Success

Update (6/6/16): Here are the notes as promised.  I was tasked with a forty minute oral presentation followed by ten minutes of questions on the topic with another twenty minutes on anything in dogmatic theology.


Thank you all so much for your prayers. I am very, very grateful.

I just wanted to give a brief update and then do nothing at all.  I am bushed.

I presented yesterday on the Triple Way in Dionysius. Within the next few days, I will post the file of my notes for the presentation. It was challenging and I was grilled with questions but in the end my moderator, Fr. Bernard Blankenhorn, OP, told me that I passed with flying colors.

It was very reassuring to know that I had so many wonderful people praying for me. Again I am most grateful.

I am still waiting to find out my overall grade, as the second reader for my tesina has yet submitted it, but I know I have passed and have finished the degree of License in Sacred Theology.

God bless all of you.

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He Has Become the Corner Stone

Crucem sanctam subiit,
qui infernum confregit,
accinctus est potentia,
surrexit die tertia. Alleluia.

Lapidem quem reprobaverunt
aedeficantes factus est
caput anguli, alleluia.

He bore the Holy Cross,
who broke the power of hell;
He was girded with power
He rose again the third day, alleluia

The stone that the architects rejected
became the cornerstone, alleluia.

I was blessed to be locked in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem last Friday night, the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.  A small group of our pilgrims were able to spend many silent moments in the tomb itself.  It was awesome to realize that I was in the place were the victory was won, and for which so many suffered and died in order to be in that blessed place and to protect it.

Within the tomb is an icon of Our Lady holding a sacred vessel–the Holy Grail, perhaps?  It is a door that opens to the rock of the tomb itself, which is otherwise covered with marble and icons:

I am just about to celebrate the Sacred Paschal Vigil.  Easter Blessings to all!

Let us rejoice with the Queen of Heaven, for He is risen as He said.

The Spirit of Summorum Pontificum

In this essay I continue to register my thoughts on traditionalism and liturgy, specifically with a discussion of the expressed motives for Pope Benedict’s promulgation of the Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum.  After this post I plan to take up where I left off with my “Traditionalist Sleight of Hand” essay.

The current biformity of the Roman rite, established formally by the Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum, is a reality that has existed and has been spoken about as such by Joseph Ratzinger for many years.  He has said numerous times that the old form, that is, the Extraordinary Form, was never abrogated.  However, the Motu Proprio establishes by way of “universal law” this biformal liturgical discipline, presumably, attempting to stabilize, at least for now, this condition as the liturgical status quo:  two forms, one ordinary, the other extraordinary.  The motives for this have been variously interpreted, and it seems to me that something parallel but antithetical to what happened in regard to the interpretation of the documents of the Second Vatican Council has happened in respect to the text of Summorum Pontifcum.   I hope to make this clear as well as suggest a sound alternative. Continue reading

Traditionalism and Liturgy

In recent posts here on MaryVictrix, I have voiced my concerns regarding certain ideas associated with Catholic Traditionalism.  I have also promised to follow upon on my “Traditionalist Sleight of Hand” post. While this present essay is not exactly the next installment of that series it does serve the purpose of making my basic concerns clearer, and perhaps the motivation behind my taking issue with traditionalism.  In this post I define what I mean by “traditionalism” and its relation (or lack thereof) to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.  In the next post, appearing in a day or two, I will try to articulate the motivations behind Benedict XVI’s formalization of the biformity (two forms) of the Roman Rite and the reason why this is no way a capitulation to traditionalism.

Traditionalism Defined

I have given my definition of traditionalism before, but since it is so important, I am devoting a separate post to the matter. “Traditionalism” can mean many things depending on the circumstances.  I am not referring to the heresy condemned by Vatican I.  Nor am I talking about the philosophical trend of thought also known as Perennialism.  Both of these forms of “traditionalism” are anti-modern, not just critical of modernity, but fundamentally opposed to it.  One might argue that the traditionalism that specifically concerns me is also anti-modern and not just anti-Modernist, but I would not suggest that what I am talking about is essentially defined in relation to modernity.

I should also say that “traditional” Catholics are divided as to the use of the term.  Different people define it differently, and, depending on the definition, some willingly apply the term to themselves and others repudiate it.  As has been pointed out here by another before, some think the name “traditionalist” should be dropped altogether insofar as might be applied to Catholics.  I will not dispute that the use of the term risks misunderstanding.  I will not even claim of having any definitive response as to whether its use ought to be continued in the long run.  But I do believe the present status quaestionis makes the distinction necessary.

By traditionalism, then, I mean that ideology by which Catholics, in the name of conserving Tradition, take it upon themselves to determine what magisterial act does and does not belong to Catholic Tradition.  By calling traditionalism an “ideology” I mean to indicate that it consists of integrated assertions—in the line of contingent opinions—that come together to form an airtight and complete theory for the reconstruction of Catholic life according to the Tradition of the Church.  I argue that this ideology pretends to solve contingent problems by submitting the living magisterium to a scientific analysis and then insists that the magisterium, including the Holy Father, either prove the analysis wrong or conform to it.

It is very important to make clear that my position in no way implies a denial of the real distinction between fallible and infallible magisterial teaching, nor should it be thought to render pointless honest academic inquiry into the formulation of magisterial teachings and their historical context, thus helping to determine more accurately their relative value as part of the received Tradition.  My point in respect to what I consider traditionalism is that at this moment, in the context of current controversies, it represents an obstinate prejudice against an ecumenical council and fifty years of papal teaching.  According to this rupturist interpretation, the Council was not misrepresented and abused by those who have no regard for Tradition; Tradition was misrepresented and abused by the Council itself.  My insistence on the use of the term “traditionalism”—at least for now—is due to the fact that the current of thought here described is real and distinct, and not clearly acknowledged by a great many “traditional” Catholics.  This problem is not a matter reserved to the SSPX and more radical traditionalists and sedevacantists, but includes many who would not consider themselves traditionalists and who believe that they are perfectly faithful to the teaching of Benedict XVI.

I should also point out that my definition implies nothing directly about liturgical preferences.  A preference for the Extraordinary Form of the Mass does not by my definition make one a traditionalist, nor would a preference for the Ordinary Form in itself absolve one from the charge, since my definition formally has only to do with the relationship of the magisterium to Tradition.  It just so happens that the liturgical tradition is at the center of most disputes regarding the living magisterium’s fidelity to Tradition, and, therefore, the Extraordinary Form has become a kind of banner for a certain kind for crusade for the restoration of Tradition.  I have, in fact, met Catholics who, although they prefer the English Mass, have many questions as to whether the Church has been faithful to Tradition, and sometimes even subscribe to the same conspiracy theories promulgated by those sympathetic with the Society of St. Pius X.

A Bit of Background

In the past and due to my own failure to provide a context, my remarks concerning traditionalism have been misinterpreted as some kind of prejudice against the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.  I wish to dispel this idea.

My community, the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, is a “reform of the reform” community and has been long before this idea became popular.  More than twenty-five years ago I was attracted to the FI, in part, because of its reverent celebration of the novus ordo according to the rubrics, and its readiness to incorporate the use of Latin and Gregorian chant into the liturgy.  I know that many of our friars, sisters, tertiaries and members of our liturgical congregations have been attracted for the same reasons.  This attraction has helped to produce many vocations to religious life and continues to be a reason why people come to our friaries and attend our liturgies.

My experience of the novus ordo, in my religious community has always included the use of Latin and Gregorian chant, communion on the tongue with the use of communion plates, the reception of communion kneeling at an altar rail, and for the last four or five years, in most of our American communities, Mass is also celebrated ad orientem regardless of which form is used.  I realize that my experience of the novus ordo for more than two decades has been significantly different from the average Catholic, and that I have been spared a great deal of pain, frustration and scandal within the walls of my community.  But this simply confirms for me that the problems are fundamentally matters of abuse and not of the Ordinary Form itself.  The idea that somehow one is deprived of graces in the use of the Ordinary Form, or that vibrant Catholic communities faithful to Tradition cannot be formed on the basis of the novus ordo I know to be patently false.  The arguments to the contrary, I personally believe to be fundamentally ideological.  I appreciate the historical reasons why to many these arguments seem plausible and convincing, but I am still convinced that they are wrong.  The historical arguments are not free of a priori ideological underpinnings.

In respect to the Extraordinary Form I have a fair amount of experience.  I eagerly learned to celebrate the Mass according the Missal of Pius V, sometime between 1995 and 1998 for several reasons.  One reason is because I was attracted to it and believed it would be helpful to me as a priest, and the other reason—the one that was determinative, since at that time as a community we did not make use of the older form of the liturgy—was that there was a priest in the diocese in which I reside that needed a substitute from time to time to celebrate a weekly Mass for a group of traditional Catholics that had connections with a schismatic group.  The Mass was being made available as an indult alternative to the Masses being offered by the irregular community.  At the time when I learned to celebrate the vetus ordo, I was the only American priest that could do so, aside from the several older priests who had been ordained before the Council.  I was also one of the very few in our Institute worldwide that celebrated the old rite at all.  I simply have never had a problem with the old rite and I can say I fully appreciate Pope Benedict’s remarks about the two forms of the Roman rite having a “mutually enriching” influence on each other.

My experience also includes pastoral ministry to individuals with a traditionalist background and mindset.  I am very familiar with the arguments that are routinely presented, and with the alienation and isolation experienced by those attached to the old form because of complete lack of sympathy for Tradition and the Mass of Pius V on the part of priests and bishops.  I have seen a wide spectrum of beliefs and practices, some quite balanced and some bordering on the neurotic.  For, example I have known for many years families who attend the novus ordo during the week and the vetus ordo on Sunday, and I have known couples who refused to be married in a regularized Church even according to the old form, because they believed the even that would be a compromise.  And I have witnessed even more extreme positions than this.

When the Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum was promulgated in 2007, our institute received it with enthusiasm, as I did personally and as did all the friars in the United States.  We generally understood the Motu Proprio to indicate the venerable status of the vetus ordo and the legitimate aspirations of those who were attached to it.  Furthermore, as a means to promote the reform of the reform, Pope Benedict wished to make the celebration of what he now termed the Extraordinary Form more widely available.  This was a matter, he said, of “reconciliation at the heart of the Church.”  I have always supported this reconciliation.  I continue to do so and strive to conform to the mind of the Church, according to the teaching and directions of Pope Benedict.

More on this in the next post.

Mystagogia

In my last post I promised more on the Holy Sepulcher and the Holy Grail and their relation to an Easter catechesis and the tradition of chivalry. There is much there to reflect on, much to be researched and assimilated, so it will take at bit more time.

Meanwhile, however, I thought I would point out that in the Office of Readings this week we have been reading from the the Jerusalem Catechesis, or otherwise known as the Catechetical Lectures of St. Cyril of Jerusalem (+386).  The Catechesis consists in twenty-three lectures, the first eighteen of which were delivered to the candidates for baptism during Lent and the last five to the newly baptized during Easter, and is an excellent example of the mystogogia. In fact, at the end of the prologue for Lectures St. Cyril makes sure his readers understand that his instructions are only for those whose Baptism is imminent, and is to be seen neither by the other catechumens nor heathens.

St. Cyril admonishes the candidates for Baptism to shun all “secret hypocrisy,” in order to be fit for the Lord’s true service.   He compares the penetration of our souls by the judgment of God to a military review of recruits by one who levies for war.  He bestows his seal only upon those in whom He discerns a good conscience, in view of which the devils tremble and the holy angels recognize.  St. Cyril says:  “You are receiving not a perishable but a spiritual shield. Henceforth you are planted in the invisible Paradise . . .  it is God’s to grant grace, but yours to receive and guard it. Despise not the grace because it is freely given, but receive and treasure it devoutly” (Lecture 1, 3-4).  This is even before Baptism, hence prior to the mystagogia, but the saint is already admonishing the new recruits to be prepared for war and especially to to protect the paradise of their own souls.

During the mystogogia proper, when St. Cyril discusses the doctrine of the Eucharist:

Consider therefore the Bread and the Wine not as bare elements, for they are, according to the Lord’s declaration, the Body and Blood of Christ; for even though sense suggests this to you, yet let faith establish you. Judge not the matter from the taste, but from faith be fully assured without misgiving, that the Body and Blood of Christ have been vouchsafed to you (Lecture 22, 6).

But he goes beyond the content of the doctrine and emphasizes to the newly baptized that the Eucharist has been prepared for those who have been anointed by the Lord, and thus they have been sealed against the afflictions of the evil spirits.  The Lord has set a “mystical and spiritual Table,” in opposition to table of corruption set against us by the enemy. Our hearts have been strengthened, he say,s and the “face of our souls” made to shine.

And your cup intoxicates me, as very strong. You see that cup here spoken of, which Jesus took in His hands, and gave thanks, and said, This is My blood, which is shed for many for the remission of sins (Lecture 22, 6-7, 9).

This is the Holy Grail that we seek.  At the beginning of the mystogogia proper, St. Cyril speaks of the relation between the catechesis prior to baptism and that that is about to take place:

And these things were done in the outer chamber. But if God will, when in the succeeding lectures on the Mysteries we have entered into the Holy of Holies , we shall there know the symbolic meaning of the things which are there performed. Now to God the Father, with the Son and the Holy Ghost, be glory, and power, and majesty, forever and ever. Amen (Lecture 19, 11).

We are not only searching, but we have already arrived.  We are in an in-between time, indeed.

The Easter octave is about to come to a close with the celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday.  At that Mass we will pray:

O Lord our God, may we be healed now and forever by these sacred rites which You instituted to protect us in our new life of grace.

We have entered into the Holy of Holies, and that sanctuary is the Heart of Christ, whose mercy and grace is poured out as blood and water from His side.  We are healed and protected in Him, and in the Heart of His Holy Mother.  The true knighthood of Christ is the protection of these mysteries, first of all within our own Hearts.  That ultimately is the meaning of the crusade for the Holy Sepulcher and the Quest for the Holy Grail.  More on this next time.

The Discipline of the Secret

In my post for Holy Thursday, I mentioned the mystogia, the Easter catechesis in the early Church that was given to the newly baptized in order to deepen their understanding of the faith, especially regarding those central mysteries celebrated in the liturgical events of the Paschal Triduum.  In this post, I am offering my own little Easter mystogia in relation to the values of Marian Chivalry.  At the center of this paschal enlightenment are the two principle Christian relics that became the focus of chivalrous ideals, the Holy Grail and the Holy Sepulcher.

The mystogia was particularly necessary because of a custom practiced from the earliest times of the Church called the disciplina arcani, “the discipline of the secret,” whereby the most profound mysteries of the faith were kept hidden from heathens and from even the catechumens preparing for baptism.  The special—but not only—object of this discipline was the Eucharistic Sacrifice and Sacrament.

Gatekeepers

Hence, one of the minor orders of the Church—in fact, the lowest—in preparation for diaconate and the priesthood was Ostiarius or “Porter.”  In the Roman rite, the Porter was the gatekeeper who locked and unlocked the church, and who made sure that no unbaptized person was present for the “Mass for the Faithful,” or what is referred to in the Novus Ordo as the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  Catechumens were permitted to be present for the “Mass of the Catechumens” (Liturgy of the Word), but then were escorted out of the Church by the Porter at the beginning of the offertory.  The catechumens’ first experience of “The Mystery of Faith,” celebrated at the altar, was immediately after their baptism, when they were escorted into the Church in their white garments.  The first time the newly baptized received the Eucharist, they had just moments before become aware of the full truth of the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist.

Reverence Inside and Out

St. Basil compared the discipline of the secret to the way in which Moses, by God’s command, reserved certain parts of the tabernacle by putting in place “sacred barriers.”  He wrote that “the awful dignity of the mysteries is best preserved by silence.”  And “Moses was wise enough to know that contempt stretches to the trite and to the obvious, while a keen interest is naturally associated with the unusual and the unfamiliar” (On the Holy Spirit, 27).

Imagine the joy of the newly baptized who were privileged to know the sacred mysteries and their exultation at being able to participate in so awesome a mystery while being introduced more fully by the post-baptismal catechesis into the truths of our faith.  Think also of how fearful the mysterious must have seemed, in terms of inspiring awe, reverence and gratitude.  What a tremendous grace was contained in the revelation of the mysteries and how beautifully was both the superabundance of God’s grace communicated while the dignity of the mysteries preserved and augmented.

As more and more it became necessary to defend the faith against heretics, apologetical tracts of the Fathers protected less and less of the secret, until the discipline was entirely abandoned.  One might also understand that in the face of Gnosticism and many other Christian heresies that secret keeping could lend itself to the privileging of a few to the detriment of the universality of the Church.   After all, the lure of secret keeping has been to form exclusive societies in which the initiated can pride themselves on being enlightened and being in control of the unenlightened.

Even so, we may regret, at least theoretically, the complete loss of the discipline of the secret, especially today when the introduction of the mundane and even the profane into the precincts of our sanctuaries have stripped the faithful of a sense of the sacred and mysterious.  The tragic consequence of this has been the systematic cultivation of irreverence.

Revealing What Is Hidden

But the discipline of the secret is built into the sacred mysteries we celebrate during Easter.  Our Lord celebrated the first Mass in the upper room into which he ensconced the apostles for the preservation of the mysteries of Holy Thursday.  Into that enclosed space they would return, as a huddled and fearful band, after the events of Good Friday, and into that enclosed and locked space Our Lord would reenter in order to reveal to them that which he did not reveal to all.  As St. Peter said of himself and his companions, the Lord manifested Himself not to all the people, but to witnesses preordained by God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him, after he arose again from the dead (Acts 10:41).

Our Lord also initially hid Himself from His inner circle, as He did to St. Mary Magdalen at the Holy Sepulcher, to the disciples on the road to Emmaus and to Peter and his companions at the Lake of Galilee.  Certainly this deprivation of their ability to recognize Him was symbolic of their own lack of faith and of the power of the Resurrection to break down that barrier against faith. They knew him in the breaking of bread (Lk 24:35).  But may we not also reflect that the revelation of what was hidden underscores the mysterious content of the faith and the mystical or dark way in which the activity of God touches our soul?

St. Bonaventure says that we must enter the tomb with Jesus—into another enclosed space—and there we must die and experience the suspension of our senses.  He is not necessarily referring to ecstasy, but what belongs more fundamentally to the mystical life, namely, a new way of thinking that is not dependent on what we see, but on what the Lord tells us.  Of course, first of all that means what the Church teaches, but it also must mean the manner in which we assimilate it through our own efforts to surrender in faith in the silence of prayer.

Making the Hidden Grow

The Easter proclamation is the so-called kerygma, that kernal of truth at the heart of evangelization, and it must be broadcast to the four corners of the globe.  That which I tell you in the dark, speak ye in the light: and that which you hear in the ear, preach ye upon the housetops (Mt 10:27).  That proclamation is this: “The night will be as clear as day:
 it will become my light, my joy” (Easter Praeconium).  But each person it touches by way of the hidden workings of God:  So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the earth, and should sleep, and rise, night and day, and the seed should spring, and grow up whilst he knoweth not (MK 4:26-27).

In inner revelation of the Holy Sepulcher and the Holy Grail, has nothing to do with esoteric knowledge entrusted to a secret society or any other species of Gnostic, though these heretics have gotten lost along the way of a real quest for a real treasure.  Indeed, all along, it was quite literally under their noses: For lo, the kingdom of God is within (Lk 17:21).

Today we sell our secrets for a bowl of porridge and repackage old and used rags and peddle them as lost and hidden treasures.  Just call the most meager and pathetic truism a secret, such as the power of positive thinking, and then absolutize it with false promises and you can make millions of dollars on the same old stale snake oil.  Or take a real secret, such as the secret of our personhood, that leads us to veil our sexual values, and call it prudery and the snake oil business is booming once again.

Modesty, reverence and the guarding of the heart, are perhaps the most precious jewels to be cultivated by the truly honorable and courteous heart.  It is for these values that true prowess is willing to suffer and die.  The enclosed spaces of the Tomb and Chalice, like the Womb and Heart of Our Lady, are the places where Thy Mystery of Faith is celebrated and where the revelation takes place.

I will have more to say about the Holy Sepulcher and Holy Grail in my next Easter post.

The Mystery of Faith

The following reflection was written on Holy Thursday, but concerns the whole Easter Triduum and Easter Itself.

This evening we have begun the Sacred Paschal Triduum with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, which commemorates the institution of the Sacraments of Holy Orders and of the Eucharist.  From here we will pass to the historical enactment of Our Lord’s great sacrfice and then on to His glorious victory over death.  This will be my one Easter reflection for this blog and I will not return here until after the Easter Peace has concluded.

In actuality, the different moments of the Easter Triduum are most properly conflated under the title of Easter, since each of them is rightly qualified by the word paschal. Easter is our pasch, our passover, by which we pass from death to life in the crucified and victorious Savior.  For Christ our pasch is sacrificed (1 Cor 5:7).  In fact, it is almost a truism to say that the death of the Lord makes no sense without the resurrection and vice-versa.  But it is also true to say that from the Lord’s own institution, we were never called to consider either His death or resurrection apart from the Eucharist.

The Hour of Christ

It was for these moments, or for this hour that He came (Jn 12:27).  Everything, aside from the sin of his betrayers and murderers (among whom we are included), was executed according to his will and predetermined plan.  His saving deeds have become the culminating moments of salvation history, but we do not merely remember them as belonging to the past, nor do we simply comprehend them in view of the transformation we all anticipate.  As Cardinal Ratzinger has written, our liturgical participation belongs to a kind of middle moment, a “between-time” in which the institutional past is brought into the liturgical present and beyond by our carrying out the command he gave to His apostles at the last supper: This do for the commemoration of me (1 Cor. 11:24).  The middle moment consists in the fact that our commemoration (a remembrance that is more than a memory) of the Lord’s saving mysteries looks forward to and effects our own transformation in grace, which is to be perfected in our own resurrection for which we are being prepared now by His Sacrifice and Sacrament of the Eucharist.

The three moments of the Triduum then—Eucharist, Passion and Death, Resurrection—are ordered to one another in such a way, that it is only in this liturgical life that Christ’s design for our salvation is fully realized.  That the Paschal Triduum is the zenith of liturgical life only serves to underscore this truth.

A True Sacrifice

The Council of Trent taught that the Mass is “a true sacrifice and proper sacrifice,” and not a “bare commemoration of the sacrifice consummated on the cross,” but rather “a propitiatory sacrifice” (Session 22, cc. 1, 3).  The difference between the sacrifice as it is offered on Holy Thursday and on Good Friday is the mode.  On Holy Thursday at the Last Supper, Christ is immolated mystically in an “unbloody” manner, and on Good Friday, he is immolated historically and physically in a “bloody” manner upon the Cross.  Our Lord institutes the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Sacrament of the Eucharist, as well as the Sacrament of Holy Orders the night before He died, because His explicit intention was to make all of us real and immediate participants in this One Sacrifice.  Cardinal Ratzinger writes that in this way Our Lord made the semel (once for all) of His sacrifice semper (always) of liturgical life.

The difference between the first Mass celebrated by Our Lord Himself on the night before He died and those that take place after His resurrection through the ministry of His priests is the state of His humanity in respect to its glorification.  On the night before He died, Our Lord’s Body in the consecrated host was not yet crucified and glorified, whereas after, and until the end of time, our Victim on the altar is not only the Savior on the Cross, but also the Victor who has come forth from the tomb and sits at the right hand of His Father, glorified in heaven.

The Mystery of Faith

The Church teaches that the Eucharist is The Mystery of Faith.  This notion comes from the institutional narrative itself into which these words are inserted, specifically from the consecration of the chalice:

HIC EST ENIM CALIX SANGUINIS MEI, NOVI ET AETERNI TESTAMENTI:

MYSTERIUM FIDEI:

QUI PRO VOBIS ET PRO MULTIS EFFUNDETUR IN REMISSIONEM PECCATORUM.

THIS IS THE CHALICE OF MY BLOOD OF THE NEW AND ETERNAL COVENANT:

THE MYSTERY OF FAITH:

WHICH IS BEING SHED FOR YOU AND FOR MANY FOR THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS.

This is the text as it is taken from the ancient liturgical usage.  I will refrain from comment on the change introduced into the new liturgy, especially in the English translation, as it does not pertain to my purpose here.

The words The Mystery of Faith have been introduced by the liturgical tradition into the scriptural texts as an appositive attached to the reference concerning chalice of the blood of the new and eternal covenant.  There are a number of theories as to why the words were inserted without strict adherence to the biblical text and without explantion, and as to what exactly they were intended to mean.  One of the great liturgists of the modern age, Joseph A. Jungmann, S.J., has written that no certain answer can be ascertained on either score.  However, the magisterium has commented on the text, and has told us that it refers to the ineffable mystery of the Eucharist itself.  Thus the narrative might be punctuated as follows:  This is the chalice of My Blood of the new and eternal covenant—The Mystery of Faith—which is being shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.

All this being said, for the sake of my little Easter reflection, and without intending to do anything more than to offer a meditation, I would like to explore more deeply the meaning of this unexplained insertion of mysterium fidei into the biblical narrative.

Ineffable Mystery

We know that the one sacrifice of Christ is made present in the Mass, that Jesus suffering and victorious is both the Priest and Victim.  We know that we are present at Calvary and that the heavens have opened so that not only is the past made present, but that we are entering into the hour of Christ’s glorification, so that we are also present at the heavenly liturgy, singing with the Seraphim: Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth.  We know that the double consecration during the canon of the Mass symbolizes the separation of Christ’s Blood from His Body in such a way that the one Sacrifice is made present once again:

For by the “transubstantiation” of bread into the body of Christ and of wine into His blood, His body and blood are both really present: now the eucharistic species under which He is present symbolize the actual separation of His body and blood. Thus the commemorative representation of His death, which actually took place on Calvary, is repeated in every sacrifice of the altar, seeing that Jesus Christ is symbolically shown by separate symbols to be in a state of victimhood (Mediator Dei, 70).

But it is only at the moment at the consecration of the chalice that the liturgical tradition has left us with this deliberate insertion of the words, The Mystery of Faith, and without explanation either in the liturgical texts themselves nor any of the written and oral tradition of the Church from the early times in which this liturgical formulary came to be.  Our Lord has already been made present on the altar by means of the consecration of the Host, but in the consecration of the Chalice the symbolism of the separation of His Blood from His Body has been made perfect.  Perhaps the inexplicable insertion of these words can be construed as providentially indicating the mysticism of the Sacrifice and the Sacrament, the fact that past, present and future have, in a sense, coalesced and we are somehow participants in each moment, facing the East from whence the Orient on High has come and toward which we are processing, led by our High Priest and King, Jesus Christ.

The priest, in a sense, pauses or interrupts the institutional narrative, in a rubrical sense of awe, and comments on the stupendous reality before us.  We have achieved the Holy Grail.  We have arrived at the throne of God. How terrible is this place? this is no other but the house of God, and the gate of heaven (Genesis 28:17).  Mysterium fidei!

The Eternal Word has undergone a transformation much like the one by which He became Incarnate.  Every Mass is a little Christmas.  But also the Lamb has been sacrificed and we are once again at the foot of the Cross.  The bread and wine have become the Body and Blood of Christ, and we, by some awesome privilege, are now called to enter the mystery and consume the sacrifice so that we might also be transformed into that which we consume.  We are no longer fixed in our place in history but are incorporated into the hour of Christ, and thus all time has a different significance and a greater power.

The Holy Grail

No wonder the Chalice of the Last Supper has become both the object of veneration and the inspiration for myths.  It is a mystical object because it contains a secret—not the gnosis of the heretics or the ancient, arcane and occult mysteries of the Freemasons, but the secret of our own transformation in grace.

In the most Christian version of the Arthurian legend of the Holy Grail, Quest del Saint Graal, probably written by a Cistercian monk at the beginning of the thirteenth century, the Holy Chalice is symbol of grace, or such at least is the interpretation of Etienne Gilson.  Medievalist Pauline Matarasso, on the other hand, asserts that the Grail of the Quest doubly manifests the mystery of the Eucharist in the Last Supper and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

However the myth is to be interpreted, the historical Grail is a vessel in which a mystery is contained, a secret, and in the first case that mystery is the Blood of Christ that has been shed for us.  But it is also our participation in the mystery as well.  The chalice of benediction which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? (1 Cor 10:16).  The period immediately after the Easter Triduum in which the newly baptized are still reeling from their full initiation into the Sacred Mysteries is called the mystagogia, in which they are called to more deeply penetrate and assimilate the mysteries they have newly experienced.  There is a need for this precisely because the Eucharist and our participation in it is the fundamental and universal mysticism of the Church.  Only those who can learn silence, adoration and most of all, who can enter in to the gift of salvific suffering are able to enter into the mystery of the Holy Grail.

If it is true then, in some sense that The Mystery of Faith is the Eucharist and our participation in the Sacred Mysteries, and if it is also true that the Chalice of Benediction, the Holy Grail, over which myserium fidei is spoken, is the mystery of grace and redemption, then might we not look to the most sublime vessel of grace in order to penetrate the mystery and enter into the secret?  Indeed, the mystics who have experienced the events of the Triduum in an extraordinary way, albeit in a way that in no sense constitutes part of the deposit of faith, place a special emphasis on the Eucharistic communion of Our Lady at the Last Supper on Holy Thursday.  She is often said to have been communicated by angels, as for example, Ven. Mother Maria of Agreda writes that St. Gabriel was sent to Her from the cenacle to give Her Holy Communion immediately after Our Lord Himself had consumed the sacred species.  In fact, the venerable mother says that the Sacred Host remained unconsumed in the body of the Blessed Virgin until the first Mass of St. Peter after the Resurrection.

Womb and Tomb

There is a remarkable passage of the great English Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins from his retreat notes apropos of this extraordinary grace of the Blessed Virgin.  In his notes he comments on the passage of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius concerning the apparition of Our Lord to His Blessed Mother at the resurrection.  There we read the following:

‘In corpore et anima’—On the pregnant principle expressed in the Mysteries and in this very one we cannot doubt at the Last Supper Christ invisibly but sacramentally communicated the Blessed Mother (as many estatics and others have been communicated) by the hands of angels or otherwise.  After this she would have fasted till the Resurrection and the Sacred Host have lain in her breast unconsumed.  In her then as well as on the cross Christ died and was at once buried, her body his temple becoming his sepulcher.  At his rising the soul entered the body in her as in the sepulcher and, issuing from her breast, the two presences passed into one.  And at the same time the windingsheet left empty fell upon itself in the sepulcher and the empty accidents were consumed in the Blessed Virgin.

“Warm laid grave of a womb life grey;/ Manger, maiden’s knee” is how Hopkins refers to the trajectory of Christ’s Body and Blood existence from birth to death (“The Wreck of the Deutchland,” st. 7, ll. 3, 4).  And in the context of his contention concerning Mary’s Holy Thursday communion, we should more clearly see the enclosed space of Our Lady’s Virginal womb, where the Eternal Word is enfleshed, as the foreshadowing of the sealed tomb and another manifestation of that inviolate Garden of Paradise which is Her Immaculate and Sorrowful Heart.

Elsewhere in his retreat notes, Hopkins suggests that the defense of this mystery or secret is, in fact, the great cosmic battle in which all souls are perpetually engaged.  As he reflects on chapter 12 of the Apocalypse where St. Michael attacks the fallen angels he writes:  “. . . It was a sort of crusade undertaken in defense of the woman in whom the sacrificial victim had lain and from whom he had risen, a sort of Holy Sepulchre and a heavenly Jerusalem. . .”

I certainly would not blame anyone who says that all this is just pious poetry from a Marian enthusiast.  Yet poetry says something true, even if not literally or historically, though many aspects of sacred history are also poetic.  St. Anthony Mary Claret was well known to carry the Blessed Sacrament continually in his body as in a tabernacle.  And it is a patristic teaching that the miracle of the Virgin Birth (“womb life grey”) is exactly parallel to the escape of Our Lord from the sealed tomb (“warm laid grave”).

The Secret of Mary

Indeed, the New Garden of Paradise is the Heart of Mary and it is like the enclosed space of the Cenacle where the first Mass was celebrated.  It is like Garden of the Agony of Jesus where He resigned Himself to the Chalice of Suffering.  And it is like the Garden of the Passion and Resurrection, where the New Tree of Life grows and bears fruit.  Her virginal womb is truly the Virgin Earth from which grows forth the Tree of Life, and, one way or another, it is the exemplar for the enclosed space in which the Victim and Victor is laid and from which He rises.  It is the true Grail of the Blood of Christ where we enter into The Mystery of Faith.  St. Louis de Montfort writes that devotion to Mary is the secret that the Holy Spirit unseals for us (The Secret of Mary, 20).  We are invited to enter this Enclosed Garden and Fountain Sealed, if we are willing to be humble in the face of the mysterium fidei.

The Easter mystery is all about sacrificial love, Christ’s, first of all, then ours in the Heart of the Immaculate Coredemptrix, the one in whom the mysteries we celebrate are fully realized.  The Great Sacrifice makes Jesus present as our food, and in Him, in our participation in that Sacrifice through Holy Communion, we are incorporated into the mystery, mysticism and transformation in preparation for our own resurrection.  This is what we celebrate as we witness the Bride of Christ decked out in all Her liturgical glory.  This is the real secret of liturgical reform and its only real object.

May the Peace of Easter be yours.

Stand Down

Thanks to everyone for their prayers.  I had a great retreat, preceded on March 20 by an opportunity to preach a day of recollection to the Courage group in Philadelphia.  I was very edified by this group of very serious Catholics who are struggling, like everyone, to keep the faith.  I had the privilege of meeting Fr. John Harvey.

I here attach a translation of an excerpt from the writings of St. Maximilian Kolbe on the question of human happiness and our last end.  Know your end.  Not altogether unfitting for Holy Week.

I recommend preparing your families for the Truce of God.  This will begin on Holy Thursday with the beginning of the Triduum and end on Easter Monday.  It should not be all that heroic, though given human nature and domestic rivalries it may seem virtually impossible.  Try anyway.  In any case, I am giving several days notice to acclimate yourself to the idea.