Have you ever thought to yourself: “Why do Catholics do that?” Perhaps you even find yourself doing something that you only do because you see everyone else doing it. In this space each week I hope to address the question: “why do Catholics do that?”
The word "altar" should make us think of "sacrifice". A sacrifice requires a priest (those who offer sacrifice) and a victim (those who suffer). We see this throughout the Old Testament when the priests would offer animal sacrifices to the Lord on an altar in the Temple. In Catholic Churches today we also have a priest, but who then is the victim? The victim is Jesus Christ. At the Last Supper Jesus abolished animal sacrifice, and on Passover He offered Himself as the ultimate victim, the Unblemished Passover Lamb, dying once and for all. He was the priest and the victim of the sacrifice, which was offered to the Father in atonement for sin. So how can we say that Jesus is offered in sacrifice on the altars at Catholic Churches today? Are we killing Jesus again? No. The Mass makes present again the one sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. The priest offers to the Father the SAME sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross which happened 2000 years ago, applying the redemptive fruits of the Cross to us poor sinners. We can say then, that when we come to Mass we are transported to Calvary, and we are standing at the foot of the Cross with Mary and John the beloved disciple. This is why we place a crucifix in every Catholic Sanctuary and on the altar. Catholic use altars because there is a true sacrifice taking place at every Catholic Mass.
Prior to the Second Vatican Council, most altars were up against the wall and the priest would face the same direction as the people, which is towards God (imagine a general leading his army into battle. None of the soldiers would think "Hey, he has his back to us!"). The imagery of sacrifice was very clear, and the events taking place on the altar were veiled so as to add mystery and awe. Following the Council, however, many churches tore down their beautiful high altars and replaced them with an "altar table". Some churches such as St. Mary's Basilica or Brophy Chapel, have both. Many began to think of the altar as not a place for a sacrifice, but as a simple table for a common meal. Some churches even put in rounded altars or four legged altars so as to emphasize a false (or at least a very watered down) theology that it is in fact just a common family table where people gather around to share in a simple meal. The ancient adage: "The way we pray is the way we believe (lex orandi, lex credendi) holds true to this day. And when we replace the altar with what is often confused for a stage or a family room, we wonder why close to 70% of Catholics no longer believe that Jesus Christ is truly present in the Most Holy Eucharist, let alone that the Mass is a sacrifice.
God Bless, Andy Miller
For comments or suggestions on future topics email me at email@example.com.
There is story that is related about St. Phillip Neri. One day while celebrating Mass the great Saint noticed that someone was leaving the Church immediately following the reception of Holy Communion. He sent two Altar Boys with lighted candles to follow the man out of the Church to show that that man had the unsurpassable gift of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist within him. As we leave the Church at the end of Mass we should also remember that we have the Eucharist within us and are literally carrying Jesus out into the world that so badly needs Him. Those few moments while Jesus is still in our bodies are some of the most precious moments we have on this Earth as Catholics. St. Maximilian Kolbe said, "If angels could be jealous of men, they would be so for one reason: Holy Communion". While the angels get to worship the Lord continuously in His presence, they never get to receive Him as we do in Holy Communion. But what happens far too often is that after we receive the Lord in the Eucharist, we forget about Him and go about our lives. Many others do not even believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and commit sacrilege by receiving Him without faith, or while in a state of mortal sin. Still others receive Him irreverently, often causing many crumbs (which is still Jesus) to fall to the ground which are trampled under foot. Our actual state, however, should be one of thanksgiving. For this reason, many Catholics stay after Mass to offer a "Prayer of Thanksgiving" to the Lord for having come to them in the Eucharist. Some Saints would stay in the chapel for up to 2 hours following the reception of Holy Communion. While this is not possible for pretty much any of us unless we live in a monastery, it is very appropriate to spend 5 minutes after Mass reflecting on the many graces received in Holy Communion. It is also a time when our prayers are the most potent since the Lord is within us substantially. This should bring us great peace and comfort...even if we end up being the last one out of the parking lot.
God Bless, Andy Miller
For comments or suggestions on future topics email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article on veiling is back by a request from several individuals. It has since been edited to include more information. While not too common today, Christian women have worn some sort of head covering in churches for close to 2000 years. Why? Perhaps the most flattering response to this common question is: "Because we veil the sacred". Consider Moses coming down the mountain with his face veiled because he had just seen the Lord (Exodus 34: 35). Consider the veil that separated the sanctuary from the from the people in the Temple. Consider also how the Eucharist is veiled by the tabernacle today. It is also a traditional practice to veil the chalice which holds the Blood of Christ. According to the Theology of the Body, all human life is sacred, however woman can be seen as particularly sacred because of their role in bearing life in the womb. The veil also highlights a woman's inherent dignity as an act of beautiful modesty.READ MORE
At the end of Mass, the priest or deacon says "Go, the Mass is ended". The original Latin is "Ite missa est" which translates to "Go, it is ended" or "Go, you are dismissed". We can see in the English word "dismissal" the Latin root "missa". The priest is not just dismissing the congregation, but rather sending them out into the world. We can see this very clearly in the English word "mission" which has the same Latin root. Therefore, when the Mass is finished, we are literally being sent out as missionaries. I once heard a priest say that the most important sign in the church is the "exit" sign.READ MORE
Without priests, there are no Sacraments. Without Sacraments, the world would be devoid of grace. St. Padre Pio is quoted as saying: "It would be easier for the world to survive without the sun than to do so without the Holy Mass." Why is this? At the words of the priest: Hoc enim corpus meum est (This is my body), God, who made the sun, ordains that His Son, Jesus Christ, would become truly present on the altar. Jesus is the victim that is offered as an eternal sacrifice to the Father on behalf of the sins of the people. At the moment that Christ steps off His throne to dwell in the form of Eucharistic bread, all of the heavenly hosts of angels, and indeed the entire universe created by God, becomes focused on the Holy Mass which is being celebrated by the humble priest. This is the dignity of the priesthood, whose hands are consecrated to handle daily the sacred species and whose lips are daily purpled by the Blood of Christ. This is why it is always appropriate to kiss the hands of a priest. The priest is not simply some underpaid social worker or parish CEO as he is often treated. He is the one that stands in the person of Christ (in persona Christi) because he has been called by Christ to do the most important work in the universe: Celebrate the Holy Mass.READ MORE
It is now that time of year when Catholic Churches put on their annual Friday fish-fry. It also seems that every restaurant I drive by is having some Friday special on fish. But why fish?
Lent is a time of fasting (only one full meal, and two smaller meals that do not add up to one meal) and abstinence (to refrain from a particular kind of food flesh-meat). There is even what is called "partial abstinence" in which meat may be taken at only the principal meal. Traditionally (prior to Vatican II) every Friday of the year was a day of complete abstinence (no flesh-meat), and every day of Lent was a day of fasting and partial abstinence. This rule was reduced significantly after the Second Vatican Council. Current law binds Catholics to fast and abstain only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and to abstain during the Fridays of Lent. Many Catholics find that the traditional fasting laws are more beneficial to the soul, and continue to practice them today. Indeed, the practice of refraining from meat on Fridays throughout the year is gaining more popularity today, especially as many Catholics have begun to offer it up for the unborn and the end of abortion.READ MORE
As we go through this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, many questions have arisen about the what the Year of Mercy is, and how it has affected our liturgy. I hope to clarify a few things here for you.
Every 50 years the Church calls for a Jubilee Year. Traditionally a Jubilee year was celebrated by the Jewish people as a time when captives would be set free, when the ground should rest, and when great festivals would take place to celebrate the many blessing from God. The Catholic Church has continued this tradition since the 1300s. The last Jubilee year was in 2000. When a pope calls for a Jubilee year outside of the 50 year schema, it is called an “extra-ordinary” Jubilee Year. Pope Francis desires that this year be a Year of Mercy, and so granted the same privileges to the faithful as would occur on a normal Jubilee Year. The main privilege of course is the opening of a Holy Door in every Diocese around the world (in Phoenix they are at the Saints Simon and Jude Cathedral and the Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona). A Catholic can receive a plenary indulgence by making a pilgrimage to the Holy Door (The other conditions that need to be met to gain the indulgence include: going to Confession at least 20 days before or after visiting the Holy Door, receiving Holy Communion, praying for the Pope’s intentions, and being detached from all sins, including venial sins).READ MORE
Last week I talked about the “smells” as meaning the incense which is used at Mass. This week I will discuss the “bells”, what they are for, and why we use them as Catholics. There are three bells that you will encounter at a Catholic Church. First is the main church bell in the bell tower. Second is the “Sanctus” bells, which are rung by the server during the Consecration. Thirdly we have the bells at the back of the Church which are rung when Mass begins.READ MORE
Dr. Scott Hahn tells of his first Catholic Byzantine Liturgy that he attended during his conversion to the Catholic Church: “All I could say was, ‘Now I know why God gave me a body: to worship the Lord with His people in liturgy.’ Catholics don’t just hear the Gospel. In the liturgy, we hear, see, smell, and taste it” (The Lamb’s Supper). As Catholics, the whole body is engaged in the act of worship. Many Catholics affectionately call this the “smells and bells”. This term is usually used in contrast to Masses where they do not use bells or incense. I have heard people say things like: “I miss the smells and bells” or “I prefer Mass with all the smells and bells”, etc. So why do Catholic Masses have all the “smells and bells”, and what does it mean for us as Catholics? I will describe here the use of incense, and will save the topics of bells for next week.READ MORE
Today is the 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time. A natural question to ask is: “What happened to the 1st Sunday in Ordinary Time”? A common mistake is to say that the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (which was celebrated last Sunday, and is always celebrated the Sunday after Epiphany) must be a part of Ordinary Time and so therefore is actually the 1st Sunday. However, The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is actually a part of the “Christmastide”. The first day of Ordinary Time is the Monday after the Baptism of the Lord. We can say that the first week in Ordinary Time actually has no Sunday, since liturgically the week ends on Saturday evening. Today might be better called “The Sunday of the Second week of Ordinary Time”.READ MORE
“...And behold the Lord passeth, and a great and strong wind before the Lord over throwing the mountains, and breaking the rocks in pieces: the Lord is not in the wind, and after the wind an earthquake: the Lord is not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire: the Lord is not in the fire, and after the fire a whistling of a gentle air. And when Elias heard it, he covered his face with his mantle….” (1 Kings 19:11-13)READ MORE
I have been asked this question on many occasions. It can be sometimes hard to answer without going into too much depth, and few are ever satisfied with any answer we might give. Some might even claim that Catholics deny the Resurrection since we focus too much on the crucifixion, which of course is false. So how should we respond to this question?READ MORE