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Category Archives: Liturgy and Practices

What Christmas Means

By now most of us are suffering bloated stomachs from feasting or paper cuts from opening too many presents. And some may feel already a sense of relief or even of disappointment. You may have enjoyed the company of loving family and received that special present you’ve been hoping for, but really we’re longing for more. While the things of this world can bring happiness and contentment and pleasure, they cannot bring joy, the joy that is only possible in Christ Jesus.

Christmas is of course much more than all the good things we were able to take in today – all these things are shadows and symbols of what can truly fulfill us. Yes, Christmas can make us feel warm and perhaps make you want to be a better person. After all, didn’t Jesus preach love and forgiveness? Yes, but if we stop there, we are missing the point of the person and mission of Christ. God became Man not just to teach us to be nice to each other but to reconcile us and save us. Even more, he came to espouse himself to us.

No more shall people call you “Forsaken,” or your land “Desolate,”but you shall be called “My Delight,” and your land “Espoused.” For the LORD delights in you and makes your land his spouse.As a young man marries a virgin,your Builder shall marry you; and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you. – Isaiah 6:4-5

Christmas is about God proposing to us and inviting us to enter into his house and abide in him (Jn 15:4), and to partake of his divine nature (2Pet 1:4). At the Annunciation, 9 months earlier, Mary said yes to God, and the Son of God took on our human flesh and entered into our fallen humanity. The incarnation transforms our finite humanity and elevates it. God humbles himself over and over and gives himself to us to demonstrate his love.

So, while we settle into our late afternoon Christmas drowsiness, let’s not forget to thank God for offering us this gift of Christ who alone can fulfill all our desires and hopes. But even more, to say yes to his proposal.

 
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Posted by on December 25, 2013 in Catholic, Liturgy and Practices

 

Epiphany: Christ is the Light of the World

epiphanyThe second Sunday after Christmas we celebrate the Feast of Epiphany of the Lord. This solemnity commemorates the visit of the magi to Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem sometime after Jesus’ birth. Why is this event so important to us Christians? In fact in most of the world, the true celebration of Christmas happens on this day, January 6, especially in the eastern Orthodox churches. It’s the “12th day of Christmas”. Let’s look at the Biblical text from St. Matthew:

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” … they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. – Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11

The word Epiphany is a Greek word that means “manifestation” or “striking appearance”. What made these Gentiles from the east travel so far to an insignificant little town and visit an infant? They somehow realized Jesus was no ordinary child. God entered into humanity by becoming one of us.  The 2nd person of the Trinity, the eternal Son, humbled himself and became incarnate to show us the love of God to all of humanity. Whether the wise men understand this or not, they knew that this child was a king and worthy of adoration.

Notice how they follow a star of some significance. This light in the dark sky leads them to the Light of the World (John 8:12), the savior of humanity. These wise men were not Jews but yet they came to worship the King of the Jews. Already here is a foreshadowing of the Crucifixion where the title “King of the Jews” is mockingly placed on the Cross. In the darkness of these days, Christ shines forth in splendor in the hearts of those who believe. Notice the prophetic words of Isaiah:

Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD. – Isaiah 60:1-6

Christ is revealed to all the world! Not just Jews but to all the nations. That’s why these kings came from the East – to show the universal (“catholic””) nature of God’s redeeming love. Indeed, Christ’s words after his Resurrection, his great commission, are to “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” (Matthew 28:19). All nations. This is our mission. The Church exists for this mission.

The gifts they offer are linked to this manifestation, this mission. Gold is meant for a King. Frankincense is a perfume used in prayer. And myrrh used for anointing or funerals. These three gifts mirror the three-fold mission of Jesus: Priest, Prophet, King. As a Priest he offers his own body as a sacrifice to the Father for our redemption. As a Prophet, he is the Word of God who proclaims God’s truth and love.  And he is the King of kings who manifests and invites us to enter the kingdom of God.

When we are baptized we also enter into this three-fold mission and make it our own. One of the ways the Church describes our baptism is by calling it “enlightenment” (see CCC 1216). We are given the Light of the World and we are made “sons in the light”.

Like the wise men from the East, let us kneel and pay Jesus homage and shine forth his light to the rest of the world. Christ be our light!

 
 

Holding hands during the Our Father

I was at Mass on a recent Sunday and something occurred to me during the Lord’s Prayer. Most people in the assembly were holding hands, except me and my family, and I realized that if I were an outsider, I would think the Lord’s Prayer was the most important part of the Mass. Let me explain:

Now, the entire Mass is actually centered on the sacrifice of Christ presented in the Eucharist; and all the prayers, words, gestures, actions, posturese, and symbols revolve around that – or at least should. The Mass is the central act of Christian life and these should reflect what we believe in our doctrines. Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi (The rule of prayer is the rule of faith).

I’ve been trying to figure out why people hold hands at the Our Father at Mass. Perhaps the thinking is that since we say “Our” Father, then we hold hands to show our unity praying with one voice as a community. Well, yes, but many of the other prayers at mass are plural first person as well, and we don’t hold hands during those times. Maybe it got adapted from the basic Orans posture (hands extended with palms up) and then people thought it was an invitation to hold hands. Most people do it now (and when I used to do it) because everybody else does it and they just assume it’s something we’re supposed to do.

Well, the liturgical documents don’t mention it as something we should do. Furthermore, if the reason is that makes it feel more like a community, why at that point? This gets me to my original point: I notice that this is the time when we the response of the assembly is loudest; everybodyis saying it and were all holding hands doing it. It’s as if this were the most important part of the Mass for some people – the only time they get something out of it. I hope that’s not the case, but maybe the hand-holding emphasizes this. Of course it is an important prayer and it is the prayer that Christ gave us, but it is of course not the pinnacle of the liturgical celebration.

Another reason we shouldn’t hold hands during the Lord’s Prayer is that it de-emphasizes the act that comes right after that: the sign of peace. Why would I need to give a sign of peace (shaking hands, etc) with someone if I just held their hand during a prayer? Also, the real community we will participate in is when we receive the Body of Christ. That is when we are mystically joined together in a more real and stronger sense than the holding of hands. That is one of the reasons it is called “communion”.

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2012 in Liturgy and Practices

 

About Lent and Ash Wednesday

Today, Ash Wednesday, starts the liturgical season of Lent in the Catholic Church. Some Protestant Christian faiths also recognize this season. The ashes are a symbol of repentance. It is also a day of fasting and abstaining from meat. The 40 days of Lent are a time of repentance in preparation for the holiest days of the year – Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter. Here is a brief explanation.

 
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Posted by on February 9, 2005 in Liturgy and Practices