Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed ( All Souls )

This week I took a break from my Vatican II Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy series to write a little about the upcoming feast of All Souls, an often misunderstood and underappreciated day.  For those who care to know: I wear violet vestments for All Souls to highlight the reality that we’re praying and doing penance for the souls in Purgatory, not celebrating with same joy as All Saints.

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All Saints (November 1) is the day when the Roman Catholic Church celebrates all those who have died and are now Saints in Heaven, even the ones who are not canonized. All Saints is a Solemnity of great joy as we rejoice with our brothers and sisters who are in Heaven and anticipate joining them.

All Souls  (November 2) is the day when the Roman Catholic Church remembers those who have died but who are not yet in Heaven. In other words, it’s the day when we remember in a particular way those in Purgatory: those who have died in God’s grace and friendship, but who are still imperfectly free from venial sin. All Souls is a solemn but rather sober day, as we pray for the dead, that they be purified of whatever sin and attachment to sin that remains so as to be made holy for Heaven.

The Church, taking its example from the Bible’s (2 Maccabees 12:46), has from the beginning taught that it’s an act of profound charity (a spiritual act of mercy) to pray for the dead as a means of helping them to be purified and made ready for Heaven. Almsgiving, works of penance, and indulgences can also be offered on behalf of the dead for their purification.

On All Souls Day two indulgences, applicable only to the souls in purgatory, are possible:

  1. Visiting a Church: A plenary indulgence is granted to those who devoutly visit a church or chapel and pray the Our Father and the Creed.
  2. Visiting a Cemetery: An indulgence is granted to those who devoutly visit a cemetery and pray for the dead, even if only in silence. This indulgence is plenary from Nov. 1-8 and can be gained on each of these days. During the rest of the year, the indulgence is partial.

These actions are to be accompanied by the usual 3 conditions for indulgences: a) Holy Communion; b) prayers for the Pope’s intentions; and within a few days before or after, c) sacramental Confession.

The doctrine and practice of indulgences in the Church are tied to the effects of the sacrament of Penance. An indulgence is the removal in the eyes of God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven. The Christian who is rightly disposed and observes the prescribed conditions, gains this removal through the action of the Church, who distributes the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints. An indulgence is either partial or plenary, that is, it frees a person from some or all of the temporal punishment due to sin. (See Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 1030-32,1472-73.)

This Saturday, and throughout the month of November, take the time to pray for the souls in Purgatory.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

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Homily – Sunday OT 30 C


Sir 35:15-17, 20-22
Ps 34   R/.  The poor one called and the Lord heard.
2 Tim 4:6-8, 16-18
Lk 18:9-14

Last week, Jesus began speaking about prayer with the parable of the pleading widow.  Jesus was trying to tell us how we need to depend completely on Him as our source of help and support, and how it’s okay for our prayer to be insistent.

Today, Jesus follows up on that to show us what is the proper attitude we must have in prayer.  You see, by itself, the parable of the pleading widow, could lead us to go beyond being bold into a form of arrogant demanding from God: a ‘give to me because I ask’, or a ‘I depend on you, so you’d better’ attitude.  But in today’s parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, Jesus clearly teaches us that we must be humble in our prayer.

Icon of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, by Tatiana Grant (http://spiritualpaintings.com/files/other.6.html)

Icon of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, by Tatiana Grant (http://spiritualpaintings.com/files/other.6.html)

Let’s look at the parable.  The Pharisee presents himself before in what appears to be prayer.  But rather than praying to God, rather even than pleading with Him like the widow, the Pharisee stands before God boasting of his own successes: I thank you that I am not like other people… I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income… (v. 11-12).  He knows he is following the Law of Moses, and doing even more.  The Law required fasting once a week, but he’s doing it twice; the Law required tithing on certain things only, but he tithes on everything.  Now, in itself this isn’t a problem; it’s actually a good thing that he’s going beyond the Law, because in the end, the Law is only a minimum.  The problem lies in his attitude.

You see, the Pharisee doesn’t believe he needs God.  He’s doing it all by Himself!  And he’s doing it because he think’s he’s better, and not because he loves God.  This sense that we earn righteousness, that we earn our own salvation, that’s called Pelagianism, and it’s a heresy!  But the worst part of this parable is that the Pharisee thinks that God’s gift to him is the fact that he’s better than everyone else!  That’s why Jesus says that the Pharisee is not justified in God’s eyes!  He’s not praying; he’s boasting, and he’s boasting to God.  That’s got to be a sure ticket to condemnation!

The tax collector, on the other hand, like the widow, knows that he’s needy.  He knows that he’s sinful, and that he needs God’s grace.  Because he understands well that he can’t save himself!  That’s why he humbles himself before God.  And this humility allows him to see God’s greatness, that’s why he stood afar off and wouldn’t look to heaven; his humility allowed him to receive the gift of the Spirit known as ‘awe’, or ‘fear of the Lord’ (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1831).  This doesn’t mean he was scared of the Lord, but rather that he recognised and respected God’s majesty; he recognised that he could only approach God because it was God’s mercy that allowed him to do so.  He didn’t presume he had the right to stand before God like the Pharisee.

Without this sort of humility, we remain closed to God’s grace and mercy, precisely because we don’t think we need it.  But Jesus is clear that we do need it; that we need to recognise our sinfulness, our unworthiness of God in order to be open to grace.  If we want Jesus to heal, forgive and save us, we must turn to Him and acknowledge that we need saving.  Because this saving, this salvation, this is the gift that God has in store for us; everything else flows from that one gift.  That’s why Jesus humbled Himself to be born of woman, why He humbled Himself to die on the Cross.  May we recognise our poverty, and turn to God like the tax collector, not presuming God’s love and mercy, but humbly asking for it, trusting that the Lord does not spurn the humble and contrite heart (cf. Ps 51:17).  Amen.

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Vatican Council II – Revisiting its Documents: Sacrosanctum Concilium Part V

I just noticed I hadn’t yet published Part V; it was still just listed as a draft, so here it is…

A multi-part series honouring the Vatican Council II by reviewing its documents.  We continue with a review of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.

Part V: General Principles …continued

The Sacred Liturgy is not the only activity of the Church. Faith and conversion are required before someone can properly worship God (no. 9). And so, proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ, changing our ways, and penance, must all precede the Liturgy. In this way, we’re prepared for the Sacraments and for the worship of God, because “the Liturgy is the summit to which the [whole] activity of the Church is directed” (no. 10). To borrow from another Council document, Lumen Gentium, “the Eucharistic sacrifice [is] the source and summit of the Christian life” (LG, 11). Everything in the life of grace flows from the worship and sacrifice Jesus offered the Father. When we enter into that one sacrifice through Mass, we enter into Christ’s dynamic of sacrifice and love, of grace and salvation.  That’s why the Church’s proclamation of the Gospel has communion as its goal: communion with God, communion with the Church, Communion with the Eucharist, communion with each other. And it’s precisely by this communion with the Father through Christ in the Eucharist that we’re sanctified: “[t]he renewal in the Eucharist of the covenant between the Lord and man draws the faithful into the compelling love of Christ and sets them on fire” (no. 10). And this sanctification, our sanctification in Christ, is how God’s glory is revealed to the world, and how we most suitably give Him glory. This sanctification of the faithful — and indeed of the whole world —, this is the mission of Church!

“But in order that the liturgy may be able to produce its full effects, it is necessary that the faithful come to it with proper dispositions” (no. 11).  It isn’t sufficient to simply be present, to merely ‘watch’ what’s happening during Liturgy: we must actually enter into the prayer that is the Mass.  This is where the Council begins to speak about ‘active participation’ (which is actually a concept first mentioned by Pius XII in Mediator Dei! See no. 78). Our minds must be as engaged as our voices, our spirit must be as present as our bodies, and our hearts must be as full of prayer as our mouths.  And this is even for the Priest!

Our participation at Mass cannot stop at the ‘rubrics’ (the rules that govern the actions). The rubrics are there to make sure that we actually do what’s intended by the Church, that we maintain the proper theological message and foundations that the Liturgy carries and expresses. In short, the rubrics make sure the Mass is the Mass and not something else. But if we stop at the rubrics, if that’s all we do, then we miss the point. And this is even for the laity! (To be continued…)

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Vatican Council II – Revisiting its Documents: Sacrosanctum Concilium Part VII

A multi-part series honouring the Vatican Council II by reviewing its documents.
We continue with a review of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.

Part VII: General Principles …continued

Over the last six weeks this series has looked at the background and motivations for the Council’s desire to ‘reform’ and ‘renew’ the Sacred Liturgy. The last three parts looked at the nature of the Mass, and why it’s important in the life of the Church. These principles can be summarised as follows:

The Sacred Liturgy is the action of Christ the High Priest, the Paschal Mystery in which He creates and involves His people, the Church. Through the Liturgy, we enter into Christ’s worship of the Father and experience a foretaste of Heaven. This encounter with God works for our sanctification and salvation. This is why we have an obligation go to Church on Sundays, and why an active participation is necessary for us.

Having laid out these foundations, the Constitution then moves to establish principles of reform (nos. 21-46). This third part of Chapter 1 deals with the parameters and directions of the liturgical restoration. It’s divided into six sections: a) General Norms; b) Norms Drawn from the Hierarchic and Communal Nature of the Liturgy; c) Norms Based upon the Didactic and Pastoral Nature of the Liturgy; d) Norms for Adapting the Liturgy to the Culture and Traditions of Peoples; e) Promotion of Liturgical Life in Diocese and Parish; and, f) The Promotion of Pastoral-Liturgical Action.

The Liturgy is made up of two components: Divine and human (no. 21). The Divine elements were given to us by Christ as recorded in Scripture and Tradition, and these may never be changed. Examples of Divine elements are the use of bread and wine for the Eucharist, the male Priesthood, and the words of institution. Human elements, on the other hand, developed over time through various cultures to express and communicate the faith. These are open to appropriate change as time and cultures evolve. Examples of human elements are the vestments used at Mass and their colours, the language of the Liturgy, and the shape and style of sacred vessels.

However, only the Pope —and in some cases the local Bishop or the national conference of Bishops — can make such changes: “no other person, even if he be a Priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority” (no. 22.3). This is to ensure that the Liturgy remains universal (the same throughout the world), and that it remains true to its nature as being a gift given to us by God in Christ Jesus. We don’t own the Liturgy. Rather the Liturgy teaches us and forms us. (To be continued…)

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Homily – Sunday OT 29 C


Ex 17:8-13
Ps 121       R/.  Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
2 Tim 3:14-4:2
Lk 18:1-8

Today, Luke’s Gospel gives us yet another one of Jesus’ famous parables: the ‘Parable of the Unjust Judge’, sometimes also called the ‘Parable of the Nagging Widow’.  Perhaps the first title is more appropriate, because it better describes the judge as unjust, and it puts the widow in a better light, as one who pleads for justice rather than just being a nag…

I’m not trying to make a joke about it, nor am I trying to split hairs: Luke’s made this a bit more explicit than you might think!  If we look at the Gospel text, we notice that 4 times in these 8 verses Luke speaks about ‘granting justice’ (vv. 3, 4, 7, 8).  Whenever a Biblical author repeats something several times like this, it’s always a cue for us to pay closer attention to that point.illus-33

In the context of this parable, the point of ‘granting justice’ is key to properly understanding the message.  You see, Jesus isn’t telling us here that if we nag Him or the Father we’ll get whatever we ask for!  He’s not saying that if we have a tantrum over and over again we’ll get our way, as if we’re spoiled children and God is a weak, manipulatable parent!

No!  The word ‘justice’ prevents that kind of interpretation.  You see, Luke’s very clear in explaining that the judge is selfish: he neither feared God nor had respect for any human being (v. 2).  On the other hand, the widow is pleading for ‘justice’.  Now there’s a hidden power here in the title of ‘widow’.  In Scripture, the title of ‘widow’ a loaded one!  A ‘widow’ is a woman who was essentially destitute: she no longer had an adult male relative (husband, sons, etc.) to provide for her and protect her, and she hadn’t been able to inherit his property.  That meant a widow was vulnerable and open to abuse.  That’s why Scripture usually puts her in the same group as orphans: the poorest of the poor, the weakest of the weak (cf. Ex 22:21-22; Dt 24:17; 24:19; 20-21; Job 24:4; 29:12; 31:16; Is 10:2).

It’s also why God specifically states that a widow has special protection in the Law and in His heart: Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice (Dt 27:19; and cf. also Ex 22:21-24; Dt 10: 17-18; 14:28-29; 26:23; 27:19; Ps 72:4, 12-14).

So this is the context of this parable: the judge is an evil man who’s ignoring the plight of the poor and weak widow.  She, on the other hand, isn’t evil: she’s righteous and pleads only for justice.  That’s why Jesus says the Father will hear the cries of His chosen ones and quickly give them justice (v. 7).

But herein lies the key point for us: our cries to God must be righteous and not evil; they must be done in goodness and not in selfishness.  Just because we cry for something we think we need doesn’t mean that it’s the best thing for us.  God is wisdom: He knows what’s best for us, and He’ll only give us what is good.  I think you who are parents can identify with this!

So before we can turn to God in our need, we first need to turn to Him.  Our hearts and minds need to be attuned to God so that we might know what we need. As the Opening Prayer said, we need to conform our will to His; we need to desire what He desires, what He wants to give us.  And notice how Jesus says God will grant to His ‘chosen ones’ (v. 7)?  His ‘chosen ones’: this implies a relationship, an intimacy with God, a dependence on His grace and mercy.  And this is where the image of the widow comes into play again: the widow, in her destitution, is completely dependant on God.

Well, prayer awakens us to how, in a sense, we’re all widows and orphans in the eyes of God, how destitute we really are, how helpless we are without Him.  Prayer helps us realise our need to depend on God, and this dependence on God, this trusting abandonment to His grace and help, this is the real message of today’s Gospel!  Our help is from the Lord, we said in the Psalm, and we always need to remember that.  We aren’t saved by our own works; we don’t get justice by our own hands.  The Lord is our keeper (Ps 121:5)!  That’s why Moses had to keep his hands raised in prayer: to invoke God’s help.  And notice how he’s not alone in this: through Aaron and Hur, the whole community is supporting him.

The Lord is our keeper; He is our strength and our shield (cf. Ps 28:7); the more we turn to Him, the more we recognise how much we need Him.  That’s why prayer is so important for us.  Prayer keeps us close to Jesus, and keeps our hearts and minds fixed on Him as our Saviour.  Without prayer, we become independent, self-absorbed, distant from God, blind, spiritually dead.

But prayer awakens and strengthens faith, and faith, in turn, strengthens prayer. That’s why Jesus finishes His parable by asking, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth (v. 8)?  Faith, then, is necessarily tied to prayer and dependence on God.  If we don’t depend on God for salvation and help, how can we say we have faith?  How can we say we trust in Him?

May we, then, like the pleading widow, constantly turn to God in trustful prayer so as to grow in faith and in complete dependence on Him; may our hope and salvation be in Him alone.  Amen.

We don’t always know what’s best for ourselves, but God knows!  So in our prayer, we must ask Him to helps us know what it is we need, and then to ask Him for it.  Now, I think I need to clarify what ‘prayer’ means.  There’s a difference between ‘saying prayers’ and ‘praying’.  Saying prayers, like reciting the Rosary or the Our Father, is good, and we need to do it; but it’s not quite ‘praying’.  Saying prayers, which is properly called ‘vocal prayer’, is meant to lead us into ‘praying’, by focussing our hearts and minds and opening them up to God.  It’s the first stage, if you will.  But ‘praying’ goes deeper than that: praying is a conversation of the heart with God.  In other languages there’s a different word to describe it; perhaps we could more properly call it ‘meditation’, which is when we make ourselves present to God to ponder on His wonders, His actions, His Word.  This takes silence and time.  It’s what helps us to go deeper in our relationship with Him; what helps us to know Him better, and to better recognise His presence in our lives.  It’s in this level of prayer that the grace of the Sacraments is opened up.

It’s in this ‘praying’ or ‘meditation’ that we’re sanctified as we grow in faith and in love for God.  It’s here that our hearts are changed, our minds enlightened, and our consciences formed.  Now, this isn’t to say that God doesn’t hear us in vocal prayer; He most certainly does!  But He wants us to go deeper, He wants us to grow closer, and that can only happen through regular meditation.  And it’s in this meditation that we will recognise our true needs: our need for God, our need for His grace, our need for His gifts.

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Vatican Council II – Revisiting its Documents: Sacrosanctum Concilium Part VI

A multi-part series honouring the Vatican Council II by reviewing its documents.  We continue with a review of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.

Part VI: The Promotion of Liturgical Instruction and Active Participation

Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy” (no. 14).

As we saw last week, the Council Fathers spoke of participating in Mass with the proper dispositions (spiritual and mental), and to allow liturgical laws to shape how our hearts, minds and bodies enter into the Mass (see no. 11). But our participation in Mass depends on our personal prayer life: if we don’t pray, we aren’t properly disposed to enter into, and benefit from, the prayer that is the Mass (see no. 12). Personal prayer outside Mass is the key to active participation within Mass. And this active participation is the obligation and right of all the baptised, precisely because of Baptism (no. 14). Because to pray and to offer sacrifice is at the heart of the Royal Priesthood we received in Baptism (see 1 Peter 2:4-5, 9-10; Rom 12:2); it’s at the heart of what it means to be sharers in Christ.

But it’s impossible for the lay faithful to properly enter into the Liturgy “unless [Priests] themselves become fully imbued with the spirit and power of the Liturgy and attain competence in it” (no. 14). That is, unless the Priest understands the Mass and offers it properly and well (according to the law and spirituality it carries) then the he becomes an obstacle to the proper participation of the assembly. Priests themselves must live the spirit of the Liturgy so as to help the laity participate in Mass. The Constitution issues 4 directives for the proper education of Priests in the area of Liturgy (nos. 15-18). But this liturgical education isn’t just for the Priest. He in turn must educate his people so that their lives, too, may be permeated with the Liturgy, and be directed to it (no. 19), and so properly pray the Mass with and through the Priest.

Now we begin to see that the Council’s meaning of active participation isn’t one of visible or physical action, but rather it’s a spiritual action, an interior awareness rooted in understanding what the Mass is and what’s happening, so as to enter into Christ’s prayer and sacrifice, and with Him, to offer oneself to the Father in love, worship and adoration. (To be continued…)

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Homily – Sunday OT 27 C

I was sick this week so I ended up using an old homily and just tweaking it. Here it is!

Hab 1:2-3; 2:2-4
Ps 95   R/.  O that today you would listen to the voice of the Lord.  Do not harden your hearts!
2 Tm 1:6-8, 13-14
Lk 17:5-10

If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this … tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you (Lk 17:6).  Or as Matthew says in his Gospel: ‘you could move mountains’ (cf. Mt 17:20).  I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a mustard seed, but it’s just a bit bigger than the tip of a ball-point pen; it’s really quite small.  So what, then?  If trees and mountains don’t obey us, does that mean we have little faith?  Is Jesus saying that we’re rather weak in our faith?  Well…, kind of.

At first glance it seems that Jesus is belittling the Apostles for their lack of faith, but He’s actually challenging them to grow in faith.  Yeah, He does say their faith isn’t very strong; after all, with everything they’ve seen Him do and what they’ve experienced in their own ministry, they should’ve had a faith strong enough to move trees and mountains.  But He’s not saying this to depress them, nor to show how little faith they have; rather, He’s showing them how much more faith they can have.  He’s saying that faith is bottomless: no matter how strong it is, it can still grow.  Jesus is inviting the Apostles — and through them, us also —, to grow in faith!

I think the mustard seed metaphor points to this.  A few chapters earlier in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus used the mustard seed to explain the Kingdom of God: once planted the seed becomes a great tree in which even the birds can make their nests (Lk 13:18-19).  Faith is like that, too!  Once it’s planted, watered and given sunlight — that is, when it’s fed with prayer and grace —, it grows strong and attracts others.

Faith was planted in us through Baptism, the sacrament of faith.  At that moment, we received faith as a gift of grace in the form of a tiny seed, one that we’re called to guard and bring to maturity.  Confirmation is intended to strengthen this maturing faith.

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I think Jesus also used this challenge to put faith in its proper perspective.  The Apostles understood that faith has the power to do extraordinary things; after all, they themselves had cured people while on mission in chapter 10 (vv. 1-17).  Yes, even in this life, our faith can grow to supernatural levels.  The miracles of the saints demonstrate this well for us.

But so that the Apostles wouldn’t be tempted grow in faith as a means to obtain power, Jesus added the parable of the slave.  This parable isn’t trying to give us an image of the Father; He’s not saying that God is a taskmaster who treats us as slaves and puts His own needs first.  No, Jesus is warning us against an attitude of entitlement and the temptation to obey only for the sake of reward.

As Christians, as people who profess the love of God, we’re called to be obedient to His Word out of love for Him; as a response to His love, and not out of a desire for His rewards.  We’re called to love and serve for the sake of love, and not for what we get out of it.  If I serve only because it makes me feel good, then I’m really just doing it for myself: I become the object of my action.  Jesus challenges us to go beyond that: loving God needs to be the object of our actions.  Jesus calls us to serve out of love.

And this is our duty as Christians: it’s not something extra or something reserved for just the Saints; it’s a duty we’ve inherited from Baptism: each one of us is called grow in the perfection of love (cf. LG, 39); as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’ (1 Pt 1:15-16).  But in order to fulfil this duty of love, we need to have an attitude of humble service.  We too should be able to say: we have done only what we ought to have done (Lk 17:10).

But here’s where both parts of today’s Gospel come together: serving out of love for God (and not for reward) does, in the end, carry a ‘reward’.  The Apostles said, Increase our faith! (Lk 17:5), and Jesus responded by talking about the duty of service.  Our duty to ‘serve in love’ is a response to God’s love for us, and an expression of our faith in Him.  And when it’s carried out with this intention, it becomes for us a prayer and a means of grace.  In this way, ‘serving in love’ helps our faith to grow; it expresses faith and it strengthens it!

But our focus mustn’t be on how strong our faith is; our focus needs to remain on God, on loving Him through loving our neighbours.  We have no right to boast in the strength of our faith: we’re not even capable of judging the quality of our faith; only God can judge faith!  We must simply have faith, and love according to that faith, trusting that God will provide the grace we require to persevere in it.  Amen.

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