Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Ready for Christmas?

"Are you ready for Christmas?" You might have heard this question as much as I have during the past few days. Nothing wrong with the question, certainly, but what does it mean? It is not the same as the question, "are you ready for Church?" which parents might ask their children as they are getting ready to leave the house. That question refers primarily to one's attire and such. "Are you ready for Christmas?" refers to whether you have bought gifts and other things that pertain to a household celebration of the day.

Yet, it can also refer to one's personal and spiritual readiness for the Christmas celebration (which is the point of Advent!). As in, "are you prepared to give yourself, body and soul, to the Lord in your Christmas celebration?" How many people do you think mean that when the question is asked? Right; probably not many. Yet, of all the things that we as Catholics need to get ready for Christmas, our soul is definitely the most significant; is it not?

So here we are on the last day before Christmas; Advent is about to end. Did you do what you were supposed to do? If someone asks you "are you ready for Christmas?" can you answer "yes" in regard to the spiritual dimension of that question? The best way to determine your answer is to ask ourselves how we are supposed to give ourselves to the Lord at Christmas. Do you know how? Have you spent some time asking about it, or trying to study it (just to make sure you are getting it right)?

There are two ways that we are able to "give ourselves" to the Lord at Christmas: liturgically and personally. When we give ourselves liturgically to the Lord, it is done firstly in the entire Mass, just by being present. Yet, it is also done at a certain point in the Mass. When the priest says "Lift up your hearts" that is the technical point when the people offer themselves to Christ. They "lift up their hearts" as a representative act of lifting up their whole selves to Him. Knowing that Christ will not accept us if we come to Him cherishing our sin and refusing to repent of it, we have to make sure that is not the case. Therefore, what we offer to Him must be pure and holy.

If someone comes to the Lord who refuses to turn away from sinful behavior, and willingly avoids the sacrament of confession, then his "offering" is not going to be accepted by God. Similarly, if someone goes to confession, but is "fudging" by not really planning on stopping whatever sin was confessed, then he is not truly penitent, and thus is also not in a state of grace. Those who come to the Lord outside of a state of grace are not in proper communion with Him (this is why they should not receive the Eucharist until they properly go to confession).

There is also a second way in which we are to give ourselves to the Lord at Christmas. This is done in a personal manner, and is primarily (though not exclusively) done in a family celebration of Christmas (i.e. when the family gathers to enjoy a special feast and open gifts). At that time you can participate in these things entirely for a selfish reason, or for a godly reason. The selfish reason would say, "I like this, so I'm doing it"; the godly reason would say, "God wants me to celebrate Christmas and enjoy doing so, therefore I will enjoy this for His glory".

What will you be doing in your Christmas celebration this year? Will it be for your personal benefit alone? Will you go to Mass because the Church says you have to (and it does say that, in case you did not know it!) and then head home to enjoy the "real fun"? If so, then you are not truly giving yourself, in holiness, to the Lord. Make this Christmas the best ever. Make this Christmas a time where you can truly be concerned--before all else--on the gift of yourself to our Divine Savior. Make this Christmas all about Christ; then you can really enjoy it.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

"Indiscriminately presenting oneself to receive Holy Communion"

"Presenting oneself to receive Holy Communion should be a conscious decision, based on a reasoned judgment regarding one's worthiness to do so, according to the Church's objective criteria, asking such questions as: "Am I in full communion with the Catholic Church? Am I guilty of grave sin? Have I incurred a penalty (e.g., excommunication, interdict) that forbids me to receive Holy Communion? Have I prepared myself by fasting for at least an hour?" The practice of indiscriminately presenting oneself to receive Holy Communion, merely as a consequence of being present at Mass, is an abuse that must be corrected" (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, 2004).

Notice that he said "an abuse" and that it "must be corrected". I have not seen much correction going on, and the stories in the news recently about politicians and judges who are in grave sin and still presenting themselves to receive communion show that they either have not been corrected, or they merely do not care (I am not sure which is worse). So then, some correction needs to occur (yes, I know I have spoken about this many times before on this blog) and one of the things that needs to be corrected is the common habit of spiritual presumption.

Presumption is an awful habit that seems to have inserted itself into the very fiber of many Catholics. The poor understanding of the boundaries of Holy Communion is likely the result of decades of bad catechesis, but the tendency to go light on one's personal spiritual health is the result of something far worse. Although I cannot be certain of it in every instance, I have met a number of people who have a presumptuous attitude toward their faith who also were not properly disciplined as a child.

I am not advocating beating children -- just to be clear (it is sad that I have to point that out, but that is the day and age we live in). I am, however, advocating proper discipline as outlined in the Scriptures in many places (read the book of Proverbs and you cannot miss it!). There is not a magical formula for discipline, but if the child is not deterred from the sinful behavior (even in his younger years) then he will always take the chance that he can get away with it. Once that type of thinking has rooted itself in the child's mind, then he will be presumptuous about all of his behavior.

The result of this is obvious. "I'm really not that bad, so why shouldn't I get communion every time I come to Mass?" "What does my own personal sin have to do with it?" "Isn't it an obligation to receive communion at every Mass?" "Who are you to tell me I can't take communion?" Few will say these types of comments in public unless provoked (usually by a faithful priest like those godly brothers of mind you have probably read about in the news), but quite a few parishioners in the pews actually do think exactly like this.

I pray that I never again will have to say to someone at the communion rail, "no, you may not receive". I did do it one time years ago to someone who informed me before Mass that she was a practicing sodomette and was not going to repent (I warned her not to present herself for communion, but she did not agree). If it ever does happen, I will not enjoy it, and I will certainly be concerned about the backlash that may occur, but that will not stop me from doing what is right in those instances (having written this, I pray that no one will come to one of my parishes and do this just to cause trouble--but it is certainly possible in this corrupt society).

Whatever others do, I encourage each of you my readers to be certain to do some self-examination every time before receiving communion. That is one of the most important prayers and meditations that you can do before Mass ("Lord, please let me know if there is any reason that I should not receive the Sacrament today"). There is no shame in abstaining from committing a grave sin (which is what it is to receive communion when not in a state of grace). There is much shame in ignoring sin, however, and forming a callous heart toward the sacred things of God. Prepare yourself; ready yourself; and then be able to give yourself fully, and in all holiness, to the Lord.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

St. Damasus, Latin, and English

Yesterday (December 11th) was the feast day of St. Damasus. He was Pope from 366 to 384. He was also the Pope who authorized the first official translation of the Scriptures into Latin, and changed the liturgical language of the Church from Greek to Latin. Yes, that is correct. The official language of the Church was Greek for the first 340 years (about 14 generations!) of Church history. No, he did not change it because he received a revelation from God that told him that Latin was inherently superior; he changed it because almost no one spoke Greek any longer and very few people understood it.

The need for a liturgical change was fairly obvious to most. It appears that some had already been translating the liturgies into Latin so that people could understand it (there does not seem to have been any specific prohibition against doing so). Over time, the issue became such a concern, that Pope Damasus decided to enforce it everywhere, and thus Latin (understood by all in the Catholic Church at the time) took over from Greek (for at least the western Church).

There is an important value to having a single language that all Masses are said in. The obvious reason is that everyone knows exactly what to expect when they go to Mass. The common language at the time was Latin, so that was the natural choice for the language of the liturgies that the Church was using. We must note, however, that the "official language" of the Church and the "official liturgical language" of the Church are not exactly the same thing. There did not really need to be an "official language" of the Church since most people already spoke Latin at the time. In fact, the concept of an "official language" did not even arise until many years later when the Church had spread quite far and wide and lesser and lesser people knew Latin.

Whether people realize this or not, it is better to have an official Church language be a "dead" language. A "dead language" (i.e. unspoken as a native language) is unchanging (spoken languages are "flexible") and therefore unites everyone in one original source of communication. When you send out a document with an "official language" then you only need to send out that one document, and everyone can then translate it into their native tongue; if translated properly, then there is no question as to the original meaning. This is especially important when you need to use technical terms in that "official language". Yet, that is not the issue that was at hand in the fourth century when Pope Damasus made Latin the "official liturgical language". He was aiming, back then, at enabling everyone to understand the words of the Mass. The reasons for the use of Latin in the fourth century are unrelated to the issues of our day.

This does not mean, however, that we cannot learn from the choices that St. Damasus made in that time. In fact, having a single language (which all understand) for the Mass would be a much better situation for us today than to have the Mass translated into everyone's common speech. In our current situation (especially when some parishes have a Spanish Mass or a Vietnamese Mass, etc.) you sometimes do not have any idea what language the Mass is going to be said in when you visit another parish. Yet, we do not, today, have a single language that everyone understands. Even English (which is understood worldwide) would not qualify as anything of a universally spoken language. (And most are unaware that the Novus Ordo can be (and should be occasionally) said entirely in Latin!)

So then, how do we resolve this odd situation? Do we have everyone learn Latin so that we can return to having the Mass said only in Latin? That is one option, but it is a seemingly impossible task. I myself do not have the solution, but one needs to be found. Mass said in the vernacular may seem like a resolution to differing languages, but we can see what the fruits of it really are by just looking at the state of the Church today. Whichever way we go with the situation, we must acknowledge that comprehension of the language for the Mass is not a small thing (it was not a small thing to St. Damasus!). Having the Ordinary Form of the Mass in so many different languages is not exactly the same thing that St. Pope Damasus was aiming at.

Yes, he wanted people to understand, but he also wanted uniformity. I do not know all the other languages that the Novus Ordo is translated into, but the English translation is remarkably poor. Aside from the vast number of grammatical and punctuation errors (yes, I am serious), the language is so stilted and vague at times to be almost impossible to understand the point of some of the prayers without diagramming the sentences (and even that is not always helpful). If the goal was understanding the Mass better, the Church failed in this one. Vague language, bad grammar, and poor word choice do not help anyone to understand what is being said.

My purpose here is not to make a pitch for the Divine Worship Mass, but I cannot leave it out. The English is specific, clear, and (usually) more concise than the English of the Ordinary Form. In fact, the only options for the Mass at this time, if we are concerned about precision in the words of the Liturgy, are the Traditional Latin Mass (which is hindered by the fact that most who attend Latin Mass do not know Latin fluently--please do not tell me about how you do not need to know Latin to participate in the Mass; I've heard the arguments already) or the Divine Worship Mass (which is what is used in the Ordinariates).

I do not believe it is an accident that the first liturgy in the Western Church to be without a Latin source is the English liturgy of Divine Worship. Our Lady's Dowry is still active. The English Patrimony is protected by the Holy Spirit. Language is important, and we need to care about what the words are that we offer to God in the Mass. Everything we give to God should be the best possible. Nothing should be "dumbed down" or cheapened. How we pray determines how we live; let us not compromise on this one. St. Damasus pray for us, please!

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Casual or Casualty?

I often need to describe to people the difference between reverence and irreverence by making a comparison with various events in our lives. I used to use an illustration where I would ask people "you wouldn't want to go to a formal event, or meet a king, without being dressed nicely, right?" Years ago, everyone would say "of course not". Over time, that diminished more and more, and an increasing number of people began to say "I don't care what others think, this is me, so you can take it or leave it". At first it was just depressing to see that people really had so little respect for themselves or others around them. Lately though, this has become the majority who respond this way and it more than depressing.

A deeply selfish sense of disrespect has spread throughout our society like a disease. You can see it in more ways that I want to recount here. What drives this attitude is not always the same for each person, but it is always tied to a prideful heart and mind that says "I matter first, and everything else is insignificant" (rarely do I actually hear people say this, but I have heard it a few times -- and sometimes from those who claim to be Christian!).

How casual is too casual? The most common answer to that question would be different in our day than it was just 70 years ago. In 1950 men went to a party in a suit and tie. Go back a few hundred years and it would different again. I am not implying that standards are completely relative, but rather that our definition of "casual" will change over time. It is self evident that we live, today, in a radically casual age. Just look at the most popular styles of clothing in stores; yes, there are still formal things being sold, but they are often considered "stuffy" (and some clothing stores do not carry anything considered "dressy").

Going back to the point of my old illustration that I mentioned above: there are a few things that are just basic courtesy when I comes to formality. Firstly, how we dress shows whether we respect ourselves; secondly, how we dress shows the respect that we have for others; and thirdly, how we dress shows our respect for God. Yes, that third one may surprise a few people, but it is true. After all, God is the One Who created us, and He is the One Who told us to cover our nakedness. This means that we should take into consideration (at the very least) that He cares how we clothe ourselves.

God made clothing for Adam and Eve; He gave numerous rules for the priests of the Old Covenant for how they were to dress (which is why we have rules for Catholic priest's clothing), and there are quite a few places where rules for clothing (usually for women) show up in the New Covenant (cf. 1 Cor 11:4ff, 1 Tim 2:9, 1 Pet 3:3). God cares how we dress ourselves; we cannot consider it a small matter.

Drawing from this, we can see that of all the places where we go, we should be concerned with how we dress when in God's presence. In spite of the foolish answers given by many today, yes, we should care how we dress in the presence of a high dignitary, and therefore, we should care how we dress in the presence of our Almighty Lord. The Mass is certainly not a fashion show, but it is a place where we should show some basic self-respect. This implies that things like shorts, flip flops, and shirts with pictures and advertisements are never proper for the worship of God (and though it is not a piece of clothing -- chewing gum in Church is comparable to the most disrespectful clothing imaginable [and it counts as breaking the fast before communion!]). These things are what we call "casual".

It is interesting to note that the word "casual" and "casualty" both come from the same Latin root that means "by chance" or "out of control". A person who dresses casually at a formal event is lacking in self-control and cannot be relied upon. A person who dies (a "casualty") came to their end by an event outside themselves and was not in control of their situation. In other words, a lack of self-control in one's dress reveals a deeper lack of self-control in their hearts. One who wishes to express self-control and trustworthiness will dress appropriately to the situation (for the sake of one's own personal convictions as well as the expression of concern for others).

When a society starts to go off the rails by rejecting the worship of Almighty God, then it will also reject reverence of any kind. A lack of reverence in clothing will always exemplify one's lack of deeper reverence toward God Himself. It will also show itself in lack of respect in how he speaks to others (i.e. disrespectfully), whether he uses proper titles for others (e.g. sir, ma'am, officer, Mr. President, etc.). It will show itself in table manners (presuming they were ever taught in childhood).

It is not surprising that I have never seen someone who comes to Mass all decked out in "casualness" to show genuine reverence. They tend to be resistant to genuflecting, or speaking in quiet tones while in the Church. They are often the same ones who "lounge" in the pew during Mass and show signs of boredom about five minutes into the Mass. At the same time, those who choose to dress more respectfully are also the ones who are more attentive during the Mass and show a clear desire to respect the things of God in every action. The outward influences the inward; always!

What is your goal? Reverence? Respect? Or is it being comfortable and casual? You do not need to spend a ton of money to look nice for the Lord, but you do need to have a reverent heart in order to be concerned about how you approach God. It is not to show to others that you "look nice" so that you can get a few compliments, but rather to show to God that you respect Him and want to present yourself, consistently, with respect and reverence to honor Him. Let us leave casual dress for its proper place and stop showing disrespect for God and the things of God. Let us love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and body.