A Memento Mori, meaning “remember death,” is a piece of artwork or writing that calls to mind the fact that we must all face eventually. If you do a google image search for memento mori (which you should only do if you’re not upset by skulls and things like that) you’ll find some very interesting results. Remember that this is a traditional Catholic thing, not heaven metal, punk rock, goth, or something like that. St. Benedict of Nursia said that Christians should, “keep death ever before your eyes,” and on Ash Wednesday, when the ashes are placed on your head, we pray, “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.” November is the month that we set aside to remember death and to think about the last things that every experiences: death, judgement, and heaven or hell.
When you think about the history of the early Church you can see why people thought about these things. For the first almost 300 years of Christianity it was illegal to be Christian. Many tens of thousands of Christians were killed, mostly by the Roman Empire, and most Christians probably knew someone who had been martyred. Not every Christian who was arrested by the Romans was martyred, of course. Some of them were exiled or given other punishments, and some of the renounced the faith to escape punishment, but many of them refused to worship the emperor and the Roman gods and suffered the ultimate fate, believing that their faith in God would get them to heaven.
Do you think about the reality of death? Do you try to live each day as if it may be your last? Do you focus on the things that are truly important in life or do you put them off for another day? Remembering death can lead us to despair if we don’t believe in the afterlife, but the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and His ascension to heaven gives us hope. Jesus prepared the way for us and opened the gates to heaven. The Memento Mori reminds us that this life is temporary. If we live only for this life, then we will lose everything when we die, but if we build up treasures in heaven then they will be waiting for us when we get there. We build up treasures in heaven by living with our eyes set on Christ, Who said to Martha when her brother Lazarus died, “I am the Resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, although he be dead, shall live: and everyone that liveth, and believeth in me, shall not die for ever” (John 11:25-26).
We all know that we have to go to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation, which are the Assumption (August 15), All Saints Day (November 1), the Immaculate Conception (December 8), Christmas (December 25), and the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God (January 1). Have you ever wondered why? In the next few weeks I’ll answer that question and other related to the Mass and the Sacraments.
The Second Vatican Council was a gathering of all the bishops of the Catholic Church to discuss certain issues affecting the Church and society, including the liturgy and sacraments of the Church, the Bible, evangelization, the relationship of priesthood and the laity, and modern society and technology, among other things. It began in October of 1962 and ended in December of 1965. One of the most important topics the Council Fathers (the bishops who attended and voted on the acceptance or rejection of the documents) covered was the Mass.
They called the Eucharist “the source and summit of the Christian life,” because the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, the presence of God Himself. God is the source of all things, but in a special way He is the source of the Christian life because He sent the Holy Spirit into our hearts to unite us to Christ. Whenever we receive the Eucharist we are more and more closely united to Jesus Christ. God is also the summit of the Christian life, meaning that He is our goal. The reason that we are Christians is to grow closer to God. That’s what holiness is: closeness to God. The Eucharist is the best way to grow in holiness because we are never closer to God than we are when we receive Communion.
Everything in the Mass means something, from the structure of the Mass to the movements of the priest and ministers, and understanding this symbolism can help us to better understand the Mass, pray the Mass, and get something out of the Mass. A symbol, like a stop sign, is something that means something or points to something else. When you see a stop sign you know it means that you’re supposed to stop, but it doesn’t make you stop. Some symbols do seem to have power, though, like language. All language is symbolic because words point to something else; words mean things. When the president says, “I pardon John Doe of his crimes,” that sentence affects his legal status and makes him pardoned. When the priest says, “I absolved you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” it affects your soul and wipes away your sins. The symbols of the Mass, through the power of the Holy Spirit, make present the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Even the structure of the Mass is symbolic. The Mass starts with The Introductory Rites, continues with The Liturgy of the Word, goes into The Liturgy of the Eucharist, and finishes with The Concluding Rites. The Introductory Rites prepare us for the Mass. We begin with the sign of the Cross and then the priest greets the Church, saying, “The Lord be with you,” and they respond, “And with your spirit.” The greeting is both to remind us that the Lord is indeed with us and also to call the Lord down, which is why you respond by calling down the Lord upon my spirit as well. We continue with the Penitential Act by confessing our sinfulness and asking the Lord to have mercy on us three times. We must be purified of our sinfulness in order to worthily enter into the Mass. Finally, we sing or recite the Gloria, reminding us that the purpose of the Mass is for us to glorify the Lord.
The Liturgy of the Word and the Eucharist go together. We listen to the Word of God and hear the priest or deacon interpret it, encouraging us, calling us to repentance, and spurring us to action. The Word of God in the Bible prepares us to recognize and receive the Word of God present in the Eucharist. It puts us in the proper mindset or spiritual disposition to celebrate the Mystery of the Eucharist. These two parts of the Mass go all the way back to our Jewish roots. The Jewish people went to synagogues and to the Temple in Jerusalem. In the synagogue, the Scriptures were read and then the rabbi would interpret them for the people. In the Temple, the Jewish Levitical priests would offer the sacrifice. There were many different things offered in the Temple, like different grains, bulls, goats, doves and pigeons, and oxen, but the three most common offerings, which were offered every day, were unleavened bread, wine, and lambs. The points to Christ who is the Lamb of God and gives us His flesh in the form of unleavened bread and wine. Both the synagogue and Temple worship are present in the Mass, because the Liturgy of the Word is based on what they did in the synagogue and the Liturgy of the Eucharist replaces what they did in the Temple.
We finish by being blessed and sent forth to live what we have heard and received.
Friday, September 14 was the Feast Day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and Saturday, September 15, the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows. For most of the first 300 years of its existence, the Church was persecuted by the Roman Empire, among others, but that all ended in the year 313 AD with the Edict of Milan. The newly named Roman Emperor attributed his victory over his competitor to the help of Jesus Christ and legalized the practice of Christianity.
Historians disagree about the genuineness of Emperor Constantine’s faith, but few doubt the faith of his mother, St. Helena. St. Helena was the one who journeyed to the Holy Land to build Churches over the holy sites, such as the place where Jesus was born in Bethlehem and the site of the crucifixion. She recovered the relics of the true Cross from where it had been hidden and it was venerated in Jerusalem for over 300 years. In the 600s AD, when the Cross was taken from its place by the Persians, Emperor Heraclius recovered the Cross and had it brought to Rome. The Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross was established to commemorate that event.
The Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows follows the next day because Our Blessed Mother was united to Christ in His life on earth, in His sufferings on the Cross, and is now with Him in heaven. These two feast days teach us the lesson of the Cross. This is a lesson of faith, hope, and charity. We must have faith because everyone suffers in this life. There is no way to completely avoid suffering. We must try to imitate the faith of Mary and unite our suffering to the suffering of Christ. In that way we are lifted up with Him, so that, as St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come, that shall be revealed in us” (Rm 8:18). Faith leads to hope, because we know that Christ overcame the sufferings of the Cross in His Resurrection on the third day, and, “if we be dead with Him, we shall also rise with Him” (2 Tim 2:11).
Faith and Hope lead to charity, because we know that Christ died for us, and, as He said to His apostles after He washed their feet, “For I have given you an example, that as I have done to you, so you do also” (Jn 13:15). As Christ had compassion on us and came to free us from sin and death, so let us have compassion on one another and try to relieve their suffering.
Next Week: Family Day
The Second Vatican Council, held in Rome from 1962 to 1965, the Church called for all Catholics, not just priests and religious, to active participation at mass. This wasn’t a new thing, but the result of a liturgical movement stretching back about 100 years before Vatican II. It was this movement that encouraged people to be more engaged with the Mass. They encouraged music in the Mass that people could sing, which resulted in a renewal of Gregorian Chant, which is easy enough that most people can sing along with it, beautiful enough to lift our hearts and souls to God, and has a long history in the Church. Often, in the old form of the Mass, many people would pray their rosary or other prayers while the Mass was going on, the Liturgical Movement encouraged people to follow along with the prayers of the Mass by buying Daily Missals, which have all the prayers and readings of the Mass. That’s why most church’s today have missalettes in the pews.
When Vatican II called for active participation in the Mass, this is the history they were thinking of. The bishops at the Council had all been brought up in this movement. They saw that many people were taking the Mass for granted and thought the solution was to be more actively engaged in the Mass. So, while it’s very good, and a big help, for people to be involved in the Mass by doing the readings, being an altar server, usher, or member of the choir, or helping distribute Communion, even people who aren’t doing that can actively participate by engaging their mind, heart, and soul.
So, I want to encourage everyone to pay attention to the readings, listen to the homily, and pray along with the prayers of the Mass. Just like the priest offers the Mass for a specific intention, every time you go to Mass you can offer that Mass for a specific intention. After Mass, spend a moment in prayer thanking God for the Mass and thinking about one think that God wants you to take home with you. Don’t be upset or surprised if you get distracted in Mass, it happens to everyone. Just gently turn your attention back to the Lord. Every time you do you’re telling Jesus that you’d rather spend time with Him than think about whatever was distracting you. The problem isn’t when you’re distracted 100 times during Mass, it’s when you’re distracted once and it lasts the entire time.
Next Week: Exaltation of the Cross and Our Lady of Sorrows
RCIA stands for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, and it’s the program through we the Church uses to bring converts into the Church. The RCIA is a formation program, not just an education program. There are three periods leading up to baptism and acceptance into the Church at Easter; they are the Period of Inquiry, the Catechumenate, and the Period of Purification and Enlightenment.
It begins with the period of inquiry, where the potential convert is getting information about the faith and the Church, asking questions, and deciding whether they want to continue with the formation process. This ends with the Rite of Acceptance where those who have decided to continue state their intention and the Church accepts them as a Catechumen. A catechumen is a student, so this period includes more instruction in the faith, going deeper into the Holy Bible and Holy Tradition, developing habits of prayer, and beginning to practice the faith.
The Catechumenate ends with the Rite of Election at the beginning of Lent, where the catechumens are chosen by the Church to become Catholics at Easter. During Lent, the Catechumens begin their final preparations to receive the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation at Easter and to receive the Holy Eucharist for the first time.
This whole process is based on the way that ancient Christians welcomed new members into the Church and prepared them to receive their sacraments. When we are baptized and confirmed, as in all of the Sacraments, we accept the responsibility of living as a child of God and practicing the faith in our lives. We don’t want to just throw people into the deep end; we want to prepare them to thrive in their new lives as followers of Christ and to continue to grow closer to Him for the rest of their lives, so they can join Him forever in heaven.
We are getting ready to begin a new group in the RCIA in September. If you are interested in converting to Catholicism or if you are a Catholic who still needs to make their Confirmation contact the office for more information. If you know someone who fits these categories, please give them this article and let them know that they are welcome to join us.
Next Week: Participation at Mass
Next Wednesday is the Assumption of Mary, when we celebrate the fact that God brought Mary into heaven body and soul, meaning that there are only two people in heaven in their bodies, Mary and Jesus. Normally, death means that our soul leaves our bodies. At the moment of death, we are personally judged by God and go to our final reward, heaven, hell, or purgatory. At the end of time, when Jesus comes again, we will all be reunited with our bodies and then there will be the general judgement which is spoken of in Matthew 25 with the separation of the sheep from the goats.
It’s hard for a lot of people to believe that the Blessed Virgin was actually, in fact, brought into heaven body and soul. Most people think of it as simple religious piety or as a myth made up by the Church. However, the apparitions of Mary and the miracles that accompany them throughout the centuries have shown that the Church’s teachings on Mary are true. For example the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego in 1531 and the miraculous image left on the tilma (St. Juan Diego’s cloak), which no science can explain. Also, the apparition of Mary to St. Bernadette in Lourdes in 1858 and the miraculous healings at the spring there. Then, the apparition of Mary in Fatima in 1917 to Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta and the miracle of the sun that happened there and was seen by tens of thousands of people.
The assumption of Mary is a sign of hope to us that we, too, can go where she’s gone. It’s easy to believe that Jesus ascended bodily to heaven, because He’s God, but think about what that means. It means that there’s a human being sitting at the right hand of God on the throne of glory. In Christ, humanity is fully united to God, and the Blessed Mother shows us what that means for us. If Mary was brought into heaven, then we can also be brought into heaven, body and soul, if we follow her advice. She tells us the same thing she told the waiters at the wedding feast at Cana, “Do whatever He (Jesus) tells you” (John 2:5).
Next Week: Parish School of Religion
Fr. Bryan Recommends
Daughter Zion by Pope Benedict XVI
Before he was elected Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Munich in Germany in 1951. In 1977 he would become the Cardinal Archbishop of that diocese, but he would only stay in that post for four years. In 1981, Pope St. John Paul II appointed Cardinal Ratzinger as head, or Prefect, of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in Rome. His job as Prefect of the CDF was to promote and defend the teaching of the Catholic Church on faith and morals. As Prefect, he would work closely with Pope St. John Paul II on numerous projects, such as putting together the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Cardinal Ratzinger retired from this post on April 2, 2005, only to be elected Pope himself 17 days later. He took the name Benedict XVI.
As a renowned theologian and biblical scholar, he wrote many books and articles. One of my favorites, however, is Daughter Zion, which is about Mary, the Mother of God, and the Church’s teachings about the Blessed Virgin. He explains how Mary is both Virgin and Mother, how she was kept free from original sin, and how she was assumed bodily into heaven using passages from the Bible and the great teachers in the history of the Church, and he does it in a way that is easy to follow but will give everyone who reads it something to think about.
It may be a good time to read up on Mary, since we’re getting close to the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on August 15.
Next Week: To be decided.
Today is the memorial of St. Mary Magdalen, who was one of the disciples of the Lord during His life and the first person to announce His Resurrection. Everything that we know about her for sure comes from the Bible. We know that she was a friend and follower of Jesus. In her love for Jesus, she anointed his feet with oil and washed them with her hair (John 12). We also know that Jesus exorcised 7 demons from her.
Aside from this, St. Mary Magdalen is one of the most controversial saints there is, not because of anything she did, but because of what has been said about her by others. First, many people are under the impression that St. Mary Magdalen was a prostitute before she became a follower of Jesus. This is probably because of a misinterpretation of the Bible, but there isn’t actually any evidence that she was a prostitute.
Second, there are 2 different cities that claim to have the remains of St. Mary Magdelen. The Greek Church claims that St. Mary Magdalen went with St. John and Mary the Mother of Jesus to Ephesus, where she lived until her death. Her body was moved to Constantinople (now called Istanbul) in 866. The French claim that she went with Lazarus and several others to Marseilles, France, where she became a hermit until her death. These remains were moved around several times and are now at La Sainte-Baume. It’s probably impossible to tell which story is true, but we do know that having the relics of a popular saint like Mary Magdalen brings in a lot of tourists and pilgrims, both in the Middle Ages and now, and can bring a lot of prestige and wealth to the city where they’re kept.
Finally, a line of French kings, called the Merovingian dynasty, which ruled France from about 450 to 750 A.D., claimed to be descended from Jesus Christ himself. They claimed that St. Mary Magdalen was Jesus’ wife and that she was pregnant when Jesus was crucified. They claim that she travelled to France after He ascended to heaven, and that they are descendants of that child. First, there is no evidence that this is anything other than a lie that they told to increase their own importance. Second, if this is true, then they’re claiming that Jesus is basically a deadbeat dad who abandoned his wife and child, which is clearly ridiculous. Finally, we know from the testimony and writings of the earliest Christians, people who actually knew Jesus personally, that Jesus was never married and practiced celibacy throughout His life. You may remember this idea from Dan Brown’s fictional novel, The Davinci Code, or the movie based on it.
Despite these controversies, St. Mary Magdalen herself can be a huge help to people spiritually. She’s the patron saint against sexual temptation, of drug stores and pharmacists, contemplatives, converts, women, people ridiculed for their piety, and of the diocese of Salt Lake City, Utah, among many others. She was one of the few followers of Jesus to remain faithful to Him even through His arrest, condemnation, and crucifixion. When most of the others ran away and hid, she stayed with Him, with St. John, the Virgin Mary, and several other women. May we have her courage and conviction of faith, even when we have to suffer false accusations.
Next Week: Fr. Bryan Recommends
Tuesday, July 3, marks the one year anniversary since I became pastor here at Our Lady of Lourdes. I wanted to take the opportunity to thank you all for welcoming me into the parish, into this community, and into your lives. Being a pastor, and being your pastor here, brings me great joy. I’ve often said that it takes me a full year to really settle in at a new parish, because you need to experience the entire liturgical year and all of the seasons with the Church. Now that I’ve been here a year, I can say that I’m even happier to be here than I was when I first got here.
We’ve had a lot of changes over the past year as a parish. The construction on the new Hall, or Parish Community Center (PCC), was really just getting underway when I arrived, they broke ground just a few months before I got here. We got to see the foundation get poured, the frame go up, the walls go in, and everything start to take shape. Archbishop Aymond came out in January to bless the new building, and we finally got to move in in March. It took some people a few weeks to realize that the offices had moved from the Rectory (which is now only my residence) to the PCC, and Fedex still sometimes makes deliveries to the Rectory. The new building has allowed us to restart the Nifty Fifty group, move parish meetings out of the Church, have nicer receptions, and have better facilities for CCD classes and youth ministry.
We’ve also seen some small changes to the liturgical life of the parish. You may not have noticed if you haven’t been directly involved, but we reworked the parish guidelines for Funerals and Weddings last November, and we just recently reworked the parish guidelines for Infant Baptisms. These are in the handouts rack in Church and on the parish website in the Sacraments section. I’ll take this opportunity to clear up a common misunderstanding. We don’t charge a fee for funerals or baptisms for use of the Church or for the priest, although there is a musicians fee if you choose to have a cantor. Anything you want to give to the Church for those services is purely voluntary, and it all goes to the Church’s operating fund. We’re also getting ready to do training sessions for all liturgical ministers, including altar servers, lectors, Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, and ushers, not least of all because we have a new deacon in the parish, Dcn. Craig.
In this coming year, I want to continue to push the importance of the sacraments in the life of the Church, especially going to Mass every weekend and regular Confession. I’m also going to start putting more emphasis on devotions, like the rosary, Eucharistic Adoration, and novenas.
Finally, we’re blessed to have a lot of young families and children in the parish. Last year we had 125 kids enrolled in religion classes from 1st to 11th grade, which is fantastic. As a parish, I think we need to focus on welcoming these young families, children, and teenagers into the community and offering programs for them.
As I said in the beginning, I’m happy to be in such a lively, devoted, and close-knit church, and I pray that we continue to grow as one family in Christ.
Next Week: Fr. Bryan Recommends
Fr. Bryan became pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes on July 3, 2017. Read his bio here.