Sacred Liturgy & Sacraments: February 2009 Archives

Of you my heart has spoken: "Seek his face." It is your face, O Lord, that I seek; hide not your face. (Psalm 26:8-9)

Holy Face.jpgToday is Shrove Tuesday at last, or least I hope this is the beginning of a good, serious observance of Lent. The monks here have sung as many Alleluias as possible before they are packaged up and placed in the closet for 40 days (save an exception or two). 

A liturgical feast that is little known of here in the USA is that of the Feast of the Holy Face of Jesus. Certainly in Rome and in other places around the globe the Church's Liturgy provides an opportunity, the grace to seek the face of God in Christ. The psalmody and other readings of Scripture point us in this direction. Some have called today's feast a  flash of paschal glory before beginning Lent because there is the sense that what was prepared for us in the Transfiguration will happen on calvary and then in the resurrection. Our prayer for this final day of the Liturgy through the Year before the season of holy Lent is:

O God, who willed that your only-begotten Son should become man, and show us in his human nature a perfect image of your divinity, grant, we beseech you, that by venerating the image of his Holy Face we may be united with him in the mysteries of his Passion and Death, and so come to contemplate forever his glorious Face in the joy of the resurrection.

Let us pray for each other this Lent. I need your prayers.

The Feast of the Chair of Peter


Chair of St Peter.jpgNow when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, "Who do men say that the Son of man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Matthew 16:13-19)


All-powerful Father, You have built Your Church on the rock of Saint Peter's confession of faith. May nothing divide or weaken our unity in faith and love.


Saint Damasus said: "one Chair of Peter, one true font of baptism" (una Petri sedes, unum verumque lavacrum) bearing witness to the trust our Lord placed in Saint Peter to be the head of the Church. The feast of today is a keen reminder of the witness of Peter's faith in the Jesus as Lord and Savior of all people with therefore an evangelizing aspect of being initiated into the Body of Christ as Saint Paul would later say. A more superficial sense of what is honored today  is what some say is the day Peter was appointed by the Lord as the Father of Church, the seed to what we now conceive as a pope. True as it is but the Chair of Peter is about witness and baptism first and foremost.


Hence, today the Church does not honor church furniture but the responsibility of the Church's mission as teacher and pastor conferred on Peter by Jesus Christ continuing in an unbroken line of apostolic service down through the ages to Pope Benedict XVI. The Church's liturgical theology (theologia prima) recalls the importance of the unity of the Church, founded upon the Apostle Peter. It also helps us to see the objectivity of the Church's teaching and pastoral authority known in the magisterium under the Roman Pontiff. For the Catholic this is understood clearly in the dogmas and doctrines of the Catholic faith solemnly defined "ex cathedra" (from the chair) and extended to all the acts of the ordinary magisterium.


As a point of reference the Catechism says:


Jesus entrusted a specific authority to Peter: "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." The "power of the keys" designates authority to govern the house of God, which is the Church. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, confirmed this mandate after his Resurrection: "Feed my sheep." The power to "bind and loose" connotes the authority to absolve sins, to pronounce doctrinal judgements, and to make disciplinary decisions in the Church. Jesus entrusted this authority to the Church through the ministry of the apostles289 and in particular through the ministry of Peter, the only one to whom he specifically entrusted the keys of the kingdom (553).


The Pope's message on YouTube

St Bede.jpgThe saint on whom we reflect today is called Bede. He was born in Northeast England, in fact in Northumbria, in the year 672/673. He himself narrates that, when he was seven years old his parents entrusted him to the abbot of the neighboring Benedictine monastery, to be educated. "In this monastery," he recalls, "I lived from then on, dedicating myself intensely to the study of Scripture, while observing the discipline of the Rule and the daily effort to sing in church, I always found it pleasant to learn, teach and write" (Ecclesiastical History of the English People, V, 24). In fact, Bede was one of the most illustrious figures of erudition of the High Middle Ages because he was able to make use of many precious manuscripts that his abbots, who went on frequent trips to the Continent and to Rome, were able to bring back to him. His teaching and the fame of his writings enabled him to have many friendships with the principal personalities of his time, who encouraged him to continue in his work, from which so many benefited. Falling ill, he did not cease to work, always having an interior joy that was expressed in prayer and song. He concluded his most important work, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, with this invocation: "I pray, O good Jesus, who benevolently has allowed me to draw from the sweet words of your wisdom, that I may reach you one day, source of all wisdom, and to always be before your face." Death came to him on May 26, 735: It was Ascension day.

St Bede symbol.jpgSacred Scriptures were the constant source of Bede's theological reflection. Having made a careful critical study of the text (we have a copy of the monumental Codex Amiatinus of the Vulgate, on which Bede worked), he commented on the Bible, reading it in a Christological vein, namely, re-uniting two things: On one hand, he listened to what the text was saying exactly, he really wanted to listen and understand the text itself; on the other hand, he was convinced that the key to understanding sacred Scripture as the unique Word of God is Christ and with Christ, in his light, one understands the Old and the New Testament as "a" sacred Scripture.

The events of the Old and New Testament go together, they are together the path toward Christ, though expressed in different signs and institutions (it is what he calls "concordia sacramentorum"). For example, the tent of the covenant that Moses raised in the desert and the first and second temple of Jerusalem are images of the Church, new temple built on Christ and the Apostles with living stones, cemented by the charity of the Spirit. And, as was the case for the construction of the ancient temple of Jerusalem, even pagan people contributed, making available valuable materials and the technical experience of their master builders, thus apostles and masters not only from ancient Hebrew, Greek and Latin stock contributed to the building of the Church, but also new peoples, among which Bede is pleased to enumerate the Iro-Celts and the Anglo-Saxons. St. Bede witnessed the universality of the Church grow, which is not restricted to a certain culture, but is made up of all the cultures of the world which must open themselves to Christ and find in him their point of arrival.
Eccl His.jpgAnother topic loved by Bede is the history of the Church. After having taken interest in the period described in the Acts of the Apostles, he reviewed the history of the Fathers of the Church and the councils, convinced that the work of the Holy Spirit continues in history. In the Cronica Maiora, Bede traces a chronology that would become the basis of the universal calendar "ab incarnatione Domini." Up to then, time was calculated from the foundation of the city of Rome. Bede, seeing that the true point of reference, the center of history is the birth of Christ, gave us this calendar that reads history beginning with the Lord's Incarnation. He registered the first six ecumenical councils and their development, presenting faithfully the Christian, Mariological and Soteriological doctrine, and denouncing the Monophysite and Monothelite, iconoclastic and neo-Pelagian heresies. Finally, he wrote with documentary rigor and literary expertise the already mentioned Ecclesiastical History of the English People, for which he is recognized as "the father of English historiography." The characteristic traits of the Church that Bede loved to evidence are: a) its catholicity, as fidelity to tradition together with openness to historical developments, and as the pursuit of unity in multiplicity, in the diversity of history and cultures, according to the directives that Pope Gregory the Great gave to the apostle of England, Augustine of Canterbury; b) its apostolicity and Romanness: In this regard he considers of primary importance to convince the whole Iro-Celtic Churches and that of the Picts to celebrate Easter uniformly according to the Roman calendar. The calculation elaborated scientifically by him to establish the exact date of the Easter celebration, and thus of the entire cycle of the liturgical year, became the text of reference for the whole Catholic Church.
Bede was also an illustrious teacher of liturgical theology. In the homilies on the Sunday Gospels and those of feast days, he develops a true mystagogy, educating the faithful to celebrate joyfully the mysteries of the faith and to reproduce them consistently in life, while expecting their full manifestation of the return of Christ, when, with our glorified bodies, we will be admitted in offertory procession to the eternal liturgy of God in heaven. Following the "realism" of the catecheses of Cyril, Ambrose and Augustine, Bede teaches that the sacraments of Christian initiation make every faithful person "not only a Christian but Christ." In fact, every time that a faithful soul receives and guards the Word of God with love, in imitation of Mary, he conceives and generates Christ again. And every time that a group of neophytes receives the Easter sacraments, the Church is "self-generated," or to use a still more daring expression, the Church becomes "Mother of God," participating in the generation of her children, by the work of the Holy Spirit.
Thanks to this way of making theology, interlacing the Bible, the liturgy and history, Bede has a timely message for the different "states of life":

a) For scholars (doctores ac doctrices) he recalls two essential tasks: to scrutinize the wonders of the Word of God to present it in an attractive way to the faithful; to show the dogmatic truths avoiding the heretical complications and keeping to the "Catholic simplicity," with attention to the small and humble to whom God is pleased to reveal the mysteries of the Kingdom.

b) For pastors, that for their part, must give priority to preaching, not only through the verbal or hagiographic language, but also valuing icons, processions and pilgrimages. Bede recommends to them the use of the vernacular, as he himself does, explaining in Northumbria the "Our Father," and the "Creed" and carrying forward until the last day of his life, the commentary to John's Gospel in the common language.

c) For consecrated people who are dedicated to the Divine Office, living in the joy of fraternal communion and progressing in the spiritual life through ascesis and contemplation, Bede recommends to take care of the apostolate -- no one has the Gospel just for himself, but must regard it as a gift also for others -- either by collaborating with the Bishops in pastoral activities of various types in favor of the young Christian communities, or being available to the evangelizing mission to the pagans, outside their own country, as "peregrini pro amore Dei."
Placed in this perspective, in the commentary to the Canticle of Canticles, Bede presents the synagogue and the Church as collaborators in the propagation of the Word of God. Christ the Spouse desires an industrious Church, "bronzed by the fatigues of evangelization" -- clear is the reference to the word of the Canticle of Canticles (1:5), where the Bride says: "Nigra sum sed formosa" (I am brown, but beautiful) -- attempts to till other fields or vines and to establish among the new populations "not a provisional bell but a stable dwelling, namely, to insert the Gospel in the social fabric and the cultural institutions. In this perspective, the saintly Doctor exhorts the lay faithful to be assiduous to the religious instruction, imitating those "insatiable evangelical multitudes who did not even give the Apostles time to eat." He teaches them how to pray constantly, "reproducing in life what they celebrate in the liturgy," offering all actions as spiritual sacrifices in union with Christ. To parents he explains that also in their small domestic realm they can exercise "the priestly office of pastors and guides," by giving Christian formation to the children and states that he knows many faithful (men and women, spouses and celibates) "capable of an irreproachable conduct that, if suitably pursued, could approach daily Eucharistic communion ("Epist. ad Ecgbertum," ed. Plummer, p. 419).
St Bede2.jpgThe fame of holiness and wisdom that Bede enjoyed already in life, served to merit him the title of "Venerable." He is thus called also by Pope Sergius I, when he wrote his abbot in 701 requesting to make him come temporarily to Rome for consultation on questions of universal interest. The great missionary of Germany, Bishop St. Boniface (d. 754), requested the archbishop of York several times and the abbot of Wearmouth to have some of his works transcribed and to send him to them so that they and their companions could also enjoy the spiritual light he emanated. A century later Notkero Galbulo, abbot of St. Gall (d. 912), being aware of the extraordinary influence of Bede, equated him with a new sun that God had made arise not in the East but in the West to illumine the world. Apart from the rhetorical emphasis, it is a fact that, with his works, Bede contributed effectively to the making of a Christian Europe, in which the different populations and cultures amalgamated among themselves, conferring on them a uniform physiognomy, inspired by the Christian faith.

Let us pray that also today there be personalities of Bede's stature, to keep the whole Continent united; let us pray so that all of us are willing to rediscover our common roots, to be builders of a profoundly human and genuinely Christian Europe.


(Wednesday General Audience, Rome, 18 February 2009)

Pope Benedict spoke of "teaching the art of prayer, encouraging participation in the liturgy and the Sacraments, wise and relevant preaching, catechetical instruction, and spiritual and moral guidance. From this foundation faith flourishes in Christian virtue, and gives rise to vibrant parishes and generous service to the wider community" to the Nigerian bishops making their ad limina.


Later the Pope said: "The celebration of the liturgy is a privileged source of renewal in Christian living" and "to maintain the proper balance between moments of contemplation and external gestures of participation and joy in the Lord".

Robert Taft.jpgMany are familiar with the name of the great liturgical scholar the Right Reverend Archimandrite Robert Francis Taft because they actually know him (and thus love him), or know his very extensive list of publications (more than 850) on matters pertaining to liturgical history or because of an experience him in the classroom or merely because they heard of him. Whatever the case may be this blog entry is not panegyric of Father Robert Taft but a way of encouraging you to listen to his keynote address on the point of liturgy AND the enduring influence of the late Father Alexander Schmemann at the symposium noted below: it will shape anew your thinking on the Church's liturgical life.

Alexander Schmemann.jpgSaint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary held an international liturgical symposium honoring one of the best of liturgical scholars to walk the earth 29-31 January 2009: "The Past and Future of Liturgical Theology: Celebrating the Legacy of Father Alexander Schmemann."


The talks are thus far available in podcasts noted here.

The other speakers at the conference:

His Grace the Rt. Rev. Maxim [Vasiljevic], Bishop of the Western Diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South America; "Opening Episcopal Remarks"

Dr. Michael Aune, Dean of the Faculty, Dean of the Chapel, Professor of Liturgical and Historical Studies at Pacific Lutheran Seminary, and Core Doctoral Faculty in Liturgical Studies at General Theological Union; "The Current State of Liturgical Theology: A Plurality of Particularities"

The Rt. Rev. Archimandrite Job [Getcha], former Dean of St. Sergius Theological Institute, Paris; "From Master to Disciple: The Notion of 'Liturgical Theology' in Father Kiprian Kern and Father Alexander Schmemann"

Keynote by The Rt. Rev. Archimandrite Robert Taft, SJ; "The Liturgical Enterprise Twenty-five Years after Alexander Schmemann [1921-1983]: The Man and His Heritage"

Dr. Bryan D. Spinks, Professor of Liturgical Studies, Yale Divinity School; "From Liturgical Theology to Liturgical Theologies: Schmemann's Legacy in Western Churches"

The Rev. Dr. Stephanos Alexopoulos, Professor at the International Center for Hellenic and Mediterranean Studies, Athens, Greece; "Did the Work of Father Alexander Schmemann Influence Modern Greek Theological Thought? A Preliminary Assessment"

Sr. Dr. Vassa Larin, nun of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad; currently teaching Liturgical Studies at the University of Vienna; "Father Alexander Schmemann and Monasticism"

Dr. David W. Fagerberg, Associate Professor in the Department of Theology, University of Notre Dame; "The Cost of Understanding Schmemann, in the West"

The Most Blessed Jonah [Paffhausen], Archbishop of Washington and New York and Metropolitan of All America and Canada, Orthodox Church in America; "Closing Episcopal Remarks."

This past Sunday, the Church gathered to worship God; she observed the Presentation of teh Lord in the Temple; and she observed 25 years of priestly service to the Divine Majesty of one her sons, The Reverend Father Richard G. Cipolla, PhD, DPhil (Oxon). Father Cipolla is a priest of the Diocese of Bridgeport, CT, a teacher, a husband, the father of two, and a great friend. We were colleagues at Fairfield Prep (Fairfield, CT) in late 1990s and I served the Mass he celebrated faithfully at the Bridgettine Convent (Dairen, CT). The homily Father Cipolla delivered on Sunday follows. It bears reading and using for today's lectio.

Candelmass, 25th Anniversary Mass, 1 February 2009, St Mary's Norwalk

RGC preaching.jpgShe wraps him carefully, carefully against the cold, not the cold of a New England winter, but cold nevertheless. And as she wraps him she ponders all these things in her heart. And when all is ready she and her husband bring him to the temple, that the law may be fulfilled. And they bring their thank-offering for the birth of their son. They bring him to the temple to dedicate him, to redeem him as the first born with their little gift, meant to be a symbol and yet everything. As they enter the darkened temple the lamp burning before the holy of holies flickers, flickers in recognition of the reality replacing the symbol, the flesh of God enters the place of the symbol of God, and reality is changed, the warp and woof of the universe of space-time explodes silently, as the creator of space-time enters into the man made temple and shatters forever the disconnect between human history and the eternal God.

And you notice that is not the high priest who recognizes this child. It is not the religious authorities who officially wait for the Messiah, the redeemer. They are probably watching their wide screen plasma TV in the rectory. It is the pious old man, Simeon, who waits in the temple for the reality, and who recognizes this reality, mirabile dictu, when he sees it and when he recognizes the reality he takes the child in his arms and sings, he sings in perfect chant: Nunc dimittis. Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace. For mine eyes have seen thy salvation. And he holds the child to himself, the child who is his creator, and he sees the suffering of this child as a man, he sees what redemption means, he sees the sword of suffering in the heart of the child's mother. He sees, he weeps, but he weeps with tears of joy.

The wreaths are long gone. The Christmas trees are part of the compost of town dumps. Our houses are bare, secular, waiting for the end of winter. And in the midst of all of this the Church demands that we celebrate the last feast of Christmas, the purification of St Mary the Virgin, commonly known as the Presentation of Christ in the temple, when we bless candles, reminding us that the child born on Christmas night is the light of the world. The world has forgotten Christmas until next Halloween. We, as St John reminds us, are not of the world, so we joyfully celebrate this last of the great Christmas feasts, a feast that is the climax of Epiphany, the feast that is one more answer to the question: who is this child? Who is this man? What does all of this mean? What is the cross? What is Easter? For mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples. Quite an affirmation. This is not theoretical or cultural Christianity, no pie in the sky business, no teddy bear in the sky God, no warm fuzzies. The astounding claim that the child that Simeon takes from Mary and holds in his arms is the Logos of the universe, the meaning of existence, the auctor of creation itself: this is at the heart of what the Christian faith is and what we do this afternoon is an antidote not only to the grey and boring secularism that marches on and tramples almost everything in its path but also is an antidote to that reduction of Christianity to right living, to morality, or to personal feeling that is grounded in an individualism that is contrary to the entire New Testament.

RGC.jpgWhen people ask me, as they have for over twenty five years, why did you become Catholic? They ask me this for various reasons, some good, some bad. But in the end what they want is for me to give some sort of personal journey story, something that I could do on Oprah, and would warm people's hearts. I am not adverse to warming people's hearts, but that has nothing to do with why I became a Catholic and remain a dedicated Catholic. Why I became Catholic is because it is real and therefore true; it is true and therefore real. Someone with my scientific background could never believe in anything that did not have a grounding in this world of atoms, of electrons, of muons, of the very stuff of the universe, of the stuff of which we are made. An idealistic religion, as some forms of American Christianity have become with all of the attendant corollaries, is something I could never ultimately take seriously. At least classical Judaism takes history seriously, seeing history through the lens of the relationship of God with the Jewish people, not the individual, but the people, the collective, the community. Here the God of Israel is engaged with his people, to say the least, chastising them, goading them on, calling them back, but never less than real in their own history. History. This is the key. Cardinal Newman said: to know history is to cease to be protestant. Now saying this I emphasize my debt and my love for my protestant upbringing which gave me a knowledge of the Bible and which set me upon my path. But when I found out that the Bible has a history and that history is inseparable from the oral tradition of the Church and the living teaching magisterium of the Church beginning with St Paul down to today. When I found out that Christianity has a history and that history is inseparable from the human history of the past two thousand years and that the Church is imbedded and inseparable from that history, then one is forced to the conclusion that either God entered human history with the birth of Christ and therefore the very stuff of human history is forever transformed, or the whole thing is a nice story that gives us a vague hope that Kafka is not right and that we do not die like a dog.

The event we celebrate in this Mass, the presentation of Christ in the temple, is part of human history. If it is not, forget about it. It means nothing. And what we do together this evening is part of human history. It may not be observed by many people, just as the birth of Christ was observed by very few people, just as his death on the cross was observed by very few people, just as his post-resurrection appearances were observed by very few people. But nevertheless it is happening in this world in this place as a part of human history. And what we do here is the context of the Church's liturgy, in the context of the Mass. We are not just a bunch of people coming together to commemorate a religious festival, like the Romans did with Saturnalia. We are not here to ponder intellectually or mentally or heartfully what Trinity Botticelli.jpgChristianity means. We do not come here to learn. We come here to connect and be connected to the pivot event of human history: the death and resurrection of the Lord of history. We come here to worship the God who is above his creation, eternal, all powerful, the ground of being, but who comes among us in the forms of bread and wine, stuff of the universe and pretty basic stuff at that, who comes to us in this church at this altar in this space and time, who comes as the Son to offer himself up to the Father in the eternal sacrifice that alone makes that connection between God and man possible and real. Simeon held the child Jesus in his arms. What a wonderful thing. But we go far beyond that. In this Mass the Son offers himself to the Father, Calvary is re-presented, and the infinite grace of that offering is bestowed upon us, and as we receive Holy Communion symbol and reality become one, as God enters our body to transform us from death into life. This is where worship and life come together. This is where culture and faith come together. This is where beauty and truth kiss, this is where eternity and time intersect. This is where those whom we have loved and who have died in Christ are with us in the most real way as part of the body of Christ. This is where the angels and archangels and the blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints join with us in this offering of sacrifice and praise.

And all of this in sign and symbol that partake of the reality of God in this extraordinary form of the Roman rite. The ordinary form, the Mass of Paul VI, is known as that because it happens to be celebrated in most Catholic parishes today. That is what ordinary means. The form we celebrate here and now, given back to the Church by the courage and foresight of the present Pope, is extraordinary in the jargon of the Church. Extraordinary means here not exceptional but rather not ordinary. This is the rite that is the distillation of the Catholic faith of at least fifteen hundred years; this is the stuff of Catholicism, not man made, not the product of scholarship or committees, but rather the product of organic growth, like a wonderful old house with some funny and strange features, rooms that seem too small or too large, some curious old furniture, and yet when you step into it, you know that this is a home, a home that has been lived in by countless generations, a home that is meant to be enjoyed, contemplated, a place to have fun in, a place that is home in the sense that it is full of that love that makes a home a real home and not merely a house.

Some of you know the ending of TS Eliot's poem, "Little Gidding":

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

The first time I celebrated this form of the Mass, these lines came to me, for I knew this place for the first time as the place for which I was ordained a Catholic priest. And what I have come to realize is that the Traditional Mass has been given back to the Church by the grace of God in order that new generations might know the place for the first time in all its beauty and truth. For how many years was this place deformed by lifeless, legalistic celebrations of the Mass? How long was this place hidden from a laity consigned to being mere spectators at a clerical event? How long was the entrance to this home barred by those who refused to believe that the people of God were intelligent enough and faithful enough and graceful enough to live fully in this home and so built a new home to appeal to a generation that already has grey hair and is as outdated as is the Brady Bunch split level house? This form of the Mass has been given back to the Church as a gift, a gift to be shared, a gift to be cherished, a gift that lies at the very heart of what it means to be Catholic.

Ministers at the Altar RGC.jpgThis task of renewal is indeed formidable. It is much more formidable than that which President Obama faces in this time of national crisis. The liturgical damage of the past forty years is deep; it is as high as a mountain, for it is not only a question of liturgical form, it is that mountain of willful ignorance that has confused worship of God with worship of the self. And there are days when I look at that mountain and say to myself that there is no way to return. But then I look at the great number of young children at the coffee hour following the 9:30 Solemn Mass on Sunday; I see them running around, I see them stuffing a doughnut into their mouths, I see them with their young parents who have brought them to the Mass, I see them as children whose only experience of Mass is precisely this what we do today, the worship of the transcendent God who became flesh: then the mountain does not seem as high. How fitting is that we celebrate this Mass in this church whose lack of an altar rail, whose absent side altars, whose soiled wall to wall carpet, all speak of the liturgical deterioration of the past forty years. And how fitting it is that this parish church, not one of the wealthy parish churches of this diocese, is determined to bring back the beauty of this church, not for beauty per se, but so that it can once again be a fit setting for the coming of God in the flesh to his people and their response of adoration.

Heady stuff, you say. Quite far from the happy-slappy Catholicism most Catholics have know for the past forty years. Quite far from the liberal Protestantism that has joined forces with the secular steamroller, quite far from the radically individualistic evangelical Christianity that draws thousands to the mega-churches on a Sunday. Quite far from the generic American religion that is a cross between vestiges of Christianity and vague moral stirrings. Quite far indeed. As far as eternity. As far as infinity. The infinity of the Logos, of the reason that holds the universe together. The infinity of the God who did not need us yet created us of his will. But ultimately the infinity of love, the love that knows no bounds, no not any, even to death, even to death on a cross for us, pro nobis, death for life, my life, your life, the only infinity that means anything at all, the infinity that became finite in the womb of Mary for the sake of love.

Saint Blase

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St Blaise.jpgO God, Who does gladden us by the annual solemnity of blessed Blase, Thy Martyr and Bishop; mercifully grant that we may rejoice in the protection of him whose heavenly birth we celebrate.


Jesus Christ cares for the ill and the Church, the sacrament of Christ on earth, continues the mission of Christ of healing by asking God to do the loving thing: to heal the sick according to His holy Will. One of the most ancient and revered customs in the Church, therefore, is the offering of prayer and doing fitting good works for the sick to relieve greatest burdens which afflict the human body and spirit.

The ministry of the Church is not what heals or saves someone because on its own it has no such power; it is the faith in the power of the Lord Jesus whose grace provides comfort to the sick; it is the Lord who heals and it is Holy Spirit which works through human agency. And in all that, we believe that our sufferings are connected to (identified with) the sufferings of Christ for the salvation of sinners. As the Pope said recently, "Jesus suffered and died on the cross for love. In this way He gave meaning to our own suffering, a meaning that many men and women of all ages have understood and made their own, thus experiencing profound serenity even amid the bitterness of harsh physical and moral trials".

Still, it is the will of God that believers should pray for the blessing of good health so that they might engage fully in sharing the knowledge and love of God to the world in which they live. Let's be clear: God wants us to be happy here, right now. It is important to remember that these prayers offered by Christ's faithful people remind us of the Lord's special care and compassion for the sick and infirm and that it is ultimately God's Will that is followed.

Saint Blase was bishop of Sebaste in what is present day Armenia during the fourth century. We know little about his life yet there are numerous accounts which suggest that he practiced medicine before converting to Jesus Christ and becoming a bishop. He is reputed to have miraculously cured a little child who almost died because of a fishbone in the throat.

From about the eighth century to the present, the Church has liturgicall remembered Saint Blase and has been imparted an annual blessing of the sick, especially those who suffer ailments of the throat.

The blessing is typically given by touching the throat of each person with two candles blessed on the preceding day, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord.

The blessing of the throat is imparted by the ordained and in some cases, a lay minister may perform the blessing without making the sign of the cross. If imparted during Mass, it usually follows the homily and general intercessions. Some priests offer the blessing in place of the final blessing of the Mass. BUT the intercession of Saint Blase is not limited to today's liturgical memorial and it is encouraged to request the blessing at other times to those who suffer from illness or diseases of the throat.

The Blessing:

Through the intercession of Saint Blase, bishop and martyr, may God deliver you from every disease of the throat and from every other illness: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit.

Presentation of the Lord Weyden.jpgLord, now Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word; for my eyes have seen Thy salvation which Thou has prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Thy people Israel.


Almighty and everlasting God, we humbly beseech Thy majesty, that as Thine only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple in the substance of our flesh, so too Thou would grant us to be presented unto Thee with purified souls.


The blessings of candles, symbolic of Christ the Light to all peoples, is observed on this feast is a poignant reminder that the great feast of the Incarnation of our Lord and Savior means something as it fails to reduce God-becoming man to sentiment or ethics.  Taken by the faithful to their homes, the blessed candles are a reminder that Jesus Christ is indeed "Light from Light, True God from True God."

The Presentation of the Lord in the Temple emphasizes in yet a more radical way the manifestation of the Christ child at Epiphany celebrated a few weeks ago. This feast, like the Christmas-Epiphany cycle, proclaims Jesus as Lumen gentium (the Light of the world). He is the true foundation of our lives. At the singing of the Canticle of Simeon (see above) the Church puts on our lips the words of Scripture instructing us that Jesus is "The light for the revelation of the Gentiles: and for the glory of Thy people Israel."

 In a nutshell, the Church says of the observance of the feast of the Presentation:

The feast of February 2 still retains a popular character. It is necessary, however, that such should reflect the true Christian significance of the feast. It would not be proper for popular piety in its celebration of this feast to overlook its Christological significance and concentrate exclusively on its Marian aspects. The fact that this feast should be "considered [...] a joint memorial of Son and Mother" would not support such an inversion. The candles kept by the faithful in their homes should be seen as a sign of Christ "the light of the world" and an expression of faith. (Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, 123)

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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This page is a archive of entries in the Sacred Liturgy & Sacraments category from February 2009.

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