Joseph and Jesus’ Entry into Jerusalem

Saint Joseph and the infant JesusYesterday I had the pleasure of presenting about the Liturgy of the Hours for the monthly recollection at the Carmelite Institute of Spirituality in Stanwood. Yesterday, March 19, was also the solemnity of Saint Joseph, spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and, as the adoptive father of Jesus the Christ, the day is something of the Catholic equivalent of Fathers’ Day. It was an appropriate day to be with the Carmelite community given that the founder of the Discalced Carmelites, St. Teresa of Avila, advocated a special devotion to St. Joseph. The (in)famous tradition of burying a statue of St. Joseph even stems therefrom as Teresa is reputed to have buried a statue of St. Joseph on the ground she had chosen for her new Carmel and, once the land was donated to the nascent order, she had a chapel to St. Joseph erected on the exact location. During yesterday’s morning celebration of the Liturgy of the Eucharist to open the day of recollection I was struck by an insight shared by Fr. James Zakowicz, OCD in his homily. We often hear that Saint Joseph was silent as no known words of sacred scripture are attributed to this carpenter from Nazareth. Yet his very name means, “to bring increase,” like his Old Testament type, this beloved son of Israel increases the house of Israel by his own going down. As we heard yesterday, though, it is not quite true that we have no recorded words of Saint Joseph. We learn from the Gospel of the day that Joseph is entrusted by the angel with the naming the son of his betrothed, Mary (Matthew 1:21). Joseph alone is therefore the first to speak the name “Jesus,” meaning “YHWH helps,” not only giving the Lord his name but also claiming Jesus as his own, naming the child as a member of his own household of the line of David, and therefore declaring that from Israel, as God promised, that “God saves!” So was Joseph silent? Hardly. In fact he had already spoken the only word, the one word, the name (itself echoing the Old Testament type of the son of Nun) by which victory is won and the walls of the enemy, death, are laid low. Therefore nothing else more need be or could be said. The ineffable had been given a name, something which only could be known by revelation (like Moses’ encounter with YHWH on Mt Sinai/Horeb), and therefore the only response is to fall silent before such a profound mystery as the incarnation.

Today, coincidentally, marked the celebration of Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord during which we heard as our second reading that central reading from Philippians (2:9-10), wherein Saint Paul tells us it was God the Father who “bestowed on [the Son] the name which is above every name…Jesus!” So Joseph’s fatherhood of Jesus is not merely functional—taking care of Mary’s child though this is certainly something Joseph did—but a true fatherhood, imparting Jesus’ identity by making known in a public way what had laid hidden since the foundations of the world. Joseph’s fatherhood is therefore a true participation in that divine fatherhood from whom Jesus is born. By naming Jesus Joseph prefigured the saving efficacy of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The unfolding of this Paschal Mystery began, as we remember in today’s liturgy, with Jesus’ triumphant entry in Jerusalem. Jesus, meek and humble like his father, as he stood on the cusp of being born to eternal life, rode into his glory, that is to give glory to his Father, on a donkey this time in a public way into this heavenly father’s city. Three decades before, on the cusp of being born (that is making the word-become-flesh known to the world), Jesus rode a donkey privately, almost clandestinely, as Joseph lead him into Bethlehem, his earthly father’s ancestral town. Saint Joseph was not silent but simply declared by that only word known to be spoken by him, “Jesus,” to be a father to our Lord Jesus Christ, a true father and true spouse. St Joseph, patron of fathers, pray for us! A blessed Holy Week and sacred Paschal Triduum to all!

Presentation of the Lord

Meeting of the LordToday’s feast of the Presentation of the Lord (February 2), alternatively known as Candlemas or the feast of the Meeting of the Lord, has come for me to be about new beginnings. It also seems to be an occasion for writing blog posts as in 2014 I remarked on the occurrence of the feast on a Sunday and in 2006 I wrote about celebrating the feast as a first-time liturgist.

Today at the chancery I had the great blessing of being part of a meeting of parish and archdiocesan leaders using Alpha to form missionary disciples in Catholic parishes. We discussed our experiences and planned future archdiocesan support of Alpha, collaboration between parishes, and followup efforts to foster the new evangelization. Attendees at our meeting included Fr. Jim Lee, pastor of St. Michael in Olympia where Alpha is being used very effectively to bring people to encounter Christ, and Deacon Steve Mitchell, National Director of Alpha in a Catholic Context. Therefore this liturgist whipped together a Mass for the occasion complete with our chancery a cappella choir to lead us in singing the dialogues and proper antiphons to accompany the lighting and blessing of the candles and subsequent procession through the chancery hallway. Deacon Steven preached eloquently of this feast of the Presentation of the Lord as the celebration of and invitation to evangelization (see Joy of the Gospel 24) referring to the lighting of the candles as an incarnation of the act of handing on the faith. Through the infusion of the Holy Spirit in the chapel and aided by the vigorous and conscious participation of all therein and Fr. Jim’s careful pacing, we were made palpably aware of the missionary dimension of this feast of the Presentation of the Lord where “we, too, go forth, rejoicing to encounter [Christ’s] Salvation” (Preface), taking a front seat in facilitating others’ awakening to Christ in our ministry on Alpha.

What is Alpha?The rest of the day was a beautiful reminder of the work of evangelization going on in parishes and an opportunity to share with others how my home parish of St. John Vianney accepted the invitation to pilot Alpha in order to not only evangelize our own but also to form us as intentional, missional disciples who understand our parish as that territory of Vashon-Maury Island entrusted to the stewardship of our pastor who has care for all of the more than 10,000 souls that call this home and all those who visit here and not exclusively those in the pews and on the registers. As members of the assembly, that is to say those of us who have encountered Christ in and through the sacred liturgy, we are made coworkers with our pastors in reaping this harvest, sharing with others the good news, and inviting our friends and neighbors to meet Christ. This feast of the Presentation of the Lord reminds us and equips us to “Go out and meet Christ.” Alpha we found offers a simple method to awaken the gift of the Holy Spirit poured out on us in full in baptism so that we can go forth and announce the good news. So, once again, ten years since I first fell in love with the feast of the Presentation of the Lord as a liturgist, I am falling in love with this liturgical Meeting of the Lord all over again—as an evangelist.

“A light of revelation to the Gentiles…prepared in the sight of all peoples” is entrusted to each of us who, like Simeon, have had the joy and spiritual consolation of meeting our Lord. How will you, enlightened by the same Spirit, confess him with exultation, and hand on that flame of faith?

There was a wedding in… Downton

Wedding Feast at Cana Yesterday morning, the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, we heard proclaimed from John’s Gospel the third part of the great theophany triptych—the epiphany, the baptism, and the fist sign—namely the account of the wedding feast at Cana. And last night we joined millions in watching the wedding of Mr. Carson and Ms. née Hughes of Downton Abbey. I was struck by a great many similarities in these stories and it is not merely in that both were nuptial celebrations.

I have often used the story of the wedding feast of Cana to open formation events with liturgical ministers pointing out to them that it was the servants, not the others, who knew from whence the wine-transformed-from-water had come. While all feasted on the glorious banquet it was only to those who had humbly done as the Lord invited them that his glory was revealed. With liturgical ministers I always try to help them connect this with their own experience of assisting at the sacred liturgy where, profoundly aware of our own ordinariness we have been, through no great accomplishment which we can claim, be invited and elevated to serve as a servant of the Lord. Like the water, a sign of the human, we are turned toward divinity, our true telos. It was not by accident that John has the servants draw the water from the enormous ceremonial ablution basins (“jars for washing”). This great moment of revealing Jesus’ identity prepares us for the mercy of God which is made known through our own quotidian sinfulness. As the servants dipped into those waters by which is signified our need for purification they see it redeemed and transformed, made the best of wine because it has been humbled and in turn glorified. And this was his first sign.

Mr. and Mrs. Carson's wedding As I watched Mr. and Mrs. Carson prepare for and celebrate their marriage in the Downton School House it struck me that the glory of Downton was most revealed there, outside of the great house, in this public space by these humble servants. There a man and woman, both dignified in their life of service, entering into a union unsullied by those oft-failed unions of the great house—which albeit make the show so interesting to watch. Purified as it were of their entanglements each was washed clean of their respective sense of unworthiness to live their own full life, binding them a little too close to the house. Mr. and Mrs. Carson, ironically as the servants, thus reveal the greatest nobility of the house. These servants are honored as the nobles enter their life rather than is so often portrayed the other way around. The surprise return of the former chauffeur, Tom Branson, who enters now as a member of the household to which he seeks readmission (are we now in Luke 15?), seems to confirm this as the joy of the wedding banquet is both increased and yet shifted off in some measure from the Carsons’ union to encompass all.

It is not of course a perfect parallel but I found some interesting similarities between the revelation of Christ through the obedience of the servants as this denouement season of the Downton Abbey series portending the future glory of the great house through the servants, all too cognizant of their own simplicity, being themselves elevated and showing the true glory of the Downton Abbey with which so many are captivated. What do you think? Are there really any similarities?

Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome and Immaculate Conception in Mount Vernon

Today the Roman Catholic Church throughout the world honors the Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the cathedral church of Rome.  We are familiar with the memorials of saints throughout the liturgical year but this universal celebration of the dedication of a church—one of several included on the church calendar although the only one raised to the level of a feast—is a timely reminder of the importance of church buildings.  Few realize and even fewer celebrate the anniversary of the dedication of one’s own parish church as the solemnity it is ranked not to mention the commemoration of the anniversary of the dedication of one’s (arch)diocesan cathedral as a feast throughout the (arch)diocese.  The readings assigned to today’s feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome, celebrated annually on November 9, are a beautiful depiction of the way in which church buildings are understood theologically in the Christian tradition namely as representations of the Christ in the world.  Churches are not merely domus ecclesiae, houses for the assembly, but also truly domus Dei, a house for God.  Moreover we see in the Rite of Dedication of a Church (RDCA) that the church building is itself accorded dignity, treated as a person, as a Christian.  In fact the church building, as Christ the new temple prophesied in Ezekiel, now flows out into the world through the ministry of his mystical body, the Church.  Now Bishop Robert Barron has a characteristically lucid explication of how this concept of dedication of a church works not merely as patronage but as physical representation in reviewing the churches dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary:

It is, therefore, perhaps not so peculiar after all to mark the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome as part of the sanctoral (calendar of the saints) as the church is personified.  As we prepare for the dedication of a new church here in the Archdiocese of Seattle, at Immaculate Conception in Mount Vernon, which we will celebrate this Wednesday evening at 7:00pm, it is fitting that today’s feast invites us to recall and prepare for the significant act of dedicating a church building.  In this solemn rite the walls are sprinkled, like a Christian washed pure in baptism, set aside for exclusive use as a locus of public worship.  The head of the church, that is the altar, directly upon which is burned a heap of incense, is subsequently anointed with sacred chrism, sealing the altar as the Christian is sealed at confirmation.  The walls are similarly anointed in twelve (or four) places which ordinarily are further marked by candles lit not only on this day but also on the anniversary of dedication analogous to those candles given as part of the explanatory rites at baptism.  Finally, in order to consummate the Rite of Dedication of a Church the bishop presides at the celebration of the Liturgy of the Eucharist upon the altar thus consecrating it, hallowing it for such eucharistic celebrations alone.  So also is this the telos, the destiny, of all Christians likewise oriented toward union with God in the Son who gives himself to us through the action of the Holy Spirit by which the risen Christ is incarnate for us in the bread eaten and wine imbibed—our source and summit as Christians.  Additional elements of the Rite of Dedication of a Church (may) include the handing over of a new church to the (arch)bishop by the builders or parishioners, the placement of relics in the sanctuary, and the first reposition of the Blessed Sacrament within the virginal tabernacle.  All of these further show forth how the church building is a sacrament of the Church, a revelation in stone and wood, in well-ordered space, signifying and effecting God entering into human life, human history, space, and time in order to not only make known divine love but also to bring that love to fruition in our salvation, our sanctification.

Today, on the feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome, the mother church of the Roman Catholic Church, our archbasilica, we recall the moving Latin poem inscribed since the fifth century on the ceiling of the baptistry of St. John Lateran, the matriarchal womb of Western Christians:

Here is born in Spirit-soaked fertility
a brood destined for another City,
begotten by God’s blowing
and borne upon this torrent
by the Church their virgin mother.
Reborn in these depths they reach for
heaven’s realm,
the born-but-once unknown by felicity.
This spring is life that floods the world,
the wounds of Christ its awesome source,
Sinner sink beneath this sacred surf
that swallows age and spits out youth.
Sinner here scour away down to innocence,
for they know no enmity who are by
one font, one Spirit, one faith made one.
Sinner, shudder not at sin’s kind and number,
for those born here are holy!

trans. Aidan Kavanagh, osb in The Shape of Baptism: The Rite of Christian Initiation (Liturgical Press, 1978)

See also FaithND “Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran”

What Happens At Mass?

Illumination of John 6 from the St John's BibleYesterday at Mass we heard in the Gospel how those who thronged along the beach around Jesus “were like sheep without a shepherd” and how, in fulfillment of the First Reading from Jeremiah, the promise of the Lord to “appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them” takes flesh in the very person of Jesus who, “moved with pity for them…began to teach them many things” (Mark 6:34). This set of readings which the Lectionary appoints for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle B) not only presents its own occasion for exegesis but also sets the stage for the next five Sundays (July 26, August 2, 9, 16, and 23). Owing to the short length of the Gospel of Mark from which we have been hearing during this Cycle B of the liturgical year when compared with the other two synoptic Gospels (Matthew and Luke, assigned to Cycles A and C respectively) the next five Sundays of the Lectionary substitute the Gospel of John’s account of the multiplication of loaves and fishes (6:1-15) for the parallel event in the Gospel of Mark (6:35-44) on the coming Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) and then expands to fill the subsequent four Sundays with the shepherd’s teaching from the Gospel of John’s lengthy Bread of Life Discourse (John 6:22-69) as Jesus himself teaches his flock what the miraculous multiplication means. On each of these five Sundays the Lectionary pairs richly typological First Readings with the Gospel, each prefiguring the Eucharist as the Real Presence of Christ who remains sacramentally with us.

Cover of the Book What Happens At MassThis five Sunday sequence presents preachers and catechists alike a wonderful opportunity to help lead the flock of the faithful to encounter Christ anew in the Bread of Life, that celebration of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, those mysteries into which the resurrected Christ has passed over. On the heels of facilitating an online course on Liturgical Theology by Dr. Fagerberg during which I happily read for the umpteenth time What Happens At Mass by Fr. Jeremy Driscoll which I have used extensively for liturgical catechesis (see CCC 1074ff.) it occurred to me how frequently we participate in the Mass only bodily and miss the depths to which Christ goes in order to invite us to encounter his saving love therein. Would that the shepherds of souls whom the Lord sends to teach would realize and be equipped to “ensure that the faithful take part [in the sacred liturgy] fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 11). A comprehensive program, Believe Celebrate Live developed by the liturgical staff of St James Cathedral, offers a five week study for parishes that would, together with other great resources already mentioned as well as some additional ones below, could profitably be used for parish catechesis. In order to bring “all the faithful…to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy…their right and duty by reason of their baptism…the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit” I had occasion to coach our Liturgy Office intern, Julianna Castro, as she developed a script for a Commentator to use during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, offering prepared reflections before the Mass and at other appropriate times indicated in the Order of Mass, meant to assist pastors in bringing about “this full and active participation by all the people” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 14). I’m happy to share with you these Commentator scripts and example intercessions as an example and welcome your insights on additional resources you have found fruitful. If you are so inclined to use these Commentator scripts (or a similar form of Mass catechesis) in your parish, faith community, or domestic church over the coming weeks during which the Church unfolds the mystery of the Eucharist in an explicit way please do share your experiences with such.

May we who are nourished by the Bread of Life “taste and see the goodness of the Lord” (Ps 34:9) who opens his hands to feed us (Ps 145:16) with the bread come down from heaven (Ps 78:24) so that he might make us sharers in him in whose Body and Blood we have Communion.

Some additional resources:
Meeting Christ in His Mysteries by Abbot Gregory Collins
The Spiritual Meaning of the Liturgy by Goffredo Boselli

Octave of Light

Christ PantocratorKnown as the Octave of Easter or Easter Week in the Latin tradition (or Bright Week in the Byzantine), throughout this whole week the Church extends the solemnity of Easter, marking each weekday with the highest of ceremonial during the Liturgy of the Eucharist (Mass) as well as in the Liturgy of the Hours (Divine Office, Lauds and Vespers, Morning Prayer and Evensong) effectively declaring that this week is but one drawn-out day, the eighth day of creation, fulfilling creation as God is raised from rest by the breaking of the prison-bars of death in the Holy Night and opens the way for all. We ring out as a single note “Resurrection” during this new week, recreating every day as the mark of God’s fulfillment of his eternal promises in time.

During this week, this Octave of Easter, the Church has also provided for us the privileged space for mystagogy, the incorporation into the fullness of the Paschal Mystery of those initiated at the Easter Vigil by means of participation in the sacramental life and post-baptismal catechesis. For several years when I was ministering at St Thomas More I gathered with the neophytes and others of the faithful each evening of the Octave of Easter, beginning with Easter Sunday Vespers, in order to celebrate solemn Evening Prayer incorporating longer readings from the Office of Readings of each day. For those familiar with these patristic homiletic resources of St Ambrose, St Augustine, the Jerusalem Catechesis, and others, you will know that these are among the richest mystagogical resources readily available. Following this worship we would spend about 35 minutes gathered around the baptismal font in order for the newly baptized to share their experience with the faithful who gathered with us drawn out by typological reflection on one of the primary symbols of the celebration of the Paschal Triduum. Their witness and their testimony, based on their nearness of the experience of the sacraments of Christian initiation, served as a fruitful occasion to accomplish those goals set forth for this period (RCIA 244ff.).

There are also many devotions and customs associated with these days including the Dyngus Day celebrations of Polish and other Slavic influenced areas and the dousing of kith and kin as a reminder of baptism on Easter Monday. One of the particular Eastertide devotions called for by the Church, modeled on the popular Lenten devotion the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross or Stations of the Cross), is the Via Lucis (Way of Light or Stations of the Resurrection, see DPPL 153). The reflections of Father Sabino Palumbieri, the Roman Salesian priest who was inspired by the images in the catacombs of St. Callistus to formulate the Stations of the Resurrection in the 1990s, were published in English translation in 2002 as Via Lucis: Stations of the Resurrection by the UK based Catholic Truth Society. These remain the only published source of the Via Lucis of which I am aware and enumerate the Stations of the Resurrection as follows:

  1. Jesus rises from the dead (Matthew 28:5-6).
  2. Women find the empty tomb (Matthew 28:1-6).
  3. The risen Lord appears to Mary Magdalene (John 20:16).
  4. Mary Magdalene proclaims the Resurrection to the apostles (John 20:18).
  5. The risen Lord appears on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-27).
  6. The risen Lord is recognized in the breaking of the bread (Luke 24:28-32).
  7. The risen Lord appears to the disciples in Jerusalem (Luke 24:36-39).
  8. The risen Lord gives the disciples the power to forgive (John 20:22-23).
  9. The risen Lord strengthens the faith of Thomas (John 20:24-29).
  10. The risen Lord says to Peter, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17).
  11. The risen Lord sends the disciples into the whole world (Matthew 28:16-20).
  12. The risen Lord ascends into heaven (Acts 1:9-11).
  13. Waiting with Mary in the Upper Room (Acts 1:12-14).
  14. The risen Lord sends the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:2-4).

God willing, I will be able during the remainder of this Week of Light to write some reflections and liturgical guidelines for celebrating these Via Lucis, Stations of the Resurrection, which I will share. He is risen, alleluia alleuia!

Pallium and the Passion

During Holy Week, that week that begins with Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem celebrated on Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord and culminates one week later on Easter Sunday of the Resurrection, each diocesan church celebrates, in addition to the rites of the Sacred Paschal Triduum celebrated in every parish, the Chrism Mass. At that Chrism Mass the local bishop gathers with all the priests of his diocese who not only renew their priestly promises and concelebrate the Liturgy of the Eucharist with their bishop but also join him in blessing the Oil of Catechumens and Oil of the Sick together with the consecration of the Sacred Chrism by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This year, as we prepared for the celebration of this Chrism Mass, which is the largest single celebration for which I am responsible as Director of our Archdiocesan Liturgy Office, I was asked by Archbishop Sartain to prepare his Pallium. You can see at left an image (courtesy of Salt+Light) of our Archbishop Sartain when he was presented with the Pallium, that white woolen garment with five black Maltese Crosses worn like a yoke around his neck. Into three of these five crosses are inserted three nails. In the insertion of the pins into the pallium we see a mimesis or inconographic representation of the crucifixion of Christ whose body was pierced five times by the three nails and Longinus’ lance. The pallium (or omophor in the Byzantine tradition) is the outer garment used since the ninth century by metropolitan archbishops, conferred, twelve per year, once a year on the Solemnity of Ss. Peter and Paul (June 29) directly by the Pope on archbishops. The pallium is made from the wool of lambs raised by the Trappist monks of Tre Fontane who present the wool on St Agnes Day (January 21) to be woven by the Benedictine nuns of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere into the pallium, echoing the agnus Dei, the Lamb who was pierced and slain only to be raised up, and those lost sheep to whom the apostles were sent and who are now placed like a yoke on the shoulders of the metropolitan archbishops as successors to the apostles. As we prepared to enter into the Paschal celebrations of Holy Week, placing the nails in the crosses on that Pallium was a simple yet profound experience for me of entering into the pastoral ministry entrusted to our local shepherd, the chief liturgist of our Archdiocese of Seattle. This imagery is of course recapitulated in every parish as the five pins are inserted into the Paschal Candle at the beginning of the Easter Vigil, as the candle is also scarified with the symbols of eternity, as the wax is consumed to give light to the scriptures, to the world, and to guide us on the way to salvation.