Pentecost

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“The Church was made manifest to the world on the day of Pentecost by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  The gift of the Spirit ushers in a new era in the ‘dispensation of the mystery’ – the age of the Church, during which Christ manifests, makes present, and communicates his work of salvation through the liturgy of his Church, ‘until he comes.’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1076).

We speak about Pentecost as the beginning of the Church, but do we really know what we mean when we are saying that?  Often our “great commission” is quoted, that we need to go out and preach the Gospel to all nations.  Yet the gift of the Spirit on Pentecost is not only for the purpose of evangelizing non-Christians.  The Holy Spirit helps us experience that invisible heavenly reality through the Sacraments and other sacramental signs.  The Holy Spirit helps us to understand how Christ is acting through the Church, through her Sacraments, in this time when we can’t physically see him.

“In this age of the Church Christ now lives and acts in and with his Church, in a new way appropriate to a new age.  He acts through the sacraments, in what the common Tradition of the East and West calls the ‘sacramental economy’;  this is the communication (or ‘dispensation’) of the fruits of Christ’s Paschal mystery in the celebration of the Church’s sacramental liturgy.” (CCC 1076).

Read this carefully.  Christ acts through the Church.  It is through the Church’s liturgy that we receiving the “fruits of Christ’s Paschal mystery” (the saving work he did for us on the Cross).  The sacraments, signs and symbols of heavenly realities, were instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church.

As we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit to the Church at Pentecost, and remember our own reception of the Sacrament of Confirmation, let us ask the Holy Spirit to guide us to understand how he is working through the Church and making Christ present to us at each and every Mass.

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Heaven

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Heaven is radiant and light. It is detached from earthly things, and it transcends beyond all ages. It is populated with The Trinity, Saints (people we know are in heaven) and Angels (spiritual beings with no bodily form). Heaven is perfectly ordered.

The way we think about heaven informs the way we think about the Liturgy. We believe that at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we participate in the Heavenly Banquet. One way of thinking about it is that at the Mass we lift the veil between heaven and earth. We learn from Sacrosanctum Concilium that the purpose of Liturgy is to give glory to God (which is ordered praise, not self-expression), and to become more holy (sanctification). Becoming more holy means conforming ourselves to Christ, becoming a perfected version of ourselves. In order to this, we need God’s help, as we receive his grace in the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist.

Remember that Sacraments both represent and make present the invisible heavenly reality. If heaven is perfect, ordered, and transcends all ages, then hopefully our Liturgical celebrations (which are sacramental by their very nature) approach this heavenly reality. This means that the Mass should be ordered and radiant, but also detached from earthly things and transcend beyond all ages. There must be an “other-worldliness” in the Liturgy, because it is basically training us for what heaven will be like. Heaven is not about autonomous self-expression, or a giant party; it is perfect union with God, joined with the choirs of angels in their unending song of praise.

The Path to Heaven

Ghent altarpieceIn my last entry, I briefly described purgatory.  Here is a quick review: It is a purification on the way to heaven, if we are not prepared to go immediately to heaven.  This is due to the effects of sin throughout our lifetime.  As long as we are not in the state of mortal sin (so go to confession) when our time on this earth comes to an end, we either go straight to heaven, or spend a bit of time getting ready for heaven, being conformed more to Christ to be truly prepared to enter the kingdom.  It is said that the souls in purgatory sing the Gloria, because they know for sure they will be united with God in heaven someday. (So, again, go to confession!!!)

So…what is heaven like?  I mean, we all want to go there, don’t we?

Often, people believe heaven to be like one big party, with everyone doing their own self-expressive dance and having a great time doing whatever they want.  Sorry to tell you, that’s not what heaven is like!  Heaven is not chaos, with everyone doing whatever they feel like!  Heaven is the ordered praise of God, all creation united as one in a song of joy.

The Catechism teaches: “Those who die in God’s grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live for ever with Christ.” (CCC 1023).  It continues, “This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity – this communion of like and love with Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed – is called ‘heaven’.  Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness.” (1024)

This perfect state is often described in Scripture as the heavenly banquet, the wedding feast, the heavenly Jerusalem.  When we participate in the Sacraments, especially the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, it is said that the veil between heaven and earth is lifted and we catch a brief glimpse of heaven.  The manner of our participation will affect how closely we can represent the heavenly banquet, and therefore how clearly the symbols speak – remember that to be truly symbolic, sacramental, means to make present invisible heavenly realities.

Here are a couple of questions (courtesy an exercise one of my professors often does in presentations) to reflect on what heaven is like:

Is heaven radiant or dull?  Light or dark?  Living or dead?  Earthly or detached from earthly things?  “Modern” or transcending beyond all ages?  Empty or populated?  (With whom?) Is heaven ordered or chaotic?