Saturday, April 21, 2007

Why do I have to go to Mass on Sunday?

I have never seen or heard the answer I’m about to give you. A search of this question on the internet will reveal a myriad of explanations and a multitude of words that are a mixture of reason, the 3rd commandment, history, and church law. A personal query of fellow Catholics, be they clergy or lay folks, will reveal similar results. The one thing all the answers have in common is that they are ineffective as evidenced by the overall continuance of declining Mass attendance (at least in the West).

One of the reasons why I believe the answers for this question and many others about the Catholic Faith are ineffective is because we long ago eliminated Apologetics as a discipline in Catholic formation. Apologetics is the science of explaining things in a convincing way. With the “I’m okay, you’re okay” approach to catechesis (and just about everything else) Apologetics is cast aside.

But how odd that in an “age of reason” we would eliminate the study of how to give a reason! How ironic is it that we would abolish the discipline that is designed to give an answer just as we enter upon a generation that is demanding answers! Should we then be surprised at the empty pews?

A simple survey of Catholic literature (I have to say it) prior to Vatican II will show a massive dedication to the exposition and explanation of the Faith in the most minute and pain staking detail. A similar survey of Catholic literature hence will show a massive dedication to everything BUT “the exposition and explanation of the Faith in the most minute and pain staking detail”.

The fact that the Catechism of the Catholic Church and its accompanying Compendium are post Vatican II products is not a refutation of what I just said but truly a validation. The compilation and publication of the current Catechism and its companion works is a direct attempt by our Popes to rescue the clear good sense of the Church in all its stark and unflinching truth from the swirling milieu of subjective catechetics and theological relativism. The terse question/answer format of the just released “Compendium to the Catechism” even more severely ratifies the Church’s negative assessment of the current state of Catholic formation and the need to speak with (I have to say it) pre-Vatican II clarity (a la Baltimore Catechism).

All of the foregoing needed to be said before I can give an answer to the question “Why do we have to go to Mass on Sunday?” for HOW to answer the question is just as important as the answer itself, for it is not the answer that will effect the desired result (getting a person to Mass – or keeping him there), but the REASON for the answer, the “apologia”.

I have never had the opportunity to approach Apologetics as a science…wasn’t offered where I went to school! Hmmm. But in the course of desperately trying to explain my Catholic Faith to people who hated the Catholic Faith and who accepted no authority other than the Bible, I hit upon the ridiculously brilliant idea of actually explaining my Catholic Faith from the Bible, even “their” Bible. And guess what? It actually works for Catholics too.

In other words, you can’t just give an answer; you have to give an answer that’s in the Bible. And ALL the answers to questions concerning the Catholic Faith ARE in the Bible because the Holy Spirit has seen to it; and the “Bible” IS in fact a Catholic Book.

Here’s your answer (from the Bible).

At the Last Supper, regardless of whether or not you believe that what occurred was in fact the institution of the Eucharist, Jesus COMMANDS His Apostles to do what He just did with the words “do this”.(the clearest scripture on this is 1 Cor 11: 23-25).
Now the bottom line is this. When you hit the end of the line in this life, you are going to go to one of two places: to Glory or to “everlasting fire”. (Purgatory is not a final destination – and those there are assured of Heaven. We’ll cover that another time.) Those who go to Heaven will simply be those who DID what He said to do. And those who go to the other place will be those who refused to do what He said to do.

So that’s why it’s not about your being able to “commune” with God better on a golf course or at the beach. It’s not about how YOU can better praise God in the quiet of your own home. It’s not about YOU at all!. It’s about HIM and it’s about DOING what He said to do. And He said to “do this”. And there’s only one place I know where that happens, and that’s at the Catholic Mass (I’ll discuss other church’s so-called communion services later).

Now the next question is “Why on Sunday?” and “Why every Sunday?” The answer is in Acts 20: 7 in these words: “On the first day of the week when we gathered to break bread…” A continued reading of the New Testament reveals that the words “break bread” clearly refer to a re-presentation of the Lord’s Supper and the carrying out of His last command to “do this”.

And WHEN were they doing this? “ON THE FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK”, on SUNDAY. The fact that the words “first day of the week” are used clearly indicates that this was a weekly thing. In other words, the first Christians understood the last command of Christ as a command to be a re-presentation of the Lord’s Supper (what we now call “Mass” – I’ll discuss why we call it “Mass” later) on the first day of every week.

Now, there’s only one place I know that does the “do this” on the first day of EVERY week and that’s at the Catholic Mass. So the question then becomes: you can obey the command of Christ or you can disobey. It’s your choice: the sheep or the goats. Take your pick.

I may not “get anything out of Mass” (and teachers please stop saying “well you have to put something into it”). I may in fact be severely irritated at Sunday Mass (I often am). I may not “want to go” (I rarely do). I may think that I could get closer to God in some sort of private devotion (I always do). But the bottom line is that IT’S NOT ABOUT ME. It’s about HIM. And it’s about DOING WHAT HE SAID. So that’s why I do it. And that’s why you BETTER do it. Your choice: sheep or the goats.

Tim Rohr
April 21, 2007

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Virginia Tech Massacre - What's wrong?

Just a quick reflection on what’s going on at Virginia Tech. Couldn’t sleep last night so was listening to the radio (internet radio) about 2 am and heard the “convocation” at Virginia Tech. The President, the governor of Virginia, all the school authorities, etc. spoke. Every one of them quoted Scripture. Every one of them mentioned “prayer”. One school official even read a whole part of Ecclesiastes (A time for sowing, a time for reaping, etc.)

What happened to the so-called separation of Church and State? What happened to prayer not being allowed in schools and the display of religion, specifically the Christian religion, not being allowed in public places? Rush Limbaugh had it right when he commented:
though it’s good that we should come together and pray when things like this happen that maybe we should come together and pray BEFORE these things happen so that maybe they WON’T happen.

As individuals there’s not much we can do to change the stupid, God-forsaking policies or our public institutions. But no one can keep us from praying in our homes. Let us build up the Church of the Home. Let us make it a sanctuary of prayer, a holy place. We will sanctify the world from the inside out.

On another note though, I would encourage you not to fall for the media’s characterization of this event as a “tragedy”. It’s NOT a “tragedy”, it’s an “atrocity”. (They did the same thing with 9-11.)

A “tragedy” is a life lost in a car accident, an earthquake, tornado, or hurricane. Calling this a “tragedy” skews the responsibility for the act. Calling this an “atrocity”, which it is, nails the responsibility to the perpetrator and his singular act of will.

It is a ‘tragedy” for those who have lost a loved one, but the event as a whole is an “atrocity”. This may not seem all that important, but the word “atrocity” answers the great “why” that everyone else is asking. While the rest of the world cries to heaven for an answer, we need look no further than one who “roams the earth seeking the ruin of souls”. And as a nation we should not be shocked. With 43 million unborn babies dead since 1973, we long ago built a throne for Satan to rule.

On Sunday April 24th 1994, Pope John Paul II recommended this prayer be used by all Catholics as a prayer for the Church when he said:

"May prayer strengthen us for the spiritual battle we are told about in the Letter to the Ephesians: 'Draw strength from the Lord and from His mighty power' (Ephesians 6:10). The Book of Revelation refers to this same battle, recalling before our eyes the image of St. Michael the Archangel (Revelation 12:7). Pope Leo XIII certainly had a very vivid recollection of this scene when, at the end of the last century, he introduced a special prayer to St. Michael throughout the Church. Although this prayer is no longer recited at the end of Mass, I ask everyone not to forget it and to recite it to obtain help in the battle against forces of darkness and against the spirit of this world."'

Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host -
by the Divine Power of God -
cast into hell, satan and all the evil spirits,
who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.


Monday, April 16, 2007

Lost in Translation - The Last Word on Divorce

The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ and the events of Lent are still fresh in our mind. Actually on Guam, if you listen to Catholic Radio, you get to experience Holy Week twice since we are on a one-week delay as regards programs generated in the states and rebroadcast here. And while tuned in to a particular episode of Catholic Answers I heard an interesting discussion on the Seven Last Words of Christ.

I have come to realize as of late the significance of these Last Words. The final words of any dying person always merit grave attention, but how much more so in the case of the 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity, particularly since in order to utter those words Jesus had to push himself up on the nails through his feet which surely increased his incomprehensible agony.

Generations upon generations have meditated upon these “seven last words”. Great meditations have been written and momentous musical settings composed. It has been pointed out that the whole of Divine Revelation could be summed up in these Seven Last Words: all that God wants us to know of Himself is revealed in those dying moments.

If it stands to reason that if the Seven Last Words of Christ merit the deepest attention then perhaps the very Last Word would merit it all the more.

“It is finished”, said He…or did He? Most modern translations of Scripture use the word “finished”, but the official Catholic Scripture text does not. The “official Scripture text” (1) of the Catholic Church is the Latin Vulgate of St. Jerome.

There are several reasons to give more weight to the Vulgate than to more modern translations:

1. The man who authored the Vulgate translation became a canonized saint. The NAB, RSV, NJB, etc., valid and useful translations though they may be, cannot make the same boast of its authorship.

2. The Vulgate is the only translation to be authorized by the Church with the force of an anathema. (2)

3. St. Jerome was 1600 years closer to the sources than any modern translation. (Jerome lived in the 5th century.)

4. Modern translators had to learn the languages of the original scriptures whereas Jerome actually spoke Greek and was very familiar with Hebrew (though he did need some help with Chaldeic).

The list could go on. But the important thing is that the Church actually says what the Vulgate says and the Vulgate does not say “It is finished”. The Vulgate says “consummatum est”, “It is consummated”.

It is true that the original Greek word (tetelestai) could be translated as “finished”, but there are several Latin words that could mean “finished” including the word “finis” from where we get our English word. It is thought that the ancient dismissal “Ite Missa est” actually included the word “finita” or “Ite, missa est finita” which translates literally “The Mass is ended (finished)” which is what we say in English anyway.

So the question is WHY did Jerome select “consummatum ” and not another word that could clearly mean “finished”?

The Church has always proclaimed the deep and true meaning of “consummatum est”, but in our modern sexually confused times it has take seven years of lectures by Pope John Paul II and another 25 years of reflection and study by the ablest of scholars to once again hand us the deepest meaning of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

The Theology of the Body reminds us that we are created for marriage, the marriage of the Apocalypse, where Christ, looking as a Lamb that was slain, marries his bride, the Church. Earthly marriage is a foreshadowing of that heavenly marriage.

On the cross, Christ initiates the wedding feast of Heaven by bodily giving Himself to His bride, The Church. This is why Paul exhorts husbands to “love your wives as Christ loved the Church”. And this is why in order for a marriage to be valid it must be “consummatum”!

A quick etymological investigation of the word is instructive: “con” = together, “summa” = highest (as in summit). Literal translation: the highest coming together, the pinnacle, the summit of union. There is nothing higher. And indeed, there was nothing higher than the sacrifice of Christ, the consummation of His Body for His Bride. Christ gave His All down to the last drop of blood and water…completely expiated, wrung out, “consumed” by love for us.

It is also instructive to note that the word “consummate” is also used to describe that which is most “exquisite”, “precious”, “wonderful”. (e.g. “He is a consummate violinist..”)

“Consummate” can also be translated as “complete”, which is perhaps closer in some sense to the word “finished”. But “complete” in this sense would not mean “done”, “no more to do”, but “complete” in the sense of “without flaw” or “perfect”.

In any event, the “more relatable” word “finished”, as we can see from the above discussion, is a sad and rather limp expression compared to the full meaning of the word Jerome chose (and which our Church still officially uses).

Once again the riches of our Faith are more impoverished, not because we don’t know Latin, but because translators have chosen their wisdom over Jerome’s and over that of the Church.

The words “It is finished” have caused much confusion and dissension on the apologetic front because our Protestant brethren like to use those words to proclaim the “finished work of Christ” as meaning “no more to do”, or that we can “add nothing”. This is all very ridiculous of course otherwise there would be no need to obey Christ’s instruction to take up your cross and follow Me (Mk. 8:34), or to heed the warning to “persevere to the end” (Mt. 10:22).

When understood in the context of the wedding feast of the Lamb, we see that Christ is just beginning His marriage, just as a couple upon consummating their marriage is beginning theirs.

It’s interesting to speculate how the radical rise in the rate of divorce (amongst other contemporary ills) has coincided with the release of these new translations. Hmmmm.

1 Bible Versions and Commentaries by Colin Donovan STL

2 But if any one receive not, as sacred and canonical, the said books entire with all their parts, as they have been used to be read in the Catholic Church, and as they are contained in the old Latin vulgate edition; and knowingly and deliberately contemn the traditions aforesaid; let him be anathema (Council of Trent - Decree Concerning the Canonical Scriptures)

Moreover, the same sacred and holy Synod,—considering that no small utility may accrue to the Church of God, if it be made known which out of all the Latin editions, now in circulation, of the sacred books, is to be held as authentic,—ordains and declares, that the said old and vulgate edition, which, by the lengthened usage of so many years, has been approved of in the Church, be, in public lectures, disputations, sermons and expositions, held as authentic; and that no one is to dare, or presume to reject it under any pretext whatever. (Council of Trent - Decree Concerning the Edition and the Use of the Sacred Books)
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