Monthly Archives: February 2014

Homily – Sunday OT 6 A


Sir 15:15-20
Ps 119      R/.  Blessed are those who walk in the law of the Lord.
1 Cor 2:6-10
Mt 5:17-37

I have come not to abolish [the Law and the Prophets] but to fulfil [them] (Mt 5:17).  Jesus isn’t a departure from the promises made to Israel through Abraham, Moses and David; rather He’s their accomplishment.

Today’s Gospel passage continues the Sermon on the Mount that we began two weeks ago with the Beatitudes.  In this wonderful and powerful Sermon, which takes up three chapters* of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus takes us into a deeper, a truer understanding of the Law given through Moses at Sinai.  He takes us beyond the mere letter of the Law to discover its interior meaning, its intention, its spirit.

Sermon on the Mount, by Bl. Fra Angelico.

Sermon on the Mount, by Bl. Fra Angelico.

This was very important in Jesus’ day because some schools of thought, especially that of the Pharisees, focussed only on the need to perfectly obey the Law, instead of showing how it was to be the way to God, thereby making the Law a burden and not a joy.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus explicitly corrects the interpretation of a few of these ‘burdensome’ laws.  In doing so, He doesn’t do away with them; rather He puts them into their proper place, their proper perspective: that of serving the Lord and living in His love.

Many people in the Church today — laity and clergy alike — feel that the Church is once more caught up in a legalistic interpretation of the teachings of Christ, making God’s commandments burdensome instead of liberating.  It needs to ‘leave the Middle Ages behind, they say, and catch up to modern times’.  (Interestingly, this criticism is almost only ever directed at the moral teachings of the Church.)

But as we heard in the first reading, God has not commanded anyone to be wicked, and he has not given anyone permission to sin (Sir 15:20); rather — as we’ll hear next Sunday —, He’s commanded us to be holy for He Himself is holy (cf. Lv 19:2).  God’s laws aren’t meant to burden us, they’re meant to lead us to salvation: keep the commandments, and they will save you, said Ben Sirach in the first reading today (Sir 15:15).  God’s commandments show us the way to Himself; they reveal to us who God is, and how we can follow Him.  This is what the Church proclaims in her teachings, which reveal Christ to us and point us in the right direction to imitate Him.

You see, the Church’s laws — Christ’s laws — aren’t a series of “dos” and “don’ts”; they’re not a random set of policies intended to ‘maintain the Church’s power’.  The Church’s laws aren’t mere letter, they’re spiritual: they’re the natural and necessary consequences of discipleship.  If we say we follow Christ, then we must actually follow Him.

To follow Christ is to live like Him, and to imitate Him is to obey His commandment to love the Lord [our] God with all [our] heart, and with all [our] soul, and with all [our] mind, and to love [our] neighbours as [our]selves (Mt 22:37-39).  Everything else the Church teaches flows directly out of this commandment to love, and seeks, like Jesus does in today’s Gospel, to help us understand what that means in the particular contexts of our lives.

After having listed all its canons, the Code of Canon Law, wraps-up by saying: …the salvation of souls… [is] the supreme law in the Church (can. 1752).  The Church teaches what she does to help us get to Heaven; her actions are directed to our salvation.  Consequently, then, if there’s a particular Church teaching that we don’t like, we owe it to ourselves to try to understand what the Church is saying and why.  We cannot simply choose to abide by some Church teachings and ignore others; that would be like choosing to accept only one part of Christ, and ignoring the rest of Him.  Christ cannot be divided, and neither can His laws.  We’re called to embrace Him entirely and to follow Him in faith with dedication.  This is the way to imitate Christ, the way to holiness, the way to salvation; and it’s the way to which all of us have been called.

[Love] is the reason why anything should be done or left undone, changed or unchanged; it is the initial principle and the end to which all things should be directed (Bl. Isaac of Stella, Sermo 31, Office of Readings for Saturday Week V in Ordinary Time).  Christ’s laws — the Church’s laws — are laws that point us in the direction of love; laws that teach us how to love.  We must, therefore, pay close attention to both their letter and their spirit, allowing them to guide us along the path of love, shaping us ever more into the image of our Lord Jesus Christ.

As the Scriptures today said: …to act faithfully is a matter of [our] own choice.  If [we] choose, [we] can keep the commandments, and they will save [us] (Sir 15:16, 15).  Therefore, we pray: teach [us], O Lord, the way of your statutes, and [we] will observe it to the end.  Give [us] understanding, that [we] may keep your law and observe it with [our] whole heart (Ps 119:33-34), for indeed blessed are those who walk in the law of the Lord!  (Refrain to the Psalm).  Amen.

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

This 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 XVIII: Chapter III: The Other Sacraments and the Sacramentals, continued

Continuing on with the decrees for revision, the Council Fathers also asked that the sacramentals of the Church be modified, not so as to be removed as some have said, but rather so as to be rediscovered: “The sacramentals are to undergo a revision which takes into account the primary principle of enabling the faithful to participate intelligently, actively, and easily” (no. 79). As touched upon briefly in Part XVI, the term ‘sacramentals’ refers to objects or actions that “are sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments. They signify effects, particularly of a spiritual nature, which are obtained through the Church’s intercession. By them men are disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy” (no. 60; see also Catechism nos. 1667ff). Prominent examples of sacramentals include holy water, the Sign of the Cross, Rosary beads, Crucifixes, various blessings, etc.

Pope Francis sprinkles holy water with an aspergillum as a blessing during the Palm Sunday mass at Saint Peter's Square at the VaticanSacramentals, then, are important to the life of faith as they express it and strengthen it. But when exaggerated or taken out of context, sacramentals can be reduced to superstition. The Council Fathers wanted to restore the proper place of sacramentals in the life of the Church.

Likewise, the Council Fathers called for the revision of the rites for the consecration of virgins and for religious profession. These should better reflect a “greater unity, sobriety, and dignity” of celebration, especially for use within Mass (no. 80).

The rites for burial were also to be revised to better express the “paschal character of Christian death” and better correspond “to the circumstances and traditions found in various regions” (no. 81). The Council Fathers requested that different Mass prayers be provided for the burial of infants (no. 82).

This concludes Chapter III. (To be continued…)

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

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

Part XVII: Chapter III: The Other Sacraments and the Sacramentals, continued

Taking up where we left of a couple of weeks ago, we continue with the Council’s examination of the Sacraments, dealing now with specific Sacraments, namely Baptism, Confirmation, Penance, and Anointing of the Sick.

As we already noted, the Council asked that the rite of Baptism for infants be revised to reflect more specifically “that those to be baptised are infants” (no. 67). This new rite should include appropriate options for when several children are being baptised, as well as a shorter rite for use in mission countries or in danger of death when clergy is not readily available (no. 68). Yes, in specific situations (especially in danger of death!), lay people are authorised to baptise. This is because, as we saw in Part IV, “it is really Christ Himself who baptizes” (no. 7). In fact, because of this, anyone, even an atheist can baptise in danger of death, so long as the intention is there and the proper words are used (I baptise you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit).

Likewise the rite of Confirmation is to be revised in order that its connection to Baptism and Christian Initiation is made more visible. For this, the Council Fathers directed that “candidates … renew their baptismal promises just before they are confirmed” (no. 71).

The rite for the Sacrament of Penance (also known as Confession) is also to be revised to “more clearly express both the nature and effect of the sacrament” (no. 72). While the act of confessing sins committed is necessary for the Sacrament, the focus of this intimate encounter with Christ is not sin, but rather His mercy and love. And penance — whether in relation to Confession, Lent, etc. — is not punishment, but an act of love; an act of love offered to increase our desire to avoid sin, to strengthen repentance, and to make reparation for sins.

The Council Fathers also called for a renewed understanding of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick: it “is not a sacrament for those only who are at the point of death” (no. 73). Like Penance, the Anointing of the Sick is a Sacrament of healing, specifically for the seriously ill and the elderly. This Sacrament may be repeated as often as necessary.

In the context of impending death, the Anointing of the Sick is combined with Confession and Viaticum to create what is commonly called “the Last Rites”. (Viaticum is Latin for ‘go with you’, referring to the Eucharist as our food for the final journey.)

Continuing with the remaining Sacraments, those that we refer to as Sacraments of service to the community (Marriage and Holy Orders), the Council Fathers called for a revision of both of these rites as well (nos. 76-79), so that the nature and purpose of each Sacrament might be better signified and explained. This included provisions that the Nuptial Blessing and the Prayer of Consecration at ordination could henceforth be said in the mother tongue so that those present might better understand the meaning of these Sacraments (cf. nos. 76, 78). (To be continued…)

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Homily – Sunday OT 5 A


Is 58:6-10
Ps 112       R/.  Light rises in the darkness for the upright.
1 Cor 2:1-5
Mt 5:13-16

You are the salt of the earth…  You are the light of the world.  As some of you may remember, this was the theme that Blessed Pope John Paul II chose for World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto.  He chose this passage from today’s Gospel reading because of the symbolism it contained and the mission it launches.

In his message to the youth preparing for that WYD, John Paul II spoke on these elements, and I want to share some of his remarks with you, because they’re worth hearing again:

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Pope John Paul II greeting the pilgrims gathered in Exhibition Place (Toronto) on 25 July 2002.

“The images of salt and light used by Jesus are rich in meaning and complement each other.  In ancient times, salt and light were seen as essential elements of life.

“[…]  One of the main functions of salt is to season food, to give it taste and flavour.  This image reminds us that, through Baptism, our whole being has been profoundly changed, because it has been “seasoned” with the new life which comes from Christ” (cf. Rom 6:4).  (Message to the Youth of the World on the Occasion of the XVII World Youth Day 2002, no. 2.)

As Christians, then, we’re called to be flavourful: what an interesting call!  Jesus wants us to bring flavour to life, not just to our own, but to those around us also.  He wants us to bring flavour to the world!  The knowledge that Christ died and rose for us should be the foundation of our entire lives: we’ve been redeemed by Christ, and our lives are no longer what they used to be.  As St. Paul says, It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me (Gal 2:20).  Salvation is the source of our joy and our hope; discipleship is our purpose and way of life.  By living our lives with faith and joy, we become for others a source of hope and a channel of God’s grace, a living image of Christ Himself.

*          *          *

Pope John Paul II continued:

“…the symbol of light evokes the desire for truth and the thirst for the fullness of knowledge which are imprinted deep within every human being.

“When the light fades or vanishes altogether, we no longer see things as they really are.  In the heart of the night we can feel frightened and insecure, and we impatiently await the coming of the light of dawn.  …it is up to you to … announce the coming of the sun who is the Risen Christ!

“The light which Jesus speaks of in the Gospel is the light of faith, God’s free gift, which enlightens the heart and clarifies the mind.  “It is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6).  That is why the words of Jesus explaining his identity and his mission are so important: “I am the light of the world; whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn 8:12)”.  (Message to the Youth of the World on the Occasion of the XVII World Youth Day 2002, no. 3.)

The symbol of light deepens and strengthens the message of the symbol of salt.  Because we believe in Jesus and His infinite love for us, everything we do and say should flow from this and testify to it.  That’s what made the early Christians such powerful witnesses!  Their exuberant joy in having found Christ couldn’t be contained, even when it meant suffering and death!  Well, our faith and joy shouldn’t be any different (!), especially since martyrdom isn’t an immediate threat.

Our faith in Christ should penetrate every aspect of our life, and everyone we encounter should be able to see in us something different, something special, something beautiful, something flavourful: something they would also desire in their lives.  That’s what it means to be a witness.  Faith is not a private matter!!  True faith cannot be hidden it must be put on the lampstand to give light to all (cf. Mt 5:14, 15).  If we really believe that Jesus suffered and died for our sins, and rose again that we might live with Him and the Father, then we must live as though we believe, we must become reflections of this truth.  That’s what Jesus is calling us to do: Let your light so shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Today’s Gospel passage comes immediately after the Beatitudes, where Jesus taught us how to live as faithful Christians.  Now, He challenges us to live them out fully, not as a lamp under a bushel basket, but as a city built on a hill, so that we might be a light to reveal Him to the nations.

And this is also what Pope Francis is challenging us to do! Despite what you may have heard in the news, the only thing in the Church that Pope Francis is trying to change is you and me! He’s trying to wake us up so that we can change the world.

This is the call and mission of those who believe in Christ Jesus, this is our call and mission, for each one of us!  May the Holy Spirit renew in us the grace of our Baptism and strengthen our faith, so that daily, we might increasingly become salt of the earth and light of the world.  Amen.

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

Pastor’s Message — Vatican Council II — 50th Anniversary

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

Part XVI: Chapter III: The Other Sacraments and the Sacramentals

As many of you will remember from your own catechetical formation, the seven Sacraments are “efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions” (Catechism, 1131). That is, they are visible signs (words and actions) that make happen what they mean. “The purpose of the sacraments is to sanctify men, to build up the body of Christ, and, finally, to give worship to God; because they are signs they also instruct” (no. 59).

As such, then, the Sacraments presuppose faith — as well as “nourish, strengthen, and express it” (no. 59) —, but also presuppose an understanding of the signs (words and actions) being used. Perhaps we have taken this for granted in recent years. Nonetheless, the Sacraments nourish the Christian life and express it.

Alongside the Sacraments, the Church also has “sacred signs [that] bear a resemblance to the sacraments” (no. 60). They provide spiritual benefits, and even grace, but are not themselves Sacraments; they are not tied in a particular way to a specific effect, but simply dispose and nourish the person for the Sacraments. Examples of sacramentals are: the Sign of the Cross, holy water, Rosary beads, a Crucifix, blessed oils, blessed candles, scapulars, and many more… “There is hardly any proper use of material things which cannot thus be directed toward the sanctification of men and the praise of God” (no. 61).

These sacramental objects or signs, “are given access to the stream of divine grace which flows from the paschal mystery of the passion, death, the resurrection of Christ” (no. 61), but care must be given that they do not turn into superstition, that sacramental objects are not reduced to amulets. In themselves they have no power, but “for well-disposed members of the faithful” (no. 61) they can be food for faith and sources of God’s blessings.

And so, while encouraging the frequent use of the Sacraments and sacramentals, the Council Fathers did issue some corrections:

The vernacular (mother tongue) can be used to administer the Sacraments and sacramental, as this will “be of considerable help to the people” (no. 63). In mission lands, local elements “capable of being adapted to Christian ritual, may be admitted along with those already found in Christian tradition” (no. 65). The catechumenate for adults is to be restored (no. 64), and a new rite of Baptism for adults is to be prepared (no. 66), as well as a rite to welcome baptised non-Catholics into communion with the Church (no. 69). The rite of Baptism for infants is to be revised, and the “roles [and duties] of parents and godparents … should be brought out more clearly in the rite itself” (no. 67). (To be continued…)

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Homily – Presentation of the Lord


Mal3:1-4
Ps 24     R/.  The Lord of hosts, he is the king of glory!
Heb 2:10-11, 13b-18
Lk 2:22-40

The Presentation (by Bl. Fra Angelico?(

The Presentation of the Lord (by Fra Angelico?)

In our readings today we encounter two prophecies: the first from Malachi (Mal 3:1-4), and the second from Simeon (Lk 2:28-35).  The first prophecy points us backward, and the second points us forward.  Here’s what I mean:

In the Catholic order of books in the Old Testament Malachi is the last book because of his direct prophecies to the coming Messiah.  What we hear from him today is precisely one of those prophecies: See, I am sending my messenger … and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.  The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight — indeed, he is coming (Mal 3:1).  Through his prophecy, Malachi is pointing us to the birth of Christ, to the Nativity, which we celebrated just 40 days ago.  And he speaks of Jesus as being a refiner, one who purifies, who separates the dross from what is precious.  In other words, Jesus’ mission will be one of division: He will separate what is bad from what is good: But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?  For he is like a refiner’s fire…; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver (Mal 3:2-3).

And it didn’t take long for this to happen: remember the contrast between the Magi and Herod?  Because the Magi were seeking the light of righteousness and truth, they were able to rejoice in the birth of Jesus.  Herod, on the other hand, because he loved the darkness of pride and power, feared Jesus and sought to kill Him (cf. Mt 2).

And it’s this same theme of division and purification that Simeon takes up in his prophecy: This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed (Lk 2:34-35).  The Gospels are full of accounts that Jesus was loved by some and rejected by others.  The humble and lowly, the poor and needy, the weak and downtrodden… those who acknowledged their need for salvation recognised Jesus and rejoiced in His mercy and love.  But the proud, the arrogant, the rebellious, the selfish, the greedy… those who sought themselves rejected Jesus and feared His words.  This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many (Lk 2:34).

My brothers and sisters, this dynamic continues even today!  Every time we meet Jesus — whether in prayer, in that whisper that calls us to do something or avoid something, in Scripture, in Church teaching…  Every time we meet Jesus, we’re confronted by this reality of falling and rising.  And every time, we’re confronted we will either rejoice or fear; there’s no other option, only joy or fear.  We’ll either embrace God’s presence and rejoice in His mercy and forgiveness, or we’ll turn away in fear of His judgement.

Now you might think this sounds a bit dramatic, but it’s a profound reality of our spiritual life.  Everyday, we’re confronted by Jesus — often in small little ways we don’t always notice —, and how we respond to these encounters with Jesus will either bring us closer to Him or further away from Him.  When we sense that we ought to pray but avoid it to do something else, we say ‘no’ and we turn away from Jesus.  When our conscience tells us not to do something but we do it anyway, we turn away from Jesus.  When we respond in pride and anger instead of patience and love, we turn away from Jesus. Every time we say ‘no’, no matter how small, we turn away from Jesus.

But inversely, when we take the time to thank Jesus because we just missed an accident, we grow closer to Him.  When we make efforts to be patient with someone who’s slow, we grow closer to Jesus.  When we decide to fast from something we enjoy in order to discipline our desires, we grow closer to Jesus.  When we do something we don’t want to but because someone needs it, we grow closer to Jesus.  When we share what we need with those need who need it more, we grow closer to Jesus. Every time we say ‘yes’ to Jesus, no matter how small, we grow closer to Him.Sacred Heart

 

If you listened carefully to these examples, you’ll have noticed that in both responses (turning away or growing closer) there’s suffering.  When we turn away from Jesus we suffer the torments of sin; that’s pretty obvious.  But did you know that when we turn to Jesus we also suffer?  That’s the image of the refiner Malachi was using.  Just like precious minerals are purified by fire to reveal their value and beauty, so to are we purified by fire, the fire of divine Love.  That’s why the image of the Sacred Heart has flames on top of it: Jesus’ love for us burns within Him like a fiery furnace, and when we embrace it, it burns away from us all that’s impure, all that’s not like Jesus.  And while this is really a spiritual analogy, at times it is painful.  We need only look to the Saints to see this.  But we mustn’t be afraid of this purifying suffering, because when we do look at the Saints, we also see that those who embrace Jesus’ purifying love are also filled with joy, because though purification can be painful, it always works for our good, for our intimacy with Jesus, for our sanctification.

Even Jesus had to go through this.  That’s why today’s prophecies also point us to the future: to the Cross.  As the letter to the Hebrews says, Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him (Heb 5:8-9).  And, It was fitting that God…, in bringing many sons and daughters to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings (Heb 2:10).

By denying His own will for the sake of the Father’s will, Jesus shows us the way to perfection, and this perfection reaches its high point on the Cross, as Jesus gives Himself entirely over to the Father.  But it’s only because of the Cross that we have the Resurrection.  New life can only be received once we’ve allowed our ‘old life’ to die on the Cross.  By embracing the purifying love of Jesus, by allowing Him to change our hearts and habits — as painful as that might be —, we’re able experience even on this side of Heaven the life of the resurrection.  We need only abandon ourselves to Jesus and His will, and to trust that Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested (Heb 2:18).

So it’s not by accident that Blessed Pope John Paul II joined to the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord the World Day for Consecrated Life, because like Christ, consecrated men and women, through their consecration, dedicate their lives to the pursuit of the purifying love of Jesus.

And so, as we rejoice today that the Lord has entered His Temple — and He entered the Temple of our hearts at Baptism —, may we praise Him and rejoice in His mercy, so as to entrust ourselves to Him and be purified by His burning love.  Amen.

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

Pastor’s Message — Vatican Council II — 50th Anniversary

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

Part XV: Chapter II: The Most Sacred Mystery of the Eucharist

In order to help the faithful enter more deeply into Christ’s offering at Mass, and in order for it to be more beneficial to the faithful, the Council Fathers made the following decrees regarding the restoration of the Mass:

5. One single act of worship: While ‘composed’ of two ‘parts’ — the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist —, the Mass is “but one single act of worship” (no. 56). Pastors of souls, then, should “insistently teach [the faithful] to take their part in the entire Mass” (no. 56). The Eucharist is the fruit of the Word; we cannot receive the Body without first having meditated on the Word. Participation in Mass requires participation in both ‘parts’ with mind, body and soul. The Liturgy of the Word prepares us to recognise and receive the Eucharist: it tills the soil of our soul, if you will, so that the seed of the Eucharist, which will be planted, will grow and bear the fruit of grace.

6. Concelebration: Prior to the Council a Priest could only offer Mass individually; he could not celebrate with another Priest. Concelebration — by which two or more Priests together celebrate Mass at the same time on the same altar — was only permitted on a few specific occasions (i.e. the Mass of Chrism).  This was the primary reason for the presence of multiple altars in a single church. But since the practice of concelebration still existed both in the East and the West, the Council Fathers extended its permission to the following cases: Mass of the Lord’s Supper (Holy Thursday); Masses during councils, synods, Bishops’ conferences, and assemblies of Priests; Mass for the blessing of an Abbot; and at the principal Mass of a church. Extending this permission was not about practical concerns, but rather because concelebration appropriately manifests the unity of the Priesthood and the unity of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross. The regulation of this discipline belongs to the local Bishop (no. 57).

However, every Priest “retain[s] his right to celebrate Mass individually, though not at the same time in the same church as a concelebrated Mass, nor on Thursday of the Lord’s Supper (no. 57.2.2). This is to keep the focus on Christ: while the Priest has the ‘power’ to offer Mass, it is not for himself but for the good of the Church and of the world; he cannot do with it what he wills. (To be continued…)

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