Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Early origins of liturgical practices

I am amazed to read how early we have written records of things such as daily celebration of the Eucharist and multiple Masses in a day.

From St. Augustine, on daily Mass:
I promised you, who have now been baptized, a sermon in which I would explain the Sacrament of the Lord's Table, which you now look upon and of which you last night were made participants. You ought to know what you have received, what you are going to receive, and what you ought to receive daily. (Sermon 227)

Thus [Christ] is both the Priest who offers and the Sacrifice offered. And He designed that there should be a daily sign of this in the sacrifice of the Church, which, being His body, learns to offer herself through Him. (City of God X, 20)

There are other things, however, which are different in different places and countries: e.g., some fast on Saturday, others do not; some partake daily of the body and blood of Christ, others receive it on stated days: in some places no day passes without the sacrifice being offered; in others it is only on Saturday and the Lord’s day, or it may be only on the Lord’s day. (Epistle LIV, 2)

Some one may say, “The Eucharist ought not to be taken every day.” You ask, “On what grounds?” He answers, “Because, in order that a man may approach worthily to so great a sacrament, he ought to choose those days upon which he lives in more special purity and self-restraint; for ‘whosoever eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself.’” ... If, however, his sins are not so great as to bring him justly under sentence of excommunication, he ought not to withdraw himself from the daily use of the Lord’s body for the healing of his soul.” (Epistle LIV, 4)

For the wolf will come — not man, but the devil, who has very often perverted to apostasy believers to whom the daily ministry of the Lord’s body was wanting... (Epistle CCXXVIII, 6)

The sacrament of this thing, namely, of the unity of the body and blood of Christ, is prepared on the Lord’s table in some places daily, in some places at certain intervals of days, and from the Lord’s table it is taken, by some to life, by some to destruction: but the thing itself, of which it is the sacrament, is for every man to life, for no man to destruction, whosoever shall have been a partaker thereof. (Tractates on the Gospels of John XXVI, 15)

From Pope St. Gregory the Great, on multiple Masses in a day:
Because [by the Lord's bounty] I am going to celebrate the eucharist three times today, I can comment only briefly on the Gospel lesson. But [our Redeemer's] birthday compels me to say something, however short. (Homily 7, in Forty Gospel Homilies)

(H/T to Fr. Daren Zehnle)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Latin? In my Mass?!

I recently asked a Benedictine priest (who has a rather conservative liturgical ideal) what he thought about the virtual absence of Latin from the typical parish liturgical experience today.  I am referring to Sacrosanctum Concilium (the Vatican II Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy) article 54:
In Masses which are celebrated with the people, a suitable place may be allotted to their mother tongue. This is to apply in the first place to the readings and "the common prayer," but also, as local conditions may warrant, to those parts which pertain to the people, according to tho norm laid down in Art. 36 of this Constitution.

Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.

And wherever a more extended use of the mother tongue within the Mass appears desirable, the regulation laid down in Art. 40 of this Constitution is to be observed.

It seems that the only parts of this article that get real attention are the first and third sections, which deal with the inclusion of the vernacular in the Mass... potentially (and actually, as experience has shown) throughout the entire Mass.  But what about the second section?  “Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.”

The saying or singing in Latin of certain parts of the Order of Mass is not the experience of most Catholics nowadays.  In fact, the ability for the faithful to do so is virtually non-existent.  And yet, our weekly experience of the reformed liturgy includes 1) an expanded Lectionary, 2) the regularity of homilies, 3) the Prayer of the Faithful, 4) the use of the vernacular, 5) the partaking in the sacrifice offered at that Mass (rather than Hosts consecrated at a previous Mass and retrieved from the tabernacle), 6) Communion under both kinds, 7) and a new rite of concelebration.

Those seven reforms I just mentioned are part of the typical parish experience (priest shortage notwithstanding), and they are the products of articles 51-58 of Sacrosanctum Concilium.

So why have the other reforms been so successfully implemented (and then some!) and generally well-received, but that pesky little sentence in article 54 about Latin can’t seem to get its foot in the door?  Why do Catholics who otherwise support the reforms they experience from articles 51-58 become indignant whenever mention is made of the mere possibility of making Latin responses at Mass?  (Such a reaction can be found in the comment-boxes at the National Catholic Reporter web site, for example:  here, here, and here.)

What’s the problem with that sentence about Latin in article 54? People — at least SOME people — were making the responses in Latin before 1963. Why did it become impossible and undesirable?  Is it obsolete? Opposed to "full, conscious, and active participation"? A monastic ideal not appropriate for normal parish life? A compromise sentence which was never meant to be taken seriously?

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Advent Hymns: Veni, Veni, Emmanuel

The second Advent hymn we'll look at is the popular favorite, "Veni, Veni, Emmanuel" ("O Come, O Come, Emmanuel"). I will provide the Latin verses, a traditional translation with which you are probably familar, and then my own translation of the Latin, along with some commentary. I present the verses in no particular order.

At the bottom of this post is some information on the O Antiphons, the prayers which are the ancestors of the verses of this hymn.

1. VENI, veni, Emmanuel captivum solve Israel,
qui gemit in exsilio, privatus Dei Filio.
O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.

Come, Emmanuel, come: unbind captive Israel,
who, deprived of the Son of God, laments in exile.
The context of this hymn is the exile and captivity of Israel, and the promise of a coming Messiah, the Son of God.  This exile need not be confined to their historical captivity among the Assyrians and Babylonians; Israel mourns for lack of Emmanuel up until His coming... and perhaps even now though He has come.

R: Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel nascetur pro te Israel!
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall be born for you, Israel!
I think the common translation fails to capture the sense of the Latin:  Emmanuel will not just come to Israel, He will be born for Israel.  Yes, He is for all mankind, but His advent is centered upon God's promises to Israel.  And so Israel, even in her exile, has cause for rejoicing.

2. VENI, veni, Adonai, qui populo in Sinai
legem dedisti vertice in maiestate gloriae. R.
O come, O come, Thou Lord of Might, Who to Thy tribes on Sinai's height
In ancient times didst give the law in cloud, and majesty, and awe.

Come, Lord, come, Who at the top of Mount Sinai
gave the law to Your people in the majesty of Your glory.
Note that this hymn is about the coming of Emmanuel.  By this verse, the Lord Who gave the Law to Israel at Mt. Sinai is the same Lord Who is Emmanuel, the One Who will be born for Israel.  And if He gave the Old Law in maiestate gloriae, how much more glorious will His own coming be?

3. VENI, O Iesse virgula, ex hostis tuos ungula,
de spectu tuos tartari educ et antro barathri. R.
O come, thou Rod of Jesse’s stem, from every foe deliver them
That trust thy mighty power to save, and give them victory o’er the grave.

Come, O shoot of Jesse: lead Your own out from the grasp of their enemies,
and from the sight of hell and the grave of the dead.
The seven verses of the hymn are built around seven titles for the Lord (found in seven prophecies of His coming, received by Isaiah).  This title, the "Rod (or Shoot) of Jesse" (Iesse virgula in the hymn, Iesse radix ("Root of Jesse") in the O Antiphons, "virga de radice Iesse" in the Vulgate of Isa. 11:1), was heard in this Sunday's First Reading from Isaiah 11.  The verse points to the Lord's power to save His own from their enemies and from the very power of death.

4. VENI, Clavis Davidica, regna reclude caelica,
fac iter tutum superum, et claude vias inferum. R.

O come, Thou Key of David, come, and open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery.

Come, Key of David, open up the heavenly kingdom,
make the heavenly road safe, and close up the path of hell.
The prophecy of the key of the house of David (cf. Isa. 22:19ff) is often seen as a precursor to our Lord's words to St. Peter:  "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Matt. 16:19; cf. "And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open," Isa. 22:22, and "The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one shall shut, who shuts and no one opens", Rev. 3:7)

But the prophecy pertains to Christ as well:  Christ is the key Who opens the gate of Heaven to us.  In doing so, we pray that He both secure the path to Heaven and bar the road to perdition; for He is the way.

5. VENI, veni O Oriens, solare nos adveniens,
noctis depelle nebulas dirasque mortis tenebras. R.

O come, thou Day-spring from on high, and cheer us by thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadow put to flight.

Come, O Daybreak, come: comfort us by Your advent;
dispel the dreadful clouds of night and the shadow of death.
The Lord is called the "Orient":  the East, the Daybreak, the rising Sun.  Jesus describes His second coming "from the east" like the lightning; His Ascension amid clouds of glory took place to the east of Jerusalem, and the angels assured the disciples that His return would be in the same manner.  His coming will be as a light shining on those who have dwelt in darkness. (cf. Isa. 9:2)  This is He whom Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, prophesied, saying, "the day shall dawn upon us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death." (Luke 1:78-79)

6. VENI, veni, Rex Gentium, veni, Redemptor omnium,
ut salvas tuos famulos peccati sibi conscios. R.

O come, Desire of nations, bind in one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease, and be Thyself our King of Peace.

Come, King of the Nations, come: Redeemer of all, come:
in order to save Your servants, conscious of their own sin.
I have not found a lyrical version of this verse which translates the Latin; they all appear to draw upon the antiphon, which mentions the "desire of nations", the "cornerstone", and making one of many.  This verse, in the Latin, heralds the coming of the King of all nations (consider the Solemnity of Christ, King of the Universe) and the Savior of all men.  If I have not translated it incorrectly, the verse draws attention to our sense of sin:  we, who are servants of the Lord, are aware of our having sinned against Him.  Thus we beg Him come and save us:  Hosanna!

7. VENI, O Sapientia, quae hic disponis omnia,
veni, viam prudentiae ut doceas et gloriae. R.

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high, Who orderest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show, and teach us in her ways to go.

Come, O Wisdom, Who ordains all things here below;
come to show us the way of prudence and glory.
The last verse acknowledges God as that Wisdom Who orders and ordains the affairs of this world.  We wish to have His wisdom, to learn from Him and follow His way, which leads us to His glory.

The O Antiphons, which are part of the Divine Office (or Liturgy of the Hours) from December 17th through December 23rd, are the ancestors of this hymn.  Here they are in the order they are prayed, one per night:
O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem fortiter, suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Adonai, et dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem gentes deprecabuntur; veni ad liberandum nos, iam noli tardere.

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel: qui aperis, et nemo claudit; claudis, et nemo aperit: veni et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae: veni, et illumina sedentis in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Rex gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unem: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, expectatio gentium, et Salvator erum: veni ad salvandum nos, Domine Deus noster.
The first letters of these titles for the Lord, taken in reverse (Emmanuel, Rex gentium, Oriens, etc.) spell "ERO CRAS" in Latin, which means "Tomorrow, I will be (here)", which is very fitting for December 23rd:  the next night heralds the birth of Christ.

I also recommend reading Dom Prosper Guéranger's commentary on the O Antiphons, a truly amazing resource.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Is Advent a penitential season? Should it be?

This post is not an attempt to start a fight, nor to put a current bishop on the spot.  It is rather a meager attempt to start a dialogue about what sort of season Advent is.  We can agree, can we not, that Lent is most assuredly a penitential season.  But is Advent also a penitential season?  Its liturgical colors are the same as those of Lent (violet/purple and rose), for one thing.  But is there fasting and abstinence during Advent?  Is there mortification and penance during Advent?  Is there special attention drawn to our sins during Advent?

It would seem that before Vatican II (although since when, I cannot tell) there was a penitential character about Advent, and that after Vatican II this character has been obscured or even removed completely in some locales.  (Let it be known, though, that at my previous parish, there were two special Reconciliation liturgies — including individual confession — held during the year:  one in Lent and one in Advent.) Yet Advent is a time when we prepare for the Lord's second coming (which brings with it the Final Judgment) at the same time that we recall His first coming (which was to save His people from their sins).

I bring this up because a bishop recently wrote the following in his pastoral letter on Advent:
The word advent comes from the Latin for “coming” or “arrival”. What arrival are we waiting for? The General Norms for the Liturgical Year helps us understand the season a little bit better by explaining:
The season of Advent has a twofold character: It is a time of preparation for Christmas when the first coming of God’s Son . . . is recalled. It is also a season when minds are directed by this memorial to Christ’s second coming at the end of time. It is thus a season of joyful and spiritual expectation. (General Norms for the Liturgical Year, 39)
You will notice that this is not a penitential season. It is a season of joyful hope, a time of preparation and waiting. “Thus the Sundays of Advent, while commemorating [Christ’s] birth and anticipating his return, celebrate in word and sacrament his coming now in the midst of this world.” (Normand Bonneau, The Sunday Lectionary: Ritual Word, Paschal Shape, Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1998, 131.) This season is not just about preparing for the birth of Christ at Christmas, but for the Christ who is continually being born in our midst and transforming the Church ever more into his body in the world.
What do you think?  Is Advent a penitential season?  Should it be?

For your edification and education, here is a selection of quotes from magisterial documents from the past century or so about Advent.

In the period of Advent, for instance, the Church arouses in us the consciousness of the sins we have had the misfortune to commit, and urges us, by restraining our desires and practicing voluntary mortification of the body, to recollect ourselves in meditation, and experience a longing desire to return to God who alone can free us by His grace from the stain of sin and from its evil consequences. (1947, Pius XII, Mediator Dei 154)

Accordingly, the playing of the organ, and all other instruments is forbidden for liturgical functions, except Benediction, during the following times: a) Advent, from first Vespers of the first Sunday of Advent until None of the Vigil of Christmas; b) Lent and Passiontide, from Matins of Ash Wednesday until the hymn Gloria in excelsis Deo in the Solemn Mass of the Easter Vigil; c) the September Ember days if the ferial Mass and Office are celebrated; d) in all Offices and Masses of the Dead. (1958, Sacred Congregation of Rites, De Musica Sacra 81)

The playing of these same instruments as solos is not permitted in Advent, Lent, during the Sacred Triduum and in the Offices and Masses of the Dead. (1967, Sacred Congregation of Rites, Musicam Sacram 66)

Advent has a twofold character: as a season to prepare for Christmas when Christ's first coming to us is remembered; as a season when that remembrance directs the mind and heart to await Christ's Second Coming at the end of time. Advent is thus a period for devout and joyful expectation. (1969, General Norms for the Liturgical Year and Calendar 39)

This accentuates the penitential dimension, already present in the Advent season and vividly recalled by the person of John the Baptist, who teaches, precisely, that the way of the Lord is prepared by changing of one's mentality and life (cf. Mt 3: 1-3). (1999, John Paul II, Angelus of 28 November)

During Advent the floral decoration of the altar should be marked by a moderation suited to the character of this season, without expressing prematurely the full joy of the Nativity of the Lord. During Lent it is forbidden for the altar to be decorated with flowers. Laetare Sunday (Fourth Sunday of Lent), Solemnities, and Feasts are exceptions. (2002, GIRM 305)

In Advent the organ and other musical instruments should be used with a moderation that is consistent with the season's character and does not anticipate the full joy of the Nativity of the Lord. (2002, GIRM 313)

Advent is a time of waiting, conversion and of hope: 1) waiting-memory of the first, humble coming of the Lord in our mortal flesh; waiting-supplication for his final, glorious coming as Lord of History and universal Judge; 2) conversion, to which the Liturgy at this time often refers quoting the prophets, especially John the Baptist, "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Mt 3,2); 3) joyful hope that the salvation already accomplished by Christ (cf. Rm 8, 24-25) and the reality of grace in the world, will mature and reach their fulness, thereby granting us what is promised by faith, and "we shall become like him for we shall see him as he really is" (John 3,2). (2002, Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy 96)

Popular piety, because of its intuitive understanding of the Christian mystery, can contribute effectively to the conservation of many of the values of Advent, which are not infrequently threatened by the commercialization of Christmas and consumer superficiality. Popular piety perceives that it is impossible to celebrate the Lord's birth except in an atmosphere of sobriety and joyous simplicity and of concern for the poor and marginalized. The expectation of the Lord's birth makes us sensitive to the value of life and the duties to respect and defend it from conception. Popular piety intuitively understands that it is not possible coherently to celebrate the birth of him "who saves his people from their sins" without some effort to overcome sin in one's own life, while waiting vigilantly for Him who will return at the end of time. (2002, Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy 105)

If Advent is the season par excellence that invites us to hope in the God-Who-Comes, Lent renews in us the hope in the One who made us pass from death to life. Both are seasons of purification - this is also indicated by the liturgical colour that they have in common... (2008, Benedict XVI, Homily of 6 February)

Monday, November 29, 2010

"Praying the Mass" at St. Gregory the Great in Hamilton, NJ

I'll be at St. Gregory the Great in Hamilton, NJ, on Wednesday, December 1st, at 7pm to talk about a prayerful approach to the Mass. Here's the announcement from their bulletin:
If you're in the area, I recommend you stop by for an hour of solid liturgical catechesis in the spirit of Luke 10:27.

O Lord, I am not worthy...

What the centurion said to Jesus, we too will say when the new English translation of the Roman Missal is put into liturgical use next Advent.  There are two reasons that the centurion responded to Jesus' offer to "come and heal" his servant. (cf. Matt. 8:5-13)

On the one hand, Jesus’ going to his house was unnecessary: Jesus, having authority, need only say the word to heal the centurion’s servant. (Personally, I wish the liturgical response in the Latin and in the English were: "and your servant shall be healed.")  On the other, Jesus’ going to his house would have complicated matters: it was unlawful for Him to do so, and He would have been considered ritually impure because of it. (cf. Acts 10:28)

I think the response of the centurion on our lips is a fitting reaction on our part to the Lord’s “condescending love”: “Lord, You needn’t go through all that trouble, You needn’t get mixed up with me. You’re powerful enough to do it from where You are.” Or, as St. Peter exclaimed, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” (Luke 5:8)

And yet Christ invites us to Him. (cf. Matt. 11:28) And so there is a meeting (at the very edge of the sanctuary and the nave, if a Communion rail is employed) where we come to Jesus, and He comes to us. He does for us what He did not do for the centurion, and I am most grateful for it. He “goes through the trouble” of coming under my roof (which I understand to be the roof of my mortal frame, the roof of this temple of the Holy Spirit) and “risks” impurity to associate with me in such a sacramental way.

That’s why this newer, closer translation of this is meaningful to me, and I hope it’s meaningful to others as well.

I wonder: if the “yoking” language of Matt. 11:28-30 were employed in the Latin liturgy, if it would need to be “interpreted” by an English translation. I think modern — or at least non-agricultural — man sorely misunderstands the imagery of the yoke, especially as employed by Jesus. But does this misunderstanding require interpreting away the scriptural words and replacing them with a modern idiom? Can’t we have both the scriptural words and a true comprehension of them?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Advent Hymns: People, Look East

I'm going to attempt a series of posts (always a bad idea!) on the blog, looking at Advent and Christmas hymns. I'll explain them and uncover their important doctrinal and theological message.

My first hymn is one of my absolute favorites: "People, Look East". I'll post the five verses as I know them, although I understand that verse 3 ("Birds, though you long...") is not as well-known, and that verse 5 ("Angels, announce...") has a few variations.

This hymn was written by Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965) in 1928.  Farjeon, a Catholic, also penned "Morning Has Broken," an ode of "praise for [creation] springing fresh from the Word," which is perhaps more well-known for being sung by Cat Stevens.

"People, Look East" is a hymn about preparation.  Each verse of this hymn personifies Love:  Guest, Rose, Bird, Star, Lord.  Love is on the way, Love is coming, Love is about to arrive; and so the one who will be receiving Love must prepare accordingly.

1. People, look East: The time is near / of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able: / trim the hearth and set the table.
People, look East and sing today: / Love, the Guest, is on the way.

Love is a guest.  To prepare for his arrival, the house is tidied up, the fireplace is properly cleaned and adorned, and the table is set for the meal.  Preparation in this verse is expressed as a desire to get your house in order so that the guest does not feel unwelcome.  The Lord is, indeed, a Guest:  "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me." (Rev. 3:20)

2. Furrows, be glad! Though earth is bare, / one more seed is planted there.
Give up your strength, the seed to nourish, / that in course the flower may flourish.
People, look East and sing today: / Love, the Rose, is on the way.

A furrow is a groove or trench in dirt, the kind that would result from plowing the soil.  Furrows are dug, seeds or bulbs are planted in them, and then the dirt is raked over to cover what has been planted.  These furrows have perhaps been abandoned for some time, or maybe they just have not produced well; but yet one more seed is planted in them.  The soil, then, should "give up [its] strength" to nourish that seed so that the flower may grow.  The preparation here calls for holding nothing back.  The Lord is a Rose:  "Lo, how a rose e'er-blooming from tender stem hath sprung," says the German hymn.  Jesus is the bud springing forth from the shoot of the stump of Jesse, as we will hear on the Second Sunday of Advent. (cf. Isaiah 11:1-10)

3. Birds, though you long have ceased to build, / guard the nest that must be filled.
Even the hour when wings are frozen / He for fledging time has chosen.
People, look East and sing today: / Love, the Bird, is on the way.

The nest is built before the eggs are laid. The building of a nest is more industrious task than staying put and guarding eggs.  But preparation for the hatchling requires both the labor and the waiting.  And the hour when the egg will hatch may be the least expected — or desired — hour, but it is the one God has chosen.  Our preparation requires self-sacrifice and enduring hardships for the sake of the beloved.  Medieval minds associated Jesus with the pelican (Pie pellicane, the pellican-in-her-piety), which was believed to pierce her own breast to feed her young on her own blood when food was scarce.

4. Stars, keep the watch. When night is dim / one more light the bowl shall brim,
Shining beyond the frosty weather, / bright as sun and moon together.
People, look East and sing today: / Love, the Star, is on the way.

Stars are the sentinels of the sky, "keep[ing] the watch."  They must shine the brighter as the night grows darker.  Yet in the cold and dark of night shall come one more light, a light brighter than both sun and moon together, which "shall brim" "the bowl"; that is, it will cause "the bowl" of the heavens to be filled to the brim with its light.  The stars teach us the need to be watchful in our waiting and preparing.  The Lord is the "star [which] shall come forth out of Jacob" (Num. 24:17) Who was signaled by another star appearing in the heavens which led the Magi to Him. (cf. Matt. 2:2)  He is the "bright" "morning star" Who brings the day. (2 Pet. 1:19; Rev. 2:28; 22:16)

5. Angels, announce on this great feast / Him Who cometh from the East.*
Set ev'ry peak and valley humming / with the word: "The Lord is coming!"
People, look East and sing today: / Love, the Lord, is on the way.

The great feast is that of Christmas, of course, the Nativity of our Lord.  The hymn's repeated call to "look East" is explained here:  the Lord "cometh from the East."  His star rose in the East (cf. Matt. 2:2), and He announced His coming to be like lightning which "comes from the east and shines as far as the west." (Matt. 24:27)  The Lord ascended into Heaven from Mt. Olivet, a "sabbath day's journey" to the East of Jerusalem, and the angels told the Apostles that He would return "in the same way." (Acts 1:9-12)  The angels repeat the message of the prophets, especially Isaiah and John the Baptist.  Every peak and valley should be stirring with that message, "The Lord is coming."  Every peak should be humbled by it, and every valley should be filled with it.  We too are angels, messengers, and we should announce the coming of the Lord, not only on the approaching feast of Christmas, but on every Lord's day, and on every day the Lord graces us with breath and life.

The word "Advent" comes from the Latin adventus ("an arrival, a coming"), from advenire (ad- + venire, "to come to").  Until the One is coming arrives, we are waiting.  But our waiting is not a sit-on-our-hands sort of waiting; it is an active and lively waiting.  Advent is a time of preparation, and I think this hymn presents this theme very well.

Our spiritual houses should be put in order to receive the Lord worthily.  We should rejoice despite whatever spiritual barrenness we may be suffering, and so nurture with all our energies the gift of grace which has been planted in us.  We should brave the cold and dark nights of our souls, being willing to endure sacrifices for the sake of our Lord, Who bore such great burdens for us.  We should stay awake and keep watch; we should remain vigilant, for we know not the hour nor the day of the Lord's return.  And we should not neglect our duty as messengers of our Lord to proclaim His coming in every peak and valley of our lives.

Maranatha!  Come, Lord Jesus!

* Alternate wording: "Angels, announce with shouts of mirth Christ who brings new life to earth" and "Angels, announce to man and beast Him who cometh from the east".

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Crisis with the Roman Missal: 2010 text looking terrible

I'll get right to the point.  The 2008 English translation of the Roman Missal looked very good, very promising.

The 2010 text, on the other hand, looks atrocious.  It is full of errors and oddities and other problems that just make it ugly and stilted.  Please, please, please give us back the 2008 translation.  The 2010 text is going to result in an absolute disaster.  Eyes (and heads) will roll.

Important Update:  the linked text is from April.  It is not the final revised version of the text that we are eagerly awaiting.  But it goes to show you what sort of translation was approved for use back in 2010!  How did it get such approval with all these serious shortcomings?!

Lord almighty, help us out here!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

"Action items" for the faithful from Verbum Domini

Our Holy Father encourages us to many things in Verbum Domini. Here is a selection of them, most of which were found by searching for the word fragment "encourag" in the text:

I encourage all the faithful to renew their personal and communal encounter with Christ, the word of life made visible, and to become his heralds, so that the gift of divine life – communion – can spread ever more fully throughout the world. (VD 2)

The faithful need to be better helped to grasp the different meanings of the expression, but also to understand its unitary sense. (VD 7)

It is important that the faithful be taught to acknowledge that the root of sin lies in the refusal to hear the word of the Lord, and to accept in Jesus, the Word of God, the forgiveness which opens us to salvation. (VD 26)

In our day the faithful need to be helped to see more clearly the link between Mary of Nazareth and the faith-filled hearing of God's word. I would encourage scholars as well to study the relationship between Mariology and the theology of the word. (VD 27)

I encourage scholars and pastors to help all the faithful to approach these [difficult] passages through an interpretation which enables their meaning to emerge in the light of the mystery of Christ. (VD 42)

Promoting common translations of the Bible is part of the ecumenical enterprise. I would like to thank all those engaged in this important work, and I encourage them to persevere in their efforts. (VD 46)

I encourage the Church's Pastors and all engaged in pastoral work to see that all the faithful learn to savour the deep meaning of the word of God which unfolds each year in the liturgy, revealing the fundamental mysteries of our faith. (VD 52)

To have a deeper experience of the reconciling power of God's word, the individual penitent should be encouraged to prepare for confession by meditating on a suitable text of sacred Scripture and to begin confession by reading or listening to a biblical exhortation such as those provided in the rite. (VD 61)

I also encourage communities of consecrated life to be exemplary in the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours, and thus to become a point of reference and an inspiration for the spiritual and pastoral life of the whole Church. (VD 62)

The Synod Fathers encouraged all pastors to promote times devoted to the celebration of the word in the communities entrusted to their care. (VD 65)

I encourage Pastors to foster moments of recollection whereby, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, the word of God can find a welcome in our hearts. (VD 66)

I encourage our Christian communities to offer every possible practical assistance to our brothers and sisters suffering from [seeing and hearing] impairments, so that they too can be able to experience a living contact with the word of the Lord. (VD 71)

I encourage pastors and the faithful to recognize the importance of [making the Bible the inspiration of every ordinary and extraordinary pastoral outreach]: it will also be the best way to deal with certain pastoral problems which were discussed at the Synod and have to do, for example, with the proliferation of sects which spread a distorted and manipulative reading of sacred Scripture. (VD 73)

The General Catechetical Directory contains valuable guidelines for a biblically inspired catechesis and I readily encourage that these be consulted. (VD 74)

A knowledge of biblical personages, events and well-known sayings should thus be encouraged; this can also be promoted by the judicious memorization of some passages which are particularly expressive of the Christian mysteries. (VD 74)

The Synod frequently encouraged all Christians to grow in their relationship with the word of God, not only because of their Baptism, but also in accordance with their call to various states in life. (VD 77)

Mindful of the inseparable bond between the word of God and Mary of Nazareth, along with the Synod Fathers I urge that Marian prayer be encouraged among the faithful, above all in life of families, since it is an aid to meditating on the holy mysteries found in the Scriptures. (VD 88)

The Synod also recommended that the faithful be encouraged to pray the Angelus. (VD 88)

As we proclaim the Gospel, let us encourage one another to do good and to commit ourselves to justice, reconciliation and peace. (VD 99)

I therefore encourage the faithful to meditate often on the Apostle Paul's hymn to charity [1 Cor. 13] and to draw inspiration from it. (VD 103)

I encourage the competent offices and groups to promote in the Church a solid formation of artists with regard to sacred Scripture in the light of the Church's living Tradition and her magisterium. (VD 112)

During the Synod, it was clear that a number of local Churches still lack a complete translation of the Bible in their own languages. ... I would encourage the investment of resources in this area. (VD 115)

The Synod asked Conferences of Bishops, wherever it is appropriate and helpful, to encourage meetings aimed at helping Christians and Muslims to come to better knowledge of one another, in order to promote the values which society needs for a peaceful and positive coexistence. (VD 118)

I wish once more to encourage all the People of God, pastors, consecrated persons and the laity, to become increasingly familiar with the sacred Scriptures. (VD 121)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Verbum Domini — "The God Who Speaks" (6-14)

This is the second installment of my commentary on Pope Benedict's post-synodal apostolic exhortation on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church, Verbum Domini (which you can download here). This covers Part One, Section One (Verbum Dei: The God Who Speaks, paragraphs 6-21); this particular post addresses paragraphs 6-14.

The God of the Universe is a God Who speaks: He does not simply place some clues scattered throughout time and space, He actively speaks in — and to — His creation. He reveals Himself to His people through His Word, the Logos, Who is uncreated, God from God. This revelation is a dialogue within God, Who is a Trinity of Persons, as well as a dialogue with humanity. "God makes himself known to us as a mystery of infinite love in which the Father eternally utters his Word in the Holy Spirit. Consequently the Word, who from the beginning is with God and is God, reveals God himself in the dialogue of love between the divine persons, and invites us to share in that love." (VD 6)

The expression "the word of God" can be understood in many ways; I quote paragraph 7 in its entirety (with my own emphases).
The analogy of the word of God

In the light of these considerations, born of meditation on the Christian mystery expressed in the Prologue of John, we now need to consider what the Synod Fathers affirmed about the different ways in which we speak of "the word of God". They rightly referred to a symphony of the word, to a single word expressed in multiple ways: "a polyphonic hymn". The Synod Fathers pointed out that human language operates analogically in speaking of the word of God. In effect, this expression, while referring to God's self-communication, also takes on a number of different meanings which need to be carefully considered and related among themselves, from the standpoint both of theological reflection and pastoral practice. As the Prologue of John clearly shows us, the Logos refers in the first place to the eternal Word, the only Son, begotten of the Father before all ages and consubstantial with him: the word was with God, and the word was God. But this same Word, Saint John tells us, "became flesh" ( Jn 1:14); hence Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, is truly the Word of God who has become consubstantial with us. Thus the expression "word of God" here refers to the person of Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of the Father, made man.

While the Christ event is at the heart of divine revelation, we also need to realize that creation itself, the liber naturae, is an essential part of this symphony of many voices in which the one word is spoken. We also profess our faith that God has spoken his word in salvation history; he has made his voice heard; by the power of his Spirit "he has spoken through the prophets". God's word is thus spoken throughout the history of salvation, and most fully in the mystery of the incarnation, death and resurrection of the Son of God. Then too, the word of God is that word preached by the Apostles in obedience to the command of the Risen Jesus: "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation" (Mk 16:15). The word of God is thus handed on in the Church's living Tradition. Finally, the word of God, attested and divinely inspired, is sacred Scripture, the Old and New Testaments. All this helps us to see that, while in the Church we greatly venerate the sacred Scriptures, the Christian faith is not a "religion of the book": Christianity is the "religion of the word of God", not of "a written and mute word, but of the incarnate and living Word". Consequently the Scripture is to be proclaimed, heard, read, received and experienced as the word of God, in the stream of the apostolic Tradition from which it is inseparable.

As the Synod Fathers stated, the expression "word of God" is used analogically, and we should be aware of this. The faithful need to be better helped to grasp the different meanings of the expression, but also to understand its unitary sense. From the theological standpoint too, there is a need for further study of how the different meanings of this expression are interrelated, so that the unity of God's plan and, within it, the centrality of the person of Christ, may shine forth more clearly.
There is a great deal to meditate upon when we consider the ways in which that Word has been communicated to mankind throughout history. However, we must caution against considering all religions as genuine receptions and interpretations of that Word.

Because "[c]reation is born of the Logos" it "indelibly bears the mark of the creative Reason which orders and directs it." (VD 8) Thus the cosmos is an echo of the Word of God; as St. Bonaventure says, "every creature is a word of God, since it proclaims God." (VD 8) This relationship between creation and the Word centers on the creation of man: "Contemplating the cosmos from the perspective of salvation history, we come to realize the unique and singular position occupied by man in creation." (VD 9) Or, to put it more astonishingly: "human salvation is the reason underlying everything." (VD 9) One consequence of this is that the Word of God has been made present in the "natural law" written on the human heart: "Listening to the word of God leads us first and foremost to value the need to live in accordance with this law 'written on human hearts' (cf. Rom 2:15; 7:23). Jesus Christ then gives mankind the new law, the law of the Gospel, which takes up and eminently fulfils the natural law, setting us free from the law of sin..." (VD 9)

[At this point, I think it's worthwhile to comment on the sheer number of scriptural references made in this document, more than in any other document I can recall reading. There are over 240!]

For the one who recognizes the presence of the Word of God in creation, each creature is seen as a precious creation of God: "Those who know God's word also know fully the significance of each creature." (VD 10) At the same time, we are called to recognize that creatures are just that: creatures, not the Creator. "[T]he realist is the one who recognizes in the word of God the foundation of all things. This realism is particularly needed in our own time, when many things in which we trust for building our lives, things in which we are tempted to put our hopes, prove ephemeral." (VD 10) Thus these creations, because they are less than their Creator, are "incapable of fulfilling the deepest yearnings of the human heart." (VD 10)

Having looked at the Word in creation, and then specifically in the creation of Man, we now consider the Word in its Christological context. Paragraph 11 begins by quoting the opening of the letter to the Hebrews: "In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world." (Heb. 1:1-2) It is affirmed, then, that "the entire Old Testament already appears to us as a history in which God communicates his word." (VD 11) This communication from God is seamless from the Old to the New Testament, because the Word becomes flesh in Jesus Christ, whose "unique and singular history is the definitive word which God speaks to humanity." (VD 11)

[Here, Pope Benedict quotes Deus Caritas Est 1, that "Being Christian is [the result of] the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction," just as I had in my previous post. I quoted DCE without having read this far in the document, so it's a small delight to me to able to draw a connection that the Holy Father drew as well!]

The faith of the apostles teaches us that "the eternal Word became one of us. The divine Word is truly expressed in human words." (VD 11) In the patristic and medieval tradition, this act of condescension was called the "abbrevation" of the Word, a rather clever play on words... pun intended! Benedict quotes from his homily of December 24, 2006:
"The Fathers of the Church found in their Greek translation of the Old Testament a passage from the prophet Isaiah that Saint Paul also quotes in order to show how God's new ways had already been foretold in the Old Testament. There we read: 'The Lord made his word short, he abbreviated it.' (Is 10:23; Rom 9:28) ... The Son himself is the Word, the Logos: the eternal word became small – small enough to fit into a manger. He became a child, so that the word could be grasped by us." (VD 12)
In Jesus, the Word was expressed in "perfect humanity" and perfect obedience to the will of the Father. (VD 12) This Word goes to the extreme of becoming "muted" in the crucifixion: "Jesus' mission is ultimately fulfilled in the paschal mystery: here we find ourselves before the 'word of the cross' (1 Cor 1:18). The word is muted; it becomes mortal silence, for it has 'spoken' exhaustively, holding back nothing of what it had to tell us." (VD 12) This silencing of the Word is then given its "authentic and definitive meaning" in the "most luminous mystery of the resurrection." (VD 12) So it is in the Paschal mystery that "the unity of the divine plan" is made clear: the New Testament repeatedly asserts that the Paschal mystery is accomplished "in accordance with the Scriptures." (VD 13)

Because Jesus is the Word incarnate, He is "the culmination of revelation [and] the fulfilment of God's promises." (VD 14) This means that "the Christian dispensation, since it is the new and definitive covenant, will never pass away; and no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ." (VD 14, quoting Dei Verbum 4) Benedict quotes the same passage from St. John of the Cross that Fr. Corapi quotes often as well: "Since he has given us his Son, his only word (for he possesses no other), he spoke everything at once in this sole word – and he has no more to say... because what he spoke before to the prophets in parts, he has spoken all at once by giving us this All who is his Son." (VD 14)

Pope Benedict then provides some helpful guidelines for the reception and application of private revelation, which I quote in full with my emphases:
Consequently the Synod pointed to the need to "help the faithful to distinguish the word of God from private revelations" whose role "is not to 'complete' Christ's definitive revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history". The value of private revelations is essentially different from that of the one public revelation: the latter demands faith; in it God himself speaks to us through human words and the mediation of the living community of the Church. The criterion for judging the truth of a private revelation is its orientation to Christ himself. If it leads us away from him, then it certainly does not come from the Holy Spirit, who guides us more deeply into the Gospel, and not away from it. Private revelation is an aid to this faith, and it demonstrates its credibility precisely because it refers back to the one public revelation. Ecclesiastical approval of a private revelation essentially means that its message contains nothing contrary to faith and morals; it is licit to make it public and the faithful are authorized to give to it their prudent adhesion. A private revelation can introduce new emphases, give rise to new forms of piety, or deepen older ones. It can have a certain prophetic character (cf. 1 Th 5:19-21) and can be a valuable aid for better understanding and living the Gospel at a certain time; consequently it should not be treated lightly. It is a help which is proffered, but its use is not obligatory. In any event, it must be a matter of nourishing faith, hope and love, which are for everyone the permanent path of salvation. (VD 14)
The next post in this series will complete looking at "The God Who Speaks", paragraphs 15-22.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Pope Benedict on the liturgy's symbolism

In the technological culture of today, the Gospel is the guide and the permanent paradigm of inculturation, purifying, healing and elevating the better elements of the new languages and new forms of communication. For this difficult and fascinating task, the Church can draw on the extraordinary patrimony of symbols, images, rites and gestures of her tradition. In particular, the rich and dense symbolism of the liturgy must shine forth in all its power as a communicative element, to the point of deeply touching the human conscience, heart and intellect. The Christian tradition has always been closely linked to the liturgy and to the language of art, the beauty of which has its special communicative power. (ZENIT)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Verbum Domini — Introduction (1-5)

This is the first installment of my commentary on Pope Benedict's post-synodal apostolic exhortation on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church, Verbum Domini (which you can download here). This covers the introduction (paragraphs 1-5).

The opening sentences are worth quoting verbatim (pun certainly intended!).
"The word of the Lord abides for ever. This word is the Gospel which was preached to you." (1 Pet 1:25; cf. Is 40:8) With this assertion from the First Letter of Saint Peter, which takes up the words of the Prophet Isaiah, we find ourselves before the mystery of God, who has made himself known through the gift of his word. This word, which abides for ever, entered into time. God spoke his eternal Word humanly; his Word "became flesh." (Jn 1:14) This is the good news. This is the proclamation which has come down the centuries to us today. (Verbum Domini [VD] 1)
This certainly sets the tone for the whole document. Benedict is writing to us about the good news, the Word-made-flesh, Who abides forever.

For those of us — myself included — who aren't aware just how much work goes into these bishops' synods, Benedict lists the documents he will be revisiting in his exhortation:
the Lineamenta, the Instrumentum Laboris, the Relationes ante and post disceptationem, the texts of the interventions, both those delivered on the Synod floor and those presented in written form, the reports of the smaller discussion groups, the Final Message to the People of God and, above all, a number of specific proposals (Propositiones) which the Fathers considered especially significant. (VD 1)
The purpose of the exhortation is "to point out certain fundamental approaches to a rediscovery of God's word in the life of the Church as a wellspring of constant renewal" so that "the word will be ever more fully at the heart of every ecclesial activity." (VD 1)

Then the Holy Father quotes the beginning of St. John's first epistle, drawing attention to the direct contact the Apostles had with the Word of life, and their desire to bring others into fellowship — that is, communion — with that Word Who is Jesus, and with His Father. We have had contact with that Word, too: "Being Christian is [the result of] the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction." (Deus Caritas Est [DCE] 1) We must renew this encounter with Christ and be His heralds so that this gift of communion with God can be spread throughout the earth. It is "the Church's gift and unescapable duty to communicate that joy" which is sharing in the God's divine life, since God alone has "the words of eternal life." (VD 2; John 6:68)

Benedict considers the Church's journey with the Word since Vatican II's Dei Verbum. The previous Synod's theme was "The Eucharist as the Source and Summit of the Church's Life and Mission," and this theme naturally led to the Synod on the Word of God: "the Church is built upon the word of God; she is born from and lives by that word." (VD 3) The faithful draw strength from the Scriptures, growing by hearing, celebrating, and studying them. He notes the increase in Catholic biblical studies in ecclesial (not merely academic) life over the past few decades. The Catholic Commentary on Scripture, the Ignatius Study Bible series, and of course the Great Adventure Bible Timeline come to my mind as excellent examples of this. The years between Vatican II and this Synod
have also witnessed a growing awareness of the "trinitarian and salvation-historical horizon of revelation" against which Jesus Christ is to be acknowledged as "mediator and fullness of all revelation." (VD 3)
The Church continually preaches Christ as "completed and perfected revelation" to every generation. (VD 3) The Synod was called "to review the implementation of the [Second Vatican] Council's directives [regarding the Word of God], and to confront the new challenges which the present time sets before Christian believers." (VD 3)

At this point, I think I found an error in a footnote. It is said that "In the last forty years, the Church's magisterium has also issued numerous statements on" questions pertaining to revelation and Scripture. (VD 3) A footnote lists Pope Paul VI's Summa Dei Verbum by mistake, I think — while this document's title includes "Dei Verbum" in it, it is about seminaries; it does not mention "Scripture" nor "Bible" at all, only "Biblical" once. I think an overzealous researcher for magisterial pronouncements included this one without vetting it first!

In paragraph 4, His Holiness makes an important note about the way in which the Scriptures must be read: "we can deepen our relationship with the word of God only within the 'we' of the Church, in mutual listening and acceptance." (VD 4) Put another way, the Scriptures must be read in the Church, that is, from within the Tradition of the Church. That being said, he also drew attention to the participation by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, and by a rabbi who offered "a precious witness on the Hebrew Scriptures." (VD 4) With these perspectives, there is also "an ongoing Pentecost" in the Church today: "various peoples are still waiting for the word of God to be proclaimed in their own language and in their own culture." (VD 4)

This emphasis on evangelization brings to mind St. Paul, whose year was being celebrated during the Synod:
Paul's life was completely marked by his zeal for the spread of God's word. How can we not be moved by his stirring words about his mission as a preacher of the word of God: "I do everything for the Gospel" (1 Cor 9:23); or, as he writes in the Letter to the Romans: "I am not ashamed of the Gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith." (1:16) Whenever we reflect on the word of God in the life and mission of the Church, we cannot but think of Saint Paul and his life spent in spreading the message of salvation in Christ to all peoples.
Finally, the pope reiterates his desire that the fruits of the Synod's labor "have a real effect on the life of the Church: on our personal relationship with the sacred Scriptures, on their interpretation in the liturgy and catechesis, and in scientific research, so that the Bible may not be simply a word from the past, but a living and timely word." (VD 5)

The three parts of his exhortation follow the prologue of St. John's Gospel (John 1:1-14), "a magnificent text [...] which offers a synthesis of the entire Christian faith." (VD 5) These three parts are Verbum Dei (The Word of God), Verbum in Ecclesia (The Word in the Church), and Verbum Mundo (The Word to the World).

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Verbum Domini — Plain Text and MS Word

Here are links to three versions of Verbum Domini.  They're smaller in page-count than the 208-page PDF!
  1. Plain text
  2. MS Word (letter, 58 pages)
  3. MS Word (folio, 84 pages)
These documents do not differ from the original English PDF, except for formatting, and the exclusion of the Index from the end of the document. In the MS Word documents, the footnotes included as actual footnotes; in the plain-text document, they are endnotes.

Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhoratation Verbum Domini due today!

Pope Benedict is expected to publish his second Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation today. His first was Sacramentum Caritatis, following the Synod on the Eucharist; this one is Verbum Domini, following the Synod on the Word of God.

Dr. Brant Pitre has the same concern I do:
Some have speculated that the delay is tied to the debate over inerrancy and interpretation that took place during the synod; I have no way of verifying or falsifying that, but it will be interesting to see whether the exhortation addresses it, since Proposition 12 from the bishops requested clarification on “the inspiration and truth” of Scripture. Will Benedict give it in this exhortation? We’ll find out.
For those of you who had not followed the Synod's proceedings, there was a garish statement made in the instrumentum laboris (the "working document") that "with regards to what might be inspired in the many parts of Sacred Scripture, inerrancy applies only to 'that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation' (DV 11)." (15c) That needs to be answered by the Pope!

Update (9:30 am) — Around noon, Vatican time, the document was released, as reported by this Vatican press release.  Apparently, it's been released as a PDF.  Normally, I would say, that's cool.  But the English text is a 208-page PDF with a large font-size.  Not cool.  The Latin PDF is 150 pages; still crazy.  I'd prefer the HTML version so I can copy the text and format it in a Word document that doesn't require 100+ sheets of paper!

Update (3:09 pm) — I've produced three versions (one plain-text, two MS Word) of Verbum Domini in place of the 208-page PDF.  You can download them here.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Augustine on catechesis (1-6)

As I read St. Augustine's De Catechizandis Rudibus (DCR), I'm going to share some highlights and my commentary with you, faithful reader!

First, a bit of context about this document. A deacon in Carthage named — get this — Deogratis had asked St. Augustine to "send [him] in writing something which might be of service to [him] in the matter of catechising the uninstructed." Deogratias had "the reputation of possessing a rich gift in catechising, due at once to an intimate acquaintance with the faith, and to an attractive method of discourse." But he expressed some reservations to Augustine "regarding the point at which our statement of [some Christian doctrine] ought to commence, and the limit to which it should be allowed to proceed" and whether catechists "ought to make use of any kind of exhortation, or simply specify those precepts in the observance of which the person to whom [they] are discoursing may know the Christian life and profession to be maintained." Deogratias was also doubtful how he can be profitable to his audience if, during a long address, he seems "profitless and distasteful" even to himself! (DCR 1)

So Augustine gladly takes up the task of responding to Deogratias. (DCR 2) First, he lets Deogratias know that it is possible for a speech to be profitable to an audience and yet seem distasteful to the one speaking it. (DCR 3-4) Then Augustine tells him about the manner of "narration" to use in catechesis:
5. The narration is full when each person is catechised in the first instance from what is written in the text, In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth, on to the present times of the Church. This does not imply, however, either that we ought to repeat by memory the entire Pentateuch, and the entire Books of Judges, and Kings, and Esdras, and the entire Gospel and Acts of the Apostles, if we have learned all these word for word; or that we should put all the matters which are contained in these volumes into our own words, and in that manner unfold and expound them as a whole. For neither does the time admit of that, nor does any necessity demand it.

But what we ought to do is to give a comprehensive statement of all things, summarily and generally, so that certain of the more wonderful facts may be selected which are listened to with superior gratification, and which have been ranked so remarkably among the exact turning-points (of the history); that, instead of exhibiting them to view only in their wrappings, if we may so speak, and then instantly snatching them from our sight, we ought to dwell on them for a certain space, and thus, as it were, unfold them and open them out to vision, and present them to the minds of the hearers as things to be examined and admired. But as for all other details, these should be passed over rapidly, and thus far introduced and woven into the narrative. The effect of pursuing this plan is, that the particular facts which we wish to see specially commended to attention obtain greater prominence in consequence of the others being made to yield to them; while, at the same time, neither does the learner, whose interest we are anxious to stimulate by our statement, come to these subjects with a mind already exhausted, nor is confusion induced upon the memory of the person whom we ought to be instructing by our teaching.
This sounds a bit like the Great Adventure Bible Timeline, which follows fourteen books of the Bible that provide a constant narrative, dwelling on major events (especially the establishing of covenants) in those books, while letting you know where the other books fit into the big picture.

Augustine then goes to talk about the attitude of the catechist, which should be one of charity, and how the charity of God — expressed in the preparation for the advent of His Son and its realization in the Incarnation — is the necessary lens through which all the Scriptures must be read:
6. In all things, indeed, not only ought our own eye to be kept fixed upon the end of the commandment, which is charity, out of a pure heart, and a good conscience, and faith unfeigned, to which we should make all that we utter refer; but in like manner ought the gaze of the person whom we are instructing by our utterance to be moved toward the same, and guided in that direction.

And, in truth, for no other reason were all those things which we read in the Holy Scriptures written, previous to the Lord's advent, but for this—namely, that His advent might be pressed upon the attention, and that the Church which was to be, should be intimated beforehand, that is to say, the people of God throughout all nations; which Church is His body, wherewith also are united and numbered all the saints who lived in this world, even before His advent, and who believed then in His future coming, just as we believe in His past coming.
Now Augustine interprets the birth of Jacob as a type of salvation history! This is an amazing exercise in biblical typology:
For (to use an illustration) Jacob, at the time when he was being born, first put forth from the womb a hand, with which also he held the foot of the brother who was taking priority of him in the act of birth; and next indeed the head followed, and thereafter, at last, and as matter of course, the rest of the members: while, nevertheless the head in point of dignity and power has precedence, not only of those members which followed it then, but also of the very hand which anticipated it in the process of the birth, and is really the first, although not in the matter of the time of appearing, at least in the order of nature.

And in an analogous manner, the Lord Jesus Christ, previous to His appearing in the flesh, and coming forth in a certain manner out of the womb of His secrecy, before the eyes of men as Man, the Mediator between God and men, who is over all, God blessed for ever, sent before Him, in the person of the holy patriarchs and prophets, a certain portion of His body, wherewith, as by a hand, He gave token beforetime of His own approaching birth, and also supplanted the people who were prior to Him in their pride, using for that purpose the bonds of the law, as if they were His five fingers. For through five epochs of times there was no cessation in the foretelling and prophesying of His own destined coming; and in a manner consonant with this, he through whom the law was given wrote five books; and proud men, who were carnally minded, and sought to establish their own righteousness, were not filled with blessing by the open hand of Christ, but were debarred from such good by the hand compressed and closed; and therefore their feet were tied, and they fell, while we are risen, and stand upright.

But although, as I have said, the Lord Christ did thus send before Him a certain portion of His body, in the person of those holy men who came before Him as regards the time of birth, nevertheless He is Himself the Head of the body, the Church, and all these have been attached to that same body of which He is the head, in virtue of their believing in Him whom they announced prophetically. For they were not sundered (from that body) in consequence of fulfilling their course before Him, but rather were they made one with the same by reason of their obedience. For although the hand may be put forward away before the head, still it has its connection beneath the head.

Wherefore all things which were written aforetime were written in order that we might be taught thereby, and were our figures, and happened in a figure in the case of these men. Moreover they were written for our sakes, upon whom the end of the ages has come.
Brilliant!  Of course, it's not the only interpretation of Jacob's birth, but it's an interpretation which treats of all Scripture and salvation history as a whole, and which serves to illustrate Augustine's point that all that is written in the Bible about the time before Christ's advent is meant to point to it and prepare us for it.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

On memorization in catechesis

Yesterday, Rich Leonardi at Ten Reasons posted a quote from Ven. Pope John Paul II's 1979 Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Catechesi Tradendae.  It emphasized the importance of memorization in the building up of our Catholic faith.
A certain memorization of the words of Jesus, of important Bible passages, of the Ten Commandments, of the formulas of profession of the faith, of the liturgical texts, of the essential prayers, of key doctrinal ideas, etc., far from being opposed to the dignity of young Christians, or constituting an obstacle to personal dialogue with the Lord, is a real need, as the synod fathers forcefully recalled. We must be realists. The blossoms, if we may call them that, of faith and piety do not grow in the desert places of a memory-less catechesis.
Believe it or not, I haven't read this document!  It's one I should, though, given its subject matter. But I've decided, first, to read St. Augustine's work De Catechezandis Rudibus.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

October: Month of the Rosary

The month of October is dedicated to the Rosary.  A couple of years ago, I had the idea of writing a series on the thirteen encyclicals of Pope Leo XIII on the Rosary.  That didn't go as planned.  I had hoped to revisit the encyclicals this month.  That didn't go as planned.  Between my professional career, my book-writing, my Bible studying, and my personal life, I just haven't had the time to do Church-document reading like I had in 2007 and 2008.

That said, I'd like to link to the first two articles I posted about the Rosary encyclicals.  I will eventually get around to reading and writing about the whole set.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

God does not grade on a curve

The readings for this coming Sunday all point to one common truth:  the Lord is a just judge, an important thing to remember as we approach the month of November, with its days dedicated to all saints and all souls, and the Solemnity of Christ the King (which was originally celebrated on the last Sunday of October, right before those first November feasts).

The first (cf. Sir. 35:12, 18) and second (cf. 2 Tim. 4:8) readings make this abundantly clear.  In the Gospel (Luke 18:9-14), the justness of the Lord's judgment is veiled in terms of a parable of two men who go to the temple to pray:
He then addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.

"Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, 'O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.' But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, 'O God, be merciful to me a sinner.'

"I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted."
To explain this theme, and this parable, to the students at Rider University who attend the Catholic Bible Study I host, I began by asking if they have ever taken a class or an exam where the teacher graded on a curve.

There are many ways to grade on a curve.  Perhaps the most infamous way is the "bell curve", which reflects what should be the statistically-sound normal distribution of grades among a body of students, as shown on the right.  Few students get As and Fs, more get Bs and Ds, and the most get the "average" grade, C.  This grading scheme can be good or bad for students.  It can be good because it means that the student who got the highest raw (uncurved) score on the exam is assured an A, no matter how objectively poorly he did.  It can be bad because it means that if everyone in the class aces the exam, they are all merely "average" and get Cs.

The bell curve, and other forms of curving, make up for the defect of the students' mastery of the material by comparing them to each other.  On a 100-question quiz, if no one gets more than 50 questions right, then that "failing" grade becomes an A.  Regardless of the highest-scoring student's knowledge of what he is being tested on, he receives a passing grade, because he scored better than the rest of his class.  Without the bell curve, the students are not compared to each other, but to the material covered on the exam; they receive objective grades based on their mastery of the material, not based on their relative performance.

In the parable which Jesus addressed to those who "were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else," our Lord mentions a Pharisee and a tax collector (or "publican" in some translations).  His audience, hearing the parable unfold, might have had the following impression: "A Pharisee!  Gosh, they sure are holy, with their phylacteries and their praying in the Temple and their knowledge of the Scriptures.  Ugh, and a tax collector?  My neighbor Zacchaeus is one of those traitors, taking my hard-earned money and giving it the Romans... and probably taking a little of the top for himself as well.  I'm sure Jesus wouldn't want to have anything to do with him."

The Pharisee compared himself to others, and believed himself to be better than them.  As they heard the Lord retell the Pharisee's prayer &mdash "to himself," which might just be idiomatic, but is also quite a condemnation! — they could have thought, "I might not be as good as the Pharisee, but I too am at least better than that tax collector!"  If they had to put the Pharisee and the tax collector on a scale and assign them letter grades, they would give the Pharisee an "A" and the tax collector an "F".  And then, if they had to assign themselves a grade, they would certainly place themselves above the dreaded tax collector.  Even if they got a "D", that was still a passing grade, right?

The tax collector's prayer was very different.  He did not compare himself to the Pharisee or to anyone else.  He compared himself to the divine law:  "O God, be merciful to me a sinner!"

Jesus tells us that the tax collector, not the Pharisee, went home justified.  The tax collector, comparing himself to the divine law and to God Himself, graded himself objectively; but the Pharisee, comparing himself to others, graded himself subjectively, on a curve; and God does not grade on a curve.  Our justification and salvation are not determined by comparing our performance with others'.  Our very need for justification and salvation are predicated on the great contrast between our conduct and God's law.  It does no good to compare ourselves to one another; St. Paul did not write that "some have sinned and fall short of the glory of their neighbor," but that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Rom. 3:23)  God is the standard, most perfectly embodied in His Son Jesus Christ, in Whom the God was able to show us, by His own example, obedience to Him.

So as we approach the month which reminds us of the Last Things, let us not say, "God, I thank you that I am not like that adulterer, like that thief, like that murderer..." but instead, "O God, be merciful to me, a sinner!"

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Saturday, October 16, 2010

New Translation at Theology on Tap

This coming Tuesday, October 19, at 7:30 pm, I will be the presenter for the Trenton diocese's Theology on Tap.  I will be talking about the new English translation of the Mass at Kilarney's Publick House in Hamilton. (1644 Whitehorse-Mercerville Rd., Hamilton, NJ 08619)  If you're in the area, stop by!

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Friday, October 01, 2010

Take the Aquinas Pledge!

Please feel free to copy, paste and post this.

I, as a Catholic who has agreed to accept and obey all the teachings of the Catholic Church, will commit to learning all God wishes to teach me regarding the Most Blessed Sacrament, the Holy Eucharist. As an integral aspect of this pledge, I will seek to grow in my understanding of what the Eucharist is and what place it has in my spiritual life.

I hereby pledge to make Christ in the Eucharist the source and summit of my faith and to meditate on the mystery of his Body and Blood offered to me in the appearances of bread and wine.

I hereby pledge to study the history of the early Christians and the writings of the Church Fathers to gain an appreciation for the role of the Eucharist in the life and growth of Christendom.

I hereby pledge to study the lives of the saints who have made the Eucharist the center of their lives and to ask their intercession that I too will grow in Eucharistic amazement and wonder.

I hereby pledge to never receive Christ's body and blood unless I am in a state of grace, meaning: I harbor no mortal sin as I approach the altar to receive Him. As a part of this pledge, I resolve to confess my sins to a priest at least once a month in order to be fully receptive to all the grace Jesus has for me.

I hereby pledge to make extra visits to my parish when possible to worship Him in adoration/exposition and/or to spend time before the Blessed Sacrament reposed in the Tabernacle.

I hereby pledge to share my understanding and love of the Eucharist with other Catholics and non-Catholics who may be interested in hearing why we wish to live Eucharistically centered lives.

I hereby pledge to live a life pleasing to God in profound gratitude for this most ineffable gift He has left His Church.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

New Bible studies

I'm involved in two Bible studies right now.  One for college students at Rider University on Monday nights, where we look at the readings for the coming Sunday; and another (associated with St. David the King parish in West Windsor) for young adults, reading the book of Proverbs.

I'll share some notes from Proverbs later today.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Defenders of the new translation prefer an oblivious congregation?

"The US Bishops’ website has cultivated this disjunction between the priest’s part and the people’s part and most defenders of the new translation seem happy with the idea that the people don’t even notice what the priest says anyway." ~ Fr. Joseph O'Leary, September 3, 2010

"Who are those defenders?" ~ me, September 3, 2010

"Fr. Joseph, could you please back up your claim that 'most defenders of the new translation seem happy with the idea that the people don’t even notice what the priest says anyway'?" ~ me, September 5, 2010

I don't know if he'll back up or retract his claim.  It's a rather serious charge.

Dominican book on prayer

One of the clerical bloggers I follow, Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP, has a new booklet out, Beatitudes and Beads, published by Liguori.

The booklet contains an original rosary with prayers and meditations based on the Sermon on the Mount.  It is available in English and Spanish.  Each booklet is $2.50.  All the royalties from this booklet go to my province.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Praying the Mass on the Radio!

Praying the Mass is hitting to the radio waves!  This Wednesday, September 15th — which happens to be the two-year anniversary of WFJS 1260-AM Trenton (Domestic Church Radio) going on-the-air — I will be recording two episodes for a 13-part radio series on the Mass, based on my books.

Today (Tuesday, September 14th) around 5:45 PM, I will be doing a test-run of these two shows at home, making sure I can fit the content into the allotted time.  Tomorrow (Wednesday) around 5:15 PM, I will be recording them at the radio station.

Both today and tomorrow I will be simulcasting and recording those two shows on my ustream channel.  I encourage and welcome you to visit ustream.com to watch and listen as I record and speak about the Mass.  If you watch and listen today, please send me feedback!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Response to Fr. William Grimm

Is the new English translation of "for you and for many" (pro multis) heretical?  Yes, says Fr. William Grimm, because it should be "for the many."

Here is my response:

1. The English translation is not based on "probable Aramaic words" but on known Latin words. The issue here is not exclusion or inclusion, but an accurate rendering of the Latin words of the Missal, which are based on the Greek words of the New Testament. (Greek, by the way, does have articles, and there is no article associated with 'pollon' [many] in Matthew 26:28 or Mark 14:24.)

2. The Latin 'pro multis' could be "for many" or "for the many", it is true. But if "for the many" leads to the erroneous interpretation that all are forgiven because Jesus shed His blood "for the many," then those words should be avoided. While God wills all men to come to knowledge of the truth and be saved, that is sadly not going to happen, and it belongs to God's "desirous" will rather than His ordaining will. Jesus makes it clear that not all will be saved. (e.g. Matt. 7:13-14)

3. Jesus did shed His blood for the many, indeed, for all, but the words continue: "for the forgiveness of sins."  The current translation "for you and for all SO THAT sins may be forgiven" is not a heretical statement (although it's not an accurate translation), because Jesus shed His blood for all of us for the possibility of the forgiveness of sins.  But the new translation "for you and for many FOR THE forgiveness of sins" is also not heretical (and it is more accurate), because Jesus shed His blood for the forgiveness of the sins of many, but not of all. The Roman Catechism (after the Council of Trent) makes this clear:
"They serve to declare the fruit and advantage of His Passion. For if we look to its value, we must confess that the Redeemer shed His blood for the salvation of all; but if we look to the fruit which mankind have received from it, we shall easily find that it pertains not unto all, but to many of the human race. ... With reason, therefore, were the words for all not used, as in this place the fruits of the Passion are alone spoken of..."

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Book Review: Why God Matters

A deacon and daughter duo — Dcn. Steve Lumbert (a convert) and Karina Lumbert Fabian (a cradle Catholic) — have written a pleasant and spiritually uplifting book on recognizing God in everyday life, Why God Matters.  It's a quick read, and because of that, I think it's likely to catch you off-guard.

Through fourteen chapters, the authors bring you through "the long religious slog of the everyday" (Walt Staples (President of the Catholic Writers Guild), dust jacket) and relate how they found God operating in the seemingly unremarkable events of their lives.  Instead of taking the approach of systematic theology, they share steps of their journey of faith that brought them closer to God — or rather, that reminded them of just how close God is to them.

From Deacon Steve, I was reminded that the faith is not something to merely be "observed" (like President's Day); instead, "God must be an active part of our lives." (Chapter 1)  During his teenage years he and his brothers were known as trouble-makers, a reputation which landed them in a jail cell for a day... for a crime they didn't commit.  The experience inspired him later in life to teach his children "about honesty, integrity, truth, and resisting temptation" (Chapter 3), something I think we can all relate to.

His sensible words about balancing his life as a deacon (between marriage, work, and the diaconate) is especially timely for me:  "It's not easy to keep balance. ... The temptation to overextend myself by saying yes to everything is strong."  When we find ourselves biting off more than we can chew, we should ask ourselves, "What has God given [me] as [my] first vocation?" (Chapter 11)  Finally, the patience of a friend in an airport reminded him of God's unmatchable patience with us:  "Like a good friend, God waits patiently for us at journey's end." (Chapter 13)

His daughter challenges us to stop being martyrs over trivialities and lay our cares and worries upon the Lord.  When she senses herself making mountains out of molehills, she says this simple prayer:  "Lord, let this end in me now." (Chapter 4)  By learning how to pace herself throughout the day, she finds peace throughout her week, and Sundays become a day of rejoicing rather than refueling.  Her advice to pacing yourself spiritually includes committing yourself to Confession at least once a quarter, and then once a month; and in order to help your family follow your example, "Gently lead them from the front rather than push them from behind." (Chapter 10)  When it comes to dealing with a family member who does not believe in God (another situation I can relate to), she candidly admits, "it scares me as nothing has ever scared me before."  What's her response?  "I pray for him ... and I make small sacrifices on his behalf."  Instead of despairing, she loves and gives an example of hope. (Chapter 14)

But her most stunning advice comes in Chapter 12.  For her, a "personal relationship" with Jesus Christ doesn't quite cut it.  "It smacks to me of name-dropping," she says.  She identifies the ways that a "personal relationship" for humans falls short of the sort of relationship we're called to have with God.  Even the closest friends keep things private from one another in their relationships:  "Do I want limits on my relationship with God?"  Personal relationships include trivial banter, but "I am not a peer with God."  And then there's the inevitable give-and-take of our human relationships — "once in a while, the other person will be weak" — but that's not the case with God.

Karina challenges us to have a relationship with God that is "more than personal," a relationship that lets God be God and reminds us that we're not!  The "life lesson" of the chapter asks, "Does [your relationship] encompass all of God, or is it the 'personal' relationship of 'my buddy Jesus,' or the aloof spiritual relationship of an untouchable deity?"

I'll be honest:  I usually read books with "closely reasoned theology" and "appeal[s] to ancient writers of the Church" (Walt Staples), which sometimes leave other readers feeling cold.  This book came out of left field and reminds me to breathe with both lungs, to think with head and heart.  It has reminded me to look for God in the everyday.  It has pointed out to me that God is not just a matter to discuss:  God matters.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

St. Cyril of Jerusalem on the Creed

But in learning the Faith and in professing it, acquire and keep that only, which is now delivered to you by the Church, and which has been built up strongly out of all the Scriptures.  For since all cannot read the Scriptures, some being hindered as to the knowledge of them by want of learning, and others by a want of leisure, in order that the soul may not perish from ignorance, we comprise the whole doctrine of the Faith in a few lines.  This summary I wish you both to commit to memory when I recite it, and to rehearse it with all diligence among yourselves, not writing it out on paper, but engraving it by the memory upon your heart, taking care while you rehearse it that no Catechumen chance to overhear the things which have been delivered to you.

I wish you also to keep this as a provision through the whole course of your life, and beside this to receive no other, neither if we ourselves should change and contradict our present teaching, nor if an adverse angel, transformed into an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14) should wish to lead you astray.  For though we or an angel from heaven preach to you any other gospel than that you have received, let him be to you anathema. (Galatians 1:8-9)

So for the present listen while I simply say the Creed, and commit it to memory; but at the proper season expect the confirmation out of Holy Scripture of each part of the contents. For the articles of the Faith were not composed as seemed good to men; but the most important points collected out of all the Scripture make up one complete teaching of the Faith.  And just as the mustard seed in one small grain contains many branches, so also this Faith has embraced in few words all the knowledge of godliness in the Old and New Testaments.  Take heed then, brethren, and hold fast the traditions which you now receive, and write them on the table of your heart.

Catechetical Lecture #5, 12

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Scriptures to meditate upon as you make the Sign of the Cross

Here are some Scripture verses to think about as you make the Sign of the Cross. (Not that I have anything against "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit", but there are other verses we can meditate upon as we cross ourselves.)

"He who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me." (Matt. 10:38; cf. Luke 14:27)

"If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." (Matt. 16:24; cf. Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23)

As they went out, they came upon a man of Cyrene, Simon by name; this man they compelled to carry his cross. (Matt. 27:32; cf. Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26)

"As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life." (John 3:14-15)

"I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself." (John 12:32)

"Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified." (Acts 2:36)

We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. (Rom. 6:6)

The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Cor. 1:18)

We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Cor. 1:23-24)

I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Cor. 2:2)

He was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. (2 Cor. 13:4)

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal. 2:20)

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Gal. 5:24)

Far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Gal. 6:14)

For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end. (Eph. 2:14-16)

Being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:8)

In him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Col. 1:19-20)

God made [us] alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, having canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (Col. 2:13-14)

Look to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:2)