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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Good Friday at the Seminary

 O God, who by the Passion of Christ your Son, our Lord, abolished the death inherited from ancient sin by every succeeding generation, grant that just as, being conformed to him, we have borne by the law of nature the image of the man of earth, so by the sanctification of grace we may bear the image of the Man of heaven. Through Christ our Lord. 

Alternate Collect for Good Friday

Friday, April 18, 2014

From Pope Francis' Stations of the Cross

Jesus is crucified

And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take. It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read: “The King of the Jews”. And with him they crucified two thieves, one on his right and one on his left. And the Scripture was fulfilled that says: “And he was counted among the lawless” (Mk 15:24-28).

And they crucified him! The punishment reserved for the despicable, for traitors and rebellious slaves. This is the punishment meted out to our Lord Jesus: coarse nails, spasms of pain, the anguish of his mother, the shame of being associated with two thieves, his garments divided like spoils among the soldiers, the cruel jeers of passers-by: “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him!” (Mt 27:42).

And they crucified him! Jesus does not come down, he does not leave the cross. He stays there, obedient to the Father’s will to the very end. He loves and he forgives.

Today many of our brothers and sisters, like Jesus, are nailed to a bed of pain, at hospital, in homes for the elderly, in our families. It is a time of hardship, with bitter days of solitude and even despair: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46).

May we never use our hands to inflict harm, but only to draw near, to comfort and to accompany the sick, raising them from their bed of pain. Sickness does not ask permission. It always comes unannounced. At times it upsets us, it narrows our horizons, it tests our hope. It is a bitter gall. Only if we find at our side someone able to listen to us, to remain close to us, to sit at our bedside… can sickness become a great school of wisdom, an encounter with God, who is ever patient. Whenever someone shares our infirmities out of love, even in the night of pain there dawns the paschal light of Christ, crucified and risen. What, in human terms, is a chastisement can become a redemptive oblation, for the good of our communities and our families. So it was for the saints.

Tenebrae in the Paschal Triduum

The word "Tenebrae" comes from the Latin meaning “darkness” and is commonly applied to the celebration of the Office of Readings (formerly Matins) and Morning Prayer (or Lauds) during the Triduum.  A distinguishing feature of the service is the use of gradually diminishing light through the extinguishing of candles to symbolize the final days in the life of Christ. As the Office proceeds, candles are gradually extinguished on what is called the Tenebrae hearse”- a triangular 15 branch candlestick, consisting of 14 candles of unbleached wax, and a white (Christ) candle at the apex.

Many reasons have been suggested to explain the practical origins of this custom. Since the Office of Readings (Matins/Vigils) was celebrated during the night, and ended with Morning Prayer (Lauds) at sunrise, some scholars suggest that the lights needed to read and chant the Office were gradually extinguished as dawn approached.

Whatever the original reason, allegorical/spiritual meanings were soon attached to the hearse and candles. These meanings in turn popularized the practice. For example, a 9th century book describes the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours during the Triduum as follows: Also at this service certain candles are placed in the choir which are then extinguished one after the other, as a sign that Christs disciples went away one after another. But when all these candles are taken away, one still remainssignifying Christ himself, who in his humanity died and was laid in the tomb, and rose from death on the third day, giving light to all who were dead and extinguished by despair.

This basic symbolism has remained as the Tenebrae hearse gives visual form to the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours during these sacred days. Through the readings and psalms of the Office that trace the story of Christs passion, through the music portraying his pathos, and through the power of silence and darkness suggesting the drama of this momentous day, we are invited to meditate on the great event of our salvation.

As candles are extinguished symbolizing the approaching darkness of Christ's death, we ponder the depth of his suffering; we remember the cataclysmic nature of his sacrifice and we see the hopelessness of a world without God. But through the small but persistent flame of the white Christ-candle at the conclusion of the service, we await with hope the joy of the Resurrection: Christs great victory over the darkness of sin and death that we will once again recall and celebrate at Easter.

(Based on Herbert Thurston’s Lent and Holy Week)

To Priests, young and old...

"On this priestly Thursday I ask the Lord Jesus to preserve the joy sparkling in the eyes of the recently ordained who go forth to devour the world, to spend themselves fully in the midst of God's faithful people, rejoicing as they prepare their first homily, their first Mass, their first Baptism, their first confession… It is the joy of being able to share with wonder, and for the first time as God’s anointed, the treasure of the Gospel and to feel the faithful people anointing you again and in yet another way: by their requests, by bowing their heads for your blessing, by taking your hands, by bringing you their children, by pleading for their sick… Preserve, Lord, in your young priests the joy of going forth, of doing everything as if for the first time, the joy of spending their lives fully for you.

"On this priestly Thursday I ask the Lord Jesus to confirm the priestly joy of those who have already ministered for some years. The joy which, without leaving their eyes, is also found on the shoulders of those who bear the burden of the ministry, those priests who, having experienced the labours of the apostolate, gather their strength and rearm themselves: “get a second wind”, as the athletes say. Lord, preserve the depth, wisdom and maturity of the joy felt by these older priests. May they be able to pray with Nehemiah: “the joy of the Lord is my strength” (cf. Neh 8:10).

"Finally, on this priestly Thursday I ask the Lord Jesus to make better known the joy of elderly priests, whether healthy or infirm. It is the joy of the Cross, which springs from the knowledge that we possess an imperishable treasure in perishable earthen vessels. May these priests find happiness wherever they are; may they experience already, in the passage of the years, a taste of eternity (Guardini). May they know the joy of handing on the torch, the joy of seeing new generations of their spiritual children, and of hailing the promises from afar, smiling and at peace, in that hope which does not disappoint."

Pope Francis, Holy Thursday 2014

Thursday of the Lord's Supper in the Seminary

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Homily for Thursday of the Lord's Supper

In just a couple of minutes, I will do what the rubric of the Missal tells me and, removing my chasuble, kneel down and wash your feet.  But there’s a strange rubric which precedes this one, which reads: “After the Homily, where a pastoral reason suggests it, the Washing of Feet follows.”1

The first time I read that rubric I wondered what would make it pastorally inappropriate to wash feet.  If people didn’t have feet?  If they had no water?  Or Abishai had forgotten to buy a pitcher and basin?

Perhaps.  But I suggest what the rubric really has in mind is that it would be totally inappropriate for me to wash your feet now, if I had not washed them throughout the year.  If I had not listened to you, worked for you, agonized to make the right decisions about you, stayed up late to worry about you, prayed incessantly for you, been willing to give whatever it took for you to discern and be formed as God wants you to be.  To be willing to wash your feet, to be a priest for you that you might grow into being a priest for others.

When Peter resists having his feet washed, it is because the God he believes in is too small.  He wants a Messiah of majesty and grandeur who is too important to wash feet.  But, in the words of our beloved Pope emeritus, “God's greatness is different from our idea of greatness…it consists precisely in stooping low, in the humility of service, in the radicalism of love even to total self-emptying.”

This Messiah desires to wash us clean, as he sleeps the sleep of death upon the cross and from his pierced side there flows forth water and blood and thus the Church is born.

All foretold in the washing of dirty feet. All foretold in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.  For by our participation in the Mass we participate in the Sacrifice of the Cross, and in both instances, which are the same instance, we are washed clean.

Washed clean of what?  Of dirt.  Not just on our feet, like kids who’ve just come in from playing in the mud, but like big old adults, who having rolled around in all the filth the world has to offer, caked with dirt, hearts stained by dirt, minds clouded by dirt.

We pollute our minds with pornographic delusions, lies and deceits. We foul our hearts with the devil’s pomps and imaginings, and contaminate our souls with all his lusts and empty promises.

But then each time time we gather to fulfill the Domincal command and celebrate this perfect Sacrifice, this source and summit of our lives, Christ washes us here, cleanses us, purifies our souls and restores the lost innocence of our inner selves.

He does it through his life giving Word, proclaimed from this Ambo each day for our salvation, as mercy flows from his word,2 and as the Deacon, kissing the Gospel, prays: “Through the words of the Gospel may our sins be wiped away.”

It is here that our selfishness is washed away when our hearts hear again the story of his passion and death, our grasping for power and pleasure by remembering his birth as a child in a manger, our longing for revenge by his love for even those who nailed him to a tree, and our despair, by the story of a prodigal embraced and forgiven.

Each day we bring to this Ambo our filth and our fears, and Christ, ever present in his word, “carries out the mystery of salvation, sanctifies humanity and offers the Father perfect worship.”3  We are washed cleansed by “living waters,”4 by his word. 

But as Pope Benedict has reminded us, it is not only water that cleanses, but blood as well.  For from the pierced side of Christ as he slept the sleep of death upon cross, the water was mixed with Blood.5  And we who have washed our robes in the Blood of the Lamb are the ones who drink of the Blood poured out for us for the forgiveness of our sins; the “noble and precious Blood, flowing from the wounds of Jesus Christ, [which washes] away the sins of all the world.”6  

That is why we pray in the Votive Mass of the Precious Blood “that we may always be bathed in the Blood of our Savior, so that it may become for us a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”7

This is the place where we are washed clean, where our salvation is accomplished, where “the Lord kneels ever anew at our feet and purifies us.”8

So now I will take off this chasuble and kneel down and wash your feet, just like he did.  That we might drink deeply, you and I, of the power which “dispels [all] wickedness [and] washes faults away.”9

1 - Roman Missal, Thursday of the Lord’s Supper, no. 10.
2 - Cf. Roman Missal, Collect, December 23.
3 - Lectionary for Mass, no. 4. Cf. Sacrosanctum concilium, no. 7.
4 - General Introduction to the Lectionary for Mass, no. 5.
5 - John 19: 34; cf. I John 5: 6-8.
6 - Roman Missal, Prayers Before Mass.
7 - Roman Missal, Prayer over the Gifts for the Votive Mass of the Precious Blood.
8 - Pope Benedict XVI, Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper, 2008.
9 - Roman Missal, Paschal Proclamation.