Why the Last Supper Was Not the First Mass

March 26, 2013

Jesus-Eucharist-MassThe purpose of this post is to follow up my last one on why the Last Supper was not the First Mass.  The next post on Holy Thursday will try to explain exactly what it was: An eschatological banquet enacting a surrogate for sacrifice.  But first things first.  Four points:

1.  A Mass requires the whole Paschal Mystery.  The Mass is an anamnetic moment.  It is a moment in which the believing community is brought back to the dynamic movement of the Paschal Mystery so as to enter into that moment and imitate the loving self-sacrificial actions of Christ.

Side note: There has been a danger in post-Tridentine theology to speak of the Mass as a re-presentation of the sacrifice of Christ.  But this interpretation both fails to take the book of Hebrews seriously and also misunderstands the Jewish concept of “remembrance,” azkarah.  Jewish remembrance does not mean that the past event is brought into the present and enacted again.  Rather, it means that those who partake in the ritual action are themselves re-presented to the past event.  At the Mass, the community of believers becomes present to the Paschal Mystery.  Christ is not re-offered or re-presented on the altar of the priest.  Rather, the believing community is re-presented to the sacrifice of Christ and, through the power of the Spirit, made part of that self-offering to the Father.  Side note over.

The Mass is a memorial of the Paschal mystery.  But without that mystery, there could not be a Mass at the Last Supper.

2.  A Mass requires the Resurrection. Read the rest of this entry »


Say it ain’t so, Joe

February 19, 2013

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I’m sometimes asked by artless, though usually fairly harmless, people, “Are there some Church teachings you don’t believe?”  I resist the urge to respond with equal tactlessness, “Are there things about your wife you don’t love?”  The question itself reveals just how much political paradigms have distorted our ways of thinking and speaking about the Church, as if the deposit of faith were somehow equivalent to a party platform.

And yet—here you have it, Mr. Artless Questioner—this week I find myself ready to dissent publicly—for all the web to see—from an official act of the Vicar of Christ, the Supreme Pontiff, the Successor of the Apostle Peter.

Benedict XVI, do you have to go so soon?

I agree, to be sure, with all the generous things that have been said about the pope’s decision—that it’s a selfless and humble act, the fruit of great prayer and faith, born out of a profound love of the Church.  Of course, it is.  And of course Pope Benedict is a better judge of his own limits and abilities than anyone else and is also in a better position to judge the needs of the Church than some two-bit blogger from South Dakota.

But still, I can’t help but thinking, Benedict at 75% is still better than most of us at 100%.  Who else combines Benedict’s spiritual and intellectual breadth and depth, his combination of scholarly incisiveness and gentleness of spirit?  Who else has better seen through the pomps and empty promises of secularism or proposed so insistently, so clearly their remedy—friendship with Jesus Christ?  Who else has Benedict’s sense of the liturgy, sense of history, sense of prayer?  Couldn’t he just stay on for another year or two?  Couldn’t he at least have waited until after finishing that encyclical on faith? Read the rest of this entry »


Prologue: A City “Beyond” Religion

January 30, 2013

Ironically for a trip that was meant to focus on the interaction of various religions with one another, particularly Hinduism and Catholicism, the first place we visited was a small city/state called Auroville and had little to do with religion or Hinduism.  Ironically, because Auroville claims to be a spiritual community that lives “beyond” religion.  It is the Disney World of “spiritual but not religious.”  We were taken around the place by a woman named Lisa, a woman of German descent (with blonde hair in the picture) who had been born in the Auroville community. 


310006_4344429054158_55847313_nYou can read all about Auroville, its founding by Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, its split with the Aurobindo Ashram and the technicalities of its functioning all online. What I would like to reflect on is this claim of being a community beyond religion.  In essence what this means for the community of 2000 plus who live in the city – a city that is under construction for 50,000 – is that no religion in particular is taught in any of the classes.  Children can opt to go to workshops about religions, but none of them are mandatory.  There are no rituals.  Everyone experiences the Feminine Spirit in whatever way that they feel free doing.  Read the rest of this entry »


A Prayer for Discernment

January 24, 2013

Over the next several weeks, I would like to share with you all some of my reflections on the three weeks that I recently spent in India on a theological immersion into Hinduism.  These reflections are both spiritual and theological, personal and social.  The purpose is to clarify my own very undeveloped thoughts on many of these matters, so I wholeheartedly welcome comments and dialogue for clarification.

I applied for this course along with the trip to India for one reason: to reflect academically and spiritually on the presence of God, on the “rays of truth” as Nostra Aetate puts it, that are to be found in the Hindu religion.  I went to India convinced that discernment of those rays is no mere academic exercise.  Unless one is willing to pray with those of other religions, one will never be able to discover the presence of God within them.

And yet I went with some trepidation as well.  Although I have studied Islam briefly previously, I really have very little experience of other religions.  And while Islam worships the historical God of Abraham, Allah, to whom I’ve never had any trouble praying, the Hindu pantheon of gods presents to me a greater challenge.  What I needed was wisdom and discernment, and for this throughout the trip I prayed.  Read the rest of this entry »


Asking To Hold the Baby Jesus

December 24, 2012

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I couldn’t wait till midnight.  I was on my first 30-day retreat as a Jesuit in the Novitiate, and tonight at midnight I was going to ask Mary in my imagination while doing Ignatian contemplation to hold the baby Jesus in my arms.  I was so excited.  I had been waiting a long time for this.

Finally the moment came, and I asked her if I could hold Jesus.  And she said… “no.”  Sort of stunned I asked, “why not?”  She answered, “because you’re not gentle enough.”  That answer has stuck with me over the years and has taken on new meanings in each new ministerial context.  How am I called to be gentle, to be an appropriate comforter with gentle arms for the child Jesus in each new person I meet?

Maybe this Christmas can be a good time for you too to ask Mary if you can hold her baby in your arms and see what she says.

(BTW, this picture of of Mary, Joseph and Jesus is my favorite Nativity picture)


Benedict’s Book: An Appraisal

December 20, 2012

imagesNow that the secular media has completed its rants about how Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) destroyed Christmas, the time has come to engage more seriously the accomplishment of Ratzinger in his new book The Infancy Narratives.  What is the overall merit of his project?  Let me begin by saying that the spiritual reflections Ratzinger offers throughout the book are well worth anyone’s read.  I was deeply moved, for instance, by his reflections on the Annunciation, and by his insightful commentary on the fact that while, in Mary’s society, women were not allowed to express their own consent to betrothal, God asks of Mary her consent to be the Mother of God.  Yet at the risk of being labeled one of those Scripture scholars who happily point the Magi towards their destination but do not deign to follow themselves, as Ratzinger comments on the Jewish Scribes in Matthew 2:4-9, I feel it necessary to offer my critique of Ratzinger’s project as a whole.  Read the rest of this entry »


Mary: Our Voice, God’s Voice

December 13, 2012

Having completed two of my favorite Marian days of the year, the feasts of the Immaculate Conception and of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I can take a moment now to pause and reflect on what they mean together.

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In the Immaculate Conception, Mary speaks for humanity.  That, I believe, is the deepest meaning of the Immaculate Conception.  Not freedom from some kind “stain” of original sin, but the completely free capacity to speak a full and resounding “Yes” on behalf of the human race.

Narrative criticism has helpfully illuminated this point in its re-readings of the Genesis 3 myth.   According to Genesis 3:20, Eve is named havva, But as Reuven Kimelman points out, hayya is the word that means “life-bearer.”  This verse is totally out of place where it is unless there is more to it, coming as it does at the climax of story.  And sure enough, havva is chosen because of its double meaning as “speech” and because of its etymological connection to the word for serpent, hivya.  Havva  is a neologism created by the author to combine the words hayya and hivya.  Eve becomes, at the end of the story, the speech of every human being influenced as it constantly is, by both the voice of the serpent and the command of God.  Eve bears within her both serpent and mother, and as such her speech represents the whole human race. We are all Eve.

What makes the Immaculate Conception so meaningful is that Mary, traditionally called the New Eve, speaks a pure speech, a speech untouched by the serpent that is inside of each one of us. Read the rest of this entry »


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