Friday, December 30, 2011

Random Thoughts on the Eve of 2012

The World Scene
Notwithstanding the eschatological predictions of the Mayan calendar, 2012 bodes ominously ahead, nonetheless. The battle for the office of the U.S. presidency promises to be one of the meanest fights ever. The North Korean situation is volcanically unstable and is ramping up to be a 21st century version of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Iran is apparently on a divine mission to pull its nuclear trigger and hasten the “end of days”. The U.S. supported “Arab Spring” is backfiring badly causing the world’s most volatile region to become even more volatile with Christian blood soaking the region anew. Europe is simply collapsing under the weight of a comically unsustainable economic model that the current U.S. administration seems determined to emulate. The planet’s most populous country and mighty crusher of human rights is poised to dominate the world both economically and militarily. And amidst all this, the U.S. “fiddles”.  Maybe the Mayans were on to something.

Supreme Decisions
The current ideological complexion of the nation’s highest court has probably never been more precariously balanced. Of the nine justices, four are dependably liberal, four are conservative, with the ninth, Anthony Kennedy, an unpredictable “swinger”. Two justices, Ginsburg and Breyer, solid liberals, are expected to retire during the next administration meaning whoever is president will choose their replacements.  An Obama presidency will simply give us more of the same while a Republican would likely weight the court to the “right”. With the re-definition of marriage and a challenge to Roe v. Wade possibly in the judicial offing, the 2012 presidential election is about much more than the economy, at least for those who still call themselves Catholic.

There is a new Kingdom Hall (Jehovah Witness) being built just down the road from my home. From what I can tell the church members themselves are providing the labor. Women and men of all ages, shapes and sizes are out there in hard hats, setting forms, tying rebar, and pouring concrete. You can feel the enthusiasm for the project just driving by. It made me think of how Catholics once built their own churches and schools. Hmmm.

And speaking of enthusiasm, I was recently visited by three young members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It was dark and my home is in a rural area. It is also quite a distance from the main road and they had to get by several man-eating dogs to get to me. Impressed with their courage, I spoke with the young man who was the apparent leader. He was from Utah, in his early twenties, was inspired by his older brother to go on a mission, and had been sent to Guam eight months ago. I am fairly skilled at engaging challenges to the Catholic Faith, but I have to say that I had to work hard at responding to the young man’s case for the Mormon religion. The encounter made me wonder what great things we could accomplish for our own Church if we prepared our youth to do what Mormon youth do.

Sunday Best
While waiting for my daughter to get something from the local market a few Sundays ago, I happened to see, across the street from where I was parked, a young family exit their car and prepare to enter the converted gas station that was their church. The man had on a coat and tie and the woman, a nice dress. Their little girl also wore a dress and the little boy, a coat and tie like his dad. From the looks of things, one could easily assume that the nice clothes they had on might have been the only nice clothes they owned. And while they may have had only an abandoned gas station in which to worship, they were, nevertheless, dressed to “see the King”. The contrast was disturbing. We Catholics, who worship in the finest buildings and receive the King Himself in the Flesh, often dress like we’re going to an abandoned gas station.

The Christmas Devil
We should not be surprised at the annual Christmas visit of the demonic triplets: Depression, Despair, and Despondency. The birth of Christ meant the beginning of the end of Satan’s dominion as Prince of the World. It is no surprise that the Evil One would want to ruin the annual party. We should expect the Father of Hate and Despair to exploit the gulf between our warm, worldly “Christmasy” expectations and the dark aloneness that inevitably haunts us as we grow older. Nevertheless, “let nothing you dismay.” Let us gird our loins, toast the end Satan’s power, and sing tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

December 28: The Feast of the Holy Innocents

A very beautiful poem taken from today's Lauds:

With terror doth the tyrant hear
The King of kings hath come to dwell
Where David’s court shall widely rear
A sceptered reign o’er Israel.

Then cries out, raging at the word:
“He comes to stand where we have stood:
Hence, soldier, and with ruthless sword
Deluge the cradles deep with blood!”

What profiteth a crime so dread?
What hope shall Herod’s bosom sway?
Alone amidst the thronging dead,
The Christ is safely born away!

All hail! ye infant Martyr flowers
Cut off in life’s first dawning hours:
As rosebuds snapt in tempest strife,
When Herod sought your Savior’s life.

You, tender flock of lambs, we sing,
First victims slain for Christ your King:
Beside the very altar, gay
With palms and crowns, ye seem to play.

All honor, laud, and glory be,
O Jesus, Virgin-born to Thee;
All glory, as is ever meet,
To Father and to Paraclete.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Fleeing the New Herods

The slaughter of innocent children is probably not something you want to read about on Christmas Day. But a few days after celebrating Christmas, the Church liturgically remembers the slaughter of a particular group of innocent children. The Feast of the Holy Innocents (Dec. 28) reminds us that the most helpless and defenseless were the first to die for Christ, and in fact, died in his stead.  

The Second Chapter of Matthew tells us that upon realizing he had been tricked by the Magi, Herod “ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under.”

The Catholic Encyclopedia estimates that given the population of Bethlehem at the time, Herod probably killed several dozen children. In the United States, abortion kills about 3 children per minute, so we probably kill an equal number of “Innocents” every 15-20 minutes. On Guam, we do that every 40 days or so. And history casts Herod as a monster?

As Matthew records, the child Jesus was saved through the message of an angel who told Joseph to “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you.”

At the recent Rally for Life, we learned about two other “Innocents” whose lives were saved from what we might call the “New Herods of the Culture of Death”, and perhaps also by angelic intervention.

Speaking while holding a baby who had been saved from abortion, a young adoptive mother shared the pain of being unable to conceive a child with her husband and the joy of receiving a child to love. The new "mother" shared her passion to love and care for even more children: “Give the child to me”, she said, quoting Blessed Mother Teresa’s Clinton-era challenge to the United States to not abort its children.

An adoptive father, a Vietnam veteran and a retired Marine, spoke as well of his and his wife’s inability to conceive and the joy of adopting a baby girl who had survived a chemical abortion. The new "father" shared how, through a series of miracles, the tiny premature baby girl came into their lives and has grown into a beautiful, intelligent, athletic, heart-warming six year old daughter who has been a great blessing to him and his wife.

These adoptive parent's stories are but a few of many such accounts that quietly occur. For obvious reasons of privacy, most of these adoptive parents and those who work to save children from abortion, do not pose for a photo-op every time a home is  found for a previously unwanted child.

While listening to these accounts I couldn’t help but think back to recent public hearings. Upon sharing supporting testimony for legislation that would allow more such lives to be saved, pro-life advocates were hammered with criticisms by certain senators who felt it was their job to lecture us for focusing too much on abortion and not doing enough about disadvantaged and homeless children.

Such lectures are an absolute display of ignorance. The people being criticized by these senators are the very people who are constantly working to save children - born or unborn, provide care for them, and match them with loving parents when possible. And they do this quietly with no pay, with no recognition, and with no help from those who criticize and lecture them.

In response to the candidate survey conducted by The Esperansa Project prior to the 2010 election, a certain senator publicly scolded abortion opponents by saying they should “look beyond abortion” and "...understand the plight of (disadvantaged) children and step up to the plate".

Too bad he didn’t hear the stories of the new adoptive parents or the many like them who not only stepped “up to the plate”, but have committed, usually at great personal cost, to put food on that “plate” for their adopted children for many years to come.

Perhaps all the people who have stepped “up to the plate”, as Senator X scolds us to do, should show up at the next public hearing of a pro-life bill with adopted children in tow and babies saved from abortion in arms.

But these parents are usually too busy with the joys and pains of raising the children they have lovingly accepted, to answer the self-serving, uninformed, cliched criticisms by the likes of Senator X. Such political banging is simply distant noise amidst the cries and laughter of deliberately chosen parenthood.

And due to the circumstances by which most of these children came to them, adoptive parents perhaps have good reason for fleeing with their children to the “Egypt of anonymity”, lest the New Herods find them. Merry Christmas and may 2012 be different.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Happy Holidays

The “Christmas wars” seem to have died down a bit in recent years, but there are still shots fired and plenty of smoke. The “Christmas wars” refer to the tug-of-war between those who want to keep Christ as the “reason for the season” and those who prefer to completely secularize it.

The “wars” have seen such things as law suits over manger scenes in public places, calling the Christmas tree a “Holiday tree”,  foregoing the word Christmas altogether for the likes of “Holiday Season” or “Yule”, and the battle over whether to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”.

I prefer to say the latter (Happy Holidays) for a very simple reason: I’m Catholic. The Catholic season of Christmas begins with Christmas, not ends with it. And one of the things I greatly enjoy is wishing people a Merry Christmas throughout the whole Christmas season which continues for many days after Christmas.

So prior to Christmas I wish people “Happy Holidays” because I want to save my “Christmas” greetings for the real Christmas season, not the shopping one. Actually, for Catholics, I prefer to greet people in the four weeks prior to Christmas with “A blessed Advent to you”.

Since 1970, the Catholic Christmas season or “Christmastide” runs from the Christmas Vigil Mass (December 24) to the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which is the first Sunday after the Epiphany. Prior to 1970, Christmastide would run through to Septuagesima Sunday which was the third Sunday before the first Sunday of Lent.

Traditionally, of course, there are the Twelve Days of Christmas or Yuletide, the period between Christmas and the Epiphany. One of my great ambitions in life is to restore this period as one continuous period of feasting and merrymaking as it was in the Middle Ages. Just think of it: twelve days of non-stop Christmas climaxing on the Feast of the Epiphany. Wow! They sure knew how to party back then.

And why not? Liturgically it’s the Catholic thing to do! Sadly, by buying into the “Thanksgiving to Christmas” version of the Christmas season and giving only nominal recognition to the penitential season of Advent, we cheat ourselves of the fullness of the true Christmas Season and join “the world” in ending Christmas on Christmas.

And then we wonder why so many of us experience post-Christmas depression. We’re depressed because the Holy Spirit wants to “party” (as per the liturgical calendar) and we have joined “the world” and disinvited ourselves to the feast.

As a kid, I used to feel sorry for the children of other families who threw their tree out with the other Christmas trash on December 26. I remember riding my bike through the neighborhood, seeing those poor, lonely trees, with but a few pieces of tinsel left on them, unceremoniously laying on their sides next to the trashcans on the curb, and giving thanks that I was a Catholic because we always kept our tree up, in its full celebratory glory, until January 6, a tradition that I have kept with my own family.

Certainly, the Christmas Season is kept in our Catholic churches as per the liturgical calendar. The propers of the Mass continue to reflect the Incarnation and our manger scenes remain in place until the first Sunday after the Epiphany, but most of us have mentally and spiritually just gone back to work and don’t think of saying Merry Christmas until next December.

It’s probably too late to do it this year, but perhaps next year we Catholics can help restore the true Christmas Season by scheduling our Christmas parties during the true Season of Christmas and not during Advent. Maybe Christmas wouldn’t be so “hectic”. Meanwhile, it’s not too late to wish others a Merry Christmas, or even a Happy, Holy Christmas, all the way to the first Sunday after the Epiphany. And keep your trees up too!

On a related note, we Catholics should start a campaign to keep the “Mass” in Christmas. Keeping “Christ” in Christmas is a popular theme among Christians of all stripes, but that’s only half the word. Christ is kept in Christmas uniquely and especially at Mass: Christ’s Mass. Just as there is no Christmas without Christ, there is no Christmas without Mass.

But of course non-Catholic Christians do not have a “Mass” to go to. They may go to church, but Mass is quite a different matter. The Mass is where we respond to Christ’s command to “do THIS in memory of me”. No one else does that.

Oh, and one more thing. While I say “Merry Christmas” I mean “Mary” Christmas, without whom there would have been no Christ’s Mass. Well, Mary Christmas.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Fr. Eric's Commentary on the 3rd Sunday of Advent

Although Advent is a penitential time, since we must always keep in mind that Christ was born in order to save sinners, the birth of Christ is less a sorrowful event (when compared to the passion of Christ which we celebrate in Lent/Passiontide) and so therefore Advent does not have the same penitential note as Lent does.  Still, we are happy that, by the third Sunday of Advent, the preparatory period is more than half over.  We inject a little joyful white to the sorrowful purple, and a rose color emerges, which is the color of today's vestments.  Flowers are allowed on our altars on Gaudete Sunday, as well as the playing of the organ.
This Sunday's orations and lessons are short and focused : someone great and awesome is coming to be with us very soon.  He will bring to us redemption and salvation.  Therefore, rejoice!  Guadete!  The thrust of this Sunday's liturgy is to fill us with excitement and joy!
INTROIT : The exhortation that we should rejoice always is not just meant for the Advent and Christmas season, but for all times.  Christ is always coming to us - in many ways, but above all through Holy Mass.  In Holy Mass He comes to us as the Word made Flesh as the bread and wine are consecrated and changed into His Body and Blood.  Christ comes to save us from our sins and our crosses by either removing our crosses or by making the cross (if we cooperate) a means of grace, wisdom and virtue.  Therefore, we should never be solicitous, overly anxious or disturbed by life's troubles, but rather present our needs to God who blesses our land and frees us from captivity.
COLLECT : The Collect admits that, even while we pray to God, we pray as blind people, with darkened minds.  We are like the blind man who, while in the state of blindness, cries out to Jesus asking for sight.  Though blind, we do "see" something crucial; that we are blind, that we need the Lord, that He can restore our vision and see the light.  As Christ said in John 9:40-41, "If you were blind, there would be no sin in that.  But 'we see,' you say, and so your sin remains."   Christ brings us light, and He is the light itself.  In Him, we see God; in Him we see the people we are meant to be.
EPISTLE : Is taken from the passage of Philippians that we heard in the Introit, with the additional verse speaking about the peace of Christ that we can have, a peace the world cannot give, as Christ Himself said.  It is the peace of the believer who, despite the storms of life, trusts in God's goodness.  Those in darkness see only the storm; those in God's light see God's goodness in the storm.
GRADUAL / ALLELUIA : God is both far and near; He is both the One who sits upon the Cherubim high above in heaven, and the One who leads Israel like a shepherd leads his sheep on earth.  He comes near to us, in order to lead us to where is far for us (heaven and the divine life).  Therefore we beg Him to stir Himself up and come (Alleluia).
GOSPEL : In the Gospel, it is St John the Baptist who is our Advent preacher, pointing out to us who is this great and awesome man who is about to appear.  In figurative language (sandal straps), John explains how inferior he is to Christ.  John baptizes with water; it is merely symbolic of the repentance he hopes men are making when they are baptized with John.  But Christ offers more than what man can obtain through their repentance; Christ baptizes with "fire and the Holy Ghost," as indicated in another passage.  Christ's baptism gives grace (fire and the Holy Ghost).  John can only prepare us for grace; it is Christ alone who can give us the grace.  This is the great and awesome man who is coming!
OFFERTORY : At the Offertory, we offer to God our bread and wine, our lives, our mixture of good deeds and the sins of which we repent.  We give to God our longings, our desires for grace and salvation.  What does God offer us?  He gives us a Savior who "blesses our land, turns away our captivity and forgives our iniquities."
SECRET : Why the Mass?  A pleasant, spiritual get-together?  No, Christ instituted the Mass; Christ gave It to us.  He has a reason for it; the perfect praise of the Father which His sacrifice gives, and the salvation of our souls, which we pray for and obtain through the constant offering of His sacrifice.
COMMUNION : We come to Mass with our troubles and concerns.  We feel weighed down by them and fainthearted.  But in Mass, Christ dies for us, pays the price, wins for us the graces, saves us from the tomb as surely as He rose from the grave.  In Mass, God "restores the joy of our youth," "qui laetificat juventutem meam."
POST-COMMUNION : Mass is not "our" getting together to be spiritually edified by what "we" do or by what a preacher or singer does.  Mass is what Christ does.  In Mass, He atones for our sins.  And, in so doing, during this Advent season, we are prepared for the feast of His birth.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Quetzalcoatl the Devourer

(Most of the historical background is sourced from The Wonder of Guadalupe: The Origin and the Cult of the Miraculous Image of the Blessed Virgin in Mexico by Francis Johnston, Tan Books, 1993)

During the Christian reconquest of Spain in the thirteenth century, the Blessed Mother appeared to a cowherd tending his cattle near a village named Guadalupe and told him to dig in a certain spot. He did as instructed and unearthed an iron casket in which was found a statue and a note about its identity.
Santa Maria de Guadalupe, Spain
The statue was a likeness of the Blessed Mother. Christians fleeing the Muslim invasion of Spain in the 8th century had buried it there in an unmarked location to protect it from destruction. The statue was said to have been carved by St. Luke himself and had been a gift from Pope St. Gregory the Great to the bishop of Seville. 
A chapel was erected on the spot and soon became a popular shrine. Queen Isabella was a frequent pilgrim. Christopher Columbus was said to have invoked the help of Santa Maria de Guadalupe several times during his voyages and prayed at the shrine on several occasions. His flagship carried her name and he christened an island in the Caribbean in her honor. The explorer, Hernando Cortez was also a devotee.
Juan de Zumarraga
One not-so-famous pilgrim was a humble Franciscan priest named Juan de Zumarraga who was on his way to the New World to become the first bishop of Mexico. It was to Fr. Zumarraga (he was bishop-elect at the time) that an aging Aztec, with the Christian name, Juan Diego, would show his tilma filled with flowers at the instruction of the Blessed Mother on December 12, 1531. 
Of course, it wasn’t the unseasonal flowers that caught the attention of Zumarraga, but the fantastic image of the Blessed Mother emblazoned on Diego’s coarse cloak made of cactus fibers.  Zumarraga immediately recognized the image as that of the Immaculate Conception and ordered a procession with the tilma in her honor.  (Though the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was yet three centuries away, her feast under that title had been kept for several centuries, especially by the Franciscans.) 
In addition to the miraculous image, the Blessed Mother also gave us her name. It would take another 130 years for Spanish authorities to realize that this name was not “Guadalupe”, but a phonetically similar Aztec word which they guessed to be Tequantlaxopeuh (pronounced “Tequetalope”), which means “she who saves us from the devourer”. A later study determined that the name was more probably Te Coatlaxopeuh which translates: “She who crushes the stone serpent.”
For the Aztecs, “the devourer” and the “stone serpent” were one and the same: the dreaded Aztec god, Quetzalcoatl, to whom tens of thousands were sacrificed each year by having their beating hearts gouged out of their living chests. 
Despite the confusion over the name, the Aztec understanding of who the Virgin said she was and Zumarraga’s believing her to be the Immaculate Conception, were easily reconcilable. One of the scriptural foundations for the Immaculate Conception is Genesis 3:15 where, upon the fall of Adam and Eve, God warns Satan: “I will put enmity between thee and the woman and between thy seed and her seed. She shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel”.
With Quetzalcoatl, the serpent, drinking the blood and eating the hearts of tens of thousands of Aztecs every year, the Franciscan missionaries saw the catechetical opportunity in associating the “woman” of Genesis 3:15 with the Aztec understanding that the woman on the tilma was “she who saves us from the devourer”. Within a few years, over eight million Aztecs converted, the largest single mass conversion in history.
But let us jump forward to our own time in which “the Devourer” has so obviously returned. While we no longer rip the beating hearts from the chests of living humans, we  do rip living humans from their mothers’ wombs at the rate that makes the sacrifice to Quetzalcoatl look tame. Whereas the Aztecs would kill as many as 20,000 humans a year, we do that through abortion, in the U.S. alone, every 5 days.
Perhaps it is just coincidence, but there is no denying that abortion on a massive scale took root in our society at the same time devotion to the Blessed Mother began to wane in the post-Vatican II confusion over her identity. Perhaps the most obvious evidence of a change in thought about Mary’s role in our redemption is the modern retranslation of Catholic bibles in which the “she” of the “She will crush thy head...” in Genesis 3:15 is replaced with “he”, and in at least one translation (New Jerusalem), “it”! Check your bibles.
Of course, the “he” is Jesus. But the traditional “she” never implied that it was Mary alone who would crush Satan. It was always blazingly clear that the “she” of Genesis 3:15 meant “Jesus through Mary”, a fact enshrined in the centuries-long practice of depicting Mary standing on the head of the serpent, and infallibly declared in the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception which proclaimed: the most holy Virgin, united with him by a most intimate and indissoluble bond, was, with him and through him, eternally at enmity with the evil serpent, and most completely triumphed over him, and thus crushed his head with her immaculate foot.- Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, December 8, 1854
The mid-passage shift to the male or neuter pronoun is also glaringly awkward. In the first part of the verse it is clear that God is speaking of “the woman”: “I will put enmity between thee and the woman and between thy seed and her seed.” It is quite natural that the verse would now continue with what that woman is going to do: “She will crush thy head...” 
However, our modern Catholic translations now abruptly interrupt the context of the passage and insert the male pronoun, while the New Jerusalem Bible  - seemingly wont to smooth the obvious bump - opts for a middle ground and inserts the neuter “it”. In any event, Mary, disappears from the text and her redemptive role is seemingly diminished to nothing more than a “useful conduit”, which is what most non-Catholic Christians deem her to be.
It’s easy to see why modern Protestant translators would want to diminish Mary’s stature in scripture, but why did we do this to our own translations? 
Modern scholars argue that the Hebrew in Genesis 3:15 used a word that did not specify “she”, and perhaps, motivated by the current spirit of ecumenism at the time of the newer translations (ca. 1966-1970), they opted for a pronoun less challenging to non-Catholics who do not accept Mary’s full role in God’s plan of salvation.
St. Jerome, who translated the Hebrew into Latin in the 4th century, was well aware of lack of specificity in the Hebrew, but from the context, as just demonstrated by the awkwardness of shifting genders in mid-verse, Jerome opted for the feminine “ipsa”. The Catholic Encyclopedia explains why:
“The reading "she" (ipsa) is neither an intentional corruption of the original text, nor is it an accidental error ; it is rather an explanatory version expressing explicitly the fact of Our Lady's part in the victory over the serpent, which is contained implicitly in the Hebrew original.” 
It is not surprising, and perhaps expected that these same translations, after appearing to alter Mary’s redemptive role in Genesis, also deleted “full of grace” from the angelic salutation in Luke 1:28, which is the other foundational scripture reference for the Immaculate Conception. In most modern Catholic translations “full of grace" has been replaced with “favored one” or “highly favored”, which is how Protestant bibles already had it translated. 
This may all seem like linguistic minutiae and no big deal, but a quick “google” will show that Protestants depend specifically on “favored” in place of “full of grace” to disprove Mary’s Immaculate Conception, and THAT’s a big deal!  And with the adoption of the New American Bible in 1970 (which uses “favored one”) as the official translation of the U.S. Catholic Church, it might seem that we decided to help them along.
As a matter of fact, for nearly three decades (1970-1998), on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Catholics had to read and listen to a Gospel translation that not only did not proclaim the Mother of God as “full of grace”, the very thing we were celebrating, but a translation that also underscored the Protestant diminution of Mary. (And we wonder why so many Catholic are so easily pried away from their Church when challenged to defend Catholic Marian doctrines!)
Thankfully, in 1998, the Sunday and Feast Day Lectionary was revised and “full of grace” was restored to the Gospel of December 8, but “favored one” continues to appear in the translation (NAB) that is used in almost all of our parishes and schools. (I can’t help but observe that maybe it’s not such a bad thing that many Catholics don’t read the Bible, at least Genesis 3:15 and Luke 1:28)
On December 12 we celebrate the feast of the one who revealed herself as “she who crushes the head of the serpent”, the one “who saves us from the devourer”, the woman of Genesis 3:15 who appeared to the New World pregnant with the promised “Seed” of salvation, and burnt her image into the rough weave of cactus fibers that we might, 500 years hence, yet be reminded of who she is and what she was ordained by God from the beginning to do.
Perhaps the Mother of God gave us her name at Guadalupe in anticipation of the present confusion.  Perhaps our bibles should once again reflect what has been infallibly proclaimed: that “the most Blessed Virgin was, in the name and by order of God himself, proclaimed full of grace”, and that the head of Satan was and is crushed “with her immaculate foot” (Ineffabilis Deus). 
Perhaps we should learn how to say “Te Coatlaxopeuh”, that we might call on her as the Aztecs did, for in the maddening escalation of the current culture of death, it seems that Quetzalcoatl, the Devourer, has ravenously returned.

Fr. Eric's Commentary on the Mass for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception

December 8

ADVENT AND MARY : The Church places two major Marian feasts in the two preparatory/penitential seasons of Advent and Lent; Immaculate Conception during Advent and the Annunciation during Lent.  This is to remind us of the link between the Savior and the Mother who brought Him into the world.  Mary serves as the "guarantor," as it were, of our Lord's earthly and human dimensions.  The Son of God truly, historically, became :one of us" to save us.  Mary also serves as the best example of a human soul surrendering itself to the divine invitation.  She teaches us to wait, look for, hope, prepare, pray, surrender.  "I am the handmaid of the Lord.  Let it be done to me according to your word."

God and sin are incompatible.  God cannot take His human nature from a mother who, even for a single instant, was under the rule of sin, so that the devil can never say that the Messiah came from a mother who was under his yoke even for a moment.  Jesus comes to overthrow the yoke of Satan, and He did it first by preserving His mother from the sin of Adam and Eve (Original Sin) from the first moment of her conception in the womb of Saint Anne.  He did this in view of the salvation He won for us on the cross.  Mary's immaculate conception is the first blow against the reign of Satan.  This first victory tells us that we, too, can overthrow the rule of Satan in our lives; not beginning at our conception, but after. 
We cannot begin our lives like Mary, but we can end our lives like Mary.

INTROIT : It is Mary who speaks here, like a victory hymn!  But it is the victory of a woman; a human being - someone like us!  God saved Mary in a unique way, but that means He can save us, too, in a different way.  Mary has been clothed with a robe of salvation; God did not allow the sin of Adam and Eve to touch her at the moment on her conception.  Free of all sin, Mary is clothed in holiness, righteousness and justice.  She is to God what He originally intended mankind to be - His children, who know, love and serve Him completely, with no rebellion or sin.  In order for Mary to become the Mother of the Son, the Daughter of the Father had to become the Spouse of the Holy Ghost.  She is a bride, wedded to the Holy Ghost who overshadows her and through whom she conceives God the Son.  Husbands give their brides jewels, to show her how precious she is, worth all those jewels and more. Jewels represent the beauty of the bride.   Mary's jewel is her sinlessness.  But the newly baptized are also clothed with a mantle of salvation; they become spotless the moment they are washed clean in baptism, and are given a white garment as a sign of that.  When we confess our sins and are absolved by the priest, we wash that white garment that has been stained by personal sin.  Mary's immaculate conception robs the devil of his ability to rejoice over Mary's conception.  With the rest of us, the devil smiles as he sees each of us conceived in Original Sin.  In Mary's conception, the devil shudders with fear because he sees his power over mankind crumble for the first time.

COLLECT : The Collect beautifully summarizes the doctrine of this feast.  It makes clear that the Immaculate Conception is God's work ("O God...didst make her").  It also makes clear that God's intervention was necessary ("didst preserve her"), otherwise Mary would have been conceived in Original Sin like everybody else.  God saved Mary in a unique way; we ask that He save us in the way marked out for the rest of humanity.  Both her salvation (preservation from sin), and our salvation (forgiveness of sin) are due to the blood of Christ.

EPISTLE : This passage from Wisdom is about God the Son; He is God's wisdom, His word (logos).  The Father made all things in His wisdom; therefore, He made all things through the Son, who is His wisdom.  But this passage also refers to Mary, the Mother of the Son.  From all eternity, God knew He would send His Son, His word - to redeem from sin what He had created in original justice.  From all eternity, God knew that this Son would need an earthy mother who would bring Him into the world and give Him His human nature and flesh.  Thus we can say that Mary was always in God's mind, from all eternity, and that He was with her from all eternity.  God delights in being with His children; He delights in being made man through Christ's Incarnation; He delights in being the Son of Mary and the Spouse of Mary.  At the end of the passage, we see Mary as the model : watching at the gates, waiting at the door.  It speaks of Mary's holy childhood, as a maiden in the Temple, praying and serving.  It is Advent; we are also to watch and pray.

GRADUAL / ALLELUIA : Here it is God who speaks, through His angel!  The angel tells Mary : Blessed are you!  Holy and heroic women of the Old Testament (like Judith, from which the Alleluia verse is taken) foreshadow God's most heroic woman, Mary.  Judith, a mere woman, beheaded the mighty general Holophernes; Mary, a most humble woman, defeats Satan.  She is the glory of our human race, and she makes possible our own salvation and future glory.

GOSPEL : A short passage, but gets right to the point.  God decisively enters human history; we can name the place, the people and their tribe.  In Luke's Gospel, we can also name the period in history.  Mary is full of grace.  The English translation limps, when compared to the original Greek.  In the Greek, Mary is continuously replete with grace, saturated, dripping with God's favor; in the past, even now and into the future.  She is so full of grace, that there is no room for anything contrary to grace.  It is God's goodness that has been poured into her.  When we honor Mary, we honor God who made her and who made her sinless.

OFFERTORY : The words of the Offertory are familiar and repeated.  But we make them here at the time when we offer bread and wine to God at Mass.  Our poor offerings pale in comparison to Mary, who is sinless and pure.  But we sinful people make our offerings in union with Christ and Mary; they make our gifts acceptable to God.

SECRET : I point out in the Secret a reference to a lesser-known teaching about Mary's virginity; that it is a perpetual virginity.  We mean to say here that Mary remained physically intact and virginal not only before and after giving birth to Jesus (ante partum/post partum) but also during birth (in partu).  See paragraph 499 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  The Secret states that Mary gave birth to Christ, without losing the glory of her virginity.

COMMUNION : When we praise the work, we praise the worker.  We praise Mary in order to give greater praise to God who has "done great things" for her.  But God wants to do great things for us; in a different manner, but great nonetheless.  God wants to turn sinners into saints.  That is a great work, done at a great price - the blood of Jesus.

POST-COMMUNION : We start out in life differently from Mary; we are conceived wounded by Original Sin.  Mary was conceived in perfect human condition as God intended man to be.  But we can end our life as Mary ended hers; to die in the State of Grace, as she was full of grace.

BRETHREN - again a reminder.  Make the Missal your best friend.  Read it, pray it, reflect on it.  Let the LITURGY FORM YOU, mold you into a saint.
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