Saturday, December 22, 2012

Does Baptism Save Us?

In a blog I posted a while back on Circumcision and Baptismal Regeneration, an interesting discussion ensued with an “Anonymous” Protestant. He tried to argue that the Catholic teaching of baptismal regeneration was damnable heresy. He tried to use 1 Pet 3:21 in an attempt to argue that it is not baptism which saves...but “spiritual baptism”:
“And baptism, which this prefigured [i.e. the Great Flood and Noah’s ark], now saves you – not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” – 1 Pet 3:21
His argument was basically that St. Peter’s reference to baptism saving us – but not as a removal of dirt from the body – was a reference to spiritual baptism, not physical baptism i.e. the body is physical; conscience is spiritual; therefore, St. Peter was talking about spiritual baptism.

I dealt with the Anonymous comments at the time, but recently as I was reading the book of Hebrews, I was reminded of the discussion as I read a passage which sheds some light on 1 Pet 3:21. 

Before I explain further, I need to digress slightly...

Protestants who hold to the tradition of Sola Scriptura hold as a fundamental principle that Scripture interprets Scripture. This is good insofar as it goes, but it fails to see an underlying circular argument which always comes back to private interpretation. In other words, Sola Scriptura is REALLY Sola Mea i.e. it’s not so much about Scripture interpreting Scripture, but more about how “I interpret Scripture interpreting Scripture”. The logical conclusion of “Sola Scriptura” is that Scripture is ultimately interpreted according to the individual interpreter’s own preconceived theology. For example, a Baptist using the principle of “Scripture interpreting Scripture” will formulate a very different “Biblical” framework for baptism than a Presbyterian using the exact same principle. Both appeal to Sola Scriptura...and Scripture interpreting Scripture...yet they come to completely opposing views.

The Catholic position embraces the principle of Scripture interpreting Scripture, but also goes further. The Catholic Church teaches that “Sacred Scripture must be read and interpreted in the light of the same Spirit by whom it was written” (CCC # 111). The Spirit was given by Christ to His Church for the purpose that He would always lead the Church in all truth (Jn 16:13); ensuring that throughout all ages, the Church would ALWAYS remain the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Tim 3:15).

So, for the Catholic, Scripture certainly does interpret Scripture, but always within the guidance of Apostolic Tradition and the interpretive authority of the Holy Catholic Church.

OK...back to the topic at hand...

The passage in Hebrews which sheds light on 1 Pet 3:21 is Heb 9:13-14. For ease of reference and comparison, here are the two passages:
“And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you – not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” – 1 Pet 3:21

“For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!” – Heb 9:13-14

To put Heb 9:13-14 in context, the author has been dealing with the various Old Testament ceremonies which were unable to perfect the consciences of the Old Testament worshipper (v9). This included the various baptisms in the Old Testament (v10). [Which, by the way, is an interesting point for Baptists to consider – given that they mistakenly hold that baptism always means immersion; whereas these Old Testament baptisms were carried out by sprinkling.]

The reason the Old Testament ceremonies could not perfect the conscience was because they were symbols that pointed forward to fulfilment in the Passion of Christ. As symbols of the reality to come, they were incomplete. But now Christ has come; He has died on the Cross for the sins of the world, and He has risen again for our justification. And so the Old Testament symbols now give way to the New Testament realities (vv11-12).

Now this doesn’t mean that the Old Testament symbols were completely empty. No – the author of Hebrews tells us that although they were not able to perfect the conscience (v9), they were able to purify the flesh (v13). But now in the New Covenant, the Blood of Christ has been shed and so the conscience of the worshipper is able to be purified. And this is the same point that St. Peter was making in 1 Pet 3:21 – that baptism in Christ is not like the Old Testament symbols which only purified the body – NO! Baptism in the New Covenant purifies our very conscience – not by virtue of the water, but by virtue of the Blood of Christ shed for the one being baptised.

To confirm that this has always been the understanding of the Church, handed down from the Apostles, consider the following sample of quotes from the Church Fathers which show that they unanimously agreed that baptism regenerates us and washes away our sins:

St. Justin Martyr (AD 155)

In speaking of converts to Christianity, St. Justin states that after a time of fasting and remission of former sins:

they are led by us to a place where there is water; and there they are reborn in the same kind of rebirth in which we ourselves were reborn: in the name of God, the Lord and Father of all, and of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they receive the washing with water. For Christ said, ‘Unless you be reborn, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”...The reason for doing this, we have learned from the Apostles.” – First Apology; Chapter 61

St. Theophilus of Antioch (AD 181)

“Those things which were created from the waters were blessed by God [referring to Creation], so that this might also be a sign that men would at a future time receive repentance and remission of sins through water and the bath of regeneration – To Autolycus; Book 2, Chapter 16

St. Clement of Alexandria (AD 202)

“When we are baptised, we are enlightened...It is a washing by which we are cleansed of sins; a gift of grace by which the punishments due our sins are remitted...” – The Instructor; Book 1, Chapter 6

Tertullian (AD 206)

“...Baptism is itself a corporal act by which we are plunged in water, while its effect is spiritual, in that we are freed from sins.” – On Baptism; Chapter 7

St. Jerome (AD 397)

“All sins are forgiven in baptism” – Epistle 69, To Oceanus; Chapter 4

How is it possible that water is able to wash away sins? St. Augustine explains:
“From the moment that Christ is immersed in water, from that moment water washes away all sins.”

“The Lord is baptised, not having occasion to be cleansed, but that, purifying the waters by the contact of His pure flesh, they may have the power of cleansing.”
– Sermon de Tempore; 29, 36, 37

And St. John Chrysostom concurs:
“The water of baptism, had it not been sanctified by contact with the body of our Lord, could not purge the sins of believers.”

What is the point of all this? The point is to remind us that our baptism is not just an empty symbol. It is something far greater than that. By our baptism, we are crucified and risen with the Lord Jesus Christ; we are born again; and as the author of Hebrews reminds us – through our baptism we are purified from dead works to worship the living God (Heb 9:14). Through baptism we have been made alive (regenerated) by a sharing in the Life of the Living God – and our only reasonable response should be to worship and adore God forever for giving us such an amazing and unmerited gift. In the words of the Catechism of the Council of Trent:

“ is especially required of every Christian man to strive to spend each day of his life as holily and religiously as if it were that very day on which he had received the sacrament and grace of baptism.” – Question XL

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Four Gifts of our Glorified Bodies

In the Second Reading for today (Second Sunday of Advent, Year C), we hear St. Paul say:
“Brothers and sisters:
I pray always with joy in my every prayer for all of you,
because of your partnership for the gospel
from the first day until now.
I am confident of this,
that the One who began a good work in you
will continue to complete it
until the Day of Christ Jesus.
God is my witness,
how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
And this is my prayer:
that your love may increase ever more and more
in knowledge and every kind of perception,
to discern what is of value,
so that you may be pure and blameless for the Day of Christ,
filled with the fruit of righteousness
that comes through Jesus Christ.” – Phil 1:4-6, 8-11
St. Paul talks about growing in knowledge and understanding so that we can become pure and blameless, and so prepare ourselves for the Day of Christ, in which the faithful will reach perfect goodness (the fruit of righteousness) through Christ. As mentioned in my previous blog, this is achieved ultimately in the Beatific Vision, where we are made to be fully like our Lord Jesus Christ because we behold Him as He is (1 Jn 3:2).
As we prepare for the coming of Christ in this Season of Advent, our hearts and minds should be drawn particularly to the final article of the Apostles’ Creed:

“I the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen”

I am busy reading through the Catechism of the Council of Trent, and I happened to be reading through the Catechism’s explanation of this final Article of the Apostles’ Creed, which is certainly worth the read if you have never read it. What I found particularly significant, is the Catechism’s teaching on “What Gifts the Bodies of the Blest shall be adorned after the Resurrection” (see Part I - Question XI).

The Catechism on this point is so profound that I had to share it. There are four gifts principally which our Resurrected bodies will enjoy in Heaven. They are:

1) Impassibility – the gift whereby our glorified bodies will be beyond the reach of suffering any pain or any inconvenience. 

2) Brightness / glory – the gift whereby our glorified bodies will be said to “shine like the sun” (Matt 13:43).

3) Agility – the gift whereby our glorified bodies will be able to go wherever the soul shall please without any hindrance. 

4) Subtility – the gift whereby our bodies will be in complete subjection to the dominion of our souls. 
Of all the above gifts, I’d have to say that my “favourite” is subtility. In our current weak bodies, the flesh and the spirit are at enmity against each other; we want to do good, but we struggle to; we want to avoid sin, but we find ourselves constantly falling (Rom 7:21ff). Or as Our Lord said, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matt 26:41). With the great gift of subtility, our bodies will be in complete subjection to our souls, which in turn will be in complete subjection to God...and so we will be able to perfectly obey the will of our Heavenly Father.

As if to spur us on, the Lord God has left us examples of these great gifts in Our Lord Jesus and in His Blessed Mother. That is a whole different topic, but it is worth mentioning as something to meditate upon during these days of Advent. If we want to attain to these gifts, let us never cease to ask Our Lord through Mary for them. 

And with these amazing gifts in mind, promised by Our Lord to all those who persevere in faith, may we grow in our love for Him as we await the blessed hope and coming in glory of our Great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Advent and Adoration

The season of Advent officially began this past Sunday. The word “advent” basically means “coming” – as such Advent is typically a time when we prepare for the coming (or advent) of Christ. This involves preparing ourselves for Christmas (the celebration of Christ’s First Advent) as well as the Last Day when the Lord Jesus Christ returns in His glorious Second Advent. 
The readings for the First Sunday of Advent (Year C) were a reminder to us of this preparation. We were reminded of the First Advent in Jeremiah 33:14-16, where the prophet foretells the promise of the Messiah who would come to restore God’s people.
In the Gospel reading (Lk 21:25-28, 34-36), we were reminded of the Second Advent. In its immediate context, the Gospel reading is the account of Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70AD – but there is also an undertone of the Final Judgement at the end of time. In addition, Jesus also incorporates the particular judgement which will be faced by “every man” – the judgement which takes place upon our death and determines our eternal destiny i.e. Heaven or Hell.
Sandwiched between these two readings, we heard St. Paul’s words to the Thessalonians encouraging them to make more and more progress in living lives of holiness (1 Thess 3:12-4:2). This reading from St. Paul really serves as an encouragement to each and every one of us to live worthy of the name “Christian” – especially as we prepare for Christmas; but also as we live our lives in continual preparation to oneday stand before the Son of Man. 
These readings really hit home for me this week. I’ll explain why shortly, but first some background...
As part of “contemplating the fact of Christ” during this Year of Grace (for all dioceses around Australia), our parish priests decided that it would be a good idea to have Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament for a few minutes after Mass on the first Sunday of each month. It just so happened that this past Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent, was also the first Sunday of the month. And so, we had time for reflection during Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. 
Concurrently, over the past week or so, I have been thinking about the beauty and importance of Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament – and I was struck by a thought. Exposition refers to the Blessed Sacrament being “exposed” in a monstrance (as pictured above). Any Catholic who has spent time praying with the right dispositions before the Blessed Sacrament will tell you that it changes a person. I was reminded of someone who likened it to being exposed to the sun – when we are exposed to the sun, our skin is changed. And that’s when it hit me!!! I realised that Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament is not so much about Jesus in the Sacrament being exposed to us (although this is true) – it is MORE about us being exposed to the Blessed Sacrament. And being exposed to the Son most certainly changes us. 
As I contemplated this in light of the readings at Mass, I was reminded of 1 Jn 3:2 where St. John, speaking in the context of the Beatific Vision, reminds us:
“...what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we know is this: when He [Jesus] is revealed, we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is.”

What an awesome thought!!!
Now, read that verse in context of the Blessed Sacrament. Jesus is no less present in the Blessed Sacrament than He will be when He comes again in glory. The only difference is that in the Blessed Sacrament, His glory is veiled. If we can expect that we will be gloriously changed when we behold Him in His Second Advent; we can also expect that He is already changing us now – especially when we are exposed to Him in the Blessed Sacrament. 
So, in addition to receiving Holy Communion in a state of grace, what better way to prepare for Christmas, and to make progress in holiness, than to spend some time during this Advent season in Eucharistic Adoration. Jesus waits for us – and He waits for us so that He can change us and conform us more and more to His glorious image.
Wishing you and yours a blessed Advent as you progress more and more in holiness in preparation for the coming of the King of Kings!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Is Jesus King?

We are now into the final week of the liturgical year with the season of Advent and Christmas fast approaching. As such, this past Sunday we celebrated the Solemnity of Christ the King – which is celebrated on the last Sunday of each liturgical year as a reminder to us that the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ is the focal point and culmination of all of history. St. Paul puts it this way:

“God...raised Christ from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.” (Col 1:20-21)
As we come then to the end our liturgical year, and prepare for the season of Advent, the readings for Solemnity of Christ the King were quite challenging. 

In the first reading (Dan 7:13-14), the prophet Daniel tells us that he beheld one like the Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven to the Ancient of Days. It isn’t uncommon for this passage to be interpreted as referring to the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. But, I am more inclined to think that it actually refers to the Lord’s Ascension into Heaven following His Passion and Resurrection.

Without going into detail, I think that the most compelling evidence of this is that the prophet’s vision describes the Son of Man (Jesus) coming with the clouds of heaven – not to earth, as He does in His Second Advent – but to God the Father (the Ancient of Days). Also, the vision makes reference to the Son of Man receiving His kingdom. This happened at the Lord’s Ascension where He sat down on the right hand of God the Father as King of Kings and Lord of Lords – where He received His kingdom by virtue of His Passion and Resurrection.  

What then is this kingdom which Jesus received? Well, our Lord reminded His Jewish contemporaries that, contrary to their expectations, it was not a physical kingdom in Jerusalem – rather, He told them that His kingdom was one in which He ruled the hearts of men (Lk 17:21). This, of course, ties in with the Gospel reading that we heard on Sunday (Jn 18:33-37), where Jesus tells Pilate that His kingdom is not of this world (v36). Instead, it is a kingdom of truth, in which “all who are on the side of truth” listen to Jesus’ voice (v37).

Pilate’s discussion with Jesus is actually quite instructive. Pilate asks Jesus “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus responds to Pilate in the form of a question – and really it is a question that He poses to every single one of us “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?”

As Catholics, we are members of the Body of Christ; but it is a membership which demands action. As members of the Body, we are each one of us called to have an intimate and personal relationship with Jesus, the Head. So Jesus’ question is really to all of us. Do we say that He is Christ the King simply because that is what we have been taught by Holy Mother Church? Or is it more than that – do we really believe it with all our hearts and souls? As important as it is to say that we believe that Jesus Christ is King, it would be hypocritical to say it without believing it. It is necessary for us not only to make confession with the mouth, but also to believe with the heart (Rom 10:10).

So, Jesus’ question redounds – do we REALLY and TRULY believe that He is King? To believe that He is King is to give Him our complete and utter allegiance; to believe that He is King is to acknowledge and live as if He is the very centre of our lives. Sure, we’re going to fall…many times…but this is where He has given us the Sacrament of Reconciliation so that He can pick us up again and give us the grace to continue following Him with the resolve to avoid offending Him again.

Here’s a bit of a show-stopper for us Catholics…if we really believe He is King, it ought to show in our reverence to the Blessed Sacrament – because the Eucharist is NOTHING LESS than the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

In short, through His words to Pilate, Jesus reminds us that to believe He is King is to be on the side of truth, and to listen to His voice (v37). Now this is where it gets REAL for us Catholics. Like Pilate, we might ask “What is truth?” Jesus tells us that He is the Truth (Jn 14:6); and that to listen to the Church is to listen to Him (Lk 10:16). This is because the Church is the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Tim 3:15).

The extent to which we are on the side of truth and listen to the voice of Jesus is the extent to which we listen to Holy Mother Church. Sadly, we live in an age where it is not “fashionable” to obey authority. Additionally, the Church’s teachings are regarded as old-fashioned and out of step with the times…even by many Catholics (e.g. the Church’s teaching against the use of contraception). Such disregard for the Church is ultimately to disobey Christ and to be in opposition to truth. As Catholics, we cannot be for Christ and against His Church at the same time. If we are for the Church, we are for Christ...if we are against the Church, we are against Christ.

As we prepare for the season of Advent, the Scriptures that were presented to us on the Solemnity of Christ the King are nothing less than a clarion call for repentance. We are about to embark on the journey to Bethlehem, where Jesus is adored as the King born in a manger. May this Advent season be for us a time of renewed obedience to Jesus and His Holy Catholic Church.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Did Jesus Abrogate the Priesthood?

The Second Reading for today (31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B) begins with the following verse:

“...the former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; but He [Jesus] holds His priesthood permanently, because He continues forever.” Heb 7:23
Protestants often like to appeal to this verse (and other similar ones) to argue that the Catholic Church is in error because we still have priests. They argue that this verse clearly teaches that we no longer need priests, because Jesus is now our One and Only High Priest. What’s more, they appeal to verses like 1 Pet 2:9 and Rev 1:6 claiming that we are all priests and therefore no longer have need of a priesthood.

Unfortunately, as well-meaning as their arguments might be, they are not accurate. For example, Israel was also a “kingdom of priests” (see Ex 19:6), and yet they still had a ministerial priesthood. The Church teaches that all Christians are indeed priests, by virtue of our baptism; but, there is a difference between this common priesthood of all believers and the ministerial priesthood:

Christ, high priest and unique mediator, has made of the Church "a kingdom, priests for his God and Father." The whole community of believers is, as such, priestly. The faithful exercise their baptismal priesthood through their participation, each according to his own vocation, in Christ's mission as priest, prophet, and king. Through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation the faithful are consecrated to be a holy priesthood. (CCC #1546)
The ministerial or hierarchical priesthood of bishops and priests, and the common priesthood of all the faithful participate, "each in its own proper way, in the one priesthood of Christ." While being "ordered one to another," they differ essentially. In what sense? While the common priesthood of the faithful is exercised by the unfolding of baptismal grace --a life of faith, hope, and charity, a life according to the Spirit--, the ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood. It is directed at the unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians. The ministerial priesthood is a means by which Christ unceasingly builds up and leads his Church. For this reason it is transmitted by its own sacrament, the sacrament of Holy Orders. (CCC #1547)
But what about Heb 7:23 quoted above? The Scriptures can sometimes be a funny thing – they can easily be twisted to teach almost anything that you want them to teach (2 Pet 3:16). Which is why St. Peter warns that the interpretation of Scripture is not a private affair (2 Pet 1:20). Rather, the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, is the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Tim 3:15) – as such, it the Church is entrusted with the right interpretation of Scripture. 

The common Protestant interpretation of Heb 7:23 is just one such misinterpretation. In fact, the way this verse is often used against Catholics is actually taken out of context. The point the author of Hebrews is trying to make starts a few verses earlier.

Beginning in Heb 7:11, the author of the Epistle talks about the Levitical priesthood according to the “order of Aaron”. He goes on to make the point that Jesus was not of the line of Aaron, so He could not be a Levitical priest. But, he argues, this is not a problem because God made a promise that the Messiah would be of the “order of Melchizedek”. He goes on to show how the “order of Aaron” was not an eternal arrangement; but the “order of Melchizedek” was. 

At this point, we need to take a bit of a detour before proceeding because we need to understand what the “order of Aaron” and “order of Melchizedek” actually refer to. 

Melchizedek lived a few hundred years before the time of Moses and Aaron. According to Gen 14:18, he was the King of Salem (later Jerusalem) and also the “priest of God Most High”. He seems to appear out of nowhere to bless Abram (later Abraham) after Abram won a battle to rescue his nephew (Lot). Throughout the book of Genesis, we see that this kind of blessing was familiar to the Patriarchs – it was the blessing conferred to the eldest son to take up the mantle of the father; and he would in turn bless his eldest son as his death drew near. Now, what was this all about? 

Before the establishment of the Levitical priesthood, there was already a priesthood in existence. It began with the first man (Adam) and was passed on by the priestly blessing to the firstborn son – and so the priesthood was perpetuated. Without going into too much detail, Melchizedek is none other than Shem (the son of Noah) who passed on the priestly blessing to his descendent, Abram (presumably because his death was imminent). This same blessing was passed from Abram, to Jacob, to Isaac, and so on down until we reach the time of Moses and Aaron. 

So if there was a priesthood before and leading up to Aaron, why was it changed? Again, without going into too much detail, the Levitical priesthood was instituted because of the failure of the then-existing priests (i.e. the firstborn sons) in the incident of the Golden Calf (see Ex 32). The Levites alone were willing to take up God’s challenge to dispel the idolaters within Israel (Ex 32:25-29), and for this reason they were instituted as the “new” priesthood. 
“Today you have ordained yourselves for the service of the Lord, each one at the cost of a son or a brother, and so have brought a blessing on yourselves this day.” (Ex 32:29)
Notice especially that their ordination as the new priesthood is made in the context of a blessing replacing the old priesthood (hence the reference to the “son or brother”).

In summary, the “order of Aaron” refers to the priesthood that replaced the priesthood of the firstborn – the “order of Melchizedek”. And this is where Jesus Christ comes into the picture. The Son of God became a Man to reverse the sins of mankind, beginning with the sin of Adam. So, in Christ, the “order of Aaron” is no longer necessary because the “order of Melchizedek” is restored in Him – the only begotten and firstborn Son of God. 

Now, how does this relate to my original comment on Heb 7:23? It still doesn’t necessarily prove that priests are still required for God’s people today. Having established the foundation of the author’s argument, let us proceed now to the verses that follow. Here is the reading in full:
The former priests were many in number,
because they were prevented by death from continuing in office;
but he [Jesus] holds his priesthood permanently,
because he continues forever.
Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him,
since he always lives to make intercession for them.
For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest,
holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners,
and exalted above the heavens.
Unlike the other high priests, he has no need
to offer sacrifices day after day,
first for his own sins, and then for those of the people;
this he did once for all when he offered himself.
For the law appoints as high priests those who are subject to weakness,
but the word of the oath, which came later than the law,
appoints a Son, who has been made perfect forever. (Heb 7:23-28)

It is clear, from reading the passage in its entirety that the priesthood of Jesus Christ, after the “order of Melchizedek”, is in the context of Him being instituted as the new and eternal High Priest. In the “order of Aaron”, the high priest was replaced whenever he died – but Jesus lives forever, so He will never be replaced – He is the Eternal High Priest. In this context, Heb 7:23 is not referring to priests in general; rather it it is referring particularly to the office of the high priest.  

This fits with what the author says in the very next verse:
Now the main point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens (Heb 8:1)

The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews goes on to remind us that the worship of the Old Covenant, including its priesthood, was “a sketch and shadow” of heavenly worship (see Heb 8:5). If God never changes (Heb 13:8), then we can expect that the heavenly worship owed to Him never changes. So, if the Old Covenant worship, as a shadow of heaven, included a ministerial priesthood, then we can expect that there should continue to be a ministerial priesthood in the New Covenant. [This is another reason why Catholic and Orthodox liturgy looks more like Old Testament worship than does your typical Protestant service – with things like vestments, incense, altars, etc. Catholics and Orthodox understand that our earthly liturgy is nothing less than heavenly worship.]

At this point, the Protestant might say “OK – fair enough. But for a priesthood to be valid, there must be sacrifice. But there can’t be sacrifice, because Heb 7:27 tells us that Jesus offered Himself ONCE FOR ALL. There is no more sacrifice – therefore, there can be no more priests.”

Without realising it, in arguing this way, the Protestant actually proves too much because, if there is no more sacrifice, and hence no more need for priests, then there is also no more need for a high priest – including the eternal High Priesthood of Jesus. 

At first glance, Heb 7:27 may appear to say that sacrifice has ceased; but if we look more closely at what the author to the Hebrews is saying, we find that there is more than initially meets the eye. Yes – the Sacrifice of Jesus offered on the Cross was offered once for all. But that is not the end of the story. In Heb 7:25 we are told that Jesus makes intercession on behalf of sinners forever. So whilst the Sacrifice of Calvary was offered once for all, it is perpetually re-presented by the Son in intercession to the Father for the sins of the world.

If earthly worship is a reflection of heavenly worship, it makes sense that the priests on earth, acting in union with the Eternal High Priest (i.e. in persona Christi), offer that same once-for-all Sacrifice in the Holy Mass. As the Catechism says:
The sacrifice of Christ [on Calvary] and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice: The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different. (See CCC #1367)

So, contrary to Protestant objections, the Catholic priesthood is a God-ordained priesthood in the “order of Melchizedek” with Jesus Christ as the Eternal High Priest.

How does this relate to the other readings for today – the First Reading (Deut 6:2-6) and the Gospel Reading (Mk 12:28-34) – where we are reminded that the greatest commandments are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and to love our neighbour as ourselves?

If we really examine ourselves, it doesn’t take long to see that we fail dismally on both accounts – we don’t love God will absolutely every fibre of our being as we should. And how often, in our dealings with others, are our motives self-centred – proving that we still love ourselves more than our neighbour? 

Again, this is where our Lord Jesus Christ comes into the picture. He loved His Heavenly Father and His neighbour so perfectly, that in obedience to the Father, He offered up His life as the ransom for humanity on the Cross of Calvary. As pointed out above, this once-for-all Sacrifice is perpetuated in the Blessed Eucharist in which Jesus gives Himself to us in His fullness so that He can draw us up into Himself. And so, as we worthily receive our Blessed Lord – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity – in Holy Communion, we will also see Him transform our lives as we grow in our love for God, and for our neighbour.

Thanks be to God for the great gift of Jesus in the Eucharist! And thanks be to God for the great gift of priests who continually offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for love of Him and love of neighbour!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Simple Primer to Lectio Divina

Lectio Divina – if you are Catholic, you have no doubt at least heard the phrase somewhere along the way. But I wonder how many of us know what it means, how to practice it, and just how naturally it should come to us.

Until recently, I was one of those Catholics. I had heard of it...and I knew a bit about it as a form of contemplative prayer based on the Scriptures. But I had no idea how to REALLY practice it, and I certainly didn’t realise how natural it should be for me as a Catholic. That was until I heard a talk by Dr Brandt Pitre entitled “The Bible and the Spiritual Life”. What Dr Pitre shared was so simple, yet so profound, that it would be wrong for me not to share it.

What is Lectio Divina?

“Lectio Divina” is Latin for “divine reading”. With roots stretching back to the earliest days of the Church, it is a form of prayer which is practised with the use of the Sacred Scriptures in “stages”, or as a ladder, in order to bring us to the point of contemplative union with the Divine Author who not only gave us the Word of God, but who is also Himself the Word of God in the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.

How does one practice Lectio Divina?

[For this part, I am going to take for granted that we all know that Lectio Divina (or any form of prayer for that matter) isn’t some kind of magical formula. Rather, for Lectio Divina to be fruitful, we should put aside sufficient time to spend in the Word and in prayer. Seeking a quiet place with little or no distractions is a no-brainer. And most obviously, I assume that we all know that without the light and guidance of the Holy Spirit, our efforts would be pointless – so beginning with a simple prayer asking for the Spirit’s guidance is a given.]

The practice of Lectio Divina takes place in four stages:

1)      Lectio (Reading) – in this stage, the Word of God is simply read. It is usually best to start with short passages. As a suggestion, reading the Gospel passage in preparation for Mass is a great place to start. Read slowly and thoughtfully. It is usually a good idea to read the passage a few times because we get easily distracted without even being aware of it. By reading a passage through a few times, we will gain a better feel for the whole, and often pick up on things we may have missed in previous readings.


2)      Meditatio (Meditation) – in this stage, we ask questions of the passage we have read. What point is the author trying to make? How does this apply to me? How should I respond? Etc., etc., etc. The Holy Spirit will use questions like these to open our eyes and helps us to see what we need to do in our own lives so that we can become more conformed to our Lord Jesus Christ.


3)      Oratia (Prayer) – in this stage, we talk to God about the passage we have read. We ask God for His grace to help us make the changes we need to make. It is important to be completely honest with God in our prayer. So often, we think that we need to pray in a certain way using censored words – and if we don’t, then we aren’t being holy enough.  Well, God knows our hearts and our needs before we even ask, so there is no point hiding. If you are feeling frustrated or angry – then tell God about it. He is our Heavenly Father, and He loves us. Like any loving earthly father, He wants His dear children to come to Him openly and honestly.


4)      Contemplatio (Contemplation) – in this stage, once we have prayed to God and spoken to Him, we need to take time to be still and listen for His voice – the still small voice of God speaking to our hearts, communing with our souls. After we have climbed the first three rungs of the ladder (Lectio, Meditatio, Oratio), God takes the final step when He climbs down the ladder to unite Himself to us, and we behold His glory with the eyes of faith.


As you can see, Lectio Divina is not some “higher calling” reserved only for “spiritual giants”. It is a simple method of prayer that even the least of us lay faithful can practice with great success. It is natural, because it follows the pattern of dialogue – something that we engage in every day. And to top it off, like the icing on the cake, it is a great way for Catholics to get to know their Bibles better.

Even with the naturalness of dialogue aside, as Catholics (especially as Catholics), practising Lectio Divina is something that we should be very comfortable with because Lectio Divina mirrors another great prayer that we pray so often that we tend to take it for granted. You guessed it...Lectio Divina mirrors the greatest prayer – the prayer of all prayers – the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Think about it...

Mass begins with the Liturgy of the Word where the Scriptures are read and we listen (Lectio). What follows is a meditation when the Word of God is opened up and explained in the Homily (Meditatio). After the Homily, we move into the Prayers of the Faithful (Oratia). And finally, the summit of the Mass is the Liturgy of the Eucharist, where Christ comes to make His Communion with us (Contemplatio).

Hopefully looking at Lectio Divina in this simple, familiar, and profound way will encourage us all to take up the Sacred Scriptures and seek to deepen our walk with the Lord in this Year of Faith.

On a final note, and certainly not the least important, I need to add that the best way to learn how to practise Lectio Divina is in the school of Mary. We are told a few times in Sacred Scripture that Mary pondered the things of Christ in her heart. Mary is the model of contemplative communion with the Lord Jesus, so who better to teach us how to “do whatever He tells you”.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

An anonymous comment I received in my most recent blog implied that if we give honour to the Blessed Virgin Mary we dishonour Christ. Sadly, this is a view held by many Protestant Christians. But sadder still is that they tend to hold these views without actually having looked into Catholic teaching for themselves. They hold their biases and anti-Catholic sentiments based on what they have been told by people who aren’t Catholic – as if people who are hostile to the Church will give a fair representation of true Catholic teaching. Like the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen said: “There aren’t a hundred [people] who hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they think the Catholic Church is”.
Knowing how I would feel if people spread lies about my earthly mother, I sometimes wonder about how our Lord’s heart is pierced when Christians, His own brothers and sisters, spread lies about His (and our) Blessed Mother e.g. claiming that she was tainted with sin; or that she was not perpetually a Virgin...or even disowning her by claiming that she is NOT our Mother – and this after the Lord so lovingly gave her to us in His dying words on the Cross of Calvary. Now, all this is obviously done in ignorance, and with good intentions...but it is still not the truth about Our Lady. Given that Mary is the Mother of the Divine Word, Protestant Christians (who no doubt love the Lord) owe it to themselves and the Lord Jesus Christ to find out the truth about Mary.
On that note, the Gospel reading for this Sunday (29th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B) actually contains an allusion to Our Blessed Mother without actually mentioning her by name. Here is the reading:
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and said to him,
"Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you."
He replied, "What do you wish me to do for you?"
They answered him, "Grant that in your glory
we may sit one at your right and the other at your left."
Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking.
Can you drink the cup that I drink
or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?"
They said to him, "We can."
Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink, you will drink,
and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized;
but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give
but is for those for whom it has been prepared."
When the ten heard this, they became indignant at James and John.
Jesus summoned them and said to them,
"You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles
lord it over them,
and their great ones make their authority over them felt.
But it shall not be so among you.
Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant;
whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.
For the Son of Man did not come to be served
but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many."

(Mk 10:35-45)
James and John asked our Lord if they could sit on His left and right when He took possession of His kingdom. At this stage, they were still thinking in worldly terms under the impression that Jesus’ kingdom would be a worldly one. Jesus however seeks to set their thinking straight when He asks them whether they can are willing to be united with Him in His Passion (which is what He means by His cup and His baptism).
Jesus was trying to tell James and John that His kingdom was not of this world (Jn 18:36), and that we must suffer with Him if we are to reign with Him in glory. St. Paul picks up this principle later in the New Testament when he tells the us that we must suffer with Him in order to be glorified with Him (Rom 8:17; 2 Tim 2:12).
Not knowing what they were committing to, James and John replied that they were ready and willing to share in Jesus’ baptism. Even though they didn’t understand at this point, they would understand after the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord – and they would certainly share in His sufferings when both would become martyrs for the faith.
But what about Mary? I mentioned that this passage alludes to her, and yet she is still nowhere to be seen? After James and John make their reply to Jesus, He tells them that they certainly would share in His Passion; but to sit on His right and left were not His to give. The implication is that the Father has reserved this position of supreme honour to the one who is most united to the Son in His suffering. Who might this be?
There is no greater sorrow in this world than that of a mother who has lost a child. Put this in the context of the Incarnate Son of God born of the Virgin Mary and it is not difficult to see that the sorrow experienced by Mary at the death of Jesus was infinitely greater than what could possibly be experienced by any other mother on earth. In fact, the Holy Spirit deemed it significant enough to inspire Holy Simeon to prophesy of it when he said in Lk 2:34-35:
“Behold this child is set for the fall and for the resurrection of many in Israel and for a sign which shall be contradicted. 
"And a sword shall pierce your own soul, that, out of many hearts intentions may be revealed.”

As Jesus was drinking the cup of His Passion, Mary’s heart and soul was being thrust through in a way that you or I could NEVER understand. And yet, we see her at the foot of the Cross – STANDING! It is no ordinary Mother who could stand so silently and resolutely as she beheld the execution of her innocent Child – only she who by God’s grace was full of grace.
Just as the Lamb of God was silent being led to the slaughter; so too does the Mother of God stand at the foot of the Cross in silence, dying her own agonising death. When the Roman soldier picked up that lance and thrust it into the side of Jesus, he pierced not just one heart, but two – the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. In that one moment, as Jesus hangs dead on the Cross, a sign of contradiction, Mary’s soul is pierced for the purpose of revealing the intentions of men’s hearts [this is why we as Catholics bring the intentions of our hearts to Jesus through Mary, to use the words of Blessed Simeon].
So not only was Mary inseparably united with God in the Incarnation; but she was also inseparably united with Him in His Passion. And if she suffered in such union with Him, we should not be surprised that she is also inseparably united with Him in His Ascension and Glorification [i.e. in her Assumption and Coronation].
By honouring Mary, we do nothing less than imitate Our Blessed Lord who, in obedience to the Fourth Commandment, bestowed His own glory upon the Mother who gave Him His Most Precious Body and Blood. We obey the same Commandment when we honour Our Mother in the way that Jesus does. If Jesus exalted Mary – we MUST exalt Mary.
Giving honour to Mary is rooted in Sacred Scripture. Giving honour to Mary does not dishonour the Lord Jesus Christ. On the contrary, giving honour to Mary magnifies the honour due to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Honour, glory, and love to our Divine Lord Jesus, and to the Holy and Immaculate Mother of God. AMEN.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

True Wealth in Mary

In the Mass today (28th Sunday of Ordinary Time), we heard a beautiful Scripture in the First Reading regarding Wisdom:
I prayed, and understanding was given me;
I entreated, and the spirit of Wisdom came to me.
I esteemed her more than sceptres and thrones;
compared with her, I held riches as nothing.
I reckoned no priceless stone to be her peer,
for compared with her, all gold is a pinch of sand,
and beside her silver ranks as mud.
I ranked her more than health and beauty,
preferred her to the light,
since her radiance never sleeps.
In her company all good things came to me,
at her hands riches not to be numbered. (Wisdom 7:7-11)
As beautiful as this text is, it is only when we read Sacred Scripture through the eyes of the Church, that we really begin to appreciate its true beauty. In respect of the various Wisdom passages scattered throughout Scripture, this is what the Catechism has to say:

“The Church’s Tradition has often read the most beautiful [Scripture] texts on wisdom in relation to Mary”. (CCC #721).

Now, there is no doubt that through the eyes of the Church the above Scripture is amazingly Marian. To point out just how beautiful this is, consider the following paraphrase with direct reference to Our Blessed Mother:
I prayed, and understanding was given me;
I entreated, and the spirit of Wisdom came to me.
I esteemed Our Lady more than sceptres and thrones;
compared with Our Lady, I held riches as nothing.
I reckoned no priceless stone to be Our Lady’s peer,
for compared with Our Lady, all gold is a pinch of sand,
and beside Our Lady silver ranks as mud.
I ranked Our Lady more than health and beauty,
preferred Our Lady to the light,
since Our Lady’s radiance never sleeps.
In Our Lady’s company all good things came to me,
at Our Lady’s hands riches not to be numbered.

What struck me particularly as I meditated on this passage was how it relates to the Gospel reading for today (Mk 10:17-30). The First Reading reminds us that compared with Our Lady, wealth and riches are nothing – they are but dust. In the Gospel Reading, our Lord challenges us to be willing to give up all our wealth and riches for the sake of following Him. So how exactly do these two co-relate?

The Saints have constantly taught us and showed us by their lives that the surest way to follow Jesus is to go through Mary. This is because Mary’s directions are always the same – “Do whatever Jesus tells you” (Jn 2:5). When we accept that in comparison to the Blessed Virgin Mary everything else we possess is useless, it is then that we realise that the greatest treasure we could ever have is Our Lady. And this is because Jesus gave her to us to be Our Mother – to unceasingly pray for us; and as our Compass to constantly point us to the True North of Jesus Christ.

This is why Saints like Louis Marie De Montfort and Maximillian Kolbe have recommended that we consecrate ourselves, all that we are and have, to the Blessed Virgin. By doing so, we acknowledge that Christ’s gift to us of His Blessed Mother is worth far more than any temporary gift we have on earth...and when all that we are and have is at the Blessed Mother’s disposal, she will use it to lead souls to Jesus Christ.

Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

The Rich Young Ruler Today

The Gospel reading for this Sunday (28th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B) is taken from Mark 10:17ff. In this passage, Jesus is approached by a rich young man who asks Him what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus responds by reminding the man of the Ten Commandments, which the man believes he has kept as long as he can remember. Jesus then tells the man that if he wants to be Jesus’ disciple, he must go and sell all that he has, give his proceeds to the poor, and then follow Jesus. Upon hearing this, we are told that the man went away sad because he had great wealth.
As with all passages that are familiar to us, we can sometimes miss the fact that there is more than initially meets the eye...
In His reference to the Decalogue, Jesus only lists a few of the Commandments i.e.:
You shall not murder (5th Commandment)
You shall not commit adultery (6th Commandment)
You shall not steal; you shall not defraud (7th Commandment)
You shall not bear false witness (8th Commandment)
Honor your father and mother (4th Commandment)

You may have noticed that there are a few Commandments that Jesus didn’t mention:
You shall have no other gods before me (1st Commandment)
You shall not take God’s name in vain (2nd Commandment)
Remember and keep holy the Sabbath Day (3rd Commandment)
You shall not covet your neighbour’s goods (9th Commandment )
You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife (10th Commandment)

Now, our Lord may simply have listed only a few of the Ten Commandments as a shorthand way of referring to all of them. But as the Creator of the human psyche, our Lord is the Master Psychologist and I wonder whether His intention was “emphasis by omission” i.e. the man thinks that he has faithfully kept God’s law...but Jesus wants to lovingly show him how far short he actually falls, and then to challenge him to walk in the way of Christ.
Jesus tells the man that the one thing he lacks is to sell all that he owns and give it to the poor; and then to follow Him. The fact that the young man went away sad “because he had many possessions” tells us that this man was attached to his wealth. In other words, his wealth was his idol which was more important to him than God – thus he was guilty of breaking the First Commandment. In this way, our Lord points out to the young man that whilst he believes he has obeyed God’s command to love his neighbour, he has failed to love God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Along the same lines, by omitting the Commandments referring to covetousness, I think our Lord was pointing out to the young man that he had a deeper problem of covetousness and greed, which St. Paul tells us is idolatry (Col 3:5). He then goes on to teach his disciples that it is impossible for a rich person to inherit eternal life when their reliance is upon their wealth.
Now, before we are unduly harsh in our criticism of the rich young man, we should pause and think about how this is relevant for us today. I think that we are ALL the rich young ruler. We may not think that we are wealthy, but if you consider what the average person living in the time of Jesus possessed, you would have to admit that we in the 21st century live in comfort and luxury. Even the rich young man in the Gospel would probably look like a pauper compared to what we possess nowadays. Think about it...You are probably right now reading this blog in comfort, on a readily available electronic device, with a high-speed broadband connection – need I say more...?
Jesus’ question to the rich young man should resonate with each and every single one of us. If Jesus asked us to give up all that we possess in order to follow Him, would we do it? Or would we, like the rich young man, leave our Lord albeit with a deep sadness? It is true that God doesn’t ask all of us to give up our wealth. But the heart of the issue is whether our trust is in the Lord our God, or whether we are placing our trust in our own wealth and strength.
If what Jesus said was true of the rich young man (i.e. it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven) – how much more so for us today whose wealth far exceeds that of Jesus time? Just as it was impossible for the rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven in Jesus’ day; how much harder must it be in our day and age of technology and instant gratification?
But thanks be to God – this is not where Jesus ends His instruction. Yes – it is IMPOSSIBLE for the rich (that includes you and me) to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. But Jesus tells us that for God ALL things are possible! Our wealth, no matter how great, is useless in the bigger scheme of things. It is God, and GOD ALONE, that is able to bring us to eternal life. And He does this when we are willing to let go of everything we hold dear...and cling to the Lord Jesus Christ as our only hope of salvation.


As an aside, given that the Year of Faith has recently kicked off, I thought I would add the following note on the matter of “faith”.

Most Protestant Christians hold to what is called “Sola Fide” i.e. they maintain that we are saved by faith ALONE. As Catholics, we would disagree saying that one cannot be saved by faith alone – rather, a person is saved by their faith AND works.

In terms of the passage above, our Lord’s response is one point of evidence against the Protestant notion of Sola Fide. If the notion of Sola Fide was true, we would expect Jesus’ response to the man to be more along the lines of: “Don’t you know that you are saved by faith ALONE? There is nothing that you can do to inherit eternal life”.

Yet, this is not the way our Lord responds. Rather, His response is to seek good works to prove whether the man’s faith is dead or alive.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Mass - Fire from Heaven

One of the beauties of studying Sacred Scripture is that the more we meditate upon God as He has revealed Himself to us, the deeper into truth He draws us...and the deeper we go, the more we realise just how unfathomable are the depths of the knowledge of God. Which is one reason why spending an eternity in Heaven learning and loving God will NEVER be boring.

My blog post last week  explored the topic of how Abel knew that his sacrifice was acceptable to God (i.e. by the visible sign of fire from heaven). In my blog, I touched on a New Testament fulfilment of this in the descent of the Holy Spirit in tongues of fire on Pentecost. Based on a subsequent comment on my blog post by a reader (and fellow-blogger),  I would like to explore a bit more just how much significance this has for us Catholics today – so much so that it impacts the grind and routine of our everyday lives.

I pointed out in my previous blog that the Holy Spirit was the fire which descended from Heaven on Pentecost to declare the acceptability of the Apostles and to empower them for their mission. But the Holy Spirit did not descend and remain only during the lifetime of the Apostles. Before His ascent back to Heaven, Jesus taught His disciples that although He was leaving them (in one sense) He would always remain with His Church until the end of the ages (Matt 28:20). Now there are many ways in which Jesus remains with His Church – the primary way obviously being His Presence in the Most Holy Eucharist. However, there are also many other ways in which He remains with us. One of these is in the Person of the Holy Spirit. Before going to His Passion, Jesus told the Apostles that He would not leave His Church comfortless but that He would send the Great Comforter – the Holy Spirit – to lead and guide His Church into all truth (Jn 14:16-26).

As we know the Holy Spirit was definitively poured out on the Apostles on Pentecost Sunday as tongues of fire rested upon each of their heads. And so began their mission to build the Church of Christ. But what happened when the Apostles died? Did their ministry cease? Not at all! For example, St. Paul instructed Sts. Timothy and Titus to ordain faithful men to continue the Apostolic mission, just as they themselves had been ordained (2 Tim 2:2; Tit 1:5). Part of this entailed the laying on of hands. Just as the Apostles had passed on the Holy Spirit and their authority to their immediate successors through the laying on of hands (1 Tim 4:14), so their successors were instructed to do the same. And thus arose the Church’s teaching of Apostolic Succession.

I mention this because it is necessary to understand that every Mass around the world is offered by someone who has been ordained with the power and authority of the Holy Spirit. Which is why we don’t need to have a literal “Pentecost experience” (i.e. fire from heaven, etc.) every single time someone is ordained. This isn’t unusual in the Scriptures either. For example, it was only the first Temple sacrifice that was consumed by fire from Heaven – the rest of the burnt offerings were no less acceptable to God, although they were not subject to the same miraculous circumstances. 

Understanding this, we can now take the next step to see how Abel’s sacrifice relates to us lay people who populate the pews. For this, I would like to look at the Epiclesis i.e. that part of the Eucharistic Prayer which is offered after the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy...). Here is citation from one of the Eucharistic Prayers, which will no doubt be familiar to many of us:
“You are indeed Holy, O Lord,
the fount of all holiness.
Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray,
by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall,
so that they may become for us
the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ...”

- Eucharistic Prayer II

In this prayer we notice that the priest (who has received a special charism of the Holy Spirit through ordination) speaks on our behalf when asking the Father to send down the Holy Spirit to make holy the gifts offered upon the altar. In another form, Eucharistic Prayer I, the Epiclesis is phrased in words asking God to accept the gifts offered on the altar [keep in mind here the acceptance of Abel's sacrifice]. 
What are the gifts offered on the altar? Simply answered they are bread and wine, fruit of the earth and work of human hands – but the bread and wine symbolise so much more than simple bread and wine. In another previous blog, I showed that these gifts of bread and wine symbolise us, all that we are and have. It is through the Eucharist that we present ourselves – all our prayers, works, joys, and sufferings – as living sacrifices to God; and by receiving the Lord Jesus in Communion, we are in turn conformed to His image. And so, just as the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, all the things that we bring to the altar in the Holy Mass – whether it is our family, our work, our struggles, whatever it might be – is united to Christ so that these same things are transformed so that we can become more like Our Blessed Lord.  
Now to bring this back full-circle to the topic at hand...
In the Mass, we offer ourselves on the altar as living sacrifices, but it is the Holy Spirit that makes our offerings holy and acceptable to God; and it is the Holy Spirit that transforms us more and more to be like Christ through the same Eucharist [have a read of Rom 12:1-2 in this light; it is quite awe-inspiring].
The sacrifices of Abel and a few others in the Old Testament were shown to be accepted by fire descending from Heaven. The Holy Spirit descending as tongues of fire from Heaven on Pentecost was a fulfillment of this. But the fulfillment is also ongoing, because whatever we offer up during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is made acceptable by Holy Spirit descending (like He did on Pentecost) to transform our gifts into the Body and Blood of Christ.
If the Epiclesis, which represents only a very small portion of the whole Mass, is so full and rich and relevant to us; how much more so are all the rest of the parts of the Mass? If ever we are tempted to think that Mass is boring and irrelevant to our daily lives – hopefully remembering something this “small” will serve to convince us otherwise...and hopefully it will serve as an encouragement to learn more deeply the beauty and truth contained in the Church's liturgy.
As mentioned above, this blog was inspired by a comment from a reader of my previous blog on Abel’s sacrifice (Renee of So, I am indebted to Renee for helping me to make the connection between two profound truths – and seeing in another way just how beautifully and intricately related all the truths of our Catholic faith are. So, thank you Renee – and God bless!

By the way, I have included the link to Renee’s blog above because it is certainly worth a read...