The Joy of the Lord

The joy of the Lord will be your strength. Nehemiah 8:10

Cheryl and I were praying together this morning, and one of the Scriptures we read reminded me of a song sung by the Medical Mission Sisters. It was in the 1960’s and their music was always filled with such joy. In fact, simple, childlike joy was a hallmark of the renewal movement in the 1960’s. I actually began to weep as I wondered why we see so little joy these days.

Amid this pandemic, joy seems scarce. We might even feel insensitive or crass if we openly expressed joy. There is so much trouble, so much sadness. But life was not all peaches and cream when Nehemiah made the promise given above. “The joy of the Lord will be your strength.”

Israel had been exiled from their homeland for 70 years. A few were allowed to return under Nehemiah’s leadership to rebuild Jerusalem from the rubble. He was maligned by those who did not want Jerusalem rebuilt and so he was arrested and tried for treason. When he began rebuilding the walls, he was daily attacked by those opposed, so the builders had to keep swords with them as they worked, always ready to defend the project. But he encouraged the people, “The joy of the Lord will be your strength.”

Could simple, childlike joy be the key to strength in our time as well?

Here are a few suggestions about how to get back to joy.

  1. Watch less news. In the 1960’s the news was only on for 30 minutes a day. Somehow we didn’t seem to miss it.
  2. Listen to uplifting music that praises God. Yes, the Medical Mission Sister still publish CD’s.
  3. Get together with others to pray, praise, and support each other.
  4. Attend the daily live stream Mass or at least read the daily readings as part of your prayer time.
  5. Sing. It is good for your body and your soul. Just keep a safe social distance when singing.

Remember, it is God who is in control of this universe. Not Covid. Not government health agencies. In this Easter season we celebrate Christ who conquered death. So, let’s celebrate with joy.

Mass Intentions

“Be pleased to confirm in faith and charity your pilgrim Church on earth, with your servant Francis our Pope and James our Bishop, Steven the Bishop of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, the Order of Bishops, all the clergy, and the entire people you have gained for your own, especially….” Roman Missal

The Holy Mass is prayer, and like all prayers, every mass is said for an intention. Priests are instructed in Canon Law to intend masses “for the Christian faithful, especially for those in need.” Sometimes that intention is spoken, at other times not. Whenever a Mass is offered for a specific intention, the Mass applies special graces from God upon that person or intention. We often intercede for others by our personal prayers. The Church is able to intercede for us through the celebration of the Mass itself. One mass each Sunday is said for all the parishioners of the parish, both living and deceased.

Pope Paul VI said, “The Mass is the most perfect form of prayer!” It has immense power and countless miracles and conversions have occurred throughout the centuries by offering Masses for a specific intention or person. Mass intentions are a great treasure of the Church and have a spiritual weight that is incalculable. Since the Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life” the Mass possess a power that most efficacious.

The practice of Mass intentions goes back to the first centuries of the Church. Inscriptions in the Roman catacombs demonstrate Mass intentions were being expressed as early as 150 A.D. Then, as now, Mass intentions were offered for the repose of the soul of a loved one, for special occasions such as an anniversary, or for individuals.

Anyone can request a Mass be said for a specific intention. Generally, a small offering is made so the one making the request becomes a sharer in the mass. As King David once said, “I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” (2 Samuel 24:24) In our diocese, there is no minimum offering, but there is a maximum of $10. In some poor countries this offering is a large part of the priest’s income. In the U.S., where priests receive a regular salary, this offering goes to the general church fund.

The Mystery of Faith

Before the most recent edition of the Roman Missal, when the priest said, “The Mystery of Faith,” all would respond. “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” That simple declaration encapsulates the accomplishment of Jesus of Nazareth. He died as the payment of man’s breaking covenant with God. He rose from the dead to defeat death so that man could live eternally in accordance with God’s original plan for mankind. He will come again to establish his eternal kingdom, where man reigns with God over the entire universe. This declaration is the mystery of the Gospel. This gospel, declared on the lips of martyrs, transformed the world. It was proclaimed by the apostles to the first church in what scholars refer to as the kerygma. That proclamation was passed on to the modern church in the form of the Apostle’s Creed, which is our baptismal covenant.

With the new edition of the Roman Missal we now say, “We proclaim your death and profess your resurrection until you come again.” Not only is it the proclamation of the apostles, it is our proclamation as well. The work of the apostles is not done until has heard and understood the Gospel, the mystery of faith. Not all will receive it, but all should be given the chance.

It is easy to become complacent in modern America in which there are churches seemingly on every corner. We might think the job is done. But can we think our job is finished in a culture so riddled with falsehood and violence?

The mystery of faith is not just something we memorize. It is a responsibility. We are responsible for proclaiming it to our time and our culture. If our culture is different from that of the primitive church, then it is our task to develop new means and methods to proclaim it in a way that will be meaningful to our age.

So when we say, “We proclaim your death and profess your resurrection until you come again.” Let us not miss the fact that we are not only professing what Christ has done, but what we will do. It is our job to partner with Christ who purchased our salvation by proclaiming that mystery to all. Every time someone accepts that mystery, the world becomes a little more peaceful and a little more holy.

I Confess

In both daily and Sunday Masses, worshippers are called upon to make a confession of sin. This is called the Confiteor. In the Roman Missal it occurs in the introductory rites. In the Ordinariate service, following the Eastern tradition, it is said by the priest and servers before the service with a Confession of Sin for the congregation following the homily.

The Confiteor is an act of self-purification before approaching the Altar of the Lord. The tradition goes back to Moses who required ritual purification before serving in the Tabernacle or the Temple. It is echoed in the New Testament, “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts.” James 4:8

The Confiteor is begun by a call to confession and a moment of silence for self-examination. It is sometimes difficult for worshippers to shed all the stress of getting to church on time to pause and reflect on their lives and mentally bring their sins to God. A silent utterance of the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, Have Mercy on me a sinner.” May be helpful to foster an attitude of repentance.

First, we confess six categories of sins.

  • Thoughts of ill will against God, our neighbors, or against ourselves.
  • Failure to be thoughtful of the commandments of God or the needs of others.
  • Unkind words spoken against others. Passing malicious rumors. Speaking injurious lies.
  • Failing to speak words of praise to God. Failing to speak well of others in need of encouragement.
  • Overtly committing sins against God or our neighbor.
  • Failing to act in such a way that glorifies God. Failing to perform deeds of service to our neighbors in need.

We compress all this into a simple statement. “in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do.”

We then take full responsibility for our sins. Mea culpa. Through my fault. Our sins are not the fault of our parent’s shortcomings, misguided teachers, or sinful priests & bishops. Our sins are through our own fault alone.

Finally, we profess our confidence in God’s forgiveness. “My Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins and bring us to everlasting life.” This is not an absolution as in sacramental confession, but a proclamation of trust. For the Scripture promises, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9

Liturgy of the Word

In the earliest description of the mass, written by Justin Martyr around 150 AD, Justin says, “On the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day, the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are being read as long as it is allowable.” Even in the New Testament, Paul instructs Timothy to “Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching, and to teaching.” (1 Timothy 4:13) The Second Epistle of Peter speaks of the public reading of Paul’s letters, referring to them as Scripture and encouraging a carefully guided understanding. (2 Peter 3:16) These early references show us that from the first days of the Church, the public reading of Scripture and an explanatory homily was a crucial part of Christian worship.

The Liturgy of the Word, then, is not just a preamble to the Eucharist. It is a conduit of God’s transformative grace that renews our minds and changes our lives. St. Paul refers to the Scriptures as “God-breathed, and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16)

Receiving the Holy Eucharist gives us food for the journey. It cleanses and strengthens us to live the life of God in this life. But the Liturgy of the Word is no less important as it give us direction and understanding. Without it, we could be carried away by the personal opinions, conjectures, and agendas of “those who distort the Scriptures, to their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:16)

The importance of the Liturgy of the Word has become even more apparent in this time when so many do not have access to the Holy Eucharist because of the pandemic restrictions. I know those who cannot safely attend mass rightfully long for the day they can return to the reception of the Eucharist. But during these trying times, we should not belittle what God gives us in his Holy Scriptures. There is power in the Word of God. It was through the Word of God that all of creation came into being. And the Word of God can encourage, guide, and strengthen you in the days ahead and throughout your life.

The Holy Trinity Enthroned in our Hearts

I was asked recently to shed some light on various words and phrases used in our Mass. I think this is a very good idea as it can add a seriousness and understanding to our prayers. You may recall I spent several weeks going line by line through the Our Father. Many have told me that they found that series very enriching. Before that, I wrote on the Gloria as a Bouquet of praise.

I thought we would discuss that trinitarian formula that begins every mass “In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” The same formula also forms a suffix that is appended to so many of our prayers at Mass, “To you, God our Father, through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.” The wording varies a little bit with each prayer, but all the elements are there again and again. In fact, with just a couple of exceptions, all the prayers of the Mass are prayed to God the Father, through Jesus Christ the Son, in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

This trinitarian formula has its origin in Jesus, himself, who commanded his disciples to Baptize, “in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” This commandment accomplishes three things. First, it explains how God can be love. Second, it explains how Jesus, while fully human, could also be fully God. Third, it explains how we, who are fallen humanity, can be united to God.

  • It explains how God is Love, since Love requires a lover (Father), a beloved (Son), and ta spirit that binds them together (Holy Spirit). Indeed, for God to be Love, he actually must be Trinity.
  • It explains how Jesus Christ can be fully human and fully God, as he is the Son of God and God the Son.
  • It explains how we can be united to God as, through the indwelling Holy Spirit of Love, we are adopted as children of God in our baptism.

St. Theresa of Avila reminds us in her Interior Castle that the Holy Trinity is not “somewhere in outer space” sitting on a throne like Zeus on Olympus playing chess with his universe. The Holy Trinity is enthroned in our inmost being, illuminating our souls with his light.

When we call upon God in this trinitarian formula, we invoke his Life, his Authority, and his Unity “who lives and reigns in unity.” And we declare, “World without end.” This is not just a fancy way of saying that God is eternal. It reminds us that we have a choice in our life. We can choose to focus on and live for success in this world that is doomed for destruction. Or we can choose to focus on and live for success in the next world that is eternal, world without end. The martyrs universally call to us that to lose this world is nothing, and that to gain the next world is everything.

Do this in memory of me

In every Mass during the words of consecration the priest repeats the words of Jesus, “Do this in memory of me.”

In our culture, to remember something is simply to call it to mind. If more thought is given to the subject, we would likely use words like “consider,” or “reflect upon.” However, in Jesus’ culture, to remember had a much deeper meaning.

From the beginning of time, worship involved remembering through re-enactment, and in that process, making present the effect of a past act of God. We see this in the Jewish celebration of Passover, where re-enacting the Hebrews deliverance from Egypt through the Passover liturgy and sacred meal made the reality of God’s deliverance present to the Jewish family. Going back to 10,000 BC in the ruins of the Gobekli Tepe, we see that the worship of ancient man involved a re-enactment of the Eden story.

To remember is to participate. In the Mass the events of the Passion of Christ “become in a certain way present and real… When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, she commemorates Christ’s Passover, and it is made present. The sacrifice of Christ offered once for all on the Cross remains ever present.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church Para. 1363, 1364)

The Mass makes the sacrifice of Christ truly present as the bread and wine become the real presence of the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus. In the Mass, we become the disciples at the Last Supper, in Gethsemane, and at Calvary. In this memorial/re-enactment, we are invited to join our sacrifice, the living sacrifice of our lives, to Christ’s sacrifice, so Christ can present it along with his to the Father.