Habemus Papam!

I was watching the CNN live feed at 2PM (Eastern Time) today.  I noticed the smoke coming out of the chimney before the commentators did!  It was grayish at first, but quickly grew whiter.  I tweeted “white?” and noticed a flood of tweets appearing: “habemus papam!” “white!” “white smoke!”

The interregnum is over.  It is only a matter of minutes until we know who has ended it!

Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio of Argentina has chosen the name Francis.  His episcopal motto was “miserando atque eligendo” (lowly and yet chosen), which seems quite fitting.  Let’s see if he uses it as his papal motto as well.

A new foundation

In a collection of sayings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, there is a one saying which is a brief dialogue between two abbas:

Abba Moses: “Can a man lay a new foundation every day?”
Abba Silvanus: “If he works hard, he can lay a new foundation at every moment.”

Before - Green FloorWell, I can’t say I’ve laid a new foundation every day, let alone every moment, but my wife and I did lay a new foundation yesterday, from 8:30 am through about 6:30 pm.  It’s a cork floor made of interlocking tiles that we installed ourselves.

In the morning, we rented a table saw for the day from a nearby hardware store (the miter saw, which we had spied out the evening before, had been rented a mere 45 minutes after we left the store that night).

During - Floor with Insulation and Tiles on TopWe actually didn’t get started laying the tiles until 10 am, because of our deliberations and worrying and second-guessing and recalculating.  The beginning was excruciating, because we were having trouble getting the under-layer insulation to stay in place and getting the tiles to lock together firmly (with no gaps between them).  We finally decided to try the block-and-hammer method, to get the second row of tiles to fit with the first row of tiles, and it worked.  A couple thumbs were struck once or twice, but things started to come together.

On top of that, the Catechism Search Engine had some content delivery issues yesterday morning, which frustrated a fair number of subscribers to Flocknote’s “Read the Catechism during the Year of Faith” mailing list, and added a bit of anxiety and pressure onto my workload for the morning.  Thankfully it was resolved in a matter of hours.

Floor Vent with GapDespite not having used such wood-shop equipment since my high school days, I was able to successfully and safely navigate the table saw all day, with only one defect: the final piece we needed got a chunk taken out of it, so we had to substitute several smaller pieces instead.  This was the most painstaking part of the project, because we had to cut out a rectangular opening for the floor vent.  The small gap beneath the vent opening is the last piece we put in; there are two small pieces immediately beneath the vent (in the center and on the right).  The final pieceThe long piece along the top of the vent is connected to the tile on its left; you may be able to see a tiny gap at the right end of the long narrow piece and the tile to its right.  We put the final small piece in place, and it looked pretty close to perfect.

At long last, we put the air vent cover in place, and stepped back.  It looked… right.  It looked like we’d hoped it would.  Completed ventAnd even the hairline gaps between these carefully cut-out and squeezed-into-place pieces looked natural, like part of the cork tile pattern.  All in all, the long and exhausting day was a win.

So, it was a rewarding endeavor, a tiring day, and we got our taxes done in the middle of it.  And we celebrated with some local delicious Mexican food.  With meat.  (We’re not eating meat during all — well, mostly all — of Lent.  Yesterday was a cause for some celebration.)

And, no offense to abba Moses or abba Silvanus, but I’d rather not have to lay this sort of foundation every day, let alone every moment.  I’ll stick to the spiritual foundations!

Completed floor

Why is the altar a sign of Christ?

During the Entrance Procession, when the priest and his ministers reach the entrance to the sanctuary, they make a sign of reverence, a bow of the body to the altar.  (If the tabernacle with the Blessed Sacrament is in the sanctuary, then instead of bowing to the altar, they should genuflect to the Blessed Sacrament.)  Then the priest ascends to the altar and kisses it before going to his chair; the deacon kisses the altar as well.  On particularly solemn occasions, the priest may even bless the altar with incense.  Why is all this attention paid to the altar?  Because the altar is a sign of Christ; according to one of the Prefaces for the Eucharistic Prayer during the Easter season, Christ is the “sacerdos, altare et agnus” (“priest, altar, and lamb”) of His sacrifice.[1]

It is easy to recognize Christ as the priest and the lamb (that is, the victim); why He is the altar deserves some explanation to our modern minds.  St. Ambrose, bishop of Milan in the fourth century and spiritual father of St. Augustine, took the image of Christ-as-altar for granted in his treatise De Sacramentis, where he writes (without much explanation) that “the altar is a type [i.e. sign] of the body [of Christ]” (Book IV, 7) and then again almost as an aside, “for what is the altar but the type of the body of Christ?” (Book V, 7)

Consider first the composition of the altar.  Traditionally, the altar is made of stone and is immovable – although some countries, such as the United States, may use wood for the altar, provided it is “worthy, solid, and well-crafted.” (GIRM 301)  Why stone for the altar?  St. Paul speaks of Christ as “the supernatural Rock” that accompanied the Israelites in the desert during their exodus from Egypt, the Rock from which flowed water for their sustenance. (1 Cor. 10:4; cf. Ex. 17:6)  Sts. Paul and Peter identified Christ as the “cornerstone” (Eph. 2:20; 1 Pet. 2:6), and Jesus used this language referring to Himself. (cf. Luke 20:17-18)  The concept is found in Psalm 118:22-26, the very same psalm that the inhabitants of Jerusalem sang as Jesus entered their city.

Not only is Christ “that living stone” (1 Pet. 2:4), but we too are called to be “living stones.” (1 Pet. 2:5)  This means the altar is also a sign of the Church, made up of diverse people, living stones, gathered and built into one, in peace and unity.  St. Paul described the Church as being made up of those Jews and Gentiles who accepted Christ, and that Christ “is our peace, who has made us both [Jew and Gentile] one.” (Eph. 2:14)  Jesus “kissed [this altar, the Church] in the middle” with the “holy kiss of peace and unity” (Douay Catechism 125), so the priest imitates Christ in kissing the altar and in doing so, shows “a sign of his affection and close adherence to Christ.” (The Glories of the Catholic Church, p. 222)

Now consider what takes place on the altar.  An altar is a place of sacrifice, a place of offering something to God, a place of encountering God.  Jesus offered Himself on earth on the “altar of the cross,” and that offering is now made present on the Church’s altar.  The altar is related to our Lord’s Passion and represents the cross, so the priest bowing before the altar “signifies the prostrating of Christ in the garden, when he began his passion.” (Douay Catechism 125; cf. Matt. 26:39)  Jesus went so far as to identify the Temple (and its altar) with Himself:

Jesus [said], “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?”  But he spoke of the temple of his body. (John 2:19-21)

“For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? … For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred?” (Matt. 23:17-19)

Jesus is the “gift” being offered on the altar, but He makes it clear that the altar makes the gift sacred; you certainly would not offer a sacrifice on an altar less dignified than the sacrifice itself.  That makes Jesus (Who sanctifies) both the gift and the altar.

Rev. Maurice de la Taille, SJ, meditating upon Christ as altar in his 1915 book The Mystery of Faith, illuminates further:

Those who desired to offer sacrifices to God, had to do so necessarily through an altar.  But Christ, the Victim of salvation, approached to God through Himself.  Hence He was also the altar of His own sacrifice.  For us too in like manner, He is the altar of every one of our sacrifices, for we can bring no offering to God except through Christ. (Chapter 5, Section 2)

Not only did Christ approach the Father through Himself as an altar, but now Christ is our altar through Whom we approach the Father.  St. Paul exhorted the Romans, “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Rom. 12:1)  This thought was taken up by St. Peter who completed it when he wrote that we are “to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet. 2:5)  It is no accident that we offer our prayers to God “through Christ our Lord.”

In the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, two prayers accompany the approaching and kissing of the altar.  As he ascends the steps to the altar, the priest prays that the Lord remove our iniquity so that we might enter the Sancta Sanctorum (“Holy of Holies”) worthily, with pure minds.  This prayer is not present in the Ordinary Form,[2] but the priest should still be aware of its sentiment as he approaches the altar of sacrifice.  In the prayer that accompanies the kissing of the altar, the priest asks God pardon for his sins, by the merits of His “saints whose relics are here” and of all the saints.  While this prayer is not found in the Ordinary Form, the Church has retained the ancient tradition of placing relics of saints within the altar stone. (GIRM 302)  This practice calls to mind the early history of the Church, when persecuted Christians used martyrs’ tombs for altars. (Baltimore Catechism III 937)  By kissing the altar above the place where the relics are reserved, the priest silently declares his union with and affection for the saints who have gone before him.  This kiss is a “holy kiss” (Rom. 16:16), a “kiss of love” (1 Pet. 5:14), for Christ and for His Church and her members.  It is a kiss by which we begin to learn that the liturgy is “the purest and most sublime school of love.” (The Splendour of the Liturgy, p. 38)


[1] According to Rev. Jean Danielou, S.J., this expression can be traced to St. Cyril of Alexandria and Origen. (cf. The Bible and the Liturgy, p. 130)

[2] In the Extraordinary Form, the Penitential Act happens before the priest goes to the altar, while in the Ordinary Form, the Penitential Act happens after he has gone to the altar.  This may explain this prayer’s omission from the Ordinary Form.

Theology on Tap (twice)

Every other Thursday evening I go to Rider University in Lawrenceville, NJ, to lead a Bible study for the Campus Catholic Ministry there. I also try to show up for other events when I can, such as their Wednesday night dinners.

Yesterday they took a “field trip” to Cherry Hill, NJ, for a Theology on Tap presentation by Fr. Rob Sinatra, for the diocese of Camden. (We’re in the diocese of Trenton.) It was an enjoyable and educational evening, on the topic of “Why We Do What We Do” during Lent, putting great emphasis on the three traditional lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

In March and April, I will be driving out to Harleysville, PA, for the Theology on Tap events of the Metanoia Young Adults of Montgomery County. In March, it will be to get a lay of the land (and to listen to Fr. Dennis Gill’s presentation on the liturgy), and in April it will be to give my own presentation on “The Apostolate of the Laity”. Information about this talk will be forthcoming.

Lenten Lament: Parce Domine

They may not be up-beat, but they are definitely some of my favorite chants. I’m talking about the traditional Latin chants used in the Roman Rite during the penitential and preparatory season of Lent. I call them “Lenten laments”, and I would like to share a few of them with you over these next 40+ days. (Hey, it might get me to blog more frequently… what bloggers do you know who are giving up not blogging for Lent?)

For each lament, I’ll provide the Latin text, a rather literal translation, and then my attempt at a flowing translation (either one that rhymes or that adheres to the meter of the Latin… maybe both).

The first lament of the season is Parce Domine. This chant, “Spare, O Lord”, comes from Joel 2:17, which you probably recall hearing on Ash Wednesday:

Between the porch and the altar
let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep,
And say, “Spare, O LORD, your people,
and make not your heritage a reproach,
with the nations ruling over them!
Why should they say among the peoples,
‘Where is their God?'”

Here is the chant (an antiphon with verses) in Latin:

R. Parce, Domine, parce populo tuo; ne in aeternum irascaris nobis.
(Spare, Lord, spare your people; lest you be angry with us forever.)

1. Flectamus iram vindicem, ploremus ante Judicem;
clamemus ore supplici, dicamus omnes cernui.
(Let us bow before the avenging wrath, let us weep before the Judge;
let us cry out with words of supplication, let us speak, all falling prostrate.)

2. Nostris malis offendimus tuam Deus clementiam;
effunde nobis desuper remissor indulgentiam.
(By our wickedness we have offended your clemency, God;
pour forth pardon on us from above, forgiver.)

3. Dans tempus acceptabile, da lacrimarum rivulis
lavare cordis victimam, quam laeta adurat caritas.
(Giving us an acceptable time, grant, in the rivers of our tears,
to wash [our] hearts’ sacrifice, enkindled by joyful charity.)

4. Audi, benigne Conditor, nostras preces cum fletibus
in hoc sacro jejunio fusas quadragenario.
(Hear, benign Creator, our prayers, with lamentations,
poured forth during this holy fast of forty days.)

5. Scrutator alme cordium, infirma tu scis virium;
ad te reversis exhibe remissionis gratiam.
(Kind searcher of hearts, you know [our] bodily weaknesses;
to those returning to you, show the grace of forgiveness.)

Here is my translation which can be sung to the Latin chant’s melody:

R. Spare Thy people, Lord; spare thy people kneeling here before Thee;
lest Thy anger stay upon us forever.

1. To our knees we fall before Thy wrath, weeping tears of true contrition;
crying out in supplication, we call to Thee with sorrowful hearts.

2. By our sins we have offended Thee, transgressing upon Thy mercy;
pour down upon us from on high Thy gracious pardon, merciful One.

3. Cleanse the off’ring of our hearts, O Lord, in our tears and Thy charity:
now is the day of salvation, now is a most acceptable time.

4. O benign Creator, hear our prayers, bend Thine ear to our lamentations,
in this season of penitence, this holy Lent of forty days.

5. O, provident searcher of the heart, Thou Who know’st our ev’ry weakness;
grant Thy grace of forgiveness to those returning unto Thee.

Holding hands during the Our Father… a “Protestant infiltration”?

It seems I comment on blogs far more than I write my own blog posts, so I’m going to start linking to comments I’ve made that I think would have been good stand-alone blog posts.

This afternoon, Fr. Z shared a link to an article by Ray Burke on the web site of the National Catholic Register in which Burke laments liturgical abuses he was subjected to during the Christmas season. The one which Fr. Z drew attention to was the holding of hands during the Our Father; he provides this excerpt from Burke’s article:

In the end, I have decided to begin using a particular phrase in response to questions about my expressed dismay at this madness: “Because I am not a protestant.” The implication is clear. Here’s how it looks in a real dialogue: “Why don’t you hold hands at the Our Father?” “Because I am not a protestant.”

I do not usually hold hands during the Our Father. But I would certainly never say draw a connection between my not being a Protestant and my not holding hands, because there is simply no connection there. Burke evidently sees a connection.

Burke claims that “Hand-holding during the Our Father … is forbidden on the basis that we are not allowed to add or change the Mass.” But if that is the case, then holding the hand of your spouse or child as you sit in your pew to listen to the readings and homily is forbidden. Now, the priest is not permitted to require (or invite) the congregation to hold hands before the Our Father, but the spontaneous holding of hands by the congregation is an entirely different matter.

One commenter on Fr. Z’s web site (“acardnal“) called hand-holding during the Our Father “a Protestant infiltration.” I disagree. So as not to make this a full-fledged blog post of its own, I invite you to read my response and the one that follows it.

Scriptural index to the Divine Office?

Does anyone know of a Scripture index to the Divine Office? I would like to look up a Scripture verse and know if there are any hours on any days that use that verse.

The closest I’ve come is to simply search universalis.com (for example) for a phrase like “1 John 2” in Google, and then comb through the results, but I imagine the Divine Office web sites out there have their information stored in a database, and it would be great to have access to such an index at a very high level.

If one does not exist, I am MORE than happy to develop one. I just need people who have access to the complete Divine Office (I only have the single volume “Christian Prayer” edition) to supply the information. 🙂

The Holy Spirit: “Paraclete” and “Advocate”

Today’s Catechism readings (243-248) describe the Holy Spirit as the “Paraclete” and “Advocate” sent by Jesus Christ. What do these two words mean?

“Paraclete” is the Greek word, and “advocate” is the Latin word, for this particular role of the Holy Spirit in our lives of faith. I happen to like etymologies (the study of the origin and development of words), because I find that knowing where a word comes from helps to understand the word more deeply.

“Advocate” comes from the preposition/prefix ad- (meaning “towards”) and vocate (from the verb vocare, “to call”). We get the word “vocal” from vocare.

“Paraclete” comes from the prefix para- (meaning “beside; near”) and clete (from the verb kalein, “to call”). We get the words “ecclesial” (church-related) and “epiclesis” (part of the Eucharistic Prayer) from the Greek verb kalein.

Both of these words, in Latin and Greek, mean “to call [someone] to [one’s] side.” An advocate or a paraclete is someone you call to yourself, often to speak for you. They are similar to intercessor (“one who goes” [cedere] “between” [inter-]).

This is why Jesus says He will send the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit comes to our aid, comes to our side. The Holy Spirit is in the business of being close to us!

Catechism Community Commentary

Do you have a burning question about something in the Catechism? Or do you have some insight about a paragraph in the Catechism that you wish you could share with others? Well, now you can ask that question and share that insight in a forum dedicated to just that purpose.

The Catechism Search Engine (powered by the @CatechismAPI) is now open for user registration. You can register in just a few seconds — provide your name, email address (for confirmation purposes), a username, and a password — and then you can leave comments on individual paragraphs of the Catechism. Anyone can see and read them, but you must register to write comments.

Two books on the Mass and the new translation

If you’re still looking for good resources on the Mass and the new English translation that we’ve been using for almost a year now, I think you would appreciate my two books on the topic.  I have a series, Praying the Mass, that looks at the whole Mass (and not just the changes in translation) from the perspective of the congregation (volume 1, The Prayers of the People) and from the perspective of the priest (volume 2, The Prayers of the Priest).  Both books go over the gestures, postures, and words that make up the liturgical prayer of the Mass, and both books have questions for reflection and discussion at the end of each chapter.

A third volume is in the works, The Eucharistic Prayers, that looks at each of the ten Eucharistic Prayers in the English translation of the Roman Missal.

You can find these books on Amazon (here and here), or you can buy them directly from me.