Friday, March 30, 2012
We encourage you to enter fully into the Feasts of Holy Week. Allow yourself to feel the oppression of the cross and the cold, darkness of the tomb before you are swept into the joy of Easter Sunday. As any artist who uses oils as a medium will tell you, you can't have light until you have dark.
Thursday, March 22, 2012
Next Sunday, we will celebrate Palm Sunday, the Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, the beginning of His Passion. When we hear the word passion, we often think of a couple in the throes of uncontrollable love. Beyond that, we say that someone with a deep love for reading or art has a passion for books or Rembrandt. Why do we use that word to describe the suffering of Jesus? The word is derived from an old Latin word, passio, which means suffering, submission. In the Garden of Gethsemane, when praying to God, Jesus’ submission is evident when he says to His Father, “Your will be done.”
Many Catholics go directly from waving palm branches to Easter Sunday. They miss the power of the events which mark our Lord’s passion and death by focusing only on His Resurrection. But experiencing the darkness in between is part of the light and joy of Easter. On the Wednesday of Holy Week, we celebrate Tenebrae (“Ten-ah-bray). Tenebrae is Latin for darkness or shadows and serves as an introduction to the Triduum. As psalms are sung and readings are proclaimed, the lights of the church are slowly extinguished until we are plunged into darkness. In this way, we enter into the passion of Christ.
On Holy Thursday we begin the Triduum, the three days of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. We commemorate the institution of the Lord’s Supper and remember that Jesus humbled himself to wash the feet of His disciples, a lesson about the true meaning of servant-leadership.
On Good Friday, there is no Mass anywhere in the world. The cross is a somber symbol of our salvation, and we gather to venerate it. We share Eucharist consecrated the night before as we recall the sacrifice of Jesus who took our sins upon Himself and was put to death. We leave in silence, and spend the day in prayer and fasting.
The Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday begins after sundown. It is the most important Mass of the liturgical year, the high point of the Triduum. The Exsultet, a prayer of thanksgiving and praise, is chanted or sung as the paschal candle is brought forth in procession. With a rich display of symbols, rites, and readings, salvation history unfolds. Slowly, the darkness of Tenebrae dissipates as the Gospel proclamation of the Resurrection illuminates the space. Those who have been forming their faith in the R.C.I.A. process are fully initiated into the Catholic Church. Having come through the darkness of sin and death, we rejoice together in the Light of Christ and the hope of eternal life.
Friday, March 16, 2012
Most of what we know about Joseph comes from Scripture, specifically from the gospels of Matthew and Luke; in the gospels of Mark and John, there is no mention of him.
Joseph was not a rich man; we know this because when he took the baby Jesus to the Temple to be circumcised and Mary to be purified in obedience to the law, he offered the sacrifice of two turtledoves, which meant he could not afford a lamb, the customary sacrifice.
We know that Joseph was a carpenter, a working man, because Matthew tells us that people are astonished at Jesus’ wisdom and deeds and ask, "Is this not the carpenter's son?"
Despite his humble work and means, Joseph came from a royal lineage. Luke and Matthew both mark his descent from David, the greatest king of Israel. And the angel who tells Joseph about Jesus greets him as "son of David.”
We know Joseph was a compassionate, caring man. When he discovered Mary was pregnant after they had been betrothed, he decided to divorce her quietly and not expose her to shame or cruelty.
We know Joseph was man of faith, obedient to whatever God asked of him without knowing the outcome. When the angel came to Joseph in a dream and told him the truth about the child Mary was carrying, Joseph immediately took Mary as his wife. After the birth of Jesus, when the angel came again to tell him that his family was in danger, Joseph acted quickly, fleeing to a strange country with his young wife and the baby. He waited in Egypt until the angel told him it was safe to go back.
We know Joseph loved Jesus, and was concerned for his safety. When Jesus stayed behind in the Temple, we are told, Joseph, together with Mary, searched Jerusalem for three days for him.
Since Joseph does not appear in Jesus' public life, at His death, or His resurrection, many historians believe Joseph probably had died before Jesus entered public ministry.
In the Catholic Church, we celebrate two feast days for Joseph: March 19th for Joseph, the Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and May 1st for Joseph the Worker.
There is much we wish we could know about Joseph: where and when he was born; how he spent his days; when and how he died. But Matthew tells us what is most important: that Joseph was "a righteous man.”
Because he is the patron of the universal Church, we pray that Saint Joseph watches over the Church and helps to protect it and guide it as carefully as he looked after Jesus.
Thursday, March 8, 2012
One of the traditions often practiced in a communal way during Lent is the devotion called Stations of the Cross. In most Catholic parishes you will see, along the walls, a series of artistic representations of Jesus on his way to the Crucifixion. Typically, these are placed at intervals along the side walls of the church, and in most churches these are small plaques with reliefs or paintings or wood carvings.
Since the 17th century, the Stations of the Cross has consisted of fourteen pictures or sculptures depicting scenes of the trail of Jesus; his journey to Golgotha; his crucifixion, death and burial.
Out of these fourteen traditional Stations of the Cross, only eight are found in scripture. The biblical accounts in the gospels never mention Jesus falling, nor do any of the evangelists mention Jesus meeting His mother or Veronica on his way to Golgotha. Station Thirteen, in many depictions, shows Jesus' body being taken from the cross and laid in the arms of Mary, although biblical accounts state that Joseph of Arimathea secured permission to take Jesus from the cross and bury him. These scenes are included out of tradition.
The Stations of the Cross originated in pilgrimages to Jerusalem. The devotion of the Via Dolorosa, the way of sorrow, was probably developed by the Franciscans after they were granted administration of the Christian holy places in Jerusalem in 1342. The Franciscans then began to build a series of shrines in Europe to duplicate those in the Holy Land. These were usually placed along the approach to a church. Eventually, churches began to put smaller versions inside or outside their buildings.
Stations of the Cross may be prayed at any time, but is most commonly done during the season of Lent. Risen Savior holds Stations of the Cross on Friday evenings at 7:00 PM, and are accompanied by song and prayer. In some parishes, the entire community moves around the stations; in others, just the presider and altar servers move while the congregation participates from the pews. This powerful devotion helps the faithful to make a spiritual pilgrimage of prayer by meditating on Christ's suffering and death.
Friday, March 2, 2012
It’s easy to get confused and bogged down in terminology, especially church terminology and the changes we’ve experienced since Vatican II. A few of those changes were in the understanding of the two sacraments of healing: Anointing of the Sick and Reconciliation, formerly known as Confession or Penance.
Before Vatican II, Anointing of the Sick was only given when death was near, so it became synonymous with the Last Rites, and this is why there is confusion today. Vatican II, however, returned us to an earlier understanding of the sacrament: that it was to be done both for the dying and for those seriously sick.
Changes also came about in the sacrament we now call Reconciliation. This sacrament has evolved over the centuries. In Baptism, of course, all sins are forgiven. In the early Church, sins committed after Baptism were forgiven by prayer, almsgiving, fasting, self-denial, and especially by the Eucharist. But there were times when baptized Christians committed grave sins, and so the Church, empowered by the Holy Spirit, developed sacramental rites to help these sinners repent, convert, and be re-admitted to the Eucharist.
Contrary to popular belief, Vatican II did not get rid of either sin or confession! The Second Vatican Council did revise the Rite of Penance. So why are we calling it Reconciliation instead of Confession or Penance? The name change is because reconciling with God and community is the goal: we want to be in right relationship with our Creator and with our brothers and sisters. Confession is simply part of the process that gets us to that Reconciliation, along with conversion and penance.
The new ritual contains several ways of celebrating the sacrament, including communally. At a Communal Reconciliation Service, like the one at Risen Savior on Monday, March 5th, the community gathers for a true liturgical celebration. We hear those biblical stories that tell of God’s abundant love and forgiveness. As we reflect on this, we realize that we have not loved God back nearly as much as He has loved us. This realization is called “the sense of sin.” It comes not from hearing a list of possible sins that we might have committed but rather from hearing about God’s love. And that draws us to conversion.
Then, just as you come forward to receive Communion at Mass, you come forward at Reconciliation to receive individual absolution. You sit with a priest and confess your sinfulness. He, in turn, places his hands on your head and says the prayer of absolution. You are assured of God’s love and forgiveness, and you are now at peace, reconciled with your creator and your community.