“Holy Mother Church is conscious that she must celebrate the saving work of her divine Spouse by devoutly recalling it on certain days throughout the course of the year. Every week, on the day which she has called the Lord's day, she keeps the memory of the Lord's resurrection, which she also celebrates once in the year, together with His blessed passion, in the most solemn festival of Easter.
Within the cycle of a year, moreover, she unfolds the whole mystery of Christ, from the incarnation and birth until the ascension, the day of Pentecost, and the expectation of blessed hope and of the coming of the Lord.
Recalling thus the mysteries of redemption, the Church opens to the faithful the riches of her Lord's powers and merits, so that these are in some way made present for all time, and the faithful are enabled to lay hold upon them and become filled with saving grace (SC, 102).”
The Church celebrates the liturgy according to a liturgical calendar which celebrates the life of Christ throughout the course of the year. Every year, we celebrate the entire life of Christ, from His conception in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary on March 25, to His birth at Christmas, His public ministry, His suffering and death at the Triduum, His Ascension to heaven, and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. We consecrate our lives and time itself by celebrating the life of Christ and uniting our lives to His.
There were some changes made to the calendar after Vatican II, and you can look up the details if you’d like. They mainly tried to simplify the calendar. To do that, they removed some things from the calendar, like the Octave of Pentecost, the ember days, and some saints feast days, although we’ve added quite a few saints since then. The ember days were 12 days of fasting and abstinence. They happened on the Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays following the first Sunday of Lent, Pentecost Sunday, the Exaltation of the Cross (Sept 14), and the feast of St. Lucy (Dec 13), because Christ was betrayed on a Wednesday, crucified on a Friday, and in the tomb on Saturday. They were supposed to teach us to appreciate the gifts of nature, to use them in moderation, and to assist the poor. In the current calendar we only fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and we practice abstinence on all Fridays of the year. Of course, just because they’re no longer mandatory doesn’t mean that we can’t still fast in some way on those days.
As we celebrate the life of Christ, the mysteries of the faith, and the lives of the saints throughout the liturgical year, we can try to truly unite our lives to the life of Christ. We can unite our joys to Christs and our struggles and sorrows to His as well. We can also be inspired and motivated by the lives of the saints and deepen our understanding of the mysteries of the faith. Most of all, we can let the life of Christ sanctify our lives.
The document that governs the liturgical reforms of the Mass, sacraments, and sacramentals of the Church is Sacrosanctum Concilium, which was promulgated (published) in December 1963. After that, the Church began to put together commissions to work on the various reforms that the council called for, and the work of these commissions was ultimately overseen by the Holy Father, Pope St. Paul VI, and the bishops. One of the biggest changes was to the cycle of Bible readings used in the Mass. The Council wrote, “Sacred Scripture is of the greatest importance in the celebration of the liturgy. For it is from scripture that lessons are read and explained in the homily, and psalms are sung; the prayers, collects, and liturgical songs are scriptural in their inspiration and their force, and it is from the scriptures that actions and signs derive their meaning. Thus to achieve the restoration, progress, and adaptation of the sacred liturgy, it is essential to promote that warm and living love for scripture to which the venerable tradition of both eastern and western rites gives testimony” (SC, 24).
The Mass comes from the Bible and the Bible, in turn, is infused in every part of the Mass, from the prayers to the very structure of the Mass, and this has always been true. However, in the course of the centuries, the number of readings at Mass was reduced. In the early Church, it wasn’t uncommon to have many readings at every Mass, like the Easter Vigil still does (it has 9 readings plus the psalms). Before Vatican II, there was a one year cycle of readings with only 2 readings at each Mass, with few readings taken from the Old Testament. Also, most weekdays simply repeated the readings from the Sunday Mass, except during Lent and on Ember Days.
The Council Fathers of Vatican II called for an expansion of the readings used at Mass, “The treasures of the bible are to be opened up more lavishly, so that richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God’s word. In this way a more representative portion of the holy scriptures will be read to the people in the course of a prescribed number of years” (SC, 51). That’s why we now have three readings every Sunday, with one from the Old Testament, one from the Epistles, and one from the Gospels. Weekdays got their own readings, although they only have 2 readings with one from either the Old Testament or Epistles and the other from the Gospels. The Sunday readings follow a three year cycle and the weekday readings a two year cycle. These readings are often arranged to point out the connections between the Old and New Testament and the faith of the Church. For example, the readings for next Sunday all concern the gentiles and how even foreigners are called to faith in God.
Not all of the changes were good, however. The new lectionary (the book of Mass readings), often gives long and short versions of readings, where the short version sometimes leaves out a challenging part of the readings, and the new lectionary entirely leaves out certain challenging Bible passages, like St. Paul’s warning in 1 Corinthians 11 not to eat the Body of the Lord unworthily, which before was read twice every year. I point this out to encourage everybody to pick up your Bibles and read them or join a good, Catholic Bible Study. The new lectionary is very good, and, I think, an improvement on the old, but it was still put together by flawed human beings. Many of us use our Bibles to hold space on a book shelf, but God has treasures stored up for us in the Holy Bible. Don’t neglect them.
The Lord of the Rings movies are three of the highest grossing movies of all times, so it’s pretty likely that you’ve seen them. However, if you like epic books, then you should definitely read the books. Don’t be intimidated by the size of the books; there are three of them, and they’re all large, but it’s worth it. Take you time reading them, and really think about them. J.R.R. Tolkien was a devout Catholic, but his Catholicism isn’t just right on the surface like so much Catholic media; it’s deep down in the fabric of the story and characters.
In the movies you can see the struggle between Frodo and the Ring, and they do a brilliant job of showing that struggle. In the books you get to hear what’s going on in Frodo’s mind during those struggles. The Ring wants him to put it on, because that will reveal his location and their plan to destroy the Ring. Sometimes Frodo exerts his will and overcomes the temptation of the Ring. Sometimes he falls to the temptation and the Ring wins. The really subtle part is that using the Ring can actually help Frodo get closer to his goal, which is reaching Mt. Doom and destroying the Ring, but each time it makes it harder and harder to resist and gives the Ring more and more control over Frodo. One of the most moving scenes in the book is when Frodo and Sam are in Mordor and getting closer and closer to Mt. Doom. As they draw closer it gets harder and harder for Frodo to resist as it has more and more influence over him. At one point he tells Sam to hold his hand, to keep him from putting on the Ring, because he knows that he can’t resist the pull of the Ring anymore.
This is epic fantasy literature, but it has everything to do with living out the faith in our daily lives. We have to remember that we’re in a spiritual battle against the ancient Enemy, Satan, “the accuser of our brothers” (Rv 12:10).There is another power, when which is more powerful than we are, influencing us and pulling us, but it can’t control us unless we give in. Sometimes we fall, and sometimes we don’t, but we need to use of our willpower and everything we have to resist. Ultimately, though, everything we have isn’t enough. We need help. We need the help of our friends, our brothers and sisters in the faith, and we need the help of a higher power, one which even the Enemy is powerless against. Think of what Gandalf says as he stands on the bridge of Khazad-dum blocking the path of the Balrog, a beast of fire and shadows, “I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass.” To me, that sounds an awful lot like the Holy Spirit who descended on the Apostles at Pentecost filling them with the strength and gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Back in April I did my bulletin article on “Full and Active Participation in the Mass,” which is a phrase from the Second Vatican Council, and before that from the Liturgical Movement leading up to Vatican II. One of the main purposes of the Liturgical Movement was to encourage people to actively participate in the prayers and sacrifice of the Mass. Since the priest faced the tabernacle with the people, the Mass was in Latin, and many of the prayers were said too quietly for the people to hear, people could get the impression that the Mass is what the priest, and maybe the servers, do, and everyone else just has to be there. They encouraged people to buy daily missals so they could follow the prayers and readings of the Mass, to learn about the Mass, and to actively participate.
Vatican II recommended a reform of the liturgy to encourage full and active participation. The Council Fathers wrote, “Pastors of souls must therefore realize that, when the liturgy is celebrated, something more is required than the mere observation of the laws governing valid and licit celebration; it is their duty also to ensure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects” (SC, 11).
We might think that only the people who are lectors, Extraordinary Ministers of Communion, altar servers, ushers, etc., are actively involved in the Mass, but that’s exactly the attitude that Vatican II wanted to end. You aren’t supposed to sit there passively as the Mass happens around you; you should be actively praying with the priest and offering yourself with the Sacrifice of Christ.
Some people say that there’s no point in going to Mass if they can’t receive Communion. There may be many reasons why you can’t or shouldn’t receive. You may be allergic to wheat (the host for the Eucharist must be wheat bread). Maybe you haven’t made your first Communion yet, or maybe you’re not Catholic yet. Maybe you didn’t fast from food and drink (except water and medicine) for an hour before Communion, or maybe you have a mortal sin on your soul and haven’t gotten to Confession yet. In any case, you are still called to be actively involved in praying the Mass. If you do pray the Mass, pay attention to the readings and homily, and offer yourself with the sacrifice of Christ, then when you do receive Communion, whether you receive every day or go for years without receiving, it will be that much more powerful for you when you do receive.
The Lord God wants gave us the Mass as a gift, to draw us closer to Himself, and we are all called to participate fully and actively, no matter what our state in life or position in the Church, as the Council Fathers wrote, “To accomplish so great a work, Christ is always present in His Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations. He is present in the sacrifice of the Mass, not only in the person of His minister, ‘the same now offering, through the ministry of priests, who formerly offered himself on the cross’, but especially under the Eucharistic species. By His power He is present in the sacraments, so that when a man baptizes it is really Christ Himself who baptizes. He is present in His word, since it is He Himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church. He is present, lastly, when the Church prays and sings, for He promised: ‘Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them’ [Mt 18:20]” (SC, 7).
Lately, I’ve been hearing the phrase, “follow the science,” a lot. For example, people have been saying that we should follow the science with regard to coronavirus. They mean that we should social distance from one another and wear masks when we’re out around other people, because these things make it less likely that you’ll catch the virus. However, they’re leaving out the fact that they’re also making a moral judgement that we should do whatever we can to avoid catching or spreading Coronavirus. Science doesn’t make judgements on what we should and shouldn’t do; it only tells us facts based on empirical evidence and experimentation. We then have to take those facts and make a judgement about them to figure out what we should do in this situation.
So, science tells us how Coronavirus spreads and which people are most at risk, our belief that every human life is precious leads us to do what we can to avoid spreading the virus, and our common sense tells us when we should take more or less precautions. However, sometimes different morals seem to come into conflict. In that case the science doesn’t change but our judgment might. For example, we believe in the free exercise of religion and freedom of speech, and both of these can lead to exceptions to the rules on social distancing. Let’s try to think about the decisions we’re making and what morals and beliefs are behind those decisions. We should definitely encourage people to take common sense precautions, but let’s refrain from berating and accusing people. Instead, let’s try to understand the beliefs behind one another’s actions.
Science can answer a lot of questions. It can tell us who, what, when, where, and how, but it can’t tell us why. Science can tell us about the world around us, but it doesn’t tell us why those things are. Science can tell us where the colors come from and how our eye picks up light reflected off of other things, but it can’t tell us the meaning behind a great piece of artwork. Science has it’s place, but so do religion and philosophy. Science can explain how the human body stays alive, but religion tells us about the meaning and purpose of life. Jesus Christ, after all, commanded us to feed the hungry and care for the sick (Mt. 25:31-46), but He also said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Mt. 4:4).
We probably all have relatives who were raised Catholic but have since left the Church or simply stopped going to Church. This can be a cause of great sorrow, since we know the importance of the faith for eternal life and the joy that we have from living out the faith, and we want them to experience that joy and have hope for eternal life. It’s not up to us to judge anyone’s soul, because only God can read the intentions of hearts. However, the Lord did command us to “make disciples of all nations.” Where better to start than in our own families? Unfortunately, our own family members can be the hardest people to share our faith with.
We may be tempted to downplay our faith when we’re around these family members, so we don’t cause any uncomfortable situations. We don’t have to shove religion in their faces or beat them over the head with the Bible, but we shouldn’t hide our faith, either. Instead, we should just be ourselves. Don’t be afraid to talk about your faith, to pray before meals, or even to invite them to come to Mass with you, but don’t try to force it either. Simply show them that your faith is an important and natural part of your life.
Sometimes we encounter people who want to argue with us about religion, but we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be pulled into an argument. If someone wants to talk with you about religion and beliefs then don’t be afraid to share your faith. If they have questions you can’t answer, just tell them you’re not sure, but make sure to look up the answer and get back to them. When we argue about religion we start to feel like we need to win the argument. Instead, try to leave them with something to think about. Plant a seed in their mind.
Most importantly, remember to pray for them. When the Lord went to visit Martha and Mary, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to Him while Martha did all of the serving. Martha asked the Lord to tell Mary to help her with the serving, but Jesus said, “Mary has chosen the one thing necessary, and it shall not be taken away from her” (Lk 10:42). We need to do the work of sharing the faith and witnessing to the faith, but we also have to do the “one thing necessary,” which is to pray. As St. Paul wrote, “I planted, Apollo watered, but God provided the growth” (1 Cor 3:6). Only God can make the seed of faith grow in someone’s heart, so pray to him every day for your relatives and friends who are away from the Church.
When you read the lives of the saints you often find that they come in groups. You’ll have multiple saints in the same family, like St. Edwin of Northumbria, his wife St. Ethelburga of Kent, and their daughter St. Enfleda of Whitby, who lived in 7th century England and worked to spread Christianity. There’s also St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, Saints Perpetua and Felicity, Saints Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, and Basil of Caesarea, and Saints Benedict and Scholastica, who were brother and sister. Saints tend to come in groups because holiness attracts holiness. All of these saints, whether they were family or friends, tried to help each other to grow in holiness. They weren’t perfect, but they encouraged each other to persevere in the faith and held each other to higher standards.
Saints pray for one another. St. Monica spent years praying for the conversion of her son, St. Augustine, who went on to become one of the greatest theologians in Church history. The legacy of St. Augustine is due in large part to the love and prayers of St. Monica. Do I pray for my family members and friends? Do I ask God to help them, to bring them to conversion, and to give them the grace they need to grow closer to God and persevere in the faith? I recommend praying a daily rosary and offering each decade for a different person or family.
Saints give one another prudent spiritual advice and not just worldly advice. St. Teresa of Avila recruited St. John of the Cross to help her in her mission to reform the Carmelite Order. This caused St. John of the Cross a lot of hardship and suffering, but it also helped him to become a saint. Do we try to help our friends to become saints? Not everyone can give spiritual direction but we can all encourage our family and friends to go to Church, to pray, and to seek to know and do God’s will in their lives, and encourage them to persevere when things get tough.
Most of all, saints let their actions speak for them. They give others a good example, like Saints Francis, founder of the Franciscan Order, and Clare of Assisi, founder of the Order of Poor Ladies, when St. Clare followed St. Francis’ example of leaving everything behind to follow Christ in poverty and absolute faith. I’m no St. Francis or St. Clare, but am I trying to be a saint? Am I trying to live a holy life? Am I trying to get to heaven? When we live in joyful abandonment to God He will use us to attract others to do the same.
On Friday, June 19, we celebrated the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and then on Saturday, June 20, we celebrated the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The Feast of the Sacred Heart us always on the Friday after Corpus Christi, and the Feast of the Immaculate Heart is always the next day. For us the heart symbolizes passion, emotion, and love. In ancient Hebrew culture the heart was the center of both emotion and wisdom. Understanding comes from the heart and leads directly to action. The Greatest Commandment in the Law is “to love the Lord with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.” To love someone with all of your heart is not only to have an emotional, passionate love for them, but also to love them with wisdom and understanding which leads you to try to actually do good for them.
In the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus we’re reminded that our Lord has that kind of love for us. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, became incarnate by taking on a human nature out of love for us. We see the passionate, emotional love of Jesus when He has pity on the widow who’s just lost her only son, when He heals the lepers, and when He weeps at the death of His friend, Lazarus. We also see His love for us and, more importantly, for His Heavenly Father, in His anger at the dishonor shown to the Temple when He drove out the money changers. Love can be shown not only through acts of kindness and generosity but in righteous anger at injustice and in offering correction. Finally, though, Christ shows the depths of His love for us in offering His life on the Cross. As our Lord said, “Greater love than this has no man, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
That feast is followed on the very next day by the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Our Blessed Mother represents the Church and the love that the Church is called to have for Christ. The Blessed Mother is completely devoted to her Son. In the Gospels she is always with Christ, she is always bringing peoples attention to Christ, and she’s always pondering His words in her heart. She is the Immaculate Heart because she was conceived in a state of grace, meaning without original sin, and she never sinned during her life. The Church is also “holy” and without sin because she is the Body of Christ and is filled with the Holy Spirit, but we the members of the Church must still struggle with temptation and sin. We are called to the sort of love that our Blessed Mother has for Christ. We are called to the perfection of faith, even though we know that we won’t get there during this life. However, we must still strive for it. Why did Ferdinand Magellan try to circumnavigate the world even though everyone who’d tried before Him had failed? Why did Edmund Hillary try to climb Mt. Everest when so many people had died trying? Why does mankind keep going back to space, to the moon, or even to other planets? If these things are worth dedicating your life to, then how much more is it worth it to dedicate your life to God?
I’m republishing this Pastor’s Bulletin to emphasize the importance of the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, which is often the last opportunity to receive sacramental grace, have our sins forgiven, and be reconciled to God.
From the Pastor’s Archive: December 31, 2017
Anointing of the Sick
The Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is one of the most misunderstood sacraments. It is often called Extreme Unction, which literally means “last anointing.” If baptism is the first anointing, then the anointing of the sick is the last anointing. It is also confused with the Last Rites, although it is really only one part of the last rites.
Anointing of the Sick is for anyone who begins to be in danger of death from illness, injury, or old age. So, for example, if you are diagnosed with cancer you can be anointed as soon as you are diagnosed. You don’t have to wait until you are in grave danger of dying. In the sacrament the priest will pray over the sick or injured person, lays hands on them (usually on their head), and anoints the forehead and hands with the Oil of the Sick, which is one of the Holy Oils blessed by the bishop during Holy Week every year and distributed to all of the parishes. Only a priest or bishop can give the sacrament of anointing.
In the sacrament we pray for 2 things. First, and most importantly, is spiritual healing and strength. Injury and illness can be a very dangerous time spiritually, especially as we approach death, and we need extra help from God during those times. Through the anointing our venial sins are forgiven, our faith and hope are increased, and we are given sanctifying grace. Some of the graces we might pray for through the sacrament are comfort and consolation, perseverance, courage, and the knowledge of God’s presence with us. Second, we also pray for physical healing, either through the skills of doctors and nurses, or miraculously. However, we also know that this is not always given, so we pray as Christ did in the Garden of Gethsemane, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not as I will, but as you will.” Even Christ prayed to be spared the suffering of the Cross, but He also accepted the will of God; we should follow His example.
The Sacrament of Anointing, like all of the sacraments, gets it’s power from the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus. In our suffering we may be tempted to lose hope, to lose faith in God, or to give up, but in the Sacrament Christ gives us His strength. He reminds us of His promise to His disciples, “I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
Lectio: Mary with Dr. Brant Pitre on Formed.org
Throughout my eight years in seminary I had a number of classes on the Sacred Scriptures taught by different professors. Most of these professors certainly knew their subject and knew the Bible, but they way they presented the information seemed to suck all of the life out of it. They mainly focused on the facts and on the intentions of the human authors of the Bible, sometimes to the point of neglecting the fact that God is the primary author of the Bible and there is also a spiritual meaning to every passage of Scripture. As St. Augustine put it, “In every page of these Scriptures, while I pursue my search as a son of Adam in the sweat of my brow, Christ either openly or covertly meets and refreshes me” (Contra Faustum 12.27). That is, since the entire Bible is the Word of God, Jesus Christ is present in the entire Bible, not just the New Testament.
At Notre Dame Seminary I had one class with Dr. Brant Pitre, Pentateuch. If you’ve read any of his books or listened to any of his talks, then you know that Dr. Pitre loves to show the unity of the Bible by showing how to read the Old Testament in light of the New and how the New Testament opens up the Old. That is exactly what you’ll get in the Lectio Bible Study on the Blessed Virgin Mary that Dr. Pitre did for Formed.org. In this Bible study Dr. Pitre talks about Mary as the New Eve, the New Ark, the Mother of the Messiah, the Queen Mother, the Perpetual Virgin, the Mother of Sorrows, and the New Rachel. In each 30-40 minute talk he shows the continuity of the Old and New Testaments and how the Church’s teaching on Mary is foreshadowed in the Old Testament, fleshed out in the New Testament, and present in the ancient Tradition of the Church.
If you’ve had trouble answering questions from non-Catholics about the Church’s teachings on the Mother of God, or if you simply want to dig into the Scriptural roots of those teachings, then you need to watch this series. It can be found on Formed.org, in the Bible Studies section. If you are a member of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, then you can use our subscription for free.
To Sign-up for Formed.org
1. Go to the Formed.org website or download the app.
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Fr. Bryan became pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes on July 3, 2017. Read his bio here.