Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

This Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, but for those who remember their Latin, you might better recognize it as the Feast of Corpus Christi (Latin for Body of Christ).  The Feast was originally established in 1246 by Bishop Robert de Torete, of the Diocese of Liège, Belgium, but not without the 40 year effort of St. Julia of Liège, a Norbertine sister who had a special devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, who spend most of her life petitioning for this special feast day.


Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14b-16a
Psalm 147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20
1 Corinthians 10:16-17
John 6:51-58

When Jesus established the Eucharist at the Last Supper, his use of bread and wine was deliberate and purposeful.  They were the most ordinary of foods, yet represented what was necessary to sustain us.  In Jewish ritual, bread and wine have always been an important part of the Passover meal, and have long been associated with their covenant with God.  Our first reading from the book of Deuteronomy, reminds us how God sustained his people during the Exodus from Egypt.  The Israelites spent 40 years in the desert before reaching the Promised Land, during which time God provided them with manna and water.  In our reading this week Moses urges the people to remember not only how God delivered them from slavery in Egypt, but how he sustained them in their journey.  The praise we have for the Lord for this is echoed in our Psalm when we sing, “Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.”

Our second reading is a very short passage from Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians.  In one of Paul’s more poetic moments, he reminds us that it is through the Eucharist, through the bread that is Christ’s body, through wine that is Christ’s blood, that makes us one body.  In this very economic passage we are not only reminded of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, but it is that Eucharist that forms us into the Body of Christ.  This is why the Church believes in the importance of the faithful taking the Eucharist regularly and often, to help build and maintain that bond to the Body of Christ, both spiritually and physically.

Our Gospel for this feast day comes from John where Jesus is preaching to the crowd about what we read in our first reading with Moses… How God provided them with “bread from heaven.”  Jesus uses this opportunity to extend this idea to himself, explaining how his flesh and his blood are the true food and drink that provides eternal life.  To us Catholics this is no surprise, but to those in the crowd, including the Apostles, they find great difficulty with this teaching, as we continue to read the verses beyond this passage.  In fact, after two millennia and volumes of writings from theologians, we still have difficulty with this teaching… that Jesus is real and present in the Eucharist… that we are in fact eating his flesh and drinking his blood.  It requires a leap of faith.  Jesus himself told us this, and it is our faith in him as Lord that allows us to accept this great Mystery of the Church.  It is also through this same Eucharist, the most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, that binds us together as Church and makes us the people of God.

Final thoughts:
Many older Catholics will commonly refer to today’s Solemnity as Corpus Christi:  The Body of Christ.  This is one of those Church feast days that’s hard for us to wrap our tongues around.  The words Corpus Christi are both simple and poetic… much more so than the mouthful we say now, “The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.”  So why change it?

Because this is more than just a new translation from Latin to English.  It also helps us give greater dignity and importance to the celebration.  Notice first the addition of “Most Holy.”  Like with last week’s solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, it puts this celebration above most other solemnities and feasts.  The words, “Most Holy” make us take notice, reminding us of the importance of the celebration. 

The other important change in the name is that we are no longer recognizing just the “Body” of Christ, but both the “Body” and the “Blood” of Christ.  The full form of the Eucharistic meal.  This is meant to remind us that the fullest celebration of the Eucharist comes through partaking of both the host and the chalice… a privilege that the laity lost for hundreds of years, and only since the liturgical reforms of the late 20th century has been regained.  So the truest celebration of this feast must reflect the true presence of Christ in both the bread and the wine, regardless of whether we receive the chalice during communion.

But regardless of whether you receive only the host during communion, or both the host and the chalice, we are reminded that these elements have been transformed – Transfigured under the hands of the priest – into something much more precious than bread and wine.  Through the Eucharist we take in our Lord in a very physical and personal way so that we can be strengthened by his presence to go and love and serve the Lord.  Thanks be to God!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Justice for all?

A thought provoking article was posted today in our daily Angelus News email...
Supreme Court rules in favor of religious hospitals in pension dispute

I urge you to read and consider this question:
Is this really a win?

Religious freedom under the law is one thing, but when it flouts the moral responsibility of the institutional Church to care for it's workers, I really think we, the greater Church, need to stand up for justice.

This is a very important and highly charged issue, but one the larger Church is, unfortunately, not well aware.  Anyone who has worked for the institutional Church (or has someone close to them who does) know this issue well and must deal with this daily.

Poor wages, poor working conditions, poor benefits, and pathetic retirement plans are the norm. This is particularly poignant given that this Sunday we're being encouraged to give to the annual collection for the priests retirement fund. Why do we need this fund? Because back in the day priests (and many religious) were encouraged to opt-out of Social Security (see this article from America magazine):


The Coming Crisis: How will priests fund their retirement?


I don't work for the institutional Church, but I know plenty who have (and still do). Our schools had it the hardest... it's taken 40 years but our school's teachers are finally getting some pay equity.  But there are so many more working in church institutions that are still struggling. For all we teach and preach about social justice, we're so busy looking outside that we're missing what's going on in our own back yard.  Or worse, refuse to see it for what it is.

In the end it's all up to us. We need to see the problem for what it is, speak out, and above all, give more! I'm tired of hearing people complain that, "we don't have....." fill in the blank (a bigger choir, a youth program, a soup kitchen). People constantly say that these other (large Protestant) churches do this, why aren't we? Simple. Their congregations give more. They can afford to pay a living wage. They're willing to pay a living wage. Catholics on average give only 1% of their income to the Church. Second last only to Unitarians. Imagine what we could do if we gave only 2%? That would double a parish's income. Imagine what could be done!

So you see... we're all sinners in this game. It's time to speak up and pay up... so we can have social justice for all Church workers, including our clergy and hard working religious.

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

With Pentecost behind us, the Easter Season has come to a close, but as is typical for the Church, she’s not yet ready to leave the party behind, so for these next two weeks we continue the celebration by looking at the Church’s most sacred mysteries:  The doctrine of the Trinity with this Sunday’s Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity (Trinity Sunday), and next week with doctrine of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist with the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (also remembered as Corpus Christi).


Exodus 34:4b-6, 8-9
Daniel 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
John 3:16-18

Our first reading for Sunday comes from Exodus, where God, after having set his wrath upon Israel for the Golden Calf incident, has agreed (with Moses’ urging) to take back his people.  As you may recall, Moses went up the mountain for 40 days and came back with the tablets containing the Ten Commandments.  Upon his return, however, he found the camp in disarray having created a new god (the golden calf) to worship.  Moses threw down and broke the tables, and vengeance was enacted on those who turned away from the Lord.  With today’s reading Moses has returned to the mountain with a new set of tablets in the hopes of reconciliation.  It is interesting to put this reading, one that shows us a benevolent God, in context to the previous two chapters where Israelites are slaughtered for their transgressions, leaving Moses now having to reason with God to lead them on.  Both God and the Israelites have grown from this experience.

Our Responsorial is not from the book of Psalms for this Sunday, but instead from the book of Daniel where we sing of God’s greatness.  Though not from the Book of Psalms, it is a fitting response for our celebration, and echoes the desire of the people to follow the Lord.  It is also interesting to note that one keys to recognizing that this reading is not from the Book of Psalms is the mention of the Temple, which of course wasn’t built until after David’s reign.

Our second reading comes from the closing of Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians.  Here he gives us his version of the now famous “can’t we all just get along” speech.  It is appropriate here not only because it speaks to how we should treat each other, but closes with what has become the signature closing for the Church’s activities with the phrase, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”  That familiar Trinitarian blessing that binds us together as one Church.

We finish with a passage from John’s Gospel that is perhaps the most quoted by non-Catholic Christians.  As Catholics our general unfamiliarity with Scripture usually has us failing to recognize the famous John 3:16 we read today.  This passage reminds us of the relationship between God and Jesus, and how through Jesus we are able to be reconciled with the Father.  It comes at the end of a discussion Jesus is having with the Pharisee Nicodemus, where Jesus is explaining how one is reborn through the Spirit.  Though traditionally ascribed as a quote from Jesus, there does seem to be some peculiarities that could lead one to believe this is a narrative revelation from John.  The passage works as a theological conclusion to Jesus’ teaching on Baptism and rebirth, but it seems a little out of place as it jumps to the third person past tense.  Jesus has been having a rather intimate conversation with Nicodemus, and even though his referring to the “Son of Man” in the third person (as is typical in John’s Gospel), this passage takes a leap into what can be read as a historical perspective (“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son:”).  Even for the divinely enlightened Jesus we see in John, a lack of quotation marks can alter one’s perceptions of the text.  This should remind us that as Catholics we should not be intimidated by Scripture (or our own lack of knowledge of it), nor should we stop ourselves from asking questions or accepting too readily “traditional” interpretations.  Our understanding of Scripture continues to evolve as our relationship to God continues to evolve.  A God, present as Father, as Son, and as Holy Spirit, who created us and continues to sustain us.

Final thoughts:
We may be at the beginning of a long stretch of Ordinary Time, but it is most fitting to celebrate these solemnities at this time of year because the theologies they represent are what we as a Church have come to realize through the Easter Season, and gives us the spiritual food we need to sustain us through the remainder of the Liturgical Year.  Both solemnities, though firmly grounded in the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church Fathers, they also require us to make that all too necessary leap of faith… to suspend our human senses and reason to reach for something beyond our physical understanding.  We believe in a Trinitarian God, we believe bread and wine can be transfigured into the Body and Blood of Christ.  It’s also important to note that neither of these beliefs came to us overnight.  Rather our understanding of these doctrines evolved as our understanding of and our relationship with God evolved.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Pentecost Sunday

The Sacred Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil are considered to be the highest holy days of the Western Church.  For many in the Eastern Churches, however, Pentecost is considered the highest ranking feast, even above Pascha (the Eastern celebration of Easter).  But be it the first or second most important holiday on the Christian calendar, no one can argue it’s significance.  This is the day the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles, the birthday of the Church.


Acts 2-1-11
Psalm 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34
1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13
John 20:19-23

Our Sunday readings open fittingly with the Pentecost story from Acts of the Apostles.  It is after the Ascension and we are back with the Apostles in the upper room.  Most of us are familiar with the story… The Holy Spirit come upon the like “tongues of fire” giving them the power to go down into the streets and preach the Gospel so that this international multitude can hear them speaking in their own tongues.  While this later part of the story is the part we tend to focus on, the very beginning of the story also has great meaning… a meaning that our modern ears tend to miss…

The fist line begins “When the time for the Pentecost was fulfilled,”  It sound so simple and obvious that we miss the author’s deeper intent.  In fact, this passage refers to the Jewish celebration of Shavuot, or what Hellenistic Jews referred to as Pentecost (which in Greek for “fiftieth day” since the Passover).  Also referred to as the Festival of Weeks, Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah… the Law.  It also coincides with Israelite harvest season marking the conclusion of the grain harvest, or the Day of First Fruits celebrated at the Temple.  So while our Jewish ancestors celebrate Pentecost as the giving of the Law, Christians celebrate receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, which in turn gave them the courage to spread the Gospel… the new Law.  Coincidence?  Not at all.  This is one of those moments where our author sees an opportunity to draw a connection between the old tradition and the new, and bring with it a sense of renewal that is echoed in our Psalm.

Our second reading comes from Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians.  Here Paul reminds us that our ability to say “Jesus is Lord” comes from the Holy Spirit.  Indeed, a fitting statement for Pentecost, but as Paul continues he presents us with one of the most important teachings of his ministry, that WE are the Body of Christ… though we have many parts, we are made one through the Spirit.

Our Gospel for this Holy Day comes from John, taking us back to the upper room where Jesus for the second time appeared to the Apostles after the Resurrection (the first being that time when Thomas wasn’t present).  It is a simple, yet moving moment as Jesus “breathed on them and said to them ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.:”  This is the “Pentecost moment” in John’s Gospel.  As we know, none of the Gospels go into a lot of detail with regard to Pentecost, but we need to remind ourselves that, as is typical with scripture, that it’s not always the details that are important, but the moment.

While the Gospels do not all discuss Pentecost in the same way, the importance of the moment is that the Holy Spirit came!  Jesus promised them the Spirit, and it came.  The Spirit that we celebrate in the Rite of Confirmation.  The Spirit that sustains us in our commitment to Christ.  The Spirit that binds us together as Church with Our Father and His Son.  This isn’t just a moment for the Apostles, but for the entire Church, as we witness the continuing coming of the Spirit to each of us, in its own way, in every generation.

Final thoughts:

Many people going through the RCIA or Adult Faith Formation, especially in the beginning, feel very uncomfortable because they feel they don’t yet know enough about the Catholic faith or what is proper during Mass.  They often feel a little out of place, thinking that the rest of the congregation is watching for them to make a mistake about standing or sitting or kneeling.  While this is a perfectly normal and common feeling, I am always reminding these “Catholics in training” that this is nothing to worry about, and that in fact there are many active Catholics who could stand to learn a thing or two about the practice of their faith.  Understanding the importance of this Sunday’s celebration of Pentecost is one of them.

We’re never too old to learn something new… even someone like myself who was raised in the Church and served in a variety of Liturgical and catechetical ministries.  One of the new things I learned this week was about the Vigil for Pentecost.  Now for all the years I’ve been teaching and writing about the fact that the readings we have for the Vigil of Pentecost (Saturday evening Mass) are different from those used during the Sunday celebration.  In and of itself, this isn’t all that unusual.  Many holy days have different “vigil” readings.  But until this week I had no idea how different.  There is, in fact a celebration that is referred to as the “Extended Vigil” for Pentecost... a Liturgy similar to the Easter Vigil as we immerse ourselves in the story of the coming of the Holy Spirit… from Genesis, to Exodus, to the prophets Ezekiel and Joel, and Paul’s letter to the Romans, all teaching us about the Holy Spirit.  Who knew?

It only seems right that we would have such a Liturgy, one that both reflects and respects the Easter Vigil by bringing the Easter story, and the Easter Season to its conclusion.  Truth be told, however, we can all give ourselves a little leeway on knowing about this “Extended Vigil” for Pentecost because it’s not widely celebrated, and therefore not widely known… at least not in Southern California.  But it would be interesting to find out which parishes or communities do celebrate this extended version of the Pentecost Vigil.  So if you know of anywhere, please let me know.  In the meantime, know this… The coming of the Holy Spirit is what makes us the Church, binding us into the Body of Christ.  It is a moment for praise and thanksgiving!