Essential Book on the Mass

Brant Pitre Jewish Roots of EucharistJesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist by Brant Pitre

In Jerusalem, while Pontius Pilate served as Roman procurator, a learned rabbi gathered his disciples to celebrate the Passover. The rabbi kept the feast, according to the dictates of the Torah and the sacred traditions that held sway at the time.

Except that he didn’t follow all of the customs. He altered the ceremony somewhat, and he said new and different things.

Why? What did he have in mind?

Well, a learned young scholar of Scripture and antiquity provides a thorough answer. “Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper” sounds a little breathless to me, as a subtitle. So this treasure sat on my to-read stack for three years. Finally had a chance to plow through it while sitting on the beach.

Who knew? Who knew how excellent–how essential–what a invigorating tour-de-force this little book is?!

Pitre tackles his points like St. Thomas Aquinas tackles his. Methodical. One might even say: Plodding. But plodders can and do give us the truth in magnificent fashion. Upon finishing Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, you find yourself with a shiny new jewel of knowledge in your hand.

Our Catholic religion involves the perpetual celebration of the Passover. Our religion centers on the celebration of the Passover. We know this. But nowhere near as well as we should.

Celebrating the Passover means: I myself, we ourselves, have the one, true God to thank for liberating us from slavery, preserving us from death, establishing a covenant with us, giving us ceremonies by which we can worship Him uprightly.

Celebrating the Passover means keeping a night vigil for the Messiah, who will lead us from here to an un-fallen world, a divine kingdom. (And he will feed us with heavenly manna as we make our way.)

Perhaps you’ve attended a Seder or two. But: celebrating the Passover two millennia ago–when Jesus of Nazareth ministered as a rabbi in the Holy Land–meant some things that got lost when the Romans destroyed the Temple, a generation after the earthly pilgrimage of Christ.

It meant: consecrating a blood sacrifice and consuming it as a meal. It also meant seeing the love of God–in the form of the holy show bread, which the temple priests brought out of the tabernacle to show to the pilgrims. It meant believing in the heavenly liturgy that Moses had seen on Mount Sinai, which showed him how the religious ceremonies of the People of God ought to go. And celebrating the Passover in the early 1st century meant looking forward to the day when the Holy of Holies in the Temple would hold the missing Ark of the Covenant again.

Dr. Pitre’s book shimmers with ancient historical details you’ve never heard about–and which will take your breath away. Like the fact that the temple priests drained the blood of the sacrificed lambs by skewering their bodies on two spits. In the form of a cross.

Or that Jews of the time believed that God had manna ready in heaven, which would rain down when the Messiah came. Or: the chalice of the Garden of Gethsemane–“Father, may it pass. But your will be done”–it was the fourth cup called for by the Passover ritual.

This book winds up being an endzone dance for the doctrines about the Mass propounded by the fathers of the Council of Trent. Pitre gets funny in the last chapter when he reports how he did years of research, only to find everything he wanted to say in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Are you looking for good spiritual reading? A careful Scripture study that builds gradually towards sublime insights–insights which make familiar Catholic things new and wonderful again? I wasn’t exactly looking for that–but I found it anyway.

Bravo, Dr. Pitre!

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Cardinal Dolan on Why We Against Deporting Innocent People + Senate Judiciary Dems Against the Bedrock

…But let’s not imagine that one political party or another has the market cornered on nonsense.

Apparently the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee consider fidelity to Catholic doctrine an obstacle to a judge’s impartiality.

Say what?

Just what body of doctrine should a judge base her opinions on? What body of doctrine holds together more solidly, reflects reality more profoundly, and guides us more humanely than the principles our Church teaches?

Seriously. That’s an honest question, Senators Durbin and Feinstein. Name it. Name the solid foundation for law other than the teaching of the Catholic Church.

We defy you to come up with anything better. We defy you to come up with anything even remotely as good. We defy you to produce anything anywhere near as coherent, rational, sensible, decent, and fair as the social doctrine of the Holy Catholic Church.

 

St. Paul, St. Thomas, MC Hammer

The Father has made us fit to share in the inheritance of the holy ones…and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.

So wrote St. Paul to the Colossians. And the Apostle certainly meant this assurance for us, too: We Christians baptized into the ineffable mystery of Jesus.

St. Thomas Aquinas comments on these two verses:

Some people have said that the gifts of grace are given because of a person’s merit, and that God gives grace to those who are worthy, and does not give grace to those who are unworthy. But this view is rejected by the Apostle, because whatever worth and grace we have was given to us by God… [As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians:] ‘Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our sufficiency is from God.’

Regarding the phrase the kingdom of God’s beloved Son, St. Thomas writes:

A more literal translation of this phrase would read: ‘the kingdom of the Son of his love’…. ‘Love’ is understood to indicate the divine essence. Thus the phrase, ‘of the Son of his love’… the Son has the essence of the Father. [As Christ says in St. John’s gospel]: ‘The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into his hand.’

The infinite Triune love is God’s gift to us, and to share in it is our destiny. This whole passage of Colossians is an act of thanksgiving, just like a Mass is an act of thanksgiving—the act of thanksgiving. As MC Hammer put it: “Makes me say oh my Lord, Thank you for blessing me with a mind to rhyme and two hype feet.”

God’s Today and Our Lady’s Birthday

 

El Greco Virgin Mary

We hear St. Paul give thanks in our first reading a Holy Mass today, from the beginning of his letter to the Colossians. He thanked God that the gospel had born fruit and grown. Born fruit and grown among the Colossians, and also throughout the world.

Since we will celebrate Our Lady’s birthday in just two days, let’s think about St. Ann’s special fruitfulness. On December 8, she and her husband Joachim embraced. Their embrace set in motion the chain of events that would eventually make them God’s grandparents. And God made that moment uniquely fruitful. By the grace of Christ crucified, Joachim and Ann conceived a child free of sin.

God sees everything—all time—at once. At the very beginning, He saw everything, all the way to the end. That’s called the “Today” of God. All time is the Today of God.

joachim-ann
Fresco of Joachim and Ann by Giotto

Now, such extensive knowledge would certainly seem like an unsupportable burden to our little minds. But for the Lord, all-seeing knowledge means perfect blessedness. He can see the full realization of all the growth He sets in motion, and it adds relish to His infinite delight.

God makes trees and plants and animals grow. The trees and plants and animals don’t perceive their own growth; they just grow. We, on the other hand, can perceive growth. We can delight in it, like God does. But for us, it’s not pure knowledge. Rather, it’s a kind of mystery. We see growth occurring, but we don’t know how it will end.

Maybe all the growth we see will end only with tragic death? After all, cancer is a kind of growth—run amok. Maybe the power we see that gives living things an unknown future—the power of growth; maybe that power ultimately succumbs to the other power we see at work in living things: the power that brings growth to an end. The power of dissolution and death.

Our Lady’s birth gives us the answer to that honest question. In the Garden of Eden, our human flesh lived with immortal life, until our First Parents fell. When St. Ann gave birth to Mary on September 8, our flesh lived on earth with immortal life again.

In other words: the birth of our immaculate Lady means that the Today of God is not The End. The Today of God is always the beginning.

Christ: The Light of the American Nation, Part II (Laudato Si’)

We have to start by going back to the 90’s, and to the work that Pope St. John Paul II did to help us understand our continent and our heritage as Americans. 1992 marked the anniversary of…? Knights? In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

Pope St. John Paul II visited the island of Hispaniola to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the first proclamation of the Gospel in the New World. In his homily, the pope addressed himself to all the sons and daughters of “America,” from Canada to Chile and Argentina. He referred to his brother bishops “of America.” Continue reading “Christ: The Light of the American Nation, Part II (Laudato Si’)”

Rightly Righting the Wrongness of Death

speed bump reaperThis Sunday’s gospel reading from Matthew 16 comes as Part Two of last week’s reading. Hopefully everyone remembers: St. Peter boldly declared that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One. And when Peter said that, he did not speak merely on his own behalf. Peter, chief shepherd of the flock, made that declaration in the name of the whole Church. He professed our faith, the faith that brings about reconciliation between God and man: Jesus is the Christ. [Haga CLICK por español.]

St. Peter had the clarity and courage to profess that faith, not by his own cleverness or diligence, but by the pure grace of God. Same goes for us: we believe in Christ because the good Lord has given us the grace to believe. A gift from heaven allows us to perceive that Jesus of Nazareth, one of the countless human beings who has walked this earth, and lived, and died–a divine gift allows us to grasp that He is the only-begotten Son of the one, true, eternal, and omnipotent God.

So St. Peter professed the Christian faith on behalf of the whole Christian Church, at that moment at Caesarea Philipi. That moment involved a turning point in the history of the world, the first explicit profession of the holy Catholic faith.  But there’s a big But. At that moment, momentous as it was, St. Peter still had not yet grasped the mission of his Savior. At least Peter had not grasped Christ’s mission fully.

Peter envisioned the Christ on His throne, but he didn’t know that the throne would be a cross. Peter envisioned the Messiah conquering the power of evil; he didn’t know that Jesus would conquer evil precisely by suffering evil. Peter imagined great glory for himself, as the pre-eminent right-hand man of the King of Israel. But at that moment at Caesarea-Philipi, Peter didn’t realize that being the first pope meant that he would die upside down on his own cross, at the foot of Vatican Hill, 1500 miles away from home.

feed cat lio

Peter didn’t understand. So, as we hear at Sunday Mass, he at first bitterly resisted his Master’s plan to die at the hands of evil men. But: Then, when it all actually came to pass; when Christ went to His execution without any clamoring, without any crying out in the street; when the innocent Lamb silently offered Himself to the Father with sovereign self-abandonment, and taught mankind the entire mystery of life with seven sentences uttered from His cross; when it all happened, just as the prophets had foretold, that the Messiah would suffer–something about it did resound in Peter’s heart as indeed the utterly inevitable and only way. The only divinely-appointed way to bring the mission of the Christ to fulfillment.

In other words, Christ’s Passion and death was the utterly inevitable and only way to reconcile earth and heaven. If I might, I would like to expand a moment on one thing I said last week. I pointed out a startling fact. On the one hand, honest pagans throughout the ages have seen immediately that the sacrifice of Christ makes this wrong world right. African Bantus and Huron chiefs in Canada have seen a crucifix, understood that this is the Son of God, Who offered Himself for the whole human race, and have said: “This is my King!” And yet the luminous beauty of Christ crucified has gotten lost in the mind of the Western world. It’s like we Western peoples can’t see the beautiful rose that we hold in our own hands.

tombstone crossWhy? I think it’s because we won’t face the wrongness of the world–the wrongness which needs to be made right by the one and only Christ.

Now, what exactly is “wrong” with the world? Well, how long do we have? But seriously: God made this world, and we love it for His sake. Nonetheless we could easily list some serious issues. And the inescapable one, for all of us is: We will all wind up as a set of rattling bones. The Western world seems to have fallen into a trance in which we pretend we’re not going to die.

–Gosh, how morbid, Father! Why don’t you look at some cat pictures, and lighten up, man!

But the honest pagan faces it. Our situation, on its face, is hopeless. No matter how many cat videos we watch to cheer ourselves up after an exhausting day, we will nonetheless die relatively soon.

And that ain’t right! It ain’t. We don’t want to die. Something is profoundly wrong. We can’t escape it. We can successfully paper-over all kinds of incongruities in life, like when in-laws can’t get along with each other at the wedding, etc. But we can’t escape the fact that this particular thing is deeply, deeply wrong; we can’t paper it over: Death is 100% certain.

Christ makes it right. The Christ Who dutifully went to Jerusalem, and suffered greatly, and was killed. The Christ Who lost His life for the sake of love and truth. This has reconciled heaven and earth. This has made human life right again, made it worth living. Hope springs up for mankind because this champion has won His battle. And He won it in order to share his victory with us.

The Mass is the Oil

Pope Francis Patriarch Bartholomew Holy Sepulchre
Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew together at the tomb of Christ

In the parable of the ten virgins, five of them had something, and five did not. Having that something made a great difference—all the difference. The five who had it entered the wedding feast. The five who did not found a locked door, and they heard God say to them, “I do not know you.”

Oil. Oil for the lamps. This is a parable. What does the oil represent?

Pope Francis and the bishops have made today the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. The Holy Father issued a joint statement with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. A brief, penetrating, and captivating statement. Come to my Vespers talk on Sunday, and we will study every word of it [4:30pm, St. Joseph’s, Martinsville, Virginia. Parish dinner to follow!]

Right now let’s focus on one sentence. The statement of course exhorts all Christians to pray: to pray that all things in heaven and on earth will be restored in Christ, to thank the Creator and pledge our commitment to care for His handiwork. Then the Pope and Patriarch Bartholomew write:

An objective of our prayer is to change the way we perceive the world in order to change the way we relate to the world.

The oil in the parable is: prayer. And not just any prayer, but prayer in the Holy Spirit; prayer in which I, me, myself truly speak and communicate and open my heart, but not unilaterally. Rather: when I pray in the Holy Spirit I am myself only in co-operation with God.

So we can be even more precise: The oil is our regular celebration of the Holy Eucharist. When we participate in Mass, we pray—we ourselves, thanking God, asking Him for help, begging His mercy. But as much as the Mass is our work, much more so is it God’s. After all, in the Holy Mass, the triune Lord continues the Incarnation, and unites us to the mystery of His infinite love bodily. In the Mass, God makes our co-operation with Him as physically intimate as physical intimacy can possibly be. As Pope Francis put it in his encyclical on Mother Earth:

It is in the Eucharist that all that has been created finds its greatest exaltation…The Eucharist is the living center of the universe, the overflowing core of love and of inexhaustible life. Joined to the incarnate Son, present in the Eucharist, the whole cosmos gives thanks to God. Indeed the Eucharist is itself an act of cosmic love… The Eucharist joins heaven and earth; it embraces and penetrates all creation. The world which came forth from God’s hands returns to him in blessed and undivided adoration. (Laudato Si’ 236)

This is the oil we need.

Bozos Smart Enough to Feel Stupid

Two pictures appear in today’s Holy Mass readings which stunningly oppose each other.

On the one hand: The whitewashed tombs that hold dead bones and every kind of filth. The image represents the self-righteous hypocrisy of the Pharisees that Lord Jesus was excoriating at the time.

On the other hand: the words of Psalm 139.

Lord you search me and you know me. Where can I flee from you? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I sink to the nether world, you are present there. If I take the wings of the dawn; if I settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall guide me, and your right hand hold me fast. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall hide me, and night shall be my light’ –For you darkness itself is not dark, and night shines as the day.

As Switchfoot put it in their song “Dare You to Move,” Where do you run to escape from yourself? Where you gonna go?

Honesty. With oneself. How can we possibly achieve such a highly unusual accomplishment? Don’t we have to admit that the moment when we think we have finally become 100% truthful with ourselves is precisely when we lie?

brunelleschi_crucifixAfter all, as Eminem put it: Dumb it down? I don’t know how (huh-huh) how-how. At least I know I don’t know. Question is are you bozos smart enough to feel stupid. Hope so.

How about this for a definition of hypocrite: The hypocrite = the one who does not live in a constant conversation with God the Father of mercies.

Faith in the Crucified can cure human hypocrisy; nothing else can. Because His mercy must come first. We have no hope of achieving honesty with ourselves unless we believe in God’s mercy. The inside of the tomb is simply too much to handle without it.

But: He died to atone for all my sins. Because I know that; because I believe that He can forgive and will—then I can have the courage to go inside and pick up all the dead bones and worms and snakes and cricket carcasses and show them to the One Who sees everything. Because I know that as soon as I show them to Him, they go away.

The Father of Mercies

StPeter

God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son, has reconciled the world to Himself.

God the Father of mercies. God begets mercies. From the womb before the dawn; from the eternal, uncreated fountainhead of all existence; from the unknown origin of the stars, He births mercies. He births, from within Himself, tender understanding and compassion. [Haga click por Spanish.]

We did not exist. Mount Everest did not exist. The seas and rivers did not exist. And He took pity on us in our non-existence, because existing outshines not existing. He took pity on our unimaginable poverty—the poverty of not even being anything at all—and, out of mercy, He made us.

The Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son, has reconciled the world to Himself.

Reconciled. Accountants? Any here with us? Familiar with reconciliations. Bank reconciliations, etc. How about marriage counselors? Familiar with reconciliations? Let’s hope so.

New York Times 1932 on 2017 eclipseAnyway, the Father of mercies: He’s all good. No shadow of falsity in Him, no selfish shenanigans behind closed doors, no short-sighted impetuosities late at night.

He simply gives, gives life unto peace and blessedness. He stabilizes and fortifies. He makes solar eclipses occur at predictable times. A historian I know put on his Twitter feed a New York Times article from 1932, which told everyone they would have to wait until 2017 for the next great eclipse in the US.

Anyway, the Father of mercies sustains everything He has made with His immovable-rock-like steadiness, never lapsing or failing in any way.

We fall short of this. We are like financial records that have not been attentively kept. Or like a marriage that has been neglected. Something—someone—must reconcile us with the Good, with truth and reality and the plan that God has. We’re like old, desiccated brick walls that need pointing, liable to leak and then crack and crumble—unless a stronger and more loving power fills the cracks in us with some solid bond.

The stronger and move loving power? Christ, the Son of God. His sacrifice on the cross effects the reconciliation between God’s pure goodness and us. The Western world has fallen into a weird spiritual malaise and can’t see the thing that has been obvious to every honest pagan who has ever heard the Gospel: the world, without Christ, languishes in hopeless estrangement from the Creator. But: The world with Christ, with Christ crucified and risen? Reconciled with God.

God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son, has reconciled the world to Himself, and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins.

The Reconciler, having reconciled the world and God by shedding His innocent blood, pours forth reconciliation from His own Heart. The Holy Spirit of mercy, at work in the world…pointing the desiccated mortar. Finding a miraculous way to balance the ill-kept books.

This is not a zero-sum cosmos, people. That’s the glory of the Gospel. God always has more to give. Christ pours out His Spirit of mercy and reconciliation into the humblest and most apparently innocuous moments.

Pope Francis hears confession during penitential liturgy in St. Peter's Basilica at VaticanOkay…time for the quiz. Which text have we studied here so far? “God the Father of mercies…Spirit for the forgiveness of sins…” Correct! The prayer of absolution in the sacrament of Penance.

We hear all about it in our gospel passage at Sunday Mass: Lord Jesus gave St. Peter and the Apostles, and their successors in office, the power to bind and to loose. This power abides in the world. We unworthy priests possess this authority, in our own little hands.

…Through the ministry of the Church, may God give you pardon and peace.

The ministry doesn’t belong to the priest, as if it were his own power as a man to loosen the sins of his people. Left to my own devices, I often fumble in the binding and loosing of my own shoelaces. No—Holy Mother Church possesses this ministry, because the Lord endowed Her with it. We priests exercise this ministry merely as instruments of a power greater than our own. He chooses to use us in this way, in spite of our own personal unworthiness to do so.

Why? Why did the Lord give the power of the keys to St. Peter? So that wherever a priest can hear someone unburden his or her conscience, impose a penance, and then raise his hand in loving pardon, reconciliation with God can occur.

All of us have this comfort in common: there’s a priest out there who will hear my confession, and God will forgive my sins.

 

Report from the Path of Totality

Paolo_Veneziano_-_Coronation_of_the_Virgin
Paolo Veneziano, Coronation of the Virgin, National Gallery of Art, Washington

You can’t put on a pair of special cardboard glasses and watch the moon occlude the sun everyday. But I was always more interested in the visual effects on the surface of the earth.

Here the streetlights came on at 1:17pm. The sky still had sunlight in it–a thin, grey blue kind of sunlight. The traffic lights and neon signs shone to the eye like they look at night. The faces of the people around me looked silvery, as they all craned their necks skyward with their cardboard glasses on. An eerie calm interrupted the terrific heat of a dog day of August, because the blazing sun wasn’t blazing.

The nightlights came on in the farmers’ market we were all standing next to. We must have looked ridiculous, standing there in a little crowd, and a passing driver shouted, “It’s the end of the world!”

But of course it wasn’t. And I do think that Annie Dillard oversold the experience. I’ll take the sight of another human being smiling for ten solar eclipses. Or a fleeting moment of real prayer: a hundred times more captivating, exulting, and life-changing than all the solar eclipses you’re ever gonna see…

Hail, Mary, full of grace! Eight days after the Lord brought her to heaven, He crowned her Queen. Eclipse, shmipse. Revelation 12:1 tells the really interesting tale:

There appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.