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Why should I go to church?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Thursday 08, June 2017 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Liturgy,Prayer and Spirituality
Pope Francis sees servile obedience as the wrong spirit in which to develop a mature faith. The church exists to console, clarify, and challenge us.

It’s interesting that Richard Gaillardetz asks the same question—and he’s a professional ecclesiologist, whose business it is to explain the church. Yet he admits convincing his own children of the necessity of going to church is another matter entirely. Why does church attendance need persuasion?

Gaillardetz identifies four troublesome modern obstacles. The first is widespread institutional distrust. We just haven’t seen all that many churches, banks, governments, or schools with a sterling track record lately. Add to that the more recent conflation of religion with partisan politics. Now, it seems, your church comes with obligatory party affiliation attached! That is understandably distasteful to many. A third problem with church affiliation is the social decline of absolutes. We once hung our hats on doctrine with confidence. But today a black-and-white approach to any issue seems simplistic, self-righteous, and begging to be debunked. Frankly, we don’t want some exterior machinery regulating what we’re allowed to believe about our reality. Finally, there’s the “fragilization” of religious identity. This lovely term expresses how religion, once the defining principle of a person’s life, has recently been downgraded to a lifestyle choice: a thing you have, rather than a thing you are. So, Catholic paraphernalia may be in your ethical toolkit. But you don’t see yourself as “a Catholic” anymore.

All of which explains why more people are skipping church. It doesn’t argue why they might not want to. Gaillardetz suggests that church might benefit from a reintroduction: not as mind-controlling Hall of Obedience, but a re-imagined School of Discipleship. Such a school exists to form us in the way of Jesus, not to keep us on the straight-and-narrow (much less save us from eternal fires). Old-school church asks different questions of us: “What do you think or believe about God, morality, your place in the scheme of things?” The School of Discipleship model asks, rather: “Whom do you love?”

This approach is in keeping with the teaching of Pope Francis, who sees servile obedience as the wrong spirit in which to develop a mature faith. The church exists to console, clarify, and challenge us. It shouldn’t simply deliver to the adherent a longer set of reliable truths than the person down the street enjoys. In the School of Discipleship, we would decree or forbid less, and trust ourselves as “liturgical animals” more. Rituals work on us as we worship, teaching and shaping us as we say grace, give alms, fast, stand in praise, kneel in humility, or share a meal. This is what church does best.

Scripture: Exodus 20:8-11; Isaiah 2:2-5; Joel 2:12-17; Matthew 18:20; John 17:20-26; Acts 2:1-4, 42-47

Books: A Church With Open Doors: Catholic Ecclesiology for the Third Millennium – Richard Gaillardetz (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 2015)

Go Into the Streets: the Welcoming Church of Pope Francis – Thomas Rausch and Richard Gaillardetz, eds. (Mahwah, MJ: Paulist Press, 2016)

Why does going to Mass on Saturday night “count” to fulfill the Sunday obligation?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Thursday 04, May 2017 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Church History,Liturgy
Saturday evening Mass
The Hebrew definition of a day is measured from one desert sundown to the next.

Plenty of folks, including my Dad, have viewed the “Saturday Five” Mass as an unwelcome innovation. It’s been decried as one more Vatican II accommodation to flabby Catholicism: dumbing down our vigorous commitment to the Precepts of the Church. Most decriers would be surprised to hear that a prior evening anticipatory Mass was recommended and defended by 4th-century heavyweights including Augustine and Jerome. Where does the idea come from?

The fifth verse in the Bible declares: “Evening came, and morning followed—the first day.” The phrase is repeated after each of the first six days of creation, giving rise to the Hebrew definition of a day as measured from one desert sundown to the next. Examples in both Testaments testify that time makes a significant shift at sundown: the Temple is closed as shadows lengthen, or crowds bring their sick to Jesus as night falls. Even Easter is counted as “the third day” when the women approach the tomb under cover of darkness.

To be on the safe side in observing erev (Hebrew “evening”), rabbis say wait for three stars to appear in the sky. When you think about it, the concept that the a.m. (ante meridiem, Latin for “before noon”) period begins at midnight is not much more than a decision. The day has to start somewhere.

Jewish practice carries over in the anticipatory Mass for Sunday, or the Vigil Mass of a feast. In 1969, Paul VI wrote that ''the observance of Sunday and solemnities begins with the evening of the preceding day.” Although this was a moto proprio (personal papal initiative), it built on formal teaching issued two years earlier granting permission for the anticipatory Mass. It also acknowledged what the Liturgy of the Hours had promoted for centuries: a Sunday celebration lasting from Evening Prayer on Saturday night until Evening Prayer on Sunday.

The 1983 Code of Canon Law notes that “assist[ing] at a Mass celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the feast day itself or in the evening of the preceding day satisfies the obligation of participating in the Mass." (no.1248) The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms: “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass. The precept … is satisfied by assistance at a Mass which is celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the holy day or on the evening of the preceding day.” (no.2180)

Scriptures: Genesis 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31; Leviticus 23:5, 32; Nehemiah 13:19; Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1-2; Luke 4:40; 2 Peter 1:19

Books: Celebrating the Easter Vigil – Rupert Berger, Hans Hollerweger, eds. (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1983)

Let Us Pray: A Guide to the Rubrics of Sunday Mass – Paul Turner (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2012)

Our priest cancelled Saturday Vigil Mass, citing Dies Domini and pastoral necessity. Is this valid?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Saturday 01, April 2017 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Liturgy
Saturday evening Mass
The Saturday evening Mass isn’t a Vigil, but an anticipatory Mass for Sunday.

This column isn’t designed to challenge local pastoral decisions, which can be more complex than they appear. But let’s start by clarifying terminology for the nitpickers: the Saturday evening Mass isn’t a Vigil, but an anticipatory Mass for Sunday. On Saturday night, we use the same Scripture readings and prayers prescribed for Sunday. So the Saturday evening 5 p.m. liturgy IS a “Sunday Mass,” liturgically speaking.

Vigil Masses have distinct texts, or “Propers,” associated with them. Vigils are approved for: Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Ascension Thursday, Pentecost, St. John the Baptist, Sts. Peter and Paul, and the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mother. When you attend Vigil Masses, the readings and prayers are different from (though thematically related to) those used on the feasts themselves.

Dies Domini (“The Lord’s Day”) is a 1998 Apostolic Letter from Pope John Paul II "to the bishops, clergy and faithful of the Catholic Church on keeping the Lord’s Day holy.” It affirms the important role of Sunday in the life of the believer, and the vital part Eucharist plays in the context of the Sunday Sabbath. It expresses concern that the significance of a Sabbath day not be obscured by the separation of the celebration of Eucharist from the traditional morning observance.

Does Dies Domini address the validity of attending a Saturday anticipatory mass? Yes. #49 of the document states: “Because the faithful are obliged to attend Mass unless there is a grave impediment, Pastors have the corresponding duty to offer to everyone the real possibility of fulfilling the precept. The provisions of Church law move in this direction, as for example in the faculty granted to priests, with the prior authorization of the diocesan Bishop, to celebrate more than one Mass on Sundays and holy days, the institution of evening Masses and the provision which allows the obligation to be fulfilled from Saturday evening onwards…”

“Pastoral necessity” refers to the modern reality that many Catholics need to work on Sunday in order to provide for their families. Because of this, it becomes pastorally necessary to provide an opportunity for people to celebrate the Sunday Eucharist during non-working hours, specifically Saturday evenings. To my knowledge, there’s no impediment preventing a person who doesn’t work on Sunday from attending the Saturday anticipatory Mass. Nor have I met many pastors eager to have the greeter do a “necessity check” at the church door on Saturday nights.

Scripture: Genesis 2:2-3; Exodus 20:8-11; 31:12-17; Deuteronomy 5:12-15

Books: Dies Domini: Apostolic Letter – Pope John Paul II (Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2000)

“Anticipating the Sunday and Feast Day Masses on the Previous Evening,” Instruction on Eucharistic Worship. Sacred Congregation of Rites (Washington, DC: USCC, 1967)

Where can Mass be celebrated?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 05, July 2016 Categories: Sacraments,Liturgy,Doctrines & Beliefs
Saint Ita Catholic Church in Chicago

The Eucharistic celebration is called “the source and summit” of our faith—both the origin and epitome of what we believe—in church documents. The Table of the Lord, AKA the altar, is at the center of our lives as Catholic Christians. Everything we do emanates from that starting point.

So where that celebration takes place is of no small consideration. According to the General Instructions for the Roman Missal (GIRM 288), the People of God normally gather in a church. When the local building is too small for the assembly, as for a papal Mass, another “respectable” setting (auditorium or stadium) can be employed. Another lovely provision is this: “sacred buildings and requisites for divine worship should be truly worthy and beautiful and be signs and symbols of heavenly realities.” So all that floor polishing and statue dusting my mother does in her home parish with her friends is canonically approved.

Canon Law (n. 932) specifies that Mass is to be celebrated on a dedicated or blessed altar, as well as in a sacred place—unless “necessity requires otherwise.” Necessity has made the hood of a Jeep into an altar in wartime; wooden pallets or crates can be fashioned into a vineyard altar for farm workers; a hut can serve as a chapel in mission lands. In lands where Mass is prohibited, the celebration can be held in hidden places like mines, caves, or tents. Leading youth groups on hikes, Archbishop Karol Wojtyla (Saint John Paul II) celebrated Eucharist on a flat boulder in the woods. In any setting, the traditional cloth and corporal should be used to designate the table or surface commandeered for divine service.

Here’s a surprise: When the cause is just and with proper approvals, a priest can also celebrate Mass in an ecclesial community or church structure that is not in full communion with the Catholic Church “so long as there is no scandal.” (n. 933) The aforementioned scandal might include the confusion that results if some did not appreciate the difference between, say, the Lutheran host church and the Roman Catholic liturgy being offered. Such time-shares are often necessary when a Catholic church has been damaged or destroyed by natural disaster, terrorist attack, or military forces. The bottom line is that sacred space with an attention to beauty and respectful worship is the norm for Mass. But even more important than the venue is the necessity to make the Eucharist available to all under every circumstance.

Scripture: Mark 14:22-24; Luke 21:5-6; 2 Corinthians 4:7-11; 5:1; 1 Peter 2:4-6

Books: The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (Washington, DC: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011); The Liturgical Environment: What the Documents Say – Mark G. Boyer (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2015); The Ministry of Liturgical Environment – Joyce Ann Zimmerman (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2016)

Is it necessary to attend Mass on Sunday? I can't go to church because of my job. What should I do?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Saturday 13, February 2016 Categories: Liturgy,Church History,Doctrines & Beliefs
Priest with parish

Attendance at Sunday Eucharist is one of the most solemn commitments in the life of a Catholic Christian. The 1983 Code of Canon Law states: “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass.” (canon 1247)

This obligation is naturally suspended in time of illness, or when there is no means of satisfying the obligation, as when traveling through territory in which there is no opportunity to attend Mass.

It should be noted that "Sunday Mass" also includes the celebration of Eucharist on Saturday evening. "Sunday" in secular culture follows a morning-to-evening definition of the day. The biblical day is counted from one evening to the next. (See the repeated usage starting in Genesis 1: 5— "Evening came, and morning followed: the first day.") This liturgical appreciation of a day makes possible the fulfillment of the Sunday obligation by attending Mass on Saturday evening. In most dioceses, opportunities to attend Sunday Mass extend from around 4:00 pm on Saturday until 5:00 pm on Sunday—even later in contexts like a campus Newman Center where students keep late hours and might more likely attend a 9 or 10 pm liturgy.

It would be rare for a person to have a regular work schedule that extends for 24 hours from Saturday evening to Sunday evening.

Canon law does provide for circumstances in which Eucharist is simply unavailable, as in the absence of ordained clergy. Canon 1248 says: “If participation in the eucharistic celebration becomes impossible because of the absence of a sacred minister or for another grave cause, it is strongly recommended that the faithful take part in a liturgy of the word if such a liturgy is celebrated in a parish church or other sacred place according to the prescripts of the diocesan bishop or that they devote themselves to prayer for a suitable time alone, as a family, or, as the occasion permits, in groups of families.”

A local pastor has the authority to judge particular cases and grant dispensation from the obligation of participating in Sunday Mass (canon 1245). When there is truly no opportunity to participate, there is no obligation. At the same time, a faithful Catholic might seriously consider a vocational or geographic context in which he or she never has the opportunity to participate in Sunday Mass.

Scripture: Exod 16:22-30; 20:8-11; Deut 5:12-15; 1 Cor 11:23-26

Books: Sunday Mass: Our Role and Why It Matters - Anne Y. Koester (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2007)

Mass on Sunday: And Other Ways of Being Catholic - Charles E. Miller (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2004

Can Catholics be cremated?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 03, February 2016 Categories: Liturgy,Doctrines & Beliefs
Urn and flowers

The teaching on cremation is one more evidence that Catholic traditions evolve in time, responsive to both external circumstances and internally developing theological understanding. Cremation—the reduction of a dead body to ashes through burning—has been a commonly accepted form of body disposal in many cultures, including the Greco-Roman world from which Christianity emerged. The utility of the practice is evident in that ashes require little space for deposition where land is scarce. Cremation also prevents the spread of disease during epidemics. Yet Christians traditionally avoided the practice. One reason was Christian reverence for the body as a temple of the Holy Spirit.  Another was  the teaching on the resurrection of the body. A third concern was the many non-Christian ideologies frequently attached to the act in some cultures. Catholics in particular were forbidden to cremate their dead except when public necessity intervened—as with epidemics or natural disasters when the death tolls were great. The ashes of those who were cremated were not permitted to be buried in consecrated ground, as in a Catholic cemetery.

 When the 1983 Code of Canon Law was introduced, the restriction against cremation was lifted. The new Code still "earnestly recommends" burial of the body as the preferable option. Yet unless the intent is to deliberately contradict Christian teaching on the resurrection by its practice (canon 1176.3), cremation is now permissible, especially where land resources make it more feasible than burial.  I've personally known several devout Catholics who held fast to the hope of resurrection yet nonetheless requested cremation after death because of the exorbitant cost of modern burials and a concern that surviving family members would be obliged to absorb the debt.

 The Order of Christian Funerals published in 1989 contains instructions for the funeral rite when a body is not present for the service, as well as prayers for the interment of ashes. In the end, the funeral rites are meant for the "spiritual assistance" of the departed and to honor them, while bringing "the solace of hope to the living." If these ends can be accomplished with cremains, there is no impediment. 

Scripture: Gen 23:1-20; Deut 28:26; Jer 7:32-33; Matt 27:57-60; Luke 23:50-53; John 11:33-44; 19:38-41; Acts 9:36-41

Books: Honoring the Dead: Catholics and Cremation Today - H. Richard Rutherford, CSC (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2000)

Order of Funerals Appendix Cremation (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1997)

What exactly is a "Jubilee Year"? What's a "Holy Year"? I hear the Year of Mercy called both.

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 03, January 2016 Categories: Liturgy

Year of Mercy holy door, Vatican
 

The Year of Jubilee is a product of Jewish law as found in Scripture. Every 50th year, the land was to "rest," to lie unused for planting. Mortgage debts were forgiven and slaves were set free. These practices weren't randomly consigned to the Jubilee Year but had a theological agenda: to acknowledge that land, property, and life itself belonged ultimately to God, not to the human user.

The term Jubilee was adopted by Catholics in 1300 when the first Holy Year was inaugurated. It too is a year of liberation, though of a spiritual nature. A Holy Year is a time when the pope offers special spiritual privileges, or indulgences, for those who make a pilgrimage to Rome. Other religious activities may be assigned similar benefits during the Holy Year for those unable to travel. The Holy Year was originally intended as a centennial observance. But it came to be observed every 25 years, and additional celebrations between those intervals can be added when deemed helpful.

The Holy Year generally begins on Christmas Eve with the opening of an official Holy Door at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome which is normally kept bricked up in other years. Three other Roman Basilicas—St. Paul's Outside the Walls, St. John Lateran, and St. Mary Major—also have doors opened to encourage pilgrimage. Bishops around the world are invited to designate similar doors within their jurisdictions through which pilgrims can be welcomed to celebrate the spiritual benefits of the event. Even religious educators are being asked to ritually open a door with their students in order to instruct them about the purpose of the Holy Year.

The Holy Year of Mercy called for by Pope Francis began this year on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 2015. This Solemnity recalls the occasion when God opened an avenue of mercy for the human race through the incarnation of Jesus. "Jesus Christ is the face of the Father's mercy," Pope Francis declares. By symbolically opening a door, we spread the good news that anyone who seeks the love of God in Jesus will find consolation, pardon, and hope. All of us should eagerly seek the occasion to walk through that door. We should also extend the invitation to anyone in need of the assurance that God's mercy is open to them.

Scripture: Lev 25:8-55; Isa 5:8-10; Ezek 46:17

Books: Crossing the Threshold of Mercy ed. Mark-David Janus (Mahwah, NJ:Paulist Press, 2015)

Beautiful Mercy: Experiencing God's Unconditional Love So We Can Share It With Others Pope Francis, Matthew Kelly, et. al. (Beacon Publishing, 2015)

Why is there a church calendar?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 03, December 2013 Categories: Prayer and Spirituality,Liturgy,Church History,Doctrines & Beliefs

Liturgical Calendar
Calendars are about time and the human need to harness it. Starting in the ancient world religions employed calendars, but you didn’t have to be a Mayan priest or a Stonehenge druid to care when the sun and moon were in this phase or that. You just needed to be a farmer—or to depend on one for your survival.

Ancient Israel’s calendar traced the turn of the seasons and celebrated their influence on the natural world. Sowing was an occasion for intercessory prayer and harvesting the time for praise and thanksgiving: “Those who sow in tears will reap with cries of joy” (Psalm 126:5). The feasts of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, and Tabernacles were all originally harvest festivals.

Calendars, however, do more than note predictable, cyclical events. They also commemorate significant past events, such as battles won or important goals achieved. So Passover became the ultimate commemoration, remembering the signature victory over Pharaoh’s armies and captivity itself. Hanukkah, a more minor feast, reminisces about another victory regarding religious liberty. It should be noted that none of these events were considered secular occasions, because God was understood to be the source of all movements in the created order.

Christianity, with its roots in Jewish thought and practice, adopted its sense of the sacred character of time from Israelite history. Jesus grounded the meaning of the first Eucharistic ritual in the liberation event of Passover; as a result the celebration of Easter is configured each year with the Jewish Passover, and the entire liturgical year conforms backwards and forwards from that date. The need to embrace the sacred character of all of life’s seasons, both tearful and joyful, remains evident in the longing of Advent, the penitential nature of Lent, and the alleluias of Easter.

The church continues to acknowledge divine victories won over sin and death in both the Incarnation and the Paschal mysteries celebrated at Christmas and Easter. It honors the harvest of the church reaped at Pentecost and the long season dedicated to growth—both seen and unseen—in Ordinary Time.

Today’s religious calendar commemorates mystical events and spiritual victories rather than agrarian events and military battles, but it still assists in harnessing time and organizing it for optimal use. Liturgical cycles help us remember our story and the identity we bear as heirs to this history. It acknowledges the sacred character of time in witnessing to the goodness and faithfulness of God. Most of all it reminds us of the many reasons we have to give thanks.

Scripture
Leviticus 23; Deuteronomy 16:1-17; Isaiah 9:2; Hosea 8:7; Matthew 13:37-43; John 4:35-38; 1 Corinthians 9:10-11; Revelation 14:15-20

Online
• The Roman Catholic calendar for A.D. 2014

Book
Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God by Bobby Gross (InterVarsity Press)

Why do some buildings have feast days?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 11, August 2014 Categories: Liturgy,Church History

St. John Lateran Basilica                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               To be exact, three days on the liturgical calendar honor buildings—and another celebrates a chair. Since most Catholics think of feast days as memorials of saints and martyrs, the notion of venerating places and furniture can sound more than a little odd.

The church calendar also recalls important revelatory events in the life of Jesus like Epiphany, the Ascension, or his Baptism; a theological "feast" celebrating God as Trinity; sacramental celebrations like the Body and Blood of Christ; and birthdays like the Nativity of John the Baptist, Mary, and Jesus. Marian days include title feasts for names under which we honor Mary, including Our Lady of the Rosary and the acknowledgment of her Queenship.

So not all feast days honor saints, and not all focus specifically on people. Back to celebrations of "things." The three buildings plus chair annually honored are as follows: the Dedications of the Basilica of St. Mary Major (Aug 5), Basilica of St. John Lateran (Nov 9), the Basilicas of Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles (Nov 18), and the Chair of Peter (Feb 22).

The four patriarchal basilicas are ancient in origin, and are all in Rome. The Lateran is important as the episcopal seat of the bishop of Rome, a.k.a. the Pope's cathedral, and is the highest-ranking Catholic church. Originally the property of the Laterani family, it was called the Church of the Savior after being donated to the Church by Constantine in the 4th century. The pope's official residence was on the grounds of this basilica until 1309 when papal offices moved to Avignon. The Lateran was damaged by earthquakes (in 443 and 896), barbarian invasions (455 and the 700s), and fires (1308 and 1360). It was rededicated to St. John the Baptist after the rebuild of 905, and for its many resurrections is symbolic of the Church's resilience through history.

St. Mary Major was built in the 4th century, according to legend, after snow fell on the site in August. It was formerly known as Our Lady of the Snows. St. Peter's Basilica was built over the crypt where Peter is believed to be buried. Over 130 popes also rest there. St. Paul's Outside the Walls honors the relics of Paul. The Chair of Peter, housed at the Vatican, is a wooden throne gifted to the pope in 875. It represents the fullness of papal authority derived from "sitting in Peter's seat."

Scriptures: Isa 2:1-5; Matt 21:12-13; 1 Cor 3:9-17; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:19-22

Books: The Jubilee Guide to Rome: The Four Basilicas, the Great Pilgrimage - Andrea Braghin et. al. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1998)

The Major Basilicas of Rome - Roberta Vicchi (New York: Scala Press, 1999)

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Why do we have a Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 24, March 2014 Categories: Sacraments,Doctrines & Beliefs,Liturgy
 RCIA symbols
To those who recall a time before 1988—the year when the church mandated the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults for every parish—the RCIA feels like a new thing Catholics are doing. Actually it's a very old thing the church ceased to do long ago and decided to revive for good reasons.

These days we number seven discreet sacraments: Baptism, Eucharist, Penance, Confirmation, Matrimony, Holy Orders, and the Anointing of the Sick. This list was codified at the 16th-century Council of Trent, when many church practices were enshrined to define Catholicism against its rivals during the Protestant Reformation. Inadvertently that led to a loss of the interconnectedness of all sacramental actions: the relationship between the “healing sacraments,” for example, or the mutual dignity of the “vocation sacraments.” Above all, parsing distinct sacramental theologies broke the integrity of the “initiating sacraments”: Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. These were originally inseparable events which the RCIA process seeks to restore in the Catholic consciousness.

From the time of the early church it was understood that Baptism confers the Holy Spirit on the recipient, as the New Testament frequently attests. The activity of the Spirit is the "confirmation" the initiate now shares with the whole church. To withhold that sign for years, as we routinely do with children who receive Confirmation a decade or more after Baptism, creates a chasm in understanding this sacramental pairing. It's why some theologians call Confirmation "a sacrament in search of a meaning."

Similarly, once a person is baptized and confirmed, he or she is eligible for full participation in the life of the church–including a place at the Table of the Lord. The early church rightly understood the three initiating rites as a single event to be celebrated together after the proper season of preparation. What the modern RCIA process does is restore the period of preparation and the natural integrity of these sacramental actions. It gives us all a richer understanding of what these sacraments mean, even if we didn't receive them in a threefold way ourselves.

The modern church has yet to figure out how all this should work in light of infant baptism, practiced with urgency since the 4th-century development of the doctrine of original sin. Right now children receive slivers of membership until maturity, as the church "supplies" their faith by proxy until they're fully catechized.

Scripture
Acts 2:41-47; 19:1-6; Romans 6:3-11; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:27-29

Online
Explanation of the RCIA from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Books
The Heart of Faith: A Field Guide for Catechumens and Candidates by Nick Wagner (Twenty-Third Publications, 2010)
Invitation to Catholicism by Alice Camille (ACTA Publications)

What’s the purpose of incense?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 06, November 2013 Categories: Liturgy,Church History,Prayer and Spirituality

Incense was big in ancient religions. You can appreciate why when you think about how much blood was splashed around in ritual sacrifices or how troublesome the smell of bodies (both living and deceased) was in the time before modern hygiene. The perfume industry did well in a world where peculiar odors were the rule rather than the exception. It covered a multitude of sins in more ways than one.

Incense

Like most ritual elements, its practical use laid the groundwork for a spiritual interpretation as well. The sweet smell that cloaked odors also drove out evil spirits and welcomed the divine Presence. Smoke provides a certain amount of concealment, too, which is why we speak of a “smokescreen” (effectively used by the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz!). This veil of mystery hints at the sacred One who cannot be seen by mortal eyes. Smoke rises toward the sky, traditionally the dwelling place of the divine. It’s no surprise that the psalm popularly prayed in the Liturgy of the Hours declares: “Let my prayer be incense before you” (Psalm 141:1-2). We also “lift up our hearts” to God in prayer at every Mass. Everything that goes to God, goes up.

Incense comes from the Latin word for “something burned.” It was produced from the resin of trees and burned either in a swinging thurible pot or a stationary brazier. The first is useful for incensing around a crowd of people, as we do at Mass. The second works for producing a cloud around an altar or sacred object.

Before the Second Vatican Council the use of incense was restricted only to High Masses. Now it can be used at any Mass: to honor the sacrament, the assembly and presider, the gospel book, the ambo and altar. The first recorded use of incense in Christian rituals was at a funeral in the year 311, and it’s still used to reverence the body of the deceased at funerals today—reminding us that the destiny of the loved one, as our own destiny, is to unite with God in the life to come.

As liturgist Paul Philibert elegantly expresses it: “Incense, the fragrant, lovely substances that allows itself to be consumed and to float off into indeterminate space beyond our reach, signifies the loving entrustment of our lives to God’s providence.” The sign of incense, burned to ashes yet producing a pleasing fragrance in its surrender, symbolizes our capitulated self-interest in radical trust in the divine will.

Scripture
Exodus 30:1-10; Psalm 141:1-2; Sirach 24:15; Isaiah 60:6; Jeremiah 6:20; Matthew 2:11; Mark 14:8; John 12:3, 7

Books
Seeing and Believing: Images of Christian Faith by Frank Kacmarcik and Paul Philibert (Liturgical Press, 1995)
The Symbols of the Church, ed. by Maurice Dilasser (Liturgical Press, 2000)

What is the Anointing of the Sick?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Friday 16, August 2013 Categories: Liturgy,Doctrines & Beliefs
One of seven sacraments of the church, the Anointing of the Sick is a liturgy that recalls the healing presence and power of Jesus in times when human beings touch their mortality most vulnerably, like during a serious illness, when facing surgery, in the infirmity of advanced age, in recognition of mental or physical debility, and at the hour when death is near.

From ancient times, anointing has implied ritual contact with a substance (oil, water, blood, or even mud) to affect change, according to Jesuit Father John Endres, S.J. Oil anointings were generally joyful occasions: athletic events, civil ceremonies, cleansing rites, initiations, and consecrations. Kings and priests assumed their roles through anointing rites. After the anointing, it was understood that a person’s life and purpose had been transformed. Oil was also used for its healing and beautifying properties, and for preparing bodies for burial.

In the same way, the church draws on holy oils at many rites of passage from one state to another, including baptisms, confirmations, ordinations, and in the consecration of new churches and altars—all of which enhances the dignity of the ritual use of oil in circumstances of weakness, illness, and dying as well. By this sign the sick person testifies to the whole community that it puts its faith in the seen and unseen, the bodily life of the present and the life of the world to come, the forgiveness of sins, and the authority of physical and spiritual healing available in Christ. In the 
Anointing of the Sick
Anointing of the Sick, we acknowledge the vulnerable or endangered person as one who essentially ministers to the community with his or her proclamation of faith in word and witness.

The ordinary minister of the sacrament is the priest, although it’s presumed that a community of faith gathers to share the event: family, friends, and caregivers. Various elements of the ritual include prayers, scripture, laying hands on the head of the recipient, and the anointing of their head and hands. There may be a water sprinkling rite of all present, and specifically affected areas of the sick person’s bodye may also be anointed with the oil. Children or young people may receive the sacrament if they are old enough to appreciate its meaning or if by their reception the family or community may receive the benefit of its effect. When a person is in danger of death the additional sacraments of reconciliation and communion (viaticum, or “on the way with you”) are also celebrated.

Scripture
Leviticus 8; Psalm 23:5; 45:8-9; Isaiah 61:1-3; Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; Luke 4:18; 7:36-50; 10:34; John 12:1-8; 2 Corinthians 1:21-22; James 5:14-15

Books
Prophetic Anointing: God’s Call to the Sick, the Elderly, and the Dying by James L. Empereur (Liturgical Press, 1982)
And You Visited Me: Sacramental Ministry to the Sick and the Dying, revised ed., by Charles W. Gusmer (Liturgical Press)

Why do we hear scripture readings at Mass?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 05, August 2013 Categories: Liturgy,Scripture

To begin this discussion it’s best to go back and read Luke 24:13-35 (see link below). That is the story of the two travelers on the road to Emmaus on the first Easter night. These two had every benefit a disciple could have: They had known Jesus in the flesh, had heard him preach, perhaps had witnessed a miracle or two. The Emmaus travelers had even harbored the hope that this “prophet mighty in deed and word” would be “the one to redeem Israel.”

Then came the arrest and trial, condemnation and crucifixion of Jesus, all with brutal swiftness. The horror of these events at the end of such a promising festal week, which had begun with the triumphant entry into Jerusalem and terminated abruptly on Passover night, must have stunned everyone who hoped in Jesus to be the answer to their personal and national problems. On the heels of this heartbreak came the dubious report of “some women from our group” who couldn’t find the body of Jesus in the tomb where he’d been laid. Visions of angels in no way comforted those who heard the news. These two from Emmaus were headed home, to resume the lives they’d had before they ever heard of Jesus. The Jesus-thing had all gone wrong and none of it made much sense.

Lectionary

What made the difference and turned these near-deserters around? Two things. The first was encountering a stranger who explained scripture to them. The second was the breaking of the bread at supper that night. In scripture and ritual suddenly these two disappointed and dispirited disciples “got it.” Just hearing the Bible lesson wasn’t enough. Their hearts may have been burning as they walked along and listened to the stranger, but he didn’t become their Lord until the breaking of the bread. But the truth is, they would never have invited the stranger to have supper with them if they hadn’t been attracted to his words and absorbed by the implications.

Word and sacrament have been natural complements to the unfolding of the mystery of our faith ever since. One prepares us for the revelation of the other. If we didn’t have the Liturgy of the Word, with its stories of old covenants and new ones, God’s promises made and kept, we would come to the Table of the Lord uninitiated and uncomprehending—if we made it that far at all.

Scripture
Luke 24:13-35; John 1:1-5, 14; Acts 2:42-47; 6:1-7; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; 15:1-4; Colossians 3:16; 1 Timothy 3:14-16; 1 John 1:1-4

Online
The Lectionary and the Liturgical Year: How Catholics Read Scripture by Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M., S.T.D., Scripture from Scratch, Franciscan Media ©1996-2013.

Books
Eucharist: The Meal & the Word by Ghislain Lafont (Paulist Press, 2008)
Encountering Christ in the Eucharist: The Paschal Mystery in People, Word, and Sacrament by Bruce T. Morrill, S.J. (Paulist Press, 2012)

What is the Sacrament of Confirmation?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Friday 28, June 2013 Categories: Liturgy
In the early church the answer was simple: Confirmation was part of the initiating rites of Christianity along with Baptism and Eucharist. All three were administered together on the same occasion as one embraced the faith. With the rise of infant baptism, however, the anointing that confirmed faith was separated from the water rite that signaled reception into the church. The reluctance to give Eucharist to infants led to the disintegration of a unified initiating rite.
Confirmation
CELEBRATION of Confirmation in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
©Zvonimir Ćorić, Catholic News Agency, Bishops' Conf. of Bosnia and Herzegovina
The term “sacraments of initiation” was introduced at the end of the 19th century, mostly by liturgists and theologians. The term made it into the Code of Canon Law in 1983 when these three sacramental moments were declared “so interrelated that they are required for full Christian initiation” (Canon 842.2). To understand Confirmation, then, is to appreciate how it stands together with these sacraments as much as how it stands apart—if in fact it can be said to do so at all.

From its earliest practice, the imposition of hands and the anointing with oil signified the imparting of the Holy Spirit to the newly baptized. Around 416 Pope Innocent I allowed a priest to use chrism (blessed oil) at Baptism but insisted that signing the brow with the oil be reserved to the bishop. That created problems because bishops were not omnipresent in the church then or now. Once Confirmation was delayed, the second oil anointing required justification. Perhaps it was seen to provide spiritual strength for the battles of life; as this idea became popular, the bishop’s welcoming kiss was replaced with a slap to signify the entrance into spiritual conflict.

Over the centuries both parents and bishops got lazy about administering this additional sacrament—which, frankly, is not a little problem even today. To ensure its practice, church councils established age requirements, anywhere from one to seven, with the maximum permitted being seven, the age of reason. Human nature being what it is, the maximum became the standard, except in danger of death.

Efforts to close the gap between the first and last initiating sacraments went on for centuries, but a clause in the Confirmation rite itself, which gave bishops’ conferences the right to “set an age that seems more suitable” after proper formation “when the recipients are more mature,” invited the practice of adolescent Confirmation into the mix. Confirmation is now popularly understood as a rite of passage into Christian adulthood, and remains, as many theologians call it, “a practice in search of a theory.”

Scripture
2 Corinthians 1:21-22; Ephesians 1:13-14

Online
Podcast: The Sacrament of Confirmation - Wendy M. Wright interviews John O’Keefe about the Sacrament of Confirmation in historical context, from the Center for Catholic Thought, Creigton University

Books
The Confirmed Catholic’s Companion: A Guide to Abundant Living by Sister Mary Kathleen Glavich, S.N.D. (ACTA Publications, 2013)
• I Have Chosen You - Candidates's Journal and I Have Chosen You - Leader’s Guide byJoseph Moore (Paulist Press, 2004)

Are there other kinds of Catholics besides Roman?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 14, November 2012 Categories: Liturgy

A more precise question might be: Are there Catholics besides those of the Roman rite that are recognized by the church? Anglicanism considers itself both “catholic” and reformed, though they aren’t “Catholic” by Roman standards. While the official relationship between the Vatican and the Church of England is described as warm and cordial, and the Anglican Communion “occupies a special place” (the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism, no. 13), Roman Catholics do not share full communion with Anglicans, which is the all-important sign of unity.

Orthodox churches are another matter. While the split with Rome occurred for Anglicans during the era of the Protestant Reformation, the schism between East and West happened five centuries earlier and is still considered the “great schism.” Because the Eastern tradition maintains apostolic succession, their priesthood and sacraments are recognized as valid by the Roman church. Therefore worship in common is both permissible and encouraged by Rome (Decree on Ecumenism, no. 15), although the churches’ shared sense of communion is partial and still problematic.

Eastern Catholics
WORSHIP in the Slovak-Ukrainian tradition.

Beyond those two distinctions, there are rites that do enjoy full communion with the Latin (Roman) rite: the Byzantine (the largest, including Albanian, Belarusian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Greek, Hungarian, Italo-Albanian, Macedonian, Melkite, Romanian, Russian, Ruthenian, Slovak, and Ukrainian); the Alexandrian (some Coptics of Egypt and Ge’ez Ethiopian), the “West Syrian” (Syriac, Syro-Malankara also in India, and Maronite—Lebanese—the president of Lebanon must by law be a Maronite); the “East Syrian” (Chaldean, with headquarters in Baghdad, and Syro-Malabar in India); and the Armenian.

If you have friends in these rites, you can go to Mass with them and receive communion—but stay awake and pay attention because when you’re not in Rome you can’t always do what the Romans do. The other rites have separate codes of canon law (church law) and very different customs. Some bless themselves with three fingers or genuflect three times, in honor of the Trinity. Communion may be served under both kinds on a little spoon or in the kneeling posture. Parts of the liturgy may be celebrated behind an ornate and beautiful screen called the iconostasis.

Because many of these rites evolved closer to the East, they resemble Orthodox liturgy more than Roman. The clergy are invariably male, may be married, and most likely have more beard than you’re used to. Though it may not be Rome, it is, eucharistically speaking, still home.

Scripture
John 17:20-26; Romans 12:3-8; 14:1-15:13; 1 Corinthians 12:4-26; Philippians 2:1-4

Books

The Eastern Christian Churches: A Brief Survey by Ronald Roberson, C.S.P. (Edizioni Orientalia Christiana, 1999)
Byzantine Theology: Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes by John Meyendorff (Fordham University Press, 1999)

Online
• Second Vatican Council, Decree on the Catholic Churches of the Eastern Rite Orientalium Ecclesiarum
• An excellent historical introduction to the Eastern Catholic churches from the Office of Religious Education of the Byzantine Eparchy of Parma (Ohio), with the Very Rev. Thomas Loya:

Why sing at Mass?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Friday 14, September 2012 Categories: Liturgy
Singing

My question is: Why don’t we sing more? The importance of singing in ritual is long-established. Can we have a ball game in this country without a rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner? I’m amazed that the same people who belt out a song in the shower, croon along in the car, and know all the words and moves to Thriller don’t crack the songbook in the pews. Granted, not all church music suits your taste or mine. I’m not wild about the “Happy Birthday” song either. But when it’s time to sing it, the liturgy of the moment demands that I play my part.

Saint Augustine, who said many things well, insisted: “Singing is for one who loves.” That is the same Bishop Augustine who considered banning music from his church altogether. Augustine loved music so much he found it far too fetching and distracting to enjoy at liturgies. In the end he adhered to the older proverb: “Whoever sings well prays twice over.” So pass out the song sheets.

Saint Paul was an earlier proponent of church music, back when church was held in somebody’s house. He advocated that believers sing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16). While Augustine got it right that singing is for lovers, happy people in general whistle while they work, and grateful people feel as if they have something to sing about. That could explain a lot of things about why folks in church are reluctant to sing. Ever look around at all those glum faces? Without a significant increase in the spirit of joy and gratitude, don’t expect an increase in responsive singers.

In the Bible a lot of joy and gratitude gets expressed in random acts of music. “Sing to the Lord a new song!” the psalmists say—in the Bible’s own songbook, the Psalms. Many of the big players have a song to sing, especially the women: Miriam at the Red Sea rescue; Hannah at the birth of her child; Deborah after her battleground victory achieved with the help of another woman, Jael; Judith after defeating Holofernes; and Mary when she visits Elizabeth and shares her annunciation. King David himself wrote music, played, and danced—which annoyed his wife, who thought it made him seem frivolous in front of the nation. To those who love and feel joy and gratitude, a little frivolity in public is in order.

Scripture
Exodus 15:1-18; 1 Samuel 2:1-10; Judges 5; Judith 16:1-18; the Book of Psalms; Luke 1:46-55; Colossians 3:16

Music
Psalms from the Soul by Rawn Harbor, ValLimar & Frank Jansen, and Val Parker (OCP)
Psalms for the Church Year by David Haas and Marty Haugen (GIA Publications)

Books
The Liturgical Music Answer Book by Peggy Lovrien (Resource Publications, 1999)
Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship (USCCB, 2008)

Image credit: 123RF Stock Photo

Why are there two Creeds?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 23, May 2012 Categories: Church History,Doctrines & Beliefs,Liturgy
Creed

Actually, there are more than two. But in common liturgical usage we appeal to two: the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed. They are professions of faith, from the Latin credo, “I believe.” A creed is an authorized statement of religious belief formulated for initiation and other rites. It provides a concise expression of what the believer holds to be true in communion with the entire body of the faithful.

The Christian creed took many forms in the 1st-century church. The simplest is Saint Peter’s confessional phrase, “You are the Messiah,” in answer to Jesus’ question: “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:16; Mark 8:29). Peter repeats his reply in the streets at Pentecost. Saint Paul also uses a two-part formula professing allegiance to God and his Son. The Trinitarian confession evolves later and is harder to find in the New Testament. It appears at the end of the Gospel of Matthew: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Paul offers a summary of the teaching handed to him: Christ died for our sins and was raised on the third day. He reminds the Corinthians of the “gospel I preached to you, which you indeed received” (1 Corinthians 15:1). That became known as the kerygma,or “proclamation,” which the church formerly recited as “the mystery of faith”: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

Church fathers like Ignatius and Irenaeus in the 2nd century evolved fuller expressions called rules of faith. Hippolytus offered an interrogatory, question-and-answer format creed similar to what the church sometimes use at Eastertime. An Old Roman Creed of 150 A.D. was later developed into the Apostles Creed, one of the earliest of a half-dozen ecumenical creeds embraced across the church. While the apostles didn’t write it, it clearly reflects church teaching from the first decades, and Saint Ambrose first mentioned it by that name around 390.

The Nicene Creed was another ecumenical version established at the Council of Constantinpole (not Nicaea) in 381 A.D., and by the 6th century it became the standard at baptisms. When the Reformers of the 16th century provided their own creeds starting with the Augsburg Confession in 1530, the Roman Church responded with a few more, up to and including one by Pope Paul VI in 1968. Because the Catholic Church uses them at Mass, the Apostles and Nicene Creed remain the most influential professions of Catholic faith.

Scripture
Matthew 16:16; Matthew 28:19; Acts 2:36; Romans 1:1-4; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Books
The Creed: What Christians Believe and Why It Matters by Luke Timothy Johnson (Image, 2004)
The Christian Faith in the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church, 7th ed., ed. by Jacques Dupuis, S.J. and Josef Neuner, S.J. (Alba House, 2001)

Online
“Creeds and Canons” from the Internet Christian Library

Why isn’t the "Gloria" sung during Lent?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Friday 02, March 2012 Categories: Liturgy,Liturgy

Gloria

Let’s start with some basic rules of liturgy set down by the Second Vatican Council in its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. The aim of liturgy is to serve the need to worship God in “full, active, and conscious participation” (no.14). The rituals in the Mass should therefore bear a “noble simplicity” that is “within the people’s powers of comprehension” (no.34). The unfolding of the church year with its various feasts and seasons seeks to do that by revealing “the whole mystery of Christ” from Incarnation to Pentecost in due season (no.102). The church is to be particularly directed toward feasts of the Lord that point to salvation (no.108).

In other words, a huge principle in ritual is to move up and down a sliding scale of magnificence so that it will be clear to the youngest child what’s really important in the full spectrum of what the church believes. The Resurrection of Jesus is the number-one mystery Christians celebrate, so it’s enhanced with three days of intense liturgy (the Triduum), a full week of solemn commemoration (Holy Week), preceded by 40 days of penitential preparation (the season of Lent)—not to forget every celebration of the Eucharist of course.

Along with prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to get ready for Easter, the church also fasts from saying or singing the word Alleluia (some traditions have even buried the Alleluia with great pageantry on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday and “resurrected” it again at Easter) as well as singing the Gloria. As one perceptive music minister put it: The church doesn’t sing these great words during Lent for the same reason the church don’t sing Jesus Christ Is Risen Today—until we get there liturgically.

Just as the church refrains from the Gloria during Lent, it does the same during Advent, which is another great season of preparation for a greater mystery, the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. We don’t sing Christmas carols during Lent (not in church, anyway!), so we don’t sing the mother-of-all-carols, the song of the angels, until then. Gloria in Excelsis Deo is heaven’s response to the glorious birth of Jesus. If the angels can wait until that holy night to sing it, I suppose the rest of us can, too.

The Gloria is an exalted hymn which is not to be replaced by any other at that time in the Mass, so say the norms of the Roman Missal. It adds a “celebratory character” to the Introductory Rites that is better expressed sung than in recitation, and increased in collaboration with a full choir—reminding us of its debut performance. “To sing belongs to lovers,” as Saint Augustine once said. To yearn also belongs to lovers—which is why sometimes the church saves the song until its proper hour.

Scripture
Luke 2:14; Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19; Acts of the Apostles 2:46-47

Online
Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy

Books
At the Supper of the Lamb: A Pastoral and Theological Commentary on the Mass by Paul Turner (Liturgy Training Publications, 2011)
Days of the Lord: The Liturgical Year, Vol. 2: Lent (Liturgical Press, 1993)

When and where is it appropriate to bow inside Catholic churches?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 01, February 2010 Categories: Liturgy

The poet William Stafford wrote about the spirit of reverence in which he describes this human imperative: "A great event is coming, bow down." He reflects, "And I, always looking for something anyway, / always bow down" (Things That Happen, 1970). Folks like Stafford with a highly cultivated sense of reverence know there's never a wrong time to bow, because every moment is a miracle. But it's also good to know what folks may be bowing to as they maneuver around the sacred space of Catholic churches.

First and foremost there's the altar, officially called the Table of the Lord. Because Catholic worship is centered on the celebration of the Eucharist, this table is the most important piece of furniture in the church. When entering a church it's appropriate to make a bow of the head and shoulders toward the altar. That is an act of faith in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

The bow itself is an ancient symbol of surrender to a higher authority: baring the back of the neck made you vulnerable to the person before whom you subjected yourself. Bowing toward the altar whenever you cross in front of it is proper. (But if you're cleaning or decorating the church or otherwise crossing frequently, the protocol is naturally suspended.)

Later in church history it became common to reserve some part of the Eucharist in a receptacle known as the tabernacle. The tabernacle is placed variously around churches, from directly above the altar (from the days when the altar was against the wall of the sanctuary) to the present practice of reserving the Eucharist at the side of the sanctuary space or sometimes in a separate chapel entirely.

Because the tabernacle contains the consecrated Body of Christ, it—like the Table of the Lord—are reverenced with a bow or even a genuflection (going down on one knee and making the Sign of the Cross over yourself). When the tabernacle is in line with the altar or shares the same sanctuary space, it is not necessary to reverence both. The proper bow is always primarily toward the Table of the Lord. Of course you'll see folks bow toward images of Jesus, his mother Mary, favorite saints, or the cross. These are devotional gestures and not obligatory. Inside the church reverencing the altar is sufficient.

Scripture
Exodus 3:4-6; Leviticus 19:30; 26:2; Psalm 86:9; Revelation 4:6-11

Books
Stories That Could Be True: New and Collected Poems by William Stafford (Harper & Row, 1982)
The Spiritual Life: Recognizing the Holy by Robert Fabing (Paulist Press, 2004)
The Holy Way: Practices for a Simple Life by Paula Huston (Loyola Press, 2003)

What is the lectionary?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 15, July 2009 Categories: Liturgy,Scripture

If you attend Mass regularly you'll notice certain books hold prominence of place in the gathering. These over-large and often decorated volumes contain Bible passages appointed for public reading by trained readers (lectors) and are called lectionaries.

Each lectionary organizes readings according to the feasts and seasons of the church year. In this way we hear about the birth of Jesus at Christmas, the Passion during Holy Week, the ministry of Jesus during other times of the year, and so on. The Sunday lectionary contains three years' worth of readings:

—Cycle A follows Matthew's gospel with Old Testament passages chosen to parallel its themes.

—Cycle B is organized around Mark's gospel—although Mark is so short that John's gospel supplements the year.

—Cycle C coordinates Luke's gospel with Old Testament readings.

(The Gospel of John isn't slighted; it's used in all three years for special feasts when thematically appropriate.)

In between the Old Testament and gospel readings on Sundays, an additional New Testament passage is selected from a letter of Saint Paul or another apostle and read continuously across the Sundays until it's finished. During the Easter season the Old Testament reading is replaced by a passage from the Acts of the Apostles or the Book of Revelation.

There's also a daily lectionary that runs in a two-year cycle (Years I and II) pairing gospel passages with continuous readings from Old or New Testament books. Saints' days have their own appropriately chosen optional readings, and an additional lectionary has passages suitable for baptisms, weddings, funerals, and other occasions.

Why do we have lectionaries? For one thing, they provide breadth. Catholics can hear a fairly broad amount of scripture in a few years' time. Not every Bible verse is covered by the lectionary, but a surprisingly comprehensive reading can be achieved by the daily Mass-goer.

Another practical reason for lectionaries is that they save time: The preacher doesn't have to scramble looking for passages on forgiveness for every Rite of Reconciliation, for example. Finally, it keeps preachers honest: They can't default to their favorite themes but must treat scripture in its fullness.

Lectionaries have existed in one form or another since Christianity's Jewish roots in the synagogue. These tools have proven the test of time.

Scripture
Nehemiah 8:1-12; Psalm 119; Luke 4:16-21; Hebrews 4:12; James 1:19-21

Website
The New American Bible organized by daily lectionary readings

Books
Journeying with Mark (also available for Matthew and Luke) by Jennifer Christ (Paulist Press, 2005)
God's Word Is Alive: Reflections on the Lectionary Readings by Alice Camille (ACTA Publications, 2007)

Why do Catholics bless themselves, genuflect, and so on?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 15, June 2009 Categories: Liturgy

Many rituals that your parents may have performed or your parochial schoolteachers insisted on when you walked into sacred space fall under the heading of personal pieties. Enter any city church and you’re likely to see a host of ethnically rooted expressions of faith: people kissing statues, moving up the aisles on their knees, leaving rosaries around the necks of madonnas or handwritten prayers rubber-banded to the hands of Jesus. Dollar bills origami-ed into the shape of hearts are becoming popular in the candle offering box, too.

While these practices are meaningful to their practitioners, they are not "officially" Catholic gestures. Blessing yourself—that is, making the Sign of the Cross “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”—is, however, a formal ritual gesture of the church. It marks you as a Christian, and it is the way both public Catholic prayer begins as it is for the most personal expression of thanks before and after meals. It also reminds Christians of their belief in three “persons” in one God.

The full Sign of the Cross includes touching the forehead, heart, and both shoulders, signifying acceptance of the demands of discipleship over our thoughts, desires, and deeds. A smaller version, performed before the proclamation of the gospel at Mass, involves making a thumb sketch of the cross on the forehead, lips, and heart while praying silently, “May the Lord be on my mind, on my lips, and in my heart, that I may be worthy to proclaim the gospel.” At the start of Lent, it’s also customary to bear the Sign of the Cross in ashes on the forehead.

Genuflection, or touching down one knee accompanied by the Sign of the Cross, is a particular gesture made only in a Catholic church or other place designated for worship. It’s a sign of reverence toward the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Sometimes the reverence is directed toward the table of the Lord (the altar) if Mass is to be celebrated. Otherwise, genuflection is to be directed toward the tabernacle, where the real presence remains in the consecrated hosts. For those who cannot genuflect, a simple bow is sufficient. These movements are not magical but reminders that we are incarnate beings who believe in a God who chose to become a Word made flesh.

Scripture
Matthew 28:19; Romans 6:12-14; 12:1; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17

Website
Questions and answers about Catholic “sacramentals”—the Sign of the Cross, medals, and others

Books
Why Do Catholics Do That? by Kevin Orlin Johnson (Ballantine Books, 1994)
Catholic Etiquette: What You Need to Know About Catholic Rites and Wrongs by Kay Lynn Isca (Our Sunday Visitor, 1997)
Now That You Are a Catholic: An Informal Guide to Catholic Customs, Traditions, and Practices by John J. Kenny, C.S.P. (Paulist Press, 2003)

Why do priests wear vestments?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 03, August 2010 Categories: Liturgy

I admit, being let loose in a sacristy the first time can be like wandering through a costume department in Hollywood. Vestments can be ornate, fabulous, regal—not to mention incredibly heavy, depending on the period they were designed. But what’s most important to recognize is that when first adopted they were a costlier form of the same basic garb worn by the general population.

Ancient Hebrews wore a tunic, gathered with a sash, and a turban. Wool was the primary fabric, but priestly garments were mostly woven of linen and decorated with gold thread and yarns of violet, purple, and scarlet. In addition, high priests wore an overlying robe, squarish, with a hole in the middle to drape over the head, trimmed at the hem in bells and yarn pomegranates. On his head he wore a miter (pointed hat).

When the first Jewish Christians gathered for worship, they assembled in homes and wore no distinguishing clothing. But after the legalization of Christianity in the late 3rd century, formal public worship raised the visibility of the presider and so, too, his vesture. Still, the clothing worn by the presider resembled secular apparel.

First came the alb, a white tunic worn as an undergarment in all social classes. A ropelike cincture held the alb in place around the hips. Next was the chasuble, a more colorful poncho-like covering. Over that was the scarf known as the stole, which may have been a symbol of authoritative office. Then came the dalmatic, a more formal alb worn in the imperial court and reserved for the use of bishops and the deacons who served with them. To the bishop was also reserved the wearing of the miter.

After the 7th century secular fashions advanced, strangely enough, as a result of barbarian invasions which brought down the Empire in the West. But church vesture remained the same, now oddly out of step with what everyone else was wearing. The Second Vatican Council in the 1960’s inaugurated a return to simplicity in vestments, recommending that their beauty derive from “material and design” rather than “lavish ornamentation” (say good-bye to bells and pomegranates!). The continued use of vestments links our celebrations with those of previous generations and enhances the dignity of our assembly—as dressing in “our Sunday best” always has.

Scripture
• Exodus 28, 29, and 39; Leviticus 8; Ezekiel 44:15-19

Online resource
General Instruction of the Roman Missal, nos. 335-347

Books
The Symbols of the Church by Maurice Dilasser (Liturgical Press, 1999)
The Mass and Vestments of the Catholic Church, Liturgical, Doctrinal, Historical, and Archaeological by John Walsh (General Books LLC, 2010; pay-to-download site)

Pulpit, lectern, ambo: What’s the difference?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 16, February 2011 Categories: Liturgy

Casually, they mean the same thing: the place from which readers read, cantors chant, and preachers preach. The original term for the whole thing was the Greek word ambo. When “church” evolved from being a name for the assembly to designate the special building where people gathered, architecture began to define the liturgical movements. Because the Mass comes in two parts, the Liturgy of the Word and of the Eucharist, the ambo was the place where the first part happened, and the altar was the stage for the second.

We see the vestige of the ambo design in the semicircular part of the sanctuary that juts into the assembly. The ambo pulpit was first positioned there on an elevated platform. Two staircases led to it. The subdeacon ascended from the east and, facing the altar, proclaimed the epistle. The deacon ascended from the west, facing the people, and proclaimed the gospel. Because both readings were chanted, this front area also housed the choir and was part of what today would be called the “music ministry.” Preaching was normally done from the presider’s chair.

The ambo design imitated the mountain where Moses received the Law and Jesus offered his famous Sermon. From the 4th-12th centuries this configuration was popular, leading to developments such as two ambos: an eastern one dedicated to the epistle and a western one with a permanent candle used for the gospel. Less common was the double-decker ambo with a lower station for the epistle and higher one for the gospel.

The pulpit eventually replaced the old ambo. Less ornate in decoration, it was still elevated (pulpit, by the way, means “scaffold”). The pulpit was separated from the choir and used purely for proclamation, its exalted stage viewed as the "position of the perfect.” Even during the early ambo period, acoustics were poor from the chair so some sermons were delivered from the ambo. The pulpit supported this tradition and is now usually the name for the place from which priests and deacons read the gospel and give the homily.

The lectern is a humbler development: It’s a support for a book. It may denote the stand the priest uses to prop up the sacramentary at the altar. Today, ambo and lectern are often used interchangeably to refer to the place where the readings, psalm responses, and general intercessions are proclaimed. The pulpit is generally reserved for preaching and the gospel reading.

Scripture
2 Chronicles 6:12-13; Nehemiah 8:3-5; Isaiah 40:9; Matthew 5:1-2

Online
Built of Living Stones: Art, Architecture, and Worship, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Committee on Divine Worship

Books
The House of God: Church Architecture, Style and History by Edward R. Norman (Norton/Thames and Hudson, 2005)
Repitching the Tent: Reordering the Church Building for Worship and Mission by Richard Giles (Liturgical Press, 1999)

Why does the liturgy change?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 16, November 2011 Categories: Liturgy

 
chalice
“Do this in memory of me,” Jesus told his disciples—but he never told them exactly how to do it liturgically. The rituals of our Eucharist have been in flux ever since. The history of the Mass is one of nearly continual evolution.

Why does just about every generation make changes? To serve the community of faith. Some developments are fundamental, as when the Greek liturgy shifted into Latin in the 4th century, leaving only the Kyrie behind; Latin had become the language of the marketplace. The Mass entered the vernacular in 1970, acknowledging that a dead language might not be the best choice for a living celebration. Those offended by the appearance of guitars (a vehicle for rock music!) in church in the 1960s should be reminded that others were similarly horrified when the organ first entered the building in the 700s, replacing stringed instruments. Organs had previously had a vulgar association with gladiatorial combat.

Some changes simplify: The expert advisors at the Second Vatican Council eliminated repetitious gestures and prayers. Other changes clarify: Host and chalice were elevated in the 13th century to emphasize the consecration. Customs change: We no longer bless oil, cheese, and olives after the Eucharistic Prayer as they did in the 3rd century. For most of church history the community handed over food and livestock at the offering; by the 12th century they were encouraged to bring money.

Parts of the Mass predate Christianity: singing psalms, swinging incense, and the use of “Amen,” “Alleluia,” and “Let us pray” are rooted in Jewish prayer. By the 2nd century, scripture, the homily, and petitions of the people were standard. Yet the homily disappeared by the 8th century, as did the Prayer of the Faithful by the 1500s. While the Kyrie, Gloria, Creed, Eucharistic Prayer, and many dialogues (like “The Lord be with you” and “Lift up your hearts”) were in place by the 4th century, other familiar elements like praying for the dead weren’t regular until the 8th century. Kneeling for the Eucharistic Prayer started in the 13th century. Before Vatican II, only 1 percent of the Old Testament and 17 percent of the New were heard at Mass. Now 14 percent of the Old and 71 percent of the New Testament are proclaimed.

Scripture
Mark 14:22-26; Matthew 26:26-30; Luke 22:14-20; Acts 2:42-47; 1 Corinthians 12:23-26; Colossians 3:16-17; 1 Timothy 2:1-4; Hebrews 9:11-28

Online
Resources on the new Roman Missal

Books
At the Supper of the Lamb: A Pastoral and Theological Commentary on the Mass by Paul Turner (Liturgy Training Publications, 2011)
From Age to Age: How Christians Have Celebrated the Eucharist by Edward Foley (Liturgical Press, 2008)

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