Christian Platonism

Rediscovering Ancient Wisdom

Archive for the ‘Liturgy’ Category

On the Praying for Others’ Forgiveness in the Catholic Mass

leave a comment »

Carthusian Rite Confiteor

Why the Confiteor is one of the most beautiful and important parts of the Mass

The section of the Roman Catholic Mass called the Penitential Rite is insufficiently appreciated. This part contains, among other things, the prayer known as the Confiteor. Its name comes from the first line, which, in Latin, is Confiteor Deo omnipotente…, in English translated as “I confess to Almighty God….” The Confiteor is the source of the phrase, mea culpa (mea culpa, mea culpa, me maxima culpa — i.e., one confesses that one has sinned “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.”

A special virtue of this section of the Liturgy is that it is an opportunity for members of the Church to pray for one another. When I was younger, I understood the Confiteor, along with the Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison (Lord have mercy! Christ have mercy!) which comes later, as being mainly concerned with seeking forgiveness for ones own sins. But with age comes a growth in instinctive concern for others; you look around and see what difficulties and burdens others bear, and, if you have a heart, you naturally want them to be helped. As this charitable concern develops, the Mass takes on new meaning and importance.

Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained. (John 20:23)

Just think of what the verse above implies. Look at the suffering and the burdens others bear — whether those be their sins, or the consequences of those sins, or the guilt and shame their sins produce. And then consider the possibility that you may be an agent in removing those burdens and effecting their healing. Have you never noticed how real benefits may come to others as the result of your prayers? What if no-one else on the entire the planet is praying for these individuals? That may easily be the case! Can you not bring yourself — indeed, can you not resist the compassionate urge — to pray for them?

To give a personal example, suppose I’m at Mass and I see people in the congregation with serious obesity problems; these days, I’m afraid, that’s an all too common experience. Now God has given me the gift of physical fitness and a strong personal motivation to exercise. This is a grace not everyone has. It is a blessing, and I’m extremely grateful for it. But I have been overweight before, and therefore know that these people suffer very much because of obesity. It’s perfectly natural, then, for me to pray for them.

Now it might be objected, “Aren’t you being judgmental here? On what basis are you apparently equating their health issues with sin?” The answer is that I’m taking a very broad view of sin; it might be better to call the issue here moral imperfection, or even an insufficiency of moral strength. We need to strip ‘sin’ of its judgmental connotations in any case. The original Greek word for sin is hamartia, which means ‘missing the mark.’ It’s appropriate, then, to see the alleviation of obesity, depression, substance abuse, or many other things people suffer from as subjects of prayer in the Penitential Rite.

It is of some interest to note changes in the liturgy apropos of this. Before the reforms of the 1960’s and 70’s, the Mass was, of course, still said in Latin. People may not remember this detail, but in the traditional Tridentine Mass the Confiteor was actually prayed twice. First the priest recited it to the assistant(s) or altar servers, confessing his sinfulness and pleading for the intercession of “Mary ever Virgin, blessed Michael the Archangel, blessed John the Baptist, the holy Apostles Peter and Paul” and “all the Saints.” In conclusion he further asked, “you brethren, to pray to the Lord our God for me.”

In response, the assistant(s) — representing the entire congregation — prayed,

May Almighty God have mercy upon you, forgive you your sins, and bring you to life everlasting.

To which the priest said, “Amen.”

Then the assistant(s) recited the Confiteor, changing only the last phrase by asking “you Father, to pray to the Lord our God for me.” The priest then prayed the same response as the assistant(s) had to his Confiteor, to which the latter responded, “Amen.” Then the priest, making the sign of the cross, prayed:

May the Almighty and merciful God grant us pardon, absolution, and remission of our sins.

To which the server(s) replied, “Amen.”

This detail actually signifies something momentous: that the priest and congregation, symbolized by the assistant(s), are praying, interceding with God, for each other’s forgiveness.

The present form of the Roman Catholic Mass includes only one Confiteor, said jointly by the priest and congregation. In theory, nothing has changed spiritually: all are praying both for themselves and for each other. But the present liturgy leaves this more ambiguous. If not instructed in the matter, people may misunderstand, and think they are only praying for their own forgiveness.

At one level, it’s perfectly understandable and ordinary for people to be so intent on confessing their own sins and seeking forgiveness that the reciprocity of the Confiteor escapes attention. Yet Christians in this respect are called on to be more than ordinary. They are called to be priests, a priestly people (1 Peter 2:5–10; cf. Exodus 19:6); and one vital function of a priest is to intercede with God for the welfare of others.

Moreover, an exclusively self-oriented confessional attitude fails to recognize a fundamental principle of the psychology of forgiveness, a detail to which Scripture pointedly calls our attention: that forgiving others and being forgiven ourselves are so integrally related as to literally be two aspects of the same thing. Let us recall some relevant passages:

Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. (James 5:16)

For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6: 14–15)

Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. (Matthew 5:7)

Note that we are not just called to forgive those who have trespassed against us, but also those sins others commit that might not involve us at all.

Sometimes we might think that the connection between forgiving and forgiveness is merely a kind of reciprocal justice: if we forgive, then we’ve done a good deed, and our reward is to be forgiven in exactly the same degree. But the connection is actually much stronger. In a sense, our holding onto grudges, or even just a ‘stinginess’ in wishing forgiveness for anyone, automatically carries with it a burden of moral imperfection, if not outright sin. Said another way, the moment we earnestly pray for others’ forgiveness — not just those who have harmed us, but those who need forgiveness in any way and for any reason — we ourselves come into right relation to God and with ourselves. And whatever burdens we have imposed on ourselves by being out of right relation are removed.

This shouldn’t be taken to imply that an awareness of our own sinfulness isn’t terribly important. Quite the opposite: the more cognizant we are of our need for forgiveness, the more enthusiastic and willing we are to forgive others, as this is a small price to pay indeed. If we fully understood this principle, we would beg and thank God for the opportunity to forgive others!

Perhaps at this point some will expect me to suggest that we should restore the Tridentine Mass, but that is by no means my point. In fact, I think the liturgical changes have been, in the main, for the better. It seems sufficient for the Confiteor to be said once — provided that people are aware of all that’s going on. I believe it proper to say that the main focus of ones prayer here should be for others’ forgiveness. That is the object of our prayer. The action of our praying for others is itself implicitly the prayer for our own forgiveness — so that both needs are being met at the same time.

I do believe, however, that, with the present liturgy, special attention needs to be given to instruct people about the dual nature of the Penitential Rite. Further, some things I’ve read online seem to suggest that in certain diocese and/or at certain times, the Confiteor is omitted from masses. If so, then it seems to me very important that whatever is used in its place emphasize and encourage the dual aspect of praying for forgiveness.

I wrote at the outset that this is something momentous, but have yet to fully explain why. Consider this principle of each forgiving another — of striving to do this oneself, and of coming to regularly expect that others approach you in the same way — carried to its logical extreme. That is, imagine a society where this principle became conventional, usual, regular. In that case the whole orientation of the individual towards others and society in general would be transformed, and for the better. Inasmuch as the ability to heal by forgiving is natural, and human beings are naturally social and gregarious, then an ambient recognition of this principle would amount to a revolution in human consciousness, individual and social. We would achieve in practice what is yet only latent and dormant in our collective potential.  We would change as a species.

 

Written by John Uebersax

July 28, 2014 at 7:07 pm

Christianity for Agnostics

leave a comment »

William-Adolphe Bouguereau - La Vierge aux Lys [The Virgin of the Lillies] - 1899

Introduction

One way of expressing the thesis presented here is this:  if one were to design an ideal spiritual-philosophical system for Americans and Europeans, I believe it would contain everything that traditional Christianity has, except for some problematic and potentially dispensable doctrinal elements (e.g., the idea that religious authority can replace personal free inquiry in religious matters). One may participate in the psychological experience of Christianity, in my personal opinion, while at the same time reserving judgment on certain specific doctrines of this kind.  Doctrine can never be perfect, because ultimate realities cannot be expressed in words; any attempt to do so must inevitably produce contradiction.  Or to simply look at the matter historically, the Christian authorities were wrong about Galileo, and it is certain that some doctrines of today will follow the route of the earth-centered universe.

But such limitations are no cause to ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’. The Christian tradition already exists.  It is the product of centuries of continual refinement, a consummate work, polished and refined by the wise, loving, and inspired hands of countless individuals – each potentially the image of God, but in any case a human being with angelic abilities and aspirations, unimaginable creative potential, and loving instincts  Moreover, this tradition is an organic cultural whole, which operates according to principles yet unknown to science. The suggestion that one might begin from scratch, constructing a new, personal religion, spirituality, or psychological system of equal or comparable quality, by selectively borrowing pieces here and there is unlikely at best.  Such a view is hubris of a very high order, and elevates to personal godhood that meager sliver of consciousness denoted by the word ‘ego’. One may as well try to equal Beethoven in writing a symphony, or Raphael in painting.

Although I am a Christian myself, for this article I wear my hat as psychologist.  My interest in that capacity is to assist others, as best I can, to achieve psychological integrity and self-actualization.  Nothing asserted is contrary to reason. To a significant extent I follow the theories of Carl Jung here (but disagree with Jung on several important points, and would hesitate to call myself a ‘Jungian’).  More fundamentally, I follow the basic trend of intelligently-based rejection of radical empiricism that began with the Romantic movement and is associated, for example, with writers like Coleridge and Wordsworth.  The leading principle of the Romantic argument – which has tragically been lost in the 20th and 21st centuries (yet are  more urgently important now than ever) – is that Enlightenment rationalism allows no place for the experience of the sublime, or those things which give deepest meaning to our lives.

While written from a Roman Catholic perspective,  the points below apply with similar force to other liturgical Christian denominations, such as the Anglican, Orthodox, and Eastern Catholic Churches.  Many of the same arguments might also apply to traditional Judaism.

This, then, is sufficient introduction.  What follows is a brief listing of specific points, organized around the categories of (1) Psychology, Anthropology and Ethics; (2) Cultus; and (3) Metaphysics.

* * *

1. Psychology, Anthropology and Ethics

Ethics

Christianity is an advanced ethical system that promotes the abandonment of personal egoism.

The pronounced emphasis in Christianity on acts of charity follows from and supports the abandonment of egoism.  In the West, Christian saints and charitable institutions set the standard for egolessness.

The abandonment of egoism, or humility, as it is technically known, also manifests itself in a surrender to God’s will.  Here we encounter a constellation of concepts – Providence, Grace, the Logos, etc. – associated with an orderly plan for all Creation, and man’s role therein. These all point to the potential attainment of a state of harmony between thought, action, and Nature.  While Christianity is often criticized as being dualistic (e.g., denigrating the natural world, and tolerating , or even supporting its exploitation), true Christianity aims for a condition of non-duality.

If one investigates the matter attentively and honestly, one will readily observe within oneself a definite capacity to (1) act in ways that harm oneself; (2) act in ways that harm others; and (3) have negative thoughts (i.e., thoughts which disrupt, rather than serve to integrate the mind).  The honest person will also recognize a tendency to self-deceit, and lack of objectivity in evaluating ones thoughts and actions.  Lacking a better term, we may lump all of the preceding under the provisional term of “sin.”

Sin, therefore, is a useful concept, because it denotes a range of important related phenomena, for which no other term is available.  We could as easily name it “what traditional religions call sin”, but that would be a bit awkward.  Various associations to guilt, punishment, penance, etc., or the idea that “sin” may be defined unconditionally by an ecclesiastic authority we may exclude from our operational definition.

This thing, “sin”, then, exists, and is to our detriment.  Unless one is courageous and honest enough to accept ones capacity for “sin” in some sense, it is difficult to see how one will find happiness, achieve personality integration, or improve ethically.

Soteriology

Salvation.  It is similarly apparent to the honest observer that one exists in a state of need and deprivation.  Most of us live day to day in various degrees (often severe) of unhappiness and lack of fulfillment.  (Recall Thoreau’s remark:  “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”)  All too infrequently, we live in states of anxiety, depression, aimlessness, confusion, wasted energy, etc.  For this reason, each person, then, instinctively seeks what we may call psychological salvation.  Christianity is not necessarily the only theoretical means of achieving psychological salvation; but it is an established means, tested by time, designed for this purpose, and especially adapted to the personality structure of Westerners.  It would be difficult to demonstrate that any other means is more effective.

The Christ Principle

Many psychologists speak of a “self-actualizing” principle in the human psyche:  a force, drive, principle, or telos which directs one to levels of greater integration, completion and happiness.  For Christians, this self-actualizing principle can be understood as an inner Christ.  We may call it by other names, but that does not change the significance of this salvific principle.

Inasmuch as this principle is present in all people, it is reasonable to think of there being a universal Archetype – an original principle of which all individual instances are images.  This Archetype would correspond to Jesus Christ as a cosmic principle.  However, it must be admitted that this latter part is more speculative, and more a matter of personal faith and intuition.  The point to be made here is that modern psychology affirms the existence of an individual self-actualizing principle, and this principle is both acknowledged by and central to Christianity.

Forgiveness

The principle of forgiveness is central to Christian ethics.  The earnest Christian affirms, “as I forgive those who trespass against me” with each recitation of the Lord’s Prayer.  The Apostle’s Creed also affirms as a basic Christian belief “the forgiveness of sins.”  Christ died, Christians are taught, for the forgiveness of sins.  Nearly his last words on the cross were, “Father, forgive them.” St. Paul, who became one of the greatest Apostles, was previously a great sinner — as though this aspect of his life was meant to engrain in our minds the availability of forgiveness.

If one probes deeply into human nature, one may observe that issues of guilt and forgiveness are of immense concern.  Almost all of our difficulties, personal and social, relate, in some way or another,  to an inability or failure to forgive.  Yet there is never anything gained by not forgiving.  Holding onto anger and resentment is a deep-seated and pervasive flaw in human character.

In no other religion is an emphasis on forgiveness so pronounced. Christianity might well be called a religion of forgiveness.   That this is an ideal many find themselves unable to live up to completely is incidental for our purposes.  What matters is that it is an ideal.

The God-image

A central tenet of Christianity is that the human being is made in God’s image.  This has profound implications for how we view ourselves and other people.

2. Cultus

The eminent psychologist Carl Jung once wrote that, if one of his patients reported that he or she had returned to participation in the Catholic Church, he (Jung) considered that patient cured, or in any case advanced beyond the point that psychotherapy would be of further use.  By this he meant that within the human psyche are archetypal principles and forces that are largely beyond our ability to scientifically understand, but are effectively dealt with by religion.  Religion, properly practiced, in Jung’s view, is a primary means by which our culture has evolved for grappling with these archetypes, and achieving integration of the personality.

This brings us to the important subject of  cultus, which we may define here as all the non-doctrinal practices and traditions of Christianity.

Opponents of religion and Christianity typically level their accusations against specific Christian doctrines. This mistakenly equate Christianity with doctrine.

But much of Christianity’s value comes from its cultus.  This cultus is the result of a millennia-long process of cumulative development and improvement.

Just as our material culture – how to mix cement or build bridges – has improved  through the centuries inexorably, regardless of regimes or wars, the  culture of Christianity, its cultus, has been gradually improved and refined.  Any time an innovation in cultus emerges, it is compared with the present counterpart and the better chosen.  A successful innovation introduced one place can be immediately imitated elsewhere.

So Christianity has grown gradually to satisfy the aesthetic, intellectual, emotional and spiritual needs of its flock.  When a process like this continues for a long time it produces considerable refinement.  Christian cultus  continually improves to accommodate the deepest needs and propensities of the human psyche.

Three important divisions of Christian cultus are Art, Literature, and Practices.

Art

Fine art. Christianity has inspired many of the finest works of art that Western culture has produced, including paintings, sculptures, illuminated manuscripts, stained glass windows, and so on.

Music.  Similarly, Christianity has inspired great productions of music from composers such as Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Schubert, Vaughan-Williams, and innumerable others.  This superlative music evokes feelings and intuitions of the highest order, which no words adequately describe, although terms like Joy, Beauty, Wonder, and Mystery are related to it.  But who has ever composed an Atheist Oratorio or a Skeptic’s Symphony?

Architecture.  What has been said above can also be said of the magnificent churches of Christianity, the basilicas and, especially, the Gothic cathedrals of Europe.  To enter one of these buildings is to enter the realm of the sublime – or, as some would have it, heaven itself.

Literature

Scripture.  Even were it not religious, the Bible would command our utmost attention as an unsurpassed work of literature and psychology.  Every aspect, problem, difficulty and puzzle of human life is somewhere addressed therein.  It has grown organically, reflecting the judgment of erudite and lofty-minded collators and translators.  It passes to us a gem of human wisdom and insight.

I do not believe the Bible is literally true in every detail.  In fact, I find such an assertion contrary both to reason and Christian teaching itself!  But I do consider the Bible as something sacred, numinous – as exemplifying or manifesting a reality higher than this material one.  Whatever you seek from ancient lore, from mysterious writings of great import, however you honor that sacred human urge – seek it first in the Bible and you will not be disappointed.  The Bible is your book.  Approach it as if it were written for you alone.

Patristic literature.  Along with the Bible, we also possess an immense literature by the so-called Fathers (and Mothers) of the Church, both West and East.  Luminaries in this constellation of geniuses include Origen of Alexandria, St. Augustine of Hippo, the Cappadocian Fathers (St. Basil, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Gregory of Nazianzus), St. John Chrysostom, St. Ambrose of Milan, and St. Maximus the Confessor, among others.

These great authors have produced profoundly beautiful and deeply insightful works.  Nobody who reads them is disappointed.  No modern writer today’s approach them degree of knowledge, rationality, and skill.

One might ask:  if these writers are so profound, why are they not better known?  The answer is largely that, in many cases, it has only been recently that their works have appeared in modern languages.  Even the works of St. Augustine have not yet been fully translated.

Doctors of the Church.  Another category of traditional Christian writers is that of the Church Doctors.  Examples include St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Catherine of Siena, and St. Francis of Sales.  Again, these writers show remarkable humanism and insight into psychology.  It is most unfortunate that their works, sources of deep insight and inspiration, are neglected solely because they are Christian or Roman Catholic.

Christian mysticism. The Christian contemplative and mystical tradition is a living one.  Today there are still many monastic centers, carrying on a tradition of mystical practices that originated in ancient times – perhaps even before Christianity.  The works of, say, St. John Ruysbroeck, command our attention if for no other reason than their sheer beauty.

Asceticism.  Many Westerners today, and even many psychologists, recognize the benefits of practices like mindfulness meditation and the watching and analyzing of thoughts.  There is no doubt that these practices have evolved to a very high degree in Eastern traditions such as Buddhism.  Yet no less impressive is the ascetical psychological tradition of the West, found in Catholic and Orthodox Christianity.  The  Philokalia  is an outstanding example of this tradition.   The Western ascetical tradition is in no way inferior to the Eastern tradition, yet is better suited to the culture, moirés, and temperament of Americans and Europeans.

Practices

The Mass.  Even were it viewed only as a form of ritual art, the Mass’s value  would be more than sufficiently demonstrated.  Cross-cultural evidence reveals a universal human interest in ritual.  Ritual appears to satisfy needs that cannot be met any other way.  Ritual is a language of the unconscious, and, as such, needs no rational defense.  Many rituals, the Mass included, are connected with personal transformation.  Because Carl Jung’s essay, ‘Transformation Symbolism in the Mass’ (Collected Works, Vol. 11, Psychology and Religion: West and East, 1975, pp 201-98) has treated of this subject admirably well, we need say no more here in this regard.

Other rituals.  The ancient rituals, rites and ceremonies associated with special occasions – baptisms, marriages, the Easter and Christmas seasons, and so on – must also be mentioned.   It is difficult to convey the aesthetic and deeply satisfying quality of these to any who have not seen them first-hand.  They are a living connection with our ancient past.

In the tradition of Greek pagan religion, one sometimes encounters the idea of theurgy – or ritual practices aimed to promote spiritual growth, in connection with various gods or goddesses.  Some people today find such ancient pagan religions attractive for this very reason.  Yet within Christianity there is the same sort of thing – namely the liturgies, rituals, and sacramental practices – developed to a much higher degree.  But in the case of Christianity, this is a living tradition, not one that modern people have tried to reconstruct based on scanty past evidence and conjecture.

Prayer.  What good person has never felt the deep and spontaneous urge to pray for another, whether it be a relative, friend or the victim of unfortunate circumstance?  The urge to pray is so universal that we can little imagine it not having decidedly positive effect – even if only in the mind of the one who prays.  If we are to pray, if we are pray-ers by disposition, may we not conceive of a technology of prayer?  Should prayer be the only aspect of human life in which tradition and the cumulative experience of others is be of no benefit?  Christianity teaches us how to pray.  Moreover, it contains a rich store of formulas and prayers suitable for every circumstance in life.

Christian prayer is supported by traditional practices. Consider, for example, the folding of hands by a Christian in devout prayer.  In the terminology of yoga, this is called a mudra – a ritual position of the hands, thought to have psychological or spiritual value.  It is good to study yoga, with its various mudras and asanas; yet one should not, in the process, neglect the store of comparable postures and actions in the Christian tradition – the kneeling, the crossing of oneself, the bowing of the head, the raising of hands in characteristic ways.  The ritual positions and actions of a priest saying Mass are exceptionally interesting in this regard, yet are typically taken for granted.

Liturgical calendar.  Over the centuries, the Christian Church has evolved an elaborate and rich calendar, associating festivals and commemorations with various days and seasons.  These no doubt reflect very ancient traditions.  They connect us with the changing seasons, and promote a harmonization of our lives and souls with the natural world

Veneration of saints.  What is remarkable is not so much that there are saints, but that there are so many.  Each saint is the expression of some virtue or human excellence of which the human being is capable.  Each saint, it may be said, corresponds to some archetype of the individual soul.  Each constitutes an ideal whose example we are naturally inclined to imitate.  By studying the lives of the saints, we learn about our own deepest aspirations and potentialities.

3. Metaphysics

The Holy Trinity. To some, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity may seem a strange and arbitrary one.  But, in fact, the doctrine partly derives from the speculation and theories of pre-Christian, Platonic philosophers.  The Trinity solves certain meaningful theological and metaphysical problems.

Divine Mother.  Christianity also makes ample room for and pays due homage to a Divine Feminine principle.  Admittedly, the written doctrine on this point is somewhat unclear and perhaps even a little contradictory.  But, to return briefly to the idea of cultus, clearly at that level considerable attention is paid to the Divine Feminine, and this promotes psychological integration.

Angels.  This subject is a broad one, but one aspect of particular interest is the idea of a guardian angel.  This Christian concept corresponds to very ancient notions of a companion spirit associated with the individual person.  I hope to write more on this at another time; for now let it suffice simply to suggest a possible connection between this concept and a Higher Self.

Communion of Saints.  One of the most extraordinary innovations of Christianity is the concept of a communion of saints – a spiritual community of Christians, both living and dead, into a kind of super-personal organism or institution.  This makes a lot of sense.  If our souls are eternal, and if we may, as many suppose, communicate and help each other at a spiritual level, then would it not be in our interests to form some kind of spiritual organization for mutual benefit and to effect God’s work together?

Look at the challenges of the world today, the great social needs, the injustice, the terrible deprivation of so many.  If you are reading this, it presupposes that you are the kind of person who is moved to concern and action by such things.  Can you solve them by yourself?  Perhaps you have tried, and, if so, likely have not gotten very far.  Would it not make sense to at least explore the possibility of working within a spiritual communion of similarly inclined souls?  If God wants these problems solved, would it not make sense that He would employ such a means as this?

* * *

In the interests of the reader, this list has been kept short and minimal.  Many more items could be included and elaborated on at length.  Let these suffice, however, to supply an honest view of how one Christian views his faith.  Hopefully even the most inveterate skeptic will discern that there is a much firmer foundation here than mere superstition, or failure to exercise disciplined reasoning – the two objections raised most commonly today against Christianity.

The Excellence of the Mass as May Be Inferred by the Ceremonies for the Consecration of Churches

leave a comment »

The Excellence of the Mass as May Be Inferred by the Ceremonies for the Consecration of Churches

From Chapter 2 (pp. 25 – 31) of The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass by Fr. Martin von Cochem, OFM Cap (1630 – 1712).  Translated by  Rev. Camilus Paul Maes, Bishop of Covington, Kentucky). New York, 1896.

First of all, the great excellence of the holy Mass may be inferred from the prayers and ceremonies appointed for the consecration of churches and altars. Any one who has been present at the dedication of a church, who has followed the prayers and understood the ceremonial made use of by the bishop, cannot fail to have been edified by what he witnessed. For the benefit of those who have never assisted at the consecration of churches and altars the ceremonies connected with it shall be briefly described.

THE DEDICATION OF CHURCHES.

The consecrating bishop, who, together with the congregation, has prepared himself by fasting on the preceding day, sets apart overnight the relics to be used in the consecration. On the morning of the day appointed he betakes himself to the place whither they have been carried, and after vesting pontifically recites with the clergy present the seven penitential psalms and the Litany of the Saints. He then goes in procession with the clergy round the outside of the church, the door of which is closed, sprinkling the upper portion of the walls with holy water in the form of the cross, saying: In the name of the Father + , and of the Son + , and of the Holy + Ghost—the clergy meanwhile singing a responsory. On coming back to the church-door the bishop says a short prayer, and knocks with his pastoral staff at the door, saying: Attollite portas, principes, vestras, etc. (“Lift up your heads, ye princes, and be ye lifted up, ye eternal gates, and the King of glory will enter.”) He then goes round the church again,lower part of the walls with the same words; and on returning to the door says a different prayer, and knocks with his staff as before. A third time he goes round the church, this time sprinkling the middle part of the walls; he then knocks three times with his staff at the door, saying: “Be opened!” And upon the door being opened he makes a cross with his staff on the threshold, saying: “Behold the sign of the cross; let the spirits of evil! depart!” Entering into the church, he says: “Peace be to this house! “ sprinkling the

In the middle of the church the bishop kneels down and intones the hymn Vent, Creator Spiritus; this is followed by the Litany of the Saints and the canticle of Zachary: Benedictus Dominus Deus (“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel.”) While these are being sung he forms a cross with the letters of the Latin and Greek alphabets, which he inscribes with his staff on ashes wherewith the floor of the church has previously been sprinkled; then, kneeling before the high altar, he chants three times the words, Deus, in adjutorium meum intende, etc. (“O God, come to my assistance,” etc.). Thereupon he blesses with the prescribed form of prayer ashes, salt, water, and wine, mixing them together and signing them repeatedly with the cross, and proceeds to consecrate the high altar and the other altars. Dipping his thumb in the preparation which he has just blessed, he makes a cross in the middle and in the four corners of the altar-stone, saying: ” Let this altar be sanctified + to the glory of God, of the Virgin Mary, and all the saints, and in the name and commemoration of St. N. [naming the patron of the church], in the name of the + Father,” etc. These words are repeated five times. Thereupon he goes round the altar seven times, sprinkling it with holy water and reciting the Miserere

He next goes three times round the interior of the church, sprinkling the walls above, below, and in the middle whilst three psalms and antiphons are sung. He also sprinkles the floor of the church in each of the four corners, with certain prayers and the sign of the cross, and returns to the high altar. He then blesses chalk and sand, and mixes them with holy water, thus preparing the mortar for the laying of the altar-stone. Afterwards, going in procession to the place where the relics were deposited on the previous evening, he incenses them, and carries them with lighted tapers and smoking censers round the church. Pausing on the threshold, the bishop makes three crosses on the door, saying: ” In the name of the Father +, and of the Son + , and of the Holy + Ghost, be thou blessed, sanctified, and consecrated.

When the procession reaches the high altar, the bishop makes five crosses with chrism in the cavity of the altar, called the sepulchre, places the case containing the relics in it, incenses them, and closes the repository or sepulchre with a stone that has been blessed and the mortar prepared for the purpose. Thereupon he incenses the altar itself, and hands the censer to a priest, who goes round it incensing every part. Meanwhile the bishop makes five crosses with oil of catechumens on the table of the altar, one in the centre and one in each of the corners, with the same words employed when blessing the water, incenses the crosses, and goes round the altar incensing it. After the prescribed prayer and psalm have been recited he again anoints the altar, making five crosses upon it, saying: “Let this altar be blessed, sanctified, and consecrated.” He then again incenses the crosses and the whole altar. This ceremony is repeated a third time, whilst psalms are chanted by the clergy. Finally, the bishop pours oil and chrism over the whole altar, rubbing it in with his hand. He then goes round the interior of the church, and anoints the twelve crosses upon the walls with the chrism, saying: “Let this church be hallowed and consecrated in the name of the Father, etc.,” and incensing each cross three times. Returning to the altar, he blesses the frankincense, lays five grains of incense wherever the five crosses were made, forms five small crosses out of wax tapers and lights them. Whilst they are burning, he kneels down, as do all the clergy present, and intones the hymn Veni, Sancte Spiritus. This is followed by more prayers and a preface; the clergy chant Psalm Lxvii. in thanksgiving for the graces received; the bishop makes a cross with the chrism below the table of the altar, and recites more and longer prayers. After that he rubs his hands with bread and salt, and washes them in water. The clergy wipe the altar with linen, cover it with an altar-cloth, decorate it as best they can, whilst psalms and responsories are sung. In conclusion the bishop incenses the altar three times, and proceeds to celebrate a solemn pontifical High Mass.

All who have been present at the dedication of a church cannot find words to express their surprise at the number of different ceremonies, anointings, benedictions, and prayers that appertain to the ritual. What is the object of all of these ? It is in order to render the church a temple meet for the great and holy sacrifice offered up therein to the most high God, and to hallow and consecrate the altars whereon the spotless Lamb of God is to be slain in a mystical manner.

This is sufficient to convince any Christian of the sanctity of our churches and altars, and the great reverence we ought to pay to them. Solomon’s temple was but a foreshadow and type of the Christian Church, and yet in what respect it was held both by Jews and heathen! How much the more should we reverence and respect our churches, hallowed as they are by so solemn a dedication! We read in the Third Book of Kings that Solomon, on the occasion of the dedication of his temple, offered up no less than two and twenty thousand oxen, and a hundred and twenty thousand rams. These animals were all slaughtered by the priests, purified, and laid in pieces on the altar. And while the king prayed aloud fire fell from heaven and consumed the victims. The whole temple war filled with a cloud, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. And all the people, who beheld the fire and the glory of the Lord, filled with awe, fell upon their faces and adored the Lord. Thereupon King Solomon, standing on a high place in the sight of the assembly of Israel, spread forth his hands towards heaven and said: “Is it then to be thought that God should indeed dwell upon earth ? For if heaven and the heavens of heavens cannot contain Thee, how much less this house, which I have built! ” (III. Kings viii. 27.)

Who, indeed, can fail to be amazed at this, and feel himself unable rightly to comprehend the dignity of that sacred temple ? And yet that temple was but a type, an image, of our churches. In that there was nothing but the Ark of the Covenant, which only contained the two stone tables of the law, a basket of showbread, and Aaron’s rod that had blossomed. The sacrifices of the Jews were only animals that were slaughtered and burnt, besides offerings of bread, wine, cakes, etc., whereas our churches are dedicated by the bishops with incomparably greater solemnity; they are anointed with holy oil and chrism; they are blessed by being sprinkled with holy water and incensed with frankincense; they are hallowed repeatedly by the sign of the cross, and consecrated finally by the oblation of the most holy sacrifice of the Mass. Instead of the Ark of the Covenant we have the tabernacle, where the true bread of heaven, the adorable Sacrament of the Altar, the body and blood of Christ, is continually reserved. If it is right to hold Solomon’s temple in honor, how much more ought we to reverence our consecrated churches, in which God dwells in person.

Our churches are called the house of God, and this in very deed they are, since God Himself dwells in them, and is always to be found in them. He is surrounded continually by a countless host of angels, who serve Him, who adore Him, who worship Him, who praise Him, who offer our prayers to Him. This was foreshadowed by the vision of the patriarch Jacob. Overtaken by night in the open country, he laid down to sleep, and in a dream he saw a ladder standing upon the earth, the top of which reached to heaven. By this ladder the angels of God were ascending and descending, and at the top of it he beheld God Himself. Jacob woke from his sleep trembling, and said: “How terrible is this place! This is no other but the house of God, and the gate of heaven.” (Gen. xxviii. 17.) He took the stone on which his head had rested, poured oil upon it, set it up for an altar, and on his return journey he offered sacrifice upon it to God. That was a type of the Christian Church, with its altar, anointed with holy oil and chrism, of which we can in truth say: “How terrible is this place! This is no other but the house of God, and the gate of heaven,” {NAB: In solemn wonder he cried out: “How awesome is this shrine! This is nothing else but an abode of God, and that is the gateway to heaven!} for here the angels ascend and descend, and carry up our petitions to heaven. Our churches are the place of which God speaks by the mouth of the prophet Isaias: “I will bring them [the people of the Lord] into My holy mount, and will make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their holocausts and their victims shall please Me upon My altar; for My house shall be called the House of prayer for all nations.” (Is. Lvi. 7.)

From all this we learn the sanctity of our churches, and the respect we owe to them. It is because they are the house of God, and Jesus Christ dwells in person within them in the Blessed Sacrament, surrounded by innumerable angels, that we know not how to honor them enough, how to be sufficiently devout and recollected in prayer. If we had a living faith, we should enter a consecrated church with trembling; we should worship Christ present in the Adorable Sacrament with deepest reverence, and invoke the assistance of the holy angels who are there. Such was David’s custom, as he tells us in the words: “I will worship towards Thy holy temple; I will sing praise to Thee in the sight of the angels.” (Ps. cxxxvii. 2, i.) Therefore to be inattentive in church, or in any other way to displease God by disrespectful behavior, is an insult to the Divine Majesty and dishonor to the house of God. Let us firmly resolve on entering a church not to utter or listen to an unnecessary word, nor to look about us, but to behave reverently, to pray devoutly, adore the Lord our God, to confess our sins and implore the divine mercy.

<!–[if !mso]> <! st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } –>

The Excellence of the Mass

From Chapter 2 (pp. 25 – 31) of The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass by Fr. Martin von Cochem, OFM Cap (1630 – 1712).  Translated by  Rev. Camilus Paul Maes, Bishop of Covington, Kentucky). New York, 1896.

http://books.google.com/books?id=B8QxAAAAMAAJ

First of all, the great excellence of the holy Mass may be inferred from the prayers and ceremonies appointed for the consecration of churches and altars. Any one who has been present at the dedication of a church, who has followed the prayers and understood the ceremonial made use of by the bishop, cannot fail to have been edified by what he witnessed. For the benefit of those who have never assisted at the consecration of churches and altars the ceremonies connected with it shall be briefly described.

THE DEDICATION OF CHURCHES.

The consecrating bishop, who, together with the congregation, has prepared himself by fasting on the preceding day, sets apart overnight the relics to be used in the consecration. On the morning of the day appointed he betakes himself to the place whither they have been carried, and after vesting pontifically recites with the clergy present the seven penitential psalms and the Litany of the Saints. He then goes in procession with the clergy round the outside of the church, the door of which is closed, sprinkling the upper portion of the walls with holy water in the form of the cross, saying: In the name of the Father +, and of the Son +, and of the Holy + Ghost—the clergy meanwhile singing a responsory. On coming back to the church-door the bishop says a short prayer, and knocks with his pastoral staff at the door, saying: Attollite portas, principes, vestras, etc. (“Lift up your heads, ye princes, and be ye lifted up, ye eternal gates, and the King of glory will enter.“) He then goes round the church again, sprinkling the lower part of the walls with the same words; and on returning to the door says a different prayer, and knocks with his staff as before. A third time he goes round the church, this time sprinkling the middle part of the walls; he then knocks three times with his staff at the door, saying: “Be opened!” And upon the door being opened he makes a cross with his staff on the threshold, saying: “Behold the sign of the cross; let the spirits of evil! depart!” Entering into the church, he says: “Peace be to this house! “

In the middle of the church the bishop kneels down and intones the hymn Vent, Creator Spiritus; this is followed by the Litany of the Saints and the canticle of Zachary: Benedictus Dominus Deus (“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel.”) While these are being sung he forms a cross with the letters of the Latin and Greek alphabets, which he inscribes with his staff on ashes wherewith the floor of the church has previously been sprinkled; then, kneeling before the high altar, he chants three times the words, Deus, in adjutorium meum intende, etc. (“O God, come to my assistance,” etc.). Thereupon he blesses with the prescribed form of prayer ashes, salt, water, and wine, mixing them together and signing them repeatedly with the cross, and proceeds to consecrate the high altar and the other altars. Dipping his thumb in the preparation which he has just blessed, he makes a cross in the middle and in the four corners of the altar-stone, saying: ” Let this altar be sanctified + to the glory of God, of the Virgin Mary, and all the saints, and in the name and commemoration of St. N. [naming the patron of the church], in the name of the + Father,” etc. These words are repeated five times. Thereupon he goes round the altar seven times, sprinkling it with holy water and reciting the Miserere

He next goes three times round the interior of the church, sprinkling the walls above, below, and in the middle whilst three psalms and antiphons are sung. He also sprinkles the floor of the church in each of the four corners, with certain prayers and the sign of the cross, and returns to the high altar. He then blesses chalk and sand, and mixes them with holy water, thus preparing the mortar for the laying of the altar-stone. Afterwards, going in procession to the place where the relics were deposited on the previous evening, he incenses them, and carries them with lighted tapers and smoking censers round the church. Pausing on the threshold, the bishop makes three crosses on the door, saying: ” In the name of the Father +, and of the Son +, and of the Holy + Ghost, be thou blessed, sanctified, and consecrated.

When the procession reaches the high altar, the bishop makes five crosses with chrism in the cavity of the altar, called the sepulchre, places the case containing the relics in it, incenses them, and closes the repository or sepulchre with a stone that has been blessed and the mortar prepared for the purpose. Thereupon he incenses the altar itself, and hands the censer to a priest, who goes round it incensing every part. Meanwhile the bishop makes five crosses with oil of catechumens on the table of the altar, one in the centre and one in each of the corners, with the same words employed when blessing the water, incenses the crosses, and goes round the altar incensing it. After the prescribed prayer and psalm have been recited he again anoints the altar, making five crosses upon it, saying: “Let this altar be blessed, sanctified, and consecrated.” He then again incenses the crosses and the whole altar. This ceremony is repeated a third time, whilst psalms are chanted by the clergy. Finally, the bishop pours oil and chrism over the whole altar, rubbing it in with his hand. He then goes round the interior of the church, and anoints the twelve crosses upon the walls with the chrism, saying: “Let this church be hallowed and consecrated in the name of the Father, etc.,” and incensing each cross three times. Returning to the altar, he blesses the frankincense, lays five grains of incense wherever the five crosses were made, forms five small crosses out of wax tapers and lights them. Whilst they are burning, he kneels down, as do all the clergy present, and intones the hymn Vent, Sancte Spiritus. This is followed by more prayers and a preface; the clergy chant Psalm Lxvii. in thanksgiving for the graces received; the bishop makes a cross with the chrism below the table of the altar, and recites more and longer prayers. After that he rubs his hands with bread and salt, and washes them in water. The clergy wipe the altar with linen, cover it with an altar-cloth, decorate it as best they can, whilst psalms and responsories are sung. In conclusion the bishop incenses the altar three times, and proceeds to celebrate a solemn pontifical High Mass.

All who have been present at the dedication of a church cannot find words to express their surprise at the number of different ceremonies, anointings, benedictions, and prayers that appertain to the ritual. What is the object of all of these ? It is in order to render the church a temple meet for the great and holy sacrifice offered up therein to the most high God, and to hallow and consecrate the altars whereon the spotless Lamb of God is to be slain in a mystical manner.

This is sufficient to convince any Christian of the sanctity of our churches and altars, and the great reverence we ought to pay to them. Solomon’s temple was but a foreshadow and type of the Christian Church, and yet in what respect it was held both by Jews and heathen! How much the more should we reverence and respect our churches, hallowed as they are by so solemn a dedication! We read in the Third Book of Kings that Solomon, on the occasion of the dedication of his temple, offered up no less than two and twenty thousand oxen, and a hundred and twenty thousand rams. These animals were all slaughtered by the priests, purified, and laid in pieces on the altar. And while the king prayed aloud fire fell from heaven and consumed the victims. The whole temple war filled with a cloud, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. And all the people, who beheld the fire and the glory of the Lord, filled with awe, fell upon their faces and adored the Lord. Thereupon King Solomon, standing on a high place in the sight of the assembly of Israel, spread forth his hands towards heaven and said: “Is it then to be thought that God should indeed dwell upon earth ? For if heaven and the heavens of heavens cannot contain Thee, how much less this house, which I have built! ” (III. Kings viii. 27.)

Who, indeed, can fail to be amazed at this, and feel himself unable rightly to comprehend the dignity of that sacred temple ? And yet that temple was but a type, an image, of our churches. In that there was nothing but the Ark of the Covenant, which only contained the two stone tables of the law, a basket of showbread, and Aaron’s rod that had blossomed. The sacrifices of the Jews were only animals that were slaughtered and burnt, besides offerings of bread, wine, cakes, etc., whereas our churches are dedicated by the bishops with incomparably greater solemnity; they are anointed with holy oil and chrism; they are blessed by being sprinkled with holy water and incensed with frankincense; they are hallowed repeatedly by the sign of the cross, and consecrated finally by the oblation of the most holy sacrifice of the Mass. Instead of the Ark of the Covenant we have the tabernacle, where the true bread of heaven, the adorable Sacrament of the Altar, the body and blood of Christ, is continually reserved. If it is right to hold Solomon’s temple in honor, how much more ought we to reverence our consecrated churches, in which God dwells in person.

Our churches are called the house of God, and this in very deed they are, since God Himself dwells in them, and is always to be found in them. He is surrounded continually by a countless host of angels, who serve Him, who adore Him, who worship Him, who praise Him, who offer our prayers to Him. This was foreshadowed by the vision of the patriarch Jacob. Overtaken by night in the open country, he laid down to sleep, and in a dream he saw a ladder standing upon the earth, the top of which reached to heaven. By this ladder the angels of God were ascending and descending, and at the top of it he beheld God Himself. Jacob woke from his sleep trembling, and said: “How terrible is this place! This is no other but the house of God, and the gate of heaven.” (Gen. xxviii. 17.) He took the stone on which his head had rested, poured oil upon it, set it up for an altar, and on his return journey he offered sacrifice upon it to God. That was a type of the Christian Church, with its altar, anointed with holy oil and chrism, of which we can in truth say: “How terrible is this place! This is no other but the house of God, and the gate of heaven,” {NAB: In solemn wonder he cried out: “How awesome is this shrine! This is nothing else but an abode of God, and that is the gateway to heaven!} for here the angels ascend and descend, and carry up our petitions to heaven. Our churches are the place of which God speaks by the mouth of the prophet Isaias: “I will bring them [the people of the Lord] into My holy mount, and will make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their holocausts and their victims shall please Me upon My altar; for My house shall be called the House of prayer for all nations.” (Is. Lvi. 7.)

From all this we learn the sanctity of our churches, and the respect we owe to them. It is because they are the house of God, and Jesus Christ dwells in person within them in the Blessed Sacrament, surrounded by innumerable angels, that we know not how to honor them enough, how to be sufficiently devout and recollected in prayer. If we had a living faith, we should enter a consecrated church with trembling; we should worship Christ present in the Adorable Sacrament with deepest reverence, and invoke the assistance of the holy angels who are there. Such was David’s custom, as he tells us in the words: “I will worship towards Thy holy temple; I will sing praise to Thee in the sight of the angels.” (Ps. cxxxvii. 2, i.) Therefore to be inattentive in church, or in any other way to displease God by disrespectful behavior, is an insult to the Divine Majesty and dishonor to the house of God. Let us firmly resolve on entering a church not to utter or listen to an unnecessary word, nor to look about us, but to behave reverently, to pray devoutly, to adore the Lord our God, to confess our sins and implore the divine mercy.

Written by John Uebersax

February 13, 2010 at 3:37 am

Posted in Liturgy, Mass

Names of God in the Catholic Mass

leave a comment »

It is instructive to consider the various names of God used in the Catholic Mass. The list below comes from the regular Order of the Mass, variable Eucharistic Prayers I — IV, and variable Eucharistic Prayers for Masses of Reconciliation I — II, as shown on the web pages of Felix Just S. J. .

God

One God

God the Father

God
The Lord
Lord God
The Lord, Our God
Lord God Almighty
Lord, God of All Creation
Almighty God
Almighty God and Father
Almighty Father
Our Father
God Our Father
Father, All Powerful and Everliving God
Creator of All Life
Heavenly King
Holy Lord, God of Power and Might
God of Glory and Majesty
God of Love and Mercy
Fountain of All Holiness
One God, Living and True
Through All Eternity You Live in Unapproachable Light
Source of Life and Goodness
Our Living and True God
All life, all holiness comes from you through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, by the working of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus Christ

Jesus Christ
Lord Jesus Christ
Jesus Christ Our Lord and God
Christ Our Lord
Lord God
The Lord
Jesus
The Beloved Son, Jesus the Christ
Only Son of the Father
The Holy One
The Most High,  Jesus Christ
Maker of Heaven and Earth
Eternally Begotten of the Father
God from God
Light from Light
True God from True God
The Word
The Word that Brings Salvation
He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord
You Raise the Dead to Life in the Spirit
You Bring Pardon and Peace to the Sinner
You Bring Light to Those in Darkness
Our Savior
Our Savior, Jesus Christ
Savior of the World
Dying You Destroyed Our Death
Rising You Restored Our Life
Lamb of God
You Take Away the Sin of the World
Jesus Christ, Our Passover and Our Lasting Peace
Jesus Christ, Your (God the Father’s) Only Son, Our Lord
The Sacrifice which Restores Man to Your (God the Father’s) Friendship
The Hand  You (God the Father) Stretch Out to Sinners
The Way that Leads to Your (God the Father’s) Peace

The Holy Spirit

The Spirit
The Holy Spirit
The Lord, the Giver of Life (Holy Spirit)
Your (God the Father’s) Spirit

decoration_transparent

Written by John Uebersax

August 10, 2009 at 1:16 am

St. Maximus on the ‘cosmic liturgy’

leave a comment »

“Maximus presents the Church, and the sign that she imprints on the world, in the largest and most open terms possible. The Church lies in the midst of the natural and supernatural cosmos like a source of light that sets all things revolving around itself; in that she represents everything symbolically, she also is an effective guarantee of the transformation of the whole universe. The liturgy is for Maximus more than a mere symbol; it is, in modern terms, an opus operatum, an effective transformation of the world into transfigured, divinized existence. For that reason, in Maximus’s view … the liturgy is ultimately always ‘cosmic liturgy’: a way of drawing the entire world into the hypostatic union, because both world and liturgy share a christological foundation.” (From Hans Urs von Balthasar, Cosmic Liturgy, p. 322.)

via The New Liturgical Movement: The New Oxford Movement? Easter 2007: Cosmic Liturgy Course.

Written by John Uebersax

January 25, 2009 at 2:04 pm

Mozarabic Prayer

leave a comment »

Ancient Mozarabic prayer (before 700 AD)

Hear us, O never-failing Light,
Lord our God, our only Light, the Fountain of Light,
the Light of your angels, thrones, dominions,
principalities, powers, and of all the beings of this world;
you have created the light of your saints,
the bright cloud of witnesses around us.

May our souls be your lamps, kindled and illumined by you.
May they shine and burn with your truth,
and never go out in darkness and ashes.
May we be your dwelling, shining from you, shining in you;
may we shine and our light never fail;
may we worship you always.
May we be kindled brightly and never extinguished.
Being filled with Christ’s splendor,
may we shine within, so that the gloom of sin is cleared away,
and the light of everlasting life abides within us. Amen.

A slightly different translation

Hear us, O never-failing Light,
Lord our God, our only Light, the Fountain of light,
the Light of Thine Angels, Principalities, Powers and of all intelligent beings;
who hast created the light of Thy Saints.

May our souls be lamps of Thine, kindled and illuminated by Thee.
May they shine and burn with the truth,
and never go out in darkness and ashes.
May we be thy house, shining from thee, shining in thee;
may we shine and fail not;
may we ever worship thee;
in thee may we be kindled and not be extinguished.
Being filled with the splendor of thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ,
may we shine forth inwardly;
may the gloom of sins be cleared away,
and the light of perpetual faith abide within us.

Written by John Uebersax

December 27, 2008 at 4:57 pm