The Roman Missal: Gloria (Part II)

Isn’t it amazing the impact that birthdays can have on us?  It’s always fun to see the kids walk into school on their birthdays, almost always with a smile on their faces and a bagful of completely unhealthy snacks for their classmates.  Birthdays mark a very special occasion.  When we were conceived, we came into existence, and when we were born, we came into this world.  So your birthday is more than just a day for cake (or moping, when we reach that age), but a celebration of the day when we first started to get to know you!

So what about Jesus Christ, the Son of God?  Well, he was sort of born, and sort of not born.  This is partly what we mean when we say in the new Gloria the titles “Only Begotten Son” and “Son of the Father”.  These are ancient titles of Jesus that remind us that Jesus is both God and man, and how that is even possible.

The Son (by which I mean the second Person of the Holy Trinity) is God.  And of course, that means that he is eternal – he has no beginning, and will have no end.  “Begotten” is a technical word that the Church uses to explain the fact that the Son (who is God, by the way) comes forth from the Father (who is also God), but He is no less eternal, no less God, than any other member of the Holy Trinity.

And yet, the great mystery of Christmas, which we celebrate in just a few weeks, celebrates the fact that the eternal Son of God – who existed even before time itself, and who was there when the world was created, when Moses crossed the Red Sea, when King David slew Goliath, or when the Israelites returned from exile – became a man, a human being named Jesus, who had a birthday like us, and was born of his mother, Mary.  This wasn’t some guy who was good enough that God decided to make a deity as well, nor a guy who tricked us into thinking he was human, but who was just God wearing a human being costume.  This Jesus, who we praise in the Gloria, is 100% God and 100% man!

Much of the rest of the Gloria is the same, except for a few additions to make it sound more poetic and more closely imitate some of the Latin sentences.  But it’s important to know how we’re praising God, even in single words like “begotten”.

Homily From the 1st Sunday in Advent, Year B

You might have heard a little bit about this Christmas house tour that is coming up within the next few weeks.  Well, apparently, the rectory is on this tour, I found out.  Tour what?  My messy room?  The pile of paper and junk I have sitting on my desk?  It turns out that people are actually coming over to help decorate the house, which is good, since none of us priests have enough taste to make it look decent ourselves.  Now all this is funny, but ‘tis the season!  Everybody has company coming over soon, so what does that mean?  It means everyone is hard at work cleaning things up, decorating with wreaths and trees and pine roping and Christmas lights, and preparing special treats for guests and to send to the rectory for Christmas.  Everyone is preparing for guests to come over!  And the same is true as we enter into this season of Advent.

The word “advent” actually means a “coming toward” of someone, namely Jesus coming toward us!  He’s coming to us, and so each of us is charged with the responsibility to prepare ourselves somehow for his coming.  St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the great preacher and doctor of the Church at the time of the crusades wrote that the season of Advent is about preparing for the three “comings” of Christ at Christmas, saying that Christ came in history, mystery, and majesty.  So what does that mean?

First, coming in history.  On December 25 each year, we celebrate the historical event of Christ’s coming into the world by his birth at Christmas, and so the weeks leading up to that are actually a season of preparation for the celebration of that feast in the Church.  Christ came and was made “incarnate”, a word that we’re going to begin using in the creed in just a few moments.  When we say that Jesus was made incarnate, it means that he became flesh, that he became a human being in order to share our experience in the most intimate way possible, and to redeem us through his death.  So how do we prepare for Christ’s coming in history?  Maybe try having an advent wreath in your home, lighting a candle each week to lead up to Christmas.  Maybe try putting out those Christmas lights, especially before it gets too cold, to be symbols of the light of Christ coming into the world.  Try listening to some Christmas music.  Not the silly “Jolly Old St. Nicholas” songs or the one about that poor kid buying shoes that makes you cry every time you hear it.  I mean the golden oldies, like the Advent theme song, O Come, O Come Emmanuel.  Try listening to these songs and reflecting on their meaning as we celebrate Christ’s birth.

Second, let’s talk about Christ’s coming in majesty, a theme that we heard about last week on Christ the King Sunday.  We believe, and we profess in the creed, that Jesus will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.  When the time comes, Christ will transform this world and bring about the New Jerusalem, the heavenly city.  And we hope to be found worthy to share eternal life with him forever in that new kingdom.  So how do we prepare for that one?  Well, remember that our eternity is ultimately based on how we spend these days here and now.  So try to do good for those in need this Advent.  Try checking out the giving tree to support a family who otherwise might not celebrate the holidays.  Or maybe it would be something simpler, like baking cookies for a neighbor or parishioner who has been struggling lately.  All these things prepare for the coming of Christ in majesty.

So what about the coming of Christ in mystery?  Well, sometimes I think that it’s easy for us to begin feeling as though those other two comings of Jesus that we celebrate are disconnected from us, that it’s hard to focus on them in the here and now.  We know Christmas is coming, and what it’s supposed to mean, but we just as easily slip into the culture of consumerism.  And there are so many things to worry about – gifts, visitors, decorations, cooking, which of the 15 Christmas masses to go to at All Saints.  But this advent, this coming of Christ in mystery is the advent that we experience very day, and most especially when we receive the Lord in word and sacrament during the Holy Eucharist.  This is the coming of Christ that is so incredible.  God became man, so that man could become like God.  And not in a generic, cookie-cutter sort of way, but in an intimate, loving, and nurturing way.

So how do we prepare for that?  Well, first off…go to confession!  We all know that when we have guests over, we should probably clean the house, wash the floors, vacuum the carpet, put the junk away, etc.  But in the same way, we should do that within our own hearts, where the Lord has come to dwell.  Our parish will be offering an opportunity for this on Thursday evening, but you can come any Saturday evening, or, just because we love you, any of the priests would love to be able to schedule an appointment with you.  You might also consider some penitential practice.  Usually people associate these with Lent, but the Church encourages us to do this often, and Advent is a great opportunity for it.  It’s a time to refocus on Jesus, so you might consider giving something up or doing something extra, so that you’re able to focus on Jesus and stir that longing for him within your soul.  Lastly, you can try to have some joy!  Just as you would decorate a house with trees or lights, decorate your soul with the beauty of the joy and gratitude for all that the Lord has given you.  Don’t be content with Christmas cheer, that sort of chipper attitude that just annoys everyone around you anyway.  This is a season of joy, a deep-seated happiness based around gratitude.  So take some time to feel joy this Advent.

All these “comings” of Christ are very important to prepare for during advent.  The more grateful we become for how God saved us in Jesus through his birth in history, the more deeply we are able to enter into that mystery of how that same Jesus is with us in the here and now.  And the closer we come in our relationships with Christ in our daily lives, the more we begin to long to be with him when he comes again in glory.  So as we enter into this season of advent, mindful of our need to prepare, let us silently stir within our hearts that desire to meet him, and say together those ancient words, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.”

Homily From the Solemnity of Christ the King, Year A

Something that you may not know about me is that I’m kind of a history buff, particularly of Roman History.  Well, the year 69 AD in Roman History is known as the Year of the Four Emperors, which as you might imagine if you’re even half awake this morning, was a year in which there were four (count them, four) emperors, one after another, in a single year: Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian.  The strategy of these guys was basically to buy off the military and then kill any opposition – and it was pretty effective!  You better hope we don’t use the same strategy over in the rectory – although as the youngest and strongest, I’m pretty sure I’d win.  These guys were consumed by their quest for power, so much so that they ignored the needs of their people.  As you can imagine, it was a period of fear, instability, mistrust, and selfishness that Rome never really got over.

Oppression, fear, and powerlessness – these are the sort of adjectives that we typically associate with the rule of a king.  And then, boom, we have this feast of Christ the King.  Sometimes, we can try to play this down a little.  We hear the Gospel about Jesus sorting the sheep from the goats, a Gospel that is typically referred to as the final judgment, and our minds instantly go back to Roman Emperors and kings condemning people to death.  And so it might be important to ask ourselves, and ask the Church today, what kind of king is Christ?

You know this already, but Jesus is not the kind of king who sits on his throne, munching on a turkey leg, and who chooses which fancy clothes to wear and whose life to end in the same sentence.  But Christ is a king.  Like those emperors, Christ the King is a conqueror, but not one who destroys cities and cares little for the suffering of their inhabitants.  Christ is the conqueror of everything we can’t handle.  The second reading tells us today that the last enemy that Christ has conquered is death!  Now, I don’t know about you, but death scares me sometimes.  I know I can’t avoid it, I can’t handle it, and I can’t escape it, at least not for long.  That uneasiness and uncertainty are things that I can’t conquer on my own.  But Christ can.  Christ the King is a king who gives gifts to his people.  Not tax breaks, or certificates, or gold stars or anything.  But he gives food to the hungry heart, comfort to the sorrowful, hope to the hopeless.  And he does this today as much and more than he ever did in his public ministry as we’ve been hearing over the past year.  Christ the King is a king who is a leader, but not one who makes artificial laws that bind us to commit acts against our conscience or well being.  He’s a shepherd, who looks out for us as a shepherd does his sheep, and who tries to lead us to do what is best for our souls.

You see, the Solemnity of Christ the King that we celebrate today isn’t just there to teach us some intellectual lesson about the fact that Jesus is king and judge over all (which he is, by the way).  It’s there to help us approach him as well.  If Christ is a king, then we are his subjects.  Sometimes this makes us feel separated from him, but remember, he is not there to lord his power over us, like a Roman Emperor, but in fact, his power is the very thing that enables him to treat us with such love and concern.

Being a subject of Christ changes the way we act.  It means that we have a good sense of obedience.  Now, by obedience, I don’t mean doing what we do because someone else says so.  Every parent knows that although this is what children usually pick up when they ask for obedience, the reason behind your “commands”, “laws”, or “rules” for them is because you love them.  The same is true for us as children of God.  Christ gives us the beatitudes to follow, which teach us to be humble, meek, and loving.  He gives us some tangible things to do too, like those outlined in the teaching of the Church on moral issues and social justice – giving to the poor, the lonely, and the afflicted, even if all we can give is prayer at times.  Being obedient to Christ also means being obedient to the Church.  Now notice, I’m not even going to talk about money on this one.  But what I mean here is trying to listen to what Christ has to teach us through the Church.  The Church isn’t trying to penalize us, it is there to show love for us, by teaching us what it means to serve God, even if that’s tough to do.

One of the biggest, and possibly most testing examples of obedience is coming next week.  In one of the most momentous occasions in our Church in a long time, we’re going to begin using a new translation of the prayers of the Mass from the original Latin text.  Now, before we even begin, and before you throw things at me for saying the word “Latin”, let me just remind you what this is.  This is the Latin version of the missal that was given after Vatican II.  It is not a return to the old Mass, as some have feared.  But immediately, one of the things you’ll notice next week is how formal some of the language sounds, which can really turn some of us off.  But think of it this way.  You know as much as I do that there are different ways that we address people.  Some people you address very casually, like friends.  Some people you treat a little more formally, like those you’ve just met.  And then you speak to some people in a very formal way, such as if you were talking to the president.  If you mix these up, it can be really awkward.  “Yo dawg, what’s up my home boy!” can work if you’re talking to your friend, or if you’re trying to look ridiculous.  But how do you think the archbishop would act if you addressed him that way?  See, we have the struggle in our worship to use language that reflects both the intimacy of God and the majesty and glory of God at the same time.  And if nothing else, maybe this change in words for the Mass will remind us of that second part.  We’re not sitting in beanbag chairs or bleachers here (except for the gym Mass, I guess)!  We’re worshipping God, and addressing the king of the universe!

We can go into this in one of two ways – grudgingly, or with open hearts.  When we find ourselves struggling, and I’m sure we each will in some way, try not to ask “Why would the Church want me to do this?”  But ask yourself, “I wonder why the Church is asking me to do this?”  It all goes back to obedience, and seeing what it is that Christ, our King and Shepherd, has in mind for us.

As we approach this holy altar today, the throne of Christ the King who is present to us in the Holy Eucharist, we’re mindful that Christ is no ordinary king, but rather a conqueror of our fears, a giver of great gifts and graces, and a loving shepherd, who is there to treat his flock with care.  As we prepare to celebrate these mysteries, let us humbly bow before the glory of our great king, and ask him for those things that might help us to build his kingdom on earth, always mindful that if we are loving and loyal subjects to our King, we too will see his reign in the everlasting kingdom.

The Roman Missal: The Penitential Rite

Whoops!  I accidentally posted my article on the Gloria a week early, skipping over the Confiteor.  So…

Of all the things in the world that people struggle with, I would think patience has to be toward the top.  Patience in waiting for someone to make up their mind whether they want to make a left turn, patience in making sure the kids are getting ready for school, patience in waiting for a simple cup of coffee at a restaurant, or however we might need patience.  Well, if you struggle with patience, welcome to the human race.  All of us are human (hopefully), all of us struggle, and all of us are sinners, whether we deal with patience or a number of other sins.

Sometimes it can make us feel better to admit that we’re all sinners, but it’s more important to remember that this isn’t the thing to give thanks for.  The thing that binds us together is the fact that Christ embraces us despite our sinfulness, and calls us to strive for holiness.  This of course requires that we admit that we’re wrong – to each other as the Church, and to God – and we take responsibility for our own actions.  We’re not recalling our friends’ sins, or our spouse’s, or the sins of the person sitting a few pews away, but we say “I have greatly sinned.”

The first part of Mass begins with the Penitential Rite, or the Confiteor (a Latin word meaning, you guessed it, “I confess”).  At this point in Mass, before we do anything else, we call to mind those sins weighing on our minds and ask for God’s forgiveness.  Just as a side note, this isn’t a sacramental confession, so you still have to go to Reconciliation for any serious sins (mortal sins), but it focuses on those sins that bother us throughout the day (venial sins).  When we pray the Penitential Rite together, we prepare ourselves to receive Jesus.  We know that we’re not perfect, but we strive to be repentant and humble people before God.

Most of this prayer remains unchanged in the new translation, but the most significant change is the phrase, “My fault, my fault, my most grievous fault.”  Many people may recognize this as being similar to the mea culpa in the Latin Mass, a phrase that has become part of our own cultural language.  Most of this change is to imitate the structure of the Latin (I’m sensing a theme here…), but we say it three times to put emphasis on it, as if we’re telling the Lord that we’re really, really, really sorry.

We’re also asked to “strike” our breast at this point.  Now, please do not smack yourself or beat your chest like a caveman.  That’s not the point.  A simple clenched fist tapping your heart is a beautiful symbol of the remorse and desire to change that each of us feels.  It’s another example of a beautiful thing about our Church: that our sacramental words, when they are spoken from the heart, are complimented by our sacramental actions.

Just think of the tax collector in Luke’s Gospel.  As he was praying and beating his breast in remorse, Jesus praised him because he was the one who recognized his own failings and need for mercy.  Next time you hear the Penitential Rite, and especially in the new translation, think of the tax collector and try to do the same!

The Roman Missal: Gloria (Part I)

Last weekend, I had a great opportunity to help in the kitchen during the Craft Bazaar.  It was a lot of fun working with fellow parishioners, and I can say that I literally had a hand in those sandwiches.  But I have to say that I was a little scandalized because of all the music in the world, we were listening to Christmas music!  Isn’t it a little early for that, since we haven’t even had Thanksgiving?  Maybe.

Still, this week’s topic brings us to another Christmas carol, and actually, the oldest one we have.  This carol is so old that it was sung even by the angels at Jesus’ birth – the Gloria!  Why do you think it’s called that?  Well, the name is the short version of what the angels were singing in Latin (all angels speak Latin, of course), which you’ve probably heard in the Christmas song “Angels We Have Heard On High: “Glooo-ooooo-ooooo-ooooo-ria in excelsis Deo!”  “Glory to God in the highest!”  This hymn has been part of our Church from the very beginning, and so it’s important that we consider it carefully.

There are some significant changes to the Gloria, as you probably have noticed when we have been singing it over the past few weeks.  One of the changes is part of the refrain that we’ve been singing.  Rather than saying “And peace to His people on earth”, we will say “And on earth, peace to people of good will”.  This is an important reminder that the coming of Jesus – his coming in history at Christmas, his coming at the end of the world, and his coming into our hearts – brings an extraordinary peace.  Those who accept Christ into their lives and live in accordance with God’s will experience the fullness of peace, a peace that only Jesus can bring.

This is only one of the changes to the Gloria, so tune in next week when we will check out some more changes!

Homily from the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Sorry about the late post!  I was away earlier this week, and just now got the chance to post.  Enjoy!

Close your eyes for a second (try not to fall asleep, please), and call to mind your image of God.  Is he the white bearded Italian man surrounded by clouds?  Is he the cop who is waiting and ready to catch you in the act?  Is he the uniformed referee marking you down on the huge metaphysical scoreboard?  Is he the boss you have to impress?  Or the fun-loving grandpa who just leaves the consequences for the parents?  The buddy-pal who just laughs at everything, even if it’s not funny?  What is our image of God?  It’s pretty important, and it has a lot to do with the way we approach our own lives.

The servant in the parable that Jesus gives us today was cast out because he failed to fulfill his mission.  But why did he do this?  First and foremost, it was because he had the wrong idea of his master.  He feared him as though he was a slave.  He resented him for entrusting him with only one talent – didn’t he deserve more?  And this self-centered view of his master left him seeing his mission as unreasonably difficult and demanding, and so it kept him from doing what he needed to do.

Sometimes in our own lives, our view of God can provide us with an easy excuse for laziness and self-pity.  We think of God as too harsh to give us all these rules.  We can think that the things he asks of us are unreasonable.  Or sometimes, the opposite can happen – we think that God doesn’t care what we do, and that he doesn’t demand anything of us.

Well, our Lord isn’t a harsh and unjust taskmaster, but a good, loving, and forgiving God.  If you’re looking for proof, look no further than the Cross, the clearest and most unambiguous sign of his love for us.  But he also expects something from us, and he shows us this in the Gospel today.  God entrusts each of us with gifts and talents, and we are to take our God given gifts and put them to good use.  This doesn’t mean that we show our extraordinary talent to shoot a bow with our feet on international TV (although this is pretty extraordinary, check it out on youtube).  It means that we use our gifts and talents for good under the guidance of the Church and Christ’s teachings.  One of the most important points of the Gospel parable is this: our ultimate destiny – how we will spend our eternity – depends on the way we do things here and now; it depends on making a decent effort to fulfill God’s mission to us on earth.

Sometimes when a homilist or speaker talks about heaven and hell, it seems a little shocking.  We might think, “Only hardcore Bible Belt Christians talk about that!” or “I thought we left that back in the dust when Vatican II came along!”  But this is a solid and consistent teaching of the Church even since the days that the apostles shared with Christ, and it’s a theme that we hear a lot about in these last few weeks of Ordinary Time.  The readings at the end of Ordinary Time are very apocalyptic or eschatological – meaning that we’re talking about the end times.  These include readings from the Book of Revelation and talk of heaven and hell.  But all these things stem not from a God who is waiting for us to mess up, nor do they stem from a God who doesn’t care what we do as long as we make someone else smile.  These teachings, this faith, flows directly from the fact that God wants us to be prepared, and that he wants us to live well with him in the Church in our lives on earth, and to live forever with him in heaven.

Sometimes we forget this.  And sometimes we need reminders.  Now I have to admit something to you this morning: I may have an addiction to sticky notes.  If you ever stop by my office, which hardly anyone here ever does, by the way, you’ll find sticky notes everywhere on my desk!  Little reminders to call someone, or to preach on something, or to send an e-mail to whoever.  The problem is that some sticky notes cover up other sticky notes, which then cover up other sticky notes, and so ultimately, things get so cluttered that I lose the point of the messages.  So if I’ve ever forgotten to call you back, I blame it on my sticky note addiction.  Sometimes the same is true with us.  God gives us “sticky notes” every day to remind us that he is not an angry taskmaster, but a loving God.  But the problem is that many times, we fail to pay attention, or our lives become so cluttered with other messages that we lose track of God’s messages to us.  Creation – like the beautiful trees of autumn – is here for us!  Relationships with our friends, family, and parishioners are here for us!  The beauty of our church, the beauty and the rich history of our faith is here for us!  The small blessings of every day, the warmth of the sunshine, the taste of that delicious turkey sandwich that you feasted on at the Craft Bazaar – all those are little sticky notes as reminders that God loves us.  The little red candle in church, a candle that never goes out, that never grows dim, that never disappears, that points to the presence of the Lord in the Eucharist – that is another one of those stickies.  That desire of God to remain with us day in and day out, every day of the year should show us who He is.  He’s not there to frighten us with his power, or to intimidate us with his knowledge, or to dazzle us with his glory.  He simply wants to remain with us, and for us to remain with him.  Maybe we should think about how much time we spend in prayer, especially in a little visit before Christ in the tabernacle.  So the question each of us should ask ourselves today is, “What image of God do I believe in?”  “How is Christ asking me to use my gifts and talents today?”  May we take the time to simply remain with God so that we will slowly be healed our suspicions and misconceptions of God, and gradually transform into better followers of Christ.

The Roman Missal: And With Your Spirit

“The Lord be with you…”

Honestly, if there’s a crowd of people talking, one of the easiest ways to get their attention is to shout out this phrase.  Everybody knows the response!  It’s something so common to us, especially in our worship, that in many cases, it’s second nature to us.  And it’s for this reason that the change in response to “And with your spirit,” will be one of the biggest and most noticeable differences to us.  So why the change?

Well, there are a few reasons.  The first one is that it expresses the translation much clearer.  A lot of other languages do this very well, simply because a lot of their words are similar to Latin.  The Latin phrase “et cum spiritu tuo” translates into Italian as “e con il tuo spirito”, into French as “et avec votre espirit”, into Spanish as “y con tu espíritu”, and even into German as “und mit deinem Geiste”.  All those languages imitate the Latin pretty closely, and at least have something pretty similar to the Latin word for spirit…all of them except the English response, “And also with you.”  So “And with your spirit” is a lot closer to the original Latin.

But all that aside, it also expresses something important about our faith.  “And with your spirit” is something that has a lot of basis in Scripture.  Various forms of this phrase were used as a greeting or a farewell by St. Paul when he wrote his letters to the Church communities he founded.  He is asking that the Holy Spirit be with each of us in order to bring us closer into communion with each other.

But it also tells us something about the way that the Holy Spirit works in each of our respective roles and vocations in our lives.  As people of faith, we believe that each of us is called by the Holy Spirit to live out our service to God in a special way, whether as a mom or dad, a husband or wife, a single person, or religious sister or brother.  We also believe that God calls some men in a special way to be ordained priests.  The priest’s spirit or soul is raised beyond anything he deserves to be formed in a special way to Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit, which is bestowed on him at his ordination.  And so the specific reference to this in the Mass when we say “And with your spirit” helps us to recognize the spirit’s call in our own vocations, but at the same time, it reaffirms that transformation of the priest and helps us all to pray for his ministry.  And let me tell you, Fr. Don, Msgr. Walter and myself need as many prayers as we can get!

This is going to be difficult to get used to at first, but I think with us using it as often as we will, it will be quite easy to learn.  I think it will also help us to appreciate the connection of the Mass to Scripture, as well as the role of the Holy Spirit in our own lives and in the life of the Church.  Tune in next week!