Pope Francis the Liturgist

Plenty eyebrows have been raised and heads scratched because Pope Francis washed the feet of two girls one of whom was a Muslim at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper last night. This was announced before hand, so news of it has been circulating for several days.

One reader and commenter has directed my attention to an article in First Things by John Shimek in which the author expresses his conviction that the Holy Father acted within the jurisdiction of his office because “by virtue of his office he possesses supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church, which he is always able to exercise freely” (c. 331).  Ed Peters, on the other hand, a well respected canonist, believes that in the face of general disregard for canon and liturgical law, which has been prevalent throughout the Church for many years, the Holy Father is offering a poor example.  Peters believes this, even though in the past he has expressed his opinion that there is no particular reason why the law restricting the washing of the feet to men could not be changed. Continue reading

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Under the Cover of Light

O God, who willed your Son to submit for our sake
to the yoke of the Cross,
so that you might drive from us the power of the enemy,
grant us, your servants, to attain the grace of the resurrection.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
Who lives and reigns in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

In a sense, Spy Wednesday commemorates the most notorious conspiracy ever concieved.  The Puppet Master from hell inflamed the pride of Judas and the Sanhedrin and entwined them in a diabolical scheme for the death of the Son of Man.  Operating in bad faith, on the basis of a purely human prudence, the betrayer and the enemies of Jesus work under the cover of darkness.

But nothing is hidden from the Son of God.  He knows his betrayer’s heart and the plans hidden in the recesses of his corrupt conscience.  But this Our Lord keeps between Himself and the traitor.  While He chooses not to expose the hidden sinner and even allows Judas to receive the Holy Communion at the Last Supper, Christ does confront him directly: What you are about to do, do quickly (Jn 13:27). Continue reading

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 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.

The Hour Begins

eucharist.jpg

Behold, the hour cometh, and it is now come, that you shall be scattered every man to his own and shall leave me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me. These things I have spoken to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you shall have distress. But have confidence. I have overcome the world (John 16:32-33).

And he cometh to his disciples and findeth them asleep. And he saith to Peter: What? Could you not watch one hour with me? Watch ye: and pray that ye enter not into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matt. 26:40-41).

Tonight is the Great Hour, the Hour of the Passion, the Hour of the Mass, the Hour of the Agony. We live this hour as the zenith of all time and commemorate sacramentally in the Holy Sacrifice, which was instituted on this night. “Commemoration” is a word in English that can be easily misunderstood. The Mass is not simply a ceremonial solemnization of a memory. It is a living memory, a supra-chronological moment made present, by the will of Christ Himself, before He died. Remember that. The priesthood and the Eucharist Christ instituted before He suffered on the Cross, because this Hour, would be the archetype for all hours, for every moment, until the end of time.

From my meditations on the Rosary, the fifth Luminous Mystery, the Institution of the Eucharist:

Hail Thee who set God’s Table
The Victim is ready.
Blessed is the timeless Hour,
Commenced that night and wheel-
ing through the ages.

Holy Prostrate Communicant
We kneel with Thee
Before the altar
of living sacrifice. Continue reading

Truce of God

couple-fighting.jpg

Hear ye! Hear ye! Here ye!

Ladys and Lords of the household you are hearby ordered by decree of the King of Kings to defer all hostilities until Monday of Eastertide, being the first day of the Paschal Octave. Out of reverence for the Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection all violence and revenge, domestic or otherwise, from Vespers of Spy Wednesday till daybreak of Easter Monday shall be considered reprehensible and unchristian.

Chesterton said two things that are apropos here: first, that chivalry is the baptism of feudalism, the Christianization of the military ferocity of the feudal system. The Medieval Truce of God (here, here and here, the last one is pretty funny) was an effort on the part of clerics and monks to control the knights and prevent them from amusing themselves at the peasants’ expense. Thus, the Truce was a way of preventing chivalry, which was always a delicate commodity, from being entirely undermined.

Secondly, Chesterton reminds us that the real adventure is not fighting dragons, but surviving in marriage. Here are some priceless tidbits:

“The whole pleasure of marriage is that it is a perpetual crisis.” – “David Copperfield,” Chesterton on Dickens, 1911

“Marriage is a duel to the death which no man of honour should decline.” – Manalive

“I have little doubt that when St. George had killed the dragon he was heartily afraid of the princess.” – The Victorian Age in Literature

“Marriage is an adventure, like going to war.” – (This might be a paraphrase)

Ephesians 5, gentlemen. Lay down your lives. And ladies, obey and honor your heroes.

The Easter Triduum = Ephesians 5. Think about it. Think Christ and the Blessed Mother.