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What do theologians do all day?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 18, December 2022 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Scripture,Prayer and Spirituality
Scripture and tradition are the central tools of the theologian's trade. Whatever they propose must be grounded in these primary foundations.

Good question! It doesn't seem one might make a living talking about God. Most theologians have a day job teaching at universities. Yet their vocation remains to pursue "the science of God." These studies aren't merely academic. Theologians invest in the work of understanding as believers themselves, and for the sake of believers everywhere.

Fourth-century Augustine urged seekers of truth to "believe that you may understand." Later Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury coined a phrase from this idea, "faith seeking understanding," to describe the task of theology. Needless to say, theologians don't make stuff up, spinning theories about divinity from their imaginations or faculties of reason. Scripture and tradition are the central tools of the theologian's trade. Whatever they propose must be grounded in these primary foundations. 

In addition, theologians may use methodologies from philosophy, history, and science to stretch toward new horizons of thought, to take in advancements in human learning.  Many theologians specialize in certain approaches or subjects. Systematic theology, for example, explores motifs of church dogma: Trinity, Creation, or Incarnation, say. Soteriology is concerned with the workings of grace and the meaning of salvation. Moral theology examines how to discern value choices. Christology meditates on the mystery of Jesus as both human and divine. Ecclesiology studies the church in its mission, governance, and future directions. Pastoral theology considers how preaching, teaching, and liturgy promote the gospel and connect with the lived situations of real people.

I like Jesuit J.J. Mueller's listing of four major influences shaping the path of contemporary theology. The first is the renewed appreciation for Scripture's privileged role in any conversation about God: not the Bible taken literally and fundamentalistically, yet still embraced foundationally. Secondly is historical consciousness: ways of viewing and valuing the past as central or irrelevant, ongoing or finished business. Next is the opening of new avenues of interpretation: feminist, black, LGBTQ+, and liberation readings, among many others. Finally, we have to be mindful of the quickening of global interconnectedness and the responsibility to make theology universally applicable and respectful.

I also love Mueller's acknowledgment that theology isn't the exclusive domain of theologians. We all participate in God Talk with family, friends, coworkers, and in the public sphere of politics and the marketplace. What we say to each other, to children, and to the wider world with our values and decisions is part of the greater work of seeking, understanding, and teaching what we believe.

Scripture: Psalm 119; Wisdom 1:1-7; John 1:1-18; Romans 5:1-11; 1 Corinthians 2:1-16; 2 Timothy 3:10-17; 1 John 1:1-4; 2:7-11

Books: Theological Foundations: Concepts and Methods for Understanding Christian Faith, by J.J. Mueller, SJ. (St. Mary's Press, 2007)

World Christianity: History, Methodologies, Horizons, by Jehu J. Hanciles (Orbis Books, 2021)

How did the Catholic church get into the hospital business?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 18, December 2022 Categories: Church History
From ancient times, the healing ministry was a natural function of religion.

Hospitals have a fascinating history. In the 19th century, they were popularly conceived as places where you were assured "a bed to lie in and to die in." People reacted to hospitals similarly to the Sacrament of the Sick: as a sure sign you were on your way out. In the era before germ theory was understood, the chances of getting sicker in a hospital—where the critically ill were gathered and treated by doctors who didn't wash their hands between patients—was admittedly high. For this reason, some older people still avoid doctors and hospitals, seeing both as omens of the end.

From ancient times, the healing ministry was a natural function of religion. Faith healing was in the hands of religious practitioners. The Bible describes how priests were invested with the authority to banish the contagious from public life, and also to pronounce them cured and restored to the community. The popularity of healing pools is evident in the gospels, as well as exorcisms and magical rituals. In the century before Jesus, Sirach puts in a good word for doctors too. During Jesus' ministry, people naturally bring their sick to the man "who speaks with authority," and receive physical and mental cures. The evangelist Luke was attracted to the church as a physician and recorded many healing narratives.

As early as the 5th century BC—when Hippocrates uttered his oath, "First, do no harm" —science joined the healing business. Medical schools were operating in 40 BC. Yet the church continued to engage in healing ministries with sacraments for the sick and the sinner. Care for the sick was declared a work of mercy. When Constantine embraced Christianity in the 4th century, hospitals opened in every cathedral town of the Roman empire. Early hospitals functioned as hostels, almshouses, and healing facilities at once. In a word, they offered hospitality: a term rooted in addressing the needs of the stranger. Many saints took the infirm into their homes, or pursued full-time doctoring at no charge like Cosmas and Damian. 

Secular hospitals emerged by the 16th and 17th centuries. Yet often the church embraced patients they refused: Damien de Veuster and Marianne Cope ministered to lepers in Hawaii. Frances Cabrini opened hospitals for the under-served poor in New York and Chicago.  The esteemed Mayo Clinic was founded and funded by Franciscan Sisters in Rochester. If we take seriously the concept that "all healing is faith healing," it's hard to imagine the church getting out of the hospital business.

Scriptures: Leviticus 13:1-46; Sirach 38:1-15; 7:31-37; 8:22-26; Matthew 4:23-24; 8:1-17; 10:5-8; Luke 17:11-19; 18:35-43; John 5:1-9; 9:1-7; Acts 3:1-10; 5:12-16; 8:9-25; James 5:13-15

Books: The Bible and Healing: A Medical and Theological Commentary, by John Wilkinson (Eerdmans, 1998)

Who Shall Take Care of Our Sick?: Roman Catholic Sisters and the Development of Catholic Hospitals in New York City, by Bernadette McCauley (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005)

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Where did the breviary come from?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 18, December 2022 Categories: Church History,Prayer and Spirituality
This sanctification of time acknowledges that time is a divine aspect of creation just as space (i.e. the world) is.

The word breviary comes from the same Latin root as brief. It implies this book is a shorter version of something else: in this case, the Liturgy of the Hours. The complete Liturgy of the Hours is a prayer form that seeks to extend the praise of our Eucharistic celebration through the rest of the hours outside of Mass. This sanctification of time acknowledges that time is a divine aspect of creation just as space (i.e. the world) is.

Sacred times and places are common in world religions. Dawn, noon, sunset, and night are regarded as particular markers when the texture of time is in transition. Think of how your activities shift at these markers: from sleep to wakefulness, work to home environment, productivity to relaxation, and finally from alertness back to sleep. At these junctures, it's good to consecrate ourselves and our window of time to divine safekeeping.

The original prayerbook in the Jewish tradition is the Psalter, or Book of Psalms. Early Christians took this traditional prayer with them into the practice of the church. They found natural correlations between hours of prayer and central gospel events, including resurrection (dawn), crucifixion (noon), and the Lord's supper (evening). Morning and evening prayers were routinely offered by lay members of the church.

During the rise of monasticism, other readings and prayers were added, making the Hours more formal and ritualized. By the medieval period, psalms and antiphons, lectionary readings and books of lessons, observance of the martyrology, plus hymnody, combined to require a library of volumes to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. Needless to say, this made the Hours too ponderous and expensive for the laity to participate, and it became a prayer relegated to clergy and cloister.  

Then came the mendicants, those mobile religious orders like Franciscans and Dominicans. Their itinerant lifestyle necessitated a more portable book of prayer, and the breviary was born. This abbreviated version of the Hours wasn't really restored to the average person, however, until Vatican II called for a more accessible form of the breviary to be created. The single-volume book of Christian Prayer, or even simpler and slimmer Shorter Christian Prayer preserve the flavor of a liturgy adapted to hours, days, and weeks, with seasonal touches and a calendar of saint observances. For those still intimidated by leatherbound books, subscriptions to monthly services like Give Us This Day invite us into the spirit of sanctifying our time both morning and evening.

Scripture: Matt. 5:44; 6:9-13; Luke 11:1-13; 18:1-8; Acts 2:42; 3:1; 20:36; 21:5-6; 1 Thess. 5:16-18; Eph. 6:18

Books: The Everyday Catholic's Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours, by Daria Sockey (Franciscan Media, 2013)

Psalms and Other Songs from a Pierced Heart, by Patricia Stevenson (Liturgical Press, 2019)

A Book of Hours, by Thomas Merton, ed. by Kathleen Deignan (Ave Maria Press, 2007)

What's a tertiary?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 18, December 2022 Categories: Consecrated Life,Vocation and Discernment,Prayer and Spirituality
Tertiaries get the nod of approval precisely because of their deep connection to long-established communities with full canonical oversight.

My older sister is a Third Order Carmelite. She's also married, a mother of four children, and a pharmacist. Obviously she's not a nun or religious sister, but if not, then what is she?

Many of us learn from friends that they've joined third orders or otherwise describe themselves as tertiaries. Franciscans, Dominicans, Benedictines, Carmelites, and other religious communities extend their identity to lay people in a "third way" that doesn't include clerical status nor communal living in a religious house. The tertiary designation is a secular association that even has official recognition in canon law: "Third Orders - Associations whose members lead an apostolic life and strive for Christian perfection while living in the world and who share the spirit of some religious institute under the higher direction of that same institute are called third orders or some other appropriate name." (CCC #303)

Third orders aren't the only kind of lay associations mentioned in church law. The earlier Code of Canon Law from 1917 recognized lay confraternities (like the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) and pious unions (think St. Vincent de Paul Society, Knights of Columbus) (see old CIC #700). The distinction between confraternities and pious unions isn't about purpose so much as ecclesial establishment and oversight. Current canon law only formally recognizes tertiary groups while noting the right of other private and public lay associations to form. Needless to say, not every group formed by a Catholic can utilize the name Catholic without competent ecclesial authority. (Heaven knows how the "brand" might be extended otherwise.)

Tertiaries get the nod of approval precisely because of their deep connection to long-established communities with full canonical oversight. The traditional "first orders" were male religious, not necessarily ordained. "Second orders" were composed of women religious. Any layperson who chose to share in the spirit of these communities without taking vows were called oblates by the Benedictines, and third orders by Francis of Assisi.

Today, tertiaries are divided into two categories: secular third orders and regular members. Seculars are like my sister, who lives a relatively normal life while participating in the prayer life and values of her chosen affiliation. She wears a scapular to remind her of her promises, and when she dies, she may choose to be buried in the habit worn by her group. Regular third order members take simple vows as well as following the rule of their community. If a religious community feels resonant for you, inquire about the possibility of associate status.

Books: The Tertiaries Companion - A Prayer Book For the Members of the Third Order Secular of St. Francis of Assisi, by Vincent Schrempp OFM (Franciscan Herald, 2022) 

Rule of the Third Order of the Servants of Mary, Servites Third Order (Ulan Press, 2012)

What is heaven?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 11, December 2022 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs

The kingdom of heaven Jesus repeatedly teaches in Matthew's gospel isn't a spiritual land elsewhere.

When our loved ones die, faith prompts us to speak of them as being in a better place. This pinnacle of betterment is theologically described as perfect union with God. What could be better, truly, than to be finally and completely overtaken by the love that made us in the first place? We also speak of heaven as being God's home as well as our ultimate destination. Those whom we love and lose are therefore not lost at all in death. They've simply "gone home."

However, Christian salvation is even more comprehensive than we sometimes imagine. The world God created is not made in vain, but is even now groaning for its own version of rescue in a new heaven and new earth identified as the "new creation." Just as our beloved and beautiful world was never destined for the scrap heap, so our mortal bodies aren't intended to end as "ashes to ashes, and dust to dust." All is to be renewed, restored, revitalized in a "world without end" confirmed in our every doxology. Cosmically speaking, in eternity the material world matters—pun very much intended.

So the kingdom of heaven Jesus repeatedly teaches in Matthew's gospel isn't a spiritual land elsewhere. It's an immediate reality that has ramifications both now and forever. This makes it imperative that we do our "inner work," since our internal condition (traditionally called our state of grace) is represented in that now-and-everlasting realm. We also have to be mindful stewards of our social relationships, as well as the direction history is taking as a whole. I like Jesuit Paul Crowley's phrase here: "Heaven is thus not a radical interruption of these dimensions of human personhood; rather, the entirety of human personhood is taken up into God in the glory of risen life which bears the name heaven." Simply put, heaven isn't "where" we meet God face to face. It's "when." And it's not an interruption of all we presently know and love. It's a glorification of it all. How wonderful is that?

Another Jesuit, theologian Karl Rahner, has something else to say about heaven that's equally fascinating. He suggests that Jesus didn't return to a pre-existing place called heaven at his Ascension. Rather, Jesus established the possibility of heaven–that is, perfect and eternal union with God—by entering into his glory. Heaven is possible for those prepared to be overwhelmed by love.

Scriptures: Genesis 1:1; Pss 2:4; 11:4; 139:8; Isaiah 66:1; Wisdom 3:1-9; Matthew 3:16-17; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:32-34; Romans 8:18-23; Revelation 21:1-5

Books: And the Life of the World to Come: Reflections on the Biblical Notion of Heaven, by John F. Craghan (Liturgical Press, 2012)

The Unmoored God: Believing in a Time of Dislocation, by Paul G. Crowley (Orbis Books, 2017)

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Who are the church fathers?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 11, December 2022 Categories: Church History

The general idea is that a church father was significant to the formation of Christian doctrine in the early centuries.

Often in the course of spiritual reading, we'll stumble on a quote from someone described as a father of the church. Such a person appears to be an authority whose teaching is unassailable. You begin to wonder: how many of these guys are there, and is there a cut-off moment when names were no longer added to the list?

(You may also wonder if there are church mothers. The short answer is: not officially. But of course there are holy women who were teachers and desert mothers, martyrs, and mystics of renown. Their names and stories are collected in many books, including Martha Ann Kirk's Women of Bible Lands and Mary Forman's Praying with the Desert Mothers.)

The church father designation isn't casual, yet it's assigned more by popular acclaim than definitive assignment. The general idea is that a church father was significant to the formation of Christian doctrine in the early centuries. Intriguingly, qualifications for joining this elite group are otherwise vague. Not all were bishops. Some were questionable in their orthodoxy overall. In the eastern tradition, it's generally assumed that the era of church fathers ends in the 8th century with John Damascene. The western church concludes its list with Gregory the Great (7th c.) or sometimes as late as the Venerable Bede (8th c.). 

In biblical times, someone who provides spiritual instruction for another is esteemed as a father. The prophet Elisha calls his mentor Elijah his father. Paul refers to himself as the father of those Corinthians who came to the faith through his teaching. So it was natural for second-century martyr Polycarp to be regarded as a father to his community, and for early leaders like Irenaeus, Clement, and Origen to utilize the relationship in their writings.

By the 4th century, church writers routinely refer to earlier teachers they cite by this title. Bishops who gathered at early councils like Nicaea, which gave us the Nicene Creed, and Ephesus, where certain heresies were condemned, pretty automatically qualified as fathers. Jesuit Joseph Bianco offers a comprehensive list that includes 5 apostolic fathers of the first century, 13 post-apostolic fathers of the second and third centuries, 56 Golden Age fathers of the fourth to eight centuries (31 writing in Greek, 20 in Latin, 5 in Syriac), and 12 desert fathers stretching from the fourth to the fourteen centuries. Bianco's count provides 86 church fathers to the tradition.

Scriptures: 2 Kings 2:12, 1 Corinthians 4:15

Books: The Fathers on the Sunday Gospels, by Stephen Mark Holmes (Liturgical Press, 2012)

Reading the Early Church Fathers: From the Didache to Nicaea, by James Papandrea (Paulist Press, 2012)

How are we to understand Jesus as both divine and human?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 08, August 2022 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Church History
In Jesus, God surrenders divine presence into human form in an act of self-emptying called kenosis.

Great minds have struggled to get this right, so it's no wonder you and I have to wrestle awhile with the concept of incarnation. Theologians quite descriptively call it "the scandal of the particular": why would the Eternal choose to be time-bound, the limitless One to assume shape in space? As writer Annie Dillard points out, you and I are up to our necks in this particular scandal. How reassuring that God chooses to be here too. 

Jesus is Emmanuel or God-with-us. In Jesus, God surrenders divine presence into human form in an act of self-emptying called kenosis. This doesn't mean God loses divinity in the moment of incarnation; only that the prerogatives of divinity are freely suspended. 

We see how this works in Jesus' temptation in the desert. Hungry after weeks of fasting, it was possible for him to command stones to become bread. But the divine privileges that would preserve his life are precisely those that would nullify his humanity and render it a farce. Similarly, to be angelically protected from harm, or to exercise control over the nations, were things a God-man certainly could do. Jesus refrains from such indulgences not only in the desert that day, but more significantly in Jerusalem in his final days. Instead of turning stones into bread in Jerusalem, Jesus turns bread into his own self-sacrificing body. Instead of preserving his life and enthroning himself in Jerusalem, he allows his life to be seized and his body to be enthroned on a cross. 

Every way to get this idea wrong has been tried and promoted in history. The Arians declared Jesus a created being inferior to the Father. Docetists taught that the humanity of Jesus was basically a mirage. Adoptionists viewed Jesus as a Spirit-filled person whom God "adopted" as a divine son. The Monophysites insisted Jesus had only one nature after his birth. The Apollinarians imagined Jesus as without a human soul. Nestorians believed Jesus wasn't one person but strangely two: one human, one divine.

Incarnation embraces Jesus as the Eternal Word, the true and everlasting God. It also celebrates that Jesus shares fully and unequivocally in the reality of mortals, knowing family and friendship, weariness, rejection, pain, and death. Jesus is the meeting ground of heaven and earth, the reconciliation of every division. This is a precious understanding not to be compromised.

Scriptures: John 1:1-5, 14-18; 8:52-58; 1 Corinthians 1:21-24; Galatians 4:4-5; Ephesians 5:32; Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 1:15-20; 2:2-3, 9-10; 1 Timothy 3:16


Books: Rekindling the Christic Imagination: Theological Meditations for the New Evangelization, by Robert P. Imbelli (Liturgical Press, 2014). On the Incarnation, by Saint Athanasius, with forward by C.S. Lewis (St. Vladimir Seminary Press, 2012).

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Why does the Catholic church place so much importance on sacraments?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 08, August 2022 Categories: Sacraments

What sacraments reveal best of all is the conviction that God's loving intention is to save humanity, not to judge or condemn us.

There are plenty of ways to talk about the significance of sacraments. Among the most compelling is that they are actions which reveal and conceal God. This doesn't imply that seven, and only seven, actions have this sacred power. Quite the opposite: the sacraments listed by the church (Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick, Matrimony, and Holy Orders) remind us how many ways God seeks to be known to us. 

So we find God at work in welcome and in mission and at meals. We experience God in hours of forgiveness and healing. We anticipate God in loving relationships and the call to service. As theologian Mark Francis says, what sacraments reveal best of all is the conviction that God's loving intention is to save humanity, not to judge or condemn us. This intention isn't just the basis for sacraments, but for the church's existence altogether.

How did so many of us manage to miss this beautiful idea? Chances are we learned our lessons about sacraments without ever appreciating their meaning. The traditional definition of a sacrament we were taught is that it's an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace. This formula, popularized at the Council of Trent (1545-1563), was an outgrowth of an era that loved classifying things—especially since the Protestant Reformation was in the process of challenging every practice of the institutional church. Numbering the sacraments and explaining how they impart grace (by imprinting an indelible character or seal on the soul, for one) became the lesson plan. Reciting lists and formulas became more important than understanding what these symbolic actions communicate.

A sacrament is an event emerging from mystery: it bears a hidden component of divine love and power manifesting in space and time. Saint Augustine preferred to describe a sacrament rather than to define it. He called it a "visible word." This fits more with contemporary theology, which names the incarnation of Jesus as the first sacrament, and the church as the second. If Jesus is the sacrament of God—revealing and concealing the "visible word"– and the church is the sacrament of Jesus, you and I might be rightly called sacraments of the church. We begin to understand why thoughtful participation in seven sacramental moments of church life is so significant. They train our vision to see where God is concealed, and seeks to be revealed, everywhere life takes us.

Scriptures: Proverbs 8:22-36; Wisdom 6:22; Matthew 11:25; 13:10-17; John 1:1-5, 14; Romans 16:25-27; 2 Corinthians 1:21-22; Ephesians 1:7-14; 4:11-16; Revelation 7:2-8

Books: The Sacraments: An Interdisciplinary and Interactive Study, by Joseph Martos (Liturgical Press, 2009). The Sacraments and Justice, Doris Donnelly, ed. (Liturgical Press, 2014).

Our pastor uses incense—a lot. Are there reasons for this?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 08, August 2022 Categories: Liturgy
Burnt incense symbolizes prayer rising to God, as Psalm 141 suggests. It also signals the holy Presence in persons, places, or objects.

Incense is a peculiar word that means "something burned." Normally that's a bad smell; but when it comes to incense, it's intended to be a good one. That's a hard sell for the many people who start choking the minute the censor appears in a sanctuary with poor ventilation. And depending on the grade of incense used, the smell may not be entirely pleasing.

The use of incense comes from ancient times and was routinely utilized in the Near East. It had a practical purpose: religious sacrifices frequently involved the slaughter of animals, a bloody affair that certainly imparted a queasy odor to the ritual's participants. Incense was also used in domestic life, as opportunities for hygiene weren't as available without indoor plumbing. Since family livestock was often brought indoors during inclement weather, the need for a little perfuming of the air is understandable.

To make incense, aromatic gums or resins were added to a smoking pot.  Frankincense was the preferred substance. Large tear-shaped gums from the Boswellia tree were harvested to make it, the whiter grade considered the finest. Other valued perfume agents were myrrh and balsam. Two kinds of incense are among the gifts the magi bring to honor the infant Jesus, along with gold. This hints at how precious better grades of incense were. Many cultures including Israel established permanent incense altars to contain the coals: a small cube of limestone often displaying horns at the corners. Portable censors and special incense spoons have also been found in archaeological sites in Egypt, Syria, and Palestine.

In religious rituals of Israel, only the priest was permitted to offer incense along with the sacrifice. One of the reasons Saul, first King of Israel, loses divine favor and is replaced by David, is his refusal to wait on the proper presider, Samuel, to arrive to perform the ritual. Impatient Saul administers it himself. The prophet Ezekiel likewise disapproves when incense is used by Israelites in any ritual not intended to honor Israel's God.

Burnt incense symbolizes prayer rising to God, as Psalm 141 suggests. It also signals the holy Presence in persons, places, or objects. In processions, the Monstrance is preceded by the censor. The Paschal candle is incensed at Easter. On special feasts, a saint's image may be incensed. In our liturgies, the priest is incensed by the deacon, just as he incenses the altar and the assembly. To find the Holy, follow the smoke! 

Scriptures: Exodus 30:34; Leviticus 2:1, 15; 5:11; 6:8; 10:1; 26:30; Numbers 5:15; 16:5; 1 Samuel 2:28; 13:8-14; Psalm 141:2; Proverbs 27:9; Isaiah 43:23; 60:6; Jeremiah 6:20; 17:26; 41:5; Ezekiel 8:11; 16:18; 23:41; Matthew 2:11; Revelation 8:3-5

Books: Signs and Symbols of the Liturgy: An Experience of Ritual and Catechesis, by Michael Ruzicki, Victoria Tufano, et. al (Liturgy Training Publications, 2018). Bulletin Inserts for the Liturgical Life of the Parish: Gestures, Postures, and Practices of the Liturgy, by Paul Turner (Liturgy Training Publications, 2019).

What are sacramentals?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 08, August 2022 Categories: Sacraments
There's no set list of these sacramentals because there can be no limit to the ways in which people through history experience grace.

Let's start with the more familiar word from which this term is obviously derived. A sacrament is formally defined as an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace. By definition, these three stipulations limit the number of signs that can be considered sacraments to those connected in some way with an action or command from the life of Jesus. The early church had no set list of sacraments, and local customs celebrated as many as a dozen, including, for example, the office of widowhood. The Council of Trent (1545-1563) recognized seven moments in the life of the church as sacraments, and Eastern Orthodox churches agreed on these: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Reconciliation, the Anointing of the Sick, Matrimony, and Holy Orders.

Other holy acts and practices do not appear on this list. There's no set list of these sacramentals because there can be no limit to the ways in which people through history experience grace. For this reason, sacramentals are difficult to define. Making the sign of the cross is a sacramental, and so is the holy water that may accompany this self-blessing. Praying the Stations of the Cross, saying the rosary, or washing feet on Holy Thursday are actions considered as sacramental. Wearing a medal or scapular as an act of faith is sacramental. But the items themselves—Stations and rosaries, medals and scapulars—are also called sacramentals. Ashes received at the start of Lent and blessed palms from Holy Week are on the list, as are candles, icons, or other images used in prayer. 

According to the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the prayers and rites used in administering the actual sacraments are sacramental. Funerals, exorcisms, and blessings of catechumens and candidates are too. But not all moments in which we receive or impart grace come in church settings. The annual blessing of the home in January counts, as well as the blessings parents give to their children at bedtime. Some cultures practice a blessing of new cars. Other folks are glad to have their businesses or places of work consecrated to God's purposes.

Having worked in a rectory, I can vouch that nearly anything can and has been blessed by believers seeking God's grace for the user: skateboards and tricycles, new prayer books and saints' statues, pets and trees. If we seek the church's intercession and hope to make holy some occasion of human life, there's something of a "sacrament" in that.

Scriptures: Matthew 6:3-4, 17-18; 9:20-21; 19:13-15; 21:8; 26:6-13; 27:57-60; Mark 7:32-35; 8:22-25; 9:14-29; Luke 7:36-50; 23:50-56; John 9:1-7; 12:1-8

Books: Liturgical Inculturation: Sacramentals, Religiosity, and Catechesis, by Ansgar Chupungco, OSB (Liturgical Press, 1995). Shape a Circle Ever Wider: Liturgical Inculturation in the United States, by Mark R. Francis, CSV (Liturgy Training Publications, 2000).

What are the marks of the church and why are they important to know?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Saturday 02, July 2022 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs

Since we are the church, we need to recognize whether our experience of church, and our personal expression of it in and out of the pews, is authentic.

When we profess the Creed, we say: "We believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church." Beyond reciting this litany, we may not consider how these four marks, also called notes, distinguish the authentic church from any counterfeit versions we may encounter. Yet this is why the marks were established: so we can tell the difference between the church and its imposters.

Why is this essential? Well, one day I was sitting in a jury room debating a tax evasion charge against a man claiming that his home was a church. This guy had deducted more than a decade of his life as church-related expenses. I was the only person in the jury box who doubted his claim. His "church" had none of the marks.

It may seem rare to be required to testify if a presentation of church is the real deal. In fact, it's closer to home than we think. Since we are the church, we need to recognize whether our experience of church, and our personal expression of it in and out of the pews, is authentic. First, consider oneness. The church must maintain unity among its members. Some obvious questions might be: How united is your parish? Your diocese? The universal church in this generation? Yet also: how united are we to the mission of the church?

Next, reflect on holiness. It's easy to take aim at the holiness of particular church leaders. Yet we also have to examine our own call to be as God is: loving, compassionate, just, truthful, kind, slow to anger, etc. Do you and I still qualify as a version of church the world will recognize?

Catholicity seems more opaque; substitute the word universality. This doesn't mean the whole world is Catholic or even that it should be. Catholicity defines the church as non-elitist, open to all. No one is excluded because of who they are. Is this true of your parish? And: are you and I, in Christ, a welcoming presence to all comers?

Finally, there's the matter of being apostolic. This mark is often thinned to imply merely that our hierarchy derives authority from the first apostles through the laying on of hands. It also and more urgently intends that there's a discernible continuity between our mission and that of the early church leaders. Can we trace a link between their goals and ours? The four marks can, indeed, keep us honest. 

Scriptures: ONE: Matthew 13:25-30; John 17:20-23; Ephesians 2:19-22; 4:3-6; HOLY: 2 Cor 5:21; Ephesians 1:3-4; 5:25-27; Hebrews 2:16-17; 7:26; 1 John 1:5-10; CATHOLIC: Matthew 28:18-20; 2 Corinthians 5:14-21; Ephesians 1:22-23; 1 Timothy 2:4;  APOSTOLIC: Mark 3:13-14; Matthew 16:15-19; John 5: 30; 15:5; 17:18-19; 20:21; Acts 1:8; 20:28; 2 Corinthians 3:4-6; 5:20 

Books: Understanding Catholicism, by Monika Hellwig (Paulist Press, 2001)

The Church We Believe In: One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic, by Francis Sullivan (Paulist Press, 1988)

I'm not at peace. Is there a Catholic way to get there?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Saturday 02, July 2022 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Church History,Prayer and Spirituality

Peace isn't a thing to "have" so much as a "way." To enjoy peace, we travel the road of peace: or "go in peace" as is proclaimed at the end of every Mass. The gospels tell us this Way has a name: Jesus.

There's certainly a Catholic way to understand peace. We normally think of peace as a condition of no conflict. Yet the biblical concept of peace, shalom, assures us it's a fullness rather than an absence of something. In fact, shalom could be described as wholeness altogether, including immersion in right relationships. To experience peace, we must get right with God, neighbor, and creation itself. 

That sounds big. It is. But it's also simple. Peace isn't a thing to "have" so much as a "way." To enjoy peace, we travel the road of peace: or "go in peace" as is proclaimed at the end of every Mass. The gospels tell us this Way has a name: Jesus. Isaiah announced him as the Prince of Peace. John the Baptist heralded one who would "guide our feet in the way of peace." Saint Paul tells us plainly that Jesus IS our peace. And Jesus himself offers his friends at the last supper a peace the world cannot give.

How does this work? Consider the gospel story of the woman healed of a hemorrhage. She believes the merest contact with Jesus will end her misery. Which it does. The moment Jesus acknowledges that she's been healed, he invites her to go in peace, to continue in the wholeness she's received. As healthcare specialist Sister Juliana Casey puts it: "Peace appears when God is near." A wonderful wholeness of being is our introduction to shalom. All that's left is to remain in this way, not to lose this precious wholeness.

Does holding onto peace come cheaply? Not to Thomas Aquinas, who insisted harmonious relationships require a soul governed by love. Pope Leo XIII defined peace as rooted in justice and guided by love. Pius XII chose as his motto Opus institiae pax: "Peace is the work of justice." John XXIII expanded this idea beyond the personal to the social order. Only when truth, justice, love, and freedom are universally accessible can there be peace. My favorite phrase arrived courtesy of Pope Paul VI, in noting the struggle of the world's poor: "Development is the new name for peace." Pope John Paul II reframed the quest for peace as "solidarity" with our neighbor, particularly the most marginalized. 

The angels at Bethlehem sang that peace comes "to people of good will." If our minds or hearts are troubled, it may be we're not harboring good will toward all—even if we just withhold our love from a single one.

Scriptures: Isaiah 9:5-6; 48:18; Mark 5:25-34; Matthew 5:9; Luke 1:76-79; 2:14; 8:43-48; John 14:27; 20:19-29; Ephesians 2:13-18

Book: The Gift of Peace: Personal Reflections, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin (Loyola Press, 1997)

The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response, NCCB (United States Catholic Conference, 1983)

What's a synod and why are we having one in Rome now?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 23, May 2022 Categories: Pope Francis,Church History
What Pope Francis will do with the present "Synod on Synodality" remains to be seen. This two-year process of listening begins at the diocesan and parish levels: a rare inclusion of lay concerns.

Synods aren't a new invention in the church. The word means "meeting," and church leaders have always gathered in regions or by country to discuss matters relevant to their territory and times. 

However, the World Synod of Bishops (currently in listening sessions from 2021-2023) is a relatively new animal on the ecclesial scene—a mere half-century old. Pope Paul VI called for its permanent establishment as a consultative body to the papacy in 1965 with the papal letter Apostolica Sollicitudo ("Apostolic Concern"). To say Paul VI invented the idea—as the letterhead Motu Proprio ("on his own initiative") might imply—is misleading. The creation of a Bishops' Synod was mandated by the Decree on the Bishops' Pastoral Office, a Vatican II document produced the same year. As the Decree notes, while the pope has primacy over the Church universal, he shares his authority "by the Holy Spirit" with other "pastors of souls": AKA, bishops worldwide. [Christus Dominus, no.2]

If the bishops sound a bit cranky here, they had reason. Not every pope has been respectful of the collegiality of their office. In fact, the word collegiality is a third rail in Vatican politics. How can one hold "primacy" and share authority in any meaningful way with bishops who are "constituted true and authentic teachers of the faith and have been made pontiffs and pastors" in their own right? [CD, no.2]

The bishops' mandate for a seat at the table of discernment wasn't ambiguous: "Bishops chosen from different parts of the world in a manner and according to a system ... to be determined by the Roman Pontiff will render ... a more effective auxiliary service in a council which shall be known by the special name of Synod of Bishops." [CD, no. 5] The pope is graciously permitted the task of figuring out how it all should work. But establishing the Synod was non-negotiable.

The actual role of a Bishops' Synod remains unclear. Some popes view it as an advisory body and ignore its recommendations. Others take its counsel to heart. What Pope Francis will do with the present "Synod on Synodality" remains to be seen. This two-year process of listening begins at the diocesan and parish levels: a rare inclusion of lay concerns. The Synod is called a gift and a task, a journey and a reflection, to discern where the Church should focus to "live communion, achieve participation, and open Herself to mission" in the third millennium. Will this process lead to more than documents? Let us pray.

Scriptures: Numbers 11:16-17, 24-30; Matthew 18:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:19-24; 1 Timothy 1:5-7; 3:1-7; 2 Timothy 2:14-15, 23-26; 3:16-17; 4:1-5

Website: For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission:

Book: Your Church Wants to Hear from You: The Synod on Synodality, by Michael Sanem (Liturgical Press, 2022)

How many feast days does Mary have?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 23, May 2022 Categories: Church History,Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints

Why so much attention on Mary? We view Mary as mother of the Church as well as Mother of God.

Good observation! Mary feasts have been with us a long time, and they accumulate through the centuries. They began showing up in the East and the West after the Council of Ephesus (431) formally bestowed the title "God-bearer" (Theotokos) on the mother of Jesus. Not long after, near Bethlehem, the feast of "Mary, Mother of God" was celebrated on August 15—the day we now honor her Assumption. The first day of the year became a Marian feast in sixth-century Rome, while December 26 was Mary's day in Byzantine circles. Churches of Spain remembered Mary on December 18, a week before the Nativity.

By the seventh century, Mary's birthday (September 8—not a historical date but a remembrance), her childhood presentation in the temple (November 21), and the Annunciation (March 25—nine months before Christmas) spread from local Jerusalem observances to the Byzantine church and Rome. At present we commemorate 15 Mary days on the universal Roman calendar. 

Four of these celebrations are solemnities, the highest rank of any day in the liturgical year: Mary, Mother of God (Jan. 1), Annunciation (Mar. 25), Assumption (Aug. 15), and Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8). Three are feasts: Presentation of the Lord (Feb. 2), Visitation (May 31), and Birth of Mary (Sept. 8). Four are memorials, a simpler form of remembrance: Queenship of Mary (Aug. 22), Our Lady of Sorrows (Sept. 15), Our Lady of the Rosary (Oct. 7), and Presentation of Mary (Nov. 21). And four are optional memorials: Our Lady of Lourdes (Feb. 11), Immaculate Heart of Mary (a movable feast falling on the second Saturday after Pentecost), Our Lady of Mt. Carmel (July 16), and Dedication of St. Mary Major Basilica (Aug. 5). The U.S. bishops added a memorial for Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12, bringing the national total to 16 Marian days.

Why so much attention on Mary? We view Mary as mother of the Church as well as Mother of God. She demonstrates how a disciple of Jesus is to act. (Not all disciples were a good act to follow.) Also, Mary has a unique access ("mediation") to her son that believers make good use of. 

In my home I display Marian images from all over the world, traditional and modern, reverential and whimsical. Even folks who don't know who Mary is are captivated by at least one of them. So it is with Mary days. There's one that resonates with everyone.

Scriptures: Luke 1:26-56; 2:1-52; John 2:1-12; 19:25-27; Acts 1:13-14

Books: Sing of Mary: Giving Voice to Marian Theology and Devotion, by Stephanie Budwey (Liturgical Press, 2014)

Blessed Art Thou: Mother, Lady, Mystic, Queen, by Michael O'Neill McGrath and Richard Fragomeni (World Library Publications, 2004)

I noticed the name "Yahweh" was taken out of a hymn I like. What's up with that?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 10, April 2022 Categories: Scripture
The Hebrew name of God is not to be used in liturgical celebrations, songs, or prayers.

It's true: among the most popular songs used at Mass is "You Are Near" by Dan Schutte. And the opening address was changed from "Yahweh " to "O Lord." The switch doesn't interrupt the cadence, but if you've been singing it since 1971, it's understandable to stumble on the phrase. Other hymns were affected, but none as prominently as this one.

The change was made in accordance with a decree from the Congregation for Divine Worship in 2008. This was in response to an explicit directive from Pope Benedict XVI regarding the casual usage of the divine name. The Hebrew name of God is not to be used in liturgical celebrations, songs, or prayers. Translators of texts are cautioned to show the “greatest faithfulness and respect” regarding the Holy Name. In contemporary Bible translations, wherever the Hebrew name was originally used, now appears the name LORD in capital letters. 

Although the name appears in Scripture as early as Genesis in passages composed by a writer called the Yahwist for this very reason, most contributors refrained from using the name until it's given to Moses as a special gift in Exodus. On that occasion, God says, "As God the Almighty (in Hebrew, El Shaddai] I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but my name, YHWH, I did not make known to them." Later biblical personalities like Elijah [YHWH is my God] and Isaiah [YHWH is salvation] bear names that define their relationship to this God.

The name isn't a noun or a descriptor but a verb. God is to be known as a vital activity rather than a static notion. As Scripture likes to say, God is the God of the living, the is-was-and-will-be, the Being of eternal progression. I AM, says God—but this implies more than simple existence. God not only IS but also CAUSES all to be. Theologians would inelegantly label God the Uncaused Cause in recognition of this idea. They might also have recognized the God of infinite relationship.

Sometime after the Babylonian exile, reverence for the divine name increases. Dead Sea scroll writers used different pens and ink to write the name in an archaic script. Eventually the name adonai in Hebrew, kyrios in Greek, LORD in English, would replace YHWH in the texts altogether. Taking Yashem (the Name) out of casual usage reminds us of the privilege we have in addressing our God.

Scripture: Genesis 4:26; 17:1; 35:11; Exodus 3:13-15; 6:2-3; 7:17; 8:6, 18; 9:29; 10:1-2; 14:18; 20:2-3; Leviticus 11:44-45; 22:32-33; Deuteronomy 6:12-13; Pss. 20:2, 8; 54:3; see also Jesus in John 6:20; 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19; 18:5-8; and Mark 14:61-63; Luke 22:70-71; Philippians 2:11

Books: Praise the Name of the Lord: Meditations on the Names of God in the Qu'ran and the Bible, by Archbishop Michael Louis Fitzgerald, with Mary Margaret Funk, Zeki Saritoprak (Liturgical Press, 2017)

The Names of Jesus, by Stephen Binz (Twenty-Third Publications, 2004)

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Why do some feasts, formerly celebrated on the church calendar, later get suppressed?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 10, April 2022 Categories: Church History,Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints,Liturgy

The removal of some saints from the General Roman Calendar has been lamented as "the sanctoral killing fields."

In the 20th century, Pope Pius XII appointed a commission to abolish some octaves, vigils, and duplicate feasts to simplify the church calendar. Depending on how dates fell, celebrations overlapped and became confusing to pastor and people: what exactly ought we to be observing?

It seemed prudent to focus the assembly's attention on significant mysteries, rather than scattering their contemplation every which way. In church history, "calendrical clog" was periodically eliminated, so Pope Pius wasn't acting uniquely in his decision. This led to the renewed rubrics in the Roman Breviary and Missal of 1955. Five years later, additional changes were made by his still-operating commission under Pope John XXIII. 

Celebrating major feasts as octaves was an ancient Jewish practice. Three octaves are retained on the church calendar—Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost—as one day is hardly enough to consider the mysteries of Incarnation, Redemption, and the in-Spiriting of the church. Discontinued octaves include those for the feasts of John the Baptist, Peter & Paul, Stephen the first martyr, John the Evangelist, Ascension, Corpus Christi, Epiphany, and the Sacred Heart.

Vigils were embraced by the early church as an opportunity to pray all night on special feasts. Easter, Pentecost, Ascension, Assumption, John the Baptist, Peter and Paul, and Lawrence the deacon retain their vigils—though it's the rare Catholic who keeps vigil all night these days. Vigils are suppressed for Immaculate Conception, All Saints, and Epiphany. You're still welcome to pray all night on any feast you like.

The removal of some saints from the General Roman Calendar has been lamented as "the sanctoral killing fields." Over 300 saints, plus their typically unnamed companions, were removed from the calendar in the renewals. This list famously includes the popular Mr. Christopher, but also the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste and the Seven Maccabee Martyrs. Many deleted feasts were duplicate names on the calendar, such as observances for Agnes and Francis of Assisi. Of the more than ten thousand saints in the canon, some are certainly variant names used in different locales: i.e.  Vlash in Albania is Blaise elsewhere. 

It also bears noting that Pope John Paul II doubled the number of canonized saints in a single papacy. Making a little room for these contemporary saints who have much to teach us about how to embrace holy living in circumstances more familiar to us is a good thing.

Scripture: Matthew 11:28-30; 23:4; Luke 11:46

Books: Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium - Rita Ferrone (Paulist Press, 2007)

Cum hac nostra aetate (With Our Age). On "Reducing the rubrics to a simpler form" - Pope Pius XII, find at  

I'm confused about "James" in the New Testament. How many are there, and who are they?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 10, April 2022 Categories: Church History,Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints,Scripture

Last names would come in handy. Unhappily, they weren't used in biblical times. We're left to hazard a best guess when more than one James (or Mary, John, or Simon) appears. 

The first James is identified as the brother of John and son of Zebedee. James and John encounter Jesus at the shore of Galilee while they're in a boat mending nets with Zebedee. Jesus has already recruited brothers Simon (Peter) and Andrew who were similarly employed. Likewise, James and John leave family, home, and occupation behind the moment Jesus calls to them. Perhaps because of their boisterous natures, Jesus nicknames them Boanerges, "sons of thunder." James is always mentioned before John, which makes him the eldest or simply more celebrated brother: he's sometimes called James the Great. Along with Peter, these brothers form the inner circle of Jesus' followers. James was the second of the original Twelve to die (after the suicide of Judas), a martyr between 42-44 A.D.

Also on the list of apostles is James the son of Alphaeus. We don't know how he enters the story, his occupation or origins. He has no speaking part in the gospels. No wonder he's called James the Less—though this may be a reference to his age. His mother Mary was present at the crucifixion.

Another gospel list claims a James: that of Jesus' brothers. Unnamed sisters are sometimes noted, but all four gospels mention Jesus had brothers. Blood ties were tight in ancient times; the precise kinship may have been cousins or siblings. Attempts to clarify these relationships are unsatisfying. Belief in Mary's perpetual virginity weighs heavily in Catholic conversations on the matter. Some view these siblings as Joseph's children from a previous marriage. 

This third James—AKA James the Just—is significant in the early church. While the gospels repeatedly emphasize how the relatives of Jesus mistrusted the direction of his ministry, Paul notes that after the resurrection, James had a private revelation of Jesus. This cured his doubts and enfolded him into the church. His lineage may have catapulted him into leadership in the Jerusalem community, becoming a power triangle with career disciples Peter and John. Brother James could have written some kernel of the Letter of James in the New Testament. However, James the Just was martyred in 62 or 69 AD; the final form of the letter likely took shape later.

Mark 1:16-20; 3:13-19; 31-35; 6:1-6; 15:40; Matthew 4:21-22; 10:1-4; 12:46-50; 13:55-58; 27:56; Luke 6:12-16; 8:19-21; 24:10; John 7:3-5; Acts 1:13; 12:17; 15:13-21; 21:18; 1 Corinthians 15:7; Galatians 1:19; 2:11-12; James 1:1

Books: James of Jerusalem: Heir to Jesus of Nazareth, by Patrick Hartin (Liturgical Press, 2004)

What Are They Saying About the Letter of James?, by Alicia Batten (Paulist Press, 2009)

Where did the "Hail Mary" prayer come from?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 10, April 2022 Categories: Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints

While we think of it as a Marian prayer, the Hail Mary is literally Christ-centered, as all Christian prayer should be.

No one knows who put together the series of Bible verses and intercession we know as the Hail Mary. There were several stages to the evolution of this prayer. The title "Mother of God" (Theotokos, or God-bearer in Greek) was used for Mary after church councils of the 4th and 5th centuries sanctioned it as theologically correct to describe her as more than "Christ-bearer" (Christotokos). Forms of this prayer existed in the 6th-century Eastern church. In the West, it was included in the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary by the 11th century. The Hail Mary came into wider use in the 16th century, as the Crusaders invoked Mary to assist their quest to recapture the Holy Land.

The prayer is grounded in Scripture with the angel's greeting to Mary: "Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee." It continues with Elizabeth's blessing on her young cousin during their visitation: "Blessed are thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb." Elizabeth offers a standard Jewish birth-blessing which praises the mother for the child she carries.

While we think of it as a Marian prayer, the Hail Mary is literally Christ-centered, as all Christian prayer should be. Many ancient writings held the key to their interpretation or thematic significance in the center. The hinge word of the Hail Mary is the name "Jesus." 

What follows is an invocation for Mary's help ("pray for us") as she is close to God, being both holy and divine mother. Since the prayer begins with the angel's identification of Mary as Spirit-filled ("full of grace"), hinges on her relationship to Jesus, and ends with her relationship to God, the Hail Mary in its entirety reveals Mary's role as a willing participant in the work of the Trinity. The final line, "now and at the hour of our death," was the last addition to the prayer and made it a particularly poignant entreaty for those facing battle, the threat of plague, or other dangerous circumstances.

The Hail Mary also acknowledges that Mary of Nazareth, a young girl whose faith in God is strong and true, is elevated to the status of Abraham, whose faith made him the father of nations. The Jewish community identifies itself as Abraham's children. It's fitting that Christians perceive themselves as the children of Mary, our mother in faith.

Scriptures: Genesis 12:2-3; Exodus 3:12; Judges 6:12; Judith 13:18; Zephaniah 3:14-17; Zechariah 9:9; Luke 1:28; 2:42; 18:13; John 19:25-27; Revelation 21:3

Books: What Mary Means to Christians: An Ancient Tradition Explained, by Peter Stravinskas (Paulist Press, 2012)

The Rosary: Mysteries of Joy, Light, Sorrow, and Glory, by Alice Camille (ACTA Publications, 2003)

As a Catholic, what do I need to know about racism?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 02, February 2022 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs

This is something our Catholic faith teaches us: that the existence of evil anywhere is a clear and present danger to us all.

Let me begin by saying, as a white Catholic, I knew almost nothing about the black Catholic experience until I heard Father Bryan Massingale speak at a conference. Massingale is a theologian, and also has to talk about racism a lot because he's black. As he says, when he was ordained, he only meant to become a priest. But he's obliged to be a black priest because that's what people see when they look at him. After hearing Massingale speak, I read his book on the church and racial justice (see below). Then I sat with him at another conference and got to talk with him more personally. He convinced me that I needed to read Cyprian Davis' history of contributions that black Catholics have made to this country—and how they were treated in return by country and church. Davis' history is an illuminating, breathtaking, and harrowing journey toward understanding. It made me realize that confronting the sin of racism takes time, education, and will—the same way building a society woven through with the thread of racism took time and teaching and deliberate decisions to create.

What becomes clear in an examination of the past and present is that racism is about everything in this country: poverty, education, health care, criminal justice, immigration, workers' rights, gender bias, the environment. Name an issue, and you discover there's a racial component to it that a white person may not have considered. This is what's meant by white privilege, a volatile term that a lot of people don't like to hear and don't properly understand. It doesn't imply that a white person is automatically richer, better educated, or has more career opportunities available to them—an obvious untruth. The privilege is that white people don't have to think about race. In every situation we face, we don't have to ask: what's the "white angle" on this? How will my skin likely affect my outcome here?

If you're black, Asian, Native American, or Latinx, you're never separated from the realities of race and what it may mean for you in any situation. And if you're white like me, you may be unaware that racism is a wound that harms us all.  A spiritual danger, that is. We can't live contentedly knowing about Lazarus at the gate, sick and hungry and in need, without being complicit in his suffering. We can't live adjacent to injustice and not be summoned to speak out against it until it's defeated. Most white people I know don't "have it out" for people of color, and therefore don't see racism as a problem they have. We ALL have the problem. It's our problem, until it's no one's problem.

Scriptures: Compassion is the counterpart to racism when it leads to solidarity, as follows: Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 7:11-17; 10:29-37; 15:11-32; 16:19-31; Romans 12:9-18; 1 Cor 11:17-29; 2 Corinthians 5:12, 16-21; Galatians 3:27-28 new creation

Books: Racial Justice and the Catholic Church, by Bryan Massingale (Orbis Books, 2010)

The History of Black Catholics in the United States, by Cyprian Davis (Crossroads, 1991)

Understanding and Dismantling Racism: The Twenty-First Century Challenge to White America, by Joseph Barndt (Fortress Press, 2008)

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Where did the Stabat Mater come from?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 02, February 2022 Categories: Church History
Most of us know it because it's widely sung during the Stations of the Cross. 

Known as the Stabat Mater Dolorosa ("The Sorrowful Mother Stood"), this medieval hymn is referenced as early as 1388. It was utilized as a liturgical sequence at Mass until the Council of Trent (1545-1563) suppressed this usage along with hundreds of other sequences. It returned to the Roman Missal in 1727 and was recommended for the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows on September 15. Most of us know it because it's widely sung during the Stations of the Cross. Yet its authorship is uncertain.

Among those proposed as the composer of the Stabat Mater was Saint Bonaventure (1221-1274), a doctor of the church. Since the Stations of the Cross were a Franciscan invention [see article "Where do the Stations of the Cross come from?"], it seemed plausible that an eloquent Franciscan might be its author. Pope Innocent III, who gave authorization to Francis of Assisi to begin his order, was also proposed as the writer, with less evidence. One of the Popes Gregory (just which one remains unspecified) and Pope John XXII have likewise been asserted by various period writers as composers of Stabat Mater. These speculations are no better than hearsay.

The most popular contestant was Jacopone da Todi (ca. 1230-1306), a Franciscan brother. Jacopone joined the Franciscans after the sudden loss of his wife in an accident. He was a poet and dramatist known for the composition of many laudireligious songs and poems—as well as theatrical presentations of the gospel. 

Unhappily, Jacopone got swept up in a Franciscan controversy. After the death of Francis, many of his order were keen to relax the rule of absolute poverty. As Franciscans became more involved in apostolic work, some preferred to follow other religious orders in the acquisition of land and housing. A "Spirituals" faction, meanwhile, were repulsed by what they viewed as a sell-out of their ideal. The Spirituals broke from the order, and were excommunicated by Pope John XXII (a competitor with Jacopone as the source of Stabat Mater). Jacopone was imprisoned for writing poems criticizing his opponents—including the pope. A later pope freed him, and the Franciscans reclaimed Jacopone's body after death. These days Jacopone hovers near sainthood. But his penning of the Stabat Mater was thrown into question when a predated copy was found in the prayerbook of some 13th-century Dominican nuns.

Whoever wrote it, the Stabat Mater has enjoyed more than 60 English translations. It's been set to music more than 50 times, including by Vivaldi, Haydn, Schubert, Liszt, Dvoršák, and Verdi—and most recently, by James MacMillan in 2015. 

Scriptures: Luke 2:33-35; John 19:25-27

Book: Stabat Mater: The Mystery Hymn, by Desmond Fisher (Gracewing Publishing, 2015)

E-Resource: The Ultimate Stabat Mater Website - It compares multiple translations of the ancient hymn line by line.  

Why is Jesus called the Lamb of God?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 02, February 2022 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Scripture
The Paschal mystery remains the focal point of salvation: that the innocent one bears away the world's guilt.

Lamb of God, or Agnus Dei, has come to be a familiar liturgical formula referring to Jesus. This is interesting, as the term only occurs twice in the New Testament, and not at all in the Old. 

Of course, sheep and lambs are pervasive images in both Testaments, as you would expect in an agrarian culture. Lambs were essential to the religious sacrifices of Israel, including the centrally significant Passover lamb whose blood marked the doorposts and lintels of Hebrew houses in Egypt on the night when the angel of death passed over the land. Yearling lambs were also sacrificed at Israel's priestly ordination rites, and lambs served as peace offerings and sin offerings as well. It's clear from the earliest usages that the blood of lambs had special authority as a sign of God's protection, guidance, and forgiveness.

In the prophecies of Isaiah, the theology is advanced. Isaiah sees the lamb as an innocent and vulnerable animal, gentle and peace-loving. Contrast it with the lion, wolf, or bear, always in search of prey. In the songs of the faithful servant, Isaiah envisions the servant as a lamb led to slaughter, bearing the guilt of many without protest.

These early Hebrew understandings of the lamb's role in purifying the community of sin, and in making peace between the people and God, certainly contributed to John the Baptist's meaning when he identifies Jesus to the crowds: "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" In John's gospel, this phrase is in the Baptist's mouth twice. From that same Johannine community emerges the image of the victorious Lamb of Revelation, who sits at God's throne and illuminates the New Jerusalem as its sole source of light.

It's no wonder that, when Philip the deacon encounters the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts, the man is puzzling over Isaiah's references to the lamb led to slaughter and trying to pierce the mystery. Why would God send a lamb to do the work of communal restoration? Why indeed? The Paschal mystery remains the focal point of salvation: that the innocent one bears away the world's guilt.

So we sing of this mystery in the Gloria at Mass, and in the three-fold "Lamb of God" before communion. "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world," the priest intones. "Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb." 

Scripture: Exodus 12:3-9; Leviticus 3:6-11; 4:32-35; Isaiah 11:6; 53:7; Luke 10:3; John 1:29, 36; 21:21:15; Acts 8:32; 1 Peter 1:19; Revelation 5:6-13; 7:9-17

Books: At the Supper of the Lamb: A Pastoral and Theological Commentary on the Mass, by Paul Turner (Liturgy Training Publications,  2011)

The Lamb and the Beasts, by Stephen J. Binz (Twenty-Third Publications, 2006)

E-Resource: Website "Art and Theology: revitalizing the Christian imagination through painting, poetry, music, and more" - Don't miss Victoria Emily Jones' articles on liturgical art. And please, enjoy a hymn or two.

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Please sort out these words for me: catechesis, catechetics, catechism, catechumen. What's the difference?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 02, February 2022 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Prayer and Spirituality

They all derive from the same Greek word, which means "to echo." But as you suspect, they don't all mean the same thing.

Catechesis is the process of awakening a person to faith. We typically think of catechesis as instruction: children's religion programs, or RCIA formation for adults preparing for baptism. While catechesis involves teaching, textbooks aren't central to the process. "The study of the sacred page" is the heart of the matter (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, nos. 21-26). Catechesis is a ministry of the word: not only reading Scripture but entering into dialogue with God's word so that it dwells in us. Our lives literally become an echo of what we hear.

Catechetics is the theory behind catechesis—something you may not consider unless you're a catechist (one who provides catechesis to others). But it's something to think about if you suspect your parish programs have an agenda more partisan than pastoral. Catechetics since Vatican II aims not merely to pass on "the deposit of faith"—those traditions and teachings governing church life. Catechetics recognizes the human element in the process of awakening faith. It's not about indoctrinating future disciples through the memorizing of immoveable truths. Catechetics seeks to use age-appropriate and culturally sensitive methods of instruction so that faith formation, and not indoctrination, is the result. Catechists must not only know church teaching, but also grasp the social and moral context of their times and how their communities might be called to respond to them. 

Catechism was once the fundamental way religious instruction was accomplished. A catechism is a manual of instruction involving a question-and-answer format. It typically follows the organization of the creed, the Ten Commandments, and the seven sacraments. The point of such instruction was literally to echo the catechism in memorizing the answers to each question and to reiterate them verbatim. The present Catechism of the Catholic Church, contrary to popular belief, wasn't intended to be a personal manual of instruction for the classroom. It's meant to guide bishops in the formation of diocesan programming.

Catechumen is the easiest to distinguish in this echo chamber of similar-sounding terms. It refers to an unbaptized person seeking to be joined to the church. Catechumen is often contrasted with candidate, the term for a baptized Christian who seeks to become Catholic.

Scripture: Deuteronomy 32:2; Psalm 119; Matthew 5:1-7:29; 22:34-40; Acts 5:27-42; 1 Timothy 4:6-16; 2 Timothy 3:14-17

Books: Catechesis in a Multi-Media World: Connecting to Today's Students, by Mary Byrne Hoffman (Paulist Press, 2012)

The Art of Catechesis: What You Need to Be, Know, and Do, by Maureen Gallagher (Paulist Press, 1998)



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