Friday 28 September 2012

The Cross and Compassion in Lourdes...

Half a dozen of us from the parish had a week’s pilgrimage in Lourdes this week. We were blessed to attend the Traditional Rite of Mass in the Upper basilica on Sunday, and I celebrated our own Mass in one of the side chapels of the Crypt. We prayed our Rosary in front of the Grotto (from the meadow so as not to disturb the supposed silence of the Grotto area itself), attended the processions and went to Confession. But not all was great...why? Well...

The picture you see here is that of a huge Rosary made out of balloons which were let go of one by one so as to "send our prayers up to Heaven". I felt this was nonsense; too reminiscent of the 1970's; all too gooey, all too feminine for my taste. It is beyond me as to why we have to have such childish, emotion-laden gimmicks at the very shrine where Our Lady pleaded for us to “wash in the spring” (the conversion of Baptism and its renewal in Confession), where she pleaded for “Penance, Penance, Penance” and asked that we “Pray to God the conversion of sinners”. No wonder the Church is short of men; such antics do not appeal to the masculine spirit, while a spirit of penance is surely proper to us all...  

Now, I say that a few of us had a week in Lourdes, but the truth is that only some of us did! For those who do not know, I have a measure of Chronic Obstructive Airways Disease, and when I contract a chest infection I tend to come down with a bang. Well, the night before we left, noting all the signs (raised temperature, increasing dyspnoea and a more productive cough) I took myself off to the local Walk-in Centre where I was given antibiotics and prednisone. I thought I would be fine. Not so. Lourdes has a slightly higher altitude and a lot of the streets are inclines, so I did not do so well: in the fight for control of my body the infection and the COPD fared better than I! So I took myself off to the Accuiel treatment room where we discovered my oxygen saturation was low and my lungs very tight (I told them that one -and it was audible to the naked ear, so to speak!) Once I was stabilised the staff sent me back to the hotel -but insisted I use one of their wheelchairs to deal with the inclines. But it proved a significant experience: I was acutely embarrassed at having people move out of my way as I returned to the hotel, and very humbled that those much more ill and disabled than myself showed me so much concern. I got an acute sense that there is a reverence for the sick from the sick as well as the healthy; a feeling that there is a real community among those who are ill. There was an implicit, even explicit, recognition of one’s humanity beneath the person’s illness or disablement that so many souls carry around in their body. “Making up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of His Body” (Col.1v24) is palpable in Lourdes. This was perhaps the most graced visit I have ever had in Lourdes, though the kind of Lourdes experience I hope not to repeat for some years to come...

Thursday 20 September 2012

Reception of a Convert

We are a most blessed people, because to be Catholic is to have received the greatest gift God can ever give. It must be the thing we treasure most; above all people, places and things, because Catholicism gives us God Himself from whom all the people, places and things we love come to us.

We might be called to this gift of Faith when baptised into it as babies, or we might be called to it as an adult: the eldest person I’ve seen received into the Church was in her 70’s. We might be called to Catholicism from atheism to Faith; from another religion to Christ, or from another Christian denomination. It doesn’t matter how or when we get here, as long as we get here. We receive the call to the Faith when God wills. We simply rejoice that we have been called at all, because none of us deserves it -who can deserve to receive the forgiveness of their sins in Confession, or receive the very Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion?

Why would we choose to answer the call? Why choose to be Catholic? I’d like to suggest four good reasons.

First, because Catholicism gives meaning to life.  We can give our life a purpose: such as preparing a good life for our kids; contributing to world peace; advancing science. But purpose is simply what we will do with our life; the meaning of life goes beyond what we hope to do or contribute: the meaning of life is to know and love God in this world so as to reach heaven to be happy with Him forever.  

You know, everyone in the world will suffer dark days: the break-up of a treasured relationship; finding ourselves in an abusive relationship; the loss of a job or a loved one –or worse, the death of a child. Our Faith tells us that all this evil, all this suffering, comes from the fact that Adam and Eve, as the pinnacle of creation, said ‘no’ to a loving, obedient relationship with God, and so lost creation’s share in God’s life, happiness and peace, gaining instead all the opposites: sorrow, trouble and death. But our Faith also tells us that Christ came into this suffering dying world as one of us; came to suffer and die, then do something we could not do: rise again to destroy death and restore life. Now, for all those who faithfully suffer and die with Him in this world, there is eternal life, happiness and peace with Him in heaven.

A second reason to be Catholic is that it is the One True Faith. As Vatican II reminded us, “We believe that Our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, in order to establish the one Body of Christ on earth to which all should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the people of God.” (Unitatis redintegratio 3)

A third reason to be Catholic is that in this one true Faith, God has given us all the helps we need to endure our suffering and stay united to Him: these helps are called the Sacraments:
In Baptism He unites us to Himself;
In Confirmation He seals us with the Spirit of Pentecost and commissions us as His witnesses;
In Holy Communion He feeds us with His own Body and Blood as our daily bread for strength in adversity.
In Confession He restores us to union with Him when we have turned away from Him by deliberate sin;
In anointing of the Sick He heals the soul –and sometimes the body- so as to prepare us for heaven. It is also a living sign of His desire to restore us to the fullness of life.
In Marriage He blesses our love and unites the couple in His eternal, indissoluble love.
Finally, to stay with us as our Good Shepherd who keeps us safe in the truth and supplies our needs by providing sacraments, He gives us the priesthood, especially the episcopate and supremely, the Pope.

In each of these sacraments God is with us in every turn of the page as we write the story of our life and journey towards Him.

A fourth reason to be Catholic is that the Church promotes the culture of life and stability while the world around us promotes the culture of death and non-life-giving sexual experience. Let us be clear: the world promotes death by abortion, euthanasia and sexual experiences that preclude life. The Church promotes life by protecting the unborn child, the terminally ill and sexual experiences that generate life. She proposes care, not killing, as the answer to human suffering, and by promoting sex as sacred to marriage for the union of the couple and the stability of the home and society. This pro-life, pro-family stand can make us an enigma to people; even those closest to us. They might see us as judging them, when in fact we never judge people, only actions, and opinions. The Church is a spiritual NHS who warns people of the dangers of their actions and opinions so as to save them from harm.

How important is Holy Mass in Catholic Life? It is central; it is its core; it is essential.

Holy Mass makes present the very Sacrifice of the Mass which saves us: as St Paul says, “every time you eat this Bread and drink this Cup you are proclaiming the death of the Lord” (1 Cor.11v26).  Surely we all want to be saved? Can we sincerely expect to be saved if we wilfully and continually turn our back on the very act that saves us?

Holy Mass also makes present the very Lord Himself in His Body and Blood: “I am the Living Bread that comes down from heaven. He who eats this Bread will live forever, and the bread that I shall give is My Flesh, for the life of the world. He who eats Me will draw life from Me” (John 6). Since Our Lord is Risen, Ascended and present on the altar surrounded by the angels and saints, then we are at Mass we are in heaven. As I often say to folk, “You don’t have to die to go to heaven; you only have to come to Mass, for Mass brings heaven to earth”.

How important is prayer and a life of good deeds? Again, it’s essential. Prayer is conversation with God; in prayer we speak to God and stay silent to listen to God. Silence, remember, is not the absence of prayer; it is its core, because in silence heart speaks to heart without use of the lips. Like lovers who look into one another’s eyes across a table, or the wife holding her husband’s hand as he passes from this world to the next, words are not needed; a look says it all. To gaze silently into the face of God is to know God and love God. Remember too, that just as when we stop speaking to someone we lose our friendship with them, so if we stop praying to God we lose our faith. On the contrary, to speak to someone is to get to know them, and to pray is to get to know God: we pray not simply because we believe, but in order to believe.

Tonight N., is called by God into His Holy Catholic Church; called by Him into His holy family; called by Him to be bound to Him by a covenant made in the Blood of His own Son, offered on the cross as made present in the Mass. Tonight n. stands as a witness to God’s culture of life and stability; tonight s/he gains access to all the Sacraments that will sustain N. In the journey to home to heaven. Tonight, for the first time, s/he will receive Him in Holy Communion; for the first time she will respond to the call of the angel of revelation; “Happy are those who are called to the wedding banquet of the Lamb!” (Rev.19v9). Tonight, N.takes a full part in the banquet of heaven on earth.

Saturday 15 September 2012

Mass without Holy Communion?

A lady recently told me her son does not come to Mass because being in a civil marriage, he cannot receive Holy Communion. This set me thinking: how many Catholics have developed the idea that Mass is given to us only as a means of providing us with Holy Communion? Is that also the reason why so many are happy to have a Service of the word with distribution of Holy Communion when Father is away? Is it the reason why many Catholics –not only the lapsed- never appear at weekday Mass unless it is being offered for their loved one? I think it is; I think we have promoted reception of Holy Communion in such a way that we have diminished a right understanding of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Holy Mass is not simply a fraternal banquet, nor is it simply the ceremony by which Holy Communion is made available to us; it is the re-present-ing of the Act by which was gained the world’s redemption. Holy Mass is the source of every good thing that we possess, from the talents we rejoice in as our gifts and graces to the people we cherish for their gifts and graces, since it is through the Sacrifice contained in the Mass that every grace which has come into the world has come. All the graces made available to us through the Sacraments and the Life of Christian Faith, as well as every grace of Salvation History -to Abraham, Moses et al, and to Our Lady (her Immaculate Conception) are given in view of the infinite and eternal merits of Christ Jesus our Lord. perhaps we need to remind ourselves that to stand at the foot of the altar is to stand at the foot of Calvary and place ourselves in the stream of blood and water which flowed from the Lord’s pierced side. I remind myself of this every day when I pray before each offering of Holy Mass that the Precious Blood of Christ will wash away my sins, and that the water which flowed from His side will fill me with His grace to heal my sinfulness (my concupiscence), that I may stand before Lord without offence to His glory, scandal to His people or the loss of my own soul.

I think it is time we re-educated Catholics on the value of the Mass per se; to remind them that the Church does not oblige us to receive Holy Communion every Sunday but to attend Mass every Sunday, whether or not we receive Holy Communion. While reception of Holy Communion is the most perfect form of participation in the Mass, to ‘miss Mass’ because we have broken the fast, because we are in need of Confession or because we are in an irregular situation, is to do more harm than good. It is, as a lay friend of mine says, ‘to side with the wrong side in eternity’. I make no apologies for reminding my parishioners in homilies and Newsletters that since Holy Mass contains the Sacrifice by which we are saved and the Real Presence of the Saviour Himself surrounded by His angels and saints, that we do not need to die to go to heaven; we need only come to Holy Mass.

Monday 10 September 2012

A Bit About Angels...

Angels seem to be badly understood today. Often when attending a child’s death I hear someone say “Well you have an angel in heaven now”. But people do not become angels in heaven; we remain human souls. I was only recently asked, “What are these dominations, powers and virtues we hear about in the new translation?” My answer, “They’re angels” is of no help to many, who think there are but angels, archangels and nothing else.  I think then, that a brief look at angels might be of help to those who have not received any instruction on angels in their lifetime as a Catholic.

An angel is a being who is pure spirit and whose privilege it is to praise God continually in heaven while enjoying the vision of His glory.

There are nine ‘Choirs’ or ‘grades’ of angels:

1.    Seraphim
The highest choir of angels. These are the angels who are attendant before God's throne, cf. Isaiah 6:1-7.

2.    Cherubim
Cherubim are the second highest choir. They are found in the New Testament at Rev.4v6.

3.    Thrones
Thrones are described as Angels of Humility and Peace.

4.   Dominions
Dominions are said to be angels of Leadership, making known the commands of God.

5.   Virtues
Virtues are said to control the elements and are sometimes called "the shining ones." They are also said to take charge of miracles and to provide grace and valour.

6.    Powers
Powers are Warrior Angels, defending the cosmos and humans from evil spirits who attempt to wreak chaos.

7.    Archangels
Archangels are those most frequently mentioned in scripture.  They have a unique role as God's messengers to people at critical times in salvation history, such as in The Annunciation.

8.   Principalities
These are said to inspire man to art and science.

9.    Angels
These angels are the lowest rank of angel. They are described as caring and as giving help to those in need.

A Guardian Angel is that angel appointed by God to individually watch over and guide us.

Angels and Holy Mass

The Preface of the Mass (of the Blessed Virgin) says:

Through Him the Angels praise your majesty,
Dominions adore and Powers tremble before you.
Heaven and the Virtues of heaven and the blessed Seraphim
worship together with exultation.
May our voices, we pray, join with theirs in humble praise, as we acclaim:

This is a reminder that our liturgy is a uniting of earth with heaven; that liturgy is not so much an earthly thing as a heavenly thing.  This is why liturgy demands a sense of the sacred, with heavenly music and a focus that is clearly on God. To my mind this is where many celebrations of Mass fail, since they are more a celebration of the community with music more akin to that of the local dance hall.

An interesting note is the line in the Roman Canon:

“command that these gifts be borne by the hands of your holy Angel to your altar on high...”

‘Angel’ is capitalised here to show that the ‘Angel’ is in fact Christ: God made Man, since, as Hebrews 9v12 tells us, it is Christ Who has entered heaven taking with Him His own Blood; it is not borne by the hands of a mere creature (an angel) but by God the Son. God is described as an angel several times in Holy Writ:

Genesis 31v11; Gen. 32v23-34; Ex.14v15; Judges 13v9.

I do hope this has been useful to those who have heard but not understood what they have heard in the vernacular Mass...