Class on Social Teaching Part 2

Father Dwight Campbell, S.T.D., explains the Church’s social teaching.

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Class on Catholic Social Teaching Part 1

Father Dwight Campbell, S.T.D., explains the Church’s social teaching.

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Homily, Second Sunday of Advent 2010

 Fr. Dwight Campbell, S.T.D., St. Thomas More Church, Chicago, IL

In the season of Advent, Holy Church asks that we contemplate the two comings of Christ:  His First Coming, in the humility, when the Eternal Word became flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary, in order one day to offer his life on the Cross and to redeem us from our sins; and His Second Coming, when at the end of the world He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, as we profess in the Symbol of our Faith, the Creed. 

We know neither the day nor the hour when the Son of Man will return, but Jesus warns us to be always watchful and vigilant; and Jesus, like Saints Peter and Paul in their epistles, give us warning signs to know when the end of the world is coming and when the son of perdition, the Antichrist, will make his appearance. For example, we are told that as the world’s end approaches, men’s hearts will grow cold, that there will occur a great apostasy or falling away from the faith, and that people, with itching ears, will run after and embrace all types of false teachings.

Recent events throughout the world, in our nation, and particularly in our own State of Illinois, make me wonder whether we are, indeed, coming closer to the end.

Back in the 1950s a movie was produced, “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” It was a science fiction story about aliens who invade our planet. The aliens take over people’s bodies – or make replicas of people’s bodies (I can’t recall exactly) – so that one’s friends, neighbors and fellow workers appear to be the people one knows, but in fact they are aliens who are using people’s bodies, in disguise. By speaking with them you would know something was not right, not normal; they spoke and acted in a creepy manner, as if they were being programmed.

Well, this is how I feel, and I’m sure many of you as well, in our encounters with friends and acquaintances in our present time. Can anyone imagine, even fathom, 20 or 30 years ago, that a majority of people would advocate and see nothing wrong with homosexual unions, and be in favor of laws in which the state gives legal recognition to such unions, placing them on equal footing with marriage? If someone 20 or 30 years ago said this would happen, you’d think they were crazy, that they were uttering nonsense. And yet, this has happened in many countries throughout the world, in many states in our own country, and, just this past week, it happened here in Illinois. 

The local newspapers this week reported that polls show that 57% of people favor or see nothing wrong with so-called same-sex unions. And haven’t we all encountered relatives and friends whom we thought we knew well, who think likewise? It’s as if their minds have been taken over by alien spirits – I would submit, not alien spirits, but spirits from below!

Francis Cardinal George penned an article a couple of weeks ago explaining why such laws should never be enacted:  “Everyone has a right to marry, but no one has the right to change the nature of marriage,” he said, and, “the public understanding of marriage will be negatively affected by passage of a bill that ignores the natural fact that sexual complementarity is at the core of marriage” (Chicago Sun-Times, 11/23/10, p. 16).

We may wonder why people fail to see the inherent evil in such legislation. I’ll tell you why.  First of all, people’s minds have been numbed by watching television shows such as “Will and Grace” for the past 15 years; their consciences have been deadened by the popular culture. The second reason is contraception and sterilization:  if sexual activity is purely for pleasure rather than being ordered toward the procreation of new human life, then homosexual sodomy becomes just another option for sexual satisfaction.

Last week, Cardinal George personally telephoned a number of Catholic legislators in our state – some of them, I understand, he telephoned numerous times – before the vote was taken on Senate Bill 516; but, to no avail. The bill passed both houses.

Bishop Thomas Paprocki of the Springfield Diocese, the former auxiliary bishop here in Chicago, warned Gov. Quinn, who has yet to sign the bill into law, that “the Catholic Church does not support civil unions or other measures that are contrary to the natural moral law.”  Gov. Quinn responded, “I follow my conscience, . . . and my conscience is not kicking me in the shins today. . . . My religious faith animates me to support this bill” (Chicago Sun-Times, 12/12/10, p. 20).  I’d be willing to give the Governor a good kick in the shins if it would help to enlighten his conscience.

Gov. Quinn’s statements, and the other Catholic legislators who no doubt agree with him in supporting this legislation, reveal to us that they have no regard for the clear teachings of the Bible and the Church. To put it very simply, sodomy is a sin. This bill in the effect legalizes sodomy, gives it a stamp of approval, by legitimizing unions between two people of the same sex, and thus is a step toward redefining the God-given institution of marriage, which the State has no authority or power to do.

By voting in favor of this proposed law, these Catholics have committed a grave sin and have taken themselves out of communion with the Church; additionally, they have committed grave scandal, and as a result, they are out of a State of Grace and can no longer licitly receive Holy Communion – unless and until they publicly repent of their wrongdoing and renounce their actions in order to make reparation for the public scandal they have caused (per Raymond Cardinal Burke, Prefect, Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura).

Moreover, Gov. Quinn’s statement about “following his conscience” reveals that he lacks a true understanding of what conscience is. Conscience is not “doing what ever I think is right.” Gov. Quinn has fallen into what Fr. John Hardon calls “the greatest demonic deception ever proposed to the human race,” a deception that many, if not most of the people in our modern age have embraced:  that “I” am the ultimate arbiter of right and wrong, that “I” will decide for myself what is good and what is evil. This is really the original deception offered to our first parents, and the deception offered to people today:  “Here, eat this fruit, and you will become like gods! You, not God, not the Church, will decide what is right and wrong!”

The truth is that conscience is not “doing whatever I want to do, whatever I think is right.” Conscience is not an act of the will; rather, conscience is a judgment of the intellect, whereby we applied the moral law, as revealed in the Bible and as taught by Jesus Christ and His Church, to the circumstances at hand. For example, I know that the Bible and the Church teach that homosexual sodomy is a gravely sinful, and that marriage is designed by God to be a union between a man and a woman for life that is ordered toward both uniting the husband and wife in love and the procreation of new human life; therefore, I cannot vote for any law which would legalize and give approval to homosexual sodomy and attempt to put same-sex unions on par with marriage.

Gov. Quinn’s statement reveals that either:  1) his conscience is malformed on this issue and that he is ignorant of the Catholic Church’s teaching – which is highly doubtful considering that he attended Catholic schools and a Catholic university, at a time when they still taught the authentic Catholic Faith; or 2) he is being dishonest, and using the line “following my conscience” as an excuse for doing something that he thinks is politically expedient.

About 500 years ago, there was a high-ranking public official who was encouraged by friends and family members to do what was “politically expedient.” He refused to do so, and he died the king’s good servant, but God’s first. His name was Thomas More.

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Prayer for the Pope as an Essential Feature of Catholic Spirituality

by Fr. Benjamin Reese, S.T.D. (Cand.)

“So Peter was kept in prison, but prayer was being made to God for him by the Church without ceasing”   Acts   12:5

Introduction:

Catholics have prayed for the Pope as the successor of St. Peter since the earliest days of the Church,  but the need for this prayer “without ceasing” has never been greater than today.

The Papacy as an institution and the Pope as a person is assailed almost daily from the right and the left,  from the east and the west, from inside the Church and from without.  Added to this are his extreme frailty and the tenuous state of the Church in a  modern, secularized world. We also know that the Pope has powerful enemies, not of this world; that the demons themselves are seeking to destroy the Church.  That is why Jesus reassured Peter that the Gates of Hell would not prevail against the Church.

This means however that there is a real and present danger from their malicious influence and and hellish intrigue.  Jesus told Peter that “Satan has demanded to sift you like wheat and I have prayed for you that you may turn and strengthen your brethren.”  St.  Peter himself tells us that “the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour,  stand up to him strong in faith.”  Pope Leo XIII was shocked in his famous vision when he saw that the Devil had been give a period of time to tempt the Church and so he composed the famous St. Michael prayer to be recited after low Mass.  Finally, Pope Paul VI boldly announced that the smoke of Satan had entered into the Church.

The horrible homosexual scandals of recent years are only the tip of the iceberg of these demonic plots.  Widespread dissent and heresy in high places are symptoms of the most malevolent and successful satanic conspiracy in history to destroy the holy Catholic Church.  Satan cannot succeed ultimately, but he has seduced many souls and these horrible scandals and the orchestrated media campaign against the Church have weakened her moral authority and undercut the new evangelization.  The new springtime of the Church, so longed for at Vatican II, has not yet been realized due to this masterful, demonically organized plan to infiltrate and corrupt the Catholic Church.

The Need for Unceasing Prayer

With the decrease of contemplative orders in the world, the laity must realize their universal call to holiness through a renewed and intense prayer life.  This is being realized in many prayers through Eucharistic Adoration and Reparation.  It is the laity with their Bishops, parish priests, and consecrated souls who must answer this call to unceasing prayer so as to be sentinels on the walls of the Church, driving back the modern demonic assaults and liberating Mother Church from the devilish intrigues that are occurring even in her bosom.

The Saints are excellent teachers in this battle for souls and they give us an inspiring example of the power of prayer for the Holy Father as the Vicar of Christ.  We see how the early Church prayed for St. Peter and the liturgy contains prayers for the Pope as the Bishop of Rome since the 3rd century.   However, modern saints have been increasingly attentive to the need of prayer for the Pope especially since the time of St. Catherine of Sienna.  St.  Catherine lived in a time of great corruption and confusion in the Church, and she offered her life as a victim soul for her own sins and for those of  the clergy,  including the Pope who was resisting God’s call to move back to Rome:

               “This soul then, being purified by the fire of divine love, which she found in the knowledge of herself and of God, and her hunger for the salvation of the whole world, and for the reformation of Holy Church, having grown with her hope of obtaining the same, rose with confidence before the Supreme Father, showing him the leprosy of the Holy Church, and the misery of the world, saying, as if with the words of Moses, ‘My Lord, turn the eyes of thy Mercy upon Thy people and upon the Mystical Body of the Holy Church, for thou wilt be the more glorified if Thou pardonest so many creatures, and givest to them the light of knowledge, since all will render Thee praise when they see themselves escape through Thy infinite goodness from the clouds of mortal sin, and from eternal damnation; and then thou wilt not only be praised by my wretched self, who have so much offended Thee, and who am the cause of instrument of all this evil, for which reason I pray Thy divine and eternal love to take Thy revenge on me, and to do mercy to thy People, and never will I depart from Thy presence until I see that thou grantest them mercy.'”  (The Dialogues of St. Catherine of Sienna,  A Treatise on Discretion). 

What stands out in the prayer of the Saint in comparison to our modern “prophets” is her humility and ardent love for the Church.  She doesn’t focus on other people’s sins but on her own, and for this reason her prayer for the Church is heard by the Eternal Father.  How many pseudo-prophets, addressing the Bishops after the scandals had even an ounce of such humility or love? And with what arrogance do we see modern Catholics chastising the universal Church and the Papacy, as if sinless themselves.

Yet Our Lord does not hesitate to give advice to his prelates and Bishops though his beloved Catherine,  especially about the need to reprove sinners with holy fire and spiritual unction.  Our Lord makes the point to her and to the Church of all times,

               “That correction is necessary before words of encouragement, neither the civil law, nor the divine law, can be kept in any degree without holy justice, because he who is not corrected, and does not correct others, becomes like a limb which putrefies, and corrupts the whole body, because the bad physician, when it had already begun to corrupt, placed ointment immediately upon it, without having first burnt the wound.  So, were the prelate, or any other lord having subjects, on seeing one putrefying from the corruption of mortal sin, to apply to him the ointment of the soft words of encouragement alone, without reproof, he would never cure him, but the putrefaction would rather spread to the other member, who, with him, form one body under the same pastor.  But if he were a physician, good and true to those souls, as were the glorious pastors of old, he would not give salving ointment without the fire of reproof.  And, were the member still to remain obstinate in his evil doing, he would cut him off from the congregation, in order that he corrupt not the other members with the putrefaction of mortal sin.    But they act not so today, but, in cases of evil doing, they even pretend not to see.  And knowest thou wherefore?  The root of self love is alive in them, wherefore they bear perverted and servile fear.  Because they fear to lose their position or their temporal goods, or their prelacy, they do not correct, but act like blind ones, in that they see not the real way in which their position is to be kept.  If they would only see that it is by holy justice that they would be able  to maintain it.  But they do not, because they are deprived of light. but thinking to preserve their position with injustice, they do not reprove the faults of those under them, and they are deluded by their own sensitive self love, or by their defire for lordship and prelacy, and they correct not the faults they should correct in others, because the same or greater ones are their own.  They feel themselves comprehended in the guilt, and they therefore lose all ardour and security, and, fettered by servile fear, they make believe not to see.  And moreover, if they do see they do not correct, but allow themselves to be bound over with flattering words and with many  presents, and they themselves find the excuse for the guilty ones not to be punished.  In such as these are fulfilled the words spoken by my Truth, saying:  ‘These are blind and leaders of the blind, and if the blind lead the blind, they both fall into the ditch.’”  (The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Sienna, ‘A Treatise of Prayer’.   p.245-246)

St. Catherine of Sienna was a great mystic,  a victim soul, a stigmatist, and the consecrated Bride of Christ.  Yet even her efforts were only partially successful:  getting the Pope back to Rome, but not really able to cure the Church of her spiritual leprosy.  

The Prayer of other great Saints for the Church and the Pope

Most if not all modern Catholic Saints have had a special devotion to the Papacy, and have prayed frequently and ardently for the Vicar of Christ as the successor of St. Peter.   Most notable in this group was the redoubtable, soldier saint—St. Ignatius of Loyola, who was a true Trinitarian mystic and a man of the Church whose men took a special vow of obedience to the Papacy.  This was not merely some moral or practical arrangement, but an outgrowth of an ecclesial spirituality that saw the Divine founder of the Church choosing Blessed Peter as the foundation of the Church’s faith.  St. Ignatius was not merely a converted military man who was not serving a new earthly master, but a mystic whose faith helped him to see the necessary connection between obedience to God and obedience to the papacy.  We cannot say that we love Jesus and not love his Bride the Church, even in her human and tainted condition.  Hence, love for the Pope and prayer for him are integral to authentic Catholic spirituality.  Indeed, this kind of love and loyalty to the Papacy have been universalized by the example of Loyola and his men.

Certainly, since the time of St. Ignatius this practice of prayer for the Papacy has been a normal practice of every canonized Saint.  With Luther’s rebellion, the role of the papacy was more and more seen as the stabilizing force in the Church and as a Divine guarantee of her triumph over the gates of Hell.  Consequently the Saints of the Counter Reformation, and the survivors of the age of Masonic revolution, looked to the papacy for guidance and found it in a series of holy Popes. 

Among these modern saints we can cite St. Don Bosco whose famous vision of the Church as a ship under assault from the forces of evil is resolved when a holy Pope steers her between the two pillars of Marian Devotion and Eucharistic Adoration.  The sober English convert, Venerable John Henry Newman, was so devoted to the Mystical reality of Peter as the Vicar of Christ that he walked barefooted between the train station and the Pope’s residence.  Saint Jose Maria Escriva made an all night prayer vigil his first time   in Rome from a room where he could see the Holy Father’s window.  St. Padre Pio, in his final days, sent Pope Paul VI a message assuring him of his prayers during the ecclesial revolt triggered by Humanae Vitae.  Finally, we can see the extraordinary closeness of Blessed Theresa of Calcutta with our current Holy Father, and the continuing example of her holy sisters who pray for and sacrifice for the intentions of the Pope. 

Less well known, but of great importance in understanding this spiritual principle, is the example of Blessed Jacinta of Fatima.  When we read of the Fatima apparitions and the response of these children to the requests of Our Lady and the Angel, we are usually astounded by their intense spiritual life and the Heroic degree of virtue which has been attained by such little children.   Constant prayer was accompanied by serious penances such as wearing a rough cord of rope,  going without water on very hot days,  and giving up food and sleep.  In addition to this, the children were subject to incredible pressure to deny their story, through family disbelief, and even harassment by priests and civil officials.  At one point, they even were led to believe that they would be boiled in hot oil unless they revealed their secret from Our Lady. 

Jacinta was also told that she would suffer greatly in order to enter into heaven, and she accepted such sufferings as from the hand of God and Our Mother.   In fact, she would die all alone in a hospital bed in far away Lisbon of the influenza, and this sorrowful, lonely death she offered to the Lord in reparation for the sins of the world and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  She also offered these incredible sufferings for the Holy Father and the Church.  Indeed, she was given several unique visions of the sufferings of the Holy Father in order to inspire her prayer and sacrifice for him.  In Lucia’s account of the Fatima story we read of how little Jacinta learned who the Pope was, 

“Two priests who had come to question us, recommended that we pray for the Holy Father.  Jacinta asked who the Holy Father was.  The good priests explained who he was and how much he needed prayers.  This gave Jacinta such love for the Holy Father that, every time she offered her sacrifices to Jesus, she added:  ‘and for the Holy Father.’  At the end of the Rosary, she always said three Hail Marys for the Holy Father, and sometimes she would remark:  ‘How I’d love to see the Holy Father! So many people come here, but the Holy Father never does!’  In her childish simplicity, she supposed that the Holy Father could make the journey just like anybody else!”   (Fatima in Lucia’s own words—p.50-51)

In her extreme simplicity,  how could she have ever supposed that the Holy Father would one day journey to Fatima to Beatify,  and perhaps one day canonize her.   Jacinta’s prayers and sacrifices for the Holy Father were intensified during her time in prison, and especially when she thought that she would die,    Her cousin Lucia writes in her memoirs of how a scared, little Jacinta faced death with the intention of offering it  for the Holy Father,

                “I soon realized that she was crying.  I went over and drew her close to me, asking her why she was crying:  ‘Because we are going to die,’ she replied, ‘without ever seeing our parents again, not even our Mothers!’  With tears running down her cheeks, she added, ‘I would like at least to see my mother.’  ‘Do you want, then, to offer this sacrifice for the conversion of sinners?’ ‘ ‘I do want to, I do!’ With her face bathed in tears, she joined her hands, raised her eyes to heaven and made her offering:   ‘O My Jesus! This is for love of you, for the conversion of sinners, for the Holy Father, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary. ‘”  (Fatima in Lucia’s own words, p 52)                                                       

Perhaps, when Jesus told us that we must become like little children, this was the type of child he had in mind!  How one wishes that some of our modern theologians would read this story and weep for their sins of arrogance, disbelief, and cowardice in the faith.

CONCLUSION

From Peter to Benedict XVI, the head of the Church has been a special object of the Lord’s predilection, Satan’s scorn, and the Church’s ardent prayer.   Throughout history, this prayer has grown more intense during the Pope’s illness or imprisonment or when attacked by the church’s enemies, such as the case of Pope Pius VII who was imprisoned by Napoleon or Blessed Pius IX who was forced to flee from Garibaldi and company.  Today, our Pope is physically free to roam the world, but he is encircled by enemies, seen and unseen, who hinder his action and frustrate his plans.  Let us add our own feeble prayers to his as this holy Pope finishes his course, to join the Saints and Angels in heaven.  If we do so, we too will be in that long line of saints and sinners who offered unceasing prayer for Peter and his successors, the Vicars of Christ on earth.  May we especially remember our Pope in our daily Rosary, and  follow the example of Blessed Jacinta of Fatima, and the requests of Our Lady of Fatima.

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Sermon: 6th Sunday after Pentecost (July 4, 2010)

by Fr. Dwight P. Campbell, S.T.D.

“The Lord is the strength of his people” (Introit)

 “Oh God of power, . . . implant in our hearts the love of your Name, and increase in us the virtue of religion” (Collect)

These two verses, from the Introit and Collect in today’s Mass, provide us with worthy topics to contemplate – most fittingly, on this Fourth of July, the day on which we commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the beginnings of the founding of our country, these United States of America.

Our Founders, although largely non-Catholics, were nonetheless deeply religious men who reverenced God and His Holy Name.  The Declaration of Independence is a bold affirmation that our basic, fundamental rights come not from some king or other earthly ruler, but from God himself:

“We hold these true this to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. . . .”

Not only did our Founders acknowledge that our basic rights – as human beings made in God’s image – come from God; they also saw the importance, nay, the dire necessity, of religion in the forming of people in virtue and for the well-being of society as a whole; that is, for the common good.  Listen to these words of our first President, George Washington, from his Farewell Address to the nation on September 19, 1796:

“. . . Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports.  In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens.  A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. . . .”

Washington’s words reflect not merely his own ideas, but the common thinking of most people in this country two centuries ago.  I think his words still reflect the thinking today of most people in this country who call themselves Christians.  Unfortunately, they do not reflect the mentality of the “movers and shakers” in our land, those “intellectual elites” who make laws and policies, shape public opinion in the media, and deform the minds and hearts of many people, especially the young, in institutions of higher education.

These cultural elites promote a “diversity” which in practice means that there can be no objective standards of morality; they advance what Pope Benedict XVI calls a “dictatorship of relativism” where basically anything goes and all beliefs and opinions are equally valid.  Just listen to these words from a recent Supreme Court decision [Planned Parenthood v. Casey] which upheld the so-called “right” of abortion:  

“At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

Ah, yes, we can all “be like gods.”

I have read surveys which reveal that upwards of 60% of Catholics favor same-sex unions and think that morality should be based on personal preference or the circumstances of the situation.  Our Founders, some of whom were Deists, would be horrified at such muddled and disordered thinking.  They would likewise be appalled over Supreme Court decisions which permit the murder of innocent pre-born babies in the name of “freedom of choice,” which permit pornography to saturate our airwaves and Internet under the cloak of the First Amendment “freedom of speech,” which claim that homosexual sodomy is a “fundamental right” of citizens, and which affirm the practice of “health” officials in our schools and public offices to distribute birth control to teens so they can fornicate with their friends.

What is the solution to these evil policies and practices which undermine religion and morality and thereby cause so much harm to the common good? As a nation, we must return to God, reverence His Holy Name, and obey all of His Commandments.

As Catholics, who have the fullness of the truth, we must work to extend the social reign of Jesus Christ, the King.  To do this we must pray and do penance so that people return to their senses and repent of their sins.  This is basically the message given back in 1917 by Our Lady of Fatima:  she showed the little children a vision of Hell and said that so many sinners were losing their souls because there was no one to pray and make sacrifices for them. 

We also must work to convert the minds and hearts of our fellow citizens in order that they may embrace the true religion, the Catholic Faith, and practice true worship of God and of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. 

Our goal must be nothing less than to catholicize the culture and to establish the universal reign of Christ, as King.

Let us call upon the Blessed Virgin Mary, Patroness of our country under her glorious title, the Immaculate Conception – the title which the U.S. Bishops chose when they dedicated this land to be under her protection more than a century and a half ago.  O Mary, pray for our country! O Mary, pray for our people! 

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“Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary leads us into the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist”

by Fr. Benjamin Reese, S.T.D., Cand.

Introduction

             The theology of the Blessed Virgin Mary has been an integral part of the Catholic faith—from the Protogospel of Genesis to the most recent Papal Encyclical. Mary, the New Eve has been seen as the complement to Christ, the New Adam[1].  Of course, the distinctive feature of the Catholic religion is the Incarnation—God becoming man in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Here we see how Mary’s “yes” opened the way for the Son of God’s descent to earth and his taking of her human flesh.  As we meditate on the mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist, the parallels between it and the Incarnation readily come to mind since it is Jesus himself who becomes present with the very flesh that he once received from his Mother, Mary. 

             In a similar way, we learn to offer the Sacrifice of the Mass in union with Christ’s perfect offering at Calvary where Mary herself co-offered her Son for the salvation of the world.  Indeed, she was not a priest, but through Him she offered her own flesh and blood and the Divine victim back to the Father.  Thus, she remains a kind of exemplar for us as we enter into the sacrifice of the Mass.  Finally, it was Mary, according to tradition, who first greeted her Risen Son, and adored her God on Easter Sunday morning.  Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, then, correctly understood, helps us to enter most completely into the mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist and hence enhances our actual participation in the Divine Liturgy itself. 

 The Liturgy of the Word and the Incarnation

             Mary becomes a model for our actual participation in the Liturgy of the Word as a hearer of the Word, a hearer that always obeyed the Word of God and meditated on that mystery in her Immaculate Heart.  In the Liturgy of the Word, we review the history of salvation and realize how few members of the human race actually took God’s word to heart and gave him a whole hearted “Yes”.  The history of the chosen people really begins with Abraham’s submission to God in an heroic faith.  But even Abraham’s faith, a faith that made him our father in faith, was, at times, a weak and vacillating one.  The subsequent history of the Chosen people is indeed a history of much unfaithfulness, but God would preserve a holy remnant, and this holy remnant would give birth to a daughter of Zion through God’s intervention in the Immaculate Conception.  Mary’s faith, then, like Abraham’s, shines out as a model for us.  Pope Paul VI comments in his famous Encyclical, Marialis Cultus.

            Mary is the attentive Virgin, who receives the word of God with faith, that faith which in her case was the gateway and path to the divine motherhood, for, as St. Augustine realized, “Blessed Mary by believing conceived Him (Jesus) whom believing she brought forth”  In fact, when she received from the angel the answer to her doubt (cf. Lk a:34-37), “full of faith and conceiving Christ in her mind      before conceiving Him in her Womb, she said, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let what you have said be done to me” (Lk 1:38).  It was faith that was for her cause of blessedness and certainty in the fulfillment of the promise: “Blessed is    she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Lk    1:45). .  .  The Church also acts in this way, especially in the liturgy, when with faith she listens, accepts, proclaims and venerates the Word of God, distributes it to the faithful as the bread of life, and in the light of that word examines the signs of the times and interprets and lives the events of history.[2]

             Thus, Mary becomes a model of actual or interior participation in the Liturgy itself.  Certainly, this does not mean that we bring Marian devotions into the Liturgy, but Marian devotions and, especially the practice of True Devotion will help us enter into the spirit of the Liturgy.  Mary, the woman of faith and the contemplative virgin can teach us how to listen to the Word of God.  St. Louis de Montfort writes,

             Be persuaded, then, that the more you look at Mary in your prayers, contemplations, actions, and sufferings, if not with a distinct and definite view, at least with a general and imperceptible one, the more perfectly will you find Jesus Christ, who is always with Mary, great, powerful, active, and incomprehensible – more than in Heaven or in any other creature.  Thus, so far from the Divine Mary, all absorbed in God, being an obstacle to the perfect attaining of union with God, there has never been up to this time, and there never will be, any creature who will aid us more efficaciously in this great work; either by the graces that she will communicate to us for this purpose—for as a saint has said, “No one can be filled with the thought of  God except by her”[3]

Consequently, the place for Marian devotion is precisely in the time before Mass[4], so that we can prepare our minds and hearts to receive the Word of God as she did.  If we approach the Liturgy of the Word in union with her heart will be “filled with the thought of God”.

            However, true devotion to the Blessed Virgin not only helps us to prepare for the Liturgy of the Word, and to contemplate that Word during Mass: her intercession also helps us to assent to the Word of God which is directed to us–  to say “Yes” to God  within the context of that Mass. Indeed, the Liturgy of the Word is proclaimed by the celebrant within the liturgical assembly so that they can give assent to the content of the Church’s teaching and preaching.  Just as the people of the nation of Israel consented to the content of the book of the covenant in Exodus 24 before being sprinkled with the Blood of the Covenant, so the people of the new Israel receive the Word of God as preached before drinking of the Blood of the Word made flesh in the New Covenant.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “By the saving word of God faith . . . is nourished in the hearts of believers.  By faith then the congregation of the faithful begins and grows. The proclamation does not stop with a teaching; it elicits the response of faith as consent and commitment, directed at the covenant between God and his people.”[5] Each member of the assembly should listen and then respond to the Word of God as Mary did so that Christ can become Incarnate in their lives through the power of the Holy Spirit poured out during the Eucharistic sacrifice.

            All of this becomes clear as we recite the Creed in which we recall the Incarnation of God the Son. Here, all used to genuflect every Sunday (many still do in Extraordinary form of the Roman Rite) at those words, “Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine, et homo factus est.”  So many wonderful musical compositions of the Creed have been written and all of them fall into an awesome and tender hush at this moment.  We are finishing the Liturgy of the Word and our hearts are prepared to receive the Word made Flesh who will come very soon in the unbloody sacrifice of the altar so as to be received Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in Holy Communion by the assembly.   In this way, we will become like Mary whose “Yes’ in the Incarnation allowed the Word of God to take flesh from her and become man.

            Just before we begin the Liturgy of the Eucharist, we offer the Prayer of the Faithful, and once again the Blessed Virgin Mary is discreetly present in the Liturgy as our intercessor before the Father in heaven. I find it theologically interesting to understand the Prayer of the Faithful as a transition between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  Indeed, the Catholic Catechism describes it in the section on the Liturgy of the Word, “After the homily, which is an exhortation to accept this Word as what it truly is, the Word of God, and to put it into practice, come the intercessions for all men, according to the Apostle’s words: “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings, and all who are in high position”[6]

            The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrystosom contains an ectenia, a prayer of intercession which is contained in the Eucharistic prayer itself.  These intercessions fittingly conclude with a Marian prayer which is an integral part of the Liturgy itself,  “Commemorating our most, holy, pure, blessed, and glorified Lady, Mother of God and Ever Virgin Mary with all the Saints, let us commend ourselves and one another our whole life to Christ, our God.” [7]  It is also interesting to note here the Irish and English Latin Rite custom, approved by their Bishops, of concluding the prayers of the faithful with a Hail Mary “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death”.

The Liturgy of the Eucharist and Mary’s role at Calvary.

            If we first imitate Mary in her contemplative stance in the Liturgy of the Word, we can then imitate her self offering and so join her personal offering of the Divine Victim in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, especially at the moment of the representation of the Sacrifice of Calvary in the Sacrifice of the Mass.  Pope John Paul II wrote of Mary’s unfathomable sufferings at Calvary in Redemptoris Mater, “The Council says that this happened ‘not without a divine plan”: by “suffering deeply with her only begotten Son and joining herself with her maternal spirit to his sacrifice, lovingly consenting to the immolation of the victim to whom she had given birth,” in this way Mary “faithfully preserved her union with her Son even to the Cross”[8]

             Fr. Dwight Campbell elucidates on Pope John Paul’s Marian/ Eucharistic theology in an article in the Homiletic and Pastoral Review.  He sees Pope John Paul’s Marian spirituality of the Cross as a key to his understanding of true participation in the Liturgy of the Eucharist – and especially the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

            The Blessed Virgin Mary was present on Calvary; she is present at each Mass.  At Mass we must invite Mary to be present with us, and strive to imitate her in uniting ourselves to Christ’s sacrifice made present on the altar.  We must learn from her, at her “school,” by studying her interior dispositions, especially those she exhibited at the foot of the Cross: her heroic faith and her spirit of self-oblation in accepting the Father’s will that her Son suffer a horrible death to merit our salvation.[9]

             Yet, this imitation of Mary is not simply exemplary in a historical sense or merely spiritual in as much as the Blessed Virgin Mary is actually interceding for us from heaven. It is indeed “real” because Mary’s sorrowful and Immaculate Heart is “truly” present in the Sacrifice of the Mass itself.  Fr. Campbell cites this remarkable quote from Pope John Paul II,

In this “memorial” of Calvary [i.e., the Mass] all that Christ accomplished by his Passion and his Death is present.  Consequently, all that Christ did with regard to his Mother for our sake is also present.  To her he gave the beloved disciple and, in him, each of us: “Behold, your Son!” To each of us he also says: “Behold your Mother!”  9cf. Jn. 19.26-27).[10]

             Her spiritual Motherhood is consequently real – not only in a generic, heavenly way, but because she is precisely there at each and every Sacrifice of the Mass, showing us how to sacrifice the Divine victim and our lives with her at the Foot of the Cross.  Her spiritual Motherhood makes our sacrifice more bearable since she is a sign and a real channel of God’s intimate love for us.   When the sacrifice or the suffering can seem beyond our strength- because it is beyond our strength—we need only to ask her to help.  She will intercede so that we can complete our offering , joining it to hers at Calvary.

            This act of self offering with her in the Mass is a perfection of the True Devotion of St. Louis de Montfort, “to begin, to continue to finish all our actions by her, in her, with her, and for her, in order that we may do them by Jesus Christ, in Jesus Christ, with Jesus Christ and for Jesus Christ, our Last End.”[11]  Such is also the very soul of actual participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass where we offer everything “through him, with him, and in him in the unity of the Holy Spirit.” Many Catholics may not yet be spiritually mature enough to participate interiorly in the Liturgy in a full, conscious, and actual manner, but all can and will suffer and in this Our Sorrowful Mother can help them to accept their Crosses with patience and a deep supernatural joy.  We need her prayers then to remain standing at the Foot of the Cross and not to give into fear, pain, or discouragement in times of trial, but rather to accept all from the hands of a loving Father.   We should above all pray to Our Lady of Sorrows in all our troubles.  We should ask her, by the ocean of sorrow she felt during the Passion of Our Lord, to help us.   God gave her all the immense graces necessary to make her the perfect Mother of God, but he also gave her all the graces, the tenderness, the love necessary to be our most perfect and loving Mother.  No mother on earth ever loved a child as Our Blessed Lady loves us.  Therefore, in all our troubles and sorrows, let us go to Our Blessed Lady with unbounded confidence.[12]

             In order to remain strong in faith and to truly offer our minor sorrows with the sacrifice of the Mass,  it is salutary to meditate profoundly on the immense depth of her sorrow.  The English Oratorian,  Fr. Frederick Faber wrote, “The first thing, then, which strikes us about our Lady’s dolours is their immensity… It is to her sorrows that the Church applies those words of Jeremias, O all ye that by the way, attend, and see if there be any sorrow like to my sorrow.”[13]  Indeed it is the common teaching of the Saints that Mary suffered more than all the Martyrs at the foot of the Cross[14], entering into the abyss of her Son’s abandonment as he cried out to the Father, “My God, My God, Why have you abandoned Me?”  This dark night of the soul in which her heart was pierced by a sword of sorrow is the basis of her spiritual motherhood and her tender compassion for us sinners.  She entered into this state of  abandonment which was due to us as a punishment for our sins.  Yet she herself was totally innocent, having had no need to suffer for her sins.  In this act of love for God and for us she became our Mother in the order of grace, a New Eve, giving spiritual birth to us in the agony of Calvary.  St. Alphonsus de Liguori comments on these immense sorrows,

             Indeed, the death of Jesus was more than enough to save the world, and infinity of worlds; but this good Mother, for the love she bore us, wished also to help the cause of our salvation with the merits of her sufferings, which she offered for us on Calvary. Therefore, Blessed(now Saint) Albert the Great says, “that as we are under great obligations to Jesus for his Passion, endured for our love, so also are we under great obligation to Mary for the martyrdom which she voluntarily suffered for our salvation in the death of her Son:”. . .  And indeed, we may say that Mary’s only relief in the midst of her great sorrow in the Passion of her Son, was to see the lost world redeemed by his death.[15]

              This was one of the greatest gifts of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the Cross—the gift of the Immaculate Heart of Mary [16] who would remain present in the Church and even at the sacrifice of the Mass as a consolation and co-offerer with us in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  When we turn in devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, whether within Mass or outside of  it, she will always bring us into a mystical union with the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This is a simple lesson, but one not easily learned by self absorbed modern man, often including us priests and religious.  Yet the little children of Fatima were able to live this message of offering all their sacrifices and sufferings for the conversion of sinners through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, inseparably united to his Sacred Heart.

            The Second Vatican Council summarizes Mary’s role in the Church thusly and this helps us to understand her role for us in the Liturgy,

The Motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the Cross, until the eternal fulfillment of the elect.  Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office, but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. . . . Therefore, the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix. This, however, is so understood that it neither takes away anything form nor adds anything to the dignity and efficacy of Christ the one Mediator.[17]

 Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament and Holy Communion

            Mary is also the greatest teacher with regards to devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and hence the most fruitful way of making our Holy Communions.  St. Louis de Montfort teaches us some methods of preparing for and devoutly receiving the Most Blessed Sacrament in Holy Communion.  He also instructs us how to make a proper thanksgiving, something that is often neglected today.  According to this Saint and Marian doctor, the result of such Holy Communions, made with her, will be an increase of the Divine Life of the Holy Trinity within us and a decrease of our selfishness and sin:

My Jesus, You must increase in my soul, and I must decrease (Jn. 3:30); Mary, you must increase within me, and I must be still less than I have been. “O Jesus and Mary, increase in me, and multiply yourselves in others also.” ((cf. Gen. 1:22 ff). There are infinity of other thoughts which the Holy Ghost furnishes, and will furnish you, if you are thoroughly interior, mortified and faithful to this grand and sublime devotion which I have been teaching you.  But always remember that the more you allow Mary to act your Communion, the more Jesus will be glorified.”[18]

 Hence, we see that Mary can truly help us to participate in the most profound way in her very relationship with her Divine Son in heaven and in the most Holy Eucharist.

The Blessed Virgin and the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament outside Mass

             Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is one of the best ways to prepare for Mass, and once again Mary can teach us how to better adorers of Christ in spirit and truth.  Contrary to the popularized teachings of some liturgists, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was not discouraged by Vatican II, and, to the contrary, it has been heartily encouraged by all the post-conciliar Popes, both in word and deed.  On the subject of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and authentic Liturgical participation, the Church has this to say,

            The same piety which moves the faithful to Eucharistic adoration attracts them to a deeper participation in the Paschal Mystery.  It makes them respond gratefully to the gifts of Christ who by his humanity continues to pour the divine life upon the members of his body.  Living with Christ the Lord, they achieve a close familiarity with him and in his presence pour out their hearts for themselves and for those dear to them;  they pray for peace and for the salvation of the world.  Offering their entire lives with Christ to the Father in the Holy Spirit, they draw from this wondrous exchange an increase of faith, hope, and love.  Thus, they nourish the proper disposition to celebrate the memorial of the Lord as devoutly as possible and to receive frequently, the bread given to us by the Father.[19]

            Adoration itself was a very intimate experience for Mary as the Mother of God who carried the Word made Flesh in her womb.  According to tradition, she was the first to greet and adore the Risen Lord, and certainly she participated daily in the Mass of the Apostle John, with whom she lived.  Therefore she can be our teacher in the true spirit of adoration in the Spririt and in truth.

Conclusion

             If Mary is our Mother in the order of grace and the Mediatrix of all graces, then she is intimately involved in the sacramental economy of the Church in a mysterious and sublime way that goes far beyond the limited scope of this brief reflection: She is indeed “the Woman clothed with the Son”, totally immersed in the very life of the Most Holy Trinity to such a degree that only the mind of God can fathom her ineffable holiness. Yet we poor sinners can invoke her intercession so as to enter more perfectly into the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and she is always ready to obtain special graces for her children and especially for her priest Sons who offer the Divine Sacrifice.  The Holy Catholic Church proclaims this in the Prayer of thanksgiving after Mass which she officially issues with the Roman Missal,

            Mary, Holy Virgin Mother       

            I have received your Son, Jesus Christ,

            With love you became His Mother,

            gave birth to Him, nursed Him,

            and helped Him grow to manhood.

            With love I return Him to you,  

            to hold once more,       

            to love with all your heart

            and to offer to the Holy Trinity 

            as our supreme act of worship. Amen.[20]


[1]   Paul Haffner, The Mystery of Mary. ( Chicago, Illinois :Liturgy Training Publications, 2004)

[2]   Pope Paul VI, Marialis Cultus, An Apostolic Exhortation, in Mary in the ChurchA Selection of Teaching Documents. (Washington, DC: United States  Conference of  Catholic Bishops,  2003 )

[3]   St. Louis de Montfort, True Devotion to Mary, translated by Fr. Frederick Faber. (Rockford, Illinois: Tan Books and Publishers, 1985).

[4] An example of this is the prayer to the Virgin Mary provided for priests to be said in preparation for a devout and fruitful celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, “Mother of mercy and love, blessed Virgin Mary, I am a poor and unworthy sinner, and I turn to you in confidence and love.  You stood by your Son and He hung dying on the Cross.  Stand also by me a poor sinner, and by all the priests who are offering Mass today here and throughout the entire Church.  Help us to offer a perfect and acceptable sacrifice in the sight of the holy and undivided Trinity, our Most High God. Amen.” Daily Roman Missal, ed. James Socias, (Chicago: Scepter Publishers, Midwest Theological Forum, 1993) 1963.

[5]  Catechism of the Catholic Church,  Libreria Editrice Vaticana  (Bloomingdale, Ohio: Apostolate for Family Consecration, 1994)  para 1102

[6]  Ibid, para. 1349

[7] The Divine Liturgy of  St. John Chrystosom, (New York, New York: Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America, 1966) p. 55

[8] Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater, in Mary in the ChurchA Selection of Teaching Documents. (Washington, DC: United States  Conference of  Catholic Bishops,  2003 )

[9] Fr. Dwight Campbell, “A Marian Spirituality of the Eucharist,” Homiletic and Pastoral Review, (January, 2006):  9.

[10]  ibid., 9

[11] St. Louis de Montfort, True Devotion to Mary, 70

[12]  “ A Devotional Prayer Book”,  Holy Wounds Apostolate, Wis. Rapids, WI, p. 18

[13] Fr. Frederick William Faber, The Foot of the Cross, the Sorrows of Mary( London: Burns, Oates, and Washbourne LTD, 1857), 7.

[14] St. Alphonsus de Liguori, The Glories of Mary, “ Part III, The Dolors of Mary”, trans. Eugene Grimm,

( Rockford, Illinois: Tan Books and Publishers, 1931), p.463-544.

[15] St. Alphonsus de Liguori, The Glories of Mary, 477

[16]  St. John Eudes, The Admirable Heart of Mary, (New York: P.J. Kenedy and Sons, 1948)

 [17] Second Vatican Council, “Lumen Gentium,” in Vatican Council II:  The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, ed. Austin Flannery (Northport, NY: Costello Publishing Company, 1975), # 62.

[18]   St. Louis de Montfort, True Devotion to Mary, nos. 272-73.

[19]  Congregation for Divine Worship. “On Holy Communion and the Worship of  the Eucharistic Mystery Outside of Mass, quoted in “In the Presence of  Our Lord” by Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R. and James Monti,(Huntington, Indiana:  Our Sunday Visitor, 1997),  270-271.

[20] Daily Roman Missal, Socias, 1979.

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Good Friday Sermon: “It is finished.”

by Fr. Dwight P. Campbell, S.T.D.

“It is finished.”  The Latin reads:  “Consummatum est.”  “It is consummated.”   The Greek verb (“tetélestai”) can be translated “it has been accomplished [or] fulfilled.”

What is “finished”? What is “accomplished”? What has been fulfilled? We can understand Christ’s words in two ways:  one, referring to His suffering; another, the Divine plan of Redemption.

First, Christ’s Passion.  His suffering has now come to an end.  In what did this suffering consist? Both bodily, and spiritual or mental, suffering. 

The great Anglican convert to Catholicism, John Henry Cardinal Newman – soon to be declared a blessed by Pope Benedict XVI – observes that “[a]ll pain of body depends . . . on the nature of the living mind which dwells in that body”;  that as man suffers more pain than animals do because of his intellectual soul, so Christ suffered more bodily pain than ordinary men because of His personal union with God as the Second Person of the Trinity.[1]

Cardinal Newman also makes the point that our suffering can be lessened when our mind is distracted and thinks of something else.  But when Christ suffered, He “looked pain in the face! He offered His whole mind to it, and received it, as it were, directly into His bosom, and suffered all He suffered with a full consciousness of suffering. . . . He willed to have the full sense of pain.  His soul was so intently fixed on his suffering as not to be distracted from it,” and this is why He at first refused to drink the soothing balm that was offered to Him.  The soldier feels not the wound which strikes him in the excitement of battle; but Our Lord’s soul “was so calm and sober and unexcited as to be passive, and thus to receive the full burden of the pain on it, without the power of throwing it off Him.”[2]

The Shroud of Turin offers us a close up look at the intensity of suffering that Jesus endured:  hundreds of lashes that literally shredded his back, arms and legs; the crown of thorns that was pressed deeply into his scalp, causing blood to run profusely down upon His beautiful Face; the many falls under the heavy cross which battered his already wounded body; the nails driven through the base of his hands wherein lies one of the major nerve centers in the human body, causing Him excruciating pain every time He moved – and Christ had to move up and down on the cross in order to breathe, using the nail in His feet as a fulcrum to relieve the pressure of His body suspended by His arms.  In this manner our precious Lord hung for three long hours before He gave up His human soul.

The saints tell us that Christ’s physical suffering was beyond anything we can imagine.  But his mental suffering was even worse.  His Passion began with His Agony in the Garden the night before He died.  It was then that He beheld in His human mind not only His own suffering that He would undergo the next day, but also all the sins of mankind for which He was going to die;[3] and – what was most painful – how many souls would reject His love and render His horrible suffering worthless for themselves.  Nothing is more painful to the heart and soul than worthless suffering.

Cardinal Newman says that “Our Lord’s sufferings were so great, because His soul was in suffering.”[4]  In the garden Our Lord said, “My soul is sorrowing even unto death.”  It was truly a suffering which stung most bitterly His gentle and humble Heart.  In fact, we might say that Christ died from a broken, afflicted Heart, which bore infinite love and sorrow.[5]  Maybe this explains why He allowed his side and Heart to be pierced with the centurion’s lance after His death, and why both blood and water flowed forth:  to show that He poured out everything for us and had nothing more to give.

But let us now turn to the second meaning of Christ’s words, “It is finished.”  As I said, the Greek verb can mean “fulfilled.”  With Christ’s death on the cross, the work of our redemption, which provides for our salvation, has been consummated.  This work – which was planned from all eternity in the Mind of God, in the Divine Councils of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, was foretold by the Patriarchs and Prophets of old, and was prepared for down through the centuries through the Chosen People, the Jews – has now come to an end.  Now, all the prophecies have been fulfilled; all the types and symbols of the Old Testament have been realized in their fullness:  the seed of the woman now crushes Satan’s head; the Star foretold by Balaam now lights the pilgrim’s way; the Lion of the Tribe of Judah now reigns as King of kings; the Shoot from the stump of Jesse and the Offspring of David has now established His throne for ever.  In sum, the Divine Plan has been accomplished:  the God-man, the Eternal Word who became flesh, has completed the sacrifice deemed necessary by God to atone for the sin of Adam and for all of our sins.  Christ our Savior has suffered and died, that we may live. 


[1] “Meditations on Lent:  Hope in God, Redeemer,” no. 3, “The Bodily Sufferings of Our Lord (April 19, Wed. in Holy Week)” in Newman on Lent (Roman Catholic Books:  Fort Collins, Co., n.d., BooksforCatholics.com), p. 21.

[2] Ibid., pp. 21-22.

[3] See Pope Pius XI’s wonderful encyclical letter of May 28, 1928, Miserentissimus Redemptor, on reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, avail. at Vatican.va; see esp. no. 13, where he speaks of Christ’s foreknowledge of our sins which caused Him such mental agony in the garden that His soul became “sorrowful unto death.”

[4] “Meditations on Lent:  Hope in God, Redeemer,” no. 3, “The Bodily Sufferings of Our Lord (Maundy Thursday)” in Newman on Lent, p. 23.

[5] See Newman, ibid., pp. 23-24.

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“Give Us This Day Our Daily (Supersubstantial) Bread”

Fr. Ben Reese, S.T.D. Cand.

 The “Our Father” is the most common and the most important prayer in the Christian world.  Yet no matter how often we pray it, there remains a greater spiritual depth to be discovered since its very words come from the Son of God and lead us back to him as our last end.  Indeed, the baptized Christian (in a state of grace) is not merely doing what Jesus taught when he prays the “Our Father” but Jesus is praying in him.

The whole prayer, in a sense, can be understood as a summary of the Gospel and as the perfect prayer in which we are instructed to ask for all we need.  Furthermore, this perfect prayer was initially prayed by Christians thrice daily according to the Catechism of  the Catholic Church and is ideally prayed in a liturgical setting in which we pray in the name of the whole Church –  saying “Our”  not my “Father”.  Through divine adoption or filiation we enter into the very heart of the prayer of the Man/God Jesus to his Heavenly Father.  He is the first born and high priest of a new priestly community so this prayer reaches its peak intensity in the Liturgy and especially in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass where the priest in persona Christi offers the divine victim to the Father, the priest’s own prayer, and the sacrifices of the faithful in perfect thanksgiving for all the benefits which we, his Church, have received. 

In and through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we have participated in the great sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary, his resounding yes to the Father which has undone the sin of the disobedience of Adam and Eve. It would seem that only at the Mass, is it truly possible to say, “Thy Kingdom Come Thy Will be Done” because there we are all saying it in union with the re-presentation of the Sacrifice of the Mass, where the “Yes” of Jesus is being re-presented by a priest who has been sacramentally ordained to join his human yes and the “yes” of the assembled community to the perfect obedience of Jesus on the Cross and in heaven.   In his justly famous book, The Spirit of the Liturgy, Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote,

     “As St. Maximus the Confessor showed so splendidly, the obedience of Jesus’ human will is inserted into the everlasting Yes of the Son to the Father. This ‘giving’ on the part of the Lord, in  passivity of his being crucified, draws the passion of  human existence into the action of love, and so it embraces all the dimensions of reality—Body, Soul, Spirit, Logos. Just as the pain of the body is drawn into the pathos of the mind and becomes the Yes of obedience, so time is drawn into what reaches beyond time. The real interior act, though it does not exist without the exterior, transcends time, but since it comes from time, time can again and again be brought into it. That is how we can become contemporary with the past events of salvation. Bernard of Clairvaux has this in mind when he says that the true semel (“once”) bears within itself the semper (‘always’). What is perpetual takes in what happens only once. In the Bible the Once for all is emphasized most vigorously in the epistle to the Hebrews, but the careful reader will discover that the point made by St. Bernard expresses its true meaning. The ephapax (‘0nce for All’) is bound up with the aionios (‘everlasting’).”[1]

In this way, by participating in the great obedience of Jesus on the Cross, we are joined to his reparation for the great disobedience of Adam and Eve.  We are refusing the temptation of the devil to be like God, deciding what is right and wrong for ourselves. Instead, we are offering the whole of our lives with its all its full assent to divinely revealed truth, specifically chosen moral acts, and salvific sacramental graces in union with the perfect offering of Christ in the re-presentation of  Calvary at the Sacrifice  of  the Mass.  By this mystical/ sacramental sharing in his obedience to the Father we are thus undeservedly given to eat of the fruit of the supernatural true tree of life, the body and blood of Christ which is the food of everlasting life.

It is no coincidence then that the Our Father is said after the consecration and before Holy Communion in all the ancient Eucharistic Liturgies of the Catholic Church,

      “In the Eucharistic Liturgy the Lord’s Prayer appears as the prayer of the whole Church and there reveals its full meaning and efficacy.  Placed between the anaphora (the Eucharistic prayer) and the communion, the Lord’s prayer sums up on the one hand all the petitions and intercessions expressed in the movement of the epiclesis and, on the other, knocks at the door of the Banquet of the kingdom which sacramental communion anticipates.”  (CCC 2770)

But is the Holy Eucharist of the Eucharistic banquet also the daily bread of the Our Father?  If the Our Father is the perfect prayer which is most perfectly prayed in the context of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, then does it not make sense that the daily bread which we most need and so ask for is the supersubstantial bread of the Holy Eucharist?

It may surprise many Catholics to learn that this indeed is the teaching of the Catholic Church as expressed by the Council of Trent and as re-proposed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Furthermore, many Protestants who say this prayer daily may be shocked to learn that they are truly praying to receive Holy Communion daily and that this interpretation goes back to very words of Our Lord in the “Our Father” — “Give us This Day, Our Daily Bread”.    The Greek word here is epiousion, a hapax or a word that is only used here and nowhere else in the Greek language,  and so presupposed to be the Greek equivalent of whatever word Our Lord may have used in Aramaic or Hebrew.  Most Protestant commentaries translate it as daily and this goes back to the Latin of St. Jerome who renders “arton epiousion” as “panis quotidianum” or daily bread in Luke.  However, he translated it as “panis supersubstantialem” in the Gospel of St. Matthew.  In other words, Jerome who realized  that this Greek hapax could not be expressed in Latin with both meanings at once, chose to give it one meaning in Matthew – “daily” and a another in Luke–“supersubstantial” so as to preserve both senses of the word for Latin speaking Christians, albeit in two distinct biblical locations.  In English, we have lost this second original meaning – supersubstantial, and so are usually unaware of this lost Eucharistic connotation in our recitation of the Our Father. 

Since Latin, also failed to express both meaning at once, St. Ambrose faced the same problem of expressing both significations of “epi-ousion” when teaching the “Our Father” to his catechumens in ancient Milan.  He asked them why we use the word bread after the consecration since he had previously explained that after the words of the priest it is no longer bread and wine, but the very Body and Blood of Christ.  Consequently, Saint Ambrose seized on the Greek, “epiousion” of the Our Father, commenting “He (Jesus) called it bread indeed, but he called it “epiousion”, that is, supersubstantial.  It is not the bread that passes into the body but that bread of eternal life, which sustains the substance of our souls.  Therefore, in Greek it is called epiousios.”[2] This concept of substance (epiousion) in the Holy Eucharist as applied above by him in De Sacramentis was very similar to the interpretation of St. Cyril of Jerusalem—supersubstantial food for the soul. Yet in a later quote from De Sacramentis (below), we will see how St. Ambrose interprets the concept of substance in a new way which will be crucial for the development of substantial change in the theology of real presence. Remember, too that Ambrose was combating Germanic Arianism in his diocese as he sought to defend the consubstantiality of the Father and the Son against the Arians who denied that Jesus was one in being (homo-ousion) with the Father.  Hence, it would seem only natural that the concept of substance or ousia would be in the forefront of his mind as he wrestled with the terminology of the real presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist.

As Our Lord Jesus Christ is the true Son, not by grace in the manner of men, but as Son of the substance of the Father, so it is true real flesh as he himself said which we receive and his true/ real blood is imbibed.  But perhaps you might say what the disciples said when they heard him saying: “Unless one eats my flesh and drinks my Blood, he shall not dwell in me nor have eternal life—perhaps you might say “How is it true?  I see the analogy, but I do not see the true/real blood.’  First of all, I (Ambrose) told you of statement of Christ which acts so that it can change and convert the established species of nature (mutare et convertere genera institute naturae).  Then when Christ’s statement is not accepted by his disciples but hearing that he gave his flesh to eat and gave his blood to drink they turned away and only Peter said “You have the words of eternal life and how can I turn from you?’ Therefore, so that others could say this without the horror of experiencing blood but dwell in saving grace, you receive the sacrament in an analogous experience, but truly the grace and power of its nature. ‘I am” he declares the bread of life which comes down from heaven.  But flesh did not come down from heaven, this flesh he acquired on earth out of the Virgin.  How then did bread come down from heaven and be living bread?  Our Lord Jesus Christ at the same time shares divinity and corporality, and you who partake in this food receive the flesh of his Divine Substance. (emphasis mine)[3]

The concept of ousia or substance in regard to the Eucharist seems to be used for the first time by St. Ambrose in De Sacramentis.  Yet is nothing more than an elaboration of the very term “epi-ousion” of Christ in the “Our Father”, rethinking the concept of “ousia” as it came to him from the Council of Nicea.

This theology of substantial presence and substantial change will continue to develop in the subsequent centuriesThe term substance will officially appear in the oath prescribed to Berengar of Tours by the Council of Rome. Meanwhile the term transubstantiation will be used for the first time by a theologian named Roland Bandinelli who later became Pope Alexander III (1140-42), and it will be used again by Innocent III in a papal document. The Fourth Lateran Council will formulate it more precisely and hence it will be demanded of the orthodox by the Profession of Faith at the Council of Lyons.  Finally, it will be fully developed by St. Thomas Aquinas and enshrined as Catholic dogma at the Council of Trent.  Pope Paul VI will strongly insist on the continuing dogmatic value of this term in his Encyclical, Mysterium Fidei.

The declaration of the Council of Trent about the dogma of transubstantiation seems to be well known, even by many opponents of Catholicism, even if not well understood by them or even by many modern Catholics.  Yet what is less well known is that the Council of Trent also insisted that the words “epi-ousion” spoken by Our Lord mean both that the Eucharist is super-substantial bread and that it should be received daily, in other words it taught both senses of the word as understood by St. Jerome and St. Ambrose

Finally, the holy council with true paternal affection enjoins, exhorts, begs, and entreats through the tender mercy of our God (Lk 1:78) that each and all who are marked by the name of Christian should now, at long last, join together and agree in this sign of unity, this bond of love, this symbol of harmony; and that, mindful of the so great majesty and surpassing love of our lord Jesus Christ, who gave his own dear life as the price of our salvation and his own flesh for us to eat(Jn 6:48-59), they should believe and reverence these sacred mysteries of his body and blood  with such constancy and firmness of faith, such dedication of mind, such devotion and worship, that they may be able to receive frequently that supersubstantial bread(Mt 6:11), and that it may be for them truly the life of the soul and the unending health of the mind; thus, strengthened by its force, may they be able after the journey of this wretched pilgrimage to reach the heavenly fatherland, there to eat without veil the same bread of angels(Ps 77:25) which they now eat beneath  sacred veils. [4]  

Indeed, that holy Council encouraged all Catholics to attend Mass frequently (frequenter) and to receive Holy Communion whenever they were well disposed to do so, and even daily. This teaching was long ignored during the dark years of Jansenism but Pope St. Pius X in Sacra Tridentina resurrected this clear teaching of the Council of Trent and forcefully opposed all restrictive theologies of the reception of Holy Communion.  Thus, St. Pius X was actually hearkening back to the clear words of Jesus and finally applying the great Eucharistic teaching of the Council of Trent that all the faithful should receive the Holy Eucharist frequently and at each Mass they attend,

This wish of the Council fully conforms to that desire wherewith Christ our Lord was inflamed when He instituted this Divine Sacrament. For He Himself, more than once, and in clarity of word, pointed out the necessity of frequently eating His Flesh and drinking His Blood, especially in these words: “This is the bread that has come down from heaven; not as your fathers ate the manna, and died. He who eats this bread shall live forever.” From this comparison of the Food of angels with bread and with manna, it was easily to be understood by His disciples that, as the body is daily nourished with bread, and as the Hebrews were daily fed with manna in the desert, the Christian soul might daily partake of this heavenly bread and be refreshed thereby. Moreover, we are bidden in the Lord’s Prayer to ask for “our daily bread” · which words, the holy Fathers of the Church all but unanimously teach, must be understood not so much that material bread which is the support of the body as the Eucharistic bread which ought to be our daily food.[5]

St Pius X stressed the necessity of daily Communion for the struggle against sin and human frailty, calling daily communion “the antidote whereby we may be freed from daily faults and be preserved from mortal sin.”  According to the Saintly Pope of the Eucharist, the early Christians also daily hastened to the temple and to “the breaking of the bread” (Acts 2: 42 & 46). Such Eucharistic teaching can be found in the Magisterium of his successors and in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church,

“‘Daily’ (epiousios) occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. Taken in a temporal sense, this word is a pedagogical repletion of ‘this day,’ to confirm us in trust ‘without reservation.’ Taken in the qualitative sense, it signifies what is necessary for life, and more broadly every good thing sufficient for subsistence. Taken literally (epi-ousios: ‘super-essential’), it refers directly to the Bread of Life, the Body of Christ, the ‘medicine of immortality,’ without which we have no life within us.’  (CCC 2837)

Conclusion:  The Catechism of the Catholic Church goes on to highly recommend the daily celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and consequently the daily reception of the Most Sacred Body and Blood by the faithful whenever possible.  According to St. Pius X this should be done with due reverence and firm faith, but all that is necessary is that the communicant should be free from mortal sin and approach Our Lord with a right and devout intention.  He knew that many would approach with venial sin, but he encouraged them by saying that “it is sufficient that they be free from mortal sin, with the purpose of never sinning in the future” And with great pastoral wisdom he adds that “if they have this sincere purpose” they will with time and effort “free themselves from venial sins and from all affection thereto.”

As the Church confronts this new millennium, with its all its challenges and possibilities for a new evangelization, is there any greater hope for the triumph of the faith then can be found in the devout daily celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass?

What greater plan for Christian unity could be conceived than is already expressed in the words, “Give us This Day Our Daily Bread?”  If all the baptized Christians in the world really understood and lived out this petition by attending daily Mass and receiving the Body and Blood of our Lord daily, what power would be unleashed?  Can we even imagine the power of one billion Holy Communions received devoutly and with a right intention on a daily basis?  Not only would mortal sin cease, but even venial sins would gradually be extinguished and the world would see how much we love God and each other.  Truly, we would become one with Our Lord and God in Holy Communion and the poor would be fed and world wide peace established, based on universal solidarity.  The Church would become once again a school of Saints, and the increase of consecrated vocations and the flourishing of family life would finally usher in the renewal so long desired by the Council of Trent and the Second Vatican Council.  This may seem utopian, but God’s Kingdom on earth would be the real result of that mysterious petition of the Our Father, “Give us This Day Our Daily (supersubstantial) Bread.”


[1] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, trans. John Saward (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000), 56

[2] St. Ambrose, De Sacramentis, 5. 4. 24;  English translation from The Fathers of the Church, Saint Ambrose,(Washington: CUA Press, 1963)

 [3]  “Ego sum, inquit, panis vivus, qui de caelo descendi.  Sed caro non descendit e caelo, hoc est carnem in terries adsumpsit ex virgine. Quomodo ergo desccendit panis et caelo et panis vivus?  Quia idem dominus noster Iesus Christus consors est et divinitatis et Corporis, et tu, qui accipis carnem, divinae eius substantiae in illo participaris alimento.  St. Ambrose of Milan, De Sacramentis 6:1.1-4 

[4] The Council of Trent, “Session 13, Decree on the most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist” in Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, Vol. 2,  English ed. Norman P. Tanner S.J.(Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1990), 697

 [5] St Pius X, Sacra tridentina, “On Frequent and Daily Reception of Holy Communion”, Vatican official website at www.Vatican.va (April 5, 2007).

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The Angels & the Adoration of the Most Holy Eucharist

The Angels & the Adoration of the Most Holy Eucharist

Fr. Ben Reese, S.T.D. Cand.

 I.  The God who dwells in unapproachable light and the adoration of the angels

St. Paul to 1 Tim. 6:12-16.  “Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made the profession of faith in the presence of many witnesses. In the presence of God who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession.  I charge you to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, and this will be made manifest at the proper time by the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of Kings and Lord of all Lords, who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen”.

“Take Hold of the Profession of faith which you made before many witnesses,” that is the Creed in which we profess that God is the maker of all that is seen and unseen, the visible and the invisible. The fourth Lateran council taught in 1215 that God “by his almighty power created together in the beginning of time both creatures, the spiritual and the corporeal, namely the angelic and the earthly, and afterwards the human, as it were an intermediate creation, composed of body and spirit.”[1]  Man or the human person is made in God image, and is the crown of the visible creation since he has an intellect and free will. The invisible creation consists of the immense, majestic, and wholly spiritual world of the angels. They are also made in God’s image, and each one has a unique nature or specific form which makes them totally unique from each other, yet share with the human race an eternal destiny to give God glory and praise for all eternity. In fact, the good angels have already passed the test, and are now beholding God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the light of endless glory.

And this will be made manifest at the proper time by the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of Kings and Lord of all Lords, who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen

To God who dwells in unapproachable light!  Whom no man has seen or can see? What is this unapproachable light?  St. Thomas Aquinas calls this light unapproachable by which we see God – the Lumen Gloriae or the light of Glory. He explains it in his Summa Theologica.

The faculty of seeing God does not belong to the created intellect naturally, but is given to it by the light of glory. . .  Hence the intellect which has more of the light of glory will see God the more perfectly; and he will have a fuller participation of the light of glory who has the more charity . . . He who possesses the more charity, will see God the more perfectly, and he will be the more beatified” (I, Q. 12, art. 6)

Hence the good angels who have passed the test and are full of the love of God actually see their creator face to face in the light of glory as so the souls of the blessed in heaven, according to their degree of merit.

II. The Heavenly Liturgy of the Angels and the Saints

So in our Christian lives we are confronted with a bit of a paradox: like the angels we are called to give God glory and worship, but unlike the angels who have received the light of glory, we can’t see the Most Holy Trinity who dwells in unapproachable light– in a state infinitely beyond the comprehension of our minds. So the question is — how do we worship the one whom no man has seen or can see?    Indeed, we are told that no one can see God and live (Ex. 33:20), which means that while on earth we must somehow learn to worship God without seeing him as he is.

Yet in spite of the fact that we don’t see God, we do worship him, and that is because we know him by faith, and faith comes by hearing!  In this earthly life, our worship of God is a participation in the heavenly worship—the worship of the angels and the saints, but one that occurs through sacrament and symbol.   Sacraments cause grace by signifying, and in the case of the Holy sacrifice of the Mass, the celebration of the Eucharist not only confers grace, but it re-presents the sacrifice of Calvary as we heard in our first talk, making Christ substantially present—Body, Blood, soul, and divinity. The very same Christ who is now at the right hand of the Father in heaven—dwelling in unapproachable light or the Lumen Gloriae, is here and now, accessible by faith.   This is the truth that sustains our worship in the darkness of faith: we encounter the Risen Christ in the heavenly liturgy through the sacramental signs—the species of bread and wine that indicate the substantial presence of the glorified Lord who suffered under Pontius Pilate, was Crucified, died and was buried, Furthermore, our faith in things invisible is nourished through symbols like the altar, the ordained priest, the Crucifix, the sanctuary, and through icons and religious art that make us aware the presence of the angels and the saints, especially the Blessed Virgin Mary, in our earthly worship of  the unseen God. This is especially clear in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrystosom, which occurs behind a golden icon screen of the angels and saints.  These icons serve not only as pretty images to remind us of the presence of the angels and saints, but the icons of the angels and saints, surrounded by gold, are in fact symbols that really help us to participate in the worship of heaven,. Indeed, they can be called windows into heaven.  The same symbolic effect can occur in a slightly different way with great sacred artists in the west like Bl. Fra Angelico. (see Holy Card).

Therefore, we can really turn to these heavenly friends for help in worshiping the unseen God who dwells in light inaccessible.  The good angels already see God in the light of glory and they are in the eternal now — offering God perfect worship. We can and should ask for their guidance and especially the help of our Guardian angel in teaching us how to worship God on earth more perfectly, so as to one day come to see God face to face in the light of Glory.  In the Gospel of St. Matthew 18:10, our Lord taught that the Guardian Angels of the little ones “always behold the face of my Father in heaven!”  Indeed, we all know the prayer that says that the Guardian Angels have been given to each of us to be always at our side, to light and guard, to rule and guide. We call on them in times of danger, and ask for their protection from the evil one (example).

Yet, we may forget that their greatest role is to illumine us about the sacred mystery of the Holy Eucharist as St. Paul reminds us—“into these Mysteries, angels long to peer!”  This phrase – “Mystery” refers above all to the mystery of the Incarnation, God becoming Man, but also to the sacraments which are called mysteries in Greek, and especially to the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist.  The angels then are our guides to the mystery of the Holy Eucharist.  They do not fully comprehend the Incarnation or how God became man, and so they also do not even begin to comprehend the mystery of the Holy Eucharist, but they teach us how to adore Christ in the Eucharist. They can rescue us from the very gaping mouth of Hell, so that little by little we can ascend with them to our heavenly homeland.  They guide us in our moral conversion in what the Church calls the Purgative way.  They bring pagans to the knowledge of God and to baptism, and they also bring us back to the sacrament of penance when we have sinned.  But their burning desire is not only to guard us from sin and the demons, but to enlighten us with a faint ray the light of God which they behold in splendor.  They are like lamps to our feet in our struggle to ascend the mountain of God, in that process of illumination by grace which the Church calls the illuminative way.  Our ascent of the mountain of God occurs primarily, but not exclusively in our participation in the Holy sacrifice of the Mass, which is also a heavenly Liturgy.  As Our Lord said to Nathaniel, “you will see the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”  For us this we experience this communion with the angels most intensely during the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.

III—The Angels and the Liturgy of the Most Holy Eucharist.

In the earthly Liturgy, by way of foretaste, we share in that heavenly Liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city  of Jerusalem toward which we journey as  pilgrims, and in which Christ is sitting at the right hand of God . . . we sing a  hymn to the Lord’s glory with all the warriors of the Heavenly army… SC, 8.

We begin our participation in the Rite of the Holy Eucharist with the sign of the Cross, and the penitential rite because we have been saved by the Cross, and by the pouring out of the Precious blood of the Redeemer.  Indeed, the angels adore this precious blood of our salvation, and they can see that we have been marked with it as the blood of Paschal Lamb marked the doorposts of the Jews in Egypt.  When we confess our sins and ask for mercy, we, in fact, make our confession before the angels who have witnessed our sins and we implore them to pray for us.  Then after we have asked for mercy, we sing the song of the angels on earth—the Gloria.  We are already joining the praise of the angels in heaven as the youngest members of the heavenly choir.  Notice too that a heavenly light shone around the child Jesus in Bethlehem as a sign of his heavenly glory, but notice that his is not yet the light of glory, the Lumen Gloriae, but a kind of earthly hint or manifestation of that heavenly glory.  Nevertheless, the song of the angels prepared the shepherds to come and adore the newborn king, and so the Gloria is preparing us to come and adore the King of Kings who will soon be made present our altars.  As we sing their song, let us truly humbly ask the angels to teach us how to adore him, so greatly assist our actual participation in the Mass as requested by the Second Vatican Council. Similarly, just as the angel Gabriel brought the good news of the Incarnation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, so the angels and especially our guardian angel will help us to understand the Liturgy of the Word and to assent to the demands of the Gospel.

The angels also teach us how to adore Christ in his greatest act of love—that is his Passion. At first glance, the Cross would seem to be a long way from a heavenly liturgy.  Yet it is precisely through the Cross and the sacrifice of the Mass that we have already entered by faith into the “City of the living God. The heavenly Jerusalem,” (Heb. 12), and after death, we will be brought body and soul into the New Jerusalem where we the Lamb once slain, (Rev 22) will be the lamp of the temple and invite us to the heavenly wedding Feast (Luke 22:30). Jesus cannot die again in heaven, but as the priest re-presents the passion on the earthly altar in the holy sacrifice of the Mass, the angels are adoring the love and mercy of God and the precious Blood which is being poured out for us in the holy, bloodless sacrifice of the Mass, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering and to the assembly of the first born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously that the blood of Abel.”

Yet the mystical darkness of the Cross remains a mystery even to the angels—who will ever ponder and contemplate how God could have died on a little blood stained hill called Calvary.  Even the highest angels, the cherubim and seraphim were forced to advert their gaze and fell into a kind of awesome silence as they saw Jesus, the God/Man die on Calvary and heard his cry echo in the highest – “My God, My God why have you abandoned me.”  Here we pass from the illuminative light of the angels into the darkness of Calvary—what is called the dark night of the soul and the unitive way.  We meet God in the darkness of faith, but this darkness of faith is what prepares our eyes for the light of Glory.  Like bats we are blind to this light, but our faith acts like radar to bring us to the Cross of Christ and so beyond death to the eternal glory of heaven—“where eye has not seen and ear has not heard what God has prepared for those who love him.” There we will be transformed from glory unto glory by the Spirit, and so rightly take our place even now in the eternal heavenly Liturgy.” 

IV.  The Angels help us to Adore Jesus the Bread of Angels

At first the idea of the Bread of Angels may strike us as a little odd—Why would angels need bread—after all Angels are immaterial beings and they don’t need to eat.  Of course, the people of Israel were fed miraculously by the bread from heaven, and so in this sense we can refer to the Most Holy Eucharist as the Bread of Angels – since it comes from Heaven.  Yet on second thought, there is a more direct connection between the Most Holy Eucharist and the life of the angels and this is due to the fact that the angels adore the Risen Jesus in heaven, and this very act of adoring is what sustains in their mystical life in the light of glory.  In this sense, we can say that the Angels feed on the Body of Christ Mystically and in this they can teach us how to adore the Eucharist and thus to prepare for Holy Communion.  St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor and the great mystic of the Holy Eucharist, teaches us this in the Summa.

 [1] D. 428

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Christmas Sermon 2009

Fr. Dwight P. Campbell, S.T.D.

Today we rejoice, for today “a Child is born to us, a Son is given us; His Name is Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace” (Is. 9:5).  Today the world is reminded that we cannot separate Christ from Christmas, for today we celebrate “Christ’s Mass.”  On this great Feast of Christmas we focus on the Christ Child, newly-born, a reason for immense wonder and awe:  when God becomes a man, He enters into this world as an infant, tiny and helpless.

As Pope Benedict XVI says, that night in Bethlehem, God stooped down “in a way previously inconceivable.  The Creator who holds all things in His hands, on whom we all depend, makes Himself small and in need of human love.  God is in the stable.  God is in the cloud of the poverty of a homeless child:  an impenetrable cloud, and yet a cloud of glory!”  (Midnight Mass, 2008).

On this day we are also reminded that we cannot separate the cradle from the Cross, for Christ came not only to be born as a little Babe in Bethlehem, but to suffer and die for our sins.  God did not have to redeem us by becoming man.  God could have simply willed to redeem us.  But He did not do so.  The Word became flesh in order to offer His flesh and blood on the altar of the Cross in atonement for our sins, and in order to demonstrate His infinite love for us. 

How utterly incomprehensible this is:  the Creator becomes a creature, God becomes man while remaining God, because man whom He created rebelled against Him and lost friendship with God, and only God could restore that friendship and open again the gates of Paradise to man. 

“In a word, the mystery of Christmas is the mystery of God’s love that chose to take on our human form in order to show His love for us by suffering.”  [Fr. John Hardon article, “Christmas and the Eucharist.”] 

Christian poets are adept at communicating various concepts, truths and mysteries of our Faith with language which draws, even enraptures, both the heart and mind of the reader.  Its charm of form, its affinity of rhythm and meter, appeal to our emotions and intellect. 

My two favorite Christmas poems were penned by St. Robert Southwell, a Jesuit martyr who was canonized in 1970 as one of the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales.  He spent three years in the Tower of London and was tortured nine times before he was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn in 1595.  While in prison he penned his most famous poem, The Burning Babe, which describes a vision, on Christmas Day, of the Christ Child immersed flames; it communicates in a most beautiful way the truth of the future suffering which the Savior, while still a Babe, foresees. 

The poem begins by describing how, on “a hoary winter’s night,” “a pretty Babe all burning bright” in the air appears,

Who, scorchéd with exceeding heat, such floods of tears did shed

As though His floods would quench His flames with what His tears were fed;

“Alas!” quoth He, “but newly born in fiery heats I fry,

Yet none approach to warm their hearts or feel my fire but I!

My faultless breast the furnace is, the fuel wounding thorns;

Love is the fire and sighs the smoke, the ashes shame and scorns;

The fuel Justice layeth on, and Mercy blows the coals;

The metal in this furnace wrought our men’s defiléd souls;

For which, as now on fire I am, to work them to the good,

So will I melt into a bath, to wash them in my blood.”

But the mystery of Christmas is not only the mystery of God who became man to redeem us; it is also the mystery of God who remains with us – to nourish and strengthen us.  As Fr. John Hardon says: “The Eucharist is Christmas prolonged, because once God became men, He decided to remain man. . . . and this God-Man is here; Bethlehem is wherever there is a Catholic church or chapel in which Christ is present [in the Eucharist].”

And why does Jesus Our Lord will to remain with us always in the Eucharist? For the same reason which moved Him to suffer and die for us:  love.  Love desires union; the lover yearns to be united with the beloved; and – as incomprehensible as this may sound – God, the Creator, yearns for us to be in union with Him.

We would not have been able to attain union with God in Heaven without being redeemed; we would have been left orphans.  So God became man, the Word became flesh and suffered and died on the Cross for our sins. 

But as Jesus makes clear, this union in Heaven with Him is also dependent on us being united with Him here on earth, for He tells us:   “I am the living bread that came down from Heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread I will give is my flesh for the life of the world. . . . Amen, amen, I say to you, . . . unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life within you.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day” (Jn. 6:51, 53-54). 

This union with Our Lord and Savior here and now is achieved through the Most Holy Eucharist, the Great Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood, which again, is made possible only through Christ’s Incarnation and Birth on Christmas.  In fact, the Gospel account of the Birth of the Savior wonderfully foretells this great mystery of the Eucharist and our union with Christ through It.  St. Luke tells us that Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem, which literally means, in Hebrew, “House of Bread,” and that Our Lord was laid in a manger, a feeding trough for animals.  Thus, here we are told, in a symbolic way, at Christ’s Birth, that He Himself is our living bread who will nourish our souls for union with Him and, through union with Him, attainment of Eternal Life in the Kingdom.

This truth was captured beautifully in my other favorite Christmas poem, also by St. Robert Southwell, The Nativity of Christ:

Gift better than himself God doth not know;

Gift better than his God no man can see.

This gift doth hear the giver given bestow;

Gift to this gift let each receiver be.

God is my gift, himself he freely gave me;

God’s gift am I, and none but God shall have me.

Man altered was by sin from man to beast;

Beast’s food is hay, hay is all mortal flesh.

Now God is flesh and lies in manger pressed

As hay, the brutest sinner to refresh.

My dear friends, let us, on this Christmas, thank God for the great gift given to us, His Son, born for us this day:  Our Savior, the Eternal Word who took our mortal flesh for us brutish sinners to refresh.

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