Sunday, June 22, 2014

Corpus Christi

Every year, at the Feast of Corpus Christi, I find myself a little bit overwhelmed. Why? Not because of the grandiosity of the liturgical feast, which -- while great -- pales in comparison to the Ascension or Pentecost or Trinity Sunday, but because of the personal nature of what the priest celebrates. In a sense, the very essence of the priesthood of Jesus Christ is involved in the celebration of Corpus Christi. How? Because Christ humbled himself to become sustenance for us, in and through the Eucharist, so that we might communicate the grace and life of Jesus to others, in and through our Eucharistic communion.

Especially, I am always overwhelmed and humbled by the sequence which the liturgy of this Mass prescribes. It's long, yes, but it's very much worth our continued reflection. Here is the Latin hymn, with English translation. Take a few moments and ponder through the mystery (explicated by St. Thomas Aquinas) by which Our Lord comes to us each and every Sunday:


Laud, O Zion, your salvation,
Laud with hymns of exultation,
Christ, your king and shepherd true:

Bring him all the praise you know,
He is more than you bestow.
Never can you reach his due.

Special theme for glad thanksgiving
Is the quick’ning and the living
Bread today before you set:

From his hands of old partaken,
As we know, by faith unshaken,
Where the Twelve at supper met.

Full and clear ring out your chanting,
Joy nor sweetest grace be wanting,
From your heart let praises burst:

For today the feast is holden,
When the institution olden
Of that supper was rehearsed.

Here the new law’s new oblation,
By the new king’s revelation,
Ends the form of ancient rite:

Now the new the old effaces,
Truth away the shadow chases,
Light dispels the gloom of night.

What he did at supper seated,
Christ ordained to be repeated,
His memorial ne’er to cease:

And his rule for guidance taking,
Bread and wine we hallow, making
Thus our sacrifice of peace.

This the truth each Christian learns,
Bread into his flesh he turns,
To his precious blood the wine:

Sight has fail’d, nor thought conceives,
But a dauntless faith believes,
Resting on a pow’r divine.

Here beneath these signs are hidden
Priceless things to sense forbidden;
Signs, not things are all we see:

Blood is poured and flesh is broken,
Yet in either wondrous token
Christ entire we know to be.

Whoso of this food partakes,
Does not rend the Lord nor breaks;
Christ is whole to all that taste:

Thousands are, as one, receivers,
One, as thousands of believers,
Eats of him who cannot waste.

Bad and good the feast are sharing,
Of what divers dooms preparing,
Endless death, or endless life.

Life to these, to those damnation,
See how like participation
Is with unlike issues rife.

When the sacrament is broken,
Doubt not, but believe ‘tis spoken,
That each sever’d outward token
doth the very whole contain.

Nought the precious gift divides,
Breaking but the sign betides
Jesus still the same abides,
still unbroken does remain.

Lo! the angel’s food is given
To the pilgrim who has striven;
see the children’s bread from heaven,
which on dogs may not be spent.

Truth the ancient types fulfilling,
Isaac bound, a victim willing,
Paschal lamb, its lifeblood spilling,
manna to the fathers sent.

Very bread, good shepherd, tend us,
Jesu, of your love befriend us,
You refresh us, you defend us,
Your eternal goodness send us
In the land of life to see.

You who all things can and know,
Who on earth such food bestow,
Grant us with your saints, though lowest,
Where the heav’nly feast you show,
Fellow heirs and guests to be. Amen. Alleluia.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Joy of Pentecost

Pentecost (metalwork: enamel on copper gilt), unknown goldsmith of Meuse Valley, c. 1190.

Happy birthday, Church!

The solemnity of Pentecost draws to a close the Paschal (Easter) season and, in a sense, brings to completion the saving work of God. Christ -- having become man, having taught us by word and deed, having suffered and died for us to free us from sin, having risen for us to give us new life, having returned to his Father to give us hope of eternal life -- now at last sends forth his Spirit to us as his everlasting gift and advocate and guide. Through the Spirit, God continues to teach us, to animate us by grace and charity, to spur us on to new heights of holiness.

The readings for this feast, when reflected upon, always bring forth great fruit. In the first reading, the Holy Spirit, signified by tongues of fire, descends upon the apostles and grants them the miraculous power to proclaim the Gospel in the native tongues of the diverse crowd gathered in Jerusalem. In the second reading, Paul exhorts the Corinthians to understand that though they are, to external sensibilities, very different from each other -- marked by different backgrounds, different gifts, different responsibilities, different forms of service -- they are, in fact, not divided but rather united, like the various parts of a person, being animated by the Spirit's breath to form the Body of Christ. And in the Gospel, Jesus brings peace to the hearts of the apostles. They had abandoned him in the hour of his passion and now surely were afraid, not only of the power of this Resurrected One but at what just punishment might have been theirs. And yet, Jesus, looking upon them with great love, not only forgives them but gives them his power of forgiveness to share with the world.

In short, each reading evokes a central theme, one very important for our lives as Christians: the newness of the Spirit unites what had been divided. As mere humans, we suffer from division by language or nation, from difference in our forms of work and inequality in our social status, and especially by separation from God by sin -- but as members of the Church, endowed with and united by the Holy Spirit, these differences and separations no longer need to plague us. The Church is the faithful witness of and unique dispenser of the mysteries of Christ's grace, and as her sons and daughters, we are no longer isolated, separated, divided -- neither from God nor from each other -- because we share in the unity of the Spirit.

Like so many feasts of our liturgical year, Pentecost is a day of great joy, great peace, and great hope. In our lives, especially in our lives of faith and morality, at times we encounter great challenge and difficulty. Perhaps we feel in various moments as if we are alone or isolated, as if we have been divided from or even driven from our communities, and especially as if we are divorced from God by sin. On this birthday of the Church, we remember that, through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, given to the Church and to each Christian, we need not flounder in division or wallow in hopelessness. In the Spirit, there is communion for all, there is peace for all.

Let us turn our hearts again to God in thanksgiving for his gift of the Spirit which he gives to us through the Church. Let us work for unity in the Church and in all areas in our life. And let us seek to share, as the disciples were tasked to do, the Good News with all who do not yet know the peace and joy that comes from life in the Holy Spirit.

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As we know, many areas of the world lack unity and peace, often tragically so. Perhaps nowhere has this been more true in recent decades (or centuries, even) than in the Holy Land. Thus it is fitting that Pope Francis chose this day of Pentecost to welcome to the Vatican for a historic meeting and prayer for peace the presidents of Israel and Palestine, Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas. 

Every Christian should be concerned about and invested in the promotion of peace in the Holy Land. In that spirit, I invite us to join in prayer for that cause, especially today. May the Holy Spirit renew the face of all the earth, but especially the Holy Land. If you'd like to read the address of Pope Francis to Presidents Peres and Abbas, you can do so here.
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Finally, on a personal note, thanks to those of you who have sent kind words and wishes the past few weeks. I've settled in here in Washington, DC, for the summer as I pursue studies for a degree in canon law. This will be a long and probably arduous process but I'm already learning a lot and enjoying it as well. Please continue to keep me in your prayers. I'll try to update again soon with a little more about what the study of canon law contributes to the Church as well as some of the interesting sights here in DC.