Is it time for the ‘Benedict Option’?

By David Cooley.

St. Benedict of Nursia was born around 480 AD; those were not easy times. Twenty-five years earlier Rome was sacked a third time, this time by the Vandals. And just four years before Benedict was born the last Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustulus, was deposed. The whole center of gravity shifted from Rome to Constantinople and Italy was abandoned to the barbarians.

In the midst of this collapse comes a man who doesn’t, as some believe, leave the world behind, but realizes that in the midst of all this chaos he must find a way to stay focused on what truly matters. That was Benedict. Out of that humble beginning formed a community of people living together seeking God and helping anyone that needed them. That community was a social experiment that welcomed barbarians, soldiers and sons of senators all in the same place, and it changed the course of Western civilization.

I think it’s fair to say that we also live in a time of turmoil. But as Catholics, as Christians, this is nothing new for us. Still, somedays, life can be overwhelming. We all have our list of reasons, or excuses, to not be optimistic about the way things are going. But we have to examine that list of reasons and remove anything that puts us in a frame of mind that drags us down into the muck of the world instead of pushing us to live the way God intended us to live.

I don’t always practice what I preach. Some things, just to name a few, that I let get me down and discouraged are the condition of our culture, too much technology and the hostile political climate. I often feel that we rely too much on the powers-that-be to fix issues that aren’t just social-political but moral as well.

This leads me to another thing that gets me down — the state of the Catholic Church. I worry about the fact that a large percentage of people keep drifting away from the sacraments with very few of us knowing what to do about it. And those leaving the Church almost certainly have no idea what they are leaving behind.

One of the blessings in my life is that I always seem to find the right book to read at the right time. As 2020 turned to 2021, I found myself reading a book called “The Benedict Option” by Rod Dreher. The subtitle is “A strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation.” In the book, Mr. Dreher laments that the Church ought to be a powerful counterforce to the radical individualism and secularism of modernity and yet it is often finds itself ineffective in combating the forces of cultural decline. The main argument of the book is that serious Christians need to do the same thing that St. Benedict did in the sixth century. No, not to go live in a monastery — at least not exactly.

Think about it this way, Benedict lived in unprecedented dark times but he was focused, organized and creative. He wasn’t scared to live out the mission of Church, without compromise, no matter what it costed. He read the signs of the times, stayed focused on the Lord and converted people by the way he lived. Everything came down to prayer, work and community.

Mr. Dreher writes: “We have to develop creative, communal solutions to help us hold onto our faith and our values in a world growing ever more hostile to them. We have to choose to make a decisive leap into a truly counter-cultural way of living Christianity, or we will doom our children and our children’s children to assimilation.” What he is talking about is no easy task, and it does require a type of withdrawal from the world. The Benedict Option is a strategic spiritual withdrawal, not necessarily a physical one.

So, where do we start? Luckily, we already have small Catholic communities established — we call them parishes. Parishes are all part of Local Church (or diocese) but strategically placed throughout the neighborhoods of Northern Kentucky. If we can convert the neighborhoods then we can convert the city. If we reach the city then we could win over the state. If we transform the state then, maybe, we can’t save the culture. Then again maybe we can’t, but we are still supposed to try.

How we do all this is where the creativity and innovation come in. We can start small, in our own homes, in our families and in small groups of families. We must preserve our history and traditional Christian values. As disciples of Christ we are called to work together, keep building each other up, and challenge the world to seek the good, the true and the beautiful.

“At the root of the collapse of the West, there is a cultural identity crisis,” said Cardinal Robert Sarah. “The West no longer knows who it is, because it no longer knows and does not want to know who made it, who established it, as it was and as it is. Many countries today ignore their own history. This self-suffocation naturally leads to a decadence that opens the path to new, barbaric civilizations.”

Perhaps the West is doomed to fall again, but, we know that God is always in charge and that we are never completely helpless. If you feel overly concerned, I recommend reading “The Benedict Option.” The book offers a critique of modern culture but also tells stories of Christians today who are pioneering creative ways to live out the faith joyfully and counter-culturally. It is both humbling and inspiring at the same time.

St. Benedict responded to the collapse of Roman civilization by founding a monastic order. The question before us now is: how will we face the vast and unique challenges of our times?

David Cooley is co-director and office manager of the Office of Catechesis and Evangelization.

A reflection for Catholic Schools Week 2021

By David Cooley.

When focused on educating and exercising the minds, bodies and souls of today’s youth, Catholic schools shine as beacons of light in a dark and confusing world. When they rise up to the challenges of society and culture they bring hope and joy to countless Christian families and others who are trying to do their best to serve the Lord in trying times. It is no small feat that Catholic schools have stood strong through the tests of time in America, but there is no reason to think that things are going to get any easier in the near future. While we live in a world where medical and technological advances have, generally, made life more convenient and easier, having a sacramental vision has become way more difficult. As Mankind seems to wander further and further away from God, there is no doubt that keeping the faith while growing up is getting harder.

It is only right to take a moment each year and celebrate Catholic Schools Week (CSW). Catholic schools have a specific purpose to form students in love of God and love of neighbor; to be good citizens of the world and to enrich society with the leaven of the Gospel and by example of faith. They are a benefit to our cities and towns — believers and non-believers alike — but that is not what makes them so special.

The CSW theme this year is “Catholic Schools: Faith. Excellence. Service.” Faith, excellence and service are pillars of the Christian life. These pillars stand upon a solid foundation and direct people’s attention away from earthly distractions and up to the heavens. It is that solid foundation that makes Catholic schools so special.

What does it mean to have faith? It means that you believe in more than what this world has to offer. It means that you have come to know and trust the Lord more than you trust your own eyes. It is an understanding that the realities we meet with our senses are simply passing us by and that eternity, which is beyond, is even more real. As communities of faith, Catholic schools instill in students their destiny to become future saints.

What is excellence, if not holiness? Every Catholic, from a Benedictine monk in Norcia to the lawyer or teacher down the street in Northern Kentucky, is called to take their mission from Christ and spiritual formation seriously. The Christian life, like everything else, requires constant education, training and attention. We know that habits are developed at a young age. While it’s true that academic excellence is a hallmark of Catholic education, it is intentionally directed to the growth of the whole person — mind, body and soul —with an extra emphasis on the soul. A Catholic school teaches its students about the will of God, in contrast to our culture’s tendency to promote the worship of the self and other false idols. By the time a Catholic is confirmed they should realize what is being asked of them — they are being asked to lead a true and holy life; to follow Christ, even when it leads to the Cross.

And, finally, we have the pillar of service. The Letter of James in Scripture tells us that “… faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:17) St. Maximus the Confessor (c. 580-662 AD) takes the idea a step further, he said, “Theology without practice is the theology of demons.” We are called to live a life of service. Social learning through service is a fundamental part of Catholic education. It is not enough to just say we love God, we need to show it. Service in our Catholic schools is intended to help form youth to not only witnesses to Catholic social teaching, but to also be active participants in social change for the common good.

In a day and age when many seem to have lost their way, it is important to remember that the Catholic Church is not just a building or an institution, but the people of God working together to bring about the Kingdom of God today. The role of Catholic schools, an apostolate of the Church, is to raise up the next generation to continue this mission begun by Christ. Yes, these are hard times; yes, it is often a dark and confusing world, but at the center of the storm the light of Christ shines the brightest. Like everything else Catholic schools are in the midst of the fray, but Christ is the center of the school. Christ is that solid foundation upon which they are built, and that makes all the difference.

David Cooley is co-director and office manager of the Office of Catechesis and Evangelization in the Diocese of Covington.

The Holy Innocents and Tragedy’s Role in Redemption

By David Cooley.

The liturgical Christmas season is really a beautiful and interesting time of year. While the secular world has the tendency to let go of the joy of the season on Dec. 26 and move on to the next “big” thing, Catholics stay focused on the birth of Christ and the idea of light conquering darkness in our world. We don’t mark the end of Christmas until the celebration of the feast of the Baptism of the Lord — which falls on the Sunday after the feast of the Epiphany (usually the second Sunday of January).

In addition to the Epiphany — a feast we easily connect to Christmas (wise men discover Christ on the path to true knowledge) — there are several other Catholic feast days that fall within the Christmas season. Some of these feasts, such as the feasts of St. Stephen (Dec. 26), St. John the Apostle (Dec. 27), St. Thomas Becket (Dec. 29), and St. Sylvester I (Dec. 31), don’t have much of a connection to Christmas and are often, unfortunately, overlooked. But then there are also the feasts that have a profound connection with the Nativity of Christ — the feast of the Holy Innocents (Dec. 28), the feast of the Holy Family (first Sunday after Christmas) and the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (Jan. 1).

The feast of the Holy Innocents, in particular, can seem like a strange if not horrific break from the overall theme of joy that comes with the Christmas season. However, a close reading and further reflection can prove that this story from the Gospel of Matthew, although disturbing, can also be a message of hope.

Herod (the not so great) was king of Judea when Christ was born and he was a cruel dictator. He was absolutely obsessed with power. When he believed his sons became a threat to his reign, he executed them. He also killed his wife, his brother and his sister’s two husbands, just to name a few of his victims. He was an insecure tyrant capable of extreme brutality.

When Herod heard about the magi in his midst looking for “the newborn king of the Jews” he sent for them right away, hoping to learn all he could to protect his throne. He attempted to trick them into telling him exactly where he could find the child but his plan failed and he became furious. He had already proven that he will stop at nothing to keep his power and so he ordered the execution of all male children in the region two years of age and under.

The details of the massacre are for the most part left to our imagination but the devastation of the mothers and fathers led St. Matthew to quote Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children …” (Mt 2:18).

What are we to make of this horrific story of an evil king killing the young boys of Bethlehem in order to preserve and wield his power over the people?

Of course our hearts and minds go first to the innocent little ones and their families. It is natural for us to ask: why couldn’t God just prevent this slaughter? Truthfully, there is no explanation that could satisfy our human craving to understand why the terrors of this life are allowed. Suffering is indeed a mystery and cannot be endured without faith and trust in God.

And what are we to make of Herod? These small passages are perhaps among the most poignant in the New Testament on demonstrating what antichrists and the fruits of their labor look like. This story has repeated itself again and again throughout all history. It is man’s attempt to silence God and eradicate him from the earth. It’s man’s attempt to become God; to decide for himself what is good and what is evil; to believe that he can rule over everything with no consequences. Herod is someone who has walled off his heart to Christ and therefore offers the world the opposite of what Christ offers. To build himself up he must tear others down. What he desires is power and possessions; what he offers is misery and destruction.

Choosing darkness over light will always lead to death, if not for us, than for someone else, perhaps at another place, another time. The feast of the Holy Innocents reminds us that the coming of Christ into the world is a lifeline from the darkness of evil that lies in the hearts of those who selfishly choose power and ultimately death over the good, the true and the beautiful. Christ is our hope.

Suffering, persecution and martyrdom come with the territory of following Jesus Christ. From the moment of his birth the Lord shook up the world. He is a king, but not in the way the world expected it. Kingship is not about control and comfort. It is through Jesus’ suffering, humiliation and death on a cross that salvation was won. His death won life – eternal life for us. And his blood which was shed for our sake obtained pardon and reconciliation with our heavenly Father. There is no crown without the cross. The only true consolation we can find for the tragedies of life is the resurrection. We believe that, in the end, God will right every wrong.

 

 

Year of St. Joseph

It is interesting to note that the infancy narrative in the Gospel of Matthew is told from the perspective of St. Joseph, as opposed to the perspective of Mary, as it is in the Gospel of Luke. Joseph is a quiet, meek and humble principal actor — he never says anything and he is never acting on his own accord.

There is quite a contrast between King Herod and Joseph (a descendant of a true king of Israel — David). Herod only cares about himself and his kingly power while Joseph only cares about doing God’s will. Joseph wishes to serve God and his family while Herod resorts to anything that will benefit his situation, including slaughter. St. Joseph is the model of someone who is decisive and acts wisely. He was the protector of his family and continues to be the great protector of the Church.

After the adoration of the magi, an angel appears to Joseph in a dream with a startling message: “Go to Egypt. Herod wants to destroy the child.” Joseph obeys immediately. He rises from sleep and, like Joseph in the Old Testament, finds refuge in Egypt. It’s striking that both the Old Testament Joseph (son of Israel) and the New Testament Joseph (son of David) had dreams from God that ultimately led them to Egypt. In fact, in the Old Testament it was in Egypt that the nation of Israel — the Israelites — finally came into being (see the beginning of the book of Exodus). Both Josephs were able to save their family in Egypt. However, that is not where they belonged. Egypt was a powerful empire; it represented the world and what it offers through slavery, politics and wealth. It was not the Promised Land, or the Kingdom of God.

Like Israel, Jesus too, will return from Egypt. Jesus’ return is the fulfillment of prophet Hosea 11:1: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” Jesus relives Israel’s experiences. Jesus is Son of God in a deeper sense than Israel ever was. Through Jesus, God the Father will bring the old covenant to perfection.

 

David Cooley is co-director and office manager of the Office of Catechesis and Evangelization.

This Advent, wait with Mary for the coming of Christ

By David Cooley.

The Immaculate Conception is a beautiful solemnity that the Church celebrates each year on December 8. On this day we commemorate the fact that Mary was graced with sinless perfection from the first instant of her existence, in view of the merits of her son Jesus Christ, in light of her predestination to be his Mother. It’s rather fitting that this feast day takes place in the season of Advent, because during that season the mind and heart of the Church are drawing us in to ponder the Blessed Mother.

We first meet Mary not as the Queen of Heaven that she was destined to become, but as a young, meek virgin in the early chapters of the Gospel of Luke. While Scripture doesn’t say it explicitly, it’s fair to assume that she was a very young girl with hopes and dreams of her own. But, one thing we do know for sure is that she was completely devoted to God and her faith was her most prized possession. When it was made clear to her that God’s will was different from her own plans, she doesn’t hesitate. Mary has nothing to offer the Lord but herself; he asks for nothing else, and she holds nothing back.

This year we can all relate to having to let go of our plans. I remember at this time last year, and even earlier, I was making lots of grand plans for 2020. It seemed like a reasonable thing to do at the time. But, of course, looking back now, it’s hard not to laugh a very non-humorous laugh at that. Now, right before the big holiday season, things are getting grim again and even more plans will be falling through. Perhaps we are on the verge of a long, dark winter. In some ways the early sunsets and the frigid air seem more painful this year than ever before.

Yet, this can be a moment of grace for us, too. We must realize that we are not in control and that we are anxiously waiting. We are waiting for this pandemic to be over. We are waiting to hug our family and friends again. We are waiting for the spring of new life. We are waiting for things to just be better. But, most importantly, we are waiting for our Lord. You see, we are not much different than ancient Israel. The prophet Isaiah reminds us that there will be signs, and that God is with us.

Mary was waiting for the Messiah long before the annunciation. But after the angel visited her she actually carried Jesus in her womb for nine months. That’s hard to imagine. Ask any first-time mother what those nine months are like and they’ll tell you it’s nerve-racking. Yes there is excitement, but it’s hindered by anxieties and an almost unbearable anticipation of an uncertain future. You wait and you wait for someone you can’t see but you know is there. And yet this waiting is not idle; there is a lot to be done.

Those nine months for Mary were not idle either. On par with her character, she doesn’t focus on her own needs at all, but goes with haste to the hill country because her elderly cousin is pregnant and might be in need of help. In many ways this symbolizes the idea that while we are all waiting for something great — the kingdom of God — it is, at the same time, already here.

For us, Advent is a season of contemplation, humility, silence and growth. If we practice these virtues in the way that was shown to us by Our Lady, our experience will be like hers. If Christ is growing in us and we pray without ceasing, we will be at peace because we know that however insignificant our life seems to be, from it Jesus is forming himself. We must align our will with his and go “in haste” to wherever our circumstances compel us. Why? Because that’s where he wants us to be; more to the point, that’s where he wants to be.

The ancient Israelites were God’s people, called to be intimate with God and obedient to his law. Mary, the daughter of Zion — the Immaculate Conception — is the fullest expression of intimacy with the Lord. When we prepare ourselves properly and unite our will with God’s will, we, too, share an intimate union with the Lord — even as we await his coming. Advent is our graced time of preparation. This year, no matter how dark things get or how alone we feel, let us stand firm contemplating the coming of the Lord; let us remain meek and humble; let us search for answers in the silence of prayer; and let the love of Christ grow within us so much so that when we go out into the world others will be stirred by his presence.

Bishop Roger Foys will celebrate Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption on the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Dec. 8, at 10 a.m. The Mass will be live-streamed for those viewing at home, and can be found at covcathedral.com.

Thomas Aquinas’ Mystical Experience

By David Cooley.

I hope that the brief theological insights in these pages bring comfort and a greater awareness of the fact that, as Cardinal Robert Sarah wrote in his recent letter to the Church, “God never abandons the humanity He has created, and that even the hardest trials can bear fruits of grace.” In this difficult year in which we have all suffered the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and have all experienced at least some time of Eucharistic fasting, we can renew our appreciation of the vital importance, beauty and immeasurable preciousness of the Eucharist and the Mass. Remember, as the name of this series reminds us, the Second Vatican Council said that the Eucharist is “the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed,” and “at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 10). Before you move on to the final pages there is one last reflection on the Eucharist and on a particular saint that I’d like to share.

If you are anything like me, there is one saint that sometimes comes across as more than a little intimidating. His name is Thomas Aquinas. Now, I’ll admit that I turn to an explanation of his now and again to help me better understand a difficult concept, but reading him thoroughly and following him down his thought processes doesn’t usually make me feel smart — just the opposite, actually. After all, he is not only a Doctor of the Church, but the “Angelic Doctor,” as the Dominicans like to say. His works are vast and overwhelming and he can be a little difficult to relate to.

However, there is a story about Thomas Aquinas that changed my perspective on him forever and really sparked my imagination. In the Thurston and Attwater revision of Alban Butler’s “Lives of the Saints,” the event is described this way:

“On the feast of St. Nicholas [in 1273], St. Thomas Aquinas was celebrating Mass when he received a revelation that so affected him that he wrote and dictated no more, leaving his great work the ‘Summa Theologiae’ unfinished. To Brother Reginald’s (his secretary and friend) expostulations he replied, ‘The end of my labors has come. All that I have written appears to be as so much straw after the things that have been revealed to me.’ When later asked by Reginald to return to writing, Aquinas said, ‘I can write no more. I have seen things that make my writings like straw.’ … Aquinas died three months later while on his way to the ecumenical council of Lyons.”

Thomas’ reaction to his experience is quite extraordinary. It is interesting to note that, traditionally, it is believed that Thomas Aquinas had his mystical experience at the moment he lifted the consecrated Host during Mass. But whether it was at that exact moment or not is beside the point.

While it’s true that we are not all called to be great theologians like St. Thomas Aquinas, great orators like St. John Chrysostom, brave authors like St. Catherine of Siena, world-changing missionaries like St. Teresa of Calcutta, or amazing mystics like Sts. Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, we are all called to greatness and we are all called to sainthood.

Maybe we can’t all be brilliant like Thomas Aquinas, but that moment he had with the Lord belongs to each and every one of us — it is open to all of us. That is precisely what is waiting for us in the Eucharist. What the great doctor of the Church realized, close to the end of his life, is that there is nothing in the universe to compare to our Lord. This means that no amount of brilliant ideas we have, no amount of friends we win, no amount of awards we’re given, no amount of fame we acquire will ever be enough to fulfill us. This is because we were made for more. The things that can seem so important to us right now, when seen through eyes fixed on eternity, will not seem to be much more to us than straw.

This doesn’t mean that our lives don’t matter – just the opposite! This doesn’t mean that God doesn’t care about the things we care about – he does! Scholars, and Catholics in general, have never understood Aquinas’s comment to be a retraction or refutation of anything he wrote. If that was the case, Pope Leo XIII would not have encouraged a renewed interest in Thomistic theology and philosophy, and Aquinas would not have been named a Doctor of the Church. No, Thomas wasn’t saying that he had been wrong about God; instead, he was given a rare glimpse of how much our words and thoughts fall short in describing and understanding the glory of God. Knowing this helps us in our worship and to keep everything in proper perspective. Still, we can’t help but take the Eucharist for granted. If we could truly see what was before us then everything else, no matter how glorious, would seem worthless. Yet we don’t decide worth — God does. His love knows no bounds and he already decided that you were worth dying for. He is waiting for you right now. Don’t walk to him, run.

The richness and beauty of the Eucharistic prayers

By Father Joseph Gallenstein.

In his exhortation at the end of the Synod on the Eucharist in March 2007, Pope Benedict XVI said, “The spiritual life of the faithful can benefit greatly from a better appreciation of the richness of the Eucharistic prayer.” My own spiritual life has been greatly blessed by the observations and insights of parishioners who, having celebrated Mass, make a comment on one or more aspects of the Eucharistic prayer.

The origins of the Eucharistic prayers are found in the table prayers of Jewish meals and the prayer of blessing known as the berekah, which praised and blessed God. At feasts such as Passover, the inclusion of the Haggadah, integrated the special meaning of the feast as one that made present God’s liberating deeds from the past and applied its power of those celebrating the feast. Similarly, during the course of the Eucharistic prayer, Christ becomes uniquely and truly present, under the forms of bread and wine. But Christ’s saving action also becomes present again for us, here and now, in this time and place.

Jesus, while using traditional Jewish meal blessing prayers, gave new dimension with his words “This is my body,” “This is my blood” and “Do this in memory of me.” However, in the earliest years of the Church there were no liturgical books and improvised prayer with themes of praise, thanksgiving and supplication were used. Justin Martyr (c. 150 AD) writes: “bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability and the people assent, saying, ‘Amen.’” By the 4th Century, the extemporaneous Eucharistic prayers gave way to written prayers.

The Preface is the part of the Eucharistic prayer that comes before the “Holy, Holy, Holy” and begins with the dialogue: “The Lord be with you.” In the name of the people, the priest praises the Father and gives him thanks for the work of salvation or for some special aspect of it in keeping with the day, feast or season. The text of the various prefaces (there are many!) is a statement of the special reason for praising God. For example, there are various prefaces for the Blessed Virgin Mary and her role in salvation history. Likewise, there are different prefaces for Apostles, pastors, martyrs, etc., as well as Sundays and weekdays of Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter and Ordinary Time.

Jesus’ “Words of Institution” that is, those words echoing Jesus himself at the Last Supper are found in all the current Eucharistic prayers — “Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my Body, which will be given up for you. Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” With very few exceptions, those words are found in all the ancient Eucharistic prayers of East and West, even if the exact wording differs slightly.

The Lord’s command to “Do this in memory of me” is the reason for “doing” the Eucharist. The earliest Christians understood the Passover invokes a special kind of remembrance of the whole saving and liberating actions of God. In Greek the word is “anamnesis.” Since God is ever faithful to the divine Covenant, the past deeds become present and efficacious to those partaking in the ritual. The Church in her Eucharistic prayers make explicit anamnesis, especially recalling the passion, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Eucharistic Prayer for Children II says it simply: “And so, loving Father, we remember that Jesus died and rose again to save the world. He put himself into our hands to be the sacrifice we offer you.”

An acclamation in the middle of the Eucharistic prayer is relatively new in the Roman liturgy. In the East, there are some old Eucharistic prayers were the people acclaimed “Amen!” after the words of institution over the bread and then again over the cup. The priest gives the invitation “The Mystery of Faith” to which the assembly has three options of response: “We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your resurrection until you come again;” “When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim your Death, O Lord, until you come again;” or “Save us, Savior of the world, for by your Cross and Resurrection, you have set us free.” What is the mystery? Jesus’ Eucharistic presence captures the larger “mystery” of Christ’s living, dying, rising and presence among his people and the whole plan of God realized in Christ’s saving love.

Although the language varies, there is a statement of “offering the bread and wine” in all the Eucharistic prayers. For example, Eucharistic Prayer II speaks of offering “the bread of life and the chalice of salvation.” Eucharistic Prayer III says, “We offer you this holy and living sacrifice.” The intention here is that the whole Church, but especially the particular assembly, is offering to the Father the spotless victim (Jesus) and also attempting to learn how to offer ourselves and daily be drawn into more perfect union with Christ.

There are also intercessory prayers in the body of the Eucharistic prayers. These include mentioning the pope and local bishop by name, invoke the saints and martyrs, prayer the community and for the dead. These intercessions make it clear that the Eucharist is being celebrated “in communion” with the whole Church of heaven and earth, and that the offering is made for the Church and all its members living and deceased.

The traditional conclusion of the Eucharistic prayer is a (sung) statement of praise and thanksgiving in the form of a Trinitarian doxology. The assembly responds, “Amen.” Justin Martyr attests to the significance of the “amen,” writing: “When the prayer of thanksgiving ended, all the people present give their assent with an ‘Amen.’” The assembly assents to the Eucharistic prayer and make it their own in the Great Amen.

 Father Joseph Gallenstein is pastor of St. Mary of the Assumption Parish, Alexandria.

Eucharistic hymns and Catholic theology

By Father Stef Bankemper.

In this installment of our series on the Eucharist we turn to Eucharistic hymns. It is a vast topic, so must be severely limited in a short article. One sub-topic that has interested me for years is the question of how adequately the hymns we use express our Catholic theology. The shortness of space allows me only to begin to broach this subject, and so this article will be limited to a very brief discussion of how well a few of our commonly-used hymns express one aspect of our Eucharistic theology. I have chosen hymns from Breaking Bread; it is not the only worship aid/hymnal in use in the diocese, but it is often used.

Before I begin this exploration, let me note that people are often surprised when I raise this question. We commonly assume that the prayers we pray at Mass, for instance, and the songs we sing, accurately express what we believe. And we should assume that. One of the maxims of Catholic theology is the phrase “lex orandi, lex credendi” (“the law of praying, the law of believing”), which means, basically, that the words we pray shape what we believe. Knowing that, the Church takes great care that her official prayers are theologically correct. Surprisingly, she does not show the same care in the hymns that she allows to be used, and so the quality of the theology in our hymns, and its expression, ranges from excellent to questionable to poor to heretical; thankfully, there are few of the last, but they do exist.

Let us look at the song “Bread of Life,” by Rory Cooney. The first words we sing are the words of the refrain:

 

I myself am the bread of life.

                                    You and I are the bread of life,

                                    taken and blessed, broken and shared by Christ

                                    that the world might live.

 

On the most immediate level — what the words actually say — this is one of the worst hymns we could sing in the liturgy. I can assure you that I am not the bread of life, and — no offense — you also are not. There is one Bread of Life, and we know who it is.

But Cooney does not capitalize the words “bread” and “life”; what is he trying to express? I think he is trying to express something that Paul VI, taking his cue from St. Augustine, wrote about in his encyclical “Mysterium Fidei”:

 

From this it follows that the worship paid to the Divine Eucharist

strongly impels the soul to cultivate a “social” love, by which … we make the

interests of the community … our own and extend our charity to the whole

world because we know that everywhere there are members of Christ.

 

As I wrote, Paul VI received his idea from Augustine. I have heard people quote a line from one of Augustine’s sermons in support of Cooney’s words: “become what you see.” The trouble is that they do not quote more of Augustine’s words. He continues in that same sermon by claiming that we say “Amen” to what we are. But Augustine does not say bread of life; he says body of Christ: “Be a member of Christ’s body, then, so that your ‘Amen’ may ring true.”

What is the difference between saying “we are the bread of life” and “we are the body of Christ”? The biggest difference is that the second is scriptural and accurate (1 Cor 12; Rom 12), while the first is analogous and tenuous at best. And two things make these words even worse: first, they are the first words we sing and there is no preparation, no context for them; second, that Cooney does not just write “I am the bread of life,” but “I myself am the bread of life.” Without any preparation, it could be interpreted that I am not just forgetting God but consciously excluding God. What is the problem? The problem is that the liturgy is not the place for theological speculation, but for clear and direct expression of what is true. If the maxim lex orandi, lex credenda is valid, then when the Church is praying — especially in a time when the faithful are so inadequately catechized — she should be praying words that strengthen our faith, not weaken or confuse it.

Another hymn, “Bread For The World,” by Bernadette Farrell, comes a little closer to a more adequate expression of the idea that the Eucharist begets in us a “social” love. The refrain of her hymn reads:

 

Bread for the world; a world of hunger.

Wine for all peoples: people who thirst.

May we who eat be bread for others.

May we who drink pour out our love.

 

There is much that is still problematic in this hymn: for instance, there remains the idea, slightly less overt, that somehow we are ourselves what the world needs and longs for; Farrell does not mention Jesus Christ anywhere in the refrain. At least, though, she hints in the third and fourth lines at the need for us first to receive something before we can give to others.

In his hymn “Gift Of Finest Wheat,” Omer Westendorf comes closest in this group of three composers to expressing well the idea that the Eucharist impels us to go out to others. First, there is no ambiguity in the refrain as to the source of the bread of life:

 

Come give to us, O saving Lord,

the bread of life to eat.

 

Then, in the fifth verse, he writes,

 

You give yourself to us, O Lord;

then selfless let us be,

to serve each other in your name

in truth and charity.

 

While there is more that Westendorf could have written to express how the Eucharist impels us to others, he at least is on the right track. There is no suggestion that when we go to others we bring only ourselves. Indeed, we hope to be “selfless;” and if we are selfless, then we must be bringing something else to others — who else but Jesus, who has given himself to us in the Eucharist?

 

Let us end with a look at a hymn that, while not trying overtly to express the idea we have been discussing, might actually bring us to it in a more substantial way. The hymn is “Adoro Te Devote” by St. Thomas Aquinas, but the words at which we will look are from Gerard Manly Hopkins’ well-known translation of the hymn into English. The fifth verse reads:

 

O thou [the Host], our reminder of the Crucified,

Living Bread, the life of us for whom he died,

Lend this life to me, then; feed and feast my mind,

There be thou the sweetness man was meant to find.

 

There is no ambiguity here, and no questionable theology. The host reminds us of the crucified Jesus, the living Bread of Life. He is our life; we beg it from him. The last line recalls the verse and response of benediction: “You have given them Bread from heaven/Having within it all sweetness.” Even if we do need hymns that remind us of the social responsibility the Eucharist imposes on us, they should begin with the true Bread of Life and work outwards, so to speak.

It was not the purpose of this article to look at every aspect of the hymns mentioned, but hopefully our brief exploration has awakened an interest in looking more closely at the hymns we use. Perhaps one day someone in Rome or our bishops in this country will require more care in the creation of the hymnals that shape in some way the beliefs of our Catholic people.

 

Father Stef Bankemper is pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Parish, Ft. Thomas.

‘O Come Let Us Adore Him’

By Deacon Peter Freeman.

The Eucharist is Jesus truly present – body, blood, soul and divinity. At the moment of consecration during Mass, the “gifts” of bread and wine are transformed (transubstantiated) into the actual Body and Blood of Christ, at the altar. This is what is meant by the real presence: the actual, physical presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

After Communion, the Eucharistic Body of Christ is reserved in the tabernacle. A votive light is kept burning to remind us that Jesus is present.

Because we, as Catholics, believe that Christ is truly and substantially present in the Eucharist, the Blessed Sacrament is given the same reverence, respect and devotion that is accorded to Christ.

Eucharistic adoration is adoring or honoring the presence of Christ in the Eucharist and can take place at any time that the Blessed Sacrament is present in the tabernacle.

Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament occurs when a priest or deacon removes the sacred host from the tabernacle and places it in the monstrance on the altar for adoration by the faithful. The monstrance is the vessel used in the Church to display the consecrated Eucharistic Host during adoration or benediction. The word monstrance comes from the Latin word monstrare meaning “to expose”. When a consecrated host is placed in the monstrance, it is said to be in solemn exposition.

Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament allows for the adoration of Christ visibly present in the Eucharist for 40 Hours devotions, holy hours, adoration and benediction.

Many parishes have Eucharistic exposition and benediction for a certain number of hours each week. Some parishes have perpetual adoration in a chapel reserved for Eucharistic Exposition. Perpetual adoration is adoration in front of the exposed Eucharist twenty-four hours per day, seven days per week.

During Eucharistic adoration, we “watch and wait” and remain silent in His presence and open ourselves to the graces which flow from the Eucharist. Like a magnet, the Lord draws us to Himself and gently transforms us.

Click Here for a directory of parishes within the Diocese of Covington that hold Eucharistic exposition and adoration, with days and times, as well as parishes with perpetual adoration chapels.

This Advent, wait with Mary for the coming of Christ

David Cooley, Messenger Contributor.

The Immaculate Conception is a beautiful solemnity that the Church celebrates each year on December 8. On this day we commemorate the fact that Mary was graced with sinless perfection from the first instant of her existence, in view of the merits of her son Jesus Christ, in light of her predestination to be his Mother. It’s rather fitting that this feast day takes place in the season of Advent, because during that season the mind and heart of the Church are drawing us in to ponder the Blessed Mother.

We first meet Mary not as the Queen of Heaven that she was destined to become, but as a young, meek virgin in the early chapters of the Gospel of Luke. While Scripture doesn’t say it explicitly, it’s fair to assume that she was a very young girl with hopes and dreams of her own. But, one thing we do know for sure is that she was completely devoted to God and her faith was her most prized possession. When it was made clear to her that God’s will was different from her own plans, she doesn’t hesitate. Mary has nothing to offer the Lord but herself; he asks for nothing else, and she holds nothing back.

This year we can all relate to having to let go of our plans. I remember at this time last year, and even earlier, I was making lots of grand plans for 2020. It seemed like a reasonable thing to do at the time. But, of course, looking back now, it’s hard not to laugh a very non-humorous laugh at that. Now, right before the big holiday season, things are getting grim again and even more plans will be falling through. Perhaps we are on the verge of a long, dark winter. In some ways the early sunsets and the frigid air seem more painful this year than ever before.

Yet, this can be a moment of grace for us, too. We must realize that we are not in control and that we are anxiously waiting. We are waiting for this pandemic to be over. We are waiting to hug our family and friends again. We are waiting for the spring of new life. We are waiting for things to just be better. But, most importantly, we are waiting for our Lord. You see, we are not much different than ancient Israel. The prophet Isaiah reminds us that there will be signs, and that God is with us.

Mary was waiting for the Messiah long before the annunciation. But after the angel visited her she actually carried Jesus in her womb for nine months. That’s hard to imagine. Ask any first-time mother what those nine months are like and they’ll tell you it’s nerve-racking. Yes there is excitement, but it’s hindered by anxieties and an almost unbearable anticipation of an uncertain future. You wait and you wait for someone you can’t see but you know is there. And yet this waiting is not idle; there is a lot to be done.

Those nine months for Mary were not idle either. On par with her character, she doesn’t focus on her own needs at all, but goes with haste to the hill country because her elderly cousin is pregnant and might be in need of help. In many ways this symbolizes the idea that while we are all waiting for something great — the kingdom of God — it is, at the same time, already here.

For us, Advent is a season of contemplation, humility, silence and growth. If we practice these virtues in the way that was shown to us by Our Lady, our experience will be like hers. If Christ is growing in us and we pray without ceasing, we will be at peace because we know that however insignificant our life seems to be, from it Jesus is forming himself. We must align our will with his and go “in haste” to wherever our circumstances compel us. Why? Because that’s where he wants us to be; more to the point, that’s where he wants to be.

The ancient Israelites were God’s people, called to be intimate with God and obedient to his law. Mary, the daughter of Zion — the Immaculate Conception — is the fullest expression of intimacy with the Lord. When we prepare ourselves properly and unite our will with God’s will, we, too, share an intimate union with the Lord — even as we await his coming. Advent is our graced time of preparation. This year, no matter how dark things get or how alone we feel, let us stand firm contemplating the coming of the Lord; let us remain meek and humble; let us search for answers in the silence of prayer; and let the love of Christ grow within us so much so that when we go out into the world others will be stirred by his presence.

Bishop Roger Foys will celebrate Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption on the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Dec. 8, at 10 a.m. The Mass will be live-streamed for those viewing at home, and can be found at covcathedral.com.

‘My Body … given up for you’

By David Cooley.

The celebration of the Eucharist goes back to the Last Supper that Jesus had with his Apostles. However, the memorial of the Eucharist is more than just a remembrance of that Last Supper event. In the Eucharist the sacrifice of our redemption becomes present. The Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, “Sacrosanctum Concilium” (1963), states: “At the Last Supper, on the night He was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of His Body and Blood. He did this in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the centuries until He should come again” (n. 47). In his encyclical letter “Ecclesia de Eucharistia,” Pope John Paul II wrote that the Mass makes the sacrifice of the Cross present, “which makes Christ’s one, definitive redemptive sacrifice always present in time” (EE, n. 12).

In his “Summa Theologiae,” Thomas Aquinas makes the point that the Eucharist is at once a “sacrament” and a “sacrifice.” He wrote, “In this sacrament is included the whole mystery of our salvation” (“Summa Theologiae,” III, q. 83, a. 4, c). While St. Thomas notes the close connection between sacrament and sacrifice in the mystery of the Eucharist, he nevertheless sees them as irreducibly distinct from one another, being different concepts and having different effects.

The Eucharist satisfies the concept of a sacrament, Aquinas observed, insofar as it is received and consumed, while it satisfies the concept of sacrifice insofar as it is offered (cf. III, q. 79, a. 5, c). The sacramental effects, graces, are therefore limited to those who are actually present to taste it, while its sacrificial effects may extend to all those for whom it is offered.

St. Thomas Aquinas’ predecessor, Peter Lombard — theologian and bishop of Paris (d. 1160) —recognized that it was important to note that Christ’s saving sacrifice on Calvary is a “once for all” action, unique and unrepeatable; but at the same time the Church’s daily Eucharist action is a genuine sacrifice, in which Christ is truly offered. The offering takes place in one way on Calvary and in another way on the altar. St. John Paul II, referring back to the Council of Trent, said that “the Mass makes present the sacrifice on the Cross; it does not add to that sacrifice nor does it multiply it” (EE, n. 12). He concludes, “The sacrificial nature of the Eucharist cannot therefore be understood as something separate, independent of the Cross or only indirectly referring to the sacrifice of Calvary.”

In the 21st century, perhaps it strikes us as strange to speak of a “sacrifice” in the first place. The word harkens back to the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament — complete with blood sprinkled on the altar — and, in the context of the Mass, refers to the death of God’s only Son for the reparation of sins. In other words, death to the innocent to save the guilty. Why would a God (a Father) of mercy demand such a thing? This is often a point of contention that popular atheists use when pointing out what they deem a major flaw in the Gospel narrative. “What kind of a blood-thirsty god would demand the death of his son to pay for the world’s crimes?” And yet it is St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians connects the crucifixion to the paschal sacrifice, calling Christ “our paschal lamb” who “has been sacrificed” (5:7).

In his book, “My Body Given for You,” recently published in English, Helmut Hoping, German professor of dogmatics and liturgy, writes that the Lord’s sacrifice on the Cross must be understood in terms of the life laid down for us “not in terms of the Crucified as the victim of violence” (“My Body Given for You,” Ignatius Press, 2019). Eucharistic Prayer II reminds us that Christ “entered willingly into his Passion” first and foremost as a gift, out of the greatest possible love for the Father and for us. Christ is the true sacrificial lamb and, at the same time, the true high priest who makes the offering on the people’s behalf. The Cross, then, is the true altar.

The Church is called to participate in the sacrifice of Christ. The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, “Lumen Gentium,” teaches that the faithful, “taking part in the Eucharist, which is the source and summit of the whole of Christian life, offer the divine [sacrifice] to God, and offer themselves along with it.” (LG, n. 11) In this way, Christ’s sacrifice makes it possible for us to, in the right disposition, willingly offer ourselves back to God and unite our sufferings to the Cross.

In his first encyclical, “Redemptor Hominis,” Pope John Paul II wrote that the Father accepted the sacrifice of Christ, “giving, in return for this total self-giving by his Son, who ‘became obedient unto death’ (Phil 2:8), his own paternal gift, that is to say the grant of new immortal life in the resurrection.” (RH, n. 20). The Eucharistic sacrifice makes present not only the mystery of Christ’s passion and death, but also the mystery which crowned that sacrifice — the Resurrection. Christ risen has become for us the “Bread of life” and partaking in the Eucharist applies the event of the Resurrection to our lives.

Later, in his reflection “On the Eucharist and the Mass,” John Paul II wrote, “the Lord unites us with Himself through the Eucharist — Sacrament and Sacrifice — and He unites us with Himself and with one another by a bond stronger than any natural union. Thus united, He sends us into the whole world to bear witness, through faith and works, to God’s love.”

David Cooley is co-director and office manager of the Office of Catechesis and Evangelization.