Category Archives: Ecclesiology

Why must we believe certain doctrines not explicitly found in the Bible?

In short: because the Church teaches it. As has been pointed out many times by many apologists over the years, the very idea that Scripture is the sole infallible rule of faith is not only nonsense, but explicitly refuted by Scripture itself.

  • “Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 1:13).
  • “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.” (2 Thess. 2:15).
  • “Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account” (Heb. 13:17).
  • “If I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).

So, the idea of the Bible being the ultimate source and arbiter of truth is false on its face. Scripture itself disproves this belief. The Church is the guardian of the deposit of faith, faithfully transmitting the teachings of Jesus Christ. Christ commissioned the Church to teach all nations (see John 14:26, 16:13), and we know that under the protection and guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Church teaches us what is true.

Love & truth,
Matthew

Binding & Loosing – Mt 16:19 & 18:18


-by Suan Sonna, a Baptist convert to Catholicism

“Let’s address one of the most common prooftexts cited against Catholicism: Matthew 18:18. In this verse, Jesus bestows the power to “bind and loose” upon the apostles and thereby sets a pattern for local churches. The objection, according to Orthodox and Protestants, is that Matthew 18:18 nuances Peter’s authority in Matthew 16:19, where he is given the keys of the kingdom and the power to bind and loose. What initially seems like a bestowal of monarchical power onto Peter is softened into perhaps a more collegial system – or a pure democracy!

The first problem with this objection is that it’s a non sequitur: the conclusion does not follow from the premises. Strictly speaking, Jesus says that Peter (16:19) and the apostles including Peter (18:18) have the power to bind and loose. This fact alone does not reveal the authority dynamic among them. What’s the relationship between Peter’s binding and loosing and the other apostles’ authority? Matthew 18:18 notwithstanding, why, in Matthew 16:19, is there a unique commission to Peter if his power is no different from the others?

The second, and I think principal, issue is that the objection engages in special pleading. It ignores relevant facts about Peter and the surrounding context such that 18:18 looks unexpected for Catholicism only if we consider it in isolation.

A clarification should be made: Peter as an apostle would have shared certain privileges with the other apostles. They all possessed the power to bind and loose, which was originally the power of the Jewish leaders to discipline the community by declaring what is forbidden (bound) and allowed (loosed). The apostles could also discipline any church or speak on behalf of the entire church, because they were all directly receiving divine revelation. It therefore makes perfect sense that the apostles, including Peter, would have identical powers in this regard, given their shared office—just as a circuit judge and the chief justice of the supreme court are both judges.

The better question is whether Peter individually possessed any unique authority. Acts 5 is one of the best places to investigate. It is mysteriously made known to Peter that Ananias and Sapphira hoarded their property from the Jerusalem church. Some scholars argue that Peter continually received direct revelation from God. Evangelical scholar Eckhard J. Schnabel puts it this way: “Luke describes Peter as the spokesman of the apostles, who have just received Ananias’s gift. He also describes Peter as having the gift of prophecy, which allows him to see into Ananias’s heart—something only God can do (cf. Heb. 4:13).”

This is remarkably similar to how Jesus revealed in Matthew 16:17 that God the Father, and not any human source or power, helped Peter identify Jesus as the Messiah. We also see the Church moved by Peter’s dream to loosen Jewish dietary restrictions—another direct revelation from God to the one apostle (Acts 10:9-16).

Peter’s rebuke to Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 inflicts death through divine action. This is significant, as there are only two other times in the New Testament where God kills someone: Acts 12:23, where he strikes down Herod for setting himself up as a god, and 1 Corinthians 11:29-30, where St. Paul notes that many have brought death on themselves by unworthily consuming the Eucharist. Acts 5 is the only time, however, that God does so through an apostle’s rebuke.

Peter’s actions here fall under his binding and loosing power, as F.F. Bruce (among others) explains:

“Binding” and “loosing” were idiomatic expressions in rabbinical Judaism to denote the promulgation of rulings either forbidding or authorizing various kinds of activity. The authority to bind or loose given to Peter in the present context is given to the disciples as a body in Matthew 18:18, in a saying of Jesus similarly preserved by this evangelist only. Again, the record of Acts provides an illustration. Where church discipline is in view, Peter’s verbal rebuke of Ananias and Sapphira received drastic ratification from heaven (Acts 5:1-11).

It is true that “the authority to bind and loose given to Peter” is “given to the disciples as a body in Matthew 18:18.” But authority can come in various degrees. All 100 senators are given the authority to write and vote on legislation, but the Senate majority leader can do more with that authority than his colleagues can, being privileged to bring legislation to a vote as well.

Indeed, F.F. Bruce uses Peter’s binding and loosing authority as a paradigmatic example of church discipline. This event shows that Peter could bind and loose without always having to go through his fellow apostles. Moreover, Bruce could be using “authority” here similar to how we would ordinarily use “power” or “capacity.” This interpretation makes sense of how he can say the authority (or simply “power”) to bind and loose can be given both to Peter and “the disciples as a body” while also using Peter as a unique example without contradicting himself. Peter and the entire apostolate received the same power to bind and loose but with different degrees of authority.

Finally, notice that Acts 5 is referenced as a “drastic ratification from heaven” of “Peter’s verbal rebuke.” Peter’s actions—a uniquely Petrine binding and loosing—shake the entire Church: “and great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things” (v. 11). His individual exercise of binding and loosing authority is the only one feared in this way. Although all of the apostles were respected afterwards, the people specifically laid the sick in Peter’s presence so that his shadow could touch and heal them (v. 15).

The popular objection from Matthew 18:18 fails to account for the nuance between having the same power or capacity to bind and loose and having the same degree of authority attached. Although the other apostles can bind and loose, command any church, and teach infallibly, we can only say that Peter is the chief spokesman of the apostles, rebukes with the utmost divine wrath backing him, and can shake the entire Church as in Acts 5. And so the biblical data show that Peter, even in his binding and loosing power, is pre-eminent.”

Love,
Matthew

Why the Ascension?


-detail of the Ascension, Saint Dié manuscript

-Eastern France (Saint-Die) manuscript, 1504-1514

-by Joseph Heschmeyer, a former lawyer and seminarian, he blogs at Shameless Popery.

“It’s not hard to understand why we would celebrate Good Friday (Jesus atones for our sins on the Cross) and Easter Sunday (Jesus rises again, conquering death). But Ascension Thursday commemorates Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Why, from the perspective of one of those “left behind” on Earth, is that something to celebrate?

It’s easy to misunderstand the Ascension, as if Christ were abandoning his disciples. But he promised that this wouldn’t happen, saying “I will not leave you desolate” (John 14:18) and “I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matt. 28:20). Similarly, we misunderstand the Ascension if we imagine that Jesus is returning to heaven, as if he ever left heaven in the first place. As St. Augustine points out, Jesus “did not leave heaven when he came down to us; nor did he withdraw from us when he went up again into heaven.”

Instead, Christ’s ascension is really his enthronement in heaven. One of the final prophecies Jesus makes before His death is that “from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God” (Luke 22:69). That prophecy remained unfulfilled on Easter morning, as we know from His words to Mary Magdalene: “I have not yet ascended to the Father, but go to My brethren and say to them, I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God” (John 20:17). Instead, the prophecy is fulfilled in the Ascension, which is how St. Stephen, “full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55), and why St. Paul says that this is now “where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1; see also Heb. 8:1, 12:2; Rev. 4).

If Jesus, in His divinity, was in heaven the whole time, what is it that ascended? His humanity. And this is near the heart of why the Ascension matters. For many people, Christianity has become too disembodied—that we think of it as good news for our souls, but not for our bodies (or worse, as a sort of mission rescuing us from our captivity in our bodies).

N.T. Wright, in his book Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, reported that “a survey of beliefs about life after death conducted in Britain in 1995 indicated that though most people believed in some kind of continuing life, only a tiny minority, even among churchgoers, believed in the classic Christian position, that of a future bodily resurrection.” In America, a 2006 poll similarly found that only thirty-six percent of respondents answered “yes” to the question: “Do you believe that, after you die, your physical body will be resurrected someday?” Perhaps most shockingly, even self-described Christians overwhelmingly rejected the idea of bodily resurrection: only thirty-eight percent of Catholics and forty-four percent of Protestants answered “yes.” The situation was slightly, but only slightly, better for regular churchgoers: half of them reported believing in the bodily resurrection.

As bad as these numbers are, the reality is likely worse. Both the U.S. and U.K. studies are now decades old, and it’s hard to imagine that the situation has improved since then. Moreover, as Wright points out, “I often find that though Christians still use the word resurrection, they treat it as a synonym for ‘life after death’ or ‘going to heaven’ and that, when pressed, they often share the confusion of the wider world on the subject” (p. xii). Even many of the people who answered “yes” probably think of “resurrection” in non-physical terms.

That’s a problem, because Christianity makes little sense if the body doesn’t have dignity, or isn’t made to last forever. After all, why does the Church care about a “theology of the body,” or about tending to the bodies of even the dead? Because Christianity is good news for the body as well as for the soul. The Catechism quotes Tertullian to the effect that “the flesh is the hinge of salvation,” commenting, “We believe in God Who is creator of the flesh; we believe in the Word made flesh in order to redeem the flesh; we believe in the resurrection of the flesh, the fulfillment of both the creation and the redemption of the flesh” (CCC 1015).

In Eden, there was an intimate union between God and earthly creation, symbolized by “the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Gen. 3:8). This union between heaven and earth was ruptured in sin. And that rupture was healed first through the Incarnation (in which the heavenly God took on earthly humanity) and then the Cross (in which he offered his flesh “for the life of the world”—John 6:51), and then the Resurrection (in which Christ rose again with a glorified body), and then the Ascension (in which he rose physically to be enthroned at the right hand of the Father in Heaven). Prior to the Ascension, heaven was a purely spiritual realm.* No more.

And so Ascension Thursday is only the beginning. Christ has the first body in heaven, but not the last. He is followed soon after by His mother, which is why we celebrate the Assumption. And someday, God willing, we will all join Him. It’s why the angel’s message on Ascension Thursday is forward-looking: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, Who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as You saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). The union between heaven and earth has begun, and it is irrevocable. Our journey now is to prepare for that union to be completed within us.

*I’ll prescind here from the thorny question of what Elijah and Enoch experienced prior to Christ’s ascension.”

Love,
Matthew

Converting costs: do it anyway!! Quo vadis, Domine?

Christ appearing headed to Rome to Saint Peter leaving Rome on the Appian Way, Annibale Carracci, 1601-2, The National Gallery, London, Oil on panel, 77 cm × 56 cm (30 in × 22 in), please click on the image for greater detail


-by Joseph Heschmeyer, a former lawyer and seminarian, he blogs at Shameless Popery.

“Once you’re convinced Catholicism is true, is converting really necessary? That question might sound strange to some readers. After all, if you believe that the Catholic Church really is the Church founded by Christ, why wouldn’t you convert?

Well, lots of reasons. Maybe you’re part of a solid Protestant community. Maybe converting would create serious tension in your marriage or with your parents. Maybe you would lose your job in ministry. In some of the most extreme cases, maybe you live in a country in which converting to Catholicism is a capital crime. In short, people weighing whether to become Catholic are often dealing with much more than simply answering the question, “Is it true?”

But as serious and well-grounded as those hesitations may be, the Second Vatican Council doesn’t mince words:

In explicit terms [Jesus] himself affirmed the necessity of faith and baptism and thereby affirmed also the necessity of the Church, for through baptism as through a door men enter the Church. Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved. (CCC 846)

This is simply a restatement of what Catholics have been saying for two millennia. The Church is, in St. Paul’s words, Jesus’ “body, the fullness of Him Who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:23). To try to have Jesus without the Church is to try to have Christ the head without the body of Christ, or to put asunder what God has joined together (Matt. 19:6; Eph. 5:30-31). In short, as the Catechism puts it (795), it’s not a matter of choosing among denominations, but about accepting the “whole Christ” (Christus totus), head and body.

Significantly, we’re not talking about a person who is innocently unaware of the Catholic Church or is still trying to sort out the truth of the Catholic claim. The person who sees the truth of the Catholic claim and yet refuses to respond to it is knowingly rejecting the fullness of Christ, cutting themselves off from salvation.

If that seems like a steep cost, it should. Jesus was explicit that His message might prove destabilizing for family peace (Matt. 10:34-38):

Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s foes will be those of his own household. He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

Or more pithily: “if any one comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:16). Jesus compares the decision to follow Him to that of a king deciding to go to war against an invading army twice his size (vv. 31-33). In other words, it’s not the kind of decision one ought to make lightly. It’s going to cost something.

You might object here: “I’m not saying not to follow Jesus—I’m just saying not to become Catholic!” But the whole point is that for the person for whom Jesus has revealed the truth of the Catholic Church, remaining Protestant (or Orthodox, etc.) is to cease to follow Him. It does no good to say we’re going to follow Jesus on our terms, just as it would have done Jesus’ original listeners no good to say they were going to follow the God of Abraham on their own terms. If Jesus shows you the way in which He wants you to follow him, that’s not the time to do your own thing or stay in your comfort zone. That’s the time to pick up your cross and follow Him, even if He’s leading you somewhere weird and uncomfortable (like the Catholic Church). (Quo vadis, Domine?)

Fortunately, though, Jesus doesn’t just tell us about the high cost of discipleship. He also promises us that these earthly costs of converting will be worth it. He tells the rich young man, “Go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Matt. 19:21). Perhaps piqued by this mention of heavenly treasure, St. Peter then asks, “Lo, we have left everything and followed you. What then shall we have?” (v. 27). Jesus responds by promising that “every one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for My name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life” (v. 29).

In other words, discipleship isn’t just about sacrifice, but about investing, laying up for ourselves “treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matt. 6:20). Converting to Catholicism can be scary, and it can be costly. But take courage: whatever it costs you will be well worth it, both in this life and in the life to come.”

Love & Truth,
Matthew

The Whole World Should be Catholic: Good Friday Solemn Intercessions


-please click on the image for greater detail

V. For the unity of Christians

Let us pray also for all our brothers and sisters who believe in Christ,
that our God and Lord may be pleased,
as they live the truth,
to gather them together and keep them in his one Church.

(Also, in the Solemn professions Jews, atheists, or those who otherwise do not believe in the Trinitarian God, etc., basically the whole world, would become Catholic. I suppose that includes even some “Catholics” who do the name no honor would become exemplar Catholics.)


-by Peter Wolfgang

“Today is Good Friday. It is the day that Catholics and other Christians commemorate the death of Our Lord Jesus Christ, which accomplished our definitive redemption.

It is also the day that Catholics pray for those other Christians to come into full communion with the Catholic Church. And “for the Jewish people” and “for those who do not believe in Christ” and “for those who do not believe in God” to do likewise.

The language of the post-Vatican II liturgy is carefully worded, but the intent is clear. On Good Friday, during the Solemn Intercessions, Catholics pray for the whole world to become Catholic.

I join in that prayer every year. Indeed, I look forward to it. I, too, believe (as the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus often put it) that “the Catholic Church is the Church of Jesus Christ most fully and rightly ordered through time.”

I, on the other hand, almost never make such claims—not because I don’t believe them, but because of where my work takes me. I run the Evangelical-associated Family Institute of Connecticut, which is part of a network of Family Policy Councils (FPCs) that exist in about forty of the fifty states. Only about five of the forty are run by Catholics.

There is no distinctly Catholic subject matter published under the auspices of my organization. But there is a lot on my personal Facebook, where I have noticed an uptick in . . . questions? . . . pushback? . . . from non-Catholic friends.

There is the Mormon friend who emails me quotes on how I should not wait until after I am dead to become a Mormon. There’s the Pentecostal minister who, over lunch, mentions his belief that the Catholic Church was founded by Constantine. There are the Evangelical ministers who are surprised when I post verses they believe to be prooftexts against Catholicism.

And, of course, there is Mary.

My non-Catholic friends are right to ask questions. I’m wrong to avoid them. We are all called “to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15).

With special attention to the one question that comes up most with my non-Catholic friends, here is why I am Catholic: in a word, the Church.

In my experience, the famous “solas” of the Protestant Reformation almost never come up in conversation. Those issues seem to be as resolved as they are likely to get. What really sticks in the craw of my Protestant friends is the Catholic Church’s claim to be the Church, the one true Church of Jesus Christ. The 2000 Vatican document Dominus Iesus uses the phrase ecclesial communities precisely because, it was argued, Protestant “churches” are not churches in the true sense—that “just as there is one Christ, so there exists a single body of Christ, a single bride of Christ: ‘a single Catholic and apostolic Church’” (16). One Lord, one baptism, one Church.

In John 17:21, Jesus prays of his disciples “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Christ surely intended for us to be one Church, not divided into separate communions.

But the Church does acknowledge “that the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church.” The Church recognizes, as Dominus Iesus spells out, that “outside of her structure, many elements can be found of sanctification and truth.”

I have seen those elements “of sanctification and truth.” Indeed, in my work on behalf of the values we share, I have occasionally experienced a greater Christian love and generosity from Protestants than I have from Catholics.

Where the rubber hits the road is in the Catholic claim to be “fully” the Church in a way that other communions are not.  What, really, is the Catholic Church saying with this claim? That Protestant churches are not the Church as we understand it because they have not maintained apostolic succession and, therefore, valid sacraments.

Should not the Protestant affirm this? “That’s exactly right,” he might say. “We are not the Church as you understand it because your understanding is incorrect. We don’t need apostolic succession and those extra sacraments to be the Church. If we thought otherwise, we would not be separated from you in the first place.”

For myself, I believe that the Catholic Church is what it claims to be. It is, at bottom, why I am Catholic. If you believe what the Church claims about itself, then all its other claims—about Mary, the Eucharist, and so forth—naturally follow.

I thank God that the Church teaches that my Christian brethren of other communions are in a real “albeit imperfect” (Dominus Iesus 17) communion with me, because that is what I have experienced. These are my brothers and sisters in Christ. I love them.

And I believe that we should all be in perfect communion together as members of the Catholic Church. That it is the will of Christ: that we all be one in her, His bride.

I will pray for that when I pray the Solemn Intercessions at the Good Friday liturgy today. I will do so in the belief that the Catholic Church is what she claims to be—and in the hope that we and our separated brethren will again be one “so that the world may believe.”

Love & truth, blessed Good Friday,
Matthew

St Benedict’s Admonition to Pray the Divine Office


-by John Paul Sonnen

“By tradition going back to early Christian times, the Divine Office has been prayed by Roman Catholics, arranged in such a way that the whole course of the day and night are sanctified with prayers.

This recitation of the Office of the Church praises God without ceasing, in song and prayer, and it intercedes with Christ for the salvation of the world. For this reason it has also been called the “Liturgy of the Hours.”

For centuries lay Catholics have visited Benedictine monasteries across the world, participating in the recitation of the Office, fostering a unique relationship between man and God. In Benedictine communities the recitation of the Office is called the Opus Dei or “work of God.”

The recitation is a prayer or “work” that allows the Christian to think of God and to sing His praises. It is an act of sacrifice and revelation that directs the whole self, psyche and soma alike to God, inviting man to come closer to forgetting himself in this one particular form of the worship of God.

It has been described thus by the Benedictine theologian, Dom Hubert van Zeller:

“The Divine Office is at the same time the word of God for man and the work of man for God. It is God’s revelation of Himself in human accents; it is man’s debt repaid to Him in the medium of sacrifice” (The Holy Rule, p. 172).

The Divine Office is for All

The recitation of the Divine Office is of such importance that Roman Rite clerics in major orders are bound to pray it daily. This includes priests, deacons, monks, nuns, and many members of Institutes of Consecrated Life and of Societies of Apostolic Life according to their approved Constitutions.

Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy has an entire chapter dedicated to the subject of the Office, seen in chapter 4 of Sacrosanctum Concilium. In the same document the Council admonishes not only clergy, but also the lay faithful, to also pray the hours of the Divine Office with the whole Church with this recommendation:

“And the laity, too, are encouraged to recite the Divine Office, either with the priests, or among themselves, or even individually” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 100).

Following on this, the Code of Canon Law also encourages laity to participate in the recitation of the Office:

“Others also of Christ’s faithful [the laity] are earnestly invited, according to circumstances, to take part in the liturgy of the hours as an action of the Church” (Code of Canon Law, 1174).

This call to unceasing prayer for clergy, and lay people, too, when possible, is in response to St. Paul’s exhortation: “Pray without ceasing” (1The. 5:17). For only in the Lord can be given and received fruitfulness and increase. This is why the Apostles first said as an example for all, “We will devote ourselves to prayer…” (Acts 6:4).

Hence, all who perform the recitation of the Office perform a service in fulfilling a duty of the Church, praying together with the Church in unison.

The Divine Office as a Gift from St. Benedict

St. Benedict in his sacred Rule (Regula), a book he wrote that is one of the most influential books in the history of Christendom, gives a significant amount of advice on the subject of the Office, its structure and the regulations he laid out for his followers.

This Rule, written in about the year 540 AD, starts with a Prologue where St. Benedict speaks of his intention to create a “school” for the Lord’s service for those who have heard God’s call and followed Him.

All that follows in the Rule from hereafter is an elaboration of this theme of seeking God. A key component of the monastic vocation in light of this theme, as described by St. Benedict, is the recitation of the Divine Office said not alone, but in common.

The Rule with careful clarity gives detailed instructions of the order of Latin chants and prayers. More prayers were even assigned to the monks during winter months, taking into consideration the shorter length of day, assuming the monks would have slightly more time to pray while staying warm indoors.

St. Benedict explains in his own words the importance of the Office which revolved around seven daily services, also known as offices or hours. He writes:

“The prophet says, ‘Seven times a day have I praised you’ (Ps. 119:164). We will fullfil this sacred number seven if we perform the duties of our service at the hours of Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline, because it was with reference to these hours of the day that he said, ‘Seven times a day have I praised you.’ With regard to the night office the same prophet says, ‘In the middle of the night I rose to praise you’ (Ps. 119:62).” (The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 16).

St. Benedict devised that each of the hours of prayer were divided into a one-week Psalter. This allowed for all 150 Psalms to be said by the monks in one week, with the prayers divided into set times in the chapel, with an additional night office called Matins.

Benedict warns that such a life with regular hours to pray can be hard, particularly at first. He also acknowledged that problems could arise among the monks that may threaten to sabotage the practice, that was to be sung in unison by the monks in the chapel.

At the heart of Benedictine life is praying not only the choral Office but also the sung Conventual Mass, both celebrated in choir. Unfortunately, today not everyone follows all the chapters of the Rule, especially with regard to the structure of the sung Office in choir with its one-week psalter in Latin.

In the 1960’s the office of Prime was suppressed, and the Psalms were no longer distributed throughout one week, veering from the original approbations of St. Benedict. Some communities also gave up the beauty of chanting the Office in Latin, an immense cultural loss and deviation from what St. Benedict himself envisioned.

How to Say the Divine Office

The Mass and Office will always be at the center of Benedictine life.

The recitation of the Office by monks in a spirit of obedience and reverence has great merit. The act punctuates the day of the monk, like a leaven awakening the soul to sanctify the day as a gift of self to God.

Praying the Office worthily and embracing it sanctifies the whole life and assists the monk toward his goal of unceasing prayer – Ut in Omnibus Glorificetur Deus.

St. Benedict outlines the attitude of mind with which monks are to approach the duty of prayer. The saint’s aim was to get his monks to bring to their interior and exterior exercise a proper disposition of prayer that combined awe, simplicity, compunction, and purity of intention.

In heaven, St. Augustine teaches, satisfied love sings the hymn of praise in the plentitude of eternal enjoyment. Here below, yearning love seeks to express the ardor of its desires.

There is always need in spirituality for a holy fear and balanced reverence with yearning love. St. Gregory warned that irreverence is one of the signs of the soul’s deterioration, a sure sign that a monastic community is suffering.

St. Augustine sheds light on the subject:

“Let us then ever remember what the prophet says: ‘Serve the Lord in fear,’ and again, ‘Sing ye wisely,’ and ‘In the sight of the angels I will sing praises unto Thee.’ Therefore, let us consider how we ought to behave ourselves in the presence of God and of His angels, and so assist at the Divine Office that mind and voice be in harmony” (Sermons of St. Augustine, Sermon 255).

Here again, as in the exercise of humility, it is the omnipresence of God that inspires the monk as he recites the Office with proper reverence in a community setting. At the same time, it encourages him to keep up his unceasing struggle against distractions, boredom, against a sense of wasting time, and against the dismay that comes as a temptation to feel that no sensible progress is being made in the spiritual life.

In discovering the virtue of the Office, the soul discovers also the essential need to pray, and particularly the grace to pray throughout the day and night in sacrifice. Prayer and sacrifice are seen traditionally as the logical and necessary consequence of justice.

This is because God must be served for His great glory, thanked for His great glory, and atoned to for the outrages done to His glory.

Therefore, the Christian knowing about God’s existence and recognizing His sovereign rights over His creatures finds peace in expressing this knowledge and submission in the most immediate way possible through prayer.

Catholics will want to dedicate themselves in a special way to the expression of this attitude of prayer.

When appropriate, they will want to use their spiritual and physical faculties at the service of this expression, and they will know that in their exercise of praying the Divine Office a still more immediate and intimate relationship with God is being realized in response to St. Benedict’s admonition to pray in unison without ceasing.”

Love,
Matthew

Septuagesima

The First Council of Orleans (511 AD) records some pious Christian congregations in the earliest ages of the Church, especially the clergy, began to fast 70 days before Easter, on this Sunday, which was therefore called “Septuagesima”—the 70th day. The same is the case with the Sundays following, which are called Sexagesima, Quinquagesima, Quadragesima, because some Christians commenced to fast 60 days, others 50, others 40 days before Easter, until finally, to make it properly uniform, Popes Gregory and Gelasius arranged that all Christians should fast 40 days before Easter, commencing with Ash Wednesday.


-by Michael P. Foley

“When we go to Mass, be it in the new form or the old, we generally react to what is immediately transpiring before us, be it for the better or for the worse. We respond to the reverence or irreverence, piety or impiety, beauty or ugliness of the words and deeds we see and hear. These reactions are what remain fixed in our memories and go on to inform our liturgical opinions.

Harder to discern is the effect that a calendar has on our souls, since not every feast or Sunday comes with vivid memories in the making. A case in point is the liturgical season of pre-Lent or Septuagesima, an easily overlooked interlude between the Time after Epiphany and Lent. While the liturgies of Septuagesima are fairly low key, the impact that this small season has had on individuals and even on Western civilization is entirely disproportionate to its size. Septuagesima consists of three of some of the most interesting and influential weeks of the liturgical year.

Pre-Lent

Septuagesimatide, or pre-Lent, is the name given to the three consecutive Sundays preceding Ash Wednesday. It is named after the first of these, Septuagesima Sunday, which occurs roughly seventy days before Easter (septuagesima is Latin for “seventieth”). Sexagesima (“sixtieth”) Sunday comes next, followed by Quinquagesima (“fiftieth”) Sunday on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. In order to effect a gradual transition between the joy of Christmastide and the stringency of Lent, the season of Septuagesima takes on some of the sobriety of the latter but without its harshness. In the Roman Breviary, the penitential circuit of psalms is used (“Lauds II”), and at Mass the Gloria in excelsis is suppressed and the Gradual replaced with a Tract. Flowers on the altar are forbidden, and violet is the liturgical color of the vestments.

Each Sunday of Septuagesimatide also focuses on a different Old Testament figure as a way of leading us up to the Paschal mystery of Good Friday and Easter. Septuagesima Sunday—and this is particularly obvious in the Breviary—recalls Adam, Sexagesima Sunday Noah, and Quinquagesima Sunday Abraham. (This pattern is continued into Lent: the Second Sunday of Lent recalls Jacob, the Third Sunday Joseph, and the Fourth Sunday Moses.) The purpose of this instruction is to help the faithful see the reasons for the scandal of the Cross, the culmination of Lent. The Matin readings on Adam give us the doctrine of original sin, the passages on the Flood highlight the wickedness of mankind, and the sacrifices of Abraham and Melchisedech foreshadow the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross.

The Sundays of Septuagesima were also shaped by a series of calamities besieging the city of Rome in the sixth century. The theme of misery and desolation in the Introit of Septuagesima Sunday, for instance, comes from these troubled times. Such historical influences on the liturgical year are an excellent example of what Pope Benedict XVI meant when he referred to the Extraordinary Form as bearing “the whole weight of history within itself, and yet, at the same time, [being] much more than the product of human history.”[1] In any event, Septuagesima was a well-established liturgical season in the Roman rite by 541 A.D.

Laying to Rest the Alleluia

Perhaps the most peculiar mark of Septuagesima’s liturgies is the suppression of the word “Alleluia,” which in the Novus Ordo does not occur until Ash Wednesday. Why deprive ourselves of this glorious word for an extra two and a half weeks, especially when it is so powerful? St. Paul of the Cross, for instance, advised members of his order to cry out “Alleluia” when assaulted by the devil, for “the devil is afraid of the Alleluia; it is a word that comes from Paradise.”[2]

St. Paul’s reasoning about Paradise gives us a clue into the answer we seek. “Alleluia,” which in Hebrew means “Praise be to the Lord,” is traditionally known as the “song of the Lord.” It is what St. John heard in Heaven during his vision of the Apocalypse. It is the joyous cry of those who are truly home.

But Septuagesima and Lent are periods not of homecoming but of pilgrimage and exile. Indeed, just as the forty days of Lent commemorate the forty years of the Hebrews wandering in the wilderness and the forty days of Jesus fasting in the desert, Septuagesima recalls the roughly seventy years of the Babylonian Exile (605-538 BC), that period, second in importance only to the Exodus out of Egypt, when the people of Judah were deported to Babylon.[3] As the haunting Psalm 136(137) attests, God’s Chosen People did not deem it fit to sing their joyous songs on foreign soil:

Upon the rivers of Babylon, there we sat and wept, when we remembered Sion. On the willows in the midst thereof we hung up our [musical] instruments. For there, they that led us into captivity required of us the words of songs. And they that carried us away, said: “Sing ye to us a hymn of the songs of Sion.” How shall we sing the song of the Lord in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand be forgotten. Let my tongue cleave to my jaws, if I do not remember thee (verses 1-6).

The Jews would not sing their native song of joy during their exile, and neither do Catholics during theirs. As Bishop William Durandus (1237-1296) puts it: “We part from the Alleluia as from a beloved friend, whom we embrace many times and kiss on mouth, head, and hand, before we leave him.”[4] The jubilant “Alleluia” is thus laid to rest for seventy days in the traditional Roman rite until it rises again in the Easter Vigil, and in so doing Catholics recapitulate for their spiritual benefit a cardinal moment in sacred history.

And when I say “laid to rest,” I mean that literally. Perhaps the most charming para-liturgical custom to come from Septuagesima is the depositio, or setting aside, of the Alleluia. On the Saturday afternoon before Septuagesima Sunday, medieval communities would stage an elaborate procession with a plaque or banner, often in the shape of a coffin, bearing the word “Alleluia.” The coffin would then be solemnly buried somewhere on church grounds. In parts of France, a straw man inscribed with the word “Alleluia” in gold letters was burned in effigy in the churchyard! Thanks to the liturgical movement of the 20th century, several of these customs were revived by some American parishes prior to the Second Vatican Council.

A standard part of these sacred send-offs was the singing of a song entitled Alleluia, Dulce Carmen, which artfully links the suppression of the Alleluia with the Babylonian Exile and Psalm 136. Here is J.M. Neale’s translation of the tenth-century hymn:

Alleluia! song of gladness,
Voice of joy that cannot die;
Alleluia is the anthem
Ever dear to choirs on high;
In the house of God abiding
Thus they sing eternally.
Alleluia thou resoundest,
True Jerusalem and free;
Alleluia joyful mother,
All thy children sing with thee;
But by Babylon’s sad waters
Mourning exiles now are we.
Alleluia cannot always
Be our song while here below;
Alleluia our transgressions
Make us for a while forego;
For the solemn time is coming
When our tears for sin must flow.
Therefore in our hymns we pray Thee,
Grant us blessed Trinity,
At the last to keep Thine Easter
In our home beyond the sky;
There to Thee for ever singing
Alleluia joyfully.

As the lyrics make clear, Septuagesima can teach us many valuable lessons: that Lent should not be begun abruptly or thoughtlessly but preceded by a period of adjustment; that uttering sacred words is a privilege which should not be taken for granted; that sin puts us in exile from our True Home; and that the Old Testament, with its many significant events, is perpetually relevant to the lives of Christians. Lastly, suppressing the Alleluia seventy days before Easter, and singling this fact out in a special way, heightens our joy when Alleluia triumphantly returns to our lips with the Risen Lord on Easter Sunday.

Sexagesima and Quinquagesima

The second Sunday of Septuagesimatide, Sexagesima, continues to sound the exilic note of Babylon, but with a touch of joy. Both the Collect and the Epistle commemorate the apostolate of St. Paul, the feast of whose conversion on January 25 occurs around this time.[5] Quinquagesima, on the other hand, is preoccupied with the impending Great Fast of Lent. Its Epistle from 1 Corinthians 13 on charity is the perfect preface to a season of mortification and almsgiving, for without charity, these noble acts profit us nothing (1 Cor. 13:3). Indeed, all of Septuagesimatide is an ideal primer on how to approach the purgative period of Lent in the right spirit.

Septuagesima season also marks the time when the faithful begin to fast voluntarily, in anticipation of the mandatory fast of Lent. As early as 465 A.D., St. Maximus, Bishop of Turin, was recommending a fast of devotion before Lent. In the Byzantine rite, the faithful would begin abstaining from meat on the penultimate Sunday before Lent and from dairy products on the Sunday immediately before Lent: hence the Byzantine name for Sexagesima is “Meatfare” Sunday and their name for Quinquagesima “Cheesefare” Sunday.[6] In the Roman rite, the Sunday to begin abstaining from meat was Quinquagesima, and so it also came to be known as Dominica Carnevala, carnevala coming from the Latin for “removal” (levare) of “meat” (caro/carnis). It is from this name that our word “carnival” originates.

And Septuagesimatide is not just behind the word: it is also behind the activity. Prior to the age of refrigeration, Christians needed to get rid of all the foods they would not be allowed to consume during Lent, which centuries ago was quite a long list; as we mentioned above, not only flesh meat but all dairy products were forbidden. And the closer Lent approached, the more urgently they needed to be consumed. Ironically, the pre-Lenten excesses and glittering pageantry we associate with Mardi Gras in New Orleans or the carnevales in Brazil and Venice, Italy can be traced to the voluntary increase of pious asceticism.

These sybaritic celebrations, in turn, have had a notable impact on Western culture. “Carnival music,” which is a colorful combination of Spanish, Portuguese, Native American, African, and even Chinese musical strains, is generally associated with Trinidad and Barbados, as well as other parts of the Caribbean and Brazil. Though it varies from country to country, Carnival music has a common origin in bidding a fond farewell to fun before the forty-day fast of Lent. And it has gone on to shape other genres of music, such as Latin jazz, the Conga and Conjunto, and the Samba.[7]

Glazed pączki, still very popular in Chicago, on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, given its substantial Polish immigrant population, please click on the image for greater detail

Septuagesima Foods

Pre-Lenten observances also led to the invention or promotion of several food dishes. There are many culinary candidates worthy of mention. Where would Cajun cooking be without Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday”? Northern England traditionally observes Collop Monday two days before Ash Wednesday (a collop is made of sliced meat and eggs fried in butter), while the rest of the country enjoys Shrove Tuesday pancakes the day before Ash Wednesday. In the U.S. before Vatican II, pancake breakfasts sponsored by American parishes on Quinquagesima Sunday were not uncommon. Thanks to its Polish immigrants, America is also able to hear its arteries harden each year with pączki, a rich pastry similar to a jelly donut that is traditionally eaten during Septuagesimatide. Pączki (pronounced “paunch-key”) is a particularly interesting food because it has a vocal and zealous group of devotees, including its own lobby, the National Pączki Promotional Board.[8]

Regardless of their country of origin, all of these foods are the product of the same basic logic, to make good use of all perishable comestibles in one’s home before the beginning of Lent.

Shrovetide

Not all Christian customs of Septuagesima, however, revel in merriment and feasting. While the Latin countries had Carnival, the countries of northern Europe had Shrovetide. The verb “to shrive” is old English for a priest’s hearing confession; hence, Shrovetide was a time for the faithful to go to confession and be “shriven” in preparation for Lent. While this period originally encompassed the entire week preceding Lent, it is more common to hear reference to Shrove Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, the three days prior to Ash Wednesday. Needless to say, this remains an excellent way to prepare for Lent.

Of course, not even the sternest of northern believers could resist every impulse to blow off a little steam. While “to shrive” might refer to sacramental absolution, the Oxford English Dictionary defines “to shrove” as “to keep Shrove-tide; to make merry.”[9] Large sporting events were popular during Shrovetide (according to legend, the world’s first soccer match took place on a Shrove Tuesday between the Britons and the Romans), and in Ireland getting married during Shrovetide was considered good luck, perhaps because weddings during Lent were forbidden.

As for the southern countries, not everyone was pleased with the rising tide of carnival celebrations that began in the fourteenth century. In 1747 Pope Benedict XIV issued the aptly named Super Bacchanalibus in which a plenary indulgence was granted to those who participated in the “Forty Hours of Carnival.” This devotion, which was held in those areas prone to indulgence of a different kind, consisted of Exposition and Benediction on Shrove Monday and Tuesday. The purpose of the devotion was to draw the faithful away from “dangerous occasions of sin” and to atone for excesses committed.[10]

Modern Times

Septuagesima was dropped from the calendar in 1970, replaced by “Ordinary Time.” According to Fr. Pierre Jounel, a professor of liturgy at the Catholic Institute of Paris and one of the architects of the new calendar, it was excised because “Nobody knew what it meant or where it came from.”[11]

That’s funny: the literal meaning of septuagesima is as close as the nearest Latin dictionary, and most Catholics, because of the greater cultural impact of Septuagesima we have just described, had a passable idea of what the season meant. There are beautiful explanations of it in the St. Andrew’s Missal and in Fr. Francis X. Weiser’s popular Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs, both of which were available ten years before Fr. Jounel’s pronouncement. The Von Trapp family describes Septuagesima as a “most necessary time for the individual as well as for families and communities”:[12] their chapter on the season the meaning of which they weren’t supposed to know is entitled, “A Time to Dance.”

Millions of Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic believers also understand it, as they have a similar season based on the same principles. (Having dropped Septuagesima, we Catholics now have one less thing in common with what Pope John Paul II called the other lung of Christendom.) Even some Anglicans and Lutherans continue to keep Septuagesima. More importantly, with the loss of Septuagesima we have no liturgical preparation for the holy season of Lent, no transition between the glow of Epiphany and the gloom of Ash Wednesday. In the meantime, the cultural observances of Mardi Gras and so forth continue unabated, loosed from their religious moorings.

Conclusion

In his magnificent Confessions, St. Augustine allegorically interprets the creation of the dry land in Genesis 1 as the gathering of the redeemed souls that thirst for God and are plucked from the bitter sea of the infidels.[13] The “land” that Augustine espied was a Church zealous for the nourishment of grace so “that they might bring forth works of mercy unto You, distributing their earthly goods to the poor to acquire heavenly.”[14] How fitting, then, that the terra firma that is the Church should not only use Lent as a preparation for Easter, but that she should prepare herself for Lent as well, the season in which she increases her corporal works of mercy.[15] Because of the 1970 calendar, Septuagesima is a time that the Land has lamentably forgotten, but let those who keep to the calendar of our ancestors wisely use this season to remember and attune ourselves to the awesome trial that is Lent.

And maybe to shrove it up a bit while we still can.”

Love,
Matthew

Notes
[1] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977, trans. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1998), p. 20.
[2] Quoted by Gueranger in Liturgical Year, vol. 8, p. 366.
[3] See Jeremiah 25:9-12; 29:10. Some Biblical historians calculate the Babylonian Exile or Captivity to be exactly seventy years by beginning with the defeat of the Assyrian Empire in 609 BC and ending with the defeat of the Babylonian Empire in 539 BC; others set the dates at 586 and 516, the destruction of Jerusalem and the dedication of the rebuilt Temple, respectively.
[4] Rationale Divinorum Officiorum 6.24.18, translated by Francis X. Weiser.
[5] One of the charms of the traditional calendar is that it allows its Temporal Cycle, its rotation of seasons, to be colored by its Sanctoral Cycle, its saints’ feast days.
[6] Similarly, in Russia and other Slavic countries the week before Lent is called “Butter Week”; in Poland it is called “Fat Days.”
[7] See Michael P. Foley, Why Do Catholics Eat Fish on Friday? (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), p. 59.
[8] Bryan Gruley, “Who Put the Paunch In Paczki and Droves In Shrove Tuesday?” Wall Street Journal – Eastern Edition, 3/01/2000, vol. 235, issue 43, p. A1.
[9] “Shrove, v.” Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., 1989.
[10] Herbert Thurston, “Shrovetide,” The Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 13 (Robert Appleton Company, 1912).
[11] Alfred Friendly, Jr., “200 Catholic Saints Lose Their Feast Days,” NYT, May 10, 1969, p. 10.
[12] Maria Augusta Trapp, Around the Year With the Trapp Family (NY: Pantheon Books, 1955), p. 86.
[13] Confessions 13.17.20.
[14] Confessions 13.34.49, translated by F.J. Sheed.
[15] See the Collect for the First Sunday of Lent: “O God, who by the yearly Lenten observance dost purify Thy Church, grant to Thy household that what they strive to obtain from Thee by abstinence, they may achieve by good works.”

Feb 22 – Feast of the Chair of Peter, Unity & Love


-sculpture by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, 1657–1666, gilt bronze, St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, please click on the image for greater detail

Today, the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, an occasion that has been marked since approximately the fourth century. While a physical “Chair of Peter” remains in the Vatican, today’s feast commemorates more than a revered relic. As Pope Benedict XVI said during his papal audience on February 19, 2012:

The Chair of St Peter, represented in the apse of the Vatican Basilica is a monumental sculpture by Bernini. It is a symbol of the special mission of Peter and his Successors to tend Christ’s flock, keeping it united in faith and in charity…The Chair of Peter is therefore the sign of authority, but of Christ’s authority, based on faith and on love.

This feast today, then, calls each of us to reflect on the gift and mission of the papacy. Christ bestowed particular authority on Peter, the first pope, and this papal authority has continued to be passed down in an unbroken line. While some popes have harbored faults in their personal lives, through them, the Holy Spirit has continued to lead the Catholic Church. However, oftentimes, people forget about the sacred calling and mission of the pope. Many individuals try to use the pope to further their own agendas. They take the pontiff’s words and try to fit them into a particular box of ideals. Furthermore, if the pope says something about which they do not agree, these same people will disregard him and ignore the doctrine which he preaches. We can easily fail to recognize what a tremendous gift we have in the papacy. Too often, we become like “fair-weathered friends” and only appreciate the pope when his words are easy to accept.

However, on today’s feast, we can stop and think about the gift of the papacy. Christ’s representative is on Earth, leading us closer to God—is this not incredible? Jesus Christ specifically chose a pope in the early days of the Church, and ever since St. Peter, God has guided the Church in unity through the pope. What a great gift and blessing we have been granted! It is beautiful to see how throughout the centuries, the pope has been an instrument of unity. For example, in the Acts of the Apostles, we read about some of the challenges that the early Church faced. One of these occurred at the Council of Jerusalem, where the apostles were arguing about how Mosaic Law should or should not be implemented. As the Scriptures note, “After much debate had taken place, Peter got up and said to them…” (Acts 15:7). He then outlined the truth of God’s saving work, and when he was finished, “the whole assembly fell silent” (Acts 15:12). Then, St. James the Apostle exhorted those present to listen to and follow the words and example of St. Peter.

Even in the earliest days and trials of the Christians, the pope was working to bring them all together in unity and love. This same papal authority and work towards unity continue to this day. The papacy is a gift, by which God holds the faithful together, draws them closer to Himself, and guides them through the humble work of a mere man.  The pope is not a celebrity, superstar, or mere figurehead; instead, he is Christ’s servant, known by the centuries-old title “servant of the servants of God.”

On this Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, let us pray for the pope, his work, and his intentions. Countless times, Pope Francis has asked people to pray for him—yet how often do we complete this simple task?  As a humble servant-leader of the entire Church, the pope is continually faced with many tremendous tasks. He greatly needs our prayers, that he may be refreshed and full of God’s love as he serves. Furthermore, today, let us also thank God for the great gift of the papacy, by which He continues to lead us.

Celebrating the “Chair” of Peter, therefore, as we are doing today, means attributing a strong spiritual significance to it and recognizing it as a privileged sign of the love of God, the eternal Good Shepherd, who wanted to gather his whole Church and lead her on the path of salvation.
—Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience on February 22, 2006

Love,
Matthew

Feb 22 – Feast of the Chair of Peter, The Stability of Truth


-Pope Pius II canonizes Catherine of Siena, Fresco Piccolomini Library, Duomo, Siena, 1502~1507, please click on the image for greater detail

“When He saw the crowds, He went up the mountain, and after He had sat down, His disciples came to Him. He began to teach them…” (Matt 5:1–2)


-by Br Pius Henry, OP

“Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter…What we actually celebrate today is the great gift that Christ left His Church: the continuity of His teaching in the ministry of Saint Peter, which continues through the ages. Today the Church celebrates the same chair that called councils, declared saints, confirmed the Order of Preachers in 1216, and proclaimed dogmas like the Immaculate Conception.

How does the Church accomplish this teaching ministry? She follows the example of Christ the teacher. Portraying Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, Saint Matthew recalls the particular detail that Jesus sat down before he taught the Beatitudes. This action of sitting expresses the stability of Jesus’s teaching that does not vary depending on the time or season, nor is shaken by worldly distractions or selfish interests. The mount on which Christ preaches the sermon foreshadows Him ascending the hill of Calvary and His Crucifixion, which itself is a stable school of love. Stat crux dum volvitur orbis as the Carthusian motto reminds us—the cross stands firm while the world turns.

Christ has given the world a stable source of truth and love, as stable as the cross. He promised that upon the rock of Peter He would build His Church, and this Petrine rock took form on the Vatican Hill in Rome when Saint Peter shared in the sufferings of Christ and was crucified for his faith and preaching. Today, his ministry continues, firmly built upon his very bones. Saint Peter’s example shows us that belief in Christ’s stable teaching requires a faithful commitment that, as his martyrdom shows, is not always easy.

The teachings of Jesus Christ, however, are always true and for our own good. Still, our own sinfulness can keep us from realizing this and lead us to strike out on our own in search of something other than what Christ already presents to us. By recalling the traditional seated posture of the teacher, today’s feast is really an opportunity for us to reflect upon our own lives. We can ask ourselves if we are gathering at the feet of the seated Jesus to listen to His words, or if we are chasing after one unstable teaching after another that continues to run dry and leave us disappointed.

Jesus gave Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven, as we heard in today’s Gospel, and with these keys came the authority over matters of heaven and earth (Matt 16:13–19). Throughout the ages the Church has concerned herself with the right and clear teaching of the things of heaven, not for its own sake, but out of love for Christ. She echoes Saint Peter’s confession “Lord, you know that I love you,” and Jesus’s response to Peter was the command to feed His flock (John 21:15–17). This interrelated mission of love for Jesus and care for His people is what gives the Petrine ministry its purpose. The nourishment which Christ commands Peter to carry out certainly includes the celebration of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. But today’s celebration especially highlights the Petrine ministry of teaching the Gospel message as a means of caring for Christ’s flock who so desperately thirst for the water, that they may never again be thirsty (John 4:15).”

Love,
Matthew

Dec 24 – Christmas Midnight Mass Sermon by St Francis de Sales


-Adoration of the Shepherds by Dutch painter Matthias Stomer, 1632, please click on the image for greater detail

“Among the solemnities of Holy Church there are three which have been celebrated at all times and which have their original source in that great feast of Passover which was observed in the Old Law.

These three feasts are all called Pasch, or Passage, or Passover (Ex. 12:11). Today’s feast was instituted to commemorate Our Lord’s passage from His Divinity to our humanity.

The second passage is that from His Passion and death to His Resurrection, His passage from mortality to immortality, which we celebrate all during Holy Week and at Easter.

The third passage is celebrated at Pentecost, the day on which Our Lord adopted the Gentiles (Cf. Acts 2:17, 39) and permitted them to pass from infidelity to the happiness of becoming His well-beloved children, the greatest happiness possible for the Church. All these feasts find their source in today’s mystery.

But you may say at this point that it is not usual to preach at night. And I reply that it was indeed the custom in the primitive church, while it was in its first flower and vigor.

St. Gregory bears witness to this in his homily for this day. The early Christians even said the three nocturns of Matins separately, rising three times during the night for this purpose.

Moreover, they went to choir seven times a day to recite the Office, thereby fulfilling verse 164 of Psalm 118 (119). St. Augustine says that they even preached three times on this feast: first at Midnight Mass, then at the Mass, and finally at the Mass during the day.

So great was the fervor of those early Christians that nothing wearied them. The least among them was of grater value than the best of religious of today.

We have become so cold since those early days that we must now shorten the Mass, the Office, and sermons.

But this is not to the point. Rather, I intend to speak to you first of which the Church sets before us this day, and then of what we should hope for and do in light of this faith.

If I do not finish all that I want to say I shall do so later in the day, if God gives us the time.

Before beginning my discourse I wish to remind you that I like to use analogies when I preach. I will do so here, too.

Now in all that we do or plan, if we are wise we keep its purpose or goal in mind (Ecclus. [Sir.] 7:40 [36]), for we should have one.

For example, if someone intends to build a house or a palace he must first consider whether it is to be a lodging for a vine-dresser or peasant or if it is for a lord, since obviously he would use entirely different plans depending on the rank of the person who is to live there.

Now the Eternal Father did just that when He build this world. He intended to create it for the Incarnation of His Son, the Eternal Word.

The end or goal of His work was thus its beginning, for Divine Wisdom had foreseen from all eternity that His Word would assume our nature in coming to earth.

This was His intent even before Lucifer and the world were created and our first parents sinned.

Our true and certain tradition holds that sixteen hundred twenty-two years ago Our Lord came to this world and, in assuming our nature, became man.

Thus we are celebrating the Savior’s birth on earth. But before speaking of that birth let us say something of the Word’s divine and eternal birth.

The Father eternally begets His Son, who is like Him and co-eternal with Him. He had no beginning, being in all things equal to His Father.

Yet we speak of the son being born for us from the Father’s bosom, from His substance, as we speak of the rays coming forth from the bosom of the sun, even though the sun and its rays are but one and the same substance.

We are forced to speak thus, recognizing the inadequacy of our words. Were we angels we would be able to speak of God in a far more adequate and excellent way.

Alas, we are only a little dust, children who really do not know what we are talking about. The Son then, begotten of the Father, proceeds from the Father without occupying any other place.

He is born in Heaven of His Father, without a mother. As sole origin of the Most Blessed Trinity the Father remains the Virgin of virgins.

On earth the Son is born of His Mother, Our Lady, without a father. Let us say a word about these two births, for which we have true and certain proofs, as I said a while ago.

The Evangelist (Lk. 1:35) assures us that the Divine Word became flesh in the most holy Virgin’s womb when the angel announced to her that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and that the power of the Most High would overshadow her.

This is not, of course, to say that in Jesus Christ there are two persons.

In the hypostatic union, the Word became flesh is true God and true man, and this without any separation, from the moment of His Conception.

Some examples may help. Naturalists tell us that honey is made of a certain gum called “manna,” which falls from the sky, and unites or mixes with flowers which in turn draw their substance from the earth.

In joining together, these two substances result in the one honey. In our Lord and Master, Divinity has similarly united our nature with His own, and God has made us sharers of the Divine nature in some fashion (2 Peter 1:4), for He was made man like us (Phil. 2:7; Heb. 4:15).

Note that there is a difference between honey collected from thyme and all other kinds. It is much more excellent than that called heraclean, which is made from the aconite and other flowers.

As soon as we taste it we recognize that it is form thyme, because it is both bitter and sweet. Heraclean honey, on the other hand, causes death.

It is similar with Our Lord’s sacred humanity. Springing from Mary’s virginal soil, His humanity is very different from ours, which is wholly tainted by corruption and sin.

Indeed, because the Eternal Father willed His only-begotten Son to be the Head and absolute Lord of all creatures (Col. 1:15–18), He willed that the most holy Virgin should be the most excellent of all creatures, since He had chosen her from all eternity to be the Mother of His Divine Son.

In truth, Mary’s sacred womb was a mystical hive in which the Holy Spirit formed this honeycomb wither most pure blood.

Further, the Word created Mary and was born of her, just as the bee makes honey and honey the bee, for one never sees a bee without honey nor honey without a bee.

At His birth we have very clear proofs of Our Lord’s Divinity. Angels descend from Heaven and announce to the shepherds that a Savior is born (Luke 2:8–14) to them. Magi come to adore Him (Matt. 2:1–11).

This clearly shows us that He was more than man, just as, on the contrary, His moaning as He lies in His manger shivering from the cold shows us that He was truly man.

Let us consider the Eternal Father’s goodness. Had He so desired He could have created His Son’s humanity as He did that of our first parents, or even given Him an angelic nature, for it was in His power to do so.

Had he willed to do so Our Lord would not have been of our nature. We would not then have had any alliance with Him.

But His goodness was such that He made Himself our brother in order that He might both give us an example (Rom. 8:29; Heb. 2:11–17) and render us sharers in His glory.

It was for this reason that He willed to be of Abraham’s seed, for the most holy Virgin was indeed of Abraham’s race, for it is said of her: Abraham and his seed (Lk. 1:55; Rom. 1:3; Gal. 3:16).

I leave you at the feet of this blessed Mother and Child so that, like little bees, you may gather the milk and honey that flow from these holy mysteries and her chaste breasts, while waiting for me to continue, if God grants us the grace and gives us the time. I beg Him to bless us with His benediction. Amen.”

The Sermons of St. Francis de Sales for Advent and Christmas, pp. 82–86.

Love,
Matthew