The Eucharistic Prayer

In our discussion on the Eucharistic Prayers, which can be found here, we put on the screen a great side-by-side comparison of the four Eucharistic Prayers that are most commonly heard at Mass. That link is here.

We also made reference to a paragraph in the General Instructions for the Roman Missal. The GIRM is online at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops website, and here is a useful link.

The particular paragraph referenced is #365, which says:

  1. The choice between the Eucharistic Prayers found in the Order of Mass is suitably guided by the following norms:

a) Eucharistic Prayer I, or the Roman Canon, which may always be used, is especially suited for use on days to which a proper text for the Communicantes (In communion with those whose memory we venerate) is assigned or in Masses endowed with a proper form of the Hanc igitur (Therefore, Lord, we pray) and also in the celebrations of the Apostles and of the Saints mentioned in the Prayer itself; likewise it is especially suited for use on Sundays, unless for pastoral reasons Eucharistic Prayer III is preferred.

b) Eucharistic Prayer II, on account of its particular features, is more appropriately used on weekdays or in special circumstances. Although it is provided with its own Preface, it may also be used with other Prefaces, especially those that sum up the mystery of salvation, for example, the Common Prefaces. When Mass is celebrated for a particular deceased person, the special formula given may be used at the proper point, namely, before the part Remember also our brothers and sisters.

c) Eucharistic Prayer III may be said with any Preface. Its use should be preferred on Sundays and festive days. If, however, this Eucharistic Prayer is used in Masses for the Dead, the special formula for a deceased person may be used, to be included at the proper place, namely after the words: in your compassion, O merciful Father, gather to yourself all your children scattered throughout the world.

d) Eucharistic Prayer IV has an invariable Preface and gives a fuller summary of salvation history. It may be used when a Mass has no Preface of its own and on Sundays in Ordinary Time. On account of its structure, no special formula for a deceased person may be inserted into this prayer.

Dead and Buried

One of the most offensive claims that Christians make about their faith is captured in the next phrase: “Dead and buried.” Gods are immortal. Gods do not die. But Christians claim that God did die. He died on the cross on Friday. He was put in a tomb. He was in the tomb all of Holy Saturday. God was truly dead. For as you remember, we believe that Jesus was truly man and also truly god. So to state joyfully that the Son of God is allowed to die is an extraordinary thing for non-Christian ears to hear. And nothing was done to Jesus without the cooperation of his human will. So we cannot slip into the fallacy that somehow or other his human nature was overridden by his divine nature. If Jesus is fully man then he has free will. He cannot be some kind of a human robot that is directed by his divine will.

Because he’s human he gets to choose. And Jesus chose to cooperate with his father’s plan. He accepted death on a cross as his Heavenly Father’s will for him. He chose death. On Good Friday here at Saint Catherine’s, we have meditations on the seven last words from the cross. And whenever I meditate on those seven last words I am struck by the sense that Jesus was completely in control of things all the way to the very end. Especially when you read the Passion as given to us by Saint John, it’s very clear that Jesus was not a victim in the sense that he had no power, but he was a victim in the sense that he was the offering – the Holocaust – that resulted in the atonement we talked about last time.

And the word “buried” is included in the Creed because it means that he not only died but he stayed dead. We see in the gospels many times where a child is dead but immediately comes back to life when Jesus speaks. In the ttory of Lazarus, the writer makes it clear that the man is really dead because he’s been in the tomb for a number of days. The sister Martha complains that opening the tomb is going to be a bad idea because it’s going to stink. That’s what it means by buried. I hope some of you Monty Python fans are immediately going to the dead parrot sketch. Jesus was not merely pining for the fjords, he was really dead buried in a tomb.

And meditating on this can be very fruitful for us. Holy Saturday is a very quiet day in the church calendar. There’s no Holy Saturday mass. The first Mass after Holy Thursday is the Easter Vigil, and officially that really starts in the middle of the night of Sunday morning. Over the years, church men have gotten used to moving it so that you know it’s dusk on Saturday, but that’s to accommodate for the fact that Father has to get up and do three more masses tomorrow morning.

So we are really invited on Holy Saturday to enter into the quiet bleakness of the day. We know Jesus is dead because we were there on Good Friday when he died. But on Holy Saturday we don’t know that tomorrow on Easter he will rise from the dead. Those of you who are praying the Liturgy of the Hours will find on Holy Saturday one of the readings for the Office of Readings is an ancient sermon describing what’s known as the harrowing of hell, when Jesus went down to the realm of the dead and preached the good news to those who hadnever been able to hear it during the time of the Old Testament. So even on the quiet bleakness of the morning of Holy Saturday, there is this small but growing sense of joy. So he is dead and buried, but he will rise on the third day.

Was Crucified

The next phrase in the Creed is “Was Crucified.” Crucifixion was a method of execution that everyone agreed was so awful it was reserved for those situations when the Roman State needed to make an example of the criminal. No Roman citizen could be executed by crucifixion; it was just for the rebellious foreigners and slaves. And so they chose crucifixion for these particular cases.

That means that in the Roman – and crucifixion actually seems to be something that the Romans learned from the Persians centuries earlier – so not only in the Roman mind but in the general Pagan mind crucifixion is a special agony reserved for special cases. When there was a rebellion against the Roman state, the crosses would come out. The one thing that the Roman State would not tolerate was rebellion. In many ways it was a very tolerant empire, provided you acknowledged its authority. If you did rebell, then you needed to be canceled, and crucifixion was the most extreme version of cancellation.

But for the Christians, the cross becomes a sign of victory rather than a sign of defeat. It is through the Cross that victory over death has been won for us. The Cross involves suffering – great suffering – but through that suffering even unto death on a Cross, Jesus won for us eternal life. And the sign of the cross, the shape of it, invites so much hope for us. People talk about a circle as being endless, but if you think about it is completely limited: all you can do is go around on the same circle over and over again. But the cross points out with its arms to Infinity, and you may remember how Father Neil frequently says that the cross represents “I crossed out” as a reminder that we must die to self if we wish to gain heaven. And the figure of a cross is so simple, so easy to make the sign of the cross, which means Christians can make a very powerful prayer quickly and without even using words.

So the fact that he was crucified opens us to many of the Mysteries the faith.

Under Pontius Pilate

The phrase “Under Pontius Pilate” reminds us that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ was an historical event. It is an event that can be corroborated by non-gospel sources. So it is not just a story made up later by the faithful.

Monsignor Knox contrasts that when you tell a fairy tale, you open it with a phrase such as “Once Upon a Time.” But the gospel says when Pilate was procurator in Judea. And that means we can pretty much mark in history when these things happened.

And Monsignor Knox discusses why it would have been at the time of Pontius Pilate. This is a little bit of Western Civ history, so I apologize in advance. Alexander the Great was a very successful empire builder around 330 BC, and his Empire stretched from North Africa all the way to India. He spoke Greek, and so the Greek language was spread across the empire at that time. He didn’t last very long, but his empire was divided and remained established so long that the entire world came to know the Greek language in much the same way that the entire world knows the English language today.

The Roman Empire eventually followed Alexander’s and came to dominate all the way from Great Britain to Persia. The Roman civil wars ended around 30 BC, so the entire Mediterranean area was at peace. And the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed around 70 AD. Monsignor Knox explains that that means we have about a hundred year period when the entire world understood the Greek language and the entire world was relatively peaceful and safe under the Roman Empire. This is the fullness of time when God chose to send his son to a remote corner of the Roman Empire but with a message that would change the world. And that’s why “Under Pontius Pilate” is in our Creed.

He Suffered

The next phrase is “he suffered.”

We are familiar with the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane that Jesus endured on the night before his passion, but there are other times in the gospel stories where it’s clear that our Lord is suffering. After his 40 days in the desert, he is hungry. And hunger is a kind of suffering. He is also hungry when he comes to the fig tree that does not bear fruit. And when he meets the woman at the well, the woman with the irregular marriage situation, he is tired and thirsty. That’s why he stops at the well and asks for water.

These are important things for us to remember as part of our faith because they confirm our teaching that Jesus was fully human. Except for sin, he was human in all things like us. And it helps us make sense of suffering a little bit when we know that our Lord suffered with some regularity before the end of his life. Being hungry, being tired, or being thirsty are all things that all of us have experienced in our lives and expect to experience in our lives. And Jesus experienced them as we do.

Continue reading “He Suffered”

Born of the Virgin Mary

The next phrase from the Apostles Creed is, “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.” Monsignor Knox points out that the title Our Lady is not an ancient title that we see from the early days of the Church, but it seems to come perhaps in the Middle Ages and perhaps it’s connected to the tradition of the troubadours who sang epic songs of heroes and of a courtly love for the beautiful noble maiden. If you’re familiar with Dante’s Comedy, the woman Beatrice is one of these beautiful noble maidens for whom Dante has a chaste and courtly love.

Monsignor Knox then gets to his main point about this phrase. Mary was really the mother of Jesus. Like a true mother, she gave birth to the boy. It was a real live birth. Jesus was not some kind of a phantom; he was a real human baby. So when we refer to her as the mother of God, we are saying he was his true mother. When we say that Mary is the mother of God, we are also saying that Jesus is truly God.

And this brings Monsignor Knox to focus on the word “virgin.” Mary was truly a virgin. Jesus had no earthly father. And Mary remained a virgin the rest of her life. You might have heard of the objection that elsewhere in the scriptures people refer to Jesus’s brothers, and you might have heard of the explanation which is that in those languages, there was no distinction among close relatives. We know that John the Baptist was Jesus’s cousin because we know that his mother Elizabeth was a close relative of Mary, but those languages did not have differentiation between brother and cousin the way our English language does. So when we read the word brother in the scriptures, we need to mentally substitute the phrase close relative. Jesus had no brothers or sisters in the way we mean the word today, for Mary remained ever virgin.

And Monsignor Knox argues that it is fitting, indeed, it is appropriate, that the son of God should be born in a miraculous way. It seems right that the Son of God would be born to a virgin who would remain one. Certainly if you put yourself in the shoes of Joseph, you might realistically choose not to insist upon natural marital rights with a woman about whom an angel came and visited you in the middle of the night, a woman whose birth was in a stable attended by the animals, but then shepherds showed up saying that Angels had sung to them from the heavens about the birth of this boy. And then three foreigners who are some kind of philosopher / magicians come to pay homage to your son and offer gifts of frankincense, gold, and myrrh. Joseph can tell that something miraculous is going on with this boy who was born of the Virgin Mary.

Monsignor Knox notes that for some reason people stumble more over this claim that Mary was a virgin before and after and always more than they stumble over the claim of the Resurrection. And it does seem that if believers are willing to say that a man was killed on Friday and then rose by his own power from death on Sunday, then it takes no greater leap of faith to say that he was born of a virgin who remained a virgin after his birth. But for some reason, people do struggle over this teaching.

Why a Virgin Birth

And Monsignor Knox offers an answer as to why this is the case. And I’ve put it here on the screen because I think it’s so well said. “The resurrection, through which our Lord passed out of his mortal life, is meant to assure us that life is a bigger thing than death. The Virgin birth, by which he entered into mortal life, is meant to assure us that spirit is a bigger thing than body.”

He then offers this explanation: After the fall in the Garden of Eden, therefore a consequence of original sin, our passions can dominate our will — our bodily desires and urges can overwhelm our intellect and choosing functions — so that the body can seem more important or more powerful than the spirit or the soul. And Monsignor Knox argues that we see this confusion complicates important things such as Love and Marriage.

Born of the Virgin Mary

His conclusion, which I have on the screen, is: “The word was made flesh in order that we, creatures of the flesh, might be brought, once more, under the power of the spirit.”

And in Jesus Christ Our Lord

The next phrase from the Apostles Creed is and in Jesus Christ his only son.

Jesus is just the Aramaic form of the word that we see in the Old Testament Joshua. So it’s a relatively familiar name for a boy, and as is the case with so many Hebrew names, it means something. In this case it means “he who saves, savior.” It’s also a noble name in that it connects to Joshua, who led his people across the Jordan into the promised land completing the Exodus. So the name Joshua or Jesus is automatically a powerful and impressive name for a person.

But Monsignor Knox focuses more on the next term, Christ, for that is the weightier term. Calling somebody the Christ is calling somebody the Messiah. You might remember the scene from the gospels when Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And there are answers that suggest people think he’s a prophet like Elijah, and others think he might be John the Baptist. When Jesus asks, “But who do you say that I am,” that’s when St Peter has one of his greatest moments and blurts out, “You are the Christ.” And Jesus confirms how important this is because he says, “Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.” [Mt. 16:17]

The Christ is the Messiah and the anointed one, for that’s what they all mean. Christ is just the Latin word for anointed one, and Messiah is the Hebrew word for anointed one, so we’re all talking about the same thing no matter which word we use.

Continue reading “And in Jesus Christ Our Lord”

Father Almighty

So far we have covered the beginning of the Creed, and we have covered the words: “I believe in God.” The next concept is the Father Almighty. And Monsignor Knox uses this to take a look at the problem of suffering. People struggle with the fact that a loving God who is Almighty doesn’t seem to fit with the suffering that we see in the world today. The objection is that either God is not loving or he is not Almighty, if he were then these things wouldn’t happen to good people. 

Monsignor Knox suggests that when we have these types of reactions, we are being driven more by the feelings of the heart than the reasonings of the brain. He uses the example of when we lose a loved one. In our grief, we ask could God have prevented this from happening? And if he couldn’t then he’s not almighty God. And if he could but he didn’t, then he is certainly not my loving father. 

That’s the nature of our emotional response to suffering. So Monsignor Knox clarifies what we mean when we say that God is Almighty. And what we mean is that he is Almighty in the sense that no limits can be imposed on him by anything outside of him. In our earlier discussion about how he is the first cause, we concluded that unless we are going to accept the absurdity of endless causes, there must be an uncaused case, which we understand is God, the First Mover. From that starting point, we understand that nothing can happen unless in some sense God wills it. So he is not powerless to prevent human suffering. And because God is a god of order, he will not do anything that is against reason. That’s the principle of noncontradiction that we discussed last week. For example, God couldn’t create two equal sized things and it also be true that one of them was larger than the other. So that limit is imposed by God himself on himself: that he doesn’t create illogical absurdities. And part of why that makes sense is because God is truth. And it is untrue that two things can be equal sized and yet one is larger than the other. That’s the kind of illogical absurdity that God limits himself from participating in. 

Continue reading “Father Almighty”