All posts by Ed Wills

Pray for the Nation

I am writing this before dawn on Inauguration Day. If our parish is a reflection of the general population, half of you are happy and half of you are disappointed. At times like these, I encourage everyone to shift their gaze heavenward. Do not look to the men and women who sit in seats of government. Look to God who sits upon the throne of power.

Our lives are not dictated by the congress, or the senate, or even the president. As Christians, our lives are guided and fulfilled by the presence of God. Think of the first Christians who lived under the Roman Empire. They were unimpressed by an Emperor who declared himself to be a god. They intimately knew the True God. They lived their lives fully, in peace and love. All was joy for them. Even when called to martyrdom, they rejoiced to share in Christ’s sufferings.

During this time, Saint Paul offers us an admonition.

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. 1 Timothy 2:1-2

In the Book of Common Prayer, the first prayer listed is a prayer for those in government.

MOST gracious God, we humbly pray the people of these United States and especially for those in civil government; that you would be pleased to direct and prosper all their consultations:

  • to the advancement of your glory
  • the good of your Church
  • the safety, honor, and welfare of your people

that all things may be so ordered and settled by their endeavors, upon the best and most solid foundations, that peace and happiness, truth and justice, religion and goodness, may be established among us for all generations. These and all other necessities, for them, for us, and your whole Church, we humbly beg in the Name and mediation of Jesus Christ, our most blessed Lord and Savior. Amen

This past weekend we celebrated the feast day of Our Lady of Hope. If you are unfamiliar with the story, Our Lady an apparition in Pontmain France in which the Blessed Mother appeared to children in order to bring the Franco-Prussian War to an end. Her words to the children were, “Keep praying. God will hear you in time. My son always allows himself to be moved with compassion.” On that very night, the general of the Prussian army halted his advance saying, “We can go no further. There is an invisible Madonna blocking the way.” What that story teaches us is this: Victory does not go to the strong. It goes to the one who prays.

As our nation moves into a new administration, we should pray earnestly for all those in authority, not that they should listen to our opinion and follow our agenda, but that we would be able to live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. It is not the job of our government to make things better for us. Rather it is our job to lead our culture into godliness and dignity.

Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14

Call to Thanksgiving

Following the Sursum Corda (“Lift up your hearts”) the preface of the Eucharistic Prayer opens with a call to thanksgiving, which, of course, it the meaning of Eucharist. Although there are many prefaces assigned to special days and seasons, they all begin the same. “It is truly right and just (“meet and right” -Divine Worship Missal), our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Father most holy.”

Additionally, many Eucharistic Prayers repeat that call to thanksgiving at the end of the Preface.

“You are indeed Holy, O Lord, and all you have crated rightly gives you praise…” Eucharist Prayer 3 based on the Anaphora of Saint James

“It is truly right to give you thanks, and truly just to give you glory, Father most holy….” Eucharistic Prayer 4 based on the Anaphora of St. Basil the Great

This call to thanksgiving is an invitation to experience the power of God activated in our daily lives through an attitude of thanksgiving in all things. “Rejoice always. Pray constantly. Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

To give thanks in all things is not necessarily the same as giving thanks for all things. Even in our darkest hours, when we face grief and sorrow, we can still offer God thanksgiving, not for our sorrow, but in the midst of our sorrow, because we know God will give us the strength to carry our burden and find victory on the other side.

In Jesus’ darkest hour, as he prepared to undergo his Passion, he walked with his disciples from the Upper Room to the Garden of Gethsemane singing Psalm 118, “O give thanks to the Lord for he is good. His love endures forever.” This great Psalm of triumph continues, “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Jesus focus was not on the pain and suffering of his Passion, but on the glory and victory of his Resurrection. Therefore, he could offer thanksgiving in the midst of his suffering, knowing the victory ultimately belonged to God.

In our re-enactment of Christ’s passion in the Eucharist, we open with a call to thanksgiving, following Christ’s example. The ability to offer God thanks in in suffering is the ultimate proclamation of our faith. We express our confidence in God’s ultimate victory even when nothing seems like it now.

As people share with me their pains and their requests for prayer, I am struck with how much sorrow there is in our congregation and the world. How do we carry such burdens? How do we hold onto our faith when grief is tearing our world apart? The same way Jesus held steady as he took the cross upon his shoulders and carried the weight of the sin of the world up the hill to Golgotha. “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good. His love endures forever.”

Benedictus es

In the mass there are a few prayers the priest says quietly while something else is going on. One of those prayers is the Benedictus es, or “Blessed are You”. It is said during the offertory. After the gifts of bread and wine are brought up, while the cantor and congregation are singing the offertory hymn, the priest will lift up each of the gifts and pronounce a blessing. In daily masses, he will say the prayer aloud with those attending responding, “Blessed be God forever.” But on Sundays, because the offertory is being sung, he will simply say it quietly. “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you: fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life.”

This very ancient prayer predates Christianity by hundreds if not thousands of years. It was an ancient Jewish practice to thank God continually throughout the day using a formula known as the Berakah or Blessing. It was expected that devout Jews utter 100 blessings each day. The Berakah typically began “Blessed are You Lord God, King of the universe.” The second phrase of the Berakah then adds what it is that you are thanking God for. For example, before a meal one would commonly add: “Who brings for bread from the earth.” After a meal, “who feeds all.”

At the feeding of the 5,000, the Scripture tells us that Jesus took the bread and said a blessing. This would be the blessing Jesus spoke before the miracle. Similarly, the priest invokes the same blessing before the miracle of the Eucharist. “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you: fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life.

The priest then lifts up the chalice of wine. To the ancient Hebrews, as well as modern Jews, this cup was known as the Kiddush. The Rabbi would intone, “Blessed are You, God, our Lord, King of the universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine.” Then, it continues to say, “Blessed are You, God, our Lord, King of the universe, who has chosen us from among all nations, raised us above all tongues, and sanctified us by His commandments. And You, God, have given us lovingly.” Again, the priest utters a similar blessing. “Blessed are you. Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the wine we offer you: fruit of the vine and work of human hands, it will become our spiritual drink.”

These ancient prayers link our mass with the prayer life of Jesus and his disciples. It reminds us of how ancient our tradition is, being built upon the Jewish roots of the first Christians.

Alleluia

We are an Alleluia people, and Alleluia is our song.

Alleluia is the song of Easter. We silence the Alleluia during Lent as we prepare for Christ’s Passion. And we proclaim it loudly and often when we celebrate the Resurrection throughout the Easter season. But what exactly is Alleluia? Where does it come from? What does it mean? And how should be best proclaim it?

Alleluia (sometimes spelled “Halleluiah”) is a Hebrew word usually translated, “Praise the Lord.” However, its roots go even deeper than the Hebrew language itself. It is an onomatopoeic expression of ululation. Ululation is that high pitched trill made by a coordinated chorus of vocal cords, tongue, teeth, and uvula. It is practiced by a number of tribes in Africa and the Middle East. Even though I have spent time in the Middle East, I have only heard the sound on movies, usually used to celebrate a tribal victory or rescue from certain death. It is a sound of rejoicing. It is both exciting and penetrating.

Alleluia is a word of excitement and unrestrained joy. It is a word to express the thrill victory and of being saved from certain death. That is why it is the Easter word. In the Resurrection, Christ wins the victory and saves all of us, in fact all of mankind, from certain and eternal death. We become sharers in His victory as we look forward to our own resurrection on the last day. And so, we rejoice in exultant praise, “Alleluia.”

Too often, we say it because it is the liturgy beginning and ending of the Gospel proclamation as a sort of bookend. We say it with little more enthusiasm than the period that preceded it and follows it. But saying or even shouting the Alleluia is not what Christ calls us to do. He calls us to live it.

In the Book of Common Prayer, there is a beautiful prayer of thanksgiving that includes the line, “We show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives; by giving up ourselves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days.”

Alleluia is our song of praise. But it is not just something we say or sing. It so permeates who we are that it affects the way we live.

We are an Alleluia people and Alleluia is our song.

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.