God’s house

Annunciation Catholic Church, Brazil, IN

Last night before dusk, I was a few minutes early at church. A number of small children were leaving CCD (a/k/a religious education class) and posing for pictures in front of our patron saint’s statue while holding some formal-looking certificate. The children were proud of their accomplishment (whatever it was) and the parents were beaming.

What a happy place! If we think about it, we realize that all of the really important milestones of our lives take place right here at this building. Yet this building is quite different than every other. It is God’s house and He is at home.

This is where we come to unite with Him in His once and for all sacrifice which continues for us to this day. Here we join with Him both spiritually and incarnated in the Blessed Sacrament, the source and summit of the Christian life. It is not just the two of us either, but all the faithful: past, present and future. At this place our Eucharistic liturgy joins with the Heavenly liturgy, in the presence of God, together with all the angels and saints. If ever the word “awesome” could be applied, this is it.

The rhythm of our lives plays-out here. The picture taking I witnessed is just a memorable snapshot of a long series, in the lives of those children and in the lives of their parents. For each of them this journey began at their baptisms where they became the adopted children of God, establishing a familial relationship with Him and the entire Communion of Saints.

As the weeks and years pass, we live our imperfect lives, anchored by faith and our continuous response to the calls of conversion and holiness. In a world searching for the meaning of life, we found it — to know, love and serve the Lord. The truth really does set us free. Seeking to know Him, we serve the poor, connect to the disenfranchised, comfort the suffering, go to Bible studies, classes, men’s and women’s groups, retreats, read scripture and pray…   most especially through our participation in the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It is there that the bridegroom and His bride the Church are most intimately one in their expression of mutual love. It is from there we are sent into the world to serve Him.

The timeline marches on but we are not afraid. Along the way we are continuously strengthened by the sanctifying grace of the sacraments. The young children in the pictures will soon receive first communion. A little later, they will be confirmed, with new graces complimenting their baptisms and further forming their office as priests, prophets and kings. In a few years, many will also enter into a life-long covenant with another through the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. It will be they who are then behind the camera taking pictures of their own children.

Along the way, our fallen nature allows us to choose against what is good, true and holy. We temporarily leave this place for one of false promises. Our rebellion may be brief or many decades. The Father waits patiently for us to return and the angels rejoice when we finally turn back. In the sacrament of Reconciliation, Jesus absolves and forgets our sins, throwing His loving arms around us and welcomes us home.

Eventually, the race will end. We will be gone, temporarily, from our body. Our loved ones will bring us here one last time as the cycle for us is completed. Later that day a new life may be brought into the Church, a couple may become one, or a brother or sister find their way back.

That is what happens here everyday in God’s house, this Catholic church and every Catholic church. We are so blessed.

The Last Supper

Last Supper

It is Thursday, just before dinner. Our Lord is tired but there will be no rest. For the most part, His ministry is over and the foundation of His Church laid. Time is now short.

This week has been a busy one. After arriving by donkey last Sunday, He spent the entire night in Bethany praying. Returning to Jerusalem for the day on Monday, He cleansed the Temple (yet again). Tuesday was filled with teaching then retiring to the Mount of Olives. Yesterday, a woman anointed Him with an expensive jar of alabaster in the home of Simon the leper. Judas began his plot of betrayal.

There will be no sleep tonight. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus will pray, be betrayed and condemned by religious leaders. He will stand before Pilate and Herod. By morning Pilate’s “sentence” will be swiftly and zealously carried out. Tomorrow afternoon He will be dead.

Tonight’s Passover celebration will be the final meal with the twelve. How will this precious time be used?

Recall this part of what we now call the Bread of Life Discourse:

Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”

This shocked and confused his disciples. Many left Him, but by their faith (if not understanding) the twelve remained. Jesus did not call to those who left nor explain Himself in any other way. His words were clear, blunt and not symbolic. Those who chose to leave correctly understood this.

This night – this last meal – would not be about earthly sustenance. Nor would it be a time for parables. Time was far too short for symbolism. No, tonight Jesus would give the Apostles holy food in the form of His body and blood. This is the means by which He will remain in direct communion with us. This is what He spoke of earlier.

While they were at supper he took bread, said the blessing, broke the bread and gave it to his disciples saying:

Take this, all of you, and eat it: this is my body which will be given up for you.

“This is my body” were Jesus words (widely accepted as accurately translated). Jesus could have said “this represents my body” or “accept this bread in memory of my physical sacrifice” or similar phraseology. He did not. This was no time to be obtuse. He said simply, plainly and without any ambiguity what-so-ever “this is my body.”

In the same way, he took the cup filled with wine. He gave thanks and giving the cup to his disciples said:

Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me.

“This is the cup of my blood” was similarly intended. Jesus could easily have shown other intent with a longer explanation or using a word other than “is.” He did not because He said what He meant.

Jesus chose this night, in this last meal, to give us the Eucharist. The words He said to consecrate bread into His Holy Body and wine into His Precious Blood are said unchanged in the Catholic Mass. Those words are said “in persona Christi” (“in the person of Christ“) under His authority through the direct succession of the Apostles.

In that upper room, Jesus invited us to consume His flesh and blood as true food and true drink. In doing so that night, those present joined themselves to Him, and He to them. Catholics do the same at every Mass. We do not re-enact the Last Supper but continue His earthly feast and our direct, personal intimacy with Him. Happy are those who are called to His supper!

The Confiteor


At the beginning of almost every Mass, is the Penitential Rite. It is a general acknowledgment of our sinfulness and a request for God’s mercy and forgiveness. Through this rite, one receives forgiveness for their venial sins (one of many ways; mortal sins must be absolved through the Sacrament of Reconciliation). One of the three options for general confession is the Confiteor (a/k/a “I confess”).

Sometimes the Confiteor is called the “mea culpa” (Latin for “my fault”) as the penitent accepts full responsibility for their sins. To me that is a good way to think of it as it is central to the prayer. The prayer is brief, so I will go over it for my non-Catholic readers.

I confess to almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters, – an admission to both God and all assembled.

that I have sinned through my own fault, – I chose to sin, blame is squarely on my shoulders alone, I offer no excuse. To emphasize this sentiment, the penitent should lightly strike their breast at this point.

in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do; – I acknowledge all the forms by which I have sinned.

and I ask blessed Mary, ever virgin, all the angels and saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord, our God. – I ask for the intercessory prayers of others.

Absolution through the priest follows with him saying “May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life.

Somehow I feel like a small weight has been lifted, not unlike the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It is coming clean, being honest, getting set right with God. One other thing I think about is that the other penitents have asked me to pray for them. It seems like the Hail Mary would be the perfect prayer, at the earliest opportunity.

The current Latin for the Confiteor is:

Confíteor Deo omnipoténti et vobis, fratres,
quia peccávi nimis cogitatióne, verbo, ópere et omissióne:
mea culpa, mea culpa, mea máxima culpa.
Ideo precor beátam Maríam semper Vírginem,
omnes Angelos et Sanctos, et vos, fratres,
oráre pro me ad Dóminum Deum nostrum.

The US English translation of the Confiteor shown above is from the current US English translation of the Mass. A new worldwide English translation (closer to the Latin form) has been approved and will probably be placed into use at Advent 2012. That new translation is:

I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have greatly sinned in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done and in what I have failed to do,
through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault;
therefore I ask blessed Mary, ever virgin,
all the Angels and Saints, and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.

The Mass

The Mass

Sanctifying, renewing, reassuring, comforting, refocusing, amazing, community, fantastic, awesome, peace, joy. My friend Tom suggested that I explain the Mass in my own words so I will start with these.

Catholics participate in the Mass at least every Sunday and some, as often as every day. The Sacrifice of Mass is much more than a Christan “worship service.” It is a celebration in which we not only hear the word of God, but are in His direct presence. We encounter Our Lord in the literal sense. Heaven touches earth. If these seem like extraordinary claims – they are, and Mass is every bit that extraordinary!

Today’s Mass and that of the early Church have much in common. It is a re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary. Structurally, it is divided into two primary parts: the first focuses around the word of God and the second around the Eucharist (Holy Communion).

In the Liturgy of the Word, we hear Old and New Testament Bible readings. Not just any readings, but readings prescribed for that day. Any given day, Mass said in every Catholic church in the world will use the same readings. Over a 3 year period the daily readings cover most of the Bible.

Following the readings, a priest or deacon will deliver a homily related specifically to that day’s scripture. These usually range from 5 to 15 minutes and are optional for the daily Masses (but common and short).

The Liturgy of the Eucharist is the second part of Mass. Catholic bishops are direct successors to the Apostles who were present at the Last Supper. They, or ordained priests under their authority, act “in persona Christi” (“in the person of Christ“) to consecrate bread and wine (with a little water) into the real body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus, the Son of God. The Holy Body and Precious Blood maintain only the appearance of bread and wine, just as they did at the Last Supper.

Jesus sometimes taught by parables. Other times he was crystal clear and specific. Establishing the Church, the authority of the Apostles (the first bishops) and the gift of the Eucharist are examples of the later.

“I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us (his) flesh to eat?” Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”

As a result of this, many (of) his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.

After the consecration of the Eucharist, we receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” It has been said that the Eucharist is the only food you can not consume, it consumes you. In receiving communion we are truly united with Christ.

The Mass is no mere worship service! Nor is it a social event, entertainment or Bible study. It is solemn and treated with all the respect one should give in the literal presence of Our Lord. Non-Catholics are very welcome to join us, but only Catholics who fully understand the real presence of the Lord in the Eucharist and are properly disposed (including absolved of all mortal sins) may receive communion. Paul explains it this way:

Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.

Our churches are beautiful, our priests dedicated and inspired, the homilies insightful, the music moving, our attention focused and hearts open. Usually. Sometimes in place of a church a tent must be used, the priest is tired, the homilies uninspired, music that you would rather not hear and our focus diverted by worldly concerns. Even then the tremendous blessings and benefits of Mass are received. St. Thomas Aquinas said “The celebration of Holy Mass is as valuable as the death of Jesus on the cross.” St. Gregory noted “The heavens open and multitudes of angels come to assist in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.” Once, St. Teresa was overwhelmed with God’s Goodness and asked Our Lord “How can I thank you?” Our Lord replied, “attend one mass.”

Heaven on earth and literally uniting ourselves with Christ — that is the Catholic Mass. I will give St. John Vianney (Patron Saint of Parish Priests) the last word: “If we really understood the Mass, we would die of joy.”

In a strange land

In Strange Land

Normally as we participate at Mass we are following a comfortable and routine path through the liturgies and rites. That is a good thing. Mass is anything but ordinary. It is a holy celebration during which heaven touches earth, if only briefly! By comfortable and routine I am referring to our familiarity with the rubrics. This frees us from focusing on what to do so that we may instead focus on prayer, God’s Word and being infused with the Holy Spirit.

Things were a wee bit different during the Holy Week Triduum, particularly on Good Friday. That was a communion service, not a Mass. The Eucharist was not reserved in the tabernacle either before or after. The tabernacle door remained open from Holy Thursday and the tabernacle lamp was not lit. We venerated the Crucifix and read the Passion. It seemed like everything was changed and unfamiliar.

It wasn’t just me, still a new convert (that is my excuse and I am sticking to it!). Some people knew exactly what to do, others seemed confused. When do we stand? When do we kneel? Is it time to get up? What happened to the embolism immediately after the Lord’s Prayer and “For the kingdom…”? Why did we do that part later, after the Eucharist processed into the sanctuary? Some folks genuflected entering and leaving their pew. You get the idea.

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t mayhem. The service was very nice, appropriate and spiritually fulfilling. Communion was received. There may have been a little confusion, but enough of us were “winging it” that no one would have felt they stood out.

Later I had a minor epiphany as I thought about it. In a small way we were humbled and put into the shoes of non-Catholic visitors to Mass – wanting to participate, but not stand-out too much. Like them we were in an unfamiliar setting and a little distracted.

The analogy stops there however. Visitors have many other distractions. If they are Protestant, some of the elements of the sanctuary such as the prominent Crucifix, Saint statues, stations of the cross, prayer candles and so on – which are comforting and familiar to us – are often strange to them and differ from what they know. We recognize our priests, deacons and other parishioners while they do not. They may be wondering where is the “order of service” bulletin, what is the purpose of the thin book next to the hymnal and how does everybody just know what to do and pray? Why are there two collections? Was that the sermon or just the introduction (it is often much longer for Protestants)? Why does everyone keep crossing themselves (and how is that properly done anyway and should they do it too)? Should they kneel getting into and out of the pew? Should they receive communion?

One of the things we are good at is welcoming visitors. We are not pushy or judgmental. If we know they are a visitor, we greet and try to make them feel comfortable and welcome. By some wonderful grace they are joining us for worship and may possibly be taking the first, tentative step on a great faith journey.

If you are not Catholic, know that you are always sincerely welcome to join us at Mass (or even Good Friday communion services!). Don’t worry about the details and just follow our lead on standing, sitting and kneeling. You don’t need to genuflect when you enter or leave the pew or make the sign of the cross. Really, it is okay! The only thing you should know is that only properly disposed Catholics may receive communion (just remain in your pew for that part).

Many, many of the people you will see at Mass were not born into the faith. They joined anywhere from decades to months ago. Some were atheists, agnostics, Jewish or other non-Christian religions. Others were Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Anglican, Episcopalian, Mormon, Pentecostal and many other Protestant denominations. We know where you are coming from and were once there too! One last thought, joining us for Mass does not mean you want to join the Catholic Church. It just means you are joining us for Mass – that is all. Feel free to do so as often as you like and know that you are always welcome here.