Posts tagged: Sacraments

It Started With the Liturgy

By , April 15, 2014 5:47 am

Back in the 1940’s and 50’s, bishops, priests and theologians were for the most part very relaxed about the Church. Most of them thought that everything was just fine and they never dreamed that an explosive development was coming down the pike that would be known in history as the Second Vatican Council.

However, there had been certain glimmers of approaching change and they first began to appear in the liturgical life of the Church. In the Western Church, everything was in Latin, not just the Mass and the Sacraments, but it was the working language of the Church. It was really a good thing for people who traveled a great deal. If you were a Frenchman attending Mass in the Congo, you were right at home with the Latin, but for most of the faithful the Latin language served as background music. They understood nothing but found it comforting.

Pope Pius XII had worked hard to encourage theologians to go back to the scriptures and he unleashed a very strong surge of dramatically improved scripture studies. Scripture would soon be overlapping in the world of liturgy and question began to be asked about certain things that might be accented too much or not enough.

Liturgists began to organize, liturgical and scripture scholars began to communicate more effectively, and suddenly there came to be a sense that not all was well in the inner-life of the Church.

In 1958 a wonderful, fulsome, Italian bishop from the Alps was elected to the Chair of Peter and he took the delightful name of Pope John XXIII.

He had been listening to that questioning and wondering himself about the need for updating the inner-life of the Church and then finally he did it. He called for a meeting of all the bishops of the world to come together under the dome of St. Peter’s and to pray, study, test, debate and decide on how the Church could more effectively move forward. In calling the Council, it generated an explosion of excitement and hope. The bishops answered his summons and met for several months a year for four years. Needless to say, the first issue that they took up was the sacred liturgy and they published an extraordinary document that would have awesome repercussions around the world.

Let’s take a look at that subject tomorrow.

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The Church is a Mystery

By , April 2, 2014 5:43 am

The Second Vatican Council is now a little more than fifty years behind us. What an awesome event it was, and how it challenged the Universal Church to endeavor to review its ministerial effectiveness and make needed adaptations so that its ministry to the human family could be more effective. For about half of those fifty years, there was real progress and then a reaction set in. While most of the work of the Council was still on the drawing boards, determined efforts to slow it down were strong and destructively effective.

Then comes Pope Francis! All over the world, there is renewed hope that we will begin to move forward forcefully, not only to revivify the work of the Council, but to move with faith and confidence into a yet unknown future.

I have often encouraged people to go back and restudy the more powerful documents that emanated from the Council between 1962 and 1965. While we are in this recovery period, I am going to make sure that I do the same thing myself. The first document that I have gone back to is the awesomely important one called the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) . It was promulgated in November of 1964. It is a rather lengthy document and, given my always limited space here on this blog, I will have to practice verbal discipline, which is always difficult for an Irishman, especially since we are still quite close to St. Patrick’s Day.

The first important position point is the fact that the Council Fathers reminded Catholics across the world that the Church, begun by Jesus of Nazareth, guided by the Holy Spirit and inviting the whole human family into it, is in fact an awesome MYSTERY while at the same time, the Church, in terms of its membership, is all too human and there is nothing mysterious about that.

The Church is a mystery in that it originates in God’s plan. It is set up by Jesus of Nazareth. He begins it himself by teaching tens of thousands of people for three years and calling them, and all of us as well, to walk in his footsteps. The Church is a mystery because its prime director is not this bishop or that pope or the local pastor, but nothing other than the Holy Spirit who sanctifies it by its presence and guidance. The church is mysterious in that its inner life is formed, not by organizations, structures, leaders or plans, but by the saving grace of Jesus of Nazareth.
In our day by day life, going to Mass on Sunday, seeing our grandchildren baptized, receiving the Eucharist or the other Sacraments, we need to be conscious that we are living and acting and being affected by this mysterious reality, the Church itself.

As we move forward towards Easter, let us try to concentrate more clearly on the awesomeness of this mystery.

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Popular Misconceptions Regarding Baptism and Marriage

By , February 21, 2014 4:44 am

The Catholic faith is centered on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Catholics strive to center their lives on the teachings of Jesus and their faith is buoyed up by their belief that they are in frequent contact with him through the mysterious reality of the Sacraments. The Sacraments are seven gifts that Jesus gave to the Church in order that he might remain close – close – close with his followers. In baptism, we become the adopted brothers and sisters of the Lord. In marriage, the bond between husband and wife is made strong and permanent. There are, of course, five other Sacraments which are sources of grace and ongoing contact with Jesus. Let me touch briefly on baptism and marriage because there are many misconceptions and misunderstandings about each of them.

The Catholic Church sees baptism as a potentially great unifying force of all the Christians of the world. The Church recognizes all of the Sacraments of the Orthodox Churches as well as the baptisms of the great majority of Christian Churches. Many people fail to understand this and they may not realize how close we actually are in terms of union with our Divine Lord.

There are many more misconceptions about marriage. The Church teaches that for a valid sacramental marriage, the couple must be baptized (in any Christian church), must clearly know what they are doing at the time of the marriage, must be entering into the union freely, intend a permanent union until death and be open to the possibility of having children. Each one of these conditions is essential and if any one of them is missing, a Church matrimonial court can grant the petitioner a Declaration of Nullity. Such a decision relates to the sacramentality of the marriage and not to any civil aspects of it. A Declaration of Nullity by a church court gives the couple the freedom to remarry but says nothing about the legitimacy of the children. That legitimacy flows from civil law which has jurisdiction in this regard.

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Priests Today – Pastors or Administrators?

By , October 29, 2013 5:03 am

In this space, I have said several times that the priesthood is the organizational block of the Roman Catholic Church. That doesn’t sound very theological does it but I think that most of us understand what I mean when I say that because priests should be key leaders and servants in every area of Church life. Priests have a vocation to ministry which always means service to the community and they are instrumental in bringing the sacraments to the community of faith. Because of their position in the Church, we certainly expect our priests to be exemplary examples of Christian living. Most of them strive for that but there are enough failures to document the ever present reality of humanity. We must remember: There is a vast chasm between knowing about God and knowing God. An effective priest must not only have studied theology and be prepared to administer a large community of faithful, but he must KNOW God.

However, no one can really know God in a profound and meaningful way, in a holy way, unless they know themselves. Self-knowledge is truly not all that easy to acquire. Self-knowledge requires complete honesty. We must acknowledge our goodness, skills and talents but we must always honestly acknowledge our crimes, sins and corruption. Only when we stand in complete honesty with ourselves will our being have room for God to come into our lives.

Let’s pray that our Church is blessed with the necessary priests to carry out its worldwide ministry. Let’s pray that our priests be talented, dedicated and filled with a lot of other virtues, but it is most important that priests be constantly striving after holiness.

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There Is More There Than What Appears

By , October 22, 2013 5:05 am

We are coming close to an end to my little series on the seven sacraments. The other day I mentioned that each sacrament is received by an individual at a particular moment in time. We must always keep in mind that every sacrament, every sacrament, has a communal aspect. So when we think about these seven gifts of divine grace we must always try to be conscious of this double dimension – individuality and communality.
That leaves us with two sacraments as yet uncovered – Matrimony and Holy Orders and, boy, talk about communal aspects. These two sacraments exude that quality with tremendous power.

In marriage, a couple, both baptized and therefore brothers and sisters of Jesus, give themselves to each other and commit themselves to live a Christian life, to walk in the footsteps of Jesus of Nazareth andhopefully to bring forth children to whom they can pass on the awesome reality of God’s love for the human family. We must not forget that fact but let’s take a quick look at the wedding ceremony.
You are at a wedding sitting on the eighth row on the bride’s side. She may be a close friend or a relative, but she is very beautiful and you know that she has made a good choice in that wonderful young man. You know that after the celebration and they begin a new life together that they, like every couple, will face difficulties and hardships but they are young and strong. You, like everyone else in the church, have confidence in them and you also pray for them.

But you are not just looking at a delightful young, romantic couple. What I am about to say does not sound very romantic, but it is a fact, a tremendously important fact that our society is in danger offorgetting.

That is not just a 23 year old man up there with his arm around your delightful and beautiful niece. You are looking at the building block of OUR society’s economic, educational and social reality. We wish them well but our well-being depends on them. They must succeed for our society to succeed.

More than 100 years ago our society was shored up powerfully by the bedrock of marriage and family life but many conflicting forces have damaged it. The Church has tried hard over the last 30 or 40 years to counteract those forces and prepare young couples to more maturely assume their responsibilities as being one of the building blocks of our society and culture. I congratulate the Church on this but it must endeavor to do ever yet more.

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A Sign Yes, But Why Oil?

By , October 17, 2013 5:10 am

Holy Oils (Photo: Grimes)
Over the last few weeks, I have been touching briefly on one or another of the seven sacraments. I have already mentioned Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Holy Orders and Reconciliation. I started to talk about the Sacrament of the Last Anointing (we used to call it Extreme Unction which means the same thing). However, I decided that first I should talk about one unifying theme running through all seven of the sacraments and that is the fact that there is always an external visible sign that goes with each one of them.

All of the sacraments are divine actions where God’s power is immediately present within us and around us. Each one of them is a different spiritual aid for our journey as we proceed together towards our eternal destiny. In a mysterious and beautiful way, they parallel many aspects of our physical lives. Baptism involves birth, being reborn in Christ. The Eucharist is nourishment for this awesome journey. The Sacrament of the Last Anointing is a beautiful and peace giving event that enables those who are dying, and equally important, those who are surrounding them at the time of death, to experience departure from this life and journeying on into eternal life in a way that is beautifully calm and meaningful. But why oil?

In modern America, the importance of oil is not obvious and we have to stop, analyze it and remember the world of 2,000 years ago. Oil was a precious commodity. It was extraordinarily important in people’s lives and very expensive. Oil was used for healing, the giving of light and heat, it was a very important factor as a medium of exchange in the financial world. It was also used to consecrate sacred people so that when kings and prophets would begin their ministry they would be anointed with oil as a sign of consecration and dedication. A large container of oil was extraordinarily expensive and was to be used very carefully. We are talking about olive oil. There are many sources of oil, but petroleum was not on the list!

Those factors came together to cause the Church to use oil at Baptism, Confirmation, Ordination and the Last Anointing. In these sacraments there is an element of dedication and concentration. Let me just say one or two words about the Last Anointing.

Many people die suddenly and violently but the Church urges us to pray for a happy death. That means to be surrounded by those to whom we have given life, or shared life, and to have them gathered around. With the anointing what is happening is that the Church is lifting up this person’s life, symbolically holding it up to heaven, thanking God that the person began that spiritual journey with baptism and now recognizing that years of faith, difficulty and travail are over. We thank God for the life and ask that this person now enter into eternal life in joy and calm.

In my next blog I want to stress that every one of the sacraments has a communal aspect. They are not just individual acts and this is very important.

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The Joy of Saying I’m Sorry!

By , October 7, 2013 5:35 am

Photo: Grimes

Recently, I have been touching on the seven gifts given to the Church by our Divine Lord. We collectively call them the sacraments. They are specific points where the power of Jesus reaches us and draw us to himself and thus into intimate union with our Heavenly Father.

I have already talked about baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist and Holy Orders. I would like to say a few brief words about a truly wonderful gift that in post-Vatican II terminology is referred as the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We also call it the Sacrament of Penance and folks on the street just call it “confession.”

Reconciliation, however, is a much better term because it actually tells us what is accomplished through this spiritual act of humility. In baptism, we were made the brothers and sisters of Jesus of Nazareth. With confirmation, we make a commitment to walk faithfully in our Lord’s footsteps. With the Eucharist, we draw the necessary spiritual sustenance day by day as we walk with our divine guide. That is really wonderful.

BUT – we occasionally make mistakes.

When I say “mistakes” I am, of course, referring to the failure that we term as a sin. We instinctively know right from wrong. For most of us our conscience is a very good barometer of how to evaluate right from wrong. God has given us free will and we are all capable of misusing it. When we misuse free will and deliberately do things that are offensive to God’s directions, we are guilty of sin and, depending on the gravity of the sin to a certain extent we separate ourselves for our Lord’s presence and love.
But not to worry. Our Lord told the apostles on the night of the Resurrection, “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiveness. Whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” Thus was launched this great Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Let me approach it from a very human perspective that we have all experienced. Have you ever had a really bitter fight in the family? Have you ever been very hurt and struck back with anger and vengeance? We sometimes attack the people around us very hard but we are usually conscious of the fact that most of the pain is on our side and in our hearts. We have damaged our friendship. Then, for one reason or another, either because we have a better insight or these people are so generous that they approach us, we look up, see that we have done wrong, reach out, embrace our friend and say with absolute sincerity, “I’m sorry. I am very sorry.”

You have experienced that and wasn’t it a wonderful feeling? Separation and anger inflicts suffering. Humility and forgiveness bring joy. What a wonderful thing it is to know that no matter what we do that is wrong, no matter what sin or failure of which we are guilty, our Lord INSTANTLY forgives us when we say we are sorry!
Let’s approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation with greater appreciation.

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Reconciliation – We All Need It

By , September 27, 2013 5:33 am

All of the sacraments are about life. They are about our own individual spiritual life and the life of Christ himself. It is through the instrumentality of the sacraments that we are joined to Jesus – first in Baptism where we become his brothers and sisters, and then in the Eucharist where his life becomes one with ours. This is an awesome and beautiful reality and we must always endeavor to keep the reality of it clearly in our mind. But we are frail and weak human beings and we are also free!

In moments of powerful temptation or evil decisions we can willfully separate ourselves from sharing in the life of Jesus. I am referring to the destructiveness of sin. That fact would be extraordinarily sad but for the exhilarating reality that our conscience recognizes our failures and motivates us to repair the damage and destructiveness of sin. It is for that purpose that the Church was given the gift of Reconciliation. The proper name through the centuries was the Sacrament of Penance and the popular title was usually simply “confession.”

Following the Second Vatican Council we all began to use the word Reconciliation as the best name or title for this sacrament because it tells the reality that is present here. If we find ourselves separated from our Lord because of deliberate, grave evil, we are not to be discouraged or slide into depression. Our Lord loves us; he loves us even in our sinfulness and invites us to be reconciled with him. The great truth is that we are forgiven for our sins the instant that we are truly sorry for them. God’s love is unconditional. But no grave sin is completely an individual act. Sin offends not only our Divine Lord but the Christian community itself, and so from the first years of the Church those who failed in the practice of the faith came to the community and “confessed” their failures recognizing that the faith community was weakened because of their failures. The Church would then impose a penance, sort of a spiritual fine, on the penitent and they would be absolved in the sacrament of Reconciliation.

Home again, home with the Lord, home with my brothers and sisters in faith. Home as together we journey to our eternal home.

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The Real Presence

By , September 19, 2013 5:47 am

Last week, I touched briefly on the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. I mentioned that each of these sacraments are received but once in our lifetime and because of that their importance can easily recede into our memories and not hold our attention as firmly as they should. We ought to mark the date of our baptism in our working calendar and remind ourselves of it frequently, but especially on the day of our baptism. With Confirmation, an exact date is nice to know, but the important thing is for us to realize that we have committed ourselves to be strong followers of Jesus of Nazareth and that carries with it challenging responsibilities.

We need to celebrate our faith, to be conscious of it, to look for calm situations where we can discuss it with others and to pray frequently that we respond generously when we have the opportunity to move forward God’s great message, which came to us through Jesus, that each and every one of us are loved – loved infinitely.

Let me just make a brief mention here of the Eucharist, the central sacrament which allows Christ to live within us and we can say, as did St. Paul, “I live now, not I, but Christ lives in me.”

The central reality of the sacrament of the Eucharist is that Jesus is not remote, not an important figure from history, not someone who lives in another world, but that he is with us day by day. Knowing and receiving the Eucharist frequently brings about many wonderful results. I will discuss them tomorrow.

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Baptism Leads To Confirmation

By , September 18, 2013 5:38 am

The other day I was thinking out loud about the importance that we should be conscious of in terms of our baptism. I always like to remind myself and others that baptism was not a sweet ceremony taking place in our parish church on a Sunday afternoon to be followed by a delightful backyard party. Baptism is an awesomely important moment when we were made one with Jesus and that relationship is permanent and should draw us with real power into walking in the footsteps of Jesus.
But our baptism has to be confirmed! Baptism and Confirmation are so closely intertwined that many theologians over the centuries have simply argued that Confirmation is the finalization of our baptism. Whatever is the truth of that theory the Church does treat Confirmation as a separate and distinct sacrament and an important sacrament it is. Because Baptism and Confirmation both occurred at a particular date and time they may not stand out in our consciousness as much as several of the other sacraments which are ongoing in their activity. When we kneel in the confessional we are very conscious of our sinfulness today. When we go forward in the Eucharistic procession on Sunday morning we are conscious that we are being nourished along our way by nothing other than bread from heaven…Jesus of Nazareth. Those sacraments give us a tremendous sense of presence…the presence of Jesus in our life TODAY.

Nevertheless, as I said about baptism, the grace of those sacraments is available to us today and specifically Confirmation challenges us to take our faith in Jesus so seriously that we are willing to use our time and gifts to advance His ministry across the world and forward into the future.

When was the last time we tried to deepen our knowledge of our own holy faith? Do we look for opportunities to discuss it with our friends, neighbors and co-workers, not in an argumentative way but just a calm, quiet desire to reflect on the calm peacefulness that comes with a deep and lived faith?

I have enjoyed thinking out loud the last few days so I think I will continue this and go through the next five sacraments with you.

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