The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

 

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Today is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, often known as “Corpus Christi”.  You might be thinking, gee, don’t we celebrate the Body and Blood of Christ at every Mass?  Sure, but just as with the Lord’s Resurrection, a particular day is set aside to celebrate and reflect on this aspect of the mystery and saving work of Christ!

The Catechism, no. 1374, quotes both St. Thomas Aquinas and Pope Paul VI in teaching us about the presence of Christ in the Eucharist:

“The mode of Christ’s presence under the Eucharistic species is unique.  It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as ‘the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend.’  In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist ‘the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained.’”

So, to repeat it, BOTH the Body and the Blood of Christ that we receive contain ALL of the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ.  Christ is not just there “beside the bread” (which is a Lutheran belief, consubstantiation – not to be confused with the word consubstantial in our Creed, which is not applied to the Eucharist).  The word that we use for this is TRANSUBSTANTIATION.  The substance of the bread or wine has changed – it is no longer bread or wine!  It only retains the “appearances” (physical qualities) of bread and wine, but it is not bread and wine.

This is a great time to focus on how we approach for the reception of Holy Communion.  Do we show respect for the Eucharistic species?  How do our actions reflect our beliefs?

A couple of reminders on the reception of Holy Communion:

1)      Bow, before both the Body and Blood of Christ.  This still applies even if you are not receiving!  (So don’t just walk past the Blood of Christ like it’s not there.  Is that how you would pass Jesus in the street??)

2)      If you are receiving in the hand, consume the consecrated Host immediately.  Do not walk anywhere with the sacred species. If you drop Him, pick Him up and consume!

3)     The reception of Holy Communion kneeling and on the tongue is always permitted!

Finally, another reminder – go to confession! To receive the Most Holy Eucharist, one should be in a state of grace. If it is not possible to get to confession, make a perfect act of contrition before reception, and then go to confession!  How amazing and awesome the endless mercy of God…chalice

The Most Holy Trinity

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This past weekend is a great example of how the mystery of Christ unfolds for us throughout the liturgical year.  The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity is easily overlooked – after all, Easter season is over, Pentecost was so exciting, and oh yeah, this year, we’re all focusing on our brats and beers for Monday (especially in this state!) Well, I for one can’t complain – while visiting my brother, I attended a beautifully celebrated High Mass perfectly fit for the occasion.

Remember that solemnities are the highest-ranking celebrations on the liturgical calendar.  They are opportunities for us to rejoice in the richness of our faith, and to understand it more fully.  Today, we examine more closely the mystery of the Trinity, the central mystery of our life in Christ, as the Catechism (no. 234) teaches:

“The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life.  It is the mystery of God in himself.  It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them.  It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the ‘hierarchy of the truths of faith.’”

All Christians are baptized with the “Trinitarian formula”.  We are baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Notice it is “the name”, and not “the names…”  The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one God, not many gods, and so we express this belief in the language we use.  We must be particular in our use of language about our faith.

Every single time we pray, we sign ourselves with the Sign of the Cross, the sign of the Trinity.  This is the first prayer we learn as children, and the one we pray the most often.  Do we just go through the motions, or do we pray these words with care?

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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.

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.

Purgatory and Indulgences

purgatoryWhat on earth are indulgences?? And does purgatory STILL exist??

This topic came up for me recently during the sede vacante period. In preparing a special Holy Hour for the Pope, I was asked if the papal intentions persist (yes), and if so, if you may still gain an indulgence under the usual conditions (yes). I thought to myself how awesome it was that someone was thinking about this!

Really, though, I do not think many Catholics today have any idea about indulgences. Among the things I have heard are: “oh Vatican 2 did away with that” or “the Church used to sell those but not anymore”.

“An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven…” (Catechism 1471)

This means it is taking away the punishment that we might have after death due to sins we committed in our lives.  I do not mean hell (that is a different topic), I mean purgatory.  Purgatory is  basically the state after death of a soul that will eventually go to heaven, but must be purified first (and that purification is not easy or pleasant).

Sin has consequences.  We may think, well, I confessed my sin, that’s it.  The consequences of sin are twofold: first,  grave sin deprives us of communion with God and makes us incapable of eternal life (damnation), and second, all sin involves an unhealthy attachment that must be purified to free us from the “temporal punishment of sin”(purgatory).  We can overcome the first consequence easily: go to confession.  The second consequence is overcome by conforming ourselves more to Christ, by works of mercy and charity, as well as by works of prayer and penance.

Think of it like this: you were playing ball, and you broke your neighbors’ window (maybe just through carelessness), and it is your fault.  You go and ask your neighbor for forgiveness, and they are really nice and forgiving type of people, so they say, you know what, it’s okay, thanks for saying you are sorry.  So you are forgiven!  But you still have to pay for the window.

“Indulgences” through works of prayer basically involve a whole-hearted prayer stipulated by the Church, and you usually must have gone to confession and received the Eucharist in a state of grace in a short period of time before or after.  Indulgences may be partial (some amount of time) or plenary (this gets rid of all your time in purgatory).  One might think this is not needed, but I’m pretty sure most of us want to get to heaven as quickly as possible.  This prayer may be applied to yourself, or it may be applied to anyone who has died.

There are plenty of souls in purgatory that do not have someone to pray for them… and they could get to heaven sooner if you helped them!  Do you include them in your prayers?  I sure hope that people pray for me when I die.

 

As a note: This is just a quick primer on purgatory and indulgences. I’d encourage everyone to find out some of the opportunities for indulgences. Here is a great one on the official Year of Faith website: http://www.annusfidei.va/content/novaevangelizatio/en/annus-fidei/indulgentia.html. Check it out!

Year of Faith and Sacramental Language

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One way of talking about the Liturgy, and our life in the Church, is to use sacramental language. What does that mean? To talk in sacramental language is to talk in terms of how something (a sign, a gesture, words) reveals to us the hidden realities of heaven.

The Catechism (CCC 1145) often refers to the Liturgy in terms of sacramental language. “A sacramental celebration is woven from signs and symbols.” What are signs and symbols? In our daily life, signs point us to something. Think of a stop sign: a red octagon means “Stop!” The golden arches show you where you can get a cheeseburger. Those are signs, they point the way to something else. But the golden arches do not contain within themselves anything more than showing you where to find a McD’s. In Catholic language, symbols are signs that not only point to something (as in, merely a sign, or “just a sign”), but symbols also contain the very thing they symbolize.

Confusing? Think of the American flag (or the Canadian flag for me and my home country). It is a sign of your country and of patriotism, but it also instills in you a sense of patriotism and pride when you see it. In that sense, it also shines forth what it symbolizes, and it contains deeper meaning. It is not “merely a sign”, it is a symbol of more because it makes something more present.

In the Liturgy, the “signs and symbols” we use are not merely to be taken at face value. Every part of the Mass contains deeper meaning, and becomes a symbol of heavenly realities: not only does it point us towards heaven, it also contains within it and reveals the very realities of heaven. Think of an image of a crucifix, for example. It does not say to us “Jesus died on the cross, end of story.” It brings to mind the entire Paschal Mystery (Jesus’ death and Resurrection for the salvation of the world.) This heavenly reality moves us, and as believers in faith, it can effect a change within us the more we contemplate it.

Do you have a beautiful crucifix in your Church? We should all have a crucifix in our homes as well. Spend some time this week contemplating and adoring the image of the Lord on the Cross.

Year of Faith and the Liturgy of the Hours

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The Liturgy of the Hours is the constant prayer of the Church. Even if you personally don’t do it, it is constant rhythm of prayer, as people are praying it all around the world every single day at every hour of the day and night. Priests and deacons are obligated (by Canon Law and many teachings of the Church, including the Second Vatican Council documents) to pray the Liturgy of the Hours each day. Religious orders generally have this obligation as well, and pray the Hours in community, usually sung! Every day, the hours are Lauds (Morning Prayer),  the midday prayers (Midmorning, Midday, Midafternoon ), Vespers (Evening Prayer) and Compline (Night Prayer).  Each of these hours contains different psalms, hymns, readings, and intentions. Lauds and Vespers (Morning and Evening) are considered to be the most important, the “hinges” on which the day revolves in prayer. The Office of Readings is also a part of the Liturgy of the Hours. It used to be a part of the first prayer of the day (Matins) even sometimes read in the middle of the night! Now it may be read at any time of the day, and consists of Scripture readings, Church documents (like papal teachings) and writings of the Saints (like homilies from St. John Chrysostom, which are pretty neat).  I recommend giving the Hours a try…if it sounds daunting, start with one, like Night Prayer. You don’t need to buy a whole breviary set… there’s an app for that!

So what is the point? There are people around the world praying constantly, and some who do nothing BUT pray. Why? Prayer is not just asking for what you want, like writing a letter to Santa. We may ask for help, but we also pray in praise of God. The liturgical life of the Church is a constant reminder of our life in Christ, a way of guarding our thoughts, turning our mind, our eyes and our ears towards the things of heaven. It is a way of preparing ourselves for that day when, hopefully, we come to see God face to face, and are joined forever with him in heaven.