The most difficult times can produce the greatest spiritual blessings. God truly knows just what we need at every moment!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

3rd Easter Sunday - A

Two hippies were walking down the street the other day.
Suddenly coming the opposite way they spotted a Catholic Priest.
They knew he was a priest because he was wearing a white Roman Collar.

The priest had his arm in a cast. As they drew near to each other one of the hippies said “Hey man, what happened to you?” The priest said “I slipped in the bathtub and broke my arm”.

The hippy replied “Sorry to hear that man, have a good day” and they moved on. Suddenly one hippy said to the other “Hey man, what’s a bathtub?” The other hippy replied “How should I know, I’m not Catholic.”

It used to be that you could tell Catholics apart from other people. Maybe when you saw a large family walking together – you thought – they must be Catholic. Or if you saw someone make the sign of the Cross – you immediately thought – they are Catholic. Or if you saw a cross or a scapular around someone’s neck – you thought – they are Catholic.

These things made Catholics easier to spot. Nowadays it is harder to identify a person as a Catholic. Over the past few years we seem to have made a concerted effort to blend in with the rest of society.

This has even carried over into our area of worship.

Let me ask you a question. Why did you come to Mass today? What was the main reason for you to be here? Is it really because you know that it is a sin to deliberately miss Mass and even if you didn’t want to come – you had to come anyway.

Is it because you want to join others and meet your friends at church? Or did you come to participate as best you can in the Mass, listen to the homily and be uplifted as best you can by the beautiful voices of the choir?

It seems over the years our reasons for coming to Mass have changed. In the world we live in today we are conditioned to being entertained. We turn on the TV to watch a show or a game – our primary intent is to be entertained – sometimes to relieve the boredom.

We go to hockey games and football games – again to be entertained. We go to the show, we attend the theatre – again to be entertained. In all of these things – we need to have something in them to appeal to our senses. Otherwise we would be bored.

What happens to us a church if the homily is boring – or if the singing is not the best. Do we leave the church bored or with a feeling of having wasted our time?

We have been conditioned to come to church to be entertained in a way. If our senses are not challenged then we lapse into boredom – even in church.

Let’s just look for a moment at what the Church teaches about why we come to Mass and what we should be doing when we are there.

First of all, the church teaches us that the Mass is the supreme prayer, the supreme act of Adoration. If this is the case then we need to look at what is Adoration. Adoration is praise. Praise is something we give to God – not because he needs it but because we need to give it.

At the Mass there are four types of prayer we need to use in order to properly participate in the Mass.

The first and foremost is Adoration – where we give praise to God.
The second is Contrition – where we review our lives and ask God for forgiveness for the times that we did not love Him or our neighbour.

The third is Thanksgiving where we thank God for the great gift of His Son who died on the Cross for us – while we were still sinners.

And the fourth prayer is our prayer of supplication where we ask God for the things we need – either temporal or spiritual. The graces we need to live holy lives.

You notice in all these prayers – we are directing our attention toward God. We are not sitting there being entertained.
We are actively participating in the Mass by responding to the prayers at the appropriate time as the priest celebrant moves us through the four types of prayer which constitute the Mass.

When we come to Mass do we actively participate in it by praying these four prayers.

If we are waiting to be entertained – we will end up bored. But if we participate in the prayers – in an active way – adoring and praising God through prayer and song, pleading with Him to forgive us our sins, thanking Him for His many gifts and asking Him to give us our daily bread, to heal us and our neighbour and to give us the graces to live good lives.

Are children taught this? Do they understand what is happening at the Mass? Do we recognize what is happening at the Mass. How Jesus comes to us first through His word -

And then through Holy Communion where He actually gives us His body and blood so that we might commune with him. So that we might become one with Him. As Catholics do we believe this? Do we recognize Him at the breaking of the bread?

If we do – how do we approach Him for Holy Communion – is it with reverence and adoration in our hearts – or has communion become for us merely a community meal – a symbol of Jesus – and we eat this meal simply in memory of Him and to express our unity with each other?

As older Catholics don’t we sometimes wonder what has happened to the great wonder and awe with which we used to approach the communion table? We weren’t allowed to touch the Host - only the priest celebrant could do that. We received the Lord on our tongue while kneeling down at the communion rail.

Somebody asked me the other day – when did this all change?

Of course we immediately think of Vatican II. Vatican II - the great council of the church which ended in 1965. A gathering of all the world’s bishops. A council which seems to have changed our Church forever. Or did it?
I grew up in the pre-Vatican II church. I got married just as the Council ended. I honestly don’t remember having any problem with the Latin Mass simply because we had a missal that had Latin on one side and English on the other. And we easily followed and responded.

I do remember that the churches were full and that you didn’t dare sit in a pew that belonged to another family. You could identify a priest or a sister because they wore religious garb.

During an RCIA session in the past someone asked me why do some people stand while others kneel during the consecration and why do some people take communion on the tongue while others receive it in the hand? Which way is the right way? Now, this is a legitimate question especially since this person is new to the faith and wants to know the reasons. How would you answer those questions?

I was about to answer when a Catholic in the group responded with “It’s because Vatican II changed all that”. I thought that was the right answer until I reviewed the documents of Vatican II and I was surprised by all the things we attribute to Vatican II that simply aren’t true.

Yes, many things changed after Vatican II but not all of them as a result of the teachings of Vatican II.

I’ll just briefly review a few of them. I think you may find them enlightening.

Communion on the hand. Where did this come from? Did Vatican II teach us that we should now receive communion in the hand. No, it did not. A dutch priest started to give communion in the hand instead of on the tongue because he felt that the people should receive on the hand like the priest did. The Vatican was shocked and forbade the practice but in open disobedience – the priest continued.

The habit spread like wildfire until the Vatican was forced to issue an indult (that is temporary special permission) which allows a bishop to give permission for communion to be given on the hand after proper catechesis has been given. The Vatican’s concern of course is that small particles of the host, each of which are the whole and complete Christ – would be brushed off the hands and onto the floor instead of being consumed. Even today the universal indult is still in place.

There is a reverent way to receive communion in the hand. You approach the minister - You make a slight reverence such as a bow of the head. You make your hands into a throne by placing them one on top of the other then you gently pick up the host and place it into your mouth. You then check your hands to make sure that no particles of the host remain on them. Is this the way you receive Holy Communion?

So much for the myth that Vatican II changed the way we receive Holy Communion.

Did Vatican II allow individual priests or people to change the liturgy, such as prayers, response, or posture during the Mass no matter what their reasons were?

No, it did not – in fact Vatican II taught the following “ no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority”. So why are some people standing and some people kneeling – I guess that’s a question for the bishops to answer. We all know that some people for health reasons cannot kneel.
So this does not apply to them.

Did Vatican II do away with Latin? No it did not. It in fact recommended that it be kept in parts of the Mass along with the vernacular and most especially in the music. In fact all the Vatican II documents as well as all encyclicals and official documents of the church continue to be distributed in Latin, because Latin is still and will remain the official language of the Church.

Did Vatican II do away with devotions such as Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and praying the Rosary?
No it did not – in fact it promoted and encouraged devotions explaining that devotions are not private things such as an apostolate but rather the prayer of the whole church and are to be greatly encouraged especially those promoted by the Holy See.

Did Vatican II break with the past and start a whole new church? No, it did not.
In fact Pope John the 23rd referred to the continuity and the link between the past councils such as the council of Trent and Vatican I.

Did Vatican II change the role of the laity and the clergy? No, it did not. In fact it went to great lengths to explain the necessary difference and similarities between the two. Interesting to note here that throughout the decree on the laity – there is not one mention of ministry.

Did Vatican II democratize the Church. No, it did not. It reaffirmed the power of the Pope to act on his own. It did explain that Bishops when they are in union with the Pope also take part in the Magesterium. But those Bishops or anyone else who speak on their own without being in union with the Pope have no authority to do so whatsoever.

The council taught the following “The college or body of bishops has for all that no authority unless united with the Roman Pontiff, Peter's successor, as its head, whose primatial authority, let it be added, over all, whether pastors or faithful, remains in its integrity.

For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as the Vicar of Christ, namely, and as pastor of the entire-Church) has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered”. This is the teaching of Vat II.

Doesn’t that make you wonder where some of these dissenting theologians get their authority from? If even a Bishop or group of Bishops has no authority to speak against the church – where do these individual guys get their authority from? It seems that they make themselves into their own magesterium. And Thousands upon thousands of Catholics listen to them, believe them and follow their teachings.

Did Vatican II teach that ordinary people can sometimes reject church teaching and in fact are obliged to do so? No, it did not. The council affirmed that all people owe their obedience to the Pope and the church’s teachings in all cases.

Did Vatican II teach that people must obey their conscience. Yes, It did but it added important provisos that are often conveniently overlooked or ignored by some.

In order to properly form your conscience you must study what the church teaches and what the church teaches must take precedence over everything else that you may read or are told. Conscience is never just a matter of personal opinion or private preference. It never exists in a vacuum of individual sovereignty. It is not a pious alibi for doing what we want or what might be convenient for us. You can’t make yourself into your own magesterium telling yourself what you choose to believe or not believe.

Here's the key to understanding conscience:

Just as John the Baptist demanded conversion, repentance, humility and honesty from ancient Israel, so a right conscience speaks to the individual heart. And always, as Vatican II noted in its Declaration on Religious Liberty, ". . . (I)n forming their consciences, the faithful must pay careful attention to the sacred and certain teaching of the Church.

For the Catholic Church is, by the will of Christ, the teacher of truth. It is her duty to proclaim and teach with authority (emphasis added) the truth which is Christ and, at the same time, to declare and confirm by her authority the principles of the moral order which spring from human nature" (14).

Vatican II can never be invoked as an alibi for Catholics to ignore the teachings of the church.

A properly formed conscience will never reject the teachings of the church.

Now I ask you - Is Humanae Vitae – the Church’s teaching on birth control – Church teaching or not? By whose authority do we reject it’s teaching?

If we're sincere about our faith, "conscience" can never be used as an excuse for dismissing what the Church teaches by pointing to her theological critics, by listening and believing to dissenting theologians because they are saying what we want to hear, by voter surveys or public opinion polls,, and then doing what we find more convenient. That's dishonest. And God made us for something better than that.

If the council seemed to reaffirm the past then why even call the council? If we are not to break with the past and start anew then what was the real reason for convoking the second Vatican Council.

Maybe Pope John the 23rd’s opening remarks give us a clue.
In calling this vast assembly of bishops, the latest and humble successor to the Prince of the Apostles who is addressing you intends to assert once again the Church's Magisterium [teaching authority], which is unfailing and perdures until the end of time, in order that this Magisterium, taking into account the errors, the requirements, and the opportunities of our time, might be presented in exceptional form to all men throughout the world.
The problem facing us, the Pope pointed out, is the same today as it has ever been: Men stand either with the Church or against Her; and rejection results in bitterness, confusion, and war. These Councils testify to the union of Christ and His Church and promulgate a universal truth to guide individuals in their domestic and social lives.
Pope John XXIII was quite clear about what he wanted the council to accomplish which was the defense and advancement of truth.
The Pope went on to say: “The greatest concern of the ecumenical council is this: “that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be guarded and taught more efficaciously. (effectively)”
Does that sound like a break with the past to you? Does that sound like the Pope wanted a whole new church? And does it sound like we have met that requirement to teach the Catholic faith more effectively since then? I propose that we have effectively done the exact opposite.

In our haste to have an unauthorized break with the past even though the council did not want this to happen, when we threw out the catechisms after Vatican II - even though the council did not direct us to do so, we also threw out the methodology by which we taught our children the faith. We went to concepts instead.

We threw the baby out with the bath water.

The end result is that we are now approaching the 4th generation of uncatechized Catholics – Catholics who do not know their faith and who have no clue what being a Catholic means. And so it is very easy for them to come to church or not – what difference does it make?

Understanding of the Mass and true belief in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist has dipped to new low because the faith has not and is not being taught except in RCIA and RCIC.

As Catholics what are we going to do about it? Do we ourselves believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist? Do we reflect this in the way we receive Him in Holy Communion?

What have we taught our Children and where are they today? We need not only to ask those questions but also to answer them.

If children today are not taught the Catholic faith in our Catholic Schools – who then is going to teach them?

And have their parents been taught their faith well enough to pass it on to their children?

These children will be the potential Catholics of tomorrow. No wonder our church seems to be dying in this part of the world.

Look around you and count the young Catholics among us.

If you didn’t understand the Mass – why would you want to come to a church that seems to have nothing in it for you? Wouldn’t it seem like an exercise in boredom to you? A waste of time? Have you sat next to a kid in church with a scowl on his face because he didn’t want to be there.

I think we recognize this and we want to do something to change it. We wonder why people have stopped coming to church and we do search for ways to bring them back.

But instead of teaching the faith – instead of teaching the truth - we seek to improve the entertainment value.

Something that will get them to come. That will make them want to come. Something that will make them feel welcome.

So we strive to make the music better, we want to make the homilies more relevant and understandable. We make sure we greet people as they come through the door. And we do reach out to fallen away Catholics. And all of this is commendable and to be encouraged but we mustn’t forget about teaching the main reason why we gather for the breaking of the bread.

We mustn’t forget about catechesis. We need to teach the truths of our faith. Children and adults both need to know why we are here. What God expects of us. Why are we here? Where we are going? What is actually happening at Mass?

The old Baltimore Catechisms asked us. Why did God make us?
The answer of course is: God made us to know Him, to Love Him and to serve Him in this world so that we might be happy with Him forever in the next.

The nuns taught me that when I was 6 years old – and I have never forgotten it. How many kids today question why they are here and what reason is there to keep on living.

When they come to Mass do they recognize that it is really and truly the risen Lord who comes to them in the form of Bread and Wine? That He loves them and wants them to come to Him and dine with Him and wants them become part of Him through holy communion. He stands at the door and knocks. We need to answer that door.

This is what makes us different. Yes, Our Lord is present in His Word and also in the Community of Believers but as Vatican II teaches us He is present in a much more substantive way especially in the Eucharist. That is what makes the Catholic Church different. It is the Holy Eucharist.

And Jesus said to them “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?

Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He interpreted to them what referred to Him in all the scriptures.

And it happened that, while He was with them at table, He took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized Him. Can we say the same?

Deacon Bernard Ouellette

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