Sacred Liturgy & Sacraments: September 2008 Archives

Pope incensing.jpgALBANO, Italy, SEPT. 21, 2008 ( Here is a translation of Benedict XVI' homily today at Mass in the Cathedral of Albano, Italy, near the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo. The cathedral's altar was dedicated at this Mass. (emphasis mine)


* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters!


Today's celebration is so rich in symbols and the Word of God that has been proclaimed helps us to understand the meaning and value of what we are doing here. In the first reading we heard the story of Judas Macabeus' purification of the Temple and the dedication of the new altar of holocausts in 164 B.C., three years after the Temple had been profaned by Antiochus Epiphanes (cf. 1 Macabees 4:52-59). The Feast of the Dedication, which lasted eight days, was instituted to commemorate that event. This feast, initially linked to the Temple, where the people went in procession to offer sacrifices, was also connected with the illumination of the houses, and it survived in this form after the destruction of Jerusalem.


The sacred author rightly underscores the joy that characterizes that event. But how much greater, dear brothers and sisters, must our joy be, knowing that every day on this altar, that we are preparing to consecrate, the sacrifice of Christ is offered; on this altar he will continue to immolate himself, in the sacrament of the Eucharist, for our salvation and that of the whole world. In the Eucharistic mystery, that is renewed on every altar, Jesus is really present. His is a dynamic presence, which seizes us in to make us his, to assimilate us to him; it draws us with the power of his love, bringing us out of ourselves to unite us with him, making us one with him.


Christ's real presence makes each of us his "house," and we all together form his Church, the spiritual edifice of which St. Peter speaks. "Come to him," the apostle writes, "a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God, and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:4-5).


Somewhat developing this beautiful metaphor, St. Augustine observes that through faith men are like wood and stone gathered from forests and mountains for building; through baptism, catechesis and preaching they are cut, squared, and filed down; but they only become the Lord's house when they are ordered by charity. When believers are reciprocally connected according to a determinate order, mutually and closely arranged and bound, when they are united together by charity they truly become the house of God that does not fear ruin (cf. Sermon 336).


It is therefore the love of Christ, the charity that "never ends" (1 Corinthians 13:8), the spiritual energy that unites those who participate in the same sacrifice and who nourish themselves from the same Bread broken for the salvation of the world. Is it indeed possible to be in communion with the Lord if we are not in communion with each other? How can we present ourselves divided and far from each other at God's altar? May this altar upon which the sacrifice of the Lord will soon be renewed be for you, dear brothers and sisters, be a constant invitation to love; always draw near to it with a heart open to the love of Christ and to spreading it, to receiving and bestowing forgiveness.


In this regard the Gospel passage that was proclaimed a little while ago offers us an important lesson for life (cf. Matthew 5:23-24). It is a brief but pressing and incisive call to fraternal reconciliation, a reconciliation that is indispensable if we are to present our offering worthily at the altar; it is a reminder that takes up again a teaching that is already quite present in the preaching of the prophets. The prophets vigorously denounced the uselessness of those acts of worship that lacked the correspondent moral dispositions, especially in relation to one's neighbor (cf. Isaiah 1:10-20; Amos 5:21-27; Micah 6:6-8). Every time that you come to the altar for the Eucharistic celebration your soul opens to forgiveness and fraternal reconciliation, ready to accept the apologies of those who have hurt you and ready, in turn, to forgive.


In the Roman liturgy the priest, having offered the bread and wine, bows toward the altar LITURGY.JPG and prays in a low voice: "Lord, we ask you to receive us and be pleased with the sacrifice that we offer with humble and contrite hearts." The priest thus prepares to enter, together with the whole assembly of the faithful, into the heart of the Eucharistic mystery, into the heart of that celestial liturgy to which the second reading, taken from the Book of Revelation, refers.

St. John presents an angel who offers "incense together with the prayers of all the saints, burning them on the altar of gold placed before the throne" of God (cf. Revelation 8:3). The altar of sacrifice becomes in a certain way the point of encounter between heaven and earth; the center, we could say, of the one Church that is at the same time heavenly and in pilgrimage on earth, where, in the midst of the persecutions of the world and God's consolations, the Lord's disciples proclaim his passion and death until he returns in glory (cf. Lumen Gentium, No. 8). Indeed, every Eucharistic celebration already anticipates the triumph of Christ over sin and the world, and shows in mystery the splendor of the Church, "immaculate bride of the immaculate Lamb, Bride that Christ loved and gave himself up for to make her holy (cf. Lumen Gentium, No. 6).


These reflections draw our attention to the rite that we are about to perform in this cathedral of yours, which we admire today in its renewed beauty and that we rightly desire to continue to make welcoming and decorous. It is a task that involves all of you and that, in the first place, calls upon the whole diocesan community to grow in charity and in apostolic and missionary dedication. Concretely, it is a matter of bearing witness with your life to your faith in Christ and the total confidence that you place in him.


It is also a matter of cultivating ecclesial communion that is, first of all, a gift, a grace, fruit of God's free and gratuitous love, that is, something divinely efficacious, always present and working in history, beyond all contrary appearances. Ecclesial communion is, however, also a task entrusted to the care of each individual. May the Lord grant you to live an evermore convinced and active communion, in cooperation and co-responsibility at every level: among the priests, the consecrated, and the laity, among the different Christian communities of your region, among the various lay groups.


Certainly ... difficulties, challenges and problems are not lacking, but the hopes and the opportunities for announcing and witnessing to God's love are also great. May the Spirit of the risen Lord, who is also the Spirit of Pentecost, disclose his horizons of hope to you and strengthen the missionary drive in you to the vast horizons of the new evangelization. Let us pray for this, continuing our Eucharistic celebration.

O Cross, our one reliance

| | Comments (0)

The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, which, the day after the dedication of the Basilica of the Resurrection raised over the tomb of Christ, is exalted and honored, in the manner of a memorial of His paschal victory and the sign which is to appear in the sky, already announcing in advance His second coming. (Roman Martyrology)


The Church presents to us today a feast which commemorates the discovery of the Holy

Relics.jpgCross by Emperor Saint Constantine's mother Saint Helena in Jerusalem (AD 325).  The Tradition says that Saint Helena found the Cross and the relics of the holy Passion and then brought them to Rome where they are venerated at the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem. On the spot of the discovery, she built the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher keeping a portion of the Cross at there.


The sacred Liturgy gives us the image of the Holy Cross because it brings together the historical reality of the Cross with its theological import:  mystery of the life and death of Christ. This is not a feast celebrating a "terrific find" at an archaeological dig; it is a feast of our faith as the Cross is a central symbol of our faith.


Pazzi crucifxion.jpgHymnus in Honore Sanctae Crucis


Vexilla regis prodeunt,
fulget crucis mysterium,
quo carne carnis conditor
suspensus est patibulo.


Confixa clavis viscera
tendens manus, vestigia
redemptionis gratia
hic inmolata est hostia.


Quo vulneratus insuper
mucrone diro lanceae,
ut nos lavaret crimine,
manavit unda et sanguine.


Inpleta sunt quae concinit
David fideli carmine,
dicendo nationibus:
regnavit a ligno deus.


Arbor decora et fulgida,
ornata regis purpura,
electa, digno stipite
tam sancta membra tangere!


Beata cuius brachiis
pretium pependit saeculi!
statera facta est corporis
praedam tulitque Tartari.


Fundis aroma cortice,
vincis sapore nectare,
iucunda fructu fertili
plaudis triumpho nobili.


Salve ara, salve victima
de passionis gloria,
qua vita mortem pertulit
et morte vitam reddidit.


In Festo Exaltationis Sanctae Crucis:

in hac triumphi gloria!


("Vexilla Regis" was written by Venantius Fortunatus (530-609) and is considered one of the greatest hymns of the sacred Liturgy. This is the full hymn but when used liturgically at Vespers verses 2, 4, 7 are omitted.)

Meeting at the beautiful upper eastside church of Our Lady of Good Counsel (NYC), on a very rainy Saturday night, the Catholic Underground convened. There is no exaggeration in saying that nearly 500 people, mostly in their 20s and 30s but there were the more mature individuals who may claim to be in their 40s, 50s and above, present to pray Vespers (the Roman Office) in the presence of the exposed Blessed Sacrament and then to spend time adoring Christ. The ceremony was presided over by the newly ordained deacon, Brother Louis, CFR.


CU.jpgThe Catholic Underground is in its 6th season and it meets on the first Saturday of each month, nine times a year. The Underground is a religious and cultural project of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. They say the Underground exists because "the Gospel lives in conversation with culture, we must be fearless in crossing the cultural threshold of the communication and information revolution now taking place." The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal (known to some as the CFRs or Fr. Benedict Groeshel's group) is a Capuchin reform movement of Franciscans who live radical yet sensible poverty, who have an intense community life and who are faithful to the teaching authority of the Church. No one who meets these friars could say that they don't live according to their Order's charism and that they are squishy in their faith and liturgical lives. While they may not use the concept outright, the CFRs follow an ancient dictum of lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi.


In the crowd you saw a religious brother, 2 Sisters of Life, a woman religious of an unidentified congregation, some minor and major diocesan seminarians and a host of friars. I wasn't aware of the presence of the secular priests or members of other religious orders. But since I was there I can claim the Benedictines were represented by me as a mere postulant.


Liturgically there was a fine sense of the ars celebrandi. Unlike some church venues, these friars follow what the Church expects; no trendy prayers, no making "it relevant," etc. The celebrant and the musicians with the attentive crowd did what the Church expects in living the mystery in front of us. Hence, there was no liturgical innovation. One may quibble over the fact there was no homily but what exactly could have been said at that moment? The Divine Presence was really doing all the work. Perhaps someone may also raise a question of the quality (style?) of music used. Certainly, the Franciscan Steubenville style is appealing to many people under a certain age. But I wonder if that is because they know nothing else than the Steubenville music. The friars know chant and hymnody but for some reason they've selected the Steubenville genre thinking that it's what "speaks to this crowd!" But they well be correct in their choices, I just don't know right now how to judge the choice. When you hear 800-year old hymn texts set to contemporary settings your interest piques. While I suspended criticism of the Steubenville music until I experience these rites again I can't help but think a steady diet of this trendy music would sour over time. Where does this ultimately lead the believer?


Many people were shriven. I have to laugh at the '68ers who claim that the reception Confession.jpgof the sacrament of Confession is dead or its reception is so low that it barely has a heart beat when I look at events like the Catholic Underground. Other experiences tell me the faithful's reception of this sacrament is not on life-support are the steady line of sinners for daily confession at St. Mary's and St. Stanislaus Church, New Haven, CT, the churches of St. Agnes and St Francis, NYC and at meetings of Communion & Liberation (and I am sure there are other places). The supposition made by the '68ers is really about their lack of belief in the effective power of God's mercy and that it is essential in "relating" to the Lord (read the Book of Psalms to see the relationship between man's righteousness and his need to be shriven). It would also seem that this same crowd may not believe that they can forgive or be forgiven and therefore it is a farce to face God viz. human frailty. It gives me great hope to see other in line to hear God say "I love you and I forgive you; go and sin no more you are set free of your sins." What is easier to say, your sins are forgiven or to make rationalizations about our humanity? There were at least 5 priests hearing confessions during Vespers and down in the church hall during the music event. Tell me Confession isn't being valued and utilized today! Go ahead, tell me there isn't an awareness of grace and sin in the lives of the young people today!


adoration.jpgIf your measure of success is pure numbers, then it was a success. A very full church of people praying and be shrived is impressive on a Saturday night. That people come to religious ceremonies is a minor miracle in some people's books. But the standard of judgment has to be different: the measure of "success" of a gesture such as Vespers and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament can't rely on numbers but on sanctification. Questioning the success by numbers begs the question of participation and yet we all know that a person can participate in a religious event without opening he or her mouth. So, how can one measure how and if sanctification happens?


The other day I was reflecting on what happened at the Catholic Underground first by myself and later with a friend. Questions surfaced about the high level of emotions that exists among the participants. Perhaps one can say, "really!" In front of Holiness what else might there be? I knowing running through me there were the emotions of happiness, sadness, love, peace, anxiety, fear, etc. There seems to be much going on at the service: prayer -personal and congregational, conversion as evidenced by those standing in line for the sacrament of Confession, and prayerful companionship with others. Are the emotions of the participants being played by such events?


Another piece of this evaluation of the Catholic Underground is the catechetical side of the event. I wonder how all of our lives of faith can be strengthened, broadened and realized by a moment of catechesis. Perhaps our time with the exposed Eucharist is the right time for teaching the faith. I do have to wonder about the lack of catechetical materials available in the back of the Church or in the hall. Couldn't the friars use the free materials from the Catholic Information Service (at the Knights of Columbus)? Surely Underground-ers would appreciate knowing about the print and audio materials available to better know their faith?


Catholic identity is fostered and deepened even though notions of identity may not be considered by the participants but participation in such things sets the participants apart from their secular and other religiously oriented friends. What do these people know about the faith? Are they conscious of the event of the Paschal Mystery? Are they aware that congregational praying builds a relationship with God and strengthens fraternal relations with those in attendance? What happens to this people from one Catholic Underground experience and the next Catholic Underground experience? How many come back in a given year?


CFRs.jpgOne thing is crystal clear: the credibility of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal is rock solid. There is no question in my mind that the friars are convicted by their encounter with Christ as Savior and the Church as sacrament. The friars, unlike so many other religious, are not ashamed by their faith in Christ, their religious profession and for those who are priests, their priesthood. AND that's why the CFRs are getting vocations. In seeing the friars at work, I am trying to imagine a full complement of priests who really love their calling to be priests of Jesus Christ and a group of priests who are not afraid of being collaborators with the bishops in serving as priests for good of the Gospel and the Church. Is this too much to ask for? Of course, there are priests who love Christ, who love the Church and love being ordained, but they seem to be few in number.


In the post John Paul II pontificate and now in the Benedict XVI pontificate orthodoxy is a value by which you live and die. There are those who were once called "JPII Catholics" are now "B16 protagonists." That is, looking at and following the example of Pope Benedict XVI you get the strong sense that a right-thinking, right-praying Catholic today is one who is making a difference the public and private squares.


That's it for now.

Thumbnail image for cross.jpgThe devotion to the Sacred Heart also reminds us that Jesus gave himself "with all his heart," that is gladly and with enthusiasm. So we are told that good is to be done with joy, because "there is more joy in giving than in receiving" (Acts 20:35) and "God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7). Nevertheless that does not derive from a simple human intention but is a grace that Christ himself gains for us, it is a gift of the Holy Spirit that makes all things easy and sustains us on our daily path, in trials and difficulties also. (Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, S.J., 30 Days, August 2006)

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]



Humanities Blog Directory

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Sacred Liturgy & Sacraments category from September 2008.

Sacred Liturgy & Sacraments: August 2008 is the previous archive.

Sacred Liturgy & Sacraments: October 2008 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.