Category Archives: Sacred Liturgy & Sacraments

Saint Callistus and Ember Days

Happy feast day of Pope Saint Callistus. The Church liturgically remembers this early pope because of his leadership and spiritual care in the face of trial and heresy. Slave, failed banker, convict and pope. He’s a late second century personage. Studied theology, ordained a deacon and a great counselor. Killed in 222 a riot against Christians. He’s the patron saint of cemetery workers. The pope’s biography is incomplete and often untrustworthy due to the lack of good records from this time. This Pontiff shows how to face our trials (and death): with Christ alone. Don’t give into the temptation of nihilism. Seek what God has shown us: Himself.

The liturgical scholars tell us that Callistus gave us the Ember Days. Before the revision of the Liturgy, the Church observed days of prayer and fasting (outside Fridays, Advent and Lent, and certain other days) with Ember days. There exists for sets of Ember days corresponding more-or-less with the change of seasons. So, Ember Days were known by the faithful from about AD 220 to 1969. Callistus links our Christian life with a good dose of Old Testament theology and typology.

As typical, when you touch something ancient it has the possibility of disintegrating, which is what happened to the Embers. The 1969 revision of the Church calendar reads:

“In order to adapt the rogation and ember days to various regions and the different needs of the people, the conferences of bishops should arrange the time and plan of their celebration. Consequently, the competent authority should lay down norms, in view of local conditions, on extending such celebrations over one or several days and on repeating them during the year. On each day of these celebrations the Mass should be one of the votive Masses for various needs and occasions that is best suited to the intentions of the petitioners.”

Holy Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael

Master of Pratovecchio Three ArchangelsLast year (Sept. 29, 2014) on the Feast of the Holy Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael Pope Francis spoke of the archangels. In the western Church we honor three archangels but there others. You know another famous archangel, Lucifer; another relatively unknown is Uriel. Vatican Radio reported the following:

The angels battle Satan for the destiny of mankind and win.  They defend and custody  the greatest mystery of the Church, God-made-Man.  Even though in Satan often presents “humanistic explanations” for his attacks on mankind.  This was the focus of Pope Francis homily at Mass Monday morning at Casa Santa Marta, marking the Feast of the Holy Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. Today’s readings present us with very strong images:

the vision of the glory of God described by the prophet Daniel with the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, before the Father: the archangel Michael and his angels fighting against “the great dragon, the ancient serpent, he who is called the devil” and “seduces all of inhabited earth,” but who is defeated, as affirmed by the Book of Revelation; and the Gospel in which Jesus says to Nathanael: “You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man”. Pope Francis speaks of “the struggle between God and the devil.”

“This struggle takes place after Satan seeks to destroy the woman about to give birth to a child. Satan always tries to destroy man: the man that Daniel saw there, in glory, and whom Jesus told Nathanael would come in glory. From the very beginning, the Bible speaks to us of this: Satan’s [use of ] seduction to destroy. Maybe out of envy. We read in Psalm 8: ‘Thou hast made man superior to the angels,’ and that angel of great intelligence could not bear this humiliation, that a lower creature was made superior to him; thus he tried to destroy it.”

Satan, therefore, seeks to destroy humanity, all of us:

“So many projects, except for one’s own sins, but many, many projects for mankind’s dehumanization are his work, simply because he hates mankind. He is astute: the first page of Genesis tells us so, he is astute.  He presents things as if they were a good thing.  But his intention is destruction. And the angels defend us. They defend mankind and they defend the God-Man, the superior Man, Jesus Christ who is the perfection of humanity, the most perfect. This is why the Church honours the Angels, because they are the ones who will be in the glory of God – they are in the glory of God – because they defend the great hidden mystery of God, namely, that the Word was made flesh.”

“The task of the people of God – the Pope said – is to safeguard man: the man Jesus” because “He is the man who gives life to all men”. Instead, in his plans for destruction, Satan has invented “humanistic explanations that go against man, against humanity and against God.”

“This struggle is a daily reality in Christian life, in our hearts, in our lives, in our families, in our people, in our churches … If we do not struggle, we will be defeated. But the Lord has given this task mainly to the angels: to do battle and win. And the final song of Revelation , after this battle, is so beautiful: Now have salvation and power come, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Anointed. For the accuser of our brothers is cast out, who accuses them before our God day and night.”

Pope Francis concluded urging those present to pray to the archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, and “recite the ancient but beautiful prayer to the archangel Michael, so he may continue to do battle and defend the greatest mystery of mankind: that the Word was made Man, died and rose again. This is our treasure. That he may battle on to safeguard it.”

Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross!

Exaltation of the Holy Cross




O Cross our one reliance hail!
So may thy power with us avail
To give new virtue to the Saint,
And pardon to the penitent.

Eucharist leaves a precise purpose

We are still on the path that Christ has given Mother Church: eternal life. It takes a long time to accept the fact the God the Father through His Son Jesus nourishes, strengthens, and guides our way through all of life’s challenges. Within human limit we are given grace. The matter is: do recognize the graces? These weeks we are given extensive sections of the Bread of Life discourse; John 6 is our text for meditation.

Accepting that Jesus is THE answer takes a long time

Yesterday, after Mass, I spoke with a friend who is a few years my senior who told me she is now learning what it means ‘to give all to God.’ She freely admits (I can relate to the experience) that she always seems to have a fingernail of reality saved of the self reserved for herself. Thus, she knows that not everything is given to God. The spiritual masters, as we have heard, tell us that we need to abandon everything to the Lord. Yes, all things are given to Christ change; nothing is reserved for the self –absolutely nothing. I find this advice to be true, but rather difficult to live because I always want to keep something for myself. Deep down the difficulty surfaces because I don’t trust enough the relationship I have with the Lord; eternal life is not a merit badge for a life well-lived. In other words: do believe the promises of the Lord are too good to be true?

What I am finding more and more among those who claim to be in relationship, friendship with Christ (i.e., those who claim for themselves to be “good Catholics”) is how shallow said relationship with the Lord really is. What I am finding from people a bunch of alternative reasons NOT to worship Him (the 3rd commandment), not to serve our neighbor (MT 25), not to live in the Mystical Body of Christ –the Church (St Paul), are too prevalent and easy. Too many Catholics are zombies.

The first reading for today’s Mass comes from the Book of Proverbs which tells us that our task in the spiritual life is about ‘forsaking foolishness’. What is foolishness? Foolishness can be seen as anxiety, worry, sin, making excuses, expressed anger, addictions, living with a lack of a pure heart –all leading to being unfaithful and spiritual and human death. Foolishness unworthy of the Eucharist. Only being faithful to Jesus Christ will give us eternal life (permanent life, peace and love, beatific vision –communio with the Trinity). Faithfulness to whom? Only to Jesus Christ will fulfill our hunger for eucharistic living. Only to Jesus in the Holy Eucharist leads us to eternal life. This eucharistic theme is explained by the Holy Father.

Before we get to Pope Francis let us consider what the great Saint Irenaeus taught: “Just as the bread that is made from the earth, when it receives the invocation of God, is no longer ordinary bread but the Eucharist, consisting of two realities, earthly and heavenly, so also our bodies when they receive the Eucharist are no longer corruptible, having the hope of the resurrection to eternity.” Is this what we really believe?

The Sunday Angelus (8/16/15) address by Pope Francis told us today:

eucharistOn these Sundays, the Liturgy proposes to us, from the Gospel of John, Jesus’ discourse on the Bread of Life, that is He Himself and that is also the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Today’s passage (Jn. 6, 51-58) presents the last part of that discourse, and refers to some of those among the people who are scandalized because Jesus said: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day” (Jn. 6,54).

The astonishment of those listening is understandable; in fact, Jesus uses the typical style of the prophets to provoke in the people – and also in us – questions and, in the end, to make a decision. The first of the questions is: What does “eat Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood” mean? Is it only an image, a way of saying, a symbol, or does it indicate something real? To answer this, one needs to guess what is happening in Jesus’ heart while he breaks the bread for the hungry crowd. Knowing that He must die on the cross for us, Jesus identifies Himself with that broken and shared bread, and that becomes for Him the “sign” of the Sacrifice that awaits Him. This process culminates in the Last Supper, where the bread and wine truly become His Body and His Blood.

It is the Eucharist where Jesus leaves us a precise purpose: that we can become one with Him. In fact, he says: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (v.56). To remain: Jesus in us and us in Him. Communion is assimilation: eating Him, we become Him. But this requires our “yes”, our adherence to the faith.

At times, during the Holy Mass, it may happen to feel this objection: “What is the purpose of the Mass? I go in Church when I feel like it, and I pray better alone.” But the Eucharist is not a private prayer or a beautiful spiritual experience, it is not a simple commemoration of what Jesus has done in the Last Supper: we say, to understand well, that the Eucharist is a “memorial”, that is, an act that actualizes and makes present the event of the death and resurrection of Jesus: the bread is truly His Body given to us; the wine is truly His Blood that has been shed.

The Eucharist is Jesus who gives Himself entirely to us. By nourishing ourselves from Him and remaining in Him through the Eucharistic Communion, if we do it with faith, it transforms our life; it transforms it into a gift to God and a gift to our brothers. To nourish ourselves from that “bread of life” means being in tune with the heart of Christ, to assimilate His choices, His thoughts, His behavior. It means entering into a dynamic of sacrificial love and become a person of peace, of forgiveness, of reconciliation of sharing in solidarity. It is the same as Jesus has done.

Jesus concludes his discourse with these words; “Whoever eats this bread will live forever” (Jn. 6,58). Yes, living in a concrete, real communion with Jesus on this earth makes us pass from death to life. The heavens begin precisely in this communion with Jesus.

In Heaven, Mary our Mother awaits us – yesterday we celebrated this mystery. May She obtain for us the grace of nourishing ourselves always with faith in Jesus, the Bread of Life.

Jesus: I am the bread of life

Last Supper San MarcoI love the gospel readings for the month of August because they give us the eucharistic theology of Divine Presence and the Divine Pledge for Eternal Life. These readings are known as the Bread of Life discourse taken from the Gospel of Saint John (chapter 6). You might say that the readings from Saint John’s gospel offers a timely reflection and orientation for eucharistic coherence. They indeed do, and this is no small gift these days when you hear more disagreement of what the Holy Eucharist is and why we receive Him. Faith informs me that sacramental Communion is Jesus Himself.

Whom do we receive in Holy Communion?


The question of what it means to be fed by the Bread of Life is not only a question for Holy Thursday, Corpus Christi or on the feast days of “eucharistic saints” like Saint Peter Julian Eymard. Today, the 19th Sunday Through the Church Year gives us the pericope that records the words of Jesus, and it is quite clear of who Jesus is and what the point is: “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” He also tells us: “I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.”

Here is a paragraph from a Sermon by Eutychius of Constantinople:

No one, then, after the sacramental sacrifice and the holy resurrection, should have any doubt regarding the incorruptible, immortal, holy, and life-giving body and blood of the Lord. Once infused into the sacred elements through the liturgical rites, they communicate their own properties no less than do the aforementioned examples. They are wholly present in every part, for then the Lord’s body dwells corporally, that is to say, substantially, all the fullness of the divine nature of the Word of God. The breaking of this precious bread signifies his sacrificial death, and so he spoke of the passover as something to be longed for because it was to bring us salvation, immortality, and perfect knowledge.”

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]
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