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Heaven and Earth
Q. Where in Church documents do you find the best quotations emphasizing the connection between the liturgy of earth and the liturgy of heaven? I think this connection is not emphasized enough in catechesis and homilies. How could this theme be restored in the liturgy today?
A. Here’s a reply from OSV columnist Msgr. M. Francis Mannion:
I very much agree with your judgment that the relationship between the worship of heaven and earth (the eschatological nature of the liturgy) is not adequately emphasized either in the liturgy or catechesis today. The best quotes are, in my view, in the documents of the Second Vatican Council.
The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy says: “In the earthly liturgy we take part in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, minister of the holy of holies and of the true tabernacle. With all the warriors of the heavenly army we sing a hymn of glory to the Lord; venerating the memory of the saints, we hope for some part and fellowship with them; we eagerly await the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, until he our life shall appear and we too will appear with him in glory” (No. 8).
In the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, this affirmation is set out: “It is especially in the sacred liturgy that our union with the heavenly Church is best realized: in the liturgy, through the sacramental signs, the power of the Holy Spirit acts on us, and with community rejoicing we celebrate together the praise of the divine majesty, where all those of every tribe and tongue and people and nation (see Apoc. 6:9) who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ and gathered together into one Church glorify, in one common song of praise, the one and triune God. When, then, we celebrate the eucharistic sacrifice we are most closely united to the worship of the heavenly Church; when in the fellowship of communion we honor and remember the glorious Mary ever virgin, St. Joseph, the holy apostles and martyrs and all the saints” (No. 50).
This theme finds strong reflection in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. To the question, “Who celebrates the liturgy?” the answer is given (with reference to the Book of Revelation): “‘Recapitulated in Christ,’ these are the ones who take part in the service of the praise of God and the fulfillment of his plan: the heavenly powers, all creation (the four living beings), the servants of the Old and New Covenants (the 24 elders), the new people of God (the 144,000), especially the martyrs, ‘slain for the word of God,’ and the all-holy Mother of God (the Woman), the Bride of the Lamb, and finally [quoting the previous paragraph] ‘a great multitude which no one could number, from every nations, from all tribes, and peoples and tongues’” (No. 1138).
How could this theme be restored? I would argue that among the principal expressions of this theme in the liturgy are music, art and architecture. I don’t use such words lightly and often: But I am impelled to say that these areas have been mostly disastrous since Vatican II (and not, I hasten to add, because of the council). Music is the easiest to fix, but I see few signs of this occurring; inspiring art has practically vanished from churches; and hundreds of millions have been spent on new buildings upon which liturgical and architectural history will not look kindly.
The Baptist’s Birth
Q. Was John the Baptist born without original sin? If so, was he cleansed of original sin after conception and before his birth?
A. Here’s a reply from Father Reginald Martin:
Our faith teaches that four individuals were born without sin. Jesus, because he is God, could not know sin, even in his human person. The Virgin Mary was preserved from sin by a unique act of God from the moment of her conception so, the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, she might “become the mother of the Savior” (see Nos. 490-492). It also teaches, “Adam and Eve were constituted in an original ‘state of holiness and justice’ ” (No. 375). Our first parents were “not only … good, but … in a state that would be surpassed only by the glory of the new creation in Christ” (No. 374).
What shall we say of John the Baptist? Jesus’ own testimony ranks John highly: “Among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist” (Mt 11:11). However, John labored under the same burden of original sin as any of us, as we might surmise from his words to Jesus at the Jordan, “I need to be baptized by you” (Mt 3:14). This in no way diminishes John’s majesty, or the importance of his preaching. His is the last voice of the Old Testament prophets, and he completes their witness to the long-awaited Messiah.
Are we all saints?
Q. An evangelical friend and I were talking about saints, and I tried to explain the Catholic teaching on saints. My friend answered: “But aren’t we all saints? Paul said so.” How do I answer properly?
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D
Recall that St. Paul began many of his letters with greetings to “saints.” “To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints” (Rom 1:7, RSV). “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those consecrated in Christ Jesus, called to be saints” (1 Cor 1:2, RSV). See also the salutations in the Revised Standard Version at 2 Corinthians 1:1, Ephesians 1:1, Philippians 1:1 and Colossians 1:2.
Your friend, you see, has a point. In all those greetings the key phrase is “those consecrated in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.” In a general sense, the term “saint” applies to any person who has been properly baptized and has received the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is the Church’s teaching.
So much for status, which evidently is the concern of your friend. But the matter of status only marks the beginning of the significance of sainthood in Catholic teaching and practice.
Throughout the Church’s history, some people have come to her attention because by God’s grace they achieved what is called “heroic sanctity” — that is, their lives were so closely configured to the life of the risen Lord that to a remarkable degree they reflected His love and His power. They are therefore not only sterling examples of what we should become; they are also capable of powerful intercession for those who call on them. As we invoke their prayers, they draw us ever more closely into the blessed Communion of Saints, the entire fellowship of God’s holy people.
Q. My question concerns where to keep my thoughts during prayers, such as the Rosary? I have three choices: think about the Rosary mystery, the words of the prayer or the reason for my prayer. My thoughts keep wandering from one to the other. If I think about the mystery then the words of the prayer might as well be mumbling anything.
A. Here is a reply from Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
Yours is a good concern. You wish to pray well. So congratulations and thank you for your efforts to pray the Rosary. I like your idea: your thoughts could be on the Rosary mystery, or the words of the prayer, or for your intentions, or even a combination of the three. Occasionally your thoughts will wander, and when you catch yourself, try to recover.
The words are never mumbling if your heart and mind are moving toward God. At worst, those words are like background music in a beautiful movie.
Trust in God
Q. How do I deal with an overwhelming fear of death and the sense of guilt, knowing that I shouldn’t fear death if I have trust in God?
Thomas Aquinas describes four types of fear: (1) fear we may lose material things that make life pleasant, (2) fear of a God of anger rather than the loving God revealed in the Scripture, (3) an “initial” fear, enabling us to cooperate with grace and see beyond the limits placed by other fears, and (4) “holy” fear, which is a growing sensitivity and awareness of sin, and a desire to embrace God’s will in love and not because we dread punishment.
We cringe before the unknown, especially death. St. Augustine says fear of death is natural because death is so foreign. As we age, and death becomes a greaterreality, we may (but may not) find the prospect of dying consoling. Most of us will probably not share St. Paul’s enthusiasm, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ” (Phil 1:21), but we have already died with Christ in baptism, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us our physical death “can transform … death into an act of love and obedience towards the Father” (No. 1011). Our challenge is to remember — always — God is a God of love; our fear notwithstanding, death is an invitation to share everlasting life in his loving company.
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