Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Synod on the Family

In October this year the Synod on the family will take place.
The participants - some of whom seem determined to undermine marriage and the family - will all hear the following words of the Gospel proclaimed at Mass on 4th October:  

"Some Pharisees approached Jesus and asked, ‘Is it against the law for a man to divorce his wife?’ They were testing him. He answered them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ ‘Moses allowed us’ they said ‘to draw up a writ of dismissal and so to divorce.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘It was because you were so unteachable that he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation God made them male and female. This is why a man must leave father and mother, and the two become one body. They are no longer two, therefore, but one body. So then, what God has united, man must not divide.’ Back in the house the disciples questioned him again about this, and he said to them, ‘The man who divorces his wife and marries another is guilty of adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another she is guilty of adultery too.’"

Isn't the Holy Spirit amazing?

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Communion of Saints

I've always been Catholic but rarely any good at it. Acknowledging the faith - giving intellectual assent - comes easy to me but believing in it, that is, actually living it, has often eluded me. 

The Communion of Saints is a good example of something that I've always believed but rarely practised (apart from the rosary and formal prayers to saints).

I've probably spent more time arguing that it's OK to ask the saints to pray for us than actually doing so. 

This changed in October 2007. I had booked a holiday in Venice in Italy - I was meant to go with someone else but due to circumstances I ended up going alone. This was one of the most difficult periods of my life. 

The beauty of the City captivated me - it gave me a sense of deep lonliness and yet deep joy. I was in the Piazza San Marco, all alone on my birthday and looked ahead to the Basilica of Saint Mark. 
I looked up and felt called to ask Saint Mark to pray for me.  I then had a sense of peace and an awareness of what he had suffered to bring the Gospel to others. This gave me courage. 

Later during that trip, visiting the beautiful church named Santa Maria della Salute, I looked up before entering and asked our Mother to pray for me and to give me health.  


When I walked inside, I prayed asking each of the saints to pray with and for me.  Inside I found a painting which I guessed was Saint Mark - I also recognised Saint Sebastian and asked him to pray for me. 

I had no idea who the other saints were but asked them to pray for me too. Little did I know that one of them was my patron, Saint Damian*, along with others. I then later walked through streets named after saints and again asked their intercession. 

My experience of the Communion of saints at one of the toughest times in my life gave me a great sense of not being alone but part of something bigger than myself. It was an insight into how amazing it is to be Catholic - part of something truly universal - the Church Militant that exists on earth, the Church Suffering in purgatory - those being cleansed for eternity and the Church Triumphant - those saints in heaven itself. 



*St Damian is actually my patron saint's patron saint but I'll take as many prayers as I can get. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

10 things I love about the New Mass

The following are some of the things I love about the newer form of the Roman Rite when celebrated with dignity. 


1. Worship  

The Mass is the unbloody sacrifice of the body and blood of Christ. There can be no higher form of worship.  Christ is truly present, body, blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist. Christ is also present in the priest, in the proclamation of the Word of God and in the people gathered to worship in His name. 

2. Reverence

The reverence of the priest genuflecting towards the Blessed Sacrament when he passes the tabernacle before and after Mass, after the consecration of the Body and Bloody of Christ and before he receives Holy Communion,  the bowing, the silent prayers, the gestures all turn our hearts and minds to the Lord. The Sanctus bell and incense can also add to the sense of solemnity.
 
3. Silence. 

The silence commanded by the newer form of the Roman Rite include within the Act of Penitence and again after the invitation to pray before the Collect; there should be silence at the conclusion of each reading and homily so that all may meditate briefly on what they have heard; then after Communion, there should be silence so that we may praise and pray to God in our hearts.

4. History continuity. 

The Mass retains some of the gestures, prayers and ritual that the saints would have been familiar with back through the centuries. The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults has restored some ancient liturgical practises such as the dismissal of catechumens etc which have also been retained in eastern liturgies. 

5. Music

The preferred music at Mass should be Gregorian chant. I find that this music is powerful, easy to sing and unites the congregation in worship. It brings to mind the continuity of the Catholic Faith and reminds us we are not alone. If Gregorian chant is not used then preference should be given to singing the Mass itself either in Latin or a local language rather than to a collection of hymns. 

6. Gestures

When we make the sign of the cross using holy water we are reminded of our baptism, the incarnation, the Trinity and Christ's sacrifice. When we strike ourselves in the confiteor, bow profoundly at the words of the incarnation in the creed; bow at the name of Jesus, Mary or the saint of the day, when we stand for the Gospel and kneel for the Eucharistic Prayer, our whole bodies are involved in worship. 

7. Doctrine

Every single Catholic teaching is included in the newer form of the Roman rite - our need to worship, confess our sins, praise, give thanks. I love the fact that the modern version of the Confiteor reminds us that we sin in what we fail to do as well as in our thoughts, words and deeds. The Mass should reinforce our belief in the real presence and our understanding of the Communion of the Saints. The newer form of the Roman rite includes prayers for the dead and prayers to protect us from Satan. 

8. The focus of the priest and people. 

The priest and people should all focus on the altar and a crucifix should be nearby. This is more obvious where Mass is celebrated ad orientem as in this photo of Pope Francis but should also be the case when Mass is celebrated facing the people. These all bring us out of ourselves and  focus our minds and hearts on God. 

9. Language

Latin is still the language of the Latin Church and has a beauty and poetry that expresses clearly and succinctly our faith. Local languages are usually used in the newer form of the Roman Rite - but thanks to reforms in recent years, these are now faithful translations. 

10. Unity

It is unusual for the whole of the Mass to be offered in Latin in the newer form of the Roman Rite but when parts of the Mass are sung in Latin, there's a powerful sense of inclusiveness and unity of spirit with one another.  Even if we don't understand the language and cannot take part in the responses due to so many languages being used, we are united in faith. 

10 things I love about the Latin Mass

The following are some of the things I love about the older form of the Roman Rite when celebrated with dignity. 


1. Worship 

The Mass is the unbloody sacrifice of the body and blood of Christ. There can be no higher form of worship. Christ is truly present, body, blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist. Christ is also present in the priest, in the proclamation of the Word of God and in the people gathered to worship in His name. 

2. Reverence

The reverence of the priest including (usually) facing the tabernacle, the bowing, the silent prayers, the gestures all turn our hearts and minds to the Lord. The Sanctus bell and incense can also add to the sense of solemnity. 

3. Silence. 

The silent prayers and in particular the canon (Eucharistic prayer) are powerful aids to prayer and meditation. 

4. History continuity. 

The Mass is ancient and extends back to the time of Christ, who instituted it. Many of the  gestures, prayers and ritual of the older form of the Roman Rite would have been familiar with saints back through the centuries. 

5. Music

A High Mass or Missa Cantata should give preference to Gregorian chant. I find that this music is powerful, easy to sing and unites the congregation in worship. It brings to mind the continuity of the Catholic Faith and how we are not alone. 

6. Gestures

When we make the sign of the cross using holy water we are reminded of our baptism, the incarnation, the Trinity and Christ's sacrifice. When we strike ourselves in the confiteor, kneel in adoration at the words of the incarnation in the creed and Last Gospel, when we stand for the Gospel and kneel for Holy Communion, our whole bodies are involved in worship. 

7. Doctrine

Every single Catholic teaching is included in the older form of the Roman rite - our need to worship, confess our sins, praise, give thanks. Our belief in the real presence and our understanding of the Communion of the Saints.  The older form of the Roman rite includes prayers for the dead and prayers to protect us from Satan. 

8. The focus of the priest and people. 

The priest and people focussing on the altar, the crucifix and and the tabernacle. These all bring us out of ourselves and  focus our minds and hearts on God. 

9. Language

Latin has a beauty and poetry that express clearly and succinctly our faith. It is a language hallowed by almost two thousand years of usage by Catholics and c.1,500 years in a liturgical setting.  It is a language that goes back to the time of Christ Himself. 

10. Unity

The Latin Mass enables people of a variety of languages and cultures to worship together. Living in Hong Kong, I love the fact I can praise God alongside an individual who doesn't speak English.  I love the fact that we kneel next to one another to receive Holy Communion rather than individually lining up.  

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Confusion and clarity - my first ever Latin Mass

I was a child growing up in the 1970s but it wasn't until the early 80's that I attended my first Latin Mass, aged 12. 

It was out of curiosity and due to my love of history that led me to attend this Mass - offered according to what is now known as the older form of the Roman Rite. 

Soon after Mass started, I was overwhelmed by the beauty and timeliness of the music. The choir started chanting the Asperges and I was transfixed. My dad showed me his Missal that had the English alongside the Latin and I could sing along with this and understand the meaning of these words. 

After the Asperges, the priest was soon praying the prayers at the foot of the altar but this confused me. Why isn't he facing me?  Why pray quietly? Isn't it rude to talk to someone with their back to them and so they can't understand. I was confused and didn't understand why. 

A few moments later I was suddenly struck by an epiphany. The prayers of the Mass aren't addressed to me. They're addressed to God. I realised that prayer is about lifting our hearts and minds (and sometimes voices) to the Father and not just chatting with friends. For the first time in my life, I grasped a reality. God is real. Prayer is real.  


I looked at the meaning of the words that the priest and servers were praying and looked again at the altar. The priest was bowing low for the confiteor and this alone struck me that he isn't a celebrity up on a pedestal but someone who himself realises his faults and failings. 

The Kyrie in Greek soon drew me into a sense of my own sinfulness and the Gloria that followed delighted me. It struck me that something is different. Everyone was singing. Unlike most Masses where the choir and a few others would join in and the rest of us looked on in boredom, no one was sitting in silence. 

During the readings, I followed the meanings in a Missal that belonged to my parents and was able to follow these without a problem. 

The singing of the creed transformed something that usually seemed to me a set of words to get through to a powerful experience of celebrating our faith. When everyone fell to their knees at the Incarnatus and later during the last Gospel I was reminded of the centrality of the incarnation with gratitude and wonder. 

The Canon of the Mass prayed in silence was something I wasn't used to. I followed most of it in the Missal but what struck me was the consecration. The moment the priest whispered the words that brings God to the altar, he fell to his knees in adoration - before and after he raised the host and chalice high. 

The experience of receiving Holy Communion on my knees and kneeling alongside other people side by side actually reinforced to me two things: we are receiving Christ - body, bloody, soul and divinity; secondly the communion of the saints - we are part of the Body of Christ - seeing my fellow Catholics either side of me receiving the sacred Host

In all my attendance at my first Latin Mass gave me a deeper insight into who Christ is, the wonder of the incarnation and the majestic beauty and power of the Eucharist and a reminder that Mass isn't something childish but something that it is ancient, majestic and unites us not only to Christ but to the Communion of Saints - those living and those triumphant in heaven. 

Monday, August 03, 2015

How to evangelise without annoying people

The first Papal letter ever recorded commands Catholics to "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect ..." 1 Peter 3:15

How then do we evangelise without annoying people?


It strikes me that there are a number of small things that we can do which can impact those around us:

1. Live a life of grace - stay close to the sacraments, frequent weekly Confession and the Eucharist. Seek to be converted as well as to convert. 

2. Pray. Offer each day to God. Ask for opportunities. Pray for each person you meet - by name of the meeting is planned. 

3. Integrate our faith into our daily life when someone asks us what we did at the weekend, how often do we share that we went to Mass?  We don't need to have an in depth discussion about transubstantiation but do we share this with joy?

4. Have authentic friendships - don't be friends purely in order to convert, and don't exclude the possibility of the Holy Spirit using you to bring that person to Christ. 

5. Don't be ashamed of your faith. My wife encourages me to wear or use my rosary in public, to make the sign of the cross in a restaurant before eating and to let people know that I won't eat meat on a Friday. These small signs could spark a thought or discussion that could have eternal consequences. 

6.  Be assertive. Stand up for the faith - avoid the traps of either remaining silent when the faith is attacked or to defend it with aggression. Speak the truth calmly but clearly. Truth has a power in itself. 

7. Be a person of forgiveness and reconciliation - these should ensure that we are people of hope and joy. It is hypocritical to be a practising Catholic and to hold grudges or hate others. Pray for those who curse you. 

8.  Celebrate saints days and the anniversaries of baptism and confirmation with your family and friends. There are perhaps more important than birthdays. 

9.  Know the Bible. The New Testament is the most Catholic of any literature in existence. Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ. If we don't know Him, how can we share?

10. Social media: how can we integrate our faith into what we share on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc?  We can do this in a way that isn't preachy.