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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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LITURGY OF THE WORD

Readings, Responsorial, Gospel Verse & Gospel

Many Protestant services end where Catholic Masses begin.  There are hymns, bible readings, Gospel proclamation, preaching and petitions for the faith community and the world.  If there is a communion service it may not be weekly and is directed more toward fellowship than to necessary divine worship.  The focus of Christ’s presence for most Protestants is the Word but not the sacrament.  Given that Catholics appreciate that the Word prepares us for the Eucharist, I have often been asked, might the Scriptures be sufficient for a saving faith?  While the original reformers deliberately broke away from the Catholic Church, many Protestants find themselves by accident of birth in non-Catholic churches through no fault of their own.  God understands ignorance and he also knows those who love him.  The answer to what is saving is located somewhere between one’s appreciation of the truth and the movement of hearts.  It is there that we leave judgment to God.  The sacraments are the normative instruments through which God gives grace but almighty God in his providence is not restricted to the sacraments.  That is why I argue that the culpability of a Catholic who falls away and defects to one of these non-Catholic ecclesial communities cannot be compared to those who are born and raised within them. The Catholic should know better.  While the Protestant is called to full conversion, God will not abandon him along the trajectory of his faith journey. 

Going back to the 11th century, this part of the liturgy is sometimes labeled the Mass of the Catechumens or the Mass of the Faithful. There is an obvious link to the old synagogue service. The table of the Word prepares us for the Table of the Eucharist.  After the expulsion of the Jewish Christians, the followers of Jesus would read Scripture and the epistles of the apostles at the beginning of their Agape and Eucharist on the morning of the Lord’s Day or Sunday. It is during this time of transition that there is an organic movement from the Hebrew Sabbath to the Sunday Observance on the Lord’s Day. The first commemorates creation and the day of rest; the second celebrates a re-creation in Christ and his resurrection.  This will modify the commandments just as severely as the incarnation would change the economy of images.  Cherishing their sacred books, during the time of the Talmud the Jews would read them continuously in their synagogue services, picking up where they leave off just as we do.  They would read first from the Law and then a passage from the Prophets. A homily follows the prophetic reading.  The chanting of psalms would also find its roots in the Jewish service. 

The early Christians would add their stories, writings and letters to the Hebrew Scriptures.  There would be no official canon of the New Testament until the fourth century.  Believers in Christ share their stories through an oral tradition which is later written down.  They also pass between their faith communities important letters from the apostles.  These are copied and preserved. 

The reformed liturgy of the Church after Vatican II would see a larger lectionary of readings, restoring much of the Old Testament previously dropped in favor of lessons from the epistles.  The proposal for a broader scope of readings is brought forward at the time of the Council of Trent but it would not be pursued for many centuries.  Pope Francis has been decidedly clear to Traditionalists who prefer the old Latin Mass that the readings cannot remain a symbol but must be in the vernacular and easily understood.     

The current pattern at Sunday Mass is a first reading from the Old Testament, the responsorial psalm, a second reading from the New Testament epistle, an alleluia or gospel verse and then the Gospel.  The latter is always read by either a deacon or priest, with the emphasis given the deacon.  This is patterned on ancient usage and may reflect an honor entrusted to all deacons given the martyrdom of Stephen who is among the first to lay down his life in proclaiming the Good News of Christ.  The one exception to having a cleric proclaim the Gospel would come on Christmas night when the Roman emperor, dressed in regal attire, would proclaim the “Exiit edictum a Caesare Augusto” from Luke 2.  This indulgence to the successors of Roman rule testifies to the conversion of the empire from paganism to Christianity and how even Caesar now joins the three kings of the Epiphany in bowing to the Christ Child and to his eternal kingdom.

The Council of Orange (441 AD) insists that catechumens (those in Christian formation for baptism) are not to be dismissed until after the Gospel, not before. This respects the command to take the Gospel to all the earth (Mark 16:15). It is the Good News of Christ that makes possible conversion. The deacon beseeches a blessing from the celebrant, goes to the altar for the Book of the Gospels and then accompanied by two servers with candles proceeds to the ambo.  As with the entry, they may be led by another server with the censor.  The deacon incenses the book prior to proclamation.  It is here that an ancient prescription mandates the lighting of tapers and candles for the Gospel. All this is to show heightened honor to the Gospel as the life and words of Christ.  The option of enthroning the Book of the Gospels is to symbolize that Jesus is presiding. The traditional posture for hearing the Gospel is standing. The priest kisses the book at the end of the proclamation.  When a higher prelate like a bishop presides, the deacon brings it to him to kiss.

Our Lord calls us to have faith in him.  We are admonished by St. Paul not to be ashamed of Christ and by our Lord to have a courageous faith.  Standing for the Gospel shows a readiness to act or to serve.  Bravery in taking up our crosses and following Jesus, embracing the two-edged sword of his Good News is likely why the priest or deacon makes a triple signing of the forehead, lips and breast, and in addition, a signing the book. We welcome Christ by standing with open minds to his truth, prepared to confess this truth with our lips, and to faithfully preserve this truth in our hearts.  This signing is sometimes regarded as symbolic of sewing seed for the harvest of Christ. 

The deacon and priest must fully appreciate that their privilege to proclaim the Gospel and to preach is a dire responsibility that can bring to them either singular graces or the most terrible conviction before almighty God. If the deacon attends the ambo then he is first blessed by the priest as a spiritual protection. If the priest will proclaim the Gospel and preach then he will pray inaudibly, from his lips to God’s ears, “Cleanse my heart and my lips, almighty God, that I may worthily proclaim your holy Gospel.” This little prayer goes back to the sixteenth century.  It may go back earlier but it is mandated in an age when too many priests fail to be the holy shepherds they were called to be.  Remember Isaiah 6:6 and the burning coal brought to the lips of the seer— the one entrusted with the Word must be a prophet for all that the Gospel contains.  God’s Word is fire and if one is not properly prepared then this fire will consume the one that speaks!  I am talking about more than an occasional “damn” or “hell” that emerges from righteous indignation; too many today have unclean lips where they constantly give voice to the vulgar and derogatory, mouthing not love and truth but hatred and lies!  The priest or deacon must be the first to take the lessons of faith to heart.     

Homily

I am well aware that many make distinctions about what is and is not a homily.  Liturgists will often define the homily as an explication of the readings that is somehow connected to the lives of listeners.  This is a good definition but then efforts will be made at a demarcation from sermons or other religious talks.  I would not narrow the focus and allow that this part of the liturgy might also discuss a seasonal theme, an oration of the liturgy or a pressing need or challenge of the faith community. The homily can be traced to pre-Christian elements, such as the guidance of prophets and the reflections given in the synagogue services of the Jews.  Our Lord reads from Scripture at a synagogue and announces that the message of a coming Messiah is fulfilled in their hearing.  Paul and Barnabas are urged by the leaders of the synagogue in Antioch to speak encouragement or consolation to those gathered. 

While many priests do not preach at weekday Masses and/or leave out the General Intercessions, this is increasingly frowned upon.  It may be that the notion of the homily as a mere interpolation (independent insertion and not a constituent component) is due to ancient prohibitions against preaching given the poor quality of priestly instruction or formation.  Indeed, there are some deacons, men entrusted with the Gospel, and a few priests, who are not given faculties to preach even today because of concerns about what they might say. (I am reminded of junior priests from the days prior to Vatican II who were not given faculties for confessions until there was a certain spiritual growth or maturity.) All this seems somewhat ridiculous today.  How can we ordain a man to the diaconate and present him with the Lectionary of Readings while not giving him the authority to speak upon it?  How could we refuse a priest the faculties to preach and to forgive sins when his whole vocation is dedicated to the proclamation of the Good News and the forgiveness of sins?  Too often we have reduced deacons to the role of glorified altar boys.  They are clergy with holy orders!  Holy Orders cannot be given out as badges of honor to pious men; no, if a man cannot live out his vocation and lead the flock in the worship and service of God then he would best not be ordained.  Am I too judgmental about this?  I know of several priests who have never really served a day in the dioceses where they were ordained.  They dedicate their lives to causes that laymen could do as well or better.  Some make a living blogging or raising funds on YouTube or in writing sensational books.  They have gifts, that is for sure— but where is the obedience, the humility, and the community they are supposed to serve?  These vagrant clergy need to be disciplined by their bishops and given proper assignments.  If they refuse, then they should not be shifted to other dioceses or religious communities, but laicized.  Priesthood is a gift— a calling— not an entitlement to feign holiness and to bask in unearned respect. 

The Creed

The Nicene Creed is professed by celebrant and congregation on Sundays and special holy days.  The origins of the Creed are not with the Mass but with the bishops in council, usually trying to resolve a heresy afflicting the faith. The Holy Spirit is invoked. Then there is discussion, prayer and eventually a vote. Those who participate in the Mass and who receive the Eucharist must be in a “communion of faith” with each other.  It is for this reason quite logical that the Creed would be inserted into the liturgy following the readings and homily. Our Creed or symbol of faith develops or is utilized through a series of councils:  Nicea (325 AD), Chalcedon (451 AD), and Constantinople (381 AD). The Nicene Creed serves both the purpose of catechesis as did the old Roman or “Apostles’ Creed” prior to baptism as well as one of apologetics against heresy.  Creeds always answer the question as to what we most fundamentally believe. 

The Creed can be divided into five sections:  God the Father and our Creator, Christ our Lord and Redeemer, the Saving Work of Christ, God the Holy Spirit, and the Church as the Sacrament of Salvation. Against various heresies, the incarnation of Christ is affirmed, as is his divinity. Similarly, the divinity of the Holy Spirit is acknowledged. Throughout the mystery of the Trinity is presented:  one God (divine Nature) in three divine Persons.  The significance of baptism comes within the appreciation of the mystery of the Church that Jesus instituted as one, holy, catholic and apostolic.  Membership in the Church is not an optional affair or just for mutual support and fellowship.  It is the vehicle that Jesus gives us to know him and to be in relationship with him.  It is from the eighth to the eleventh centuries that the Creed is inserted into liturgies, at least the Sunday Mass.  At first, the Apostles’ Creed is regularly substituted given that before missals the lay people are more familiar with it.  The Nicene Creed proves difficult for many to master due to the Latin and its length. Thus, while it is preferred that the whole congregation recite it, often it has been chanted by clerics alone. (Pew missals for congregants, while available before Vatican II, are a modern novelty.  Indeed, books that translate the Latin had a long history of being prohibited. This changed, especially with efforts in the pre-Vatican II Church toward a dialogue Mass that would give some of the servers’ responses to congregants.)  My father learned as a child his responses to the Tridentine Mass with 78 LP records to which he would listen over and over again, parroting even that which he did not fully understand. He grew up in the 1920’s and served Mass into his adult years.   

While it might be a minority view in the Church, I have often thought that we might need another council and an amended Creed in the modern era to spell out our moral values as Christians.  If heresies in the past were about the identity of God or the divinity and unity of Christ’s natures or about the role of the Holy Spirit— the great questions of our day have to do, not with the Creator but with creation— good stewardship of the earth, the dignity and behavior of persons as male and female, and the sanctity of life at all stages of development. 

Back in 2012 I adapted a commissioning ceremony for catechists with this in mind.  As I recall the inspiration came from something similar in the Arlington, Virginia diocese.  After the recitation of the Creed, the catechists are asked to answer a few questions in the affirmative:

With firm faith, do you also believe everything contained in the Word of God, whether written or handed down in Tradition, which the Church, either by a solemn judgment or by the ordinary and universal Magisterium, sets forth to be believed as divinely revealed? Response: I do.

Do you also firmly accept and hold each and every thing definitively proposed by the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals? Response: I do.

Moreover, do you adhere with religious submission of will and intellect to the teachings which either the Roman Pontiff or the College of Bishops enunciate when they exercise their authentic Magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim these teachings by a definitive act? Response: I do.

It finishes with the priest-celebrant praying that God might help them to be good stewards of what he entrusts to them. Creeds and such statements do not signify shackles over minds and wills but rather an opening of them to divine revelation and the deposit of faith entrusted to us so that all men and women might be free.   

While we often speak of the Table of the Word preparing us for the Table of the Eucharist, there is initially an independence of one from the other. As a practical illustration of this I recall experimentation back in my seminary days where the lectern or ambo is placed on one extreme side of the chapel and the altar is placed on the other.  This accentuated the movement between the parts of the liturgy.    

Prayer of the Faithful or Litany of Supplications

The petitions for Good Friday and the veneration service were traditionally rendered with nine petitions, now enlarged to ten:  (1) for holy Church, (2) for the Pope, (3) for the faithful, clergy and laity, (4) for catechumens, (5) for heretics and schismatics or Church unity, (6) for Jews, (7) for heathens not knowing Christ, (8) for atheists, (9) for rulers or elected officials, (10) for those facing tribulation. A distinction is now made between heathens and atheists. Given that they now came across as offensive, the petition for the Jews has been rewritten.   

Today, the rendering for Masses is restored (1) for the needs of the Church, (2) for the world, (3) for those in need, and (4) for the local community.

Pope Clement I wrote to the Corinthians (59-61 AD) an early sample of such petitions:

“We beseech you, O Lord, be our helper and provide for us; save those of us who are in tribulation; take pity on the oppressed, raise up those that have fallen, reveal yourself to those who beg, heal the sick, lead those of your people who have gone astray once more into the right path. Feed the hungry, deliver those in prison, bring health to the sick, and comfort to the faint-hearted. Let all peoples recognize that you are the one God and that Jesus Christ is your servant and that we are your people and the sheep of your pasture . . . . Yes, Lord, make your face to shine upon us for our well-being and our peace, so that we may be protected by your strong hand and guarded against every sin by your mighty arm, and save us from those who hate us groundlessly. Give unity and peace to us and to all who dwell on earth, as you did give to our fathers when they called upon you devoutly with faith and sincerity. Let us be obedient to your all dominant and powerful name and to our rulers and princes on earth. . . . Grant them, O Lord, health, concord, peace and stability, that they may exercise unhindered the authority with which you have entrusted them . . . so that they may piously exercise in peace and meekness the authority which you have granted them, and may participate in your grace. . . . Who alone has power to give these and more good things, you we praise through the high priest and protector of our souls, Jesus Christ, through whom be glory and majesty to you now and from generation to generation, forever and ever. Amen.”

The Roman Rite has restored the Prayer of the Faithful and places it after the homily or the Creed.  The Eastern liturgies have tended to more fully absorb the litany into the liturgical prayer or Eucharistic liturgy.  While a lector or a deacon might read the petitions in the West, the oriental rites make it essentially the diaconal litany and the celebrant’s prayer.  The Roman Rite retains petitions within the anaphora or Eucharistic prayer for the clergy, for the Church, for the dead and asks intercession from the saints. Indeed, it is a recovery in that previously the Kyrie litany (earlier in the Mass) had replaced these bidding prayers.  Note that the response of the current Prayer of the Faithful is often either “Lord, hear our prayer” or “Lord, have mercy on us.”