Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Imitating Papal Altars: Why Not???

Candles on the Altar
I have heard some liturgists argue against putting candles on the altar (that is in spite of the fact that the General Instruction on the Roman Missal allows this). They say that candles should not be placed on the altar because our altars are not Papa Altars. To this reason, I say that if we were not to imitate Papal altars, then we should have our altars pushed back to the walls. According to Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (who late became Pope Benedict XVI), 

"The controversy in our own century was triggered by another innovation. Because of topographical circumstances, it turned out that St. Peter's (basilica) faced west. Thus, if the celebrating priest wanted - as the Christian tradition of prayer demands - to face east, he had to stand behind the people and look - this is the logical conclusion - toward the people. For whatever reason it was done, one can also see this arrangement in a whole series of church buildings within St. Peter's direct sphere of influence. The liturgical renewal in our own century took up this alleged model and developed from it a new idea for the form of the liturgy. The Eucharist - so it was said - had to be celebrated versus populum (toward the people). The altar - as can be seen in the normative model of St. Peter's - had to be positioned in such a way that the priest and people looked at each other and formed the circle of the celebrating community. This alone - so it was said - was compatible with  the meaning of the Christian liturgy, with the requirement of active participation. This alone conformed to the primordial model of the Last Supper. These arguments seemed in the end so persuasive that after the Council (which says nothing about "turning toward the people") new altars were set everywhere, and today celebration versus populum really looks like the characteristic fruit of Vatican II's liturgical renewal. In fact, it is the most conspicuous consequence of a reordering that not only signifies a new external arrangement of the places dedicated to the liturgy, but also brings with it a new idea of the essence of the liturgy - the liturgy as a communal meal.

"This is, of course, a misunderstanding of the significance of the Roman basilica and of the positioning of the altar..." (J. Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, 77-78.)

My argument is this: the repositioning of the altar so that the liturgy may be celebrated facing the people was based on the imitation of the position of the Papal altars in Rome. If this were so, why are we now arguing that we should not put candles on the altar because we should not imitate the arrangement of candles on Papal Altars? I simply could not see the consistency of the arguments. We allow a change (positioning of the altar) in imitation of Papal altars and then disallow another practice (putting candles on the altar) because doing such would be applying to non-papal altars what is allowed on Papal altars. How can the standards change from one argument to another. This, to me, is simply whimsical preferences of some being imposed to all.

The Scandalous Mercy of God

The Magdalene who loved much because she was forgiven much
Jesus, I trust in you!

Simon the Pharisee underestimated Jesus for seemingly not knowing the kind of woman who was touching him: “If this man were a prophet, he would know what sort of woman this is touching him, that she is a sinner.” Apparently, many people today are like Simon who thinks that God does not want to be touched by sinners. While it is true that God finds sin repulsive, Jesus today shows us how he allows himself to be touched by the repentance of sinners.

In the first reading, the prophet Nathan reproved David for very grievous sins: adultery with Uriah’s wife and then plotting the same man’s murder. “Why have you spurned the Lord and done evil in his sight ...You have despised me!” The evil nature of David’s sins was enough to separate him from the Lord and yet, when David realized the gravity of his sins, he confessed: “I have sinned against the Lord.” That was all Nathan had to hear in order to assure David of Divine absolution: “The Lord on his part has forgiven your sin: you shall not die.”

We often do not understand how God could easily forgive David when in fact his sins were so grave. How could the Lord Jesus allow the woman to touch him in spite of her many sins: “… her many sins have been forgiven.” We do not realize that the mercy of the Lord is really very scandalous. It offends our sense of justice, or rather, our desire for retribution. Shouldn’t David be punished? Shouldn’t the sinful woman be publicly humiliated? Shouldn’t that criminal be hanged? What about the victims? Do we not care that they get justice? Pope John Paul cautioned us about how justice is easily distorted by spite, hate, and cruelty. “In such cases, the desire to annihilate the enemy, limit his freedom, or even force him into total dependence, becomes the fundamental motive for action…It is obvious, in fact, that in the name of (an alleged) justice, the neighbor is sometimes destroyed, killed, deprived of liberty or stripped of fundamental human rights.” (Dives in Misericordia, 7.) Pope John Paul concludes: “The experience of the past and of our own time demonstrates that justice alone is not enough, that it can even lead to the negation and destruction of itself, if that deeper power, which is love, is not allowed to shape human life in its various dimensions.” (Ibid.)

Mercy defines the love of God. “All the subtleties of love become manifest in the Lord’s mercy for those who are his own.” (DM, 4.) God’s mercy is more powerful and more profound than his justice. “Love is ‘greater’ than justice: greater in the sense that it is primary and fundamental. Love conditions justice and justice serves love. The primacy and superiority of love vis-a-vis justice are revealed through mercy.” (Ibid.) Jesus himself said to St. Faustina: “Let the sinner not be afraid to approach me. The flames of mercy are burning me – clamoring to be spent; I want to pour them out upon souls.” (Diary, 50.) Thus, those who were at table with Jesus rightfully asked themselves about Jesus: “Who is this who even forgives sins?” This, indeed, is Jesus: he is the One who forgives sins. He was sent by the Father as expiation for our sins (1 John 4:10).

O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.

The Fountain that Cleanses Sins

Blood and Water from the Pierced Heart of Jesus
Jesus, I trust in you!

In today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus said, “The Son of Man must endure many sufferings.” I say, “So what?” So what if he has to suffer? Do we not all have to endure suffering? Even Gautama Buddha acknowledged this and made it one of the central truths of Buddhism: “All life is suffering.”

Jesus also said, “He must be put to death.” I say, “So what?” All of us have to die one day. This is the way of all flesh, so the Bible says. And so if he dies, we also will die.

What makes the suffering of Jesus so unique? What makes his death so different? The prophet Zechariah gives us beautiful words for our first reading: “They shall look on him whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him as one who mourns for an only son, and they shall grieve over him as one grieves over a first born.” Who is this only son? Zechariah is definitely referring to the Lord Jesus. At the River Jordan and at the Mountain of the Transfiguration, God the Father introduced Jesus to all: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” Jesus is the Only-Begotten Son of God and our Lord.

Who is this first-born? Again, the prophet is definitely referring to Jesus. St. Paul said that Jesus is the first-born of all creation. He is also the first-born of the dead. It is ion knowing that the prophet was referring to Jesus that we appreciate the prophecy even more: “They shall look on him whom they have pierced.” When our Lord Jesus died on the Cross, a soldier pierced his side with a lance. And out of that wounded side flowed Blood and Water. From the pierced Heart of the Savior came forth in abundance Blood and Water. Thus, the prophet said, “On that day, there shall be open to the house of David and to the other inhabitants of Jerusalem, a fountain to purify from sin and uncleanness.” That fountain that purifies sin and uncleanness is that opened side of Jesus, his pierced heart from which flowed Blood and Water. This fountain of Blood and Water purifies us from sin. This fountain of Blood and Water empowers the Sacraments so that they may have the capacity to bring about the forgiveness of sins. This is why we go to Church. We acknowledge that we are sinners and we wish to draw close to the purifying fountain of our Savior’s heart. This is why I simply scratch my head at people who accuse churchgoers of self-righteousness: “Pasimba-simba pa kayo. Akala mo kung sinong malilinis, eh panay makasalanan naman pala.” “Yang pari ninyo, pamisa-misa pa. akala mo kung sinong malinis, eh makasalanan din naman pala.” Excuse me? They are badly mistaken. The reason why we go to church, the reason why I offer mass is not because we feel righteous but because we acknowledge our sinfulness and so we need to draw close to the fountain of mercy which is the Savior’s heart. To accuse us of self-righteousness is like saying to a person who takes a bath: “Paligo-ligo ka pa. Akala mo kung sinong malinis, eh marumi naman pala.” The reason why we bathe is because we are soiled. When I tell someone to take a bath, the person oftentimes smell his armpits and say, “Father, I don’t smell bad.” Thos who refuse to take a bath are those who think that they are clean. Those who refuse to take a bath are those who think they don’t stink. In like manner, those who refuse to go to church are those who think that they are righteous enough that they don’t need to go.

And so we ask, “Why does the suffering of Jesus forgive sins? Why does his death take away sins? Why do the Blood and Water flowing from his wounded heart wash away sins?” The answer is given by the Gospel reading: Jesus is the Messiah of God. The Lord asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “The Messiah of God!” 

Indeed, You, O Lord Jesus are the Messiah of God. That is why your sufferings bring to us forgiveness of sins. Even if we were to endure all the sufferings that the world can offer, none of us could obtain for the world forgiveness of sins.

You, O Jesus, are the Messiah of God. That is why your death takes away the sins of the world. You are the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Even if we were to die a million times, none of them could take away the sins of the world.

You, O Jesus, are the Messiah of God. That is why the Blood and Water flowing from your opened heart wash away our sins and purify us from uncleanness. Even if we were to wound ourselves and bring out all the blood and water that would bodies can give, none of us can purify the sins of the world.

You, O Jesus, are the only Begotten Son of the Father. You are the first-born of all creation. You are the first-born of the dead. You are the Messiah of God. You are the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Have mercy on us and on the whole world.

O Fountain of life, unfathomable Divine Mercy, envelop the whole world and empty yourself out upon us. O Blood and Water that gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fount of mercy for us, I trust in you!   

O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!