Reflecting on 21 Centuries of Faith

Tag Archives: Traditions

Vivifying our Spiritual Senses

Sacred Scripture provides a number of reasons for fasting. They include: an expression of mourning (2 Samuel 1:12), an expression of contrition (1 Kings 21:27), an expression of solidarity with the poor and the hungering for justice (Isaiah 58:6-7), a preparation for a spiritual mission (Matthew 4:1-11), a way to awaken a spiritual hunger for the Lord (Matthew 9:14-15), a way to mortify one’s appetites and achieve greater self-mastery, and as a way to participate in the passion of Christ (Colossians 1:24).

Some have remarked that due to his emphasis on the goodness of the body, Venerable John Paul II’s Theology of the Body would be against many traditional Lenten practices such as fasting, abstinence, bodily penance, etc. That would be untrue. JPII did not exalt the body but provided the context of the body in relation to the whole human person. He provided an anthropological framework to understand its intended place in God’s plan. He taught us that in the salvific plan of the Father, which culminated in the life of Jesus and the sacrifice of Christ crucified, that the body can be redeemed in light of the paschal mystery. Finally, he summarized the Church’s teaching on eschatological man – the purpose of the body in the beatific vision. His own life attests to his belief in mortification – even utilizing the ancient practice of “the discipline” or flagellation.

The world, having practically made dialectical materialism the universal religion, rejects mortification and, for the sake of this post, fasting as unnatural because the spirit does not exist. On the flip side, others see fasting as a necessary means to free the spirit. However, the Christian view of fasting and other penitential practices is not rooted in a suspicion of the body or a Manichean notion of liberating the spirit from the body. It is rooted in the truth that since the fall of humanity, the human being suffers from concupiscence and, thus, the flesh continues to assert itself against the intellect and the will in order to reign supreme by dictating its desires and actions.

But it was not so in the beginning! As JPII teaches us, we were in a virginal state – a state of perfect unity with the body, mind and spirit. The Father intended that the flesh gather sensory information, present it to the intellect and then, the intellect would inform the will on the best decision to make. Since the fall, the flesh attempts to override the intellect and will with a flood of emotions which in the beginning were meant to confirm and support our decisions. Due to our wounded humanity, we are no longer integrated and the various powers of the flesh and the spirit daily wage war on each other. Christ, though, won for us the grace that “re-integrates” us. We were saved for holiness and wholeness.

We must cooperate with grace, though. That means we have certain ascetical disciplines to assist us in this area of re-integration. Among all our ascetical practices, fasting holds pride of place. The Catechism teaches us that we fast to

prepare us for the liturgical feasts. (CCC 2043)

Only a person who knows how to fast understands the feast. It also teaches us that sensory and bodily mortification

helps us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart. (CCC 2043)

If feeling our hunger can awaken that sleeping giant known as the spiritual senses, then never experiencing hunger emaciates and darkens them.

Unfortunately, we must admit that we live in a world of extremes. It is easy to see that most do not fast except when mandated. The Lenten fast has become more of a time to give up chocolate or coffee. I know they could be good mortifications but, typically, once Easter morning arrives we find that all the bad habits are back on the menu! Additionally, we live in a time fraught with eating disorders. Fasts and bodily mortification can be a challenge because they are an excuse to lose weight or avoid what you didn’t want anyway. Men, we really need to key an eye on this for the sake of our sons and daughters (wives too!). St. Francis de Sales addresses this when he speaks of moderation being the key to a disciplined life:

At all times a constant habitual moderation is better than occasional excessive abstinence, alternated with great indulgence. The discipline has a surprising effect in rousing the taste for devotion, if used moderately. The body is greatly subdued by the use of the hair shirt, but it is not fit for ordinary people, married persons, those who are delicate, or who have to bear considerable fatigue. On certain days of special penitence it may be used, subject to the counsel of a judicious confessor. (Source: Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III: Containing counsels concerning the practice of virtue, 23. On Bodily Mortification)

That being said, there is a place for fasting and it remains a staple of our ascetical tradition. A balanced approach – with a slight edge – may be found in St. Peter of Damaskos book, Treasure of Divine Knowledge in the chapter entitled, The Seven Forms of Bodily Discipline:

The second form of bodily discipline consists in moderate fasting. We should eat once a day and then not to the point of satiety. We should eat one kind of simple and readily accessible food – if possible, the kind of food that we do not relish particularly. In this way we can overcome gluttony, greed and desire, and live without distraction. But we should not refuse any kind of food completely, lest thereby we wrongly reject things that, being created by God, are ‘wholly good and beautiful’(Gen. 1:31). Nor should we gulp everything down at once, indulgently and without restraint; but each day we should eat one kind of thing, with self-control. We should use all things for the glory of God, and we should not refuse anything on the grounds that it is evil, as the accursed heretics do. We may drink wine when appropriate: in old age, sickness and cold weather it is most helpful, but must be drunk only in small quantities. When we are young and in good health, and the weather is warm, water is better, though we should drink it as little as possible. For thirst is the best of all bodily disciplines. (Source: Philokalia, Vol. III, p. 90)

The Church also has built checks and balances to manage extremes. Sundays are never fast days…nor are Solemnities. Some would say that I am just making excuses for a lesser Catholic to set aside the fast on those days and not living the “spirit” of Lent. I am okay with that. I have been called worse. But our Mater et Magistra knows what she is doing. She recognizes that fasting takes a toll on the body and that the body is prone to extremes. Thus, by relaxing the fast on Sundays and Solemnities, the body repairs itself and weans itself from those indulgences instead of going cold turkey (which 99 percent of the time does not work).

More importantly, it provides a litmus tests for those who are prone to extremes and scrupulosity. It ensures they have not crossed the line. If you cannot relax the fast then something is disordered or potentially could become disordered. Most hagiographers applaud St. Francis of Assisi for his delicate care of St. Clare. In directing her, he discovered that her fasting had become twisted so he forbade her to fast. The obedience to his command became her fast. We should also remember that St. Francis, at the end of his life, recognized his abuses and repented for the harsh disciplines against “brother ass”. This valuable discipline needs to once again become part and parcel for our Catholic lives. Dads, you can help by giving witness to the power of fasting and help moderate it for your family. With your help, we can once again discover the power of the Lenten fast and truly experience the joy of the resurrection at the end of our 40-day journey.

Happy Malasada Day!

WHAT!?! You have never heard of a malasadas? That is unacceptable, you have been deprived! Let me explain…

To most of the Catholic world, today is Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday. Each name for the day prior to Ash Wednesday has a different connotation and reason for celebration. Fat Tuesday is celebrated by all Catholics and some Protestants. The name predated the Reformation and recalls the tradition of of eating special rich foods before the fasting season of Lent.

Shrove Tuesday comes from the Old English word Shrive meaning to obtain absolution for ones sins or to repent. It is the preparation that the Church encourages in order to enter into the season of Lent ready for battle against the world, flesh and the devil (Yes, he does exist). It is also appropriate for those individuals, cities and countries countries who are more…well, rowdy…during their Mardi Gras celebration. In New Orleans and Brazil, massive lines for confession after a week of partying is not uncommon.

For the Portuguese who live on the island of Madeira (my peeps), it is traditional to eat malasadas. It is basically the Portuguese version of the doughnut. Krispy Creams and Dunkin Donuts – HAH! – peasant food to the Portuguese. Large batches of these warm succulent yeast balls, deep-fried in oil till they are golden brown, and then coated with sugar (Mmmmmmmm!) were made to use up all of the butter and sugar prior to Lent.

The only place to buy your malasadas from in Hawai'i.

This early 1800s tradition also made its way to Hawai’i (also my peeps), who, in fact, have named Fat Tuesday, Malasada Day. I have extremely fond memories growing up and gorging myself on malasadas. Don’t shake your head in disgust. This was an act of charity. Someone must be pressed into service to assist in using up all the butter and sugar from the plantations prior to Lent. I was just assisting in our Lenten preparation. Hey! Don’t hate the player, hate the game. :)

Being that my wife is Croatian and Welsh, I need to address the traditions handed on to her through the Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Today, is also known as is known as Fastnact Day. The Fastnacht is a fried potato dough that is served with dark corn syrup. Wikipedia, I cannot believe I am using it, shares that in

John Updike‘s novel Rabbit, Run, the main character remembers a Fosnacht Day tradition in which the last person to rise from the table would be teased by the other family members and called a Fosnacht.

Even prior to the reform of the Second Vatican Council, there was an on-going liturgical reform at the turn of the century concerning Lenten observance. For Latin Rite Catholics, the pre-Lenten preparation included the removal of all dairy and rich ingredients such as eggs, milk, and sugar, before the fasting season of the 40 days of Lent. The liturgical fasting  emphasized eating plainer food and refraining from food that would give pleasure: In many cultures, this means no meat, dairy, or eggs.

Additionally, one might even understanding the nastier and more pagan side of Mardi Gras with the tradition of rampant acts of carnal knowledge. Why? Also in the Latin Rite for a number of centuries, the Lenten fast included marital relations.

So there you have it. Three key traits of this day:

  1. Eating something fried and lots of it (preferably malasadas);
  2. Going to confession; and
  3. Preparing to begin your Lenten observance.

Have a great day and use today as a call to arms. Tomorrow, we go to battle!

Kneeling, Kneelers, Altar Rails, and Cardinal Arinze

Love the way Cardinal Arinze answers questions. His clarity is profound. Lord, Please bring back the altar rails and restore the beautiful ecclesial architecture.

A Gentle Gesture of Loyalty

One of the most familiar liturgical gestures is the folded hands in prayer. Do you remember your First Holy Communion? Your mom, maybe your catechist or perhaps even Sr. Mary Michael of the Angels taught you to hold your hands. Hands clasp together pulled close to your heart fingers towards heaven to show your destination. Is that our tradition or a way to ensure that first communicants stand behave? While pious and picturesque, Pope Benedict XVI in Spirit of the Liturgy, shares a different form of the gesture deeply rooted in our history and tradition.

The Form

Specifically, the hands are joined and held straight, parallel with the floor – like an arrow of love shot straight out of the heart. The Holy Father explain this gesture’s origin:

This comes from the world of feudalism. The recipient of a feudal estate, on taking tenure, placed his joined hands in those of his lord – a wonderful symbolic act. I lay my hands in yours, allow yours to enclose mine. (The Spirit of the Liturgy, p. 204)

Master of the House

You might remember the BBC movies or those set in England in which the Lord of the house returned to the manor. All the servants  would be standing in a line outside for inspection (in real life they too would have their hands joined looking down). The Lord of the house never spoke to them – it was below his status – but if they were to continue in his employment, he would place his hands (in gloves of course) on the outside of their joined hands.

Master of Ceremonies

Even in some of our ancient liturgies, the priest, deacon, and/or subdeacon never audibly addressed the server. Instead, when service was needed, the Master of Ceremonies (to use a commonly understood term) would approach and place his hands on the outside of the server’s joined hands which was the server’s signal to assist.

This ancient sign has been preserved for centuries through the Rite of Ordination (Deacon and Priest). Liturgically, this gesture

is an expression of trust as well as fidelity. (The Spirit of the Liturgy, p. 204)

Just like the steward who is entrusted by their Lord with the care of his estate and all therein, so to the priest at ordination becomes a

steward of the mysteries of God (cf. 1 Cor 4:1), a good steward of God’s varied grace (cf. 1 Pet 4:10)…(The Spirit of the Liturgy, p. 204)

When was the last time you watched a Papal Liturgy? Have you ever noticed the Cardinals and Bishops as they are processing? They too join their hands pointing them straight ahead. Too be honest, for the longest time I thought they were either to old to point them up or just lazy (Yes, I have earned a significant amount of time in Purgatory).

So what is our take away from this gesture?

This, then, is what is meant when we join our hands to pray: we are placing our hands in his, and with our hands we place in his hands our personal destiny. Trusting in his fidelity, we pledge our fidelity to him. (The Spirit of the Liturgy, p. 204)

In our parish, I train the altar servers. We have incorporated this ancient gesture. Not only do they look good but we have linked their service to all those who have gone before them.

I hope the posts this week have helped you see the beautiful acts of love that the Lord has given us not only to express ourselves but reintegrate our heart, mind and body. As we approach the implementation of the third revision of the Roman Missal , may we strive to retrieve the meaning of our actions within the Divine Liturgy.

Chalice of Knowledge

When we talk about God, we typically use words like omnipotent, omniscient, all-merciful, etc. These descriptors are called attributes and we use them to understand God. Each one of these attributes is a “perfection and characteristic inherent to the Divine Substance”[1] which helps us to understand how the persons relate to each other as well as us.

Six of these attributes were traditionally symbolized in the hexagonal base of a chalice. Yep, that’s right – even the base of the chalice provides material for meditation. The six attributes connected to the sides or lobes of the base are:

  • Wisdom
  • Power
  • Mercy
  • Justice
  • Love
  • Majesty

So, next time the priest raises the chalice let the your heart and mind be absorbed in the attributes revealed in the beauty of the Eucharistic Lord.


[1] “Divine Attributes,” Catholic Online, http://www.catholic.org/encyclopedia/view.php?id=1233 (accessed February 18, 2011).

Expereincing Reconciliation with the Body of Christ

For modern Catholics, the Rite of Reconciliation is the sacramental act of entering the confessional, confessing one’s sins, receiving a penance, making an act of contrition, obtaining absolution, and leaving the confessional reconciled with the Living God. Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE THAT! What I am trying to say is hard to explain, but I’ll try.

I think if there was more public ceremony we might take it more seriously. Gone are the days of public penances (I would be forever on the liturgical chain gang) and with it the understanding of the effects of grave sin upon the community. Today, we approach sin and confession as if it is a private affair, and in a certain sense, it is. That being said, every sin is social and affects the Body of Christ – especially the grave ones.

I tripped over this video at Chant Blog that demonstrates the reception of penitents on Maundy Thursday in preparation for the Triduum celebration. The rite finds its origin in the diocese of Salisbury, England circa Eleventh Century. It is a rite filled with noble simplicity. To read more about these rites check out this pdf prepared by D.H. Frost entitled, Interpreting a medieval church through liturgy. Beneath the video is a translation of what is being chanted.

“Venite, venite, venite, filii; audite me : timorem Domini docebo vos.” (“Come, children, hearken to me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord.”) Notice the prostrations and even the bare feet. Then, the priest, with due reverence, leads and accompanies the penitent like a bride being introduced to her groom. Outstanding!

Novena for the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Day Eight

EIGHTH DAY

Bend the stubborn heart and will, melt the frozen warm the chill. Guide the steps that go astray!

The Gift of Wisdom

Embodying all the other gifts, as charity embraces all the other virtues, Wisdom is the most perfect of the gifts. Of wisdom it is written “all good things came to me with her, and innumerable riches through her hands.” It is the gift of Wisdom that strengthens our faith, fortifies hope, perfects charity, and promotes the practice of virtue in the highest degree. Wisdom enlightens the mind to discern and relish things divine, in the appreciation of which earthly joys lose their savor, whilst the Cross of Christ yields a divine sweetness according to the words of the Saviour: “Take up thy cross and follow me, for my yoke is sweet and my burden light.

Prayer

Come, O Spirit of Wisdom, and reveal to my soul the mysteries of heavenly things, their exceeding greatness, power and beauty. Teach me to love them above and beyond all the passing joys and satisfactions of earth. Help me to attain them and possess them for ever. Amen.

Our Father and Hail Mary ONCE.
Glory be to the Father SEVEN TIMES. 
Act of Consecration, Prayer for the Seven Gifts

Novena for the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Day Seven

SEVENTH DAY

Heal our wounds–our strength renews; On our dryness pour Thy dew, Wash the stains of guilt away.

The Gift of Counsel

The gift of Counsel endows the soul with supernatural prudence, enabling it to judge promptly and rightly what must done, especially in difficult circumstances. Counsel applies the principles furnished by Knowledge and Understanding to the innumerable concrete cases that confront us in the course of our daily duty as parents, teachers, public servants, and Christian citizens. Counsel is supernatural common sense, a priceless treasure in the quest of salvation. “Above all these things, pray to the Most High, that He may direct thy way in truth.”

Prayer

Come, O Spirit of Counsel, help and guide me in all my ways, that I may always do Thy holy will. Incline my heart to that which is good; turn it away from all that is evil, and direct me by the straight path of Thy commandments to that goal of eternal life for which I long.

Our Father and Hail Mary ONCE. Glory be to the Father SEVEN TIMES. 
Act of Consecration, Prayer for the Seven Gifts

Novena for the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Day Six

SIXTH DAY

If Thou take Thy grace away, nothing pure in man will stay, All his good is turn’d to ill.

The Gift of Understanding

Understanding, as a gift of the Holy Spirit, helps us to grasp the meaning of the truths of our holy religion BY faith we know them, but by Understanding we learn to appreciate and relish them. It enables us to penetrate the inner meaning of revealed truths and through them to be quickened to newness of life. Our faith ceases to be sterile and inactive, but inspires a mode of life that bears eloquent testimony to the faith that is in us; we begin to “walk worthy of God in all things pleasing, and increasing in the knowledge of God.”

Prayer

Come, O Spirit of Understanding, and enlighten our minds, that we may know and believe all the mysteries of salvation; and may merit at last to see the eternal light in Thy Light; and in the light of glory to have a clear vision of Thee and the Father and the Son. Amen.

Our Father and Hail Mary ONCE.
Glory be to the Father SEVEN TIMES. 
Act of Consecration, Prayer for the Seven Gifts

Novena for the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Day Four

FOURTH DAY

Thou in toil art comfort sweet, Pleasant coolness in the heat, solace in the midst of woe.

The Gift of Fortitude

The Gift of Fortitude By the gift of Fortitude the soul is strengthened against natural fear, and supported to the end in the performance of duty. Fortitude imparts to the will an impulse and energy which move it to under take without hesitancy the most arduous tasks, to face dangers, to trample under foot human respect, and to endure without complaint the slow martyrdom of even lifelong tribulation. “He that shall persevere unto the end, he shall be saved.”

Prayer

Come, O Blessed Spirit of Fortitude, uphold my soul in time of trouble and adversity, sustain my efforts after holiness, strengthen my weakness, give me courage against all the assaults of my enemies, that I may never be overcome and separated from Thee, my God and greatest Good. Amen.

Our Father and Hail Mary ONCE.
Glory be to the Father SEVEN TIMES.

Act of Consecration, Prayer for the Seven Gifts