Friday, June 25, 2010

The Angelus



Yesterday, praying the Angelus gave me a few insights.

For those of you not familiar, the Angelus is a traditional Catholic prayer celebrating the Incarnation. It is prayed at 6 am, noon and 6 pm. Church bells will often ring extra at these times because they're calling Catholics to prayer.

First I was thinking of the name of the prayer: "Angelus." Angelus is the Latin nominative for "angel" or "the angel" (Latin doesn't use an article). Many prayers and documents in the Church are titled by their first word or few words. In this case, the first few words are: "Angelus Domini nuntiavit MariƦ," literally: "The angel of the Lord announced (declared, etc.) to Mary." (c.f. Luke 1:28,30,35) The prayer is a reminder of the Angel Gabriel coming to announce the incarnation to Mary, but also to all mankind . . . to "us." I find it funny how in English, the name Angelus, if divided to "Angel-us," can be another reminder of what the prayer is about: the "angel" announcing to "us" the news of the Incarnation.

Beyond a mere English play on the Latin name, I was also thinking about the three verses we pray in the first half of the prayer. They are three statements, taken directly from scripture. Each one reveals something particular about Mary.

"The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary."
Here, we affirm Mary's dignity even before Jesus was in her womb. The angel called her "full of grace" (kecharitomene in the Greek manuscripts). Mary, we affirm, wasn't simply a woman with some grace, she was full of grace. The Church has understood from early on that Mary was holy--so holy, in fact, that eventually the Church understood well enough to dogmatically define that Mary was conceived free of Original Sin (this is the Immaculate Conception). As Jesus is the New Adam, she is the New Eve. Adam and Eve were created without sin, but they fell. Similarly, Jesus and Mary were sinless from the first moment of their conception. All other humans inherit Original Sin from Adam and Eve, but God protected Mary so that she would be an even more fitting vessel to contain Our Lord. Obviously Jesus, being God, also never had any sin. Mary, even before her connection to Jesus, was model servant of God. That was all the more evident in her acceptance of the responsibility to bear God:

"Behold the handmaid of the Lord."
Mary said yes to God. Granted, at first she was confused and wondered how God was going to make her (an engaged, but unmarried woman) the mother of the Son of the Most High [c.f. Ibid. 31-34], but she didn't doubt. She merely stated: "I am God's servant. I'll do whatever He wants." [c.f. Ibid. 38]. We honor Mary for being open to God's will and saying yes. Her yes was that which allowed our Savior a womb in which He could grow, be nourished and a mother from whose flesh He would take His.

"And the Word became Flesh."
Mary's yes was the opening of the gate of salvation. In fact one of her titles is "Gate of Heaven." Mary actually housed God within her womb. She is the ark of the New Covenant. She was already holy, but this makes her even more holy. No other person in all of history had such an intimate relationship with God. Mary is due honor as the particular human vessel through whom Jesus came into the world.

So Mary is due honor both: as a woman born sinless (and remaining sinless), as a woman who says yes to God's plan, and as the woman who actually bore God in her womb.

This event is special. It is worth contemplation. That is why the Church prays it three times a day. The Incarnation is the moment when, God took on the flesh of man, His greatest creation, in order to redeem all of mankind and renew all of creation. Jesus, the God-man (100% God and 100% human in one person), loved us so much that He deigned to lower Himself to the point of becoming one of us and eventually suffering and dying as a sacrifice to buy us back from the punishment which our sins deserve. God's infinite mercy is available to all of us, no matter how badly we have rejected Him--just look at what great lengths He went through to make that mercy available to us! The Angelus is a great reminder of that mercy, that love . . . and it is a great reminder to honor Our Lady, who was so instrumental in that love and mercy being made available to us. She, in turn, encourages us to look to her Son and tells us: "do whatever He tells you." [John 2:5] I encourage you, to deepen your value for Our Lord's Incarnation, to develop a habit of praying the Angelus devoutly.


The text of the prayer has numerous translations from the Latin original into English. Here is the one I pray:

V. The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.
R. And she conceived by the Holy Spirit.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

V. Behold the handmaid of the Lord.
R. Be it done unto me according to Thy word.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

V. And the Word became Flesh.
R. And dwelt amongst us.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

V. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray:

Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts, that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ Thy Son was made known by the message of an Angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection. Through the same Christ Our Lord.

Amen.

Here is Gentileschi's depiction of the annunciation--perhaps my favorite (a great piece to use when contemplating this holy event).


Contemplating the Incarnation,
- Casey

Saturday, June 19, 2010

All These Things Will Be Given You

" . . . all these things will be given you . . ." So often, we have the tendency to look at this part of yesterday's Gospel reading as though Jesus is saying "I'm going make your life cushy and easy; just let me give you everything." This is particularly prevalent in the "Health & Wealth" preachers ("believe in Jesus and you'll be cured of your sicknesses and become independently wealthy"). We too often, however, forget to read (and understand) the first half of the sentence: "seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness."

Yes, God wants us to trust Him and His providence for our lives, but He also wants us to be seeking Him and His righteousness, drawing ever closer to Him and living in a righteous manner. Augustine comments on this:

The kingdom of God and His righteousness is our good which we ought to make our end. But since in order to attain this end we are militant in this life, which may not be lived without supply of these necessaries, He promises, "These things shall be added unto you." That He says, "first," implies that these are to be sought second not in time, but in value; the one is our good, the other necessary to us. For example, we ought not to preach so that we may eat, for so we should hold the Gospel as of less value than our food; but we should therefore eat so that we may preach the Gospel. But if we "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness," that is, set this before all other things, and seek other things for the sake of this, we ought not to be anxious lest we should lack necessaries; and therefore He says, "All these things shall be added unto you;" that is, of course, without being a hindrance to you: that you may not in seeking them be turned away from the other, and thus set two ends before you.
- Golden Chain 3624


The Kingdom of God and His righteousness are our goal and ultimate end. Yet, while we are on this earth, we need things of this earth to survive (i.e. food, clothing, shelter, etc.). In this passage Jesus is encouraging us not to get too focused on those things. We are supposed to be focussed primarily on the Kingdom and on living virtuously (righteously, persevering in charity despite the great temptations toward uncharitable action). We are not to worry about our bodily needs (but we are also not to ignore them). We are to be focussed on living righteously so that we may one day hear those great words: "Welcome into the kingdom, my beloved servant." What we need to worry about is: "Am I living my whole life the way God wants me to live? Does God approve of the motivations, intentions, and execution of my actions? Do I live in a manner that comports with the truth, with reality, with the way God designed people to live in this universe?"

Monday, June 14, 2010

Requiescat in Pace: G.K. Chesterton

Hopefully someday we may see June 14th as St. Gilbert's Day. G.K. Chesterton died on this day in 1936.



Sunday, June 13, 2010

Good Liturgy Matters

It has come more and more to my attention lately just how much good liturgy matters. The other day a man brought to me a question. He was worried about his 13 year-old son who was being invited by his friends to their non-denominational community service. He was worried that his son would be allured by the excitement of their services. He wondered what we can do to keep people like his son in the Church.

Let me begin by stating that this is a good concern. Not all communities are the same. Only at Mass in the Catholic Church (and Orthodox Churches) do we offer the form of worship that God Himself gave us. In them, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is made present and re-offered to the Father. Only in these liturgies do the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus. Only in these liturgies are we following Jesus' command to "do this" (that is, consecrate bread and wine into His Body and Blood) "in memory of Him." Every community that calls itself "Christian" has elements of the Church, but the fullness of the Church only subsists in the Catholic Church. This man is seriously concerned about his son. He fears that his son might be falling away from this fullness because of the exciting services of the other denominations.

I assured him that what is needed is a firm grounding in the truth. His son may be attracted by flashing lights, fast-beated music, people-centered gatherings, etc., but these things are fleeting. People are drawn to them because these things can be entertaining. They are what our society holds up as important and interesting, but they are empty. People may be attracted to them at first, but they do not last because they don't draw us into something that is an infinitely deep well: eternal Truth. We don't go to Church in order to be entertained, we go to worship God in the way He, Himself, gave us. We do this because God is worthy of worship and this is the only form of worship that is really adequate. By participating in the sacrifice of the Mass and receiving Holy Communion, we are literally united to God and each other through the bond of the sacrament of the Eucharist. This is what makes us the Church, the Body of Christ. We become His Body by re-offering and consuming His Body. The Church has, over the centuries, cultivated that which is best in the human element of Her liturgy to highlight and draw us deeper into this divine part of Her liturgy. The Church passes down this patrimony of liturgy and it is not to be disregarded in favor of a more "entertaining" liturgy.

Today, there are many people who think that the Church must change Her liturgy to be more like the non-denominational communities. I can't count the number of times I've heard ideas that we should be more "up-beat," "contemporary," or something of the like. This makes me sad because I know that this mentality has pervaded much of the Church and many people who call themselves "liturgists" have been taken by this type of thought. Just recently, I have been waking up to realize why it is that I knew so little about my faith while I was growing up. There were many factors, that is true, but the more I have been experiencing lost elements of the Church's liturgical patrimony (Gregorian chant, incense, the Ad Orientem posture, good Church architecture, etc.), the more I see that I wasn't being drawn into eternal truth as well as I could have been. These elements of good liturgy are all much more effective (than many contemporary rejections of our patrimony) in teaching the faithful about God and conforming us to Him (and all of reality) through our worship.

If you want people to take the Church seriously, I think that is has to start with good liturgy. We must celebrate it in the most reverent fashion we can. The most reverent way to worship is by obedience to the Church and Her official liturgical documents, all of which encourage the use of those things which make us distinctively Catholic. Architecturally, this means (among many things) having the tabernacle, altar and crucifix as the focal point of the Church--we should be concentrating on them, not on ourselves, nor on the priest. Musically, this means chanting the Mass parts and chanting the antiphons instead of replacing them with hymns.
"All other things being equal, Gregorian chant holds pride of place because it is proper to the Roman Liturgy."
- GIRM 41

There are many other elements of the Catholic Mass that are particularly Catholic (incense, bells, kneeling, etc.). We need to not compromise on these things. The Mass is something other than secular life. The elements that people often try to bring into the Mass from other communities are secular things. We should be trying to keep the Mass from being watered-down by such elements.

Too often, in many of our parishes, the Mass has been considerably watered down. People are not being drawn in to contemplate eternal truths. Often they're not even being fed deep truths from the pulpit. The whole liturgy should be drawing us in with these time-tested elements contained within Catholic patrimony.

When the man approached me with his concern, it was in the context of catechesis, so my first thought was to talk to him about the necessity of teaching the uncompromising truth in our catechetics classes and throughout the whole of our lives with everything we do--particularly in going to Eucharistic adoration and reverencing Jesus in the Eucharist by genuflecting when we come into His presence and crossing ourselves when we pass His houses. I didn't think much about it at the time, but it has been more and more on my mind since we talked that I should have really said more about stressing good liturgy. I also should have mentioned that he should be careful in his home life of that on which he places importance. If he places importance on flashy entertainment in the home, his son will be even more susceptible to be drawn into a "worship" that includes such entertainment pieces, but that is a post for another time.

Striving for ever greater fidelity to God through His Church and Her worship,
- Casey

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Opening Post

Greetings from a new blog. Some of you may have followed my old blog over on MSN; some of you may have read my notes on Facebook; some of you may have just stumbled across this blog. I hope to (continue to) inspire all readers toward a greater love for the Truth and assist them all in pursuing it. I write from within the heart of the Catholic Church--the only institution that God Himself has established, the only institution with a divine backing to guarantee that Her doctrines comport with the Truth of reality itself. Truth and reality find their source in God. The Catholic Church is inspired by God to know Him and present what it knows about Him (and consequently, all of reality) to mankind so that men will have a better understanding of how things really are. The Church also is charged with sanctifying and governing mankind to help men be more conformed to God and hopefully to be united with Him in eternal happiness. In this venture, I wish to be a beacon, pointing the way to the Truth by commenting in unison with the patrimony of wisdom which the Church has cultivated over the past 2000 years. Out of love for my fellow men and love of the Truth, I wish to present what I know about the Truth, so that all may share it as a truly common good.

God bless you,
- Casey Truelove

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