Tag Archives: Liturgy

Our Lady of Sorrows: September 15

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There were also women looking on from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of the younger James and of Joses, and Salome. These women had followed him when he was in Galilee and ministered to him. There were also many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.”  That’s how Mark’s gospel describes some onlookers at Jesus’ crucifixion (Mark 15, 40-41).

John’s gospel brings some  women closer. He places Mary, the Mother of Jesus, standing at the cross itself. “Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.”

She stands, not at a distance but close by,  not afraid to see, not absorbed in her own suffering, not disengaged from her Son or his sufferings. She enters into this mystery  through compassion. Compassion doesn’t experience another’s suffering exactly, but enters that suffering to break the isolation suffering causes. Compassion helps someone bear their burden.  The sword, the spear, pierces both hearts, but in different ways.

Compassion is part of the mystery of the cross.

The Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, celebrated in the Roman calendar  on September 15th, was placed after the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross (September 14) only recently, in the 20th century, by Pope Pius X.  He took the feast,  formerly the Feast of the Seven Sorrows of Mary, and placed it on this date which is eight days after the day we celebrate Mary’s birth (September 7).

The prayer for today’s feast says that when her Son “was lifted high on the Cross” his mother stood by and shared his suffering, but as yesterday’s feast of the Triumph of the Cross makes clear, Jesus  lifted high draws all to himself to share in his resurrection.

Standing by his cross, Mary was led to share in his ‘ resurrection.

For a commentary on John’s Gospel see here.

For a study on Mary on Calvary see here.

For readings for the feast and the Stabat Mater see here.

The Passion of John the Baptist

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August 29th recalls the the death of John the Baptist. Mark’s gospel tells the gruesome story. King Herod ordered his death, prompted by Herodias. (Mark 6, 17-19) Because his death is like the Passion of Jesus the church calls it “The Passion of John the Baptist”.

Venerable Bede says that John’s death is like Jesus’ death because they both embraced the same values.  If John stayed silent about Herod’s conduct, he may have gained a few peaceful years of life, but he was more concerned with what God thought than what powerful people on earth thought.

“His persecutor had demanded not that he should deny Christ, but only that he should keep silent about the truth. Nevertheless, he died for Christ. Does Christ not say: I am the truth?

He preached the freedom of heavenly peace, yet was thrown into irons by ungodly men; he was locked away in the darkness of prison, though he came bearing witness to the Light of life.

“But heaven notices– not the span of our lives, but how we live them, speaking the truth.” (Bede, Homily)

Wonderful line: It doesn’t matter how many years we live, but how we live them, “speaking the truth.”

For John that meant dying for the truth. What does it mean for us? It may not mean getting our heads chopped off, but we should expect some scars from the daily battle for God’s truth. ” May we fight hard for the confession of what you teach.” (Opening prayer)

Learning in Bad Times

I find myself turning away from the news on television these days. I don’t think I’m the only one. The pandemic only seems to be getting worse, and we’re getting worse with it.

So we turn to the Good News.

I’m finding the Gospel of Matthew, which we’re reading these weekdays and on Sundays, helpful. It was written for people struggling with bad times.

The bad times were around the year AD 90 when the followers of Jesus in Galilee were reeling from the attacks of a resurgent Judaism. Those attacks are described in Chapters 10-12 of Matthew’s gospel.

Instead of closing their eyes and hanging on tight, Jesus tells his disciples to open their eyes and their ears, because there’s something for them to learn. “Blessed are your eyes, because they see and your ears because they hear. Many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it and hear what you hear and did not hear it”  (Matthew 13:16-17). He says that as he teaches them in parables.

Bad times can be the best times to learn. Some of the best things we know; some of the best insights we have;  some of the most creative thoughts may come in bad times. God doesn’t stop speaking or teaching in bad times; God sows seeds and opens new avenues. New treasures, new pearls are there to be discovered in the ground we walk over and the jumble of things that seem to overwhelm us.

We will be reading soon the parables of the treasure hidden in the field and the pearl of great price and the net that pulls up a bewildering variety of things from the sea.  It’s a message continued in the mystery of the Passion of Jesus. The disciples saw only death and failure there at first, but then they saw treasures in the wounds, the blood and water that flowed from his side, the words he said.

We don’t have to turn away from bad times. They’re times to keep your eyes and ears open, Jesus says. Like his first disciples, we should pray, not for blinders, but for “understanding hearts.”

The Wisdom of Thomas Aquinas

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The feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, January 28th, in my student days was a day for presentations honoring the saint. The presentations were not about the saint’s life but his wisdom. Thomas Aquinas was a great theologian dedicated to the search for truth.

He was a man of faith, searching for understanding. That’s the definition of theology– faith seeking understanding, an understanding that draws us closer to God and helps us know God, the source of all truth.

He was a man of questions, who approached great mysteries through questions. That’s the way St. Thomas begins a sermon he once preached, found today in the Offices of Readings for his feast:

 “Why did the Son of God have to suffer for us?” He asks as he looks at the Cross of Jesus.
The passion of Jesus was necessary, the saint says, for two reasons. First, as a remedy for sin, and secondly, as an example of how to act.

Interestingly, the saint doesn’t spend much time asking why it’s a remedy for sin. He’s more interested in the passion of Jesus as an example for us. To live as we should, we need to look at Jesus on the cross, an example of every virtue:

“Do you want an  example of love? ‘Greater love than this no one has, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ That’s what Jesus did on the cross. If he gave his life for us, then it should not be difficult to bear whatever hardships arise for his sake.

“If you want patience, you will find no better example than the cross. Great patience occurs in two ways: either when one patiently suffers much, or when one suffers things which one is able to avoid and yet does not avoid.

“Christ endured much on the cross, and did so patiently, because when he suffered he did not threaten; he was led like a sheep to the slaughter and he did not open his mouth. Therefore Christ’s patience on the cross was great. In patience let us run for the prize set before us, looking upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith who, for the joy set before him, bore his cross and despised the shame.

“If you want an example of humility, look upon the crucified one, for God wished to be judged by Pontius Pilate and to die.

“If you want an example of obedience, follow him who became obedient to the Father even unto death. For just as by the disobedience of one man, namely, Adam, many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one man, many were made righteous.

“If you want an example of despising earthly things, follow him who is the King of kings and the Lord of lords, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Upon the cross he was stripped, mocked, spat upon, struck, crowned with thorns, and given only vinegar and gall to drink.

“Do not be attached, therefore, to clothing and riches, because they divided my garments among themselves. Nor to honours, for he experienced harsh words and scourgings. Nor to greatness of rank, for weaving a crown of thorns they placed it on my head. Nor to anything delightful, for in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.”

St. Thomas’ great theological work, the Summa Theologica can be found here.

Ordinary Time and Daily Prayer

We’re into Ordinary Time in our liturgy after the Feast of the Epiphany and the Baptism of Jesus which we celebrate this Sunday. Christmas Time is over. So there’s nothing to do till Lent and the Easter season?

Sure there is. Ordinary Time is a time for daily prayer, and daily prayer is never over. The Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy said that daily prayer is at the heart of the Christian life and created a daily lectionary of scripture readings so “ the treasures of the bible be opened more lavishly for the faithful at the table of God’s word.” (SC 51)

The daily lectionary is a treasure for praying with the scriptures, but don’t take it for granted. Treasures, Jesus said, are usually hidden and you have to dig for them. That’s what we do in daily prayer. The liturgy is always a “work”, our daily work, an important work, a daily prayer. It’s the “summit” of the Christian life. We’re always at the beginning, not at the end.

We begin Monday to read the Book of Samuel and the Gospel of Mark from our lectionary. There are feasts of the Lord and his saints to celebrate in the days ahead. It’s a lifelong learning we’re into, a school God provides,  and we learn day by day.

The Calendar on the Kitchen Door


About this time every year when I was a boy, my mother would put up on the kitchen door the calendar we got from church. She marked down the anniversaries of family deaths and birthdays and other celebrations coming along, and she added other dates as the days passed. The pictures on the calendar interested me most then. When we put up the calendar, we were ready for the days ahead.

The calendar’s still a good way of getting ready for the days ahead. “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart,” one of the psalms says.

Our calendars today may be on our computers instead of the kitchen door, and they’ve changed in a number of ways since the Second Vatican Council. The council created a general calendar of the main feasts and seasons, Christmas and Easter, advent and lent, to be celebrated by the whole church throughout the world. The general calendar also lists the days for celebrating saints honored the world over, such as Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the apostles, St. Francis of Assisi and St. Theresa of Avila. It also lists scripture readings read at Mass for the weekdays and Sundays throughout the year. It guides us to the treasures of our faith.

The council left countries and regions to decide on some celebrations of their own. In our particular calendar here in the United States, for example, we celebrate Thanksgiving Day and American saints like St. Elizabeth Seton, St. Elizabeth Cabrini and St. John Neumann.

The calendar’s still a good way to keep our lives in order, not only doctors’ and social appointments, birthdays and anniversaries, but our spiritual lives as well. They go together. We’re meant to live from feast to feast and be formed by the mysteries of Christ, his saints and the scriptures.

Every Sunday evening I try to publish the week’s calendar on my blog – http://www.vhoagland.wordpress.com . It’s my kitchen door. Through the week I reflect on the feasts and seasons and saints on that blog. The calendar’s a teacher helping us to “number our days aright.” It’s our daily catechism.

December 23: Birth of John the Baptist

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Luke’s gospel recalls in detail the birth of John the Baptist before the birth Jesus. “The hand of the Lord was with him. The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel.”

Like Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah are recognized in Luke’s gospel for their role in the birth and raising of the child. However lonely and independent John appears later in the gospels, he was influenced by them and an extended family as he was born.. Besides giving him his name, they all left their mark on him. “The hand of the Lord was with him,” but human hands were on him as well.

He had faith like his mother Elizabeth who recognized the Spirit’s presence in her pregnant cousin Mary visiting from Nazareth. John later would point out the Lamb of God among all those who came to the Jordan River for baptism.

He had faith like his father Zechariah who devoutly celebrated the mysteries of God in the temple of Jerusalem as a priest. At the Jordan River,John regularly called pilgrims on their way to the Holy City to prepare the way of the Lord in their own hearts.

Undoubtedly, John was a unique figure, a messenger from God, a voice in the desert preparing the Lord’s way. But there were  faithful people behind him, as they are behind us.

Silent Clay

The daily Mass readings for Eastertime, from the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of John, are so different in tone. The Acts of the Apostles is a fast-moving account of a developing church spreading rapidly through the world through people like Paul of Tarsus and his companions. Blazing new trails and visiting new places,  they’d be frequent flyers today, always on the go.

The supper-room discourse of Jesus from the Gospel of John, on the other hand,  seem to move slowly, repeating, lingering over the words of Jesus to his disciples. Listen, be quiet, sit still, they say. Don’t go anywhere at all.

St. Paul of the Cross, the founder of the Passionists, was inspired by St. Paul, the Apostle, to preach and to teach. Many of his letters end telling readers he has to go, he’s off to preach somewhere. He was a “frequent flyer.”

But the Gospel of John also inspired him; it was the basis for his teaching on prayer. Keep in God’s presence, in pure faith, he often said. Enter that inner room and remain there. Don’t go anywhere.

“It’s not important for you to feel the Divine Presence, but very important to continue in pure faith, without comfort, loving God who satisfies our longings. Remain like a child resting on the bosom of God in faithful silence and holy love. Remain there in the higher part of your soul paying no attention to the noise of the enemy outside. Stay in that room with your Divine Spouse…Be what Saint John Chrysostom says to be: silent clay offered to the potter. Give yourself to your Maker. What a beautiful saying! What the clay gives to the potter, give to your Creator. The clay is silent; the potter does with it what he wills. If he breaks it or throws away, it is silent and content, because it knows it’s in the king’s royal gallery.”  (Letter 1515)

 

Presentation in the Temple, February 2nd

 

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Temple of Jerusalem, 1st century, Israel Museum

The Presentation of Jesus in the temple, forty days after his birth, is a Christmas feast, even though our Christmas decorations are put away. It’s part of Luke’s Infancy Narrative.

The temple of Jerusalem– a reproduction is pictured above– plays a big part in Luke’s Infancy Narrative,  even more important than the stable to which the shepherds came.  The angel announced John’s birth to Zachary in the temple, and there Jesus is presented after his birth. Later, he will come to the temple as a young boy and  impresses its teachers, as he listens to them and asks them questions.

Luke doesn’t dwell on the rituals or appearance of the temple– he may not know much about them–but the temple for him is where God is present, and so it’s the place where Jesus would be recognized. Forty days after his birth, two elderly Jews, Simeon and Anna, recognize him. They’re  faithful believers who  represent the generations waiting for the Messiah.

Old Simeon takes the child in his arms:

“Now, Master, you may let your servant go
in peace, according to your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and glory for your people Israel.”  (Luke  2,22-40)

Afterwards in his gospel Luke describes the rejection of Jesus by his neighbors in the synagogue at Nazareth– neighbors who saw him so frequently but don’t recognize him. Here in the temple two faithful Jews, Simeon and Anna, waiting for years, receive him. The long wai in the temple has not dulled their eyes. In fact, it has made them sharper. They see salvation in this little child, ” a light of revelation to the gentiles, and the glory of  your people Israel.”

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So true, isn’t it, waiting can dull our eyes? Year by year can diminish what we expect and hope for. Day after day, faith can get tired. Prayers can become rote, sacraments can become routine. A holy place can become just another place.

It wasn’t so for these two elderly Jews. Their steady presence in the temple made them sharper, quicker to recognize the light that came to that place. We bless candles today, to burn in our church this year, and we pray that our church may never be dark but a place where we see the light of Christ and recognize his will for us and for our world.

“Outwardly Jesus was fulfilling the law, but in reality he was coming to meet his believing people. Prompted by the Holy Spirit Simeon and Anna came to the temple. Enlightened by the same Spirit, they recognized the Lord, so let us also gathered by the Holy Spirit, enter the house of the Lord and encounter Christ and recognize him in the breaking of the bread until he comes again, revealed in glory.”  (Feast of the Presentation)

 

 

 

 

The Conversion of St. Paul

January 25th is the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. It came in a blinding moment, so different than the call of Jesus’ other apostles.

Caravaggio’s dramatic painting of Paul on the flat of his back, arms outstretched, helplessly blind is a vivid picture of humanity before God.

Conversion is God’s work; God alone gives the gift of faith.

The first reading for his feast tell the dramatic story of his conversion. (Acts 22, 3-16)  In the gospel of Matthew,Jesus announces why he was called – to preach the gospel to all nations.(Matthew 16,15-18)

“May the Spirit fill us with that light of faith.”

For St. John Chrysostom  “Paul, more than anyone else, has shown us what we really are, and in what our nobility consists, and of what virtue a human being is capable. Each day he aimed ever higher; each day he rose up with greater ardour and faced with new eagerness the dangers that threatened him. He summed up his attitude in the words: I forget what is behind me and push on to what lies ahead.

“When he saw death imminent, he bade others share his joy: Rejoice and be glad with me! And when danger, injustice and abuse threatened, he said: I am content with weakness, mistreatment and persecution. These he called the weapons of righteousness, thus telling us that he derived immense profit from them…

The most important thing of all to Paul was that he knew himself to be loved by Christ.”

May God give us that grace .

Today ends the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

May God give us all that grace.