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.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

First Sunday of Advent • Calendar Crunch

We live in an era when calendars seem to rule our lives—the office calendar, the school calendar, the holiday calendar, the social calendar. Not surprisingly, many of us rely more and more on technology to help us keep track of all our various obligations and responsibilities. The new Church year begins today and the scriptures invite us to pause, slow down, and consider some of our core priorities as disciples of the Lord.
Statistics show that, more than any previous generation in human history, we have disposable time to use how we choose. We are not tied to the unrelenting agricultural calendar of traditional farm work or to sixteen-hour days in factories, yet we often feel rushed and over-committed. This all comes down to how we use our God-given time.
The readings today declare that God will fulfill the promises that God has made. Until that time of perfect justice, righteousness, and salvation comes upon us we are asked to do four things: to be alert at all times, not to give in to worry and distractions, to pray for strength, and to care lovingly for one another. So, as we prepare to celebrate again the coming of the Savior, think about the stewardship of time.

Think back to third grade when we learned the difference between needs and wants, and realize how much the line has blurred between the two since then. Is your calendar too full? Streamline it by looking at it with an informed eye: What must you do and what would you like to do, and how can you put God first this Advent? 

Copyright © 2009, World Library Publications. All rights reserved.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Liturgical Year and Colors

We occasionally see the term “Liturgical Year” in our bulletin.  This week we are celebrating the Feast of Christ the King which is the last Sunday in our Liturgical Year.  What exactly does Liturgical Year mean?
Beginning with the First Sunday of Advent and ending with the Feast of Christ the King the Church celebrates the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The year itself is broken down into three distinct periods.
The first of these periods is Advent and Christmas.  We anticipate then celebrate God coming into human history.  The second period is Lent and Easter where we enter into the events that lead up to Jesus’ death and then celebrate his resurrection and ascension into heaven.  The final period we call “Ordinary” Time, but there’s nothing ordinary about it.  The word “Ordinary” comes from the word “Ordinal,” which is how the weeks are numbered: first, second, third, etc.
Each of these seasons have a different feel to them and we can recognize the change of season by the different color vestments the clergy wear as well as the colors of our banners and altar decorations. 
The use of colors to differentiate the liturgical seasons became a common practice about the fourth century.  At first, usages varied considerably but by the 12th century Pope Innocent III approved the use of five colors: Violet, White, Black, Red and Green.  Today, four colors are used to express the emotions and ideas that are associated with each of the seasons of the liturgical year.
Violet is the ancient royal color and therefore a symbol of the sovereignty of Christ.  Violet is also associated with repentance from sin.  We see that connection in its use during Advent and Lent as we acknowledge our sinfulness and prepare for the Lord and his resurrection.
White reminds us of the brightness of day and that Jesus is the Light of the World.  We wear it during the Christmas and Easter seasons as well as for the great feasts of the year.
Red evokes the color of blood, and is the color of martyrs and Christ’s death on the cross.  But it is also the color of fire and remembering the tongues of fire that hovered over the Apostles it is also the color of the Holy Spirit and feasts of the apostles.
And the rest of the year, when we’re counting out our Ordinal time?  We wear green which represents living things and the promise of new life. 

Every year we cycle through the life, death and resurrection of Christ and every year we are changed by that journey.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Water and Wine

Before elevating the cup a little and blessing God for the gift of wine, the Deacon, or in his absence the Priest, pours a few drops of water into the chalice or flagon of wine.   As he does this, he says quietly:

          “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”

Because of the distance from the altar and the quiet, almost silent recitation of those words, most of us may hardly notice and certainly not understand either what was said or the significance of the action.
An ancient rule during Christ’s time required that some water must be mingled with the wine.   In those times all wine was heavy and thick and no polite person ever served it uncut.   Today’s wines already come watered down, so the reason we do this at Mass has been lost.   But over the centuries the action took on new symbolic meanings. 
The meanings include the wine and water being like Jesus and us, together and indivisible – the close bond between Christ and His Church.  And the one that most of us probably heard in grade school:  it can be seen as representative of the water and blood which flowed from Jesus’ side as he hung from the cross.   One can see that while the mixing of the water and wine is a minor action, the symbolism can be very great.
When there are several cups, as happens here at all of our Masses, the water is normally poured into the flagon that comes up with the gifts and then the wine is poured into the separate cups.   Some suggest that the water be placed only into the principle chalice that the priest uses – because that was the practice prior to the Second Vatican Council – but that was because at that time, only the clergy received the Precious Blood and there would have been only one chalice.

However the water gets into the wine, the action today is one of symbolic gesture – a gesture that reminds us that just like the water and wine, we are all commingled, combined into the mystical Body of Christ.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Offertory

For the past several weeks, with some detours, we have discussed only the first part of the Mass, the Liturgy of the Word.  Today we begin discussing the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
Our Eucharistic celebration begins with the Offertory.  In the Middle Ages the faithful would bring their gifts of offering forward and place them on the altar.  These gifts would have included bread and wine, along with produce and small animals such as chickens and pigs.  The larger animals would have been placed in a side chamber before Mass began.
The deacon of the Mass would have taken aside an amount of bread and wine that would be suitable for the Mass and the remainder of the gifts would have been put aside for the care of the clergy and the church.  Now you know the reason that Father washes his hands following the prayer of offering our gifts to God – he would have just finished handling the animals that had been offered.
The priest then takes the gifts and offers them to God.  We hear this happening as Father lifts the bread toward God and says in a formulary that is faithful to our Jewish roots, “Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you: fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life.”  After blessing God, which in this context means “praising,” and offering the bread, the wine is offered in a similar formula. 
Today, we don’t individually bring our gifts to the altar.  A couple of people or a family is chosen from those attending Mass to represent all of us.  And instead of us bringing bread and wine, or grain or livestock, we offer a monetary gift to support those in need and the Church’s needs:  be that bread and wine for the Liturgy or electricity so that our worship space may be kept a comfortable temperature.
 Of course, it is not just the bread and wine and the gift of our monetary resources that is offered to God.  We are also bringing ourselves to the altar, offering ourselves, consecrating ourselves to God. 

At Risen Savior, we invite all of our families to be “gift bearers.”  If you would like to bring up the gifts at any of our Masses, please contact our Liturgist, Kevin Newman at 821-1571 ext. 122 or knewman@risensaviorcc.org.  

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Intentions of the Mass

When a priest presides at the Mass he has three objectives: First, to offer the Mass in union with and for the good of the whole Church; Second, to offer the Mass reverently; Third, to offer the Mass for a particular intention, such as the repose of the soul of someone who has died.  
Right before Mass begins, our announcement reader tells us for whom this Mass is offered.  These most frequently are the deceased members of our parish family, but on occasion the Mass is offered for someone’s birthday or anniversary, or for someone who is facing a particular trial in life.
Praying for the dead began long before the early stages of Christianity.  The earliest Scriptural reference to prayers for the dead comes in the second book of Maccabees, written some 150 years before the birth of Christ. The book tells how Judas Maccabee, the Jewish leader, led his troops into battle.  When the battle ended he directed that the bodies of those Jews who had died be buried.  As soldiers prepared their slain comrades for burial, they discovered that each was wearing an amulet taken as booty from a pagan Temple. This violated Jewish law and so Judas and his soldiers prayed that God would forgive the sin these men had committed (II Maccabees 12:39-45).
This is the first indication in the Bible of a belief that prayers offered by the living can help free the dead from any sin that would separate them from God in the life to come. It is echoed in the New Testament when St. Paul reminds us that Jesus is the “Lord of the living and the dead” (II Timothy 4:1).
The cavelike tombs under the city of Rome, which we call catacombs, bear evidence that members of the Roman Christian community gathered there to pray for their fellow followers of Christ who lay buried there.  By the fourth century, prayers for the dead are mentioned in Christian literature as though they were already a longstanding custom.

Praying for the dead also has roots in our belief in the communion of saints.  We who are living often assist each other through prayers and other forms of spiritual support. Christians who have died continue to be members of the communion of saints. We believe that we can assist them by our prayers, and they can assist us by theirs.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Prayers of the Faithful

The deacon says, “For our Holy Father and all the leaders of the Church, we pray to the Lord.”  And all of us immediately know to respond by saying: “Lord, hear our prayer.”  This form of prayer was new to Catholics after the Second Vatican Council, but now the response is almost automatic.  The danger with automatic responses, of course, is that we tend to forget the deeper meaning of what we do and say.
The petitions that follow the Creed are called the Prayers of the Faithful or the General Intercessions.  Each name tells us something important about this prayer.
It’s called the Prayer of the Faithful because this prayer is said by those who are baptized.  As Christ prayed for the good of the people, so we are called to offer prayers and intercessions for the needs of all people today.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal says that this prayer generally includes four main categories of intentions: “for the Church, for public authorities and the salvation of the whole world, for those burdened by any kind of difficulty and for the local community” (#70).  There may be more than one petition in any of those categories, but these general areas remind us that the prayer is to be universal in scope.  It seeks to address the needs of all people, near and far.  Thus the prayer is also called the General Intercessions – because they are general in nature.

While they are general in scope, the petitions are also current and local.  They address the needs of our world in our own time, and they reflect local needs as well as global ones.  The rest of the prayers at Mass are prescribed in the official books – we are not free to rewrite or create them.  In the Prayers of the Faithful, in contrast, we are expected to write our own – otherwise they could not reflect what is happening at this particular time in this particular place.

But what do we mean when we say, “We pray to the Lord?”  This statement requires us to remember that the Church teaches that we are the Body of Christ.  When we ask Christ to care for the ill, or end war and poverty, we are also taking on the commission of doing so ourselves.  We are not passive.  We understand that faith is a verb and we are all called to action when we say, “Lord, hear our prayer.”

Sunday, October 11, 2015

One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic

Every time we’ve prayed the Creed we’ve professed our belief in the “Marks of the Church.” The essential characteristics or “Marks” that distinguish the true Church from other groups are expressed in our statement of belief in “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.”
In the first article of the Creed we express our belief in One God who is undivided and indivisible.  Our expression of belief in One Church does not deny diversity.  Nothing in the New Testament suggests that uniformity is an ideal.  The Second Vatican Council in their document The Light of the Nations teaches us that the Church shines forth as “a people made one with the unity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
We say of the Church that it is “holy” because there is holiness both of and in it.  We do not claim that the church is holy because we, collectively, are a holy, sinless people.   The Church’s holiness is the expression of divine love that will not allow itself to be defeated by human willfulness and weakness.   The Church is not holy because of us, but in spite of us.
The word “catholic” derives from a Greek phrase that means “on the whole.”   The first recorded use of the word seems to have been from St. Ignatius of Antioch in the early 2nd Century when he wrote, “Where the bishop appears, there let the people be, just as where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”  He was saying that the church had reality, life and power only to the extent that it formed part of the universal church in union with its spiritual head.  When we speak of being catholic we are saying “the Church is one, not a union of parts but a unity of many.” 
The last Mark of the Church is that we are “apostolic.”   As St. Paul said in his letter to the Ephesians, “You form a building which rises on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone.”   The apostles were first and foremost what Jesus refers to them as being, “witnesses.”  Our faith is built upon the Apostles, who witnessed to what they had seen, heard and experienced.

When you put these four Marks together we can see that the Church is from God and for us.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

God's Spirit

When the Bible speaks of the Holy Spirit it uses a variety of metaphors and images to describe the Spirit’s activity in the world.  But even the word “Spirit” is a metaphor.  The term began as an image rather than a concept.  Spirit is the modern translation of the Greek word “pneuma” which names invisible forces that are real without being tangible and, though intangible, are felt without people being able to see or control them.  Pneuma is the word for wind – the fresh breeze of a spring day or the fury of a tornado.  Pneuma is also breath – the breath of life that gives life.  Whatever image we use, spirit implies something dynamic – energy, activity, life.
In the Creed we say with firm conviction that the Spirit is the “Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” By doing so we are saying that the Spirit is also God – in the same way that the Son is God.  But this one phrase, while making a unifying statement about who God is – is the divisive statement between the Latin Church, of which we are members and the Orthodox Churches. 
The original language of the Creed, still maintained in the Orthodox churches says that the Spirit comes from the Father only.  The statement we in the Latin Church recite is that the Spirit comes from both the Father and the Son.  This idea began in the 8th Century in Spain and within a few hundred years had swept through the Western Church.  Pope Benedict the ninth had the phrase added to the Creed and recited in churches in the 11th Century.
Both the Latin and the Orthodox churches are endeavoring to do the impossible – describe God – so neither can be exactly correct.  Both are mankind’s attempt to put a handle on God.  The Latin Church says, “three persons in God” and the Orthodox says, “one God in three persons.”  By doing so we emphasize the unity of the divine nature while the Orthodox look at the individual persons and emphasize how they function in perfect unity. 

However we describe the Spirit, we are saying that it is the Spirit we acknowledge when we say, “with the Father and the Son He is adored and glorified.”

Sunday, September 27, 2015

On the Third Day

Christians are by definition an “Easter people;” our faith rests on the reality expressed in the creedal statement AND ROSE AGAIN ON THE THIRD DAY IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE SCRIPTURES. 
It is a mistake to read THE THIRD DAY as a simple reference to earthly time as if one were dating the resurrection event seventy-two hours after Good Friday.  The phrase is filled with deeper meaning.  It is an end-time expression linked to the saving action of God in the person of the crucified Jesus.  To the Jewish way of thinking, “the third day” or “after three days” had a special significance even in everyday speech.  It represents a turning point in the course of human events.  In no less than thirty places the Hebrew Scriptures employ the phrase to indicate a critical moment when one thing is definitively concluded and a new thing begins. 
The Lord instructs Moses to have the people, “… ready for the third day.”  “On the third day” Esther begins her task of delivering Israel, and “on the third day” Israel expects God to raise the people up “to live in his presence.”  That Jesus rises from the dead “on the third day” marks a focal point in salvation, not in time. 
The Creed goes on to say “HIS KINGDOM WILL HAVE NO END.”  This phrase was added specifically to condemn those who said that Christ would come again to set up a worldly, political kingdom based in Jerusalem.  From there, He would rule the earth as king of a physical realm and the world would enjoy unprecedented peace and prosperity for one-thousand years. Then, after a millennium was complete, Satan would be loosed for a time and would make war upon Christ and His Kingdom.
Those who signed on to this heresy saw the reign of Christ as being composed of two kingdoms: an earthly one that would last for a thousand years, and the second and eternal one to follow the final defeat of Satan.  The Council of Nicaea rejected this notion outright.

We understand and believe that when Jesus comes again it will be to usher in the end-times where he WILL JUDGE THE LIVING AND THE DEAD.  

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Why Did God Become Man?

Last week we talked about our belief in Jesus Christ who is both fully human and fully God.  In the Creed we say, “For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven.”  But why did God become Man and what is Salvation?
In everyday language the verb “save” is used in a couple of ways. We save for something – like for our retirement and we are saved from things – like from a disaster.  In the language of faith, it seems that salvation most often implies being saved from something. 
In the Hebrew Scriptures God is seen as the salvation of the people of Israel.  God delivers them from mortal danger time after time.  In the Christian tradition we understand that we are being saved from our sin through the love and power of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Sin is a failure in human relationships – the relationship between ourselves and others and our relationships with God.  Like the old “chicken or the egg” riddle, we find ourselves with an unanswerable question, “which is first, the fact of sin or the act of sin?”  Are we sinners because we sin, or do we sin because we are sinners? 
In an autobiographical passage which almost all of us can make our own, St. Paul recognizes the power of sin in his life when he writes in his Epistle to the Romans, “I am weak flesh sold into the slavery of sin.  I cannot even understand my actions.  I do not do what I want to do but what I hate... But if I do what is against my will, it is not I who do it, but sin which dwells in me.”
Paul talks about sin as having a life of its own.  Other biblical writers speak of it as “the power of darkness,” and “sin of the world.”  In that sin, as St. Paul suggests, “resides” in all of us, it is called “original sin.” 
Until we become aware of the power of sin that is at the root of all evil in the world, we cannot fully appreciate the significance of Christ’s death and resurrection. 

Why did God become man?  The best answer is that in becoming one of us He could fully understand the influence that sin has upon us.  And by not sinning he shows us that we do not need to become mastered by sin.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Who Do You Say That I Am?

Jesus questioned the Apostles and asked them, “Who do people say that I am?”  The question continues to be asked today and touches the very core of the Christian message.  The Creed is our way of answering the Lord’s question. 
By the beginning of the fourth century a heresy began creeping throughout Egypt and Palestine and spreading through Churches in the east.  This heresy was begun by a bishop by the name of Arius, who taught that Jesus was not God, but was a creature that God had made.  Now Arius was willing to admit that Jesus was the highest of created beings, but a creature nonetheless.   To be precise, Arius claimed that Jesus was a supernatural being not quite human and not quite divine. 
Even though Arius was condemned by the Church and had to leave his office of bishop, he wandered through the Holy Land spreading his heresy through powerful preaching and even song that children could be easily taught.  The Christian Emperor, Constantine, called a council of all the world’s bishops to be held in the city of Nicaea in what is now modern Turkey, in the year 325.  The bishops condemned Arius and the heresy which became known as Arianism.
Instead of seeing Jesus as a not quite human, not quite God, supernatural being, the council fathers reaffirmed what had been taught back to the time of the Apostles, that Jesus is of the same substance as God.  They used the word “consubstantial” which means “of the same stuff,” to describe the relationship between the Father and the Son.  That is reflected in the meaning of the words the council fathers crafted to describe the relationship of Jesus with the Father:
I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father,
through him all things were made.

These 44 words are very important because through them the council fathers in no uncertain terms tell us that Jesus is God and God is Jesus – they are one in being.  When we profess this in our Sunday Liturgy we are standing with all those who have come before us and the entire Communion of Saints in saying, “Jesus Christ is God.”

Sunday, September 6, 2015

God the Father

One can make the case that the most distinctive tenet of Christianity is its teaching about creation.   From Genesis, where the first words are “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” to the Book of Revelation which says to God, “For you have created all things; by your will they came to be and were made,” we find reference to God who created everything out of nothing.
In the second Christian century a heresy developed which we now call “Gnosticism” (Nŏs-tǐ-cism).  The Gnostics believed that there were two Gods – an inferior one who created, and the Supreme Divine Being who was remote and unknowable.  According to the Gnostics, while we humans contained a spark of the divine because the lesser god had made us, the Supreme Deity never intended to create a universe of matter.  It was a mistake, the fault of the lesser god. 
Gnostics compared and contrasted the creator god they saw in the Old Testament, whom they saw as the eye-for-an-eye god of justice, and the loving Father proclaimed by Jesus in the New Testament.   According to most Gnostics, Christ came into the world as the agent of the Supreme God, revealing the true knowledge which was the way of escaping the flesh.  It goes without saying that they had no place in their system of belief for the resurrection of the body – Jesus’ or anyone else’s, because they believed that matter imprisons the soul and is bad.
The primary importance of God’s role as creator is reaffirmed in the first article of the Creed when we say of God that He is the MAKER OF HEAVEN AND EARTH, OF ALL THINGS VISIBLE AND INVISIBLE.  This is the basic belief from which flows all else that we say about God, about the universe we live in, about our history, our destiny and our hope.
Because we understand that God, who is good, made heaven and earth, the Catholic-Christian tradition looks at the world and all that is in it in a positive manner.  The physical world, the human body, the thirst for life and human relationships are all good. 

The first article of the Creed can be summed up in this way:  there is no god but God.  Just like the Jews profess their belief when they say “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God is one.”  We profess the same belief… there are not a multitude of gods, there is only the One who made it all.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

What is Belief

Last week we talked about the usefulness of the Creed in helping us to share the same understanding of who our God is.  Beginning this week we’re going to spend some time looking at each section of the Nicene Creed to learn what it means and why it’s included.
Before we can begin to talk about what we believe, we must take a moment and discuss what it means to believe.  Literally, to believe means to “hold dear.”  It has a sense of “preference” or “allegiance.”
One of the earliest examples of the English word “belief” is found in a medieval homily that warns Christians not to set their hearts, as we might say today, on worldly goods.   The actual phrase is “should not set their belief” on them.  So, literally, the homilist was saying that the faithful should not give their allegiance to worldly goods.
Belief is also tightly connected to the word “faith.”  The English language does not have a verb form of the word FAITH.  The word faith is a noun, but faith itself is an action, so English translators usually use the word “belief” instead. 
The Christian act of faith is not a solo; it is made in communion with the confession of faith sung by the whole church.  The “I believe” of baptism becomes the “we believe” of the community which gathers in faith.  The Christian community is the “we” of faith. 
In reciting the Creed, Christians declare, individually and collectively, our faith before both God and the world.  So the purpose of our confession of faith is two-fold:  Before God it is an act of praise and thanksgiving, through which we thank God for all that he has done in creation; and before our fellow human beings, we declare publicly that our allegiance is to God and not to the things of this world. 

The Creed echoes the faith of the early Church.  By it the individual Christian follows in the centuries-old tradition of the baptized who confessed their faith just moments before being changed by the waters of baptism.  Today we profess our faith just moments before being changed by a different Sacrament – the Holy Eucharist.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Identity Crisis

Sometimes in the course of our lives, we may experience what is called an identity crisis.  Experiencing significant changes in our lives, like a death in the family or a job loss, we can lose a clearly defined sense of who we are and what is important to us.  It may take a while to find our bearings again, to realize what is really central to our sense of self and the meaning of our life.
The liturgy invites us each week to reaffirm our Catholic identity when we recite the Nicene Creed or Profession of Faith at Mass.  Because we say it every week, it can easily become a routine ritual carried out with little thought.  Let us take a few moments to talk about why we say the Creed each week.
Think about how we recited the Creed on Easter Sunday.  Abandoning our usual pattern, on that central day of the year we profess our faith by renewing our baptismal promises.  This reminds us that the Creed finds its home first in the celebration of Baptism.  Before entering the waters of the font, those to be baptized (or their parents in the case of babies) publicly profess their faith.  In doing so, they claim their identity as believers in Jesus Christ, called by the Father and guided by the Holy Spirit.  They commit their future to sharing the life of the Trinity.
So every week, we renew that commitment.  We publicly profess again who we are and what is ultimately important in our lives.  We do this together, as one voice, because our faith is a shared faith, not just a set of beliefs but a way of life, shared with all other members of Christ’s body.
In the Creed, we use ancient language to profess eternal truths.  The words we use most often are the Nicene Creed.  Occasionally, in a Mass said for children, we might use the Apostle’s Creed instead.
Both formulas reaffirm our faith in the Father who created us and all things, in the Son who redeemed us by His death and resurrection, and in the Holy Spirit who guides us and unites us in the Church.  Thus we identify ourselves as children of the Father, redeemed by the Son, striving to live in the Holy Spirit.  We base our lives on belief in the Trinity. 

The Creed comes just after the readings and the homily.  It stands as a communal response to God’s word.  We hear what God has done for us and then we express our faith in response.  Of course, the words only matter if we live by them.  By proclaiming the Creed, we commit ourselves to live every day in the love of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Leaving Mass Early

Once upon a time, some people claim, a parish church during Mass was a quiet and orderly place.  People arrived before Mass began and stayed until it was over.  Once in the pews, few people left them until it was time for Communion, unless they had a medical emergency.
Those days, if they ever existed, are long gone.  Some Sundays, our church seems nearly as busy as Grand Central Station.  Some people arrive five or ten minutes after Mass has begun.  Some leave as soon as they’ve received Communion, and many others bolt for the doors when they hear the first note of the recessional hymn.
We might raise some questions about the disrespect for the Eucharist that such behavior expresses, but our focus today is on those people who are told to leave before Mass is over.
There are three such groups in our parish.  The first is composed of children ages six to 12 who leave the assembly after the opening prayer at our Sunday 9:00 and 11:00 AM Masses.  They go to another room for the Liturgy of the Word presented at their level.  They return during the Presentation of the Gifts and stay for the rest of Mass.
Another group is dismissed after the homily.  They are the catechumens, those adults who are preparing for baptism and those who are preparing for full communion with the Catholic Church.  The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults calls for them to be dismissed from the assembly every week until they are baptized or received into the Church.  Here at Risen Savior dismissal normally happens at the 9:00 AM Sunday Mass. 
Sometimes people wonder why we are so inhospitable to these folks.  Why can’t they stay for the whole Mass?  There are two ways to answer that question.  Those who are not yet baptized or received into communion are not able to join us at the table for Eucharist.  That necessary exclusion could seem inhospitable if they were to stay.  The more important reason they are dismissed, however, is so that they can reflect upon the Scriptures and homily and share their thoughts about what they’ve heard. 
The third group that is dismissed from the Mass are the Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion who are taking Communion to the homebound.  In a tradition that goes back to the very early Church, they are taking the Body of Christ to those who could not attend our worship: taking Christ not only in the Host, but also in their own presence.  They are dismissed prior to the rest of us so that they can begin their journey and their ministry.

So, much like Grand Central Station, there are always people coming and going, but all of us are really moving in the same direction… moving closer to Jesus and His kingdom.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Nuestro Padre San Francisco de Asis

This article was written by Fr. Bill McNichols,
the artist of the icon of St. Francis in the Church
It is not an exaggeration to say that Francis was probably one of the few true fundamentalists that ever lived.  Following his conversion at age 25, the Gospels became his road map.  Because Jesus said "Whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to me," Francis named his group the Frati Minori, meaning “the Least Brothers.”
By the time Francis was in his early 40s he felt like a failure.  His Least Brothers had grown from 12 to over 3,000 and he could no longer guide or control them.  Following a dream, he surrendered his Order to the Pope and went to Mount La Verna, north of Assisi, to bemoan the sins of his failure.  
While on the mountain, Francis asked Jesus to grant him two graces in order that he might completely follow the Gospels.  First, he asked to feel in his whole being the pain that Jesus felt as he died on Mount Calvary.  Secondly, he asked to experience the depth of the love that Christ had that made Him capable of forgiving our sins even as he hung from the Cross.
Francis had a vision of a six-winged angel, a Seraph, coming from the sky; the angel appeared as the crucified Christ.  In answer to his prayer he felt both the pain of the Cross and the love of Christ.  Francis lived two more years bearing the physical wounds of Christ – he was the first person ever to receive the stigmata.  During those brief years he continued to heal with his wounds.  When the brothers would wash out the bandages, the rinse water would be used to heal sick animals and people. For me this is the most beautiful part of the story as we are all asked to continue to work with and heal with our wounds; they don't disappear.
I've lost count of how many times I've drawn, painted or created icons of the love of Francis for and with, his Seraphic Lord Jesus. It's a meditation and contemplation I never tire of bringing to life; these wounds so ever-present in all of us that Pope Francis has referred to the Church as a "Field Hospital" where we tend to one another, as if on a field of continuing battles.
I hope this image brings you hours of meditation and joy and that it sends you back into the world to share in Jesus' Healing Gifts.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Preaching At Mass

Have you ever heard anybody complain about the preaching in the Catholic Church?  Have you ever voiced such a complaint yourself?  I’m sure no one in this parish would ever be disappointed by the preaching here, of course, but I suspect you’ve heard such complaints somewhere sometime.
It’s easy to complain, of course, but much harder to improve the situation.  Most people who complain about the quality of preaching are quick to agree that they wouldn’t want the job themselves.
Preaching is always a challenge.  It requires finding useful connections between the Word of God and the people to whom it is addressed.  It means figuring out how the word of the Lord applies to our own time and what it might say to the people assembled for the Mass.
Of course, those people who make up the assembly are often quite diverse.  They range in age from one to a hundred.  They are male and female.  Some are highly educated and others less so.  There are both the wealthy and the poor.  Some are liberal and other conservative.  Some are eagerly attentive and others wish they were anywhere but here.  Trying to speak one message to such a diverse group is never a simple undertaking.
It might help to realize that the task of the preacher is also the task of those who listen.  Together we must figure out what God is asking of us.  Together we must make the word of God come alive in our own time and in our own lives.  Perhaps the main function of the preacher is to be a catalyst who prompts everyone to grapple with this shared task.
We used to call what the preacher does the “sermon.”  In the Catholic tradition the preaching at Mass is more properly called a homily.  A sermon can be on any topic the preacher desires.  A homily is based on the readings of the day, the feast being celebrated, or some part of the liturgy itself.  Its ultimate goal is to help us enter more deeply into the Mass and thus to draw closer to the Lord who speaks to us.
One of the primary purposes of the homily is to help us all become more aware of how God is at work in our world and in our lives.  The homilist tries to name what is happening at the time, to lift it up for us to see it more clearly, and then to challenge us to respond to God’s action.  Being aware of the ways that God is present among us day by day should lead us all to a sense of gratitude for God’s presence and gifts.  Thus the homily helps us to prepare to give God thanks and praise and leads us into the rest of the Mass. 

Yet the work of the homily is not finished when the preacher sits down.  The value of a homily depends on those who hear it.  Do we listen attentively?  Do we try to remember a key idea or word that struck home?  Do we use the silence after the homily to try to figure out how we will respond?  The real work of the homily begins when we walk out the church doors.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Who's the Most Important

Have you ever wondered why we sit for the first two readings at Mass but stand for the Gospel?  This is one of several ways that the liturgy gives special significance to the portion of the Bible that is found in the four Gospels.
We believe that Christ speaks to us in all the readings.  Because He is the Word of God made flesh, whatever God says to us comes to us through Christ.  Yet there is something exceptional about those four books that give us most of our information about Jesus Himself.  The Gospels reveal Him to us, recounting His teaching and His miracles; His journeys and His encounters with the people of His time; His death and His resurrection.  It is in the four Gospels that we find the fullest picture of Jesus and His meaning for our lives.
There are several ways that the liturgy reminds us of the supremacy of the Gospels.  Before the Gospel is proclaimed, the deacon expresses the hope that the Lord will be with us, and we respond in kind.  This reminds us that the Lord is present in the Gospel in a unique way.  On special occasions, the deacon will incense the Book of the Gospels to express our reverence for Christ.
Risen Savior, like many parishes, uses a Book of the Gospels for this proclamation which is carried in procession at the beginning of Mass and placed on the altar until the time to proclaim the Gospel reading.
The main expression of the Gospel’s importance, however, is the Gospel procession after the second reading.  Following our shared silence, we all stand and sing the Gospel Acclamation.  The deacon goes to the priest and asks for the grace to proclaim the Gospel well; the priest blesses him by saying, “The Lord be in your heart and on your lips that you may proclaim his Gospel worthily and well.”  The deacon then goes to the Book of the Gospels and raises it high for all to see and acknowledge.  Flanked by the candle bearers, he processes to the ambo while the whole assembly acclaims Christ and welcomes Him in His Word by singing the Alleluia.  After the deacon proclaims the Gospel, he says, “The Gospel of the Lord,” and while we’re replying, “Thanks be to God,” he kisses the book and says, “Through the words of the Gospel may our sins be wiped away.”
All of this attention is intended to open our minds and hearts in a special way to the words of the Gospel.  That is why after the deacon tells us the name of the Evangelist whose Gospel we’re reading, we make the sign of the cross on our foreheads, asking God to keep Jesus’ word always on our minds.  We cross our lips to remind ourselves that our Christian duty is to spread the Gospel, and we cross our hearts as a reminder to keep the Gospel as our center.  

Hearing the Gospel is only the first step.  Once we have heard the words, we have to figure out how to live them.  Through the Gospel, Christ challenges us to imitate Him and walk in His ways.  

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Dividing Scripture

Consider this challenge:  Take the whole Bible and figure out how to cut it up into bite-sized pieces that can be used over 156 Sundays, plus a few dozen major feast days.  Take into account the seasons of the liturgical year, as well as 2000 years of previous ways of doing the same thing.  When you have all the Sundays and major feasts figured out, divide those into a three-year rotation.  Then, decide how to divide what’s left into about seven hundred weekdays to create a two-year list of readings for daily Mass. 
In the process, of course, you will have to decide which verses of the Bible are most important.  You have to determine how long each reading should be and where to start and stop each passage. 
These were just some of the challenges faced by those who created the book of readings that we call the Lectionary.  In making their decisions, the Church used two main patterns for choosing readings.
Generally the first reading is from the Old Testament, though during Easter season it comes from the New Testament book of Acts.  The second reading is from the New Testament letters or the Book of Revelation, followed by an excerpt from one of the four Gospels. For the seasons of Christmas and Easter, the readings are chosen based on the feast, so they all fit together well.
In Ordinary Time, a different principle comes into play.  We read through the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, one each year, in what is called a semi-continuous reading.  We don’t read every verse, but we work the Gospel, chapter by chapter.  John’s gospel is used most often during the Easter season in all three years.
The first reading is chosen to relate to the Gospel passage, and the psalm is chosen to respond to the first reading.  The second reading is not necessarily linked to the other readings but gives us another set of ideas to ponder.
The goal of this rather complicated structure is simple: to expose us to more of the Bible than we used to hear in Church.  Before 1970, the Lectionary had only one year’s worth of readings and we heard about 10 percent of the Bible proclaimed at Mass.  Today’s three-year cycle allows us the opportunity to listen to some 60% of Sacred Scripture read at Mass.

Back in 1893 Pope Leo XIII (13th) reminded Catholic Christians that we have a holy obligation to study Scripture.  It’s not enough for us to hear the Word proclaimed at Mass, but to go home, open our Bibles and read the Word of God, allowing it to become part of us.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Listen Up

What would happen if Jesus came to church next Sunday?  I mean, if He showed up in his first-century garb – robe, sandals, beard – and walked up to this ambo and began to speak.  What would you do?  How would you react?
I suspect it’s a safe bet that all of us would have our eyes fixed on Him and our ears tuned to every word He spoke.  Of course, someone would probably be on a cell phone, alerting the media!
Such an event should not strike us as unusual, however, because Jesus comes here every Sunday to speak to us.  That’s what Catholic tradition teaches – that when the word of God is proclaimed in our midst, Christ speaks to us today.  He comes in disguise, we might say, speaking through the lectors and the deacons and priests who proclaim the readings.  The Second Vatican Council put it this way: “[Christ] is present in his word, since it is he himself who speaks when the Holy Scriptures are read in the Church.”
Most of us are aware of Christ’s presence in the presider as well as in the people gathered for worship. Jesus’ presence in the word is yet another way He reveals Himself to us.  Reverence for Christ present in His word calls us to attentive listening.  Many of us have developed a habit of following along in the missal, a habit we should try to break!  The proper response to Jesus who is present is to put down the books and listen with open ears and open hearts to what the Lord is saying to us.
Listening does not mean being passive, however.  Truly listening is a very active response when someone speaks to us.  We show respect for anyone who talks with us by looking at the person and concentrating on what he or she is saying.  That takes effort on our part, not allowing other thoughts or external distractions to claim our attention.
It may be helpful to realize that our primary task is not to get every word that is spoken, but to listen carefully to whatever word the Lord wants each of us to hear that day.  This will vary from person to person, but Christ offers each of us the message that we really need to hear.  It’s a good idea to read the readings at home before you come to Mass; that’s why we print the Scripture references in the bulletin each week.  Then when the word is proclaimed, we can allow Christ to speak directly to us through the readings and the homily.  If we are touched by one word or phrase or idea every Sunday, and nurture that word in our heart through the week, then God’s word will be effective in our lives.

In the silence after the readings and after the homily, we might ask ourselves two simple questions:  What did I hear Jesus say?  And how will I live that word this week?  The answers to those questions have the power to change our lives!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Sounds of Silence

It seemed like a typical Sunday Mass in a typical parish.  The opening hymn was joyful, the Penitential Rite was reverent, and the Glory to God was sung by all with vigor.  Then the presider said, “Let us pray.”  Then nothing happened.  Ten seconds became fifteen, then twenty.  People began to look around nervously and wondered:  What’s wrong with Father?  Did he fall asleep?
In fact, he was simply doing what the liturgy intends.  The missal says that, after the priest says, “Let us pray,” the priest and people “pray silently for a while.”  In some parishes that “while” lasts only a few seconds, but it is intended to be a brief yet significant pause for prayer.  This is an appropriate time for each of us to recall our needs and hopes and present them to the Lord.  The priest then gathers our prayers into one opening prayer – a prayer sometimes referred to as a “collect” because it collects our prayers together.
This is one of several places in the Mass that silence is encouraged.  The liturgy is always a blend of sounds and silence.  Since Mass is communal worship, it is natural that most of the time we are together will be filled with spoken and musical prayer.  Yet there is also a need for moments of silence to allow ourselves to enter more deeply into the worship we share.
During the Liturgy of the Word we are also encouraged to enter into moments of silence after the readings and after the homily.   The General Instruction of the Roman Missal calls for such silences so that “the Word of God may be grasped by [our] heart.”
We are also called to share a time of silence after we have all received Holy Communion as a sign of our unity.
These times of silence don’t work automatically, of course.  It takes a deliberate effort from every member of the assembly even to allow silence to occur.  The priest and deacon up front may be quiet, but shared silence also requires the assembly to embrace it.  Sometimes we seem a bit uncomfortable with silence, because we live in a world of almost constant noise.  We need to learn how to be silent together.

And in the silence, each of us must decide whether to engage in sincere prayer or just to daydream.  If we embrace these times of silent prayer, however, we can enrich our experience of the Mass, drawing us closer to Christ and to one another as we worship together.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Beginning With Thanks

When we gather for Mass, we gather to give God thanks and praise.  At the beginning of Mass we begin with two elements that reflect thanks and praise; they are the Penitential Rite and the Glory to God.
It can be easy to misunderstand the purpose of the Penitential Rite at Mass.  The Penitential Rite is neither a replacement for the Sacrament of Reconciliation (which is why we don’t make the sign-of-the-cross at the end of it), nor is it about making us feel terrible about our sinfulness.  That would not help us to enter into a spirit of celebration as we begin the Mass.
While we do acknowledge our sinfulness, we do so in light of the wonder of God’s forgiveness.  The emphasis is less on our sins than it is on God’s merciful love.  We are here because God has forgiven our sins.  We are here because of God’s grace poured out in our lives.  We don’t deserve this gift, but we rejoice in God’s goodness and love.
Because of this, the Penitential Rite serves to remind us of a basic reason we have to give thanks to God.  The emphasis is on the reconciliation Christ has won for us rather than on our sins.  Listen, for example, to the language used for the third form of the Penitential Rite:
You were sent to heal the contrite;
you came to call sinners;
you plead for us at the Father’s right hand;
The Penitential Rite always focuses on God’s forgiveness.  This gives us good reason to give God thanks.
Sometimes, like during the Easter Season, we replace the Penitential Rite with the Sprinkling Rite.  This ritual action reminds us of our baptism, which freed us from the power of sin and made us God’s adopted children.  This rite, too, leads us to express our gratitude to God for forgiveness and for new life.

Most Sundays after the Penitential or Sprinkling Rite we take time to praise God with the ancient hymn known as the Gloria.  This is a song of almost pure praise to God, with only two general requests for God to have mercy on us and to hear our prayer.  It reminds us of the wonder of God and the privilege it is for us to come into God’s presence.  Like the Penitential Rite, the Gloria leads us to give God Thanks and Praise.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Clergy Vestments

It has been customary in every age and country for those in certain positions to dress differently from the general population, to wear a uniform, perhaps, or carry a badge symbolizing authority. Special dress says “I am set apart for some definite work.” It is for this reason that our clergy - the priests and deacons - wear vestments.
The vestments worn by the priest at Mass are the alb, the cincture, the stole, and the chasuble. Each of these has its own history and its own symbolical meaning.
The alb is a long white, robe-like vestment worn by all clergy at liturgical celebrations. The alb, from the Latin word alba, meaning "white,” can be traced to the ancient Roman alb worn under a cloak or tunic. Its color symbolizes purity.
The cincture is the proper name for the girdle worn around the waist to bind the alb closely to the body. It is generally white and made of braided linen, or sometimes wool.
At Mass, and also in nearly every other religious function, the priest wears around his neck a stole, a long narrow vestment. The deacon at Mass also wears a stole, but in a different manner: diagonally from his left shoulder to his right side. The stole symbolizes the authority and responsibility to serve in imitation of Christ.
The most visible vestment for a presider at Mass is the chasuble, which comes from the Latin casula, which means "little house." The chasuble symbolizes joy, a house that the word of God inhabits, a cloak for the spiritual journey, and a sign of our leader's role. The chasuble also reminds us of the seamless garment Jesus wore on his way to the cross.
The dalmatic is the vestment of deacons. It is about the same length as the chasuble of the priest, and at first appears almost identical. However, the dalmatic has sleeves and is usually squared at the bottom, where the chasuble is rounded. The dalmatic gets its name from a Roman garment made of wool from the province of Dalmatia.

The vestments worn by the clergy serve as a visual reminder to all of us - including the clergy - that what we are participating in is holy and sacred. Like other elements in the church such as candles, stained glass, music, and so on, vestments add a rich and colorful element to the celebration of the Mass.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Come On In; The Water’s Fine

Do you remember a time when you were hesitant to jump into a swimming pool or wade into the waves at the ocean?  A friend or family member, already in the water, perhaps called out to you, “Come on in; the water’s fine.”
Sometimes we approach the Mass a bit like that body of water.  We know that jumping in is the only way to really enjoy it, but we’re still hesitant to make the leap.  Perhaps we are shy by nature and inclined to play the wallflower.  Perhaps we don’t really like to sing or don’t think we have a very good singing voice.  Perhaps we participate well most Sundays but just got up in a bad mood this morning.
There can be a lot of different reasons we hesitate to jump in, but the only way to fully benefit from the liturgy is to enter into it with our whole selves.  We are invited by Christ to share in his worship with every part of ourselves – mind and heart, body and soul, eyes and ears and voices.  We need to worship the Lord with both our interior disposition and our external expression.
When the Mass begins, we are called to offer our praise to God by joining in the opening song.  This song often expresses the theme of the feast or the season we are celebrating, helping us to enter into the mood of the celebration.  Sometimes it may be more general, speaking simply of beginning our worship.  In either case, it calls us to move beyond the limits of our own little world and become part of something much larger.
It is important to realize that our liturgy is the common action of all of us who have gathered.  Mass is not a time for private prayer, but a time for communal prayer.  The entrance song reminds us of this fact, because the song itself draws us into a communal act of praise.  Each of us contributes his or her own voice to one musical sound. 
This is the most important function of music in the Mass.  It unites us in a common act of worship.  It is a unifying element that recurs again and again throughout each Mass, continually calling us to worship as one Body in Christ.
Music also adds a sense of solemnity to our celebration, lifting it out of the ordinary and expressing our joy and our thanksgiving.  Music can lift our minds and our spirits as we lift up our voices to the Lord.
All of this works, or course, only if we join in the singing.  It takes all our voices together to give God the praise that God is due.  It takes the cooperation of each person in the assembly if our music is to be as prayerful as it can be.  If you think your voice isn’t that great for singing, so what?  As Deacon Mark is fond of saying, “If you think God gave you a bad voice, you owe it to God to give it back!”  Don’t let any fear or hesitation keep you from joining in.  Come on in; the water’s fine.

Sunday, June 7, 2015


On this Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Corpus Christi, it is important to remember that we are many parts in the Body of Christ and we should treat everyone with the love that Christ gave to us.  One way we can follow Christ’s example is in the way we act behind the wheel of a vehicle. 
Whenever we drive, wherever we drive, we are called to virtue.  Most of us think of “road-rage” as something only done on the open road.  But road-rage happens even in our parking lot.  We become impatient as others are parking their cars; we become frustrated when others don’t drive as well as we think we do.
As many of us learned growing up, the opposite of love is not hate; the opposite of love is selfishness.  And selfishness is the underlying problem in our parking lot.  Our parish has always seen itself as a welcoming community – that welcome begins as our friends and neighbors drive into the parking lot.  Give each other a moment to park safely, be conscious that people are walking to and from the buildings and give pedestrians the right-of-way. Never park in a fire lane.  It is illegal and we need to keep these areas clear in case we have an emergency.
Defensive driving techniques indicate that backing up is one of the most dangerous things we do in our cars.  If you must back up, do so slower than you can walk and back up only as far as you absolutely must before pulling forward.  If possible, pull forward into the stall in front of you so you won’t need to back up at all. 
Crossing Wyoming Boulevard is a dangerous challenge.  There have been traffic accidents in front of the church, some of them quite serious.  Some parishioners are using the entrances as exits by doing little “s” maneuvers to cross the median to go north.  Others are pulling into the inside lane of traffic and then stopping while they wait to make a U-turn at Scotts Place.  This is not only against the law, but also highly dangerous.  Please respect that the “DO NOT ENTER” signs are there for our safety and apply to all of us.   Don’t make a U-turn at San Francisco.  Don’t turn left onto Wyoming from Scotts Place.  Even though these are legal, for everyone’s safety, all traffic should turn South, or right, onto Wyoming.  Those desiring to go north can turn left or right onto San Francisco and go to either Barstow or Louisiana.   

Many parishioners are concerned that even though we are being given more time between Masses we won’t solve the underlying cause of the problem in our parking lot.  However, if we truly live as Christians and use Jesus as our example, we will pay attention to the rules of the road, use common sense, and be courteous; not only as we travel to and from Risen Savior; but also, wherever we travel.