Approaching the Altar

When the Lord Jesus referred to “the altar” in the Sermon on the Mount, He meant the altar of the Old Covenant, since He had not yet inaugurated the New Covenant in His Blood.

The altar of the Old Covenant, though, and that of the New, have this in common:

We approach it as the place of peace and communion with Almighty God.

Approaching the altar pertains to the practice of religion per se, to the basic life of a human being. The altar stands as the point where we meet God, having stepped up, out of the ordinary into the grand and everlasting.

And the point the Lord makes about coming to the altar in peace and harmony with my fellowman: this point binds us all at all times.

The priest has the special privilege of physically kissing the altar with his own lips. But this represents what we all do when we assist at Holy Mass with faith and devotion. The priest’s kiss symbolizes our emergence together from the confusing rough and tumble of ordinary life into the realm of permanence and truth.

To kiss another human being with anything less than pure intentions is to disrespect and demean that person. How much more, then, must our hearts rest tranquilly in the truth when we approach the altar? How could we kiss the altar honestly if we walked into the church having lied, cheated, taken advantage of someone, torn someone down? How could we give such a kiss if we had so much as honked the car horn impatiently at anyone?

I hate to put it this way, but don’t we run the terrifying risk of kissing the altar like Judases? He kissed Christ with his lips, but not his heart.

The altar does not stand to cater to our convenience. We stand to serve the Master to Whom we offer our service at the altar. He reigns as Lord; we beg as desperate suitors. May we beg His favor with honest words and humble hearts.

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No altar standeth whole? (Roman Missal IV)

No one can read chapter 11 of Book IX of St. Augustine’s Confessions without tears.

Reading St. Monica’s words so moved Matthew Arnold that he turned this sonnet:

‘Oh could thy grave at home, at Carthage, be!’—
Care not for that, and lay me where I fall.
Everywhere heard will be the judgement-call.
But at God’s altar, oh! remember me.

Thus Monica, and died in Italy.
Yet fervent had her longing been, through all
Her course, for home at last, and burial
With her own husband, by the Libyan sea.

Had been; but at the end, to her pure soul
All tie with all beside seem’d vain and cheap,
And union before God the only care.

Creeds pass, rites change, no altar standeth whole;
Yet we her memory, as she pray’d, will keep,
Keep by this: Life in God, and union there!

Indeed. But the poet has missed the mark. St. Monica begged to be remembered at the altar. Union with God–we find it at the altar.

Some of our beloved separated Christian brethren ask us, How did the Last Supper become the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass?

The answer is two-fold:

Continue reading “No altar standeth whole? (Roman Missal IV)”

Altars, Pagan and Christian

First of all, let me say this: To see LeBron get sat-down was…SWEET!

…At Holy Mass, after Communion, when the deacon or priest cleanses the chalice, he says this prayer quietly to himself:

Quod ore sumpsimus, Domine, pura mente capiamus: et de munera temporali fiat nobis remedium sempiternum.

The translation of this Latin sentence which appears in the current English Sacramentary is an utter mush.

But soon we will have a new English-language Missal! This is how the prayer will be translated:

What has passed our lips as food, O Lord, may we possess in purity of heart, that what has been given to us in time may be our healing for eternity.

Beautifully put. Speaking of well-written sentences: I have seen Hamlet many times. I have seen all the movies, and I have seen it on stage probably a half-dozen times.

The other night I saw the best Hamlet I have ever seen. At the Folger Shakespeare Library. (Not the Folger Shakespeare Theatre Company downtown, which is to be avoided like a noxious cesspool.)

The Hamlet at the Library was great. Seeing it restored my faith in the art of Thespis. Ophelia stole the show. The play made sense to me in a new way–as the story of ruined love. Do whatever you can to get a ticket.

…Here is a short Ascension Day homily:

Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by hands, but heaven itself, that He might now appear before God on our behalf. (Hebrews 9:24)

St. Paul traveled the world to teach the Good News. When he went to the pagan city of Athens, he observed the many shrines to the many pagan gods. This moved him to explain the difference between pagan worship and Christian worship.

Continue reading “Altars, Pagan and Christian”

Seven-Church Bikeride

In Rome, there are so many churches so close together that you could walk to seven without breaking a sweat.

St. Philip Neri used to lead groups of walkers to visit seven altars of repose on Holy Thursday after the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.

The churches aren’t quite as closely situated in downtown Washington as they are in Rome. After Mass I rode my bike to seven churches to visit the Blessed Sacrament.

If you would like to join the seven-church bike pilgrimage, bring your bike to the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at Holy Name parish next year. We will visit the parishes of: St. Peter, St. Joseph, St. Dominic, St. Patrick, St. Mary Mother of God, Holy Rosary, and St. Aloysius. It is a decent little way to keep watch with Christ.

Russell Files #3: The Ravisher Condemned

With our present industrial technique we can, if we choose, provide a tolerable subsistence for everybody. We could also secure that the world’s population should be stationary if we were not prevented by the political influence of the churches which prefer war, pestilence, and famine to contraception.

bertrand russellThe knowledge exists by which universal happiness can be secured; the chief obstacle to its utilization for that purpose is the teaching of religion. Religion prevents our children from having a rational education; religion prevents us from removing the fundamental causes of war; religion prevents us from teaching the ethic of scientific co-operation in place of the old fierce doctrines of sin and punishment.

It is possible that mankind is on the threshold of a golden age; but, if so, it will be necessary first to slay the dragon that guards the door, and this dragon is religion…

…There is reason to suppose that a hundred years hence Catholciism will be the only effective representative of the Christian faith…

–Bertrand Russell, “Has Religion Made Useful Contributions to Civilization?” 1930.

As we can see, Bertrand Russell was a ravisher of altars, intellectually speaking. We should credit him with forthrightness–most of the enemies of the faith clothe themselves in sheep’s garments.

scales_of_justiceThe question is: Should Russell have been prohibited from teaching at the City College of New York by the Supreme Court of the state of New York? This is exactly what happened in 1940.

Judge John E. McGeehan acknowledged that no written law empowered him to grant relief to a concerned mother who sued the New York Board of Higher Education. The judge ruled under “the law of nature and nature’s God.” A miscreant like Russell could not be permitted to teach. His teaching the young–at taxpayer expense–would constitute an injustice to the God-fearing citizens of the state.

Judge McGeehan rightfully pointed out that teachers exercise an influence over the whole of their students’ lives. It was a red herring for Russell’s defenders to claim that as a philosopher of science he could not influence his students’ morals.

We also have to note Judge McGeehan’s empathy with the aggrieved taxpayer. He was on to something here: A judge who refuses to understand written laws by the light of the higher law of truth and justice will fail in his duty to the poor and defenseless.

Russell dismissed Judge McGeehan’s ruling as the ravings of a benighted, prejudiced, parochial Catholic mind.

Nonetheless, the judge was no friend of justice in this case. He did an injustice to Bertrand Russell. I will explain myself next time.

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