Saturday, October 30, 2010

Mystagogy - Part 5

History Progresses, Mystagogy Declines 
          The sun shown brightly over the forests and fields of the fief that Sunday morning in the summer of the year of our Lord 1165.  A young mother was preparing to take her family to Mass at the nearby stone church.  Their parish was small and poor, located in the outskirts of a diocese in Barvaria.  The priest was uneducated.  He had memorized the parts of the Mass, but he was unable to explain them to the parishioners, most of whom were serfs attached to the fief of a local knight.  The people were poor and largely illiterate.  Their lives were harsh, unpredictable, and often short.  They had faith, indeed, and perhaps that was what helped them survive the hard work, the hunger, the numerous diseases, the unpredictability of the weather, and the severity of their human lord.  The young mother who was preparing her three little children for Sunday Mass certainly believed in Jesus Christ.  She knew He was the Son of God Who had come to earth to save humanity by His death and Resurrection.  She had been baptized as an infant, but she received the Eucharist only once a year at Easter time.  She even believed that the Mass was the right way to worship God, but like most of the other parishioners, she was not really sure exactly what went on during the liturgy.  She knew that the Bible was read, but since it was proclaimed in Latin and not in her own language, she could not understand it.  She would never have dreamt that she could be like the disciples she had heard about once, the ones who had walked along with the Lord and listened to Him explained the Bible.  She also knew that the priest consecrated the Eucharist during the second half of the Mass and that the Eucharist was the Body and the Blood of Jesus, but she did not know why or how.  Her faith was simple but not very deep.  In fact, even as she prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary, to whom she had a strong devotion, she still often practiced many of the old superstitions passed on to her by her mother and grandmother, like charms to ward off the “evil eye.”  The young mother took no time to reflect on all of this.  One of her children was crying, and she had to get the family to Mass.  They could not be late. (75)
          What had happened in the years between the age of the Fathers and the era of this medieval woman?  What had become of the rich mystagogy of earlier days?  In this study, we can only paint a broad, rather impressionistic picture of the centuries following what many even today think of as the “Golden Age” of the early Church (ignoring, or at least downplaying, the persecutions and heresies that plagued early Christianity).  In looking at the decline of mystagogy throughout the ages, we are by no means suggesting that the Church of the medieval or early modern eras was not the Body of Christ, and we must also recognize that there were many in the Church who retained a strong grasp of the unity of liturgy, Scripture, and mystery.  The smallest glimpse at the writings of saints like Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, Bernard, and Francis de Sales shows us this.  But, unfortunately, many ordinary “Catholics in the pew” were deprived of the post-baptismal teaching that would have introduced them to the depths and riches of their faith.  We shall examine a few of the reasons for this deficiency in mystagogy.
          Our whirlwind tour of Church history begins with the 313 A.D. Edict of Milan, by which the Emperor Constantine made Christianity a legal religion.  The Church was no longer to be persecuted by the pagan government of Rome; in fact, it was to be tolerated and, to some extent, even favored by the Romans.  The Church that had flourished by the blood of the martyrs now had to cope with civil interference and more organized and widespread heresies like Arianism.  This was the era of the great councils, Nicaea, Constantinople, Chalcedon, and Ephesus.  It was a time when the Church was formally defining and articulating its faith. It was still the time of the Fathers and their mystagogy, too, but times were changing.  Soon Rome was invaded by a host of barbarian tribes.  The empire had stretched itself too thin, had become decadent at its highest levels of society, and was gradually crumbling from the inside out, making it the perfect target for attackers like the Visigoths in 410 and the Huns and Goths a few decades later.  The empire collapsed miserably, and in 476 the last of the Roman emperors was deposed.  The Church now had a whole new set of peoples to convert to Christianity, peoples who had no experience with the Greco-Roman culture, peoples who had no experience with philosophy or the liberal arts or Scripture, peoples who were, well, barbarians. The bishops’ teaching had to change to accommodate their new audiences.  Before long some of the barbarian rulers, like Clovis, the king of the Franks, were converted, usually more for political reasons than anything else, and their subjects converted with them…or else.  The bishops now had people lining up for immediate baptism, and the long process of the catechumenate ending in the Easter Vigil rites faded into the past.  Mystagogy faded with it, for how could the bishops truly explain the integral nature of liturgy, Scripture, and mystery to a group of new converts who were converting immediately on the pain of death?  Indeed, times were changing. (76)
          As the Church moved into the Middle Ages, she began to experience widespread internal corruption and difficulties.  After all, she is human as well as divine.  Her bishops were sometimes more concerned about jockeying for political position than shepherding their flocks. Many of her priests were uneducated and even illiterate.  Certainly the Church enjoyed moments of reform, especially in the realm of monasticism, and certainly Christians built impressive monuments to the faith in this era of the great cathedrals.  But were the common people being taught the depths and riches of their faith?  Did they read and understand the Scriptures?  Did they often have the typology of the Scriptures, the rites of the liturgy, and their mysteries of their faith laid open for them?  Sadly, no.  They did not.  Further, changes were beginning to take place in the Church’s intellectual milieu as great scholastics like Albert and Thomas began to be challenged by the likes of William of Ockham, who helped to introduce the so-called via moderna in the fourteenth century.  This philosophy viewed God as an arbitrary, authoritarian figure rather than a loving Father and denied the existence of metaphysical universals.  The shift from a worldview incorporating both faith and reason to a worldview based on reason alone was beginning.  Human reason, human knowledge, human experience, and human sensory perception were fast taking the place of faith, mystery, and revelation.  The mystagogy of the Fathers, with its focus on God’s well-orchestrated divine economy and on the invisible realities signified by visible signs, no longer fit into this new perspective. (77)
          The Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century brought another rupture to the integration the Fathers so cherished.  Luther’s emphasis on sola scriptura denied the validity of Sacred Tradition and Magisterial authority, and while Luther retained the liturgy, at least in part, many of his successors, like Calvin and Zwingli, scrapped it altogether.  For a large part of the Christian world, the unity of liturgy, Scripture, and mystery was completely dissolved.  The pope and bishops worked hard to defend the Catholic faith at the Council of Trent, and they did an excellent job of it, but they had little time left to spend on reviving the mystagogy of earlier days.  Christendom lay in ruins, its unity shattered, and this situation opened the door for the next phase of decline, the so-called “Enlightenment,” the emergence of “scientific” rationalism.  This new movement, at best, privatized religion, relegating it to the realm of the subjective.  At its worst, it was openly atheistic and denied the supernatural altogether, insisting that empirical observation and human reason must reign supreme.  Philosophers, scientists, and psychologists like Kant, Hegel, Darwin, and Freud firmly asserted their rationalistic ideas. Mystery was no more. In fact it was a bit of a dirty word for the rationalists.  The liturgy was just a set of superstitious practices that certainly did not hide any invisible realities.  Scripture was a mere fiction; God could not possibly have intervened in history, if indeed there was a God at all.  Of course, most people in the Church did not think this way, at least not completely, but rationalism had a way of extending its influence even into the Church. (78)

75. Cf. John Laux, Church History (Rockford, Ill.: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1989; Hutton Webster, Medieval and Modern History (Boston: D.C. Heath & Co., 1919); Carlton J.H. Hayes and Parker Thomas Moon, Ancient and Medieval History (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1947).
76. Cf. Laux; Alan Schreck, The Compact History of the Catholic Church (Cincinnati: Servant Books, 1995); Alan Schreck, Class Lectures, Theology 603: Historical Foundations (Steubenville: Franciscan University, 2008).
77. Cf. Scott Hahn, Class Lectures, Theology 610: Theology and Ministry of the Word (Steubenville: Franciscan University, 2004); Laux; Schreck, History; Schreck, Lectures.
78. Cf. Hahn, Lectures; Laux.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Mystagogy - Part 4

The Early Church: Integration through Mystagogy (Part 2)
          For early Christians, then, there was a time and a place for the mysteries of the faith, the riches of liturgy, the depths of Scripture to be revealed and explained (at least as much as a human being could ever elucidate them).  There was a time and a place for mystagogy, which, as we have seen, was specially designed to integrate liturgy, Scripture, and mystery and to guide Christians into the depths of the Catholic faith.  The time was the days and weeks after Baptism.  The place was in the Church, generally at the feet of the bishop. It was here and it was then that the neophytes, and all other Christians along with them, finally entered into the fullness of the mysteries, finally learned the deep meanings of the sacramental rites in which they had participated for the first time at the Easter Vigil, finally understood the typology that revealed the unity of the whole divine economy, finally realized how all of these elements blended together to guide them into a life of intimacy with the Blessed Trinity.
          We will now look briefly at four examples of early Christian mystagogy, noting especially how this very special teaching offered Christians, both neophytes and long-time Church members, an integrated view of their liturgical, Scriptural, and mysterious faith.  We will begin with the mystagogy modeled by the Scriptures themselves, particularly in the Letter to the Hebrews and the Book of Revelation, books that “provide Christianity’s first and foundational mystagogy.” (61)  Hebrews has been described as “an extended medication on the liturgy of Israel and the liturgy of the church, the liturgy of the heaven and the liturgy on earth.” (62)  It constantly alludes to Old Testament prefigurations of Christ and His sacrifice, accomplished in time and continued in the liturgy. (63)  Jesus, for instance, is declared to be a “high priest according to the order of Melchizedek,” a high priest who constantly intercedes for us before the throne of God. (64)  Here the text is clearly presenting the Old Testament type Melchizedek (the mysterious priest-king of Salem who met the victorious Abraham and offered a sacrifice of bread and wine in Genesis 14:18), the Person and mission of Christ, and the Eucharistic liturgy (in which Jesus in our high priest) as inseparably united.  Later in Hebrews, in chapter 12, readers glimpse the “awesome communion of heaven and earth” and are told that “…you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect, and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.” (65)  Where does this happen?  Where do we approach the mysterious Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem?  Where is the blood poured out for us, blood that is more eloquent than its prefiguration in the blood of Abel?  In the Mass.  Again, we have encountered a mystagogical text, a teaching that invites us to recognize the Old Testament Mount Zion (the Old Testament Jerusalem) as a type; to discover the type’s fulfillment in the New Testament Jerusalem, the Church; to raise our minds to the heavenly Jerusalem we enter into in the liturgy; and to intimately experience the mysteries of our faith.
          We see a similar mystagogy in the Book of Revelation, a mysterious book filled with Old Testament allusions, which gives us a glimpse into the liturgy of heaven that is also the liturgy of the earth.  In The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth, Dr. Scott Hahn offers a detailed investigation of the liturgical character of Revelation, observing that “the golden thread of the liturgy is what holds together the apocalyptic pearls of John’s vision” and cataloging the liturgical elements present in the book (such as the altar, the Gloria, the “Holy, Holy, Holy,” incense, chalices, the Sign of the Cross, vestments, etc.). (66)  Indeed, as Dr. Hahn notes elsewhere, the Book of Revelation is a “veritable icon of the liturgy.” (67)  It draws readers into a contemplation of their own liturgical experiences, inviting them to see themselves as a part of the liturgy of Heaven even as they remain on earth.  The Book of Revelation, as we have said, is also filled with references to Old Testament types that foreshadow both New Testament events and the Church’s liturgy.  Dr. Hahn points out many of these, including Sodom, Egypt, Jericho, and Babylon (which are types of the old, earthly Jerusalem destroyed in 70 A.D.); the Lamb standing as though slain (which refers to Jesus but also calls to mind the first Passover and the Eucharist); and the Temple (which calls to mind the earthly Temple now replaced with the heavenly Temple made manifest on the earth by the Catholic Church). (68)  Once more, Scripture, liturgy, and mystery unite within the inspired Word of God to guide readers’ minds to a deeper and richer comprehension of their faith.  We could cite many more examples from both the Book of Revelation and the Letter to the Hebrews that illustrate their mystagogical character, but these are sufficient to show that mystagogy began in the Scriptures themselves as the New Testament writers, inspired by the Holy Spirit, sought to reveal the intimate integration between Scripture, liturgy, and mystery.
          The Fathers of the Church picked up where Scripture left off and continued to offer a mystagogy that demonstrated the intrinsic unity of Scripture, liturgy, and mystery in the Christian faith.  We will quote from the post-baptismal teachings of two Church Fathers, Ambrose and Cyril, to illustrate the mystagogy of the early Church. (69)  Once again, we will offer only brief examples and quotations here.  Interested readers can find longer excerpts and full texts of the Fathers’ mystagogy by referring to the endnotes.
          We began this section on the early Church with a narrative that very well could describe the situation of a neophyte in the diocese of Milan between 374-397.  At that time, the bishop of Milan was Ambrose, and his mystagogical teaching stands, even today, as one of the finest examples of the Fathers’ post-baptismal instruction.  His sermons have been gathered into two works De Mysteriis and De Sacramentis. (70)  We will examine a selection from De Mysteriis that offers a prime example of Ambrose’s knack for tying together liturgy, Scripture, and mystery through mystagogy.  The third chapter of this work discusses the Old Testament types that foreshadowed both Christ’s life and mission and the sacramental rites of baptism. Paragraph 14 reads as follows:

The font of Marah was most bitter; Moses cast wood into it, and it was made sweet.  For
water without the proclamation of the Lord’s cross serves no purpose of future salvation; but when it has been consecrated by the mystery of the saving cross, then it is fitted for the use of the spiritual laver and the cup of salvation. As, therefore, Moses, that is, the prophet, cast wood into that font, so also the priest casts the proclamation of the Lord’s cross into this font, and the water becomes sweet unto grace. (71)

Here Ambrose is proposing to his hearers, neophytes and probably other Christians who came to listen to his teachings, that the Old Testament foreshadows the New.  The wood that Moses cast into the bitter water at Marah prefigures the cross of Jesus Christ, which brings sweet salvation to those who believe.  Further, the entire Old Testament incident prefigures the sacramental rite of baptism.  The bitter water of Marah is a type of the plain, unconsecrated water that is brought into the baptistery before the rite begins.  It becomes consecrated and able to convey salvation only after the “wood” has been thrown into it; the wood here refers to the “mystery of the saving cross,” shorthand for the death and Resurrection of Jesus that brought life to the world.  When the priest “throws in the wood,” or proclaims the consecratory words, which he is able to pronounce only because Jesus Christ died and rose again, the plain water becomes sweet, or consecrated, and ready to receive the catechumens seeking baptism in its depths.  We may notice especially, for the purposes of our discussion, the integration of liturgy, Scripture, and mystery in this little passage from Ambrose’s mystagogy.  We see references to the Old and New Testaments.  We hear how Ambrose applies them to the liturgy through typology.  We even notice that he uses the word mystery to indicate that the deepest realities of the sacrament are visible not to our senses but only to our eyes of faith.  We could draw many more examples from Ambrose, but let us move on to look at one other Church Father who provides us with further illustrations of early mystagogical teaching, namely, Cyril of Jerusalem.
          Cyril was a contemporary of Ambrose who preached his mystagogy in the diocese of Jerusalem.  He focuses especially on explaining the “mystical realism” of the sacraments to his listeners and readers.  In other words, he wants to show how “spiritual realities pervad[e] earthly matter and material things [are] radically transformed by the touch of heaven.” (72)  To properly expound this idea, Cyril, like Ambrose, refers constantly to the Scriptures, demonstrating how the Old Testament foretells the New and how both of the Testaments together prefigure the sacramental rites, which, although encased in mystery, point to realities just as genuine as the visible signs perceptible to the senses.  Let us look for a moment at a selection from Cyril’s fourth mystagogical lecture. (73)  Cyril begins by explaining that Jesus’ words of consecration really transform the elements of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.  He acknowledges that this is a mystery, but he firmly maintains its realism.  How can this be so?  Cyril tells us by enumerating several prefigurations of the Eucharist from both the Old and New Testaments.  He first refers to the wedding at Cana where Jesus turned water into wine. “Is it incredible, then, that He should have turned wine into blood?” Cyril asks.  He worked a wonder at an earthly marriage.  “Shall He not rather be acknowledged to have given the fruit of His Body and Blood to the children of the bridal chamber?”  Cyril implies here that the Eucharistic liturgy may be perceived as the consummation of a marriage between Christ and the Church in which Christ gives His Bride His very Body. Cana, then, becomes a type of the Eucharistic communion.  He goes on to point out several excerpts from the Old Testament that, he believes, refer to the Eucharist.  He perceives the “bread of the presence” in Exodus as a prefiguration of the Eucharistic bread of the New Covenant.  He quotes several “Eucharistic” Psalms, including Psalm 23.  “When man says to God, ‘You have prepared before me a table,’” Cyril observes, “what else does he mean but the mystical and spiritual table that God has prepared for us…,” that is, the table of the Eucharist.  He notices also that Ecclesiastes 9:7-8 instructs people to “Go, eat your bread with enjoyment” and “drink your wine with a merry heart,” and interprets this passage as foreshadowing the spiritual bread and wine we receive in the Eucharist with great joy.  Cyril concludes by emphasizing the mystery of the Eucharist.  “You have learned these things, so be fully assured.  What seems to be bread is not bread, though it tastes like bread, but the body of Christ.  And what seems to be wine is not wine, though it tastes like wine, but the blood of Christ….Strengthen your heart, then, by partaking of this bread as spiritual.”  In other words, accept the mystery that was hinted at in the Old Testament, revealed in the New Testament, and celebrated with great joy in the liturgy. (74)
          We have come a long way in our study of mystagogy. We have seen how the early Church, following Jesus on the road to Emmaus, loved the liturgy, with its Eucharistic highpoint, identified the depths and riches of the Scriptures, recognized and treasured the mysteries of the faith, and integrated all of these elements through mystagogical teaching. Unfortunately, this integration, this mystagogy, did not last. The Church, at least portions of it, did not remain with Jesus on the road to Emmaus. It began to stray.

61. Mazza, 9; Hahn, Letter, 147.
62. Hahn, Letter, 45.
63. Ibid.
64. Hebrews 5:10 NAB (New American Bible).
65. Aquilina, Mass, 59; Hebrews 12:22-24 NAB (New American Bible).
66. Hahn, Lamb’s Supper, 118-120.
67. Hahn, Letter, 46.
68. Hahn, Lamb’s Supper, 95, 75-76, 68-69.
69. Ambrose and Cyril were by no means the only Church Fathers to offer mystagogical teachings. John Chrysostom, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine, and many others were intent upon teaching the Christians entrusted them to explore the riches and mysteries of their Christian faith.
70. For a discussion of the attribution of these documents to Ambrose, see Daniélou, 11-12.
71. Ambrose [emphasis original].
72. Aquilina, Mass, 222.
73. Once again, questions of authorship are not relevant to this study, but interested readers may consult Mazza, 150, for discussion of this matter.
74. Aquilina, Mass, 223-226. For original texts of the Fathers’ mystagogy, see Ambrose; Aquilina, Mass; Aquilina, Fathers; Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, trans. Edwin Hamilton Gifford, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 7, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1894) New Advent, (accessed March 16, 2009). For more on the Fathers’ mystagogy, see the detailed discussions in Mazza and Daniélou. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Mystagogy - Part 3

The Early Church: Integration through Mystagogy (Part 1)       
          He felt as though he was actually on the road to Emmaus, listening to Jesus as He explained the Scriptures to His disciples and broke the bread in their presence.  If he closed his eyes, the young man could picture the scene.  He knew, though, that the voice he was hearing was that of his bishop, a holy man who, for him, really was the visible representative of the Lord Jesus.  The bishop spoke slowly and with great care to the group of new Christians before him, a group dressed in white garments, a group that had been baptized two days before on Easter Vigil.  The neophytes, as they were called, had also been anointed with the holy chrism and had participated in the Liturgy of the Eucharist for the first time.  The young man was part of this group, and he was ecstatic.  Becoming a Christian was the best thing he had ever done. It had not been easy.  In fact, it had taken months and months of preparation, and his pagan family had been anything but supportive.  But the young man had remained firm.  He had heard about Jesus from some of his friends who had become Christian, and he believed that He was indeed the Son of God Who had come to save the world.  The young man had approached the bishop and asked for instruction.  He had learned the stories of Jesus and of the patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament.  He had learned the psalms and the Apostles’ Creed.  Later he had been introduced to the Lord’s Prayer.  He had participated in all the rites of the catechumenate and had assisted at the Mass up until the catechumens were dismissed after the Liturgy of the Word.  He had been introduced to the sacraments that he was to receive at Easter Vigil, but he knew only enough to understand the basics about what would happen that holy night. Now he was eager to learn more.  He was eager, now that he was actually a Christian, to delve into all the mysteries of his faith.  He was eager for the mystagogy the bishop offered during the weeks after Easter.  The young man focused his mind on what the bishop was saying  The holy man was explaining how the events of the Old and New Testaments were intertwined and how they prefigured and illuminated the sacraments of initiation the neophytes had just experienced.  He was teaching them how the flood, the exodus through the Red Sea, the story of Naaman, the healing of the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda, and even Jesus’ own baptism were types and images of the great sacrament of baptism that had made them sons and daughters of God. He was explaining to them the deep significance and hidden mysteries of the rites they had encountered, showing them what each rite meant and how it connected them intimately to the Blessed Trinity.  The young man was a bit disappointed when the bishop came to the end of the day’s mystagogy.  He wanted to know more! The bishop assured them he would continue the next day and explain to them all about the Eucharist. But now he wanted them to pray.  The young man knelt down with the others, thanking the Lord for the mysteries of his faith, the wonders of the Scriptures, the treasures of the liturgy, and the mystagogy of his wise bishop. (28)
          Our ancestors in the early Church had every reason to be thankful for the mystagogy that flourished in their day, a mystagogy that integrated Scripture and liturgy and plunged them deeply into the mysteries of their faith.  We will, in the next few pages of our study, take time to look closely at the mystagogy of the early Church and its elements of liturgy, Scripture, and mystery.  We will examine early Christian ideas about each of these elements and then look at some specific examples of the mystagogy our ancestors would have heard in their churches.  We do this not so much as an occasion of nostalgia or to advocate a complete reversion to the past but rather to discover concepts and techniques that might help the modern Church regain a proper understanding of liturgy, Scripture, and mystery through a renewed mystagogy.
          Early Christians loved the liturgy. The Mass, especially, was the center of their whole lives, their very existence. (29)  They understood the Eucharistic liturgy as “a sacrament, a sacrifice, the new Passover, the re-presentation of the Paschal Mystery, the communion of God with man, the revelation of heavenly worship, and the source and summit of the Church’s life and unity.” (30) All the other sacraments were oriented towards this high point of worship.  Baptism and Confirmation created Christians able to participate in the Eucharist.  Penance allowed reentry to the Mass after serious sin.  Anointing of the Sick (or Extreme Unction) included a Eucharistic viaticum that was “food for the journey” to eternal life with Jesus.  Holy Orders created priests who could confect the Eucharist, and Matrimony helped the Church grow in numbers as couples raised children for the Kingdom of God. (31)  Early Christians may not have articulated these ideas in quite this way, but certainly for them the Mass, and the other sacraments ordered to it, was the expression of their intimate relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For them, “[t]o go to Mass was to live in heaven already.” (32)  To participate in the liturgy was to encounter God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
          The highest point of this encounter was, as we have just seen, the Eucharist, and early Christians had no doubts about the Real Presence of Christ under the visible signs of bread and wine. (33)  Our ancestors in faith knew that the Eucharist was really “the re-presentation of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the sacramental meal where Christians consumed Jesus’ body and blood.” (34)  Let us listen for a few moments to some of the early Church Fathers and hear what they have to say about the nature and necessity of the Eucharist.  Ignatius of Antioch assures us that the Eucharist is really “the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, in His goodness, raised up again.” (35)  Justin Martyr firmly agrees, maintaining that the Eucharist, “the food blessed by the prayer of His word…is the flesh and blood of Jesus Who was made flesh.” (36)  Irenaeus adds, “…our way of thinking is attuned to the Eucharist, and the Eucharist confirms our way of thinking…For the bread, which is produced from the earth, is no longer common bread, once it has received the invocation of God; it is then the Eucharist, consisting of two realities, earthly and heavenly.” (37)  Cyril of Jerusalem confirms the doctrine of the Real Presence once again: “So with full assurance let us partake of the Body and Blood of Christ…Consider, then, the Bread and Wine not as bare elements.  They are according to the Lord’s declaration, the Body and Blood of Christ…from faith be fully assured without misgiving, that the Body and Blood of Christ have been given to you.” (38)
          For early Christians, then, the liturgy, especially the Eucharist, was the summit of Christian life.  “To be a Christian was to go to Mass” and, by extension, to celebrate the other sacraments that allowed one to participate most fully in Eucharistic liturgy. (39)  This does not mean, however, that our early Catholic ancestors were so focused on the sacraments as to neglect another vital element of Christianity, namely, the Scriptures.  In fact, the opposite is true.  For the early Church, liturgy and Scripture were so closely intertwined as to be inseparable. (40)  The liturgy was the true home of Sacred Scripture. (41)  Here the written text became a “living word.” (42)  Here Christians attained intimacy with the Word of God in the words of men. (43)  They listened to it proclaimed.  They understood that Christ was the One speaking to them as they heard those sacred words. (44)  They paid close attention to the homilies of their bishops and priests, who opened up the Scriptures for them and taught them how to recognize Jesus Christ as the unifying principle and fulfillment of all Scripture, to see the Old Testament in the New and the New Testament in the Old (as a result of the unified divine plan, or economy, of salvation), to appreciate the liturgy as the current manifestation of the divine economy and as the “actualization” of the Scriptures, and to apply the sacred writings to their own lives and truly live, as opposed to merely attend, the liturgy. (45)
          How did the bishops and priests, or as we call many of them today, the Fathers of the Church, accomplish this lofty goals?  Through typology.  We mentioned typology in our definition of mystagogy above, but let us take a moment to discuss it in a bit more depth. At its most simple level, typology is a method of Scriptural interpretation that, recognizing the unity of the whole of Scripture, and of God’s divine economy of salvation, studies the ways in which the Old Testament foreshadows or prefigures the New and the New Testament fulfills and reveals the Old. (46)  Further, typology is essentially Christocentric; by helping us see the spiritual senses of Scripture (which are based on the literary-historical sense), it shows us how the past, the present, and the future are united by the saving life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which was foreshadowed in the past (allegory), is celebrated in the present (allegory), has become a lived morality for Christians (troplogy), and will come to complete fulfillment in the future, at the end of time (anagogy). (47)  Patristics scholars John J. O’Keefe and R.R. Reno explain this point further.  The Church Fathers, they maintain, practiced typology on three levels.  First, they used it to discover prefigurations of Christ in the Old Testament, to show how “Christ recapitulates that to which the Old Testament bears witness,” and “to illuminate the identity of Jesus Christ.”  Second, the Fathers employed typology to “establish the scriptural basis for the practices of the early Church.”  Third, and finally, they used typology to explain the contemporary lives of Christians, to see their experiences as a continuation of the divine plan of salvation. (48)   A brief example will help to clarify the typological method.  As the Church Fathers examined the Passover experienced by the Israelites in Egypt, they noticed that the event was a “type” or prefiguration on several levels.  First, the Passover lamb was a type of Jesus, the true Lamb Who was slain for the salvation of the world.  The Fathers also recognized the Passover as a prefiguration of the Mass, which re-presents the sacrifice of the true Lamb.  Further, all Christians are called to experience their own Passover from death to life as they struggle to slay their own sinful inclinations and live for Christ, the Lamb, Who took all their sins upon Himself.  Finally, for Christians, the definitive Passover comes at the time of death when they pass over from their mortal life to their eternal life with the Blessed Trinity. (49)  This is, of course, an abbreviated example; the Fathers added much greater detail to their analysis, but this brief illustration shows at least the essentials of the typology they used to interpret the Scriptures, and as we shall see, to practice mystagogy.
          As we reflect on the early Christians’ love of liturgy and appreciation for the depths and richness of Sacred Scripture, we may also notice their great respect for mystery.  Our ancestors understood that the invisible world was just as real, if not more so, than the visible world in which they lived.  They knew that the visible signs in which they participated in the liturgy pointed to realities they could not see and could not fully understand.  They realized that the Scriptures contained deeper meanings beyond the literal, historical events its words described; they could sense the interiority of the events and the presence of God working through His words and deeds to touch their lives. In other words, they were comfortable with mystery.  They were content that some realities simply could not be grasped by human senses or human reason, but that incomprehensibility did not make those realities any less authentic; in fact it made them sacred.
          Because of their deep respect for the invisible, the hidden, and the profound, the early Christians were inclined to protect their sacred mysteries from profane eyes and minds. Therefore, they practiced “the discipline of the secret.”  In Matthew 7:6, Jesus instructed His disciples, “Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces.” (50)  The early Christians understood this directive to mean that the mysteries of the Christian faith, particularly those surrounding the liturgy, especially the Eucharist, and the typological or spiritual interpretation of Scripture, must not be disclosed to unbelievers or even, fully, to catechumens.  They were reserved for the eyes, the minds, and the hearts of baptized Christians alone. (51)  What did this mean in practice?  First, the unbaptized were not even allowed to be present at the Liturgy of the Eucharist; they were dismissed after the Liturgy of the Word. (52)  Bishops and other teachers were careful not to give too much information to outsiders or even to those preparing for Baptism; they proclaimed the kerygma found in Scripture but reserved deeper interpretations and explanations of doctrine for their post-baptismal mystagogy. (53)  Further, Christian writers usually did not record the actual words of the liturgical prayers and were quite circumspect in their descriptions of the sacramental rites. (54)  Ordinary Christians, too, remained silent about what they did when they gathered for the liturgy, a silence that often lead to outrageous accusations of immorality and cannibalism from the pagan authorities. (55)  Christians even used symbolism to communicate with one another; drawings of a fish, a dove, a cluster of grapes, a loaf of bread, or an anchor, for instance, served to remind Christians of their faith but appeared to be mere decorations to outsiders. (56)  The discipline of the secret, then, guarded the mysteries of the faith from those who did not have the grace to understand them, protected them from those who might ridicule them, and kept them sacred and holy for the ones called to intimate participate in them. (57)  Once again, let us listen for a few moments to some of the Church Fathers speak of the discipline of the secret. Basil the Great explains the lack of written instructions on the details of the sacramental rites; he maintains firmly, “The awesome dignity of the mysteries is best preserved by silence. What the uninitiated are not even allowed to look at was hardly likely to be publicly paraded about in written documents.” (58)  Cyril instructs his listeners and readers, neophyte and long-time Christian alike, “If a catechumen asks you what the teachers have said, tell him nothing.  For we deliver you a mystery and a hope of the life to come.  Guard the mystery for Him Who gives the reward.” (59)  Ambrose agrees and explains in On the Mysteries that Christians are to be like the enclosed garden or the sealed fountain in the Song of Songs and keep the mysteries safely inside their hearts.  He says, “Whereby He [Christ], signifies that the mystery should remain sealed within thee…that it be not divulged to those for whom it is not meet, that it be not spread among the unbelieving by babbling loquacity.” (60)

28. Cf. Ambrose, On the Mysteries and the Treatise on the Sacraments, trans. T. Thompson (New York: Macmillan, 1919), The Online Library of Liberty, (accessed March 16, 2009); Mike Aquilina, The Fathers of the Church (Huntington, Ind.: Our Sunday Visitor, 2006); Jean Daniélou, The Bible and the Liturgy (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008); Aquilina, Mass; Hahn and Aquilina; Mazza.
29. Aquilina, Mass, 17, 20-22, 33-36, 49; Hahn, Lamb’s Supper, 29-30; Daniélou, 17.
30. Aquilina, Mass, 17.
31. Vagaggini, 92-95.
32. Aquilina, Mass, 34.
33. Hahn, Lamb’s Supper, 28, 30.
34. Ibid., 28.
35. Aquilina, Mass, 38.
36. Ibid.
37. Ibid., 104.
38. Aquilina, Fathers, 163.
39. Hahn, Lamb’s Supper, 29.
40. Hahn, Letter, 34, 52.
41. Hahn, Lamb’s Supper, 47.
42. Hahn, Letter, 100.
43. Aquilina, Mass, 41; Vatican II Council, “Dei Verbum,” 758.
44. Patrick McGoldrick, “Liturgy: The Context of Patristic Exegesis,” in Scriptural Interpretation in the Fathers, eds. Thomas Finan and Vincent Twomey (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1995), 36.
45. Aquilina, Mass, 42; Hahn, Letter, 20, 93-95; Vagaggini, 3; Mazza, 7-8; McGoldrick, 32-36; John J. O’Keefe and R.R. Reno, Sanctified Vision: An Introduction to Early Christian Interpretation of the Bible (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 2005), 25.
46. Hahn and Aquilina, 11; Mike Aquilina, Signs and Mysteries: Revealing Ancient Christians Symbols (Huntington, Ind.: Our Sunday Visitor, 2006), 16-17; Hahn, Letter, 19.
47. Catechism, 32-33, 36; McGoldrick, 33; Mazza, 34, 38; O’Keefe and Reno, 69. Note: For a more detailed discussion of typology and the spiritual senses of Scripture (allegorical, tropological, and anagogical), see Catechism, 32-33, 36; Aquilina, Fathers, 29-31; Hahn, Letter, 16-25, 94-96; Aquilina, Mass, 41-42; Mazza, 7-8, 28-29, 34, 38.
48. O’Keefe and Reno, 73.
49. Cf. Ambrose; Daniélou, 162-176;
50. Matthew 7:6 NAB (New American Bible).
51. Hahn and Aquilina, 23-27; Aquilina, Mass, 43-45; Daniélou, 9.
52. Aquilina, Mass, 32, 43; Hahn and Aquilina, 24.
53. Hahn and Aquilina, 37; Hahn, Letter, 125.
54. Aquilina, Mass, 43-44, 189.
55. Aquilina, Mass, 136-140.
56. Cf. Aquilina, Signs.
57. Aquilina, Mass, 43-44; Hahn and Aquilina, 25.
58. Hahn and Aquilina, 38.
59. Aquilina, Mass, 221.
60. Ambrose.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Mystagogy - Part 2

Defining Our Terms
          Before we launch into this rather ambitious project, we must pause for a moment to briefly define our key terms. What exactly do we mean by “liturgy,” “Scripture,” “mystery,” and “mystagogy”?

          When Catholics are asked to define liturgy, most immediately mention the Mass.  The majority of Catholics also know that there are seven sacraments, Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony.  All of these, along with the ceremonies and prayers surrounding them, as well as other official prayers and sacramentals, make up the liturgy of the Catholic Church.  But what is the deeper meaning of liturgy? The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1069) expands the basic definition above, explaining that liturgy is “the participation of the People of God in ‘the work of God.’” (3)  The Catechism continues, “Through the liturgy Christ, our redeemer and high priest, continues the work of our redemption in, with, and through His Church.” (4)  The liturgy, then, is an action of Jesus Christ in which the Church, the Body of Christ, actively participates. (5)  Through this “joint activity,” this “combination of energies,” this “synergy,” the Church is sanctified by God as she joins her worship to the perfect worship of her Head. (6)  Because the Church is both human and divine, she must participate in this work of God, the liturgy, through a set of visible signs, a set of sacraments. Sacraments, the Catechism teaches, are “the masterworks of God”; they “come forth from the Body of Christ” to provide spiritual life and nourishment to God’s people. (7)  Further, as liturgy, they are the work of Christ, so they are efficacious, “they confer the grace they signify,” and they transform human beings from the inside out, allowing them to meet their Lord in an intimate way and drawing them into the very life of Heaven, the very life of the Blessed Trinity. (8)  Over the years, theologians have expanded and deepened our notions of liturgy, discovering profound facets of its meaning. Some, for instance, discuss the liturgy as the meeting of Heaven and earth, noting that the Church, through its visible, earthly liturgy of signs, participates in the Heavenly liturgy of the angels and saints around the throne of God. (9)  Others focus on the liturgy as the parousia of Christ, His actual coming in time through His Real Presence in the Eucharist. (10)  Still others assert that the liturgy is the Church’s memory, the place where her living Tradition really and truly resides; (11) the latest phase of covenantal salvation history; (12) the “re-presentation” of and participation in the great salvific sacrifice of Jesus Christ; (13) or even the visible expression of the mystery of God. (14)
          Liturgy is also, as we shall see later, the proper environment for reading and interpreting Sacred Scripture. (15)  When we speak of Sacred Scripture, we mean, as the Second Vatican Council’s Dei Verbum explains, the written revelation of God and His plan for the salvation of humanity, composed “under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.” (16)  These writings “have God as their author” and contain “the words of God, expressed in the words of men.” (17)  Further, because of this divine inspiration, this divine authorship, the human writers of Scripture, who served as God’s instruments, were preserved from writing anything erroneous.  “The inspired books teach truth,” the Catechism proclaims just before it quotes Dei Verbum to support this assertion: “…we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures. (18)  Sacred Scripture, then, is the inspired and inerrant written transmission of God’s revelation that forms, with Sacred Tradition, the “single sacred deposit of the Word of God,” guarded and expounded by the official teaching office of the Church, the Magisterium. (19)
          Scripture combines with liturgy to offer us a glimpse into the great mysteries, the profound yet obscure truths, the puzzling secrets, of the Blessed Trinity.  We know that the mysteries of God are inexhaustible, (20) and in our limited human condition, we can never know God fully as He is. We can only know what He has revealed about Himself and His plan for us, and even these revelations are shrouded in mystery.  The Scriptures are often difficult to understand and interpret; their riches often remain buried in layers of meaning inaccessible to many of us.  The liturgy is filled with visible signs that point to underlying, invisible, heavenly realities, (21) but all too often we fail to go beyond the external rites to delve into the interior treasures within them.  In Scripture and liturgy, we are called to participate in the very life of the Trinity, but it is a hidden life we cannot discover by ourselves.  It is a life of mystery. We are invited to the salvation brought about by the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but these too are mysterious to us.  We cannot understand them fully. We cannot see them. We cannot hear or touch or small or taste them. We are taught that the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, that she is the prolongation of Christ’s presence, yet we often see merely an institution filled with sinful human beings. Indeed, our life of faith is permeated by mysteries, by things we cannot know by our limited human reason and senses alone. (22)  What must we do, then, when mysteries surround us?  Perhaps we must plunge ourselves into the mysteries and allow them to sweep us away.  How?  Through mystagogy.
          Mystagogy is a catechetical, some say theological, method that helps us plunge into mystery. (23)  Later we will consider a few specific applications of mystagogical teaching, but for now, we will focus on defining “mystagogy” and briefly examining a few of its features. Enrico Mazza defines mystagogy as “an oral or written explanation of the mystery hidden in the scriptures and celebrated in the liturgy.” (24)  This explanation, this mystagogy, is expressly designed to reveal “the deeper spiritual meaning of the liturgical rites” and to draw us, as baptized Catholics, into the mysteries of our faith. (25)  In mystagogy, we, the faithful, learn that the Scriptures and the liturgy are closely-integrated manifestations of one great mystery, one vast divine plan, or economy, of salvation that reaches all the way back to creation, attains its zenith in the life, death, and resurrection of the God-Man, Jesus Christ, and continues today in the sacraments of the Church. (26)  Using the ancient method of Scriptural interpretation called “typology” (see below), mystagogical teaching helps us identify and appreciate the prefigurations, or “types,” of Christ in the Old Testament, recognize their fulfillment in the New Testament, and discern their continuation in the Church’s liturgy. (27)  Through this process, we come to understand the depth, the richness, the interiority of the Scriptures we read and the sacraments in which we participate, and we discover the invisible realities present in and signified by the words of the Bible and the liturgy’s visible signs.  In other words, we join Jesus’ disciples on the road to Emmaus.  We listen as the Scriptures are broken open. We see how they announce and portray Jesus’ Person and mission.  Then we recognize our Lord in the breaking of the bread, in the liturgy. We enter more deeply into His presence, and we begin, at least a little, to grasp His mystery.

3. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (Vatican: Liberia Editrice Vaticana, 1997), 278.
4. Ibid.
5. Cyprian Vagaggini, Theological Dimensions of the Liturgy (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1959), 17, 144.
6. Ibid., 17; Jean Corbon, The Wellspring of Worship (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2005), 18.
7. Catechism, 269.
8. Ibid., 292.
9. Hahn, Letter, 131, 151-157; Joseph Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2000), 125; Scott Hahn, The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth (New York: Doubleday, 1998), xiii, 3, 5, 71, 116, 125, 128, 145; Corbon, 62-64, 67, 70; Vagaggini, 142, 144, 169.
10. Hahn, Letter, 109-110, 116-117; Vagaggini, 169.
11. Hahn, Letter, 130-142; Mike Aquilina, The Mass of the Early Christians, 2nd ed. (Huntington, Ind.: Our Sunday Visitor, 2007), 12.
12. Vagaggini, 3, 210; Hahn, Lamb’s Supper, 12, 137; Corbon, 56.
13. Scott Hahn, First Comes Love (New York: Doubleday, 2002), 90-91; Hahn, Letter, 131; Corbon, 68; Hahn, Lamb’s Supper, 26, 43, 150.
14. Corbon, 79; Vagaggini, 87, 95, 210; Catechism 309.
15. Hahn, Letter, 34-35, 51-52; Hahn, Lamb’s Supper, 47.
16. Vatican II Council, “Dei Verbum,” in The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, ed. Austin Flannery (Northport, N.Y.: Costello Publishing Company; Dublin: Dominican Publications, 1998), 756.
17. Ibid., 756, 758.
18. Catechism, 31; Vatican II Council, “Dei Verbum,” 757.
19. Vatican II Council, “Dei Verbum,” 755-756.
20. Scott Hahn and Mike Aquilina, Living the Mysteries: A Guide for Unfinished Christians (Huntington, Ind.: Our Sunday Visitor, 2003), 11.
21. Ibid., 28.
22. Cf. Corbon, 29-31, on the mysteries of God’s self-giving love; 36-43, on the mystery of the Incarnation; 44-47, on the mystery of the Cross and Resurrection.
23. Enrico Mazza, Mystagogy (New York: Pueblo, 1989), 3, 6.
24. Ibid.
25. Ibid., 1, 25; Hahn and Aquilina, 27.
26. Hahn and Aquilina, 22; Coborn 56; Hahn, Letter, 16-17, 23.
27. Hahn, Letter, 19-20; Hahn and Aquilina, 11, 22; Mazza, 9, 43, 135, 167; Corbon 56.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Mystagogy - Part 1

The following essay, "Mystagogy: From the Road to Emmaus to the Modern Church" was originally written for Dr. Scott Hahn's Franciscan University of Steubenville class Theology and Ministry of the Word.  Mystagogy, briefly, is post-baptismal catechesis that integrates Scripture and liturgy to help Christians delve deeply into the mysteries of their faith.  Because of its length, I will post the essay in several parts over the next few days.  

Mystagogy: From the Road to Emmaus to the Modern Church
                The afternoon dragged on as the two men walked along, engrossed in a rather gloomy conversation.  They were headed for the little town of Emmaus about seven miles from Jerusalem.(1)  All they could think of was getting away…from their disappointment…from their fear…from their feeling of betrayal.  The One they had trusted, believed in, was gone.  Nailed to a cross.  Dead.  Lying in a tomb.  What could be left for them?  So they departed, leaving His other followers behind, starting over maybe.  They did not know.  He appeared suddenly, this Man walking beside them.  He asked them what they were talking about.  They stared at Him in disbelief.  How could He not know what had happened that horrible Friday?  But He seemed not to, so they told Him of the death of their Leader, their Master, the One they had hoped would redeem Israel.  They even told them how some of the women in their group had claimed that His Body was gone and that they had seen a vision of an angel, but they did not really believe it.  “Oh, how foolish you are!” the mysterious Stranger exclaimed.  “How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!”  Then He began to open the Scriptures for them, to explain the prophecies, to teach them the meaning of those words they had read for so many years.  They hung on His every word, barely noticing that the day was passing quickly.  As they approached the village, He made as if to go on, but they begged Him to stay with them.  They could not get enough of His words.  He agreed.  At supper, He took bread, blessed it, broke it, and faded from their sight, and then they knew.  He was not gone!  He had been right there beside them.  He was still beside them, only now in a mysterious way as they ate the Bread He had broken, blessed, and given to them.  They knew now that their hearts had been burning within them as He had spoken to them of the Scriptures.  They had experienced His presence, His teaching, His liturgy, His mystery, indeed the great mystagogy of their Lord Jesus Christ, in a very special way.(2)  
                Our ancestors in the early Church would have recognized and appreciated the integration present in this Gospel narrative.  They would have clearly seen the elements of Eucharistic liturgy, Scriptural interpretation, and mystery joined together in Jesus’ teaching, as He delivered His mystagogy to His two wayward disciples.  Over the years, however, as the Church grew and developed, this integration of liturgy, Scripture, and mystery, supported and confirmed through mystagogical teaching, deteriorated, so much so that many modern Catholics are only vaguely aware (at best) of the depth and richness of their faith.  Many in the Church today are unable to comprehend the power and vibrancy of the liturgy; they are unable to properly and fully understand the Scriptures; they are unable to grasp the profound mystery of their Lord; and they are unable to see the inherent unity of these three elements of their Catholic faith.  This must change.  Modern Catholics must recapture an understanding and appreciation of the treasures of their faith, but for this to happen, they must experience a renewed mystagogy, re-established by their pastors and catechists.  In this study, we shall first examine how mystagogy integrated liturgy, Scripture, and mystery in the early Church.  Then we shall briefly consider the reasons for the loss of this mystagogy as the Church progressed through history.  Finally, we shall make a few observations on the current state of mystagogy and integration (or lack thereof) in the modern Church before offering a few ideas on renewing mystagogical teaching and helping today’s Catholics rediscover the deep unity of the liturgy, Scripture, and mystery.

1. J.I. Packer, Merrill C. Tenney, and William White, Jr., Nelson’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Bible Facts, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995), 526.
                2. Luke 24: 13-35 NAB (New American Bible); Cf. Scott Hahn, Letter and Spirit (New York: Doubleday, 2005), 14-15.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Three Commands

I once asked Jesus how I might serve Him better, how I might be the kind of Christian He wants me to be.  During meditation, I received an answer I’ll never forget: “Sit at My feet.  Touch My robe.  Pour yourself out.”

The first of these three commands comes from Luke 10:38-42, the story of Martha and Mary.  When Martha complains that her sister Mary is failing to be the proper hostess, Jesus offers a lesson in priorities.  Mary chose the better part, He says.  She sat at His feet and listened as He taught.  How can we sit at Jesus’ feet?  There are many ways: prayer, meditation, Scripture study, spiritual reading, recollection, anything that allows us to listen to the Lord and converse with Him.

The second command is found in the story of the woman with the hemorrhage (Matthew 9:20-22; Mark 5:25-31; Luke 8:43-48).  The woman, who had been suffering for twelve years with no relief, was positive that if she just touched the hem of Jesus’ robe, she would be healed, and she was, instantly.  She put all her faith and hope in Jesus, trusting in His power to heal her every ill.  We must do the same.

The third command is based on the story of the sinful woman who poured ointment and her own tears on Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:36-50).  In doing so, she poured herself out before Him, offering Him all her sorrow and pain.  We, too, must pour ourselves out before Jesus and give Him all we have, all our joys and sorrows, all our love, all that we are so that we may be all His.

Three commands: “Sit at My feet.  Touch My robe.  Pour yourself out.”  Three commands…straight from Jesus’ Heart to ours.  

Monday, October 11, 2010

Rosary Tricks

I’ll admit it.  When I pray the Rosary, my mind often decides to take a metaphorical coffee break and drift far from the meditation at hand.  There are a few “quick tricks” that help me focus during Rosary, though.  They’re nothing fancy, just little guided meditations that gently pull my mind back from its wandering and into reflection on the wonderful mysteries of our salvation.

Trick #1: Focus on the day’s category of mysteries.  If, like today, you’re praying the Joyful Mysteries, ask yourself what makes each mystery joyful, and allow God’s joy to fill you with every Hail Mary.  You can do the same with the Luminous, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries.

Trick #2: Choose a word that seems to describe the heart of each mystery and focus on it throughout the decade.  For instance, as you pray the Joyful Mystery of the Nativity, you might concentrate on the word “peace” and ask yourself how the Nativity brought peace to the world through the gift of God’s own Son.  There are countless possibilities here, so ask the Lord to guide you.  Remember, too, this word isn’t some kind of mantra to be chanted; it is meant to guide you into deeper meditation on the mystery.

Trick #3: Imagine a scene from each mystery and try to fill in as much detail to it as possible.  You might picture our Lady kneeling in prayer during the Annunciation as the angel Gabriel speaks to her of the coming of Emmanuel.  Try to capture their postures and the expressions on their faces as they converse.  Envision each scene as closely as you can.  You’ll find that you notice something different every time.

Trick #4: Use one of the many Rosary guides available online or at Catholic book stores.  These can often direct your meditation in ways you would never expect.  Online you might try the meditations at (based on the Catechism) or (from Mother Angelica).

Hopefully, these four little tricks will enrich your Rosary experience and help you enter ever more deeply into the mysteries, and through them, into the very heart of God.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Wonders of the Office of Readings

The Office of Readings is my favorite “hour” of the Divine Office.  According to the General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours, “The purpose of the Office of Readings is to present to the people of God…a more extensive meditation on sacred scripture and on the best writings of spiritual authors.   And that’s exactly what it does.

Like all hours, the Office of Readings begins an antiphon begging God’s assistance in prayer and a word of praise in with the doxology (“Glory be…”).  This is important, for it helps us attune ourselves to the task of worship and enter into the presence of God.  We then sing or recite an opening hymn of praise in which we raise our hearts to God in joy. 

Three psalms (or one or two psalms divided into parts) follow, each of which begins and ends with an antiphon drawn from the psalm itself.  These are wonderful little gems for meditation, either during the Office if there is time and/or throughout the day.  One of today’s antiphons, for instance, is “Seek the Lord, and you will live.”  Who wouldn’t benefit from remembering that frequently!?!  Each psalm ends with a doxology and a psalm-prayer, which helps us to apply the psalm to our daily lives and turn it into an intimate, personal prayer to our Father.

Next, we are invited to peruse two substantial readings.  The first is taken from either the Old or New Testament, although never from the Gospels.  We might think of these daily Scriptural passages as love letters from God straight to our hearts, for as Vatican II’s Dei Verbum says, “…in the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them.”  If we have time, we might ask ourselves the three simple questions provided in a previous post.  In any case, we should let God’s Word sink deeply into our hearts and minds as we read.

The second reading is usually taken from the writings of the saints, the works of the Church Fathers, or the documents of Vatican II.  These readings help us to understand our faith more clearly and deeply.  Today’s reading, for example, is drawn from an instruction by Saint Vincent of Lerins on the development of doctrine.  Saint Vincent compares the growth of the Church’s doctrine to the maturing of the human body, explaining that as the body changes over time yet remains the same in its essential nature and form, so the Church’s doctrine must grow in strength and definition while remaining genuine and free from error. 

Each of the readings is following by a short responsory, which drives home its meaning with a verse and response drawn from Scripture.  These, too, can be gateways for meditation throughout the day.

Finally, the Office of Reading ends with a prayer either from the previous Sunday or the current feast or solemnity.  On Sundays, feasts, and solemnities we recite the beautiful hymn of praise, Te Deum, just before the closing prayer, once more lifting our minds and voices to God in joyful adoration.  The acclamation “Let us praise the Lord and give Him thanks” concludes the Office of Readings and invites us to gratitude for the great gift God has given His Church in the Divine Office.

The daily Office of Readings, and the rest of the Divine Office, is available online at  

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Three Simple Questions

Some people feel overwhelmed when they approach the Bible.  “How in the world am I supposed to make sense of all this?” they ask.  “And what does it all mean?”  It is sometimes difficult to interact with the Scriptures, even when we sincerely believe they are the Word of God and inspired, indeed authored, by God Himself.  Cultural differences challenge us as we try to understand the deeds and words of Biblical people.  Even God can seem distant and strange, especially in the Old Testament, and we have trouble reconciling His actions with the loving Father we know Him to be.

How can we untangle the puzzling mysteries of the Bible and discern in the text God’s personal message for each one of us?  We can begin with three simple questions:
1. What does this text tell me about God?
2. What does this text tell me about myself and my life?
3. How can this text enrich and deepen my relationship with God?

Let’s look at an example.  Psalm 95:6-7 reads, “O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!  For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand.”

So what does this text tell us about God?  He is our Creator and our Shepherd.  He made us, and He cares for us.  What does a shepherd, at least one who is good at his job, do anyway?  He watches his sheep carefully and tends to all their needs.  He leads them to fresh waters and nice green pastures.  He heals them when they are sick or injured.  He keeps them out of trouble.  He rescues them when they ignore him and get into trouble.  He protects them from predators.  He leads them back when they stray.  Doesn’t God do all those things for us?  Of course He does!  We’ve just learned quite a bit about God and His gentle care by meditating on only two Bible verses.

What, then, does this text tell us about ourselves and our lives?  If we are like sheep, then we need the guidance of our Shepherd.  Let’s face it.  Sheep aren’t very bright, and sometimes humans aren’t either.  We need God to help us in every aspect of our lives.  Also, we need to worship Him, to kneel before Him in prayer and adoration.  Constantly! 

Finally, how can this text enrich and deepen our relationship with God?  All of us will answer this question differently based on where we are in our spiritual journey.  We know, however, that the more we praise God, the more we pray to Him, and the more we learn to rely on Him for all our needs, the closer we will become to our loving Shepherd.

Now that wasn’t so hard, was it?  These three simple questions work for every single Bible passage, large or small.  If we keep them in mind as we read, they can greatly enhance our experience with God’s wonderful Word.

Monday, October 4, 2010

On the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi: A Very Special Cat

He wasn’t much to look at, just a scrawny, scraggly white cat with odd eyes (one blue and one gold), a perpetually runny nose, and scabs on his ears from scratching too hard, but Rupert was the most wonderful cat I’ve ever known.  He didn’t belong to me (as if a cat could belong to any human – it’s usually the other way around).  He lived with a friend, but he was my best “pussy boy”.  Every time I came to visit, he would run to greet me, meowing frantically and dancing on his hind legs as he begged me to pick him up.  When I did, he wrapped his front paws around my neck and covered my face in kitty kisses, purring all the while.

Rupert had a purr for everyone.  It didn’t matter if a visitor was a confirmed cat hater.  Rupert would still purr and try to cuddle.  He even liked going to the vet!  Most cats run the other direction and hide under a bed when anyone so much as mentions the v-e-t.  Not Rupert.  He just purred…and purred…and purred.  He purred so much and so loudly that the vet couldn’t  even check his heartbeat until he gently tapped Rupert’s nose a couple times to pause the purring…but only for a few moments. 

Rupert’s favorite treat was a visit to the local nursing home, and we took him frequently.  He seemed to know where we were heading the moment we got in the car because his excitement level skyrocketed.  We never had to put Rupert in a cat carrier.  He enjoyed sitting on my lap and looking out the window when we traveled (no, I was not driving).  Rupert had a knack for remembering every nursing home resident, and he responded to each one’s needs.  He would snuggle calmly in the lap of a small lady, blissfully squeezing his eyes shut as she petted him and talked about the cats she once loved.  He would play vigorously (but still gently) with a man in a wheelchair, who laughed heartily as he enjoyed Rupert’s antics. 

Rupert had two special friends at the nursing home.  “Grandma Miriam,” as we called her, was a cat lover from day one who adored Rupert.  He had the run of her room when he visited her, and he knew it.  First, he’d climb on her lap and smother her in kitty kisses, hugs, and purrs while she giggled and cuddled him.  Then, he’d explore, sniffing here and there, climbing over furniture, and batting a stray tissue or candy wrapper while Miriam watched in delight.  Finally, he’d settle down in her lap for a nice long petting session while we visited.

Rupert’s other special friend was D.J., a young man who was left with a severe brain injury after a motorcycle crash.  D.J. couldn’t talk and could barely move by himself.  Most of the time he was unresponsive, just sitting still in his wheelchair and staring off into space, but all of that changed when Rupert came to visit.  Rupert knew just what to do get D.J. to respond to him.  He’d stand in D.J.’s lap, turn around, and tickle D.J.’s nose with the tip of his tail.  And D.J. would laugh!  He’d begin make petting motions, and one of us would carefully place his hand on Rupert’s back so he could stroke his soft fur.  The two of them would sit together for a long time, D.J. petting and Rupert purring.  They had quite a bond. 

Rupert is gone now but far from forgotten.  I don’t know whether our pets go to Heaven or not (I like to think that they do), but if any cat would’ve qualified, it would be Rupert.  He touched many lives with his charming personality, loving nature, and endless purrs.

St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us and protect our animal friends.  Amen. 

Let me introduce myself...

Welcome to my blog!  "The Catholic Scholar" might seem a bit off-putting at first, but please don't quit reading at the title!  I promise...there will be nothing stuffy and pedantic about this blog.  My goal here is to examine a wide range of topics, scholarly and not-so-scholarly, from a Catholic perspective.  Together, we'll explore everything from theology to genealogy, history to books, music to cats.  Yes, cats.  Feel free to leave comments and enter into discussions (respectfully, please), and check back often, for I hope to update this blog several times a week.

I'll begin with a favorite quote: "To read a book for the first time is to make the acquaintance of a new friend; to read it again is to meet an old one."