One of my new favorite people in the world asked me a great question this morning.
We had been talking about using three fingers for the Sign of the Cross about a week ago. It's something a lot of people either don't know or have simply forgotten over time.
However, after talking about it, he's more aware. I told him to look out for the priest at the end of Mass to bless with his three fingers raised because the priest acknowledges that the blessing is actually coming from the Trinity (God) and he is simply an instrument of His Blessing.
My friend then said, "Well why do they use their whole hand when they bless the bread and wine at Mass?"
I said, "That's a great question! They use their whole hand because they aren't really blessing the bread and wine; Christ is."
Since the priest acts in persona Christi, we understand (as faithful Catholics) that the priest, though present, is simply a vessel through which Jesus, Himself, comes to Consecrate.
The priest calls Christ from Heaven to consecrate. Only God can make God. Thus, the priest, being endowed with the privilege and responsibility to call forth Christ from Heaven, doesn't create God from bread and wine. He calls forth Christ and gives himself over to Him for the benefit of his people. Thus, when the priest blesses using all of his fingers, we understand that it is really Christ doing the consecration. It is Jesus who creates Himself in place of the bread and wine.
And that, my friends, is why the hand gesture is different during consecration. THAT is why the priest uses his whole hand. It's because he's allowing Christ to utilize the physical form of his body to enable Christ to pass along His Sacred Blessing.
Ah - to be a priest is to consent to a daily form of the Annunciation. Each time he says Mass, he briefly contains within himself a bit of the divinity that Mary must have acknowledged when she said "Fiat" and opened herself to the mystery of the Incarnation. Her consent to allow God to use her physical body for His greatest blessing parallels nicely with that of the priest sacrificing his physical body to allow God to manifest the mystery of the Eucharist.
And upon completion of this mystery, he (again, in persona Christi) offers this Sacrifice up to God the Father to bear forth salvation (or more rightly, bear us forth to the gift of Salvation). This is why the priest lifts the chalice and patten (or ciborium, I guess). Christ, in the person of the priest, offers Himself to His Father at the Last Supper. It's why the priest suddenly changes to first-person pronouns, too.
Our theology is so deep - so beautiful - that I could happily meditate on it for hours. EVERYTHING is meaningful. EVERYTHING is a reflection of our faith.
Never forget that.
I feel like at one point in time, we've all been guilty of this.
Or maybe you're all just way better people than I am, and I'm the only one who has ever decided to go the route of lazy and cut corners during prayer.
Ever hear the story of the Fatima children who would say their rosaries every day by simply saying the first two words of every prayer down the line? "Our Father, Hail Mary, Hail Mary, Hail Mary, Hail Mary..." and so on.
I remember reading that story when I was very young and thinking to myself, What a great idea! only to realize a few pages later that Our Lady didn't look too kindly on such half-hearted lip service. I remember then simply feeling like a jerk for having applauded their misguided 'brilliance.'
Anyway, I try to pray one rosary and one Divine Mercy chaplet every day. When I know I'm going to be particularly busy, I've said both Apostle's Creeds (one for the rosary, and one for the chaplet) together, then said 2 Our Fathers and 4 Hail Marys plus another 2 Glory Bes in order to "get them out of the way" so I'm able to focus on the "meat" of the rosary and chaplet later on.
And I wondered... should I be cutting up and reorganizing my prayers like that? After all, we were given them in a certain format for a reason, right?
The way we say our prayers and the order we say them in are significant. As I've always taught my class, EVERYTHING we do as Catholics (from how we position ourselves during prayer to the format and wording of those prayers) has significance.
So lumping stuff together isn't ideal... nor is it proper.
Think about it. Would you want the priest to lump together the Intercessions with the Penitential Rite just because he thought the Mass might go a little quicker that way? Or maybe on his way up during the Procession, he just swiped the bread and wine from the credence table instead of waiting around for the Offertory?
Of course not. We'd be losing some very key expressions of faith should he do any of these things. The same is true when we pray our rosaries and chaplets out of order.
I know I've touched on this briefly in Part 3 of my Rosary series, but it fits today's topic. The ordering of our prayers is another expression - another deepening - of our faith and our understanding of that faith. The ordering calls us to contemplate and rejoice in a rhythmic fashion. Each decade serves to draw us deeper into the picture of God's plan for our personal salvation. Saying the prayers as they're meant to be said is like taking a stethoscope to God's Heart as it beats lovingly for each and every one of us.
Sign of the Cross - As always, be begin our prayers by marking ourselves with the sign of His Victory... His Passion of mercy and love.
Apostle's Creed - We remind ourselves of our faith and renew the promises of our baptism.
Our Father - Using the words of Christ, we call upon God the Father to "give us this day our daily bread." Being in the 'eternal now,' though we are praying within the confines of a finite sphere of time, God is able to know and see these prayers throughout eternity. Thus, though we ask Him for our daily bread on a Thursday in September of 2012, God has foreseen this prayer from eternity. As we pray this before each decade, we unwittingly ask for the gifts each mystery reminds us that He has already bestowed.
Hail Mary - This blessed prayer is Christ-centric.
Glory Be - Again, remembering that God is in the eternal now, when we say this prayer of praise and thanksgiving, we are supposed to be thanking Him for the decade's particular mystery and whatever intentions we had going into that decade.
See the cycle?
Placing ourselves before God, the Sign of the Cross is like us putting the stethoscope to our ears in anticipation of listening to His Heart.
The Apostle's Creed is the tell-tale sign of His Love.
As we motion through the decades, the steady rhythm of petitioning for salvation (Our Father), God's answer to our petition through the various mysteries (Hail Mary) and our subsequent praise and thanksgiving for His active mercy through history (Glory Be) are like the gentle vibrations of Divine Love. Our God is a living God, and His movements are eternally present. Thus, our prayers are eternally present as well.
We'll never know just how far-reaching our prayers are until we get to Heaven and see the 10 or 20 forgotten Purgatory souls we've helped reach the Gates... or the 5 lost souls who would have continued along the path of perdition had you not done a daily offering... or maybe even the terrible accident you helped to mitigate for your great, great, great, great grand-daughter because you piously recited the Divine Mercy chaplet for all sinners past, present and future.
Never underestimate the power of prayer... especially prayers given to us by Heaven in a specific format. These formats are given to us for the holy purpose of helping us to better understand God's Love and Mercy.
So I've been making a much more concerted effort to recite my prayers in their proper order, but I figured I'd post this in the event that anyone else was like me and had attempted to "cut corners" every once in a while.
I've had a large crowd of folks come through this particular entry this month. If you'd be so kind, please let me know where the traffic is being directed from - I'd greatly appreciate it!
On the heels of my last post comes this one on genuflection.
Since we were asked to ensure our children understood both the Sign of the Cross and how to properly genuflect, I’m once more utilizing you wonderful readers as my guinea pigs. Many thanks.
Last year, one of my students had slipped a “Why do people stoop when they come into church” question into the Question Box. This had tied in pretty well to a lesson on the Real Presence of Christ within the Blessed Sacrament which we had covered about two weeks prior. So to answer his question, I simply pointed out that the “stooping” motion was really a person touching his or her right knee to the ground in a show of reverence to God who is truly, fully present in the tabernacle.
I then had them practice genuflection as I noticed so many people (adults, too!) who did “stoop” which is probably what solicited the confused question from my student.
Anyway, why do we genuflect?
Most people understand that we’re reverencing God, but why is the act of genuflection an act of reverence to begin with?
Well, let’s take a look at this history of genuflection, shall we?
Even in the animal world, lowering your gaze signifies humility in the presence of someone superior. To conform your entire body to reflect the downward cast of your eyes highlights the significance of your humility that much more. Thus, high-ranking leaders like kings, emperors and dignitaries required (by custom and law) that their subjects genuflect or kneel in their presence.
This reverence translated well into Christianity which was already rich in the tradition of showing humility courtesy of its Jewish roots.
It was (and still is in some customs) Jewish tradition to kneel before the Word of God to kiss the scrolls in order to show reverence to the Divine. The Levites were also known to “fall on their faces” before God in the Holy of Holies in order to show humility and reverence while asking God for His mercy and blessings. To this day there are some Orthodox Jews who hold fast to the practice of full prostration in prayer to order their bodies after their hearts so that they can reflect the utmost humility before the Throne of God.
Thus, this practice translated into the first Christians kneeling to kiss the epistles of the apostles before they were read… to kissing relics… to kissing the rings of the bishops and popes in authority. We Catholics do not simply stoop. We are ordering our bodies after the humility in our hearts so that we can properly pay homage to the God of the Universe.
At least that’s what we should be doing, anyway.
Also, this sign of humility is a sign of subjugation.
For example, way back when, high ranking officials in armies were given foot soldiers who served as human stools (for lack of a better term). They would genuflect before their leader’s horse to allow themselves to be used as a stepping stool so their commanding officer could easily take to the saddle and lead a charge.
When we genuflect before Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, we not only order our bodies after what’s in our hearts… we’re also offering ourselves to Him for whatever services He may ask of us.
So that, my friends, is why we genuflect upon entrance into a church. That is why we kneel before the Blessed Sacrament during Adoration. That is why the priest and ministers genuflect (or deeply bow) when crossing the front of the tabernacle.
And that’s why you should, too! Please don’t half it. It confuses others (especially children) who see it as stooping. If you’re going to order your bodies after the faith that’s in your heart, make sure your body reflects the true and deep humility that our faith encourages (if you’re able). If a genuflection is simply impossible due to age, illness, etc, refrain from stooping and simply give a deep bow. Even a head nod is better than a lackluster stoop.
The point is to pay reverence and humility to the God of Creation.
I’m getting back to my educational roots on this post, and it’s refreshing as I feel the last few have been haphazard “catch-ups” or “Mom” entries that most people probably find pointless.
Tomorrow night is my first CCD lesson of the season. I’m so excited to meet my kids and get back into the swing of teaching the Faith. One of the things I’ll be tackling tomorrow night is the Sign of the Cross.
Our Director specifically requested that we teach our children the Sign of the Cross because our visiting priest (Fr. Eucharist!) had mentioned it seemed to him that no one did it properly. Embarrassed, she made sure at our catechetical meeting that the teachers made this prayer a priority (along with genuflection) so that the next time Fr. Eucharist visited, we wouldn’t be embarrassed by our improper prayer movements at Mass.
I happily agreed to this since the Sign of the Cross and genuflection are two of the biggest things I harped on last year. I noticed right off the bat that my students were doing it improperly, plus it tied nicely into my lesson on the Trinity being One God in Three Divine Persons. So, here’s my little lesson on the Sign of the Cross for anyone who would like to know why we use this motion to open and close our prayers.
The Sign of the Cross
Using our thumb together with our fore and middle fingers, we touch our forehead while saying “In the Name of the Father.” Then, we use those same fingers to touch our abdomen while saying “and of the Son.” Finally, we touch both shoulders while saying, “and of the Holy Spirit.” Some traditions have you kiss those three fingers while saying “Amen.” Otherwise, you can fold your hands while saying “Amen.”
Now, why do we say / do these things?
Well, we open and close all of our prayers with the Sign of the Cross because we understand that God’s Sacrifice is the one and only offering we can make that bridges the divide caused by sin. In offering the infinitely meritorious Sacrifice of Christ’s Passion, we acknowledge that without God’s Love and Mercy, we are nothing. Thus, we begin and end our prayers with this acknowledgement in supplication and thanks for such love.
Plus, in marking ourselves with the Throne of His Sacrifice (the Cross) we are reminding ourselves (and others) to always unite our joys, sufferings and thanksgiving to Christ.
I have this, and I love it.
Finally, these words - when prayed with the fluid motion of the cross – remind us that God is triune – Three distinct Persons in One God.
This is a concept I’ve described to my class repeatedly as it’s so difficult to grasp… even amongst theologians. Our humanity cannot understand the depth of Their Unity, but we try! During the Crucifixion, we weren’t just crucifying Christ. Father and Holy Spirit were present as well, which is why I love the Trinitarian Crucifix. It reminds us that though distinct, each Person was fully present and actively participating in the Crucifixion of the Son. Our most simplistic prayer is so rich in context!!! It is the backbone of our Catholicism and the truest, strongest root of our Faith.
I could happily write on this prayer for days on end.
Anyway, moving on to the separate motions of forehead, abdomen and shoulders, we have reasons for placing each Person of the Trinity in these various spots. Everything we do and say as Catholics carries incredible meaning… never forget that!
For example, the three fingers we touch to ourselves are indicative of the Trinity. The remaining two (ring and pinkie) remind us of Christ’s two-fold nature – human and Divine.
We touch our heads for the Father because He is the Source of all Wisdom. We touch our abdomen for the Son to remind us that He, springing forth from the Father of Wisdom, became Incarnate in the womb of the Virgin. Finally, we touch both shoulders for the Holy Spirit to remind ourselves that He, having been sent by the Son, surrounds and protects the Church. Finally, we kiss the three fingers that marked us in the Cross as a sign of love and reverence. We also acknowledge it as a sort of “mini-kiss” of thanksgiving to the Trinity (at least that’s what I view it as).
So the next time you make the Sign of the Cross, meditate a bit on the deeper and beautiful manifestations of our Faith that are proclaimed through our simplest form of prayer.
Why do you know so much about the Jews? Did you convert from Judaism?
The answer to this is simple - yet extremely important.
I did not convert from Judaism. Rather, I was blessed to be born into the faith that FULFILLS Judaism.
You see, Judaism and Catholicism are two sides of the same coin. You cannot have one side without the other.
In the Old Testament, God unfolds His plans for humanity. We were created by Him to be part of His family. Much like parents long for children to love and be loved by, God desired a family to love and be loved by. Humanity was the crowning answer to His Love.
The Old Testament gives us our history - our FAMILY history. We come to understand God as Father through its books. Once we understand God as Father, we cannot help but understand the whole of humanity as our brothers and sisters.
Most people view the God of the Old Testament as an angry Zeus-like figure (hurling fireballs at cities or smiting folks for laughs). However, when you really sit down and read through the pages of the OT, you come to learn that far from being an irate and venomous bully, God is a loving, patient Father who repeatedly sets his wayward children back on the path towards their inheritance with Him in Heaven.
Israel, being His "firstborn" (in that the Jews are who He revealed Himself as Father to before any other nation), tended to get the brunt of the "tough love" in an effort to prepare them to act as "big brother" to the other nations who would come to know the Father through them.
However, no one was going to learn about God the Father if the Israelites weren't acting in accordance with God's Will. This is why God punished the Israelites each time they broke their end of the Covenant. God was trying to uphold them as the model of what humanity was supposed to be, but they kept rejecting His Way in lieu of the debauchery that served as the way for their brother nations.
Thus the need for God to constantly step in to remind them, "Hey, Israel... you're supposed to be My Firstborn - My High Priest. You're supposed to be leading people to me through your holy example, not hopping aboard the Sin-Train with them on the way to perdition!"
And if you note His method of punishment, each completely fits the crime. Nothing more, nothing less. Divine Justice is merciful like that. :)
So fast-forward through the centuries. God is always making promises to Israel, reminding them that they've been called to be the gate of graces for the whole of humanity. Through their nation, salvation would be granted to the world in the form of the Messiah. One day, a Christ would come who would fulfill ALL the promises God made to His people in the Old Testament.
The New Testament tells the story of the promised Messiah - a Man called Jesus.
The New Testament is not the foundation for Catholicism... it is the FLOWERING of Judasim (which, in fact, is the foundation of Catholicism).
Look upon the whole of our theology as a tree. The seed was planted by God, Himself, through His covenant with Adam. He nurtured this tree, allowing the roots to take shape through Abraham. The trunk of Israel grew strong, eventually supporting the flowering branches of Christianity. Catholicism, however, is the FRUIT of the tree.
We have been blessed to understand that Christ fulfilled the promises made in the Old Testament. We have been blessed to see that Christ has offered salvation through the new and everlasting Church He set upon the rock of St. Peter. And yes, this salvation (as promised) came through Israel. Jesus was a Jew, and the first Christians were Jews. The evangelists were Jewish. The crux of our heritage was found in Jerusalem (where Christ preached and eventually offered Himself as Sacrifice, obtaining our salvation).
So while I'm not exactly Jewish, I am a sister to the Jews. If not for their millenia of working the theological fields, if not for their many centuries of trying to follow the Will of God, I would not have my Catholicism. I am indebted to the firstborn of God!
Thus, upon my "coming back" to the faith, I made a real attempt to delve into Judaic theology. Only in understanding the Jewish religion can I ever hope to understand my own.
So I hope that answers the question. And as a personal note (because I know you're not Catholic, but some version of Protestant - my apologies for forgetting which), this is true of your faith as well. Christianity stems from Judaism. It's why all Christians keep the Old Testament as well as the New. So understanding Judaism would be beneficial to you just as much (if not more so!).
In light of the last "But What About," a friend asked:
Why DID God constantly demand animal sacrifices in the OT? He's always asking for burnt offerings around the clock. That never sat well with me. It doesn't make sense. I don't see God wanting me to go out back and kill a bunch of His creatures. Why did He demand it back then?
What a great question!!! It has a logical answer, as well, I promise.
For one, let me start by saying that God loves His Creation. He loves the creepy crawly spider, the gross and slimy eel, and yes, He even loves the sheep, goats and bulls that He demanded Israel hand over day after day, night after night.
Why, then, would He wish them to be slaughtered in such droves in a seemingly barbaric fashion? You don't thoughtlessly slaughter cute, cuddly creatures simply to make yummy-smelling smoke that somehow glorifies God, right?
Right. Sort of.
You see, God never demanded animal slaughter from the Israelites as a people until they got sucked into the social constructs of Egypt. While they were slaving away under Pharoah for 400 years, they picked up some nasty habits from their overlords - chief among them the worship of cattle as gods.
God, having made a covenant with the Israelites that He would be their God and they would be His people, didn't take too kindly to His family suddenly forgetting about Him in lieu of thoughtless beasts. Thus, in order to remind them that these animals were not, in fact, worthy of adoration, God demanded that the Jews prove their loyalty (not to Him, but to themselves) by burning the objects of their idolatry.
Did God WANT to hurt the cattle? Of course not. Did He want to see them slaughtered and burned? No. However, God understood that in order for His wayward family to make a clean break with the unholy practices of the Egyptians, they'd need to rebel against the ingrained customs that had caused them to turn from His Love.
Basically, God was asking a drug addict to flush his stash down the toilet to prove he was really through with meth.
And at first, the Israelites said, "Sure, God, we'll totally do this! No problem!"
They offered the requested sacrifices (which were, unsurprisingly, the same animals most revered by the Egyptians) amidst joy and celebration. Why? Because God had just rescued them from Pharoah. In their joy and feelings of euphoria, they probably thought they could do anything God requested of them at that point.
Unfortunately, their break from Egyptian tradition was short-lived.
While Moses was up on Mt. Sinai receiving the 10 Commandments from God, the restless Israelites decided they wanted to throw a party. With 400 years of Egyptian partying under their belts, they knew they couldn't have a proper party without erecting a ginormous golden statue of Apis (yes, that's an Egyptian god). So what did these Israelites do? They collected as much gold as they could and crafted it into a big old idol.
And to make matters worse, the Israelites attempted to cover up their sin of idolatry by proclaiming that the Calf of Apis was really just a representation of the God of Israel. Any and all resemblance of this idol to the idol they just swore never to worship again was PURELY coincidental.
And just like you don't buy that, God didn't, either.
So in order to ensure they broke up with idolatry for good, He commanded them to burn (day AND night) the objects of their folly. This sacrifice was not to promote animal cruelty, but to remind the Israelites that animal worship was a rupture to their covenant with God.
And none of the animal was wasted through sacrifice. After the Levites offered the sacrifice in accordance with the Law (which is the slaughter of these animals in as painless a way as possible), the carcass was distributed back for the purpose of utilizing it practically (meat for food, hide for clothing / tents, etc).
So yes, animal sacrifice was demanded by God in the Old Testament. However, it wasn't demanded because God enjoys inflicting pain upon animals. It was demanded because God needed to correct the erroneous idolatry of His children.
The Original "Hulk"
So a friend of mine brought up a good question while we were discussing theology yesterday. Mind you, this friend is an atheist (I wonder, sometimes, if I have any other variety), so the typical atheist "But What Abouts" came up.
But What Abouts (BWA) is my shorthand for any of the typical "But what about God telling you it's OK to kill a slave" or "But what about God allowing for rape so long as you pay the virgin's father a few shekels" arguments that arise when folks try to change a faithful person's belief in the truth of the Bible.
Anyway, the BWA that came up yesterday revolved around good old Samson. Many non-Christians are familiar with his story because he's typically portrayed as a Conan-like warrior with long, flowing locks that magically give him power to topple entire buildings with the flex of his biceps. The implication was that Christians believe in magic hair.
Unfortunately, what's typically left out of these childhood stories of Samson is anything of substance.
Samson wasn't just some Hulk-figure who had "magic hair." He was one of the Judges of the Old Testament.
Judges were God's answer to the constant failings of the Israelites during their 40 year punishment outside of the Promised Land. In the 40 year time span between Israel coming upon the Promised Land and finally inhabiting it, the Israelites went through a well documented cycle of:
"Hey, everyone, let's sin - it's fun!"
"Uh oh - now that we've sinned, we're being punished with the effects of our sin!"
"Aw, man! God, we're really sorry for disobeying Your Law again, can you please help us out by sending someone who will lead us to justice?"
God sends someone termed a "judge" to restore balance to the Israelites.
Everyone says, "Yay, God! Thanks for being awesome and saving us! We'll abide by Your Convenant forever."
A few years pass and then sin starts looking super fun again.
Repeat. A lot.
Samson was one of these judges that God raised up from amongst the Israelites to restore balance and justice to His people.
Not many people realize this, but Samson had an annunciation similar to John the Baptist. An angel appeared to his parents, too, and affirmed that, though they were barren, they'd bear a son who would save Israel from the Philistines. As such, the angel instructed his parents to raise him as a nazirite.
Now, what the heck is a nazirite?
Well, since the tribes forked over their right to perform priestly duties at both the Golden Calf incident and then again at the 1st attempt to enter Canaan, the Levites became the new priests of Israel. However, there were some "layfolk" who were permitted to help with priestly duties if they took special vows that set them apart from the general population. These were the nazirites.
One of the vows a nazirite took was the refusal to cut one's hair. Sound familiar?
Samson never cut his hair because he made a special vow to the Lord never to do so. It was this unwavering faith in God that gave Samson his strength. His hair was simply the symbol of his personal covenant with God. Samson handed over his life in service of the Lord, and in return, the Lord protected him and granted him the grace to deliver justice to the Israelites.
So to answer my friend's question regarding the "magic" of Samson's hair, I responded that no, Samson's hair wasn't magic. It was the symbol of his adherence to God's Will. It was only after Samson turned away from God's Will that his hair ended up being cut (the symbolic severance of their covenant) .
You see, Samson went and married a Philistine - TWICE - after God had specifically told the Israelites not to intermarry with them. Samson, unfortunately, allowed his personal desires to trump his duty as servant of the Lord. So he took two Philistine wives (Delilah came after his first wife was killed by her Philistine kin). In both instances, he chose to trust his wife before trusting the Will of God. Because of this disordered hierarchy of trust, Samson lost his first wife. For failing to learn this lesson the first time, Samson lost his eyes as well as his life the second time.
Hippie Justice League!
So no - Samson's hair did not hold any magical powers. His hair was a sign, however, of his adherence to God's Will. As soon as he turned away from God's Will by placing his desires above God's, he suffered the consequences.
Having his hair shorn was simply the physical desecration of the spiritual desecration that had already taken place the moment Samson committed mortal sin.
Good thing, too. Can you imagine the Hulk-smashing that would've occurred in the 60's had magic hair been the source of Samson's strength?! Yipes!
In the end, as Samson spent many sleepless, pain-filled nights begging the forgiveness of God, he made reparation for his sins. Each day of reparation drew him closer to the eventual destruction of the temple that would garner justice for himself and Israel. He spent many, many nights in atonement for his sin, so when he was finally brought to the temple as "entertainment" for the Philistines, his hair had grown back in. Again, this isn't pointing to Samson having magic hair... it's highlighting that Samson had spent time reflecting on and atoning for his sins against God. God then gifted Mercy to Samson through blessing him with the strength to dole out justice to the Philistines.
His hair was simply a symbolic manifestation of the blessing God bestowed in return for Samson's faithful service.
I attended St. William's in NE Philadelphia yesterday. They have a unique 8pm evening mass on Sunday which is thoroughly helpful when someone like me has a wedding the night before and can't drag herself out of bed in time for her usual 10am service.
Anyway, I attend St. William's once every other month or so. I'm regular enough that folks sorta-kinda recognize me (especially as I'm the only veiled one present), but irregular enough to where no one really knows my name.
Color me ridiculously surprised, then, when I bumped into several people that I knew from Incarnation (my old home parish) last night.
One scooched in next to me during the Penitential Rite. Neither of us were aware of who the other was until the 1st Reading. She nudged me and said, "Gina?" I turned, surprised to see my old friend. It was a pleasant surprise. She made a motion with her hand regarding my veil. It was a question... a confused, "What's with the veil?" I just smiled and returned my attention back to the Mass.
I could feel her eying me curiously for the rest of Mass. At the end of Mass, after moving to the narthex, I opened the door for the questions I knew she had.
Inevitably, the first one was, "So, what's with the veil?"
I explained, briefly, that I'd had a rekindling of faith and spent over a year returning to my Catholic roots. One of the things I discovered on my journey back to Christ was the custom of veiling. I explained that since the Blessed Mother is my example for all things Catholic, far be it from me to place myself above her example when in the Presence of Christ. If she wears a veil when with her Beloved Son, I feel I, too, should present myself in a similar fashion when accepting Him in the Eucharist.
Then she said, "I saw you cross yourself and mumble something during the Gospel. What was that all about?"
I couldn't figure out what she was talking about at first. It took several moments of her miming an interpretation of what I looked like at the beginning of the Gospel for me to understand what she was referring to.
When the priest said, "A reading from the Gospel of Mark" I made a tiny cross with my thumb over my forehead, my lips and my heart. The mumbling she heard was a prayer I learned in 5th grade to go along with the motion I learned that same day:
"Lord, be ever on my mind, on my lips, and in my heart."
During the Gospel, we are hearing the Word of God. We, as Catholics, should strive always to keep His Word in mind so that we may act charitably towards one another. We also wish to bear forth the Word of Christ to others, either through praise and thanksgiving, or through evangelization. Finally, above all, we wish to love Him with our whole heart by keeping His Word enclosed within.
Thus, the small crosses signifying His Gospel upon mind, lips and heart.
I've done it since learning it in 5th grade, and I've always assumed it's part of the proper movements of Mass. Kind of like "sit, stand, kneel, 'Amen,'" I thought this particular motion and prayer were part of the expected and "everybody knows you're supposed to do that" knowledge that goes along with being Catholic.
However, if you did not know this before, you do now! :)
A recent comment from a friend of mine has led me to this entry. He chooses to use a feminine pronoun for God. That's well and good. Considering his reasoning, it makes sense. God is tender, compassionate and merciful, and he feels as though these attributes have a feminine ring to them. Plus, considering that pronouns do little justice to the all-encompassing Spirit that is God, why not give some air-time to an under-utilized pronoun such as "she."
That's fair. I'm not writing this to alter his opinion on the matter. I thought it an interesting topic to delve into, so here I go!
Why do I choose to use "He" when referencing God?
For one, Christ is male. He (and all His Jewish ancestors before Him) referred to God using masculine words, and all parables which describe God use male persons as corresponding symbols: father, bridegroom, rabbi, king, judge.
Why might that be? After all, in Genesis, it does say God made humans "male and female" after His own image, right? Does that mean God is a hermaphrodite?
Not so much.
We humans tend to think of everything on a physical realm because we're physical beings. However, we're also spiritual beings, having been gifted souls that are intrinsically united to our bodies. Our souls contain the neshama of God. THAT is the the part of God that makes us "like unto Him." That's the part that separates us from the rest of creation.
Since God's neshama is neither male nor female (it is simply a gift of His Being - specifically His Wisdom and Power to understand and choose good over evil), that phrase in Genesis isn't referring to a physical likeness of God. It's referring to a spiritual likeness in which humans are granted a very specific dignity.
The best way of explaining this that I've seen comes from the Catholic Patriot. He wrote:
I might not agree with all that Catholic Patriot has to say on this subject, but I think the above succinctly captures my thoughts in a better way than I could. :)
Try as we might to label God, we can't do Him justice because our minds are simply not equipped with handling it. However, we've been given little glimpses here and there of what our God deems Himself to be, so far be it from me to go against the examples He laid forth through that of His Son - and His Son's reciprocal teachings of His "Father."
In a nutshell, that is why I choose masculine pronouns.
I mean, there's also things like the Blessed Mother being daughter, spouse and mother of God as well, but that's another conversation for another time. :)
A friend of mine asked, "Why did the Spirit need to descend upon Mary at all? She was already full of grace."
That's honestly a great question!
Today is the 8th day of the Novena to the Holy Spirit. I find it interesting that today, Friday, we call upon the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Wisdom, and today is the day this fine young woman asked this question!
"Embodying all the other gifts, as charity embraces all the other virtues, Wisdom is the most perfect of the gifts. Of wisdom it is written 'all good things came to me with her, and innumerable riches through her hands.' It is the gift of Wisdom that strengthens our faith, fortifies hope, perfects charity, and promotes the practice of virtue in the highest degree."
I couldn't help but think of the Blessed Mother upon reading those words. Indeed, she is the Mother of Wisdom. Through her, the supreme goodness of God came to us in the form of Jesus, Her Son. Being our most favored and beloved intercessor, we are granted innumerable graces through Her Immaculate hands. She is our perfect example of faith, hope and love, and when we dedicate ourselves to following her sweet example, we find that our faith is strengthened, our hope solidified and our love purified. In following Our Lady, we cannot help but find new ways to practice virtue.
Notice how in most images of Pentecost, Our Lady is pictured front and center - normally much brighter and more "enflamed" by the Spirit. Her unyielding "Fiat" was the catalyst that bore forth the Church. Through her eternal "Yes," the Church gained the gift of Christ's Incarnation. Through her eternal "Yes," the Church gained it's most powerful intercessor. Through her eternal "Yes," we gained a true and blessed Queen-Mother who always pleads for us children before the Throne of Her Beloved Son. Her sacrifice, also perfect, was offered in union with that of Jesus. Even that most painful "Fiat" gained for us untold blessings.
The Spirit descended upon those present, but He no doubt came to His Beloved spouse first. And this is where I think her question comes in.
Did the Holy Spirit "HAVE" to alight upon the Blessed Mother? Did she really "need" grace to perfect anything she was lacking to enable her to go forth and help build the newborn Church?
Considering how much the Holy Spirit must love Our Lady, who is to say He simply didn't WANT to pour Himself out upon her? Who is to say He didn't wish to miraculously expand her already pure and loving heart in order to fit more of Himself within?
Point is, pouring Himself out to Mary gave Him great joy because He knew how much joy He was giving her. In deepening and expanding her already perfect capacity to love, He didn't diminish her previous state of perfection.
Think of it this way. Captain Rich Pants is the World's Richest Man. He is a bazillionaire, and he happily gives away much of his fortune to charity. Putting another $100 into his bank account isn't going to have people saying, "Oh my gosh - he wasn't the World's Richest Man before! NOW he's the richest!"
No. Both before and after the $100 transaction, he was the World's Richest Man. Even WITH all the checks to charity.
Now let's say we up the transaction to one bazillion dollars (whatever that is). Would this addition be any different than the $100?
No. Both before and after either transaction, Captain Rich Pants was and would be the World's Richest Man.
The same is true of the Blessed Mother. Instead of being a bazillioniare, though, she was blessed with the Jackpot of all Graces. Just because the Holy Spirit wanted to gift His beloved an extra blessing of graces doesn't diminish the fact that she was perfected in graces before His arrival.
So did the Holy Spirit "need" to also bless Mary with His Grace? Probably not. However, it made Him happy to do so, and no doubt it made the Blessed Mother happy to receive Him.
Another perspective - My Mom's van works perfectly fine. She loves it. It gets her to where she needs to go and she's able to pick up her friends and do grocery shopping and such. However, if I ever came into some money and purchased her a Stretch Hummer (that somehow ran only on used vegetable oil to stave off environmental irresponsibility), I would hope no one would give me the stink eye because the van she's had for a few years suited her just fine.
A gift is a gift. The Holy Spirit poured His Gifts out upon them freely and lovingly. Just as it'd make me happy to give my Mom an awesome upgrade to her car, the Holy Spirit was happy to give Mary an even deeper perfected love of Him and His Church.
My Godmother, Aunt Bernadette, and I
As I was discussing the issue of "old-fashioned" Catholic practices, my friend asked me what the purpose of a godparent even was. Is there any point at all to having them?
A wonderful bit of history...
Way back when Christianity had just started taking root, no one liked us. Jews thought we were fortune-telling zealots who should be smited for blaspheming against God in claiming that He became human and was crucified, the Romans thought we were political upstarts vying for civil war, and everyone else thought we were kooky cannibals who ate and drank each other's blood.
Ya know, or something to that effect.
As a result of this mass confusion regarding who Christians were and what we believed, folks tended to just relegate us to the fringes of society in the hopes that we'd eventually die off. When that didn't work, and our numbers began to grow, they figured they'd speed up the process by feeding us to the lions, torturing us to instill fear in potential converts, and very publicly putting us to death in a variety of cruel and creative ways.
As a result, Christians realized they needed to devise a more secure form of worship in which their lives wouldn't constantly be in peril.
We moved to the catacombs. We created communities in the middle of deserts, far from the authority of crazed sadists. We began using code language, and yes, we came up with the idea of sponsors.
The term "Sponsor" is synonymous with "Godparent." A sponsor is a person who is rooted firmly in Catholicism and agrees to help a newbie not only learn the ropes, but live those ropes through prayer, example and a life-long mentoring relationship. This is why the Church requires one sponsor to be a faithful, practicing Catholic for folks (children included) getting baptized / confirmed.
Anyway, the need for a sponsor back in the early Church ran a little deeper than just a mentoring relationship. Sponsors were the gatekeepers of Church activity. One could not become a vested member of the Church without a well-known sponsor stepping up and vetting you before acceptance by the community. This protected the Church from those who wished to infiltrate the now secret (and illegal) Christian communities that were blossoming throughout the empire.
The term "godparent" is synonymous with sponsor for good reason. Since there was so much martyring going on back then, children were many times left orphaned when both parents were arrested and taken to their execution for refusing to deny their faith. If the children were lucky enough to escape with their lives (and sometimes they were not), it was an unspoken agreement that the sponsor of the family would adopt the children and raise them as if they were their own (thus ensuring the salvation of their souls through the continued development of their Christian faith).
Nowadays, we continue the tradition set forth by our early members. Godparents are still supposed to be there as examples of true Christian living. Now these sponsors are typically chosen by parents for their children at baptism, but children have the option of choosing a new one at Confirmation.
However (and this is a big, important however), the Church strongly suggests that those preparing to be chrismated use the same sponsor they had for baptism. The reason for this is the strong connection between Baptism and Confirmation. Baptism, after all, is the 1st Sacrament of Initiation. This is the key that opens the flood of God's graces to us. We are cleansed of original sin and reborn in the Spirit. At Confirmation, our original baptism is perfected through the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Our souls are once more marked with an eternal sign of the Spirit, and we are given untold graces that enable us to live out our Christian lives boldly and without shame.
This is actually the reason why the Church suggests that we receive Baptism and Confirmation BEFORE Holy Eucharist (the 3rd Sacrament of Initiation), but that's an entry for a different day.
So in a large nutshell, that is why we have Godparents.
A few months ago, as my class and I were discussing the 10 plagues God sent to force the pharaoh to give the Israelites their freedom, the topic of the Angel of Death came up. This same discussion ended up finding its way into my inbox this morning from a friend of mine who is trying to decide if Catholicism is right for him.
The tenth and final plague, the death of the firstborns, was a punishment doled out specifically by the Angel of Death. My class had a really hard time wrapping their heads around the image of the angel pictured in the book. He was wielding a sickle (much like the one pictured), and left a trail of death and lamentation in his wake. Not one of the kids could believe that God would intentionally "murder" children like that.
I had to reel them back in for a bit. I explained that God never "murders" anyone. The picture they saw wasn't a recreation of that night... it was an artist's choice of symbols and images to tell a story. In the book, we saw a mighty angel holding a sickle. Around him were crying mothers and lifeless children. The artist chose these things for a reason.
First, the Angel of Death didn't bring God's punishment to the firstborns... punishment was meant for those left behind who would feel the pain on an emotional level (considering that months of physical punishment did nothing to deter them).
This angel carried a sickle to symbolize the "harvesting" of souls. The sickle is an agricultural tool that is specifically used to remove the most desirable parts of grain. In ancient Egypt, that's exactly what the firstborns would have been considered. The souls that this angel harvested (firstborns) were the most desirable and respected family members in Egyptian times. The fact that God demanded that the souls makes the punishment that much more severe.
Finally, the crumpled, broken parents who clutched the lifeless bodies of their children were meant to evoke strong emotions - the artist wanted to REALLY hit home how devastating this plague was in its emotional severity, so he used young children to symbolize all firstborns.
Firstborn didn't just mean babies. It didn't just mean toddlers. Firstborn meant everyone from child straight on through adult. It meant everything from calf to chicken to donkey. God harvested the most revered of Egyptian lives for Himself as proof that He was God over all - even the best protected. He controlled Life and Death (not just over base nature and animals, but over humanity as well - something Pharaoh never accepted as true until this final plague).
However, my class was still having a really tough time reconciling God taking these innocent lives with their image of a pure, holy, and loving Being. This is very understandable considering we, as humans, many times see death as a horrible, evil thing (especially when it is the death of an innocent... someone who did nothing to cause or solicit an untimely end).
One student asked me, "Do you think they [the firstborns] were scared?"
I paused for a second, because I realized then that my poor class had in their minds this image of a massive weapon-wielding warrior with wings blazing a trail through Egypt slaughtering unsuspecting children. Their collective looks of horror and disbelief challenged me to break down the Angel of Death for them a bit... into one who looked a little more like this:
The Angel of Death wasn't running around slashing throats. In fact, I doubt the people who were chosen to die that night even felt pain. Though I never thought about it before, when she asked me that, I immediately pictured one of those children, soundly sleeping, engulfed in a brilliant light. The Angel of Death was present, and he showed this tiny soul something of Heaven. He gently said, "Come, little one. God is calling you home." He reached out his angelic hand and without thought or hesitation, the soul - immeasurably joyous and willing - leapt from its body and consented to be carried along to meet the Source of such radiating, all-encompassing Love.
Instead of punishment or pain, these souls were met with joy and love... comfort and beauty. The Angel of Death is not this menacing monstrosity that humans should fear. Instead, he is the herald of our Heavenly welcome - the one tasked with the joy of bringing us home after our earthly sojourn.
There is a woman on Facebook who has taken my Darkest Secret entry into over-the-top territory. I just found her posting the below questions on yet ANOTHER wall. Granted, she's driving traffic to my site, but I'm really wondering at what cost.
The insinuations she's making and the threads they then spawn (based on how she words her questions) have ended up turning this discussion very ugly. These are the threads in which people end up accusing John of being the spawn of satan or me being an inept child stuck in slavery caused by my blind zeal for religion.
She did end up asking a really great question at the end, though.
Anyway, a priest ended up answering one of her pointed comments. I felt the need to redirect a bit of that conversation (so that others didn't fall into erroneous thinking), so I responded. I'm going to post that here because apparently answering them in the commentary repeated times did absolutely nothing to satiate her curiosity.
I'll bold her commentary and leave as normal my responses. For the love of all that's fluffy and golden in the world, if you still have questions, direct them to me.
Please answer this as no one else seems to give a satisfactory answer.
The Catholic woman in the blog below is being forced to remain childless because her non-Catholic husband refuses to have more kids. A bunch of women have written in to comment and many - MANY - of them are struggling with a similar situation (myself included). I think you should do a segment that deals with how to answer this question from a Catholic standpoint.
1 - Is she committing a mortal sin by allowing him to do use birth control?
I'm NOT in the state of mortal sin. I'm not in the state of sin at all by being forced into a contraceptive union. My illustration is thus: Mike hits Jane. While Jane feels the pain incurred by Mike's slap, Jane is not at fault for his sin. Jane is blameless. So while I feel the emotional pain caused by John's decision to do this, I will not be held accountable in God's eyes because I'm not the one contracepting.
2 - Should she refrain from having sex if he's going to continue to use bc against her will?
To refrain from sex in order to "punish" my husband or guilt him into children is akin to breaking my wedding vows, so dear Father, I must disagree with you on this.
Sex is not just for procreation and it is not just for pleasure. It is also an important renewal of my wedding vows which serve to strengthen our relationship as husband and wife. He is already using one barrier to our union through his choice to use contraception. I will not be a party to creating another barrier through refusing to unite myself more closely to him through the act of sex.
That would be akin to Christ refusing me in the Sacrament of Holy Communion because I consistently fail adhering to His Will as we're called to do. I still lie, I still struggle with pride, and I don't accept the crosses He gives me with charity. I'm failing to uphold my end of the Catholic deal, right? Would Jesus ever refuse me (barring mortal sins) in the Eucharist? No. Thus, how can I place myself above His example and react to my husband in such a way?
No - it is better to leave this in God's Hands and continue to be the best wife I can be to him. Maybe through my example of love, he will come to know something of God's Love.
3 - Is she a candidate for an annulment since he's breaking one of his marriage vows?
I'm NOT a candidate for annulment as John changed his mind after marriage. Also, we're not LOOKING to separate as we still love one another and wish to remain a family. As Father stated, if John had lied during our vows and never had any intention of creating children, that'd be different. The fact remains that his mind changed and regardless, we still love one another.
4 - Since her husband is refusing, if he remains obstinate, would she be allowed to go to an IVF facility and "adopt" an embryo without facing a moral dilemma?
I'm actually on the fence with IVF. That's actually a REALLY interesting point that I never thought of.
Father is correct - IVF itself is morally objectionable due to the fact that science is not how God decreed life to initiate, but if an infertile married couple chose to "adopt" a life that was already made through the sin of another, wouldn't this be kinda like adopting the child of a rape victim? Or adopting a forgotten / abandoned child from an orphanage?
Since these embryos remain in a state of frozen suspension, a loving, infertile couple who are open to life but simply unable to conceive may have been created infertile by God specifically so they could be the Hand of Divine Providence for those forgotten lives.
I honestly have no idea about that one, but it's definitely something to think about. Anyone else have opinions on this one, 'cause it's actually a really interesting point.
Over at Why I am Catholic, someone asked how to deal with the confusion regarding Christ's "less than 3 days" resurrection. Basically folks who bring this up make the argument that the Resurrection of Christ is contrary to the Bible in that Jesus died on Good Friday and rose on Sunday morning - not 3 days like "He was supposed to."
People tend to forget that Christ's actual Passion began on Holy Thursday. At the moment of Consecration, Jesus gave His consent to the Father regarding the sacrificial role He was about to embark upon. That moment is the spark that began His Passion.
His Agony in the Garden followed in which He prayed for the full repentance of ALL sinners, most especially Judas, I bet.
From there He felt the betrayal of Judas and the violence of the guards who shackled Him and bullied Him along the path towards Caiaphas. He was spat upon, kicked, beaten and humiliated every step of the way. Each blow that fell upon Him, each indignity, He offered up in atonement for our sins. The trials (both the midnight one and the ones before Pilate / Herod) were also full of beatings, spittal, indignations and brutality.
People always forget that Holy Thursday was very much a part of Christ's Passion, not just the horror of Good Friday. Christ suffered so much more than we can ever fully realize, and lopping off Holy Thursday tends to make that even easier for us.
And if anyone tries to argue against that, just remind them that Christ gave us the Mass that night through the Institution of both the Eucharist and the Priesthood. We can't have the Eucharist without the death / resurrection of Christ (which is what the Eucharist celebrates). Since Christ is God - timeless and unconstrained by that 4th dimensional reality - His Sacrifice was already fully present through His consent to God the Father.
Just as the Mass today brings us front and center to the true foot of the Cross, that first Mass then also brought the Apostles to the Cross before they even understood they'd be fleeing from it in fear.
Tonight was my first night back teaching CCD since the break.
The two questions I pulled from the Question Box tonight were:
If Jesus and John the Baptist were alive today, would they celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah?
(I guess this one was put into the box before the break.)
If "BC" means "Before Christ" and "AD" means "After Death" what comes in between?
Ha ha ha ha - seriously! This is why I adore my Tuesday night lessons. Never a dull moment. Every class is full of innocence, a sincere thirst for learning, and such touching sentiments. I am so grateful for the chance to work with these children. :)
_BTW - special shout out to my wonderful mother who celebrates her birthday today. YAY!
***Read 3rd paragraph before clicking link!***
A friend of mine posted this link to my wall this morning coupled with this question:
Do Catholics still/did they ever believe that sex is only for pro-creation?
Now before you go clicking that link, I'd like to warn some of my more sensitive readers that you will be taken to a site that prides itself on being hip, irreverent and sexually charged. Of course, it's titled Jezebel. So be warned that the article, though it deals with a valid question many people, like my above friend, ask, it handles religion is an extremely arrogant, ignorant manner which even I (someone not easily offended) offense to. If you'd rather not click the link, keep reading for a basic summary.
The article she pointed me towards dealt with a growing trend in the adult entertainment business. Adult toy makers are apparently attempting to draw in the more religious crowd with shops titled "Covenant Spice," "Kosher Sex Toys," and "El Asira." These are not your typical "Adam and Eve" vendors. They are all G-rated in content (no vixens in sexually suggestive poses, item names are scrubbed of sexually charged words, etc), each site de-sexualizes reviews (and packaging!), and most rely on religious commentary to set potential customers at ease.
I assume this led my friend to ask about that nagging stereotype she'd heard so many times about Catholics believing sex is only for creating children, not for creating pleasure. As always, I thanked her for being one of the few to actually seek out clarification on this point, as it's something many Catholics are typically confused about. Since sex is such a taboo subject, stereotypes abound because no one wants to open their mouths to clarify on account of the subject matter.
Anyway, my answer was this:
Sex is NOT only for procreation, though that is one of the main aspects of it. Sex, to Catholics, is a constant renewal of wedding vows (our wedding vows being to give ourselves to one another freely, totally, faithfully and fruitfully). Sex is the summation of those vows and a constant reminder that we sacrifice ourselves for one another, and if we sacrifice willingly for the happiness and pleasure of the other, good things happen to both of us - and to subsequent children.
Obviously this is as base an answer as possible, but hopefully it gets my point across.
As for vibrators, etc, typically the Church frowns upon those things as they can lead to masturbation (which harms healthy sexual functioning within a marriage) or a clouded view of sexual relations within a marriage itself.
HOWEVER, upon researching this particular question due to another friend of mine (like yourself) who posted something similar about a year ago, I learned that the Church does make allowances for things like this when used in a healthy way.
This link is one that I had come across in my research that I felt answered the question perfectly for me. So I leave it for all of you as well, since this truly is something that has befuddled many Christians. Sex really is OK to talk about in a mature and loving way. :)
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