God is with us, is something which can help us renew the earth in the twenty-first century.

Many of my friends, especially those of whom I went to school with, have fallen away from the Church because of modern society's blatant rationalism and abandonment of all things which cannot be scientifically verified. Sorry to break it to you, folks, but some things are a mystery for a reason. Though this may seem like a highly rationalistic approach to understand the presence of Christ in His Mystical Body, the Church, this belief cannot be boiled down to essential elements; it must be seen through the eyes of faith. As the Blessed Pope John Paul II said the day he died, "It is Jesus Christ alone we must present to the world. Outside of this we have no reason to exist." We find answers in Christ Himself, but faith must never to placed to the side.

How is it possible for man to encounter Christ in today's society? THE EUCHARIST! Clinging yourself to Christ is the essential element in seeing Christ as One Who is present. Through sacramental signs and symbols, things that God uses to make Himself present to man, we as humans are able to comprehend the inescapable Mystery; Christ is present with us in the form of bread and wine. This bread and wine, whose external manifestations (accidents) appear to be mere bread and wine, become Transubstantiated into His Body and Blood on a "sub-level" (substance). We are able to see Christ is symbols, things which make present a reality, so we can more easily understand He Who Is. 

This blog, which will undoubtably be plagued with people refuting my claims, will serve as a source on the internet to see Christ as revealed through His Mystical Body on earth, His Church, in the Eucharistic species of bread and wine. I hope (and, dare I say, pray) that more people will come to the fulness of knowledge of Christ Himself through my unworthy teaching of His Church on His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity.