Our community decided in 2008 that the mission of our parish was life-long learning. Everything we do centers around teaching the depth and richness of the Roman Catholic Faith. Our weekly 3-Minute Catechesis is read from the Ambo prior to Mass beginning. A written copy is made available in our weekly bulletin along with additional information for those who want to learn more. Visit us online at www.risensaviorcc.org for more information.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Right Hand

Why do we make the Sign of the Cross using the right hand rather than the left? Is there a Scriptural preference for the right hand? If so, why?

Scripture has several words translated "right" and the use of the term "right hand" can have a variety of meaning: a direction; the opposite of wrong; what is just; or a place of honor or authority. In the case of bestowing a blessing in the Bible, the right hand or right side came first, and was the greater blessing. This is seen in Genesis 48, when Jacob, before he dies, purposely crosses his arms to put his right hand on the head of Joseph’s younger son, standing at his left, to give him a greater blessing than his brother.

The Bible contains over 100 favorable references to the right hand. In Matthew 25, Jesus places the sheep – who are going to heaven – on his right hand, but places the goats – who are not going to heaven – on his left. And we recite in the Nicene Creed that Jesus is "seated at the right hand of the Father.”

Where does this right-handed preference come from? To answer that question, we have to go back in history.

One theory is that in the hunter-gatherer period, women needed to hunt alongside the men and protect their young children. The woman carried the infant on the left side of her body where the heartbeat is stronger, keeping the infant more secure and quiet, leaving the right hand for throwing spears. This may have led to preferential right-handedness.

In Medieval times, an open right hand indicated you were not carrying a weapon. If two men met and displayed empty right hands, they could assume they would not be attacked by the other. This evolved into the handshake.

Scientists estimate anywhere from 70-95% of people are right-handed. Probably because of this, the right hand is traditionally the hand of blessing and greeting in many cultural settings.

By contrast, the left hand has, in many cultures, a different set of traditional associations. For example, in Islam, the left hand is seen as unclean, stemming from a Middle Eastern custom of using the left hand for hygienic purposes.

In Latin, the word for “right” is dexter while the word for “left” is sinister. Many people, even today, associate left-handedness with evil, but in most educated populations, this is considered superstition. Nevertheless, for many of the reasons listed above, the sign of the cross has traditionally been made with the right hand.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Sign of the Cross

Watching the recent World Cup soccer games or other athletic events, you may notice how many players bless themselves with the Sign of the Cross during a game. Some athletes may be putting themselves in God’s presence, while others are thinking that there is magic in this gesture of faith. Even in formal prayer, the Sign of the Cross can be routine, just the traditional way of starting and ending prayer. But this gesture is so much more.

The Sign of the Cross is the most often used prayer of Christians and probably the first prayer we learned as children. As simple as it seems to us, the Sign of the Cross is more than just a gesture – it is an ancient prayer. References to it appear in writings dating back to 240 A.D.

Initially, the Sign of the Cross was made with the thumb, usually on the forehead, but sometimes on the lips and chest. This small Sign of the Cross was in common use by the end of the 4th century and is still used today at every Mass, with the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and the Anointing of the Sick. It is also used for the R.C.I.A. Rite of Signing and marking the forehead with ashes on Ash Wednesday.

By the 6th century, people were using the first two fingers, held together to make a wider Sign of the Cross, touching the forehead, chest, and shoulders. The two fingers symbolized the divine and human natures of Christ.

The use of three fingers became popular in the 9th century. The thumb and first two fingers were held outstretched together to symbolize the Trinity, while the remaining two fingers were bent to signify Christ's two natures. This form is still used in Eastern Christian churches, where the right shoulder is touched before the left.

By the end of the Middle Ages, the Western Church had adopted the practice of making the large Sign of the Cross with an open hand and touching the left shoulder before the right. This is the form we Roman Catholics continue to use today.

When we make the Sign of the Cross on ourselves, we aren’t doing anything “magical.” Rather, we are expressing our belief in God and the Trinity and reminding ourselves of God's love for us, of the sacrifice Jesus made to give us eternal life, and of the presence of the Holy Spirit within us.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Feast of the Assumption of Mary

On November 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII solemnly declared: “By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.”

In spite of the 1950 pronouncement, the Feast of the Assumption goes back to apostolic times. It was originally celebrated in the East, in the areas around Turkey and Greece, where it is known as the Feast of the Dormition, a word which means "the falling asleep."

Like the doctrine of the Trinity, the Assumption is not explicitly mentioned in Scripture. The Roman Catholic Church declared this dogma based on three things: the historic teaching of the Church down the centuries, the scholastic arguments in favor of it, and its interpretations of biblical sources.

One of those biblical sources is the book of Revelation, where the author John writes about his heavenly vision: "Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple." (Rev. 11:19) Immediately after seeing the Ark of the Covenant in heaven, John continues: "And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; she was with child." (Rev. 12:1–2) The woman is Mary, the Ark of the Covenant, revealed by God to John.

The Ark of the Covenant was the chest that held the two stone tablets of law which Moses brought down from Mount Sinai and was also “a sanctuary” for God, that he “may dwell in their midst.” (Ex. 25:8). Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant: as the mother of Jesus, she provided a place for God to dwell – in her womb. God honored Mary by taking her, body and soul, into Heaven.

In the U.S., there are many cities that have Assumption Day parties with music, dancing, parades and fireworks, with one of the largest festivals taking place in Cleveland, Ohio. This, however, pales in comparison to the extravagant celebrations in more than 50 countries around the world, where the Assumption is celebrated on August 15th as a public holiday. How wonderful that our Blessed Mother is remembered on her heavenly birthday!

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Transfiguration

On Friday, August 6th, the Church celebrated the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. The word “transfiguration” comes from the Latin trans, which mean across, and figurare, which means form or shape. The Transfiguration was the change in appearance of Christ before his disciples.

All three Synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – tell the story of the Transfiguration. Jesus led his select disciples, Peter, James and John, up on a high mountain. In the Old Testament, mountains are sacred places where people encounter God. The same is true here. What started as a mountain retreat quickly changed as Jesus was transformed right before the eyes of the disciples. Matthew says that Jesus’ face shone like the sun, and both Matthew and Mark use the word transfigured to describe what happened to Jesus. For this brief time, Jesus took on an appearance more appropriate for the King of Glory than for a humble man.

God’s voice comes from a cloud overshadowing the mountain and He reveals to the disciples that Jesus is His beloved Son. Moses, representing the law, and Elijah, representing the prophets, also appear with Jesus. The appearance of these two Old Testament heroes confirms that Jesus is the fulfillment of both the Law and the prophets.

Inquiring minds want to know: since there weren’t photographs of Old Testament people and not even good written descriptions, how did the disciples know that the men who appeared with Jesus were Elijah and Moses? Scripture doesn’t say. It seems that the disciples just knew. This perhaps illustrates that we will instinctively know each other when we get to heaven.

With remarkable agreement, the three evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke place the event shortly after Peter’s confession of faith that Jesus is the Messiah and Jesus’ first prediction of his passion and death. One of the Transfiguration accounts is read on the second Sunday of Lent each year, proclaiming Christ’s divinity to catechumens and baptized alike. The Gospel for the first Sunday of Lent, by contrast, is the story of the temptation in the desert – affirmation of Jesus’ humanity. The two distinct but inseparable natures of the Lord – his humanity and divinity – are revealed.

The witnessing of the Transfiguration by Peter, James, and John didn’t just involve the changed appearance of Jesus – it changed how they looked at him. Even if they failed to fully understand what we understand today – that Jesus was God become man – they knew that he shared a special connection with God and with the revered Old Testament prophets.