Thursday, January 26, 2012

On Receiving the Eucharist

Dear Theophilus,

Apparently there is a web based movement to have the Catholic Church change the practice of receiving the Eucharist either on the tongue or in the hand to strictly receiving on the tongue. As Todd Flowerday at Catholic Sensibility points out, such a grassroots movement to have the Church change doesn’t really merit the dialogue. The Church will make its decisions based on the 2,000-year revelation of the Catholic faith – not on what a group of people with an internet petition want it to do.

For the record, the catechism does not state a preference for one method or the other for receiving the Eucharist. What the catechism does state on the issue of receiving communion can be found in paragraph 1387:

To prepare for worthy reception of this sacrament, the faithful should observe the fast required in their Church. Bodily demeanor (gestures, clothing) ought to convey the respect, solemnity, and joy of this moment when Christ becomes our guest.

Keeping this directive in mind, what does deserve our dialogue on the issue is the need to educate the laity on how to receive the Eucharist with the respect, solemnity and joy it deserves. In my experience as an extra-ordinary minster of the Eucharist (in both my parish and at catholic school Masses), these are some of the travesties I’ve come across”

  • “The Body of Christ.” – “Yup!”
  • Snatching the Eucharist from my hand.
  • Popping the Eucharist with one hand – like popcorn.
  • Filthy hands (dirt or ink).
  • Intinction (dunking the Eucharist in the Chalice like a donut in coffee).
  • Not immediately consuming the Eucharist.

Some of the most reverent receivers of the Eucharist are actually the children who have most recently been formed in catechism class. So, what has happened from childhood to adulthood to lose this reverence for the Eucharist and what can be done to rectify the problem?

A great place to begin is to reinculcate an understanding of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. I recently came to a heightened awareness of the real presence in the Eucharist and was moved to tears at communion at Sunday Mass. Once the laity comes to a deeper understanding of the real presence, the reverential reception of the Eucharist will come naturally.

This education of the real presence needs to begin with the pastor; through homilies, bulletin articles and direct instruction at communion time. There also need to be, however, an accountability on the part of the laity to educate themselves. The Mass should not be a passive experience. The laity are called to be active participants in the sacrifice of the Eucharist. To be active participants, there must be some responsibility on their part to deepen their understanding of the sacrifice and real presence that is before them on the altar.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Substantial Matter

Dear Theophilus,

Just the other day I had a discussion with a friend over the term consubstantial. He had difficulty with its inclusion in the new English translation of the Nicene Creed. His bone of contention was the Church’s inclusion of a word that many laypeople would have a hard time understanding. We both agreed that a better education of the laity was needed (both from the ecclesial hierarchy and from the laity taking responsibility for themselves), and I passed along a booklet on the New Translation of the Roman Missal.

What piqued my interest further about the term consubstantial was that I came across two similar terms in the following days in Fr. Robert Barron’s book simply entitled Eucharist: transsubtantial and supersubstantial.

To understand all three terms properly, we need to understand their root word: substance. When defining these three terms, Church fathers used the Aristotelian definition of substance – the invisible part of a being that defines what that being is; its essence. In other words, a being’s substance (what it is) can be quite different from a being’s accidents (what it looks like). To use Fr. Barron’s example, we know that a horse is a horse because of the essence which has formed the animal; however, we recognize it as an individual horse by its accidents of height, colour and temperament.

Giving the term substance the synonym of essence, we can now tackle the three substantial words of consubstantial, transsubtantial and supersubstantial by looking at their individual prefixes.

The prefix con means with. Thus, in the Nicene Creed when we say that the Lord Jesus Christ is “consubstantial with the Father,” we are reiterating our belief in the Holy Trinity. With the word consubstantial we recognize that there is only one God in divine essence, but that his accidents are changed depending on how He interacts with His creation. This is God the Father Creator. There is God the Son who came to save us from our sins. There is also God the Holy Spirit who guides us in our faith development.

The prefix trans means to change, and when used in the context of transsubtantial, it refers to the changing of the essence of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist. In the case of the Eucharist, when the priest recites the words of consecration, the essence of the sacrificial gifts on the altar change, even if the accidental properties of bread and wine remain. What we need to remember is that the priest offers the sacrifice of the Mass in persona Christi – in the person of Christ – so it is no longer the human priest who is saying the words of consecration, but rather Christ himself, descended upon the priest through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The final prefix super means above or greater than. Thus, for something to be considered supersubstantial is to mean that its essence is above or greater than the physical realm of creation. We’re not in the habit of using the term supersubstantial in Christianity, but it is a term we invoke each time we say the Lord’s Prayer. The verse Give us this day our daily bread is written ton arton ton epiousion in the original Gospel Greek. A more precise translation can thus be seen as a request of the Lord to give us what we need for our daily sustenance. Since Jesus is the bread of life, of which if we eat we will not hunger, then the Eucharist can thus be referred to as supersubstantial, a substance that exists on a higher plane than our physical realm. A substance whose essence if far greater than anything we can understand.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Cheating Death

Dear Theophilus,

As the saying goes: There are only two things certain in life: death and taxes.

Reading Fr. Robert Barron’s Eucharist, I found the following quite interesting:

In a very real sense, death (and the fear of death) stand behind all sin, and hence Jesus had to journey into the realm of death and, through sacrifice, twist it back into life. (p. 83)

Recognizing death’s inevitability, how is it that sin is embedded in cheating death? What we need to understand is that Fr. Barron is not necessarily referring to the death of the physical body, but rather our fear of our existence being forgotten over the course of time. A person’s life is often said to be a sigh in comparison to eternity, reminding us of how small we are in God’s creation. What we seek is to turn that sigh into a cry that will resonate across generations.

What Fr. Barron writes really makes sense when coupled with his commentary on the woman at the well:

The well is emblematic of errant desire, her tendency to fill up her longing for God with the transient goods of creation: money, pleasure, power, honour. (p. 82)

The sin is not in having any one or combination of these transient goods of creation, the temptation to sin lies, rather, in how we obtain these goods and use them for the benefit of humanity. Do we obtain wealth, honour and power at the expense with others? Do we lie and cheat our way to the top? Once we get to the top of this earthly existence, do we use our influence for the betterment of the world or for our own pleasure?

We need to remember that many who have succumbed to these temptations and have achieved earthly greatness in their time have disappeared like a sigh in the wind, forgotten by eternity. When we look to the saints, however, they have cheated death and attained eternal life by renouncing sin and turning to a life of righteousness.

What Christ teaches us at the well, and through Fr. Barron’s reflection, is that by embracing a death to the transient goods of creation, we can find everlasting life in the Father.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Not Without My Rosary

Dear Theophilus,

Since joining the Knights of Columbus a little over a year ago, I’ve gotten into the habit of carrying my rosary in my right pocket. It’s not actually the rosary I received from the Knights, but a rosary which my wife made for me that’s more than a decade old. Yesterday I left home without it, and I felt naked.

It’s not that I spend my day repeatedly praying the rosary, although that would be nice, but having my rosary in my pocket does offer a level of comfort and helps remind me to pray constantly. I keep my rosary in the same pocket as my pens and keys. Over the course of the day each time I reach into my pocket, which is often, my fingers touch the beads and cross of my rosary and I recall that the Lord is close by my side.

Having my rosary in my pocket gives the opportunity to thank the Lord many times throughout the day for the many blessing He has sent me. On tough days, the comfort of knowing the Lord is near comforts my spirit and helps me overcome the obstacles in life. I can now say that my rosary has become an essential part of my wardrobe.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Cross and the Beatitudes

Dear Theophilus,

I recently finished reading Blessed Fulton Sheen’s The Cross and the Beatitudes. What the eloquent archbishop does in this short work is demonstrate the links between the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount and the final phrases Christ uttered from his Cross on Calvary. Once again I have found that Blessed Fulton Sheen’s wisdom has uncovered the fullness of the Christ’s narrative for me by showing the great symmetry of the Gospel that once it is pointed out, becomes so crystal clear.

Archbishop Sheen dedicates each of the book’s seven chapters to showing the parallels between the beginning of Christ’s ministry in the Beatitudes and its fulfillment on the Cross:

Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land.
Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
This day you shall be with me in paradise.

Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God.
(Son) behold your mother, Woman, behold your son.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill.
I thirst.

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
It is consummated.

Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted.
Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit.

In fact, Archbishop Sheen begins each chapter in the same way. The opening paragraph reads: Our Blessed Lord began his public life on the Mount of the Beatitudes by preaching: “(insert the beatitude here).” He finished his public life on the Hill of Calvary by practicing (this beatitude): “(insert words from the Cross here).” The second paragraph then outlines how Christ’s teaching is so at odds with the world and the third paragraph reminds us just how challenging it is to follow Christ’s teaching.

The amazing part of The Cross and the Beatitudes is that the work written in 1937 transcends the decades and is applicable to our society today. Aside from a few lines about the need to battle the atheistic evil of communism in the first chapter, the reader will immediately recognize today’s world in Blessed Fulton Sheen’s descriptions. For example in the chapter on The Lesson of Poverty he writes:

Both the Beatitude and the Word are foreign to the spirit of the world. Modern society is what might be characterized as acquisitive, for its primary concern is to acquire, to own, to possess; its aristocracy is not one of blood or virtue, but of money; it judges worth not by righteousness but in terms of possessions.

As my wife rightly pointed out – these are very high standards to try to live up to. As Sheen remarks time and again throughout the book – it’s not going to be easy, and you will be shunned by society for trying to live by these standards. In his final chapter, Blessed Fulton Sheen points asks his readers which road they would like to take: The first road is full of thorns, but if we traverse it far enough, we find it ends in a bed of roses; the other road is filled with roses, but if we traverse it far enough, it ends in a bed of thorns.

When you feel your path is nothing but thorns, remember that Christ was crowned with thorns. When people mock you because you stand for your principles, remember the throngs that jeered Christ at the foot of his Cross.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Year of Living Biblically

Dear Theophilus,

We’re currently studying Judaism in my World Religions class, a subject of interest because Christ was a Jew and the Jewish faith laid the foundations for our Christian traditions. When the subject of Kosher Law came up, teenagers who feel somewhat constrained by Catholic moral teachings that go against societal expectations were surprised to learn that there are 613 laws proscribed in the Old Testament, and numbering over 700 if we count those of the New Testament.

Whenever the subject of Kosher Law comes up, I’m reminded of a book I read a couple of years ago: The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs. The book is an account of Jacobs’ attempt to follow Biblical Law to the letter for an entire year. Watch his interview on The Hour with George Stroumboulopoulos for a good synopsis of the book and the rather surprising conclusion this self-proclaimed agnostic made at the end of his experiment.

What I found most interesting while reading Jacobs’ journey is that all of the Old and New Testament laws point to the two basic laws that Christ left us:

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Lk. 10:27)

Whether it’s keeping the Sabbath holy to remember to set aside time for prayer and worship of the Lord, or not trimming the corners of your hair and beard as a reminder to set aside a portion of your abundance for the less fortunate; Kosher Law points towards Christ’s Law.

What we need to remember the next time we want to complain about Church law, not only is it based on scripture, it is also intended to bring us closer to God’s love.

Monday, January 9, 2012

When Humanity Begins

Dear Theophilus,

Recently Tory MP Stephen Woodworth from Kitchener made a motion in the Canadian Parliament to examine the wording of section 223 of the Canadian Criminal Code. As it currently stands, a foetus is not considered human until it exits the mother’s womb as a child. If Mr. Woodworth’s wording were to go through, a foetus would be considered human from the moment of conception, granting it full protection under the Canadian Criminal Code and thus closing the loophole that currently allows legal abortions in Canada. (There is no law in Canada permitting abortions, nor is there one outlawing abortion either). You can read Mr. Woodworth's proposal here.

The Catholic Church has always known that abortion goes against God’s natural law. In fact, the Catholic Catechism states:

From its conception, the child has the right to life. Direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, is a "criminal" practice, gravely contrary to the moral law. The Church imposes the canonical penalty of excommunication for this crime against human life.

This Catholic teaching is based in sacred scripture:

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you (Jer. 1:5)

Unfortunately, quoting scripture and the catechism won’t convince a pro-choice lobbyist. Taking a logical approach should allow you to bring them to the Catholic Church’s original conclusion that life begins at conception.

If they believe that human life begins only at birth, then ask your pro-choice adversary to distinguish between a baby that is 5 minutes old and a foetus that is 5 minutes away from being born. If there is none, then what is the difference between 5 minutes before birth and 10? If there is still no difference, then continue asking in increments of hours, days, weeks and then months. Since the child’s growth in the womb is as natural as their growth outside of the womb, there really is no point, except conception, where one can say that the child has finally become human.

Humanity begins at conception.

Confirm, then, your belief in the sanctity of life through scripture and doctrine, but convince your adversaries with the logic they love to use to support their own arguments.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Announcing Archbishop Thomas 'Cardinal' Collins

Dear Theophilus,

I’ve always found it amusing that the Archbishop of Toronto shares his name with a cocktail – Tom Collins (though I believe his grace prefers to go by the name Thomas). It was announced yesterday that Archbishop Collins can add another mixed drink to his name, that of Cardinal (a French drink of liqueur de cassis and red wine).

At the consistory announced for February 18 and 19, 2012 Archbishop Collins will become a Prince of the Church with 21 other new Cardinals (read the announcement here).

In some ways, Archbishop Collins’ inclusion can be seen as a political move for the Catholic Church in Canada. Firstly, recent tradition has had the Archbishop of Toronto presiding as a Cardinal (Gerald Emmett Cardinal Carter and Aloysius Cardinal Ambrozic in my memory). Also, since the Archdiocese of Toronto is the largest within Canada it is fitting that its head be named a Cardinal. Finally, of Canada’s other two Cardinals (Jean-Claude Cardinal Turcotte of Montreal and Marc Cardinal Ouellet of Qu├ębec City), Cardinal Ouellet was called to the Vatican in 2010 to assist in the naming of bishops, opening the need for another Cardinal to represent Canada.

I’ve had the pleasure to hear Archbishop Collins preach at St. Michael’s Cathedral, and he came across as a man of both the Church and the Congregation. Holding a doctorate in theology, with a specialty in sacred scripture, there is no denying Archbishop Collins’ credentials. That said, the way in which he addressed his flock showed how he understood where we are on our faith journey and how best to shepherd us along. There was a common touch to his words.

Coming back to Archbishop Collins sharing his name and title with mixed drinks, perhaps these can be seen as appropriate monikers for a man of Christ. When he says Mass daily, Archbishop Collins says the following when he mixes water in wine in the chalice: “By the mingling of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”

Humble – there is another great adjective to describe a gentleman who likes his Timbits. (read the National Post article this is mentioned in here)

May God bless Archbishop Collins, the Light of Christ shine through him and the Holy Spirit guide him as he takes the red hat.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Youcat - The Youth Catechism

Dear Theophilus,

I’ve recently finished reading the English translation of the Youcat (Youth Catechism) and was really impressed. I’ve written before about how important it is to not only know the Catholic Catechism, but to have access to it as well to answer our own faith questions, as well as the questions others pose us. What the Youcat has done is put Catholic doctrine into language that is accessible to all the laity, both young and old alike.

Instead of a list of Catholic teachings on all subjects, the Youcat presents itself in a question and answer format. Many of the questions in the Youcat are written the same way you or I would ask them. The answers are then two-fold: a more contemporary wording of the Catholic Catechism teaching, followed by an explanation of the teaching in easy to understand English. For those who want to explore Catholic doctrine deeper, the references to specific paragraphs in the Catholic Catechism are also given.

Lending to the ease in which the Youcat helps the faithful understand the catechism are the bright, glossy photos that reveal God’s splendour visually. The margins of the text are also peppered with supporting quotes from both scripture, as well as great Catholic thinkers such as St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Theresa of Avila, Bl. Theresa of Calcutta, Bl. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.

The Youcat makes for a great reference tool for Catholic educators and apologists. The quick reference indexes (subject and definitions) will help you to find the answers your looking for. The Youcat is also laid out in four parts that will allow students to find the sections needed for their research:

  • What We Believe
  • How We Celebrate the Christian Mysteries
  • How We Are to Have Life in Christ
  • How We Should Pray

In many ways, each section of the Youcat will help the faithful grow in their understanding of the Lord and how we must live to ensure the continuation of His Kingdom here on earth.