30 April 2017

Truth on the road to Emmaus


"Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself." Notice where Jesus directs the attention of the disciples. Not into themselves. Not to their personal experiences or subjective feelings. He directs them to the revelation of Almighty God. Jesus opens up the Scriptures for them and beginning with the words of Moses and going all the way through the prophets, He shows how His death and resurrection form the rhythm of the Scriptures from the very start.

That's how Jesus turns stubborn hearts that are slow to believe into hearts that burn with faith in Him. Through the Scriptures which are preached and taught in their fullness by the Church which Jesus Christ has founded. If our hearts are slow to believe and our minds are dull in the knowledge of God, we have only ourselves to blame for not hearing God’s Word as it’s taught to us by our Holy Mother the Church.

See what the Gospel then tells us. Although their hearts were burning, their eyes were not yet opened. Jesus pretends to go on, but the disciples insist that He join them for supper. It was nearing the end of the day, and evening was coming. They enjoin Him to remain for supper.

Although Jesus was their guest, He sits at the head of the table. He takes the bread, He blesses and breaks it, and He gives it to them. It is an echo of the last meal that Jesus had with His apostles on the night in which He was betrayed. Here again is Jesus, breaking bread. And St. Luke tells us that "their eyes were opened and they recognized Him." In the breaking of the Bread, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Jesus is recognized and known.

St. Pius V, The Pope of Lepanto

Pope St. Pius V -- Michael Ghislieri -- was born into a poor family on 17 January 1504.  He spent his childhood working as a shepherd, until he entered the Dominican Order at the age of fourteen.  His keen intelligence served well, and eventually he was ordained as a bishop, ultimately occupying the Throne of St. Peter.

St. Pius V lived in times much like our own.  The Council of Trent took place during his lifetime, and as is the case with most Councils, there was a time of confusion following.  He spent much of his life -- before his time as pope, and then until his death -- working to implement the principles of the Council, and strengthening the witness of the Catholic Church.

A very important event took place on October 7, 1571.  It is associated with Our Lady, and also with Pope St. Pius V.

For some time the Muslims had attempted to conquer Europe, not only for political reasons, but also in an attempt to destroy the Church and impose Islam throughout the known world.

On that clear October morning a huge gathering of ships appeared in the Mediterranean Sea, near the Greek port of Lepanto -- 280 Turkish ships, and 212 Christian ships. For years the Muslims had been raiding Christian areas around the Mediterranean and had carried off thousands of Christians into slavery. In fact, all of the ships gathered on that morning were powered by rowers – and the Muslim ships had nearly 15,000 Christian slaves in chains, being forced to pull the oars to guide the ships into battle. The Catholic fleet was under the command of Don Juan of Austria, but the Catholic fleet was at a great disadvantage in its power and military ability. This was a battle that would decide the fate of the world – either the Turks would be victorious and the Church destroyed, or the Catholics would be victorious and would put down the Muslim threat.

Pope St. Pius V knew the importance of victory. He called upon all of Europe to pray the rosary, asking for the intercession of Our  Lady, that God would grant a Catholic victory. Although it seemed hopeless, the people prayed. Don Juan guided his battleships into the middle of the Turkish fleet; meanwhile, many of the Christian slaves had managed to escape their chains and poured out of the holds of the Muslim ships, attacking the Turks and swinging their chains, throwing the Muslims overboard. The combination of the attack by the Catholic fleet and the uprising of the Christian slaves meant that there was a great victory by the Catholics fleet over the mighty Turkish fleet.

We know today that this victory was decisive. It prevented the Islamic invasion of Europe at that time, and it showed the Hand of God working through Our Lady. At the hour of victory, St. Pope Pius V, who was hundreds of miles away in his Papal residence, is said to have gotten up from a meeting, went over to a window, and through supernatural knowledge exclaimed, "The Christian fleet is victorious!" and he wept tears of thanksgiving to God.

This day has been remembered throughout the Church, first as Our Lady of Victory, and then as Our Lady of the Holy Rosary – remembering the victory God granted, and also remembering the means by which that victory was achieved – that it was an intervention by God through the prayers offered by praying the Rosary... perhaps something we might consider in our own generation.


O God, who for the confusion of the enemies of thy Church, and for the restoring of the honour of thy worship, didst appoint thy blessed Saint Pius V to be Chief among thy Pastors: grant that we, being defended by his intercession, may so steadfastly follow after thy commandments, that we may overcome all the devices of our enemies, and rejoice in perpetual peace and security; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

29 April 2017

St. Catherine of Siena


St. Catherine was born in Siena in the year 1347, and she was the last of 25 children born to her parents. Her father was a wealthy man in the business of dying wool. From her earliest life, Catherine was a different kind of child, spiritually sensitive, and being part of such a large family, she liked to find times when she could be alone with God. It was at the age of six that she had some sort of vision near the Church of San Domenico in Siena. From that moment onward, she followed an even stricter path of devotion, and when she was only seven, she dedicated herself to Christ, taking a private and internal vow that she would never marry, but would live only to serve God.

She wanted very much to dedicate herself to Religious life, and although her parents initially resisted the idea, eventually her father gave in and allowed Catherine to follow whatever she felt God was calling her to do. In 1363, when she was just 15 years old, Catherine became a Dominican Tertiary, and wore the black cloak which designated her as a Dominican sister. She began to increase her charitable work, and spent a great deal of her time in a nearby hospital, caring for the sick.

Throughout this time she became known as someone who gave excellent spiritual guidance, as more and more people came to her, or wrote to her, for spiritual advice. In fact, she became well-known throughout the Church as a devout and gifted spiritual guide, and even as a mystic. It was during a visit to the city of Pisa that she received the stigmata in the presence of a crucifix hanging in the Church of Santa Cristina. As her spiritual fame grew, she was even asked to travel to different countries to act as a mediator for the papacy, which was at that time in exile at Avignon in France. She was very strong in voicing her opinion to Pope Gregory that he needed to bring the Papal Court back to Rome, and unify the Church. When the terrible situation arose with the false election of a second Pope, leading the Church to the edge of schism, she was instrumental in restoring the true Pope to his rightful place.

In the year 1380, when she was just 33 years old, St. Catherine died. She was eventually proclaimed to be a saint, and along with St. Francis of Assisi, St Catherine of Siena was proclaimed to be patron saint of Italy. Pope Paul VI conferred on her the title of Doctor of the Universal Church, and in 1999 she was proclaimed co-patron saint of Europe by Pope St. John Paul II.

O Merciful God, who gavest to thy servant Saint Catherine of Siena a wondrous love of the Passion of Christ: grant that, through her prayers; we thy people may be united to him in his majesty and rejoice for ever in the revelation of his glory; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

28 April 2017

The Triptych Opened


With the coming of Easter comes the opening of the triptych at the High Altar. During Lent it is closed, and an explanation of the painting which shows in the closed position was given.  Now that it is once more opened until Lent begins again, here is an explanation of the painting which forms the reredos for most of the liturgical year.

THE TRIPTYCH OPENED


THE SIDE PANELS

It was through the mystery of the Annunciation that the Light, Who is Christ, came into a sin-darkened world. Thus the interior of the triptych is bathed in color and light.

On the side panels, four large saints turn their attention to the figure of Christ seated in majesty on the clouds of Heaven: Alban the first Martyr of Britain, Bede the Venerable, Gregory the Great, and Augustine of Canterbury. With each of these saints are smaller, signature saints—saints who further enhance the spiritual significance found in the painting. The saints located in the tracery are a Carmelite saint, Bernard, Thomas of Canterbury, Thomas Moore, Christopher (the Christ-bearer), Philip the Apostle, John Fisher, and Paulinus of York. These figures, done in enameled copper, also include attributes of each of the larger saints. The saints depicted were chosen for a deeper significance that will be explained later. Close examination of the figures will reveal that the colors in the flooring match the colors of the flooring below the larger figures, and that even the slant of the floor matches the slant of the floor below.

Beneath each of these signature saints is a copper-enameled seraph, that is, an angel with six wings. Seraphim are traditionally thought to be found closest to God in heaven. Each angel carries a shield with the coat of arms of Pope John Paul II: a white cross with the large letter “M” honoring Mary and her role in the atoning sacrifice of the cross. The coat of arms reinforces a theme of this painting, the thanksgiving being offered by the congregation of Our Lady of the Atonement for the pontificate of John Paul II.

The background of the interior panels, including the main panel, were crafted by applying two layers of gold leaf on the boards. A staining agent was then applied to the gold leaf. After drying, the upper layer was cut through to reveal the bright gold behind it. The green outline of this gold pattern, the “Tree of Life” pattern, are rosettes, stylized roses based on the Tudor rose. Each of these rosettes has a center of enameled copper. The colors used in the centers, and in the rosettes, reflect the colors of the flooring.

The gothic tracery is enameled copper, patterned on the oldest existing gothic tracery pattern, found on a silk grisaille painting now located in the Louvre.

The red and blue colors were chosen for their close association with the British nation, but they are symbolic also of other mysteries. Red is the color of martyrdom and death, e.g., Christ’s sacrifice on the cross; blue is the color of his mother, the Virgin Mary. Thus in these two dominant colors is the symbolic name of the parish of Our Lady of the Atonement.

Before looking in detail at the four large saints, we should note the close relationship that existed between them. Saint Alban, the first Martyr of Britain, was instrumental in making the Catholic Faith part of the English experience. One of his biographers was Saint Bede.

As pope, Saint Gregory was interested in the conversion of the English nation. It was at his insistence that Saint Augustine came to Canterbury from the monastery that Gregory had founded in Rome.

These saints enjoyed a relationship with one another, and were influential in one another’s lives, and through their relationships they have affected all of us. We could say that Alban laid the groundwork that Gregory built upon by sending Augustine. Bede was the recipient of all the work that Augustine had done in Gregory’s name, based on the faith that Alban had planted, rooted in the atoning service of Christ.

SAINT ALBAN (C. 209)

Saint Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People tells us about Saint Alban, protomartyr of the English Catholic Church. According to Saint Bede, Alban sheltered a priest during the persecution of the Emperor Diocletian. This priest converted Alban to the Faith, and when soldiers came to arrest the priest, Alban put on the priest’s cloak and offered himself in place of the priest. The virtue of Saint Alban converted his first executioner. Then, as Alban’s head rolled from the block, the eyes of his second executioner fell out and landed in a holly bush.

In this painting, Saint Alban is depicted as a triumphant warrior for the Faith. He wears the purple cloak of the priest – purple is the color of nobility – and stands next to his emblem, the holly bush. The eyes of his executioner can be seen on top of the bush. Saint Alban also wears the Order of the Garter of Saint George. This chivalric order, here executed in both the collar and garter, is one of the most coveted in Great Britain. It is given to those who have contributed greatly to the life of the nation. It is fitting that Alban should wear these emblems because he gave his life for the Faith, which has given much to the English people.

THE SIGNATURE SAINTS OF SAINT ALBAN

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), the great reformer of the Cistercians was, like Alban, a warrior for the Faith. He brought about a great spiritual revival in the world of his time. At his fee is a bee hive, one of his symbols, recalling the honeyed eloquence of his preaching. He carries a symbol with a dual meaning. The gray enamel tablets are reformed rule, but they can be seen also as the stone tablets of the Law given to Moses at Sinai. Thus the figure can be read as Bernard Law, the name of the Cardinal Archbishop who served as the Ecclesiastical Delegate for the Pastoral Provision at the time of the canonical erection of the parish.

A Carmelite saint represents all of those nameless saints through the centuries who have run the race, fought the good fight, and received the unfading crown of glory, the same that has been given to Saint Alban. Thus this panel depicts Saint Alban, glorified by a martyr’s death; Saint Bernard, glorified for his promotion of reform and his devotion to the Church; and those saints like this nameless Carmelite who won sanctification through the white martyrdom of cloistered and unknown religious life. A Carmelite was chosen because of the close association between the Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus and Our Lady of the Atonement Church, whose pastor served for many years as the Sisters’ Chaplain. The figure here carries the symbols of two great Carmelite saints: Theresa of the Child Jesus, symbolized by the single rose and crucifix, and Theresa of Avila, who like Bernard worked for reform in her community and in the Church, symbolized by the heart aflame.

SAINT GREGORY (c. 540-604)

The pagan Saxons destroyed much of the early Christian culture of Britain. The conversion of these cruel overlords was the special project of Pope Saint Gregory the Great. Gregory became a monk after a distinguished career in politics. Using his family’s wealth, he founded six monasteries in Sicily. In Rome, on the Coelian Hill, he established his seventh monastery, dedicated to Saint Andrew, where he lived the life of a simple monk. His time in the monastery was short, however. The pope sent him on a mission which lasted over seven years. When he returned, he was elected abbot of his monastery.

Shortly thereafter, Gregory was elected pope, succeeding Pelagius II. Rome was at the time being devastated by the plague, and Gregory organized pilgrimages throughout the city. During one of the pilgrimages a vision of Saint Michael, waving a sword, was seen above the spot now known as Castel Saint’Angelo. The plaque suddenly abated, and all of Rome hailed the new pope as a worker of miracles.

Gregory’s pontificate lasted fourteen years. During this time he reorganized both civil and ecclesiastical life. He redefined dioceses and reclaimed the papal states. In all his dealings with the churches of the East and West, Gregory insisted upon the supremacy of the Roman See. With deference for the rights of bishops in their own dioceses, he asserted the principle of the primacy of the Chair of Saint Peter. “Who can doubt,” he wrote, “that the Church of Constantinople is subject to the Apostolic See?” So also in the relationship with the emperor, Saint Gregory combined deference for the rights of the civil power with vigilance to defend his own rights and those of the ecclesiastical and monastic orders.

He was known also for liturgical reform. He was a prolific writer of letters, commentaries, sermons, and lives of the saints. He also wrote a book on pastoral care, noting what the life of a priest or bishop should be.

Saint Gregory began the mission to England and is known by the title “Apostle of England.” He sent monks from his own monastery of Saint Andrew, led by Augustine, to carry out this mission. In the reredos Gregory is shown in his full pontificals, holding his metropolitan cross. Next to him are buildings and flames. The buildings represent the monasteries he founded, but they can also serve to remind us of the New City of God he created from the civil and religious institutions of his period. The flames, surrounding the buildings, but not burning them, recall the medieval belief that Saint Gregory had great power to release souls from purgatory.

Saint Gregory is shown holding a wood-cut. This wood-cut, made especially for this triptych, recalls another medieval belief. It is related that, during the sacrifice of the Mass, the Man of Sorrows appeared to Gregory at the moment of transubstantiation. This was seen as a reaffirmation of this Catholic doctrine. The wood-cut is based on a German wood-cut of the period depicting this miracle.

Pope Saint Gregory also has another traditional emblem with him: the hovering Holy Spirit. It was the Spirit that inspired his work and gave him the courage and strength to bring it to fulfillment.

One final detail: on the dalmatic he wears (in Gregory’s time bishops wore all the vestments) are rows of fringe, recalling that he is the patron saint of fringe-makers.

THE SIGNATURE SAINTS OF SAINT GREGORY

Saint John Fisher (1469-1535) and Saint Paulinus of York (d. 644), whose names (when read together), give us the name of the Holy Father, John Paul.

Saint John Fisher was born at York, the same place that Saint Paulinus came to evangelize. He was recognized as one of the leading theologians of his day. He was also bishop of Rochester, one of the poorest of all dioceses. Like Gregory, John Fisher wrote about and practiced a real pastoral care for his priests. He tried to give them an example of priestly zeal and life. He wrote about the heresies of his day, but is known for never using abusive language. Rather, he relied on reason and persuasion to bring back the prodigals.

In the divorce controversy between Henry VIII and Queen Catherine, he defended the queen. He refused to take the oath defending the divorce and the Succession Act of 1534. Arrested for this refusal, he was confined to the Tower and eventually beheaded.

This small enamel shows him clutching a monstrance, for he was devoted to the Eucharistic Mystery, as was Saint Gregory. He is also shown carrying the keys of Peter, for he defended the rights of the sovereign pontiff to the point of martyrdom. He treads upon a crown to show that he refused to allow the true queen to be displaced by a usurper.

Saint Paulinus had come to England in the mission of Saint Augustine to Canterbury. Saint Bede said that it was Paulinus who brought from Rome many of the liturgical vessels and relics given by Gregory the Great to this infant church so that the sacraments would be celebrated properly, with solemnity and dignity.

Paulinus of York became Bishop of Rochester in 634; John Fisher, born at York, became Bishop of Rochester in 1504. Both of these dioceses, York and Rochester, were erected through the mission to convert the Saxons, begun by Gregory and administered by Augustine of Canterbury.

SAINT AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY (C. 605)

When Pope Saint Gregory decided that the time had come for the evangelization of Anglo-Saxon England, he chose as the missionaries some thirty or more monks from his monastery of Saint Andrew. He gave them their own Prior, Augustine, as their leader. Shortly after arriving in France, the missionaries returned to Rome, for they had heard about the ferocity of the Anglo-Saxons and the dangers of the Channel. Pope Gregory reassured them that the English were open to the Gospel, and he sent them back with much encouragement and support. The missionaries arrived in the territory of the king of Kent, Ethelbert. The king listened to them and gave them a dwelling in Canterbury.

In 597, on Pentecost, Augustine baptized the king. Afterwards, Augustine went again to France, where he was consecrated bishop of the English by Saint Virgilius, metropolitan of Arles. Augustine sent two monks to Rome to give a report of the mission, to ask for more helpers, and to obtain advice on various points. They came back bringing the pallium for Augustine and were accompanied by a fresh band of missionaries, among them Saint Paulinus. With these “ministers of the Word,” said Saint Bede, “the Pope sent all things needed in general for Divine Worship and the service of the Church, sacred vessels, altar cloths, furniture for churches, and vestments for the clergy, relics and also many books.”

In Canterbury, Augustine rebuilt an ancient church which, with an old wooden house, formed the nucleus for his metropolitan basilica and for the later monastery of Christ Church. Outside the walls of Canterbury he made a monastic foundation which he dedicated in honor of Sts. Peter and Paul. After his death, this abbey became known as Saint Augustine’s and was the burial place of the early archbishops.

Augustine had difficulty in reconciling some practices that were at variance with those of the Roman tradition, and this process was not successfully completed in his lifetime. During these difficult moments he was encourage by Pope Gregory.

Augustine’s last years were spent in spreading and consolidating the Faith through Ethelbert’s realm, and Episcopal sees were established at London and Rochester. On May 26, c. 605, about seven years after his arrival in England, Saint Augustine died. His feast is observed on this date in England and Wales, but elsewhere on May 28th.

In the reredos Augustine is shown in his full pontificals with his crosier. Prominent among his vestments is the pallium sent to him by Pope Gregory. He holds in his hand a model of the cathedral church at Canterbury.

Next to him are the liturgical vessels and appointments he caused to be brought to England for the service of the Church. The largest of these items is the crucifix. Note that the decoration of the crucifix has a wheat and grape motif, representing the Eucharist. From the side of the image of the crucified Christ is painted a red and blue line which falls upon the crown below. The significance is that Ethelbert, symbolized by the crown, was baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ, from whose side flowed water and blood after His atoning crucifixion.

On the opposite side of Saint Augustine is a small reliquary casket. The design of the enthroned Christ and apostles is modeled after a reliquary casket, dating to the time of Augustine, still in the possession of Canterbury Cathedral.

THE SIGNATURE SAINTS OF SAINT AUGUSTINE.

The two Thomases, Saint Thomas More and Saint Thomas of Canterbury, stand for the name of the studio that did the work for the reredos, Studio Didymus. “Didymus” is the Greek word for “the twin” – thus, two Thomases. But this pair also has another relationship with the central figure.

Saint Thomas More (1478-1535) was a contemporary of Saint John Fisher. He was executed the day following Fisher’s own death in the Tower. Thomas More was born in London, a diocese established by Saint Augustine. He was in service to his king, as Augustine served Ethelbert. He studied at Canterbury, the administrative center of Augustine’s mission. He served the king as chancellor, but refused to agree to the Divorce question, and would not take the oath stating that the king was the head of the Church in England. He was beheaded for his refusal.

In the enamel, Thomas More is shown wearing his lawyer’s cap and gown and carrying the keys of Peter. He stands on the crown that Henry would have given away to Ann Boleyn.

On the other side is Saint Thomas √° Becket, or Thomas of Canterbury (1118-1170), who was born in London. Thomas served the archbishop of Canterbury, a line of authority that stretched back to Augustine. It was the archbishop of Canterbury who recommended Thomas as chancellor to Henry II, and Thomas himself became archbishop in 1163. As archbishop, Thomas became truly a man of God and defender of the papacy. It was his defense of the Church and papacy that brought about his conflict with the king and his eventual martyr’s death at Canterbury, in the church established by Augustine centuries before.

Relics of Saint Thomas of Canterbury are enclosed in the altar stone of Our Lady of the Atonement Church, and his is one of the small statutes besides the tabernacle door.

SAINT BEDE THE VENERABLE (673-735)

Although very little is known about Saint Bede, we do know that he was a monk of the monastery of Sts. Peter and Paul at Wearmouth and Jarrow, where at the age of seven he had been given into the care of the abbot. His monastic life was uneventful, and we can sum it up in his own words: “I have spent the whole of my life devoting all my pains to the study of the Scriptures, and, amid the observance of monastic discipline and the daily task of singing in the church, it has ever been my delight to learn or teach or write.”

It was as a teacher and writer that Bede was supreme. He wrote both theological and secular works, prose and poetry. He was interested in science and the natural order. His historical writings are perhaps the best remembered. His chief work was The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, one of the most important historical writings of the early Middle Ages. It is the sole source for much information about the early Saxon history.

Saint Bede died at his work. On the Tuesday before Ascension Day he summoned the priests of the monastery, made them little gifts of paper and incense, and begged their prayers. At intervals during the next forty-eight hours, propped up in bed, he dictated to the last sentence an English rendering of the Gospel of Saint John upon which he was engaged at the onset of his illness. Finally, asking to be laid on the floor he sang the anthem “O King of Glory” from the Office of Ascension Day and died with the doxology, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost,” on his lips.

Bede is the only Englishman who was named by Dante in the Paradiso. Saint Boniface, when he learned of Bede’s death, said “The light, lit by the Holy Spirit for the good of the whole Church, has been extinguished.” In the reredos Saint Bede appears in his simple monastic garb. He was dedicated to the monastic office and to the life of prayer, thus his red prayer beads are shown in the folds of his habit. He carries the crosier, though he was never a bishop, to recall the bishop’s role of teacher and scholar, characteristics of Bede. He also carries an opened copy of his Ecclesiastical History, and the picture on the frontispiece is of the original small church of Our Lady of the Atonement, before its expansion. Next to him is the extinguished candle, recalling Saint Boniface’s words. At the top of the candlestick is the inscription of the doxology Bede was praying at the moment of death.

“Remember,” writes Cardinal Gasquet, “what the work was upon which Saint Bede was engaged upon his deathbed – a translation of the gospels into English …” But of this work “to break the word to the poor and unlearned” nothing is now extant.

THE SIGNATURE SAINTS OF SAINT BEDE THE VENERABLE

Saint Phillip the Apostle (1st c.) and Saint Christopher (date unknown) with the Christ Child were positioned to be read from the right hand of Christ, that is, it reads “Saint Christopher/Saint Philip” – the name of the founding pastor of Our Lady of the Atonement Church. Following traditional iconography, Christopher holds aloft the Child Jesus, and Saint Philip, a martyr by crucifixion, holds a cross.

THE MAIN PANEL

The back, or main, panel serves to call our attention to the glory of God and to focus our attention on the Eucharist presence of Jesus Christ as reserved in the tabernacle on the retable.

The central figure is Christ enthroned on the clouds of Heaven, sitting in regal splendor. The clothing of the figure is done entirely by hand in copper enamel work. Each piece was cut, fitted, and molded out of pure copper. On top of the copper was laid ground glass enamel powder. This was then fired at extremely high heat to melt the glass on the surface of the copper. This is difficult, and was made more so, because it was decided to fire in the patterns of the clothing as well. The patterns are not painted, but rather laid out in dry enamel and fired. Thus they are permanent. All the pattern in the cloak, the trim work, and the patterns of crosses in the lappets (the ribbons from the tiara), are done in this manner. The figure’s “jewels” were also made from copper, enameled, and they are applied to the surface of the figure, giving it dimension and body. The cope clasp is the Agnus Dei, based on an enamel of the eleventh century. Christ is the Lamb who offered Himself as a victim to wash away with His own blood the pollution of our nature and of our carnal actions: CARNALES ACTUS TULIT AGNUS HIC HOSTIA FACTUS.

The figure of Christ enthroned was chosen because the work was commissioned in honor of the pontificate of His Holiness Pope John Paul II. For this reason the figure is dressed as the pontiff. This was a common artistic motif of the Middle Ages. Christ, sitting in judgement, has a countenance softened with compassion. He is sovereign, as evidenced by his jeweled scepter, but He is also the loving Savior who seeks only to bless us, as the hand raised in blessing signifies.

On either side of Christ are two angels, carrying two more of the instruments of His passion and death, the spear and the sponge. The spear recalls the miracle of blood and water flowing from the side of Christ and reminds us that we are brought into the Church through baptism, and through this baptism we share in the redemptive death of Christ. The sponge recalls the thirst of Christ upon the cross. When He asked for drink, He was given sour wine or gall mixed with vinegar. When we come to the altar in thirst, we are given His blood to drink, the same blood that flowed from His side.

The patterns on the vesture of the angels further heighten the symbolic character of the work. The angel with the sponge has a pattern made up of a blooming lily and a cross. The lily calls to mind the lily of Saint Joseph, an indirect reference to the donors, the Joseph family, the lily of the blessed Mother, Our Lady of the Atonement, and finally the lily of Saint Anthony, after whom the city of San Antonio was named. The cross pattern is the same as used on the front panel’s lower angels. It is made up of the two “Ts” of the Holy Father’s personal motto. “Totus Tuus.” The angel with the lance has a pattern of a crown of thorns enclosing three nails, calling to mind the bitter and pain-filled death of the Savior. Interwoven with this pattern is the cross made up of the double “Ts.”

The lower angels are positioned behind the tabernacle. They hover in attentive reverence behind the King of kings and Lord of lords. They carry the veil of His Most Holy Name, JESUS, SON OF GOD, SAVIOR. They are vested in patterns appropriate to their proximity to the Eucharist mystery. The golden angel is dressed in a pattern of a long cross with stylized rays of glory behind it – for there is no glory save that of the cross. The green angel has a pattern of gold wheat and a cross. On the cross He was made into that pure bread offered up for us and given to us daily these sacred mysteries.

At the feet of these angels is an inscription that expresses both the Eucharistic mystery and the role of the Virgin Mary, Patroness of this church: AVE VERUM CORPUS NATUS EX MARIA VIRGINE (Hail the True Body, born of Mary the Virgin).

THE SIGNATURE SAINTS OF THE MAIN PANEL

The figure to the right of Christ is that of His foster father, Saint Joseph, tenderly holding the Infant Jesus. This figure was chosen because of the family surname of those whose donation made this reredos possible, and also because Saint Joseph is the patron saint of the Church, the family, and of a happy death.

On the other side of Christ is an image of the Mother of God on the occasion of her glorious Assumption into heaven. She is shown with her arms lowered, the position of humility and the gesture of showering blessings. Near the bottom of the figure is her belt dropping off, which recalls the medieval belief that this belt was given to Saint Thomas at the moment of the Assumption. This belief was one of the most popular during the Middle Ages, and many churches have remnants of this relic in their collections. The image of the Blessed Virgin Assumed was chosen because of the dedication and blessing of Our Lady of the Atonement Church which took place on the Feast of the Assumption, 15 August 1987.

THE ROLE OF THE ANGELS

In this painting there are six large angels and ten small enamel angels. This motif is not simply an artistic addition to the work, but rather has several purposes.

First, His Holiness Pope John Paul II is very much concerned with the traditional belief and teaching of the Church concerning the existence of these heavenly spirits. He has re-emphasized this teaching on many occasions.

Second, such groupings of angels were often found in the style of medieval art that is the inspiration for this reredos. Angels always had a place in the iconography of the Middle Ages. They were especially to be seen in scenes of the Passion. The angels here are relevant to the name of this parish, for they carry those instruments associated with the atoning death of our Lord.

The angels of the Passion are vested as deacons. Deacons are those ministers that assist the priest at the Mass, as the angels assisted Christ in His last agony, death, and resurrection.

Finally, these images of angels remind us of the famous story about Pope Saint Gregory and the people of England. According to tradition, he was inspired to work for the conversion of the pagan Saxons after seeing slaves from Britain for sale in the markets of Rome. He exclaimed, “Not Angles but Angels!”

THE METAL WORK

The hinges on this work are hand-forged steel which extend the front and back in the tradition of metalsmithing in the Middle Ages, and are designed to represent sword blades. This design recalls the prophecy by Saint Simeon that a sword of sorrow would pierce the heart of the Virgin Mary. The center lock, by which the panels are held flush when closed, is in the shape of the tablets of the Mosaic Law. The pin is in the shape of a cross, representing both the cross of Moses’ bronze serpent and the cross of Jesus.

THE CROSSES OF DEDICATION

Although not part of the triptych, there are four crosses found on the east and west walls of the church, which mark the places where the Holy Chrism was placed during the dedication of this place of worship. They are painted in the same style and colors of the reredos, and this “flowering cross” pattern was one of the favorite designs of the Middle Ages.

The crosses themselves were cut from wood that came from Krakow, Poland, near the birthplace of Pope John Paul II, and the city of which he was Cardinal Archbishop prior to his elevation to the papacy.



St. Peter Chanel, Priest and Martyr


On April 18, 1841, a band of native warriors entered the hut of a missionary priest, Father Peter Chanel on the island of Futuna in the New Hebrides islands – now called Vanuatu. They clubbed the missionary to death and cut up his body with hatchets. But just two years after this murder, the complete population of the island was Catholic. St. Peter Chanel's death bears witness to the ancient axiom that "the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians."

What led up to this wonderful conversion of so many people? St. Peter Chanel came there as the fulfillment of a dream he had had as a boy. He was born in 1803 in France. At the age of seven, he was a shepherd boy, but the local parish priest, recognizing something unusual in the boy, convinced his parents to let him study in a little school the priest had started. From there Peter went on to the seminary, and was ordained a priest and assigned to a very difficult, run-down parish. In three short years there was a complete transformation of the people in the parish – whereas there had been very few who practiced the Faith, when he left, nearly everyone had returned to the Sacraments.

In 1831, he felt called by God to enter a missionary society of priests, and his dream of going to mission territory finally happened in 1836. He was sent to the island of Futuna, where he had to suffer great hardships, disappointments, frustration, and almost complete failure, as well as the opposition of the local chieftain. The work seemed hopeless: only a few had been baptized, and the chieftain continued to be suspicious and hostile. Then, when the chief's son asked for baptism, the chief was so angry that he sent warriors to kill the missionary. It would have seemed that was the end. St. Peter Chanel did not live to see any success coming from his hard work, but his violent death brought about the conversion of the island, and the people of Futuna remain Catholic to this day.

O God, who for the spreading of thy Church didst crown Saint Peter Chanel with martyrdom: grant that, in these days of Paschal joy, we may so celebrate the mysteries of Christ’s Death and Resurrection as to bear worthy witness to newness of life; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

24 April 2017

St. Mark the Evangelist


John Mark, later known simply as Mark, was Jewish by birth. He was the son of that Mary in whose home was the Cenacle or "upper room" which served as the meeting place for the first Christians in Jerusalem. He was still a teenager at the time of the Savior's death. In his description of the young man who was present when Jesus was seized and who fled from the leaving behind his "linen cloth," he was probably speaking of himself.

During the years that followed, as Mark became a young man, he witnessed the growth of the infant Church in his mother's Upper Room and came to know very well the traditions and practices of the Church, which we see included in his Gospel. In the Acts of the Apostles we find Mark accompanying his uncle (or perhaps cousin) Barnabas and Paul on their return journey to Antioch and on their first missionary journey. But Mark wasn’t ready for the hardships of this type of work and therefore left them at Perga in Pamphylia to return home.

As the two apostles were preparing for their second missionary journey, Barnabas wanted to take Mark with him. Paul, however, objected, and so Barnabas and Mark went on a missionary journey to Cyprus. Time healed the strained relations between Paul and Mark, and during St. Paul’s first Roman captivity, Mark gave Paul valuable service, which St. Paul wrote about. When he was in chains the second time, Paul requested Mark's presence (2 Tim. 4:11).

A close friendship existed between St. Mark and St. Peter; he was Peter's companion, disciple, and interpreter. According to common patristic opinion, Mark was present at Peter's preaching in Rome and wrote his Gospel under the influence of St. Peter. This explains why incidents which involve Peter are described with great detail. Little is known of St. Mark's later life, but there is an account of his martyrdom, when he was tied to a rope and dragged over sharps stones until he was dead. At the time of his martyrdom he was the bishop of Alexandria in Egypt. His relics were transferred from Alexandria to Venice, where a worthy tomb was erected in St. Mark's Cathedral.

 O Almighty God, who hast instructed thy holy Church with the heavenly doctrine of thy Evangelist Saint Mark: give us grace; that, being not like children carried away with every blast of vain doctrine, we may be established in the truth of thy holy Gospel; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Ah, sweet memories...

Forty-one years ago today, when I was a young man of twenty-six, I was ordained as an Anglican priest in St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Providence, Rhode Island. I had been serving as a Deacon in St. Stephen’s Southmead, in Bristol, England, and would continue serving there as assistant curate. So that our families could be present, JoAnn and I, along with our infant daughter, made the journey to America for the occasion.

It was a grand affair. St. Stephen’s in Providence was known as “Smokey Steve’s,” and not without reason. Smack dab in the middle of the Brown University campus, it was (in those days) one of those wonderful Anglo-catholic ghettos, where those who went to “hear Mass” imagined that the whole world lived by the rubrics of the English Missal and sang from The English Hymnal, a world where the Thirty-nine Articles had more to do with the number of buttons on Father’s cassock than with the detestable enormities of Rome.

April 24th was a perfect spring day that year. Clich√© as it sounds, it really did feel like the first day of the rest of my life. Little did I know what a fatal fall was waiting for the Episcopal Church – or maybe I just didn’t want to see it. But I do thank God for that day, forty-one years ago. It opened the door for my vocation to the Catholic priesthood, a gift that still astonishes me.

23 April 2017

St. Fidelis of Sigmaringen


St. Fidelis was born Mark Rey and took the name of "Fidelis" when he joined the Capuchin Order at the age of 35 in 1612. He was born at Sigmaringen, a town in modern-day Germany. He studied law and philosophy at Freiburg. St. Fidelis subsequently taught philosophy at the University of Freiburg, ultimately earning a "doctor of laws". During his time as a student he did not drink wine, and wore a hair-shirt. He was known for his modesty, meekness, and chastity. In 1604, he and three friends travelled through Europe, and during his travels he attended Mass very frequently; in every town where he came, he visited the hospitals and churches, passed several hours on his knees in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, and gave to the poor sometimes the very clothes off his back.

After he returned home, he took up the practice of law, and was known for his great fairness, and his dislike of ruining anyone’s reputation. He didn’t hesitate to offer his legal help to those who couldn’t afford the cost of a lawyer, and his charity earned him the name of "counsellor and advocate for the poor". He became disenchanted with some of the bad practices associated with many lawyers, and he decided to join the Capuchin friars.

When he entered the Franciscan Order of the Capuchins, he was given the religious name of "Fidelis," meaning Faithful. He finished his novitiate and his studies for the priesthood, offering his first Mass on the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi (October 4), in 1612. As soon as St Fidelis finished his course of theology, he was immediately employed in preaching and in hearing confessions. He was named to be Superior of one of the Capuchin Convents, and many people in the area were renewed in their faith, and several Protestant Calvinists were converted. The Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith commissioned Fidelis specifically for work among the Protestants.

The Protestants were very angry at this attempt to convert them. They made threats against Fidelis' life, and he began to prepare himself for martyrdom. It was on April 24, 1622, that St Fidelis made his confession, said Mass, and then went out to preach. During the sermon, leaders of the Protestants called for his death. One of them discharged his musket at him in the Church, but missed him, and the Catholics begged him to leave the place, but he was ready to lay down his life. As he went out and was on the road, a group of about twenty Calvinists started to harass him, calling him a false prophet. One of them beat him down to the ground by a stroke on the head with his sword. Fidelis rose again on his knees, and stretching forth his arms in the form of a cross, and prayed to God for their pardon. Another sword struck him in the head, and he fell to the ground and lay in a pool of his own blood. His attackers continued to stab him, and they hacked off his left leg, saying it was punishment for him coming to preach to them. He was buried by the Catholics the next day, and many who had participated in St Fidelis' martyrdom, were converted, and received into the Catholic Church.

O God, who didst enkindle blessed Fidelis with seraphic ardour of spirit in the propagation of the true Faith, and didst vouchsafe to adorn him with the palm of martyrdom, and with glorious miracles: we beseech thee; that, by his merits and intercession, thou wouldest so confirm us through thy grace in faith and charity; that in thy service we may be worthy to be found faithful, even unto death; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

St. George the Martyr

Edward Burne-Jones,
‘The Legend of St George and the Dragon,
VI: St George Kills the Dragon’, 1866

St. George was born in Cappadocia in what is now Turkey, of noble Christian parents. After his father died, he went with his mother to Palestine, which is where she had come from. Her family there was quite wealthy, and she had a large estate, which fell to her son George. He was strong and robust, and having embraced the profession of a soldier, was made a tribune in the army of the Emperor Diocletian. He showed himself to be an excellent soldier, very brave, and he received many honours and advancements in his military career. When Diocletian began persecuting the Christian religion, St. George gave up his commission and posts, and complained to the emperor himself of his severities and bloody edicts. He was immediately cast into prison, and put on trial, questioned and tortured with great cruelty; but nothing could shake his constancy. The next day he was led through the city and beheaded.

So why the legends, especially the story of St. George slaying the dragon? According to the story, a terrible dragon, which lived in a marshy swamp, had ravaged all the country round a city of Libya, called Selena. It would come near the city looking for something to eat, and when it breathed, it would spread sickness throughout all the people. The people decided to give the monster two sheep every day to satisfy its hunger, but, when they ran out of sheep, they would give the dragon a human victim, whom they would choose by lot. On one occasion the lot fell to the king's little daughter. The king offered all his wealth to purchase a substitute, but the people had said that no substitutes would be allowed, and so the maiden, dressed as a bride, was led to the swamp. At that very time, St. George happened to ride by, and he asked the young girl what she did, but she warned him to leave her, because his own life was in danger. St. George stayed, however, and when the dragon appeared, St. George, making the sign of the cross, bravely attacked it and stabbed it with his lance, wounding it. Then asking the maiden for her belt, he bound it round the neck of the monster, and the princess was able to lead it without any struggle, back to the town. St. George told the people not to be afraid, but only be baptized, after which he cut off the dragon's head and the townsfolk were all converted. The king would have given George half his kingdom, but the saint replied that he must ride on, bidding the king meanwhile take good care of God's churches, honour the clergy, and have pity on the poor.

This legend was a great symbol of St. George who fought against the Emperor and against all those things that were trying to destroy the Church. The lesson is that good eventually will conquer evil, and all we need to do is put our fear aside, and live in the grace of our baptism.

O God of hosts, who didst so kindle the flame of love in the heart of thy servant George that he bore witness to the risen Lord by his life and by his death: grant us the same power of faith and love; that we, who rejoice in his triumphs, may come to share with him the fulness of the Resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

21 April 2017

Divine Mercy


DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY
23 April 2017

Mass will be offered at
7:30 a.m., 9:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m., and 6:00 p.m.

DIVINE MERCY DEVOTIONS 3:00 p.m.

______________


On DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY, a plenary indulgence, is granted to the Faithful under the usual conditions:

1.     Sacramental confession (within about 20 days before or after);
2.     Reception of Holy Communion;
3.     Prayer for the intentions of Supreme Pontiff (Our Father and Hail Mary).

and who, on the Second Sunday of Easter or Divine Mercy Sunday, in any church or chapel, in a spirit that is completely detached from the affection for a sin, even a venial sin:

1.     either take part in the prayers and devotions held in honour of Divine Mercy,

or

2.     who, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament exposed or reserved in the tabernacle, recite the Our Father and the Creed, adding a devout prayer to the merciful Lord Jesus (such as “Merciful Jesus, I trust in you!").


You may obtain the plenary indulgence for yourself, or it may be applied to the soul of one who is departed, but it cannot be obtained for another person still living.

20 April 2017

Friday in the Easter Octave


After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberas; and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We will go with you." They went out and got into the boat; but that night they caught nothing. Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, "Children, have you any fish?" They answered him, "No." He said to them, "Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some." So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, for the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his clothes, for he was stripped for work, and sprang into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off. When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish lying on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish that you have just caught." So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." Now none of the disciples dared ask him, "Who are you?" They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

-John 21:1-14

O God, who hast united the diversity of nations in the confession of thy Name: grant that they who are born again in the font of Baptism, may be of one mind in faith and in godliness of life; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

18 April 2017

The Paschal Sacrifice


Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?
Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed.
Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
- I Cor. 5:6b-8

Yeast (leaven) makes bread rise, but it is a kind of bacterium, so it also corrupts, and as St. Paul says, “a little leaven leavens the whole lump.” St. Paul’s point is that one sin can spoil the whole person, and even the wider community, both within and as seen by others.

The only way to assure that there is no corruption is to become a fresh batch of dough. Through baptism, we are unleavened – the stain of original sin is washed away, and we’re given grace to enable us to avoid sin. Through our baptismal consecration, we have been made a holy people, a people set apart for God. Because of that, we must constantly strive to become what God intends us to be, which means that we are to eliminate those corrupting influences which compromise the integrity of the consecration which took place at our baptism.

And what has made us “unleavened”? We are unleavened – we are like a fresh batch of dough – because the true paschal lamb, Jesus Christ, has been sacrificed. In the old rites during Passover the lambs were sacrificed, and St. Paul reminds us that in Christ’s death and resurrection, He is the fulfillment of the Jewish Passover.

In fact, Jesus – the true Passover Lamb – is the perfection of the sacrificing of the lambs in the temple at Passover. The lambs which were sacrificed in the Temple were only a reminder that the time had come for the Jews to clean out all leaven from their homes; the sacrificing of the lambs did not actually accomplish the cleansing of the leaven. But the sacrifice of Christ the true Passover Lamb actually casts out the leaven – the corruption of sin – and makes us “a new creation.” By His sacrifice we are made into a kind of pure, unleavened bread, ready to serve Christ in this world, and finally to be with Him in heaven.

Almighty Father, who hast given thine only Son to die for our sins, and to rise again for our justification: grant us so to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness; that we may always serve thee in pureness of living and truth; through the merits of the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

17 April 2017

Tuesday in the Easter Octave


Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, and seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master. Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God. Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.

- St. John 20:11-18


O God, who by the glorious Resurrection of thy Son Jesus Christ destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light: grant that we, who have been raised with him, may abide in his presence and rejoice in the hope of eternal glory; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Monday in the Easter Octave


So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, "Hail!" And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me." While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sum of money to the soldiers and said, "Tell people, `His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.' And if this comes to the governor's ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble." So they took the money and did as they were directed; and this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.

- St. Matthew 28:8-15

O God, whose blessed Son did manifest himself to his disciples in the breaking of bread: open, we pray thee, the eyes of our faith; that we may behold thee in all thy works; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

16 April 2017

A Sermon for Easter Day


Our celebration of Easter tends to surround us with familiar things. We have commemorated all the events of Holy Week, and when we come to the Easter celebration, we know what to expect – the music, the flowers, the order of the Mass, even the sermon has the ring of the familiar.

That was not so for St. Mary Magdalene, as she made her sad journey to the tomb on that first Easter morning. She had kept watch with the Sorrowful Mother at the foot of the cross on Friday afternoon. She had seen the lifeless body of Jesus placed in the arms of His Mother, and she knew He was dead. She had helped to make the hasty burial preparations, and now she was returning to finish what she thought would be her last act of love towards her Master. But it was then that things seemed to be disoriented, and not as she expected.

When Mary Magdalene arrived at the tomb in the semi-darkness, what she saw was very disturbing. The massive stone had been rolled away from the opening, the entrance to the tomb was wide open, and she knew things were not the way they should be. Her first thought? Grave robbers! In fact, those were the first anguished words from her mouth when she ran back to tell the disciples, Peter and John. "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have put him!"

We can understand her panic and her grief. First they had crucified her Master. Now they had stolen His body – the body to which she had planned to give her final loving care. As soon as she tells them, Peter and John both run to the tomb.

John is faster; Peter is braver. John takes a tentative peek inside and sees the strips of burial linens. He hesitates. But Peter, never one to hesitate over anything, heads directly into the tomb. He sees the burial linens along with the cloth that covered Jesus' head. But something is strange here, out of the ordinary. Everything is neat and in order. The head cloth is folded up by itself, separate from the shroud. Whoever did this was not in much of a hurry. The grave-clothes are exactly as there were on Christ’s body, completely undisturbed. Whatever had happened, it was obvious that this was hardly the work of grave robbers.

John finally gathers up enough courage to go inside the tomb to take a good look for himself. And he records this solemn sentence about his own reaction: "He saw and he believed." He saw the empty tomb and the undisturbed linens, and he believed Jesus' word that He would rise from the dead on the third day. He saw and he believed. That’s where we get the phrase, “Seeing is believing.”

But we should understand that seeing is not necessarily believing. And conversely, believing does not necessarily involve seeing. When it comes to our faith, “seeing” puts the evidence before the eyes, but “believing” is trusting that Jesus is true to His word. It is quite possible to see and not believe.

The Pharisees saw with their own eyes the miracles Jesus performed, but they did not believe. Peter saw the same things in the tomb that John did, but Peter did not believe at first. Later that week, another apostle, St. Thomas said, "Unless I see His wounds and touch them, I will not believe."

It was not just what John saw, but it was also what Jesus had said, which led John to believe. And Jesus prepared us for the fact that it is possible to not see and yet believe, when He said to St. Thomas, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." That’s a direct reference to us. And St. John emphasizes this point when he writes, "They did not yet know from the Scriptures that Jesus had to rise from the dead."

Jesus would soon open their minds to see from the Scriptures that Christ must suffer and on the third day rise. That is why He gave them an empty tomb and undisturbed linens. It was to preach to them on that first Easter morning. They were not yet able to get it from the Scriptures, because it is later, near the end of his Gospel, that St. John writes, "These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name."

We do not see what those disciples saw on that first morning. In fact, we cannot see what they saw. The original sites are there, and we can visit them as places of prayer and devotion, but things no longer look as they did. If we travel to Jerusalem and visit the very site of the resurrection, the only reason we know it is the place is because others have told us that it is. There is nothing there now that would let us know what had happened.

Sometimes we might be tempted to think that it would have been easier to believe all this back then, at the time of Mary Magdalene, and Peter, and John. They were eyewitnesses to all that surrounded Jesus' death and resurrection. They saw all of this with their own eyes. Sometimes it seems as though it would be so much easier, if we could just see “with our own eyes!” Just to be able to peek into the open, empty tomb to glance at the linen burial cloths, maybe a glimpse of a bright angel or two, and a look at the face of the resurrected Jesus. It would be so easy for us to believe if only we could see, or at least we imagine it would be.

But the written record handed down to us tells us differently. Seeing is not necessarily believing. Mary Magdalene saw Jesus with her own eyes and she thought He was the gardener. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus saw Jesus; in fact, they walked and talked with Him for seven miles, but they didn’t recognize him until He broke the bread at the table with them. Seeing is not necessarily believing.

Look around at the people of any Catholic parish. There is little visible evidence to tell the world that it is a gathering of holy people, cleansed and claimed by the blood of Christ. But God has declared that it is so – and He expects us to live in such a way that this fact becomes evident to the world.

The next time you hear someone say, “Seeing is believing,” don’t accept that. It simply isn’t true. If we follow only what we see, we will end up racing from one tomb to the next, from one church to the next, from one preacher to the next, perhaps even from one religion to the next, – always searching for something that we can see with our eyes, but coming up empty. We will end up as Mary Magdalene started out on that first Easter morning when she said, "They have taken my Lord, and I don't know where they have put him."

As believers and members of Christ’s Holy Catholic Church, we do know where Jesus is. First of all, we know He is at the right hand of the Father in heaven, restored to His place of eternal glory. But we also know that He is in the midst of His Church, which is the living Body of Christ. And we know this: the same crucified and risen Jesus, who defeated death and crushed the head of Satan, and whom Mary saw in the garden that morning, is located in the tabernacle of every Catholic church, hidden yet really present, unseen yet truly and objectively with us. He calls each of us by name from the waters of baptism, making us new creatures by the power of His death and resurrection. We are buried in Him and He is buried in us. When we receive Holy Communion, He buries His crucified body and blood in us, and He remakes us by giving us new life. He could not be any clearer about it: "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise Him up on the Last Day."

Jesus gave His life so that we could have eternal life.

When we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, we are also claiming the promise of the resurrection of our own bodies on the Last Day. In rising from the dead, Jesus gives us a glimpse of the Last Day of the old creation on this day, which is the first day of the new creation. The stone is rolled away. The tomb is empty and orderly. Death has been swallowed up in victory. The disorder and darkness of death has been reordered by the Light of Christ. Death has been swallowed up in victory. Jesus Christ is risen, and in Him, we too will rise in glory.

15 April 2017

An Easter Hymn


God our Father, Lord of glory,
Thanks and praise we give to Thee;
In Thy mercy to our fathers,
Thou didst bring them through the sea.
So by water hast Thou saved us,
|: Now from Adam's sin set free. :|

Jesus Christ, our Risen Saviour,
Of Thy sacrifice we sing;
As the lamb in ancient myst'ry
To Thy people life didst bring,
So in Eucharistic glory,
|: Thou, God's Lamb, art made our King. :|

Holy Spirit, Breath from heaven,
We Thy precious gifts embrace;
At creation all things living
Thou didst sanctify with grace.
So may we, creation's glory,
|: Be for Thee a dwelling place. :|

Loving mercy of the Father,
Sacrifice of Christ the Son,
Quick'ning power of the Spirit:
In us let Thy work be done!
May we rise to life eternal,
|: That our Paschal joy be won. :|

Text: Fr. Christopher G. Phillips
Tune: Cwm Rhondda, John Hughes (1907)

14 April 2017

Holy Saturday


O God, Creator of heaven and earth: grant that, as the crucified body of thy dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.


Stone of the Anointing
Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem

Good Friday


Almighty God: we beseech thee graciously to behold this thy family, for which our Lord Jesus Christ was contented to be betrayed, and given up into the hands of wicked men, and to suffer death upon the Cross; who now liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

13 April 2017

Maundy Thursday in the morning...

Each year on the morning of Maundy Thursday the students at the Academy gather for Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. It gives me an opportunity to explain to them why we do not celebrate any other Mass today, other than the evening Mass of the Lord's Last Supper.

Each year we read the account of the Passover in Exodus, and I remind them that the Church, celebrating the Mass this evening, is the New Israel offering up Christ as the Passover Lamb, and so we participate in the New Passover.

Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast!

God our Father, whose Son our Lord Jesus Christ in a wonderful Sacrament hath left unto us a memorial of his passion: Grant us so to venerate the sacred mysteries of his Body and Blood, that we may ever perceive within ourselves the fruit of his redemption; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

12 April 2017

Tenebrae


With the conclusion of the Spy Wednesday morning Masses, all is made ready for the first service of the Sacred Triduum, with the chanting of Tenebrae this evening. In addition to all the other ceremonies of the season, we have (for more than thirty years) chanted Tenebrae on the eve of each of the three days. The psalms become almost hypnotic. The gradual extinguishing of the candles is a visual reminder of the death of Christ. The readings take us back to those events in Jerusalem, and all that led to them.

From the first antiphon we chant on Wednesday evening, to the final prayer we offer on Good Friday night, Tenebrae takes us deeply into the Passion of Christ.

On Wednesday the Office of Tenebrae is chanted at 7:00 p.m. (Confessions following, beginning approx. 8:40 p.m.).

On Maundy Thursday the Office of Tenebrae is chanted immediately following the Mass of the Lord's Supper (the Mass begins at 7:00 p.m.).

On Good Friday the Office of Tenebrae is chanted after the Stations of the Cross (Stations begin at 7:00 p.m.).

Spy Wednesday


Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, "What will you give me if I deliver him to you?" And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him. Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?" He said, "Go into the city to a certain one, and say to him, `The Teacher says, My time is at hand; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.'" And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover. When it was evening, he sat at table with the twelve disciples; and as they were eating, he said, "Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me." And they were very sorrowful, and began to say to him one after another, "Is it I, Lord?" He answered, "He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me, will betray me. The Son of man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born." Judas, who betrayed him, said, "Is it I, Master?" He said to him, "You have said so."
-Matthew 26:14-25
Elsewhere the Gospel tells us that Satan entered into Judas, but even before this, Judas had shown himself to be dishonest and a lover of money. He kept the money box which was used for the needs of Jesus and the disciples, but he was accustomed to taking money out for himself. When the expensive perfume was used to anoint Jesus, he complained that it could have been sold and the money given to the poor – although he was more likely thinking that he could take the money himself. And now, he goes to the chief priests and asks what they would give him if he delivered Jesus to them. The bargain was struck: thirty silver pieces for the Son of God.

Could the betrayal by Judas have been because of something as common and low as his love for money? Certainly, it looks that way. There could have been other reasons – some have said that he was trying to force Christ into revealing himself as the Messiah. Some have said that Judas was jealous of all the other disciples and so wanted to do something to ruin their common life together. But if Judas betrayed Jesus for those reasons, why did he ask for money when he went to the high priests? He could have handed Jesus over to them without asking for money.

No, Judas was a lover of money, a worldly man who was looking for personal gain. As St. Paul wrote to St. Timothy, “The love of money is the root of all evil.” And this, no doubt, was an evil act. When Judas approached Jesus in the garden, our Lord asked him, “Judas would you betray the Son of man with a kiss?” Judas had given his betraying kiss before, when he took money into his filthy hands, caressing it as a lover would his beloved.

Spy Wednesday serves as a reminder to us, too, that we can betray Christ for common, low things. We tend to think about our own wants before we think of Christ. We sometimes spend time trying to get things for ourselves while forgetting the needs of others. When we put things before what we owe to God, we’re betraying Christ. When we’re cruel or when we bully someone weaker than we are, we’re betraying Christ. When we delight in gossip, we’re betraying Christ. When we cheat someone, or when we take something which isn’t ours, we’re betraying Christ. When we use foul language, speaking filthy words from the same mouth in which we receive the Body of Christ, we’re betraying Him.

We’re horrified by what Judas did. But we need to look at our own lives, too, lest we are betraying Jesus.

O God, who didst will that thy Son should suffer death upon the Cross that thou mightest deliver us from the snares of the enemy: grant that by the merits of his Passion and Death we may know the power of his Resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

10 April 2017

Tuesday in Holy Week


When Jesus had thus spoken, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, "Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me." The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was lying close to the breast of Jesus; so Simon Peter beckoned to him and said, "Tell us who it is of whom he speaks." So lying thus, close to the breast of Jesus, he said to him, "Lord, who is it?" Jesus answered, "It is he to whom I shall give this morsel when I have dipped it." So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. Then after the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, "What you are going to do, do quickly." Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the money box, Jesus was telling him, "Buy what we need for the feast"; or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the morsel, he immediately went out; and it was night. When he had gone out, Jesus said, "Now is the Son of man glorified, and in him God is glorified; if God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, `Where I am going you cannot come.' A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, where are you going?" Jesus answered, "Where I am going you cannot follow me now; but you shall follow afterward." Peter said to him, "Lord, why cannot I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you." Jesus answered, "Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the cock will not crow, till you have denied me three times.

- St. John 13:21-38

O God, who by the passion of thy blessed Son didst make an instrument of shameful death to be unto us the means of life: Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

09 April 2017

Monday in Holy Week


Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. There they made him a supper; Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at table with him. Mary took a pound of costly ointment of pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was to betray him), said, "Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?" This he said, not that he cared for the poor but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box he used to take what was put into it.  Jesus said, "Let her alone, let her keep it for the day of my burial. The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me." When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came, not only on account of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus also to death, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.

- St. John 12:1-11
Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Palm Sunday


(The Second Sunday of the Passion)

Almighty and everlasting God, who, of thy tender love towards mankind, hast sent thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, to take upon him our flesh, and to suffer death upon the Cross, that all mankind should follow the example of his great humility: mercifully grant that we may follow the example of his patience, and so be made partakers of his Resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.