On Fixing a Dreadful Error And Taking a Graceful Bow

We are in the heart of Lent but for one day we step back into the Christmas cycle. It is nine months before Christmas and today we celebrate the true feast of the Incarnation. December 25 is the Lord’s birth but today is His incarnation as he is conceived in his Mother’s womb. TODAY the Word becomes flesh.

This needs to be emphasized in an age of abortion where some in our culture deny explicitly or implicitly that human life begins at conception. You are aware that a new translation of the Mass will soon come to us in the English speaking world. It is long needed and treasures of the faith kept hidden for long decades (except for those know Latin) will become visible again.

Among the most egregious errors of the current English version is in the Creed which erroneously indicates that Jesus became man at his birth, rather than his conception. Here is what the current version says:

For us men and our salvation He came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit, He was born of the Virgin Mary , and became man.

Notice that the text says he became man when he was born. As a poor translation of the Latin text it is irritating enough but to have this mistranslation exist when abortion is thought a legal right is a complete disaster. The Latin text does not say that Jesus became man at his birth (celebrated December 25), but rather at His incarnation (celebrated March 25). Here is what the the Latin text says:

Qui propter nos homines et propter nostram salutem descendit de caelis. Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine, et homo factus est.

The New Translation which will be implemented in a little over a year renders it correctly in the following way:

For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.

I for one am grateful for the accuracy. The whole translation is going to take some getting used to but it will be of great benefit to see our Holy Faith, so beautifully articulated in the Latin text, properly translated and conveyed at last. Since 1970 the text has been really little better than a paraphrase and so much is lost. This mistranslation of the Creed is but one of ten thousand examples where the current translation is woefully inaccurate and/or incomplete. But surely the mistranslated Creed  is most egregious for the reasons stated.

A final thought on this section of the Creed – The Bow. The Congregation is instructed to bow at the words: and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.  This is in recognition of the great mystery that the incarnation is. How can God, whom the very heavens cannot contain dwell in the womb of the Virgin Mary? How can the infinite become an infant? It is a mystery too great and so we bow in reverence. In the Traditional Latin Mass the practice is to kneel at these words. Such was the practice until about 1970 when it was replaced by a bow. Personally I think we Americans are terrible at bows and would be happy if the genuflection returned. In other cultures bowing is graceful and natural. For most of us here it is awkward and usually lacks proportional and graceful movement. But bow we are told and bow we should. One ought to fold the hands and bow at the waist. Think of your waist as the hinge, not the neck and shoulders which should not move in proportion to the shoulders. The bow is a reverent acknowledgment of the mystery of the Incarnation we celebrate today. Interestingly enough there are still two days  in the year when we still kneel at the words of the incarnation. We kneel and pause at these words on Christmas and today, March 25, The Feast of the Annunciation. Otherwise we bow, as gracefully as possible 🙂

I am curious if you bow at these words in the Creed and if it is common in your parish. Does your clergy bow, do they teach others to do so? Just asking!

Happy Feast Day!

The ultimate gold medal

Now that’s a Gold Medal!

My wife has a wonderful devotion to the Blessed Virgin. As a convert to the faith, she often credits the Mother of God with drawing her closer to her Son, Jesus Christ. As part of her devotion, she almost always wears a Miraculous Medal given to her as a gift when she was received into the Catholic Church. For Lent, she asked me to say the prayer on the Medal daily and to think of her while I pray it.

I am victorious!

As we were watching the Olympics recently, we enjoyed witnessing the joy on an athlete’s face when they put the medal around their necks symbolizing their respective victories.

Brothers and sisters, Our Lady’s Miraculous Medal symbolizes victory as well. It symbolizes a victory over sin and death. And unlike an Olympic medal, it is available to anyone who seeks victory over death through Jesus Christ. Also, unlike Olympic medals, the glory of this victory will never fade but only increase. If you have one, put it on. If not, buy one. Few things say, “I believe in Christ!” like a Miraculous Medal.

Take your place on the medal stand!

Let God and your faith in His Only Son, Jesus Christ, put you on the platform and place the ultimate gold medal around your neck!

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

The Wedding at Cana: To Jesus through Mary

The truest hallmark of Marian devotion is a greater and growing  love for and faith in Jesus Christ. The wedding feast at Cana surely demonstrates this truth quite remarkably. While there are debates as to the interaction of Jesus and Mary at Cana (see my previous post and also the comments) there can be little doubt that Mary provokes Jesus first miracle and in so doing helps his disciples to begin believing in him.

It is Epiphany all over again. At the first Epiphany Mary held Jesus for the nations (represented in the Magi) to see. In this Epiphany Jesus’ glory is manifested by a miracle encouraged by Mary.

Here then is Mary’s role: to point to her Son’s glory and draw us to greater faith in him. Like a mother she nurtures our faith and points to His glory. It is likely going too far to say that the faith of these early disciples depended on Mary’s drawing forth this first miracle, but Scripture does seem to show us a relationship between Mary and the manifestation of Christ as Lord. Her intercession calling forthe the miracle spurs faith though only God can cause it. The Lord sees fit that she should help summon the faith of the first disciples. And since Scripture models for us not mere historical events of the past but makes them present and includes us, it makes sense that we should accept this model and allow her to continue as an instrument of God to quicken our faith in Christ her Son. True and authentic Marian devotion will always have greater Faith in Jesus as its ultimate end.

Her instruction to the steward and to us “Do whatever he tells you” also shows this dimension for to follow such an instruction requires faith in Jesus. These are the last words we hear from Mary in the Scripture. I suppose, as a priest,  if I could choose the final words I would ever say from a pulpit it would be: “Do whatever he tells you.”

The venerable and old phrase “To Jesus through Mary” is not a denial that we can go straight to Jesus ourselves. Rather, it is an acknowledgment that God himself willed that Mary be instrumental in Christ coming to us and in us being able to see him for who he really is. God himself establishes a pattern.  He came to this world through her, was held in her arms for us first to see, and worked his first miracle at her behest. Through her we see Jesus and, as the text today says, we begin to believe in him.

The following video by Dr. Mark Miravalle gives another interpretation of Cana, a bit different from what I presented in the previous post but somewhat related to this post. I will say I have cautious concerns about the concept of “co-redemptrix” that he presents. I think there is an orthodox understanding of the concept and have no doubt that theologians and Popes have used the term. But since it can be so easily misunderstood, I am cautious about discussing and using it. Frankly in this video I think Dr. Miravalle takes what I said in my post here a little farther than I am willing to go. But, as always, the point here is discussion. So I welcome your comments.


A Feast that is Missing in Action?

Today (January 1st)  we celebrated  the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.  In the past we celebrated the Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord, a Feast that is currently missing in action. We can discuss that in a moment.

But as for the Feast of Mary Mother of God, it is a great opportunity for us to reflect on who Jesus Christ is. Mary is Mother of God because Jesus is God. Some may want to argue that she only gave birth to his human nature and hence is only mother of what is human in him. But Jesus is ONE PERSON with two natures. This is something called in theology the “hypostatic union” and it is an essential teaching of Christ. He unites in one person the human nature and the divine nature. There are not two Jesuses. Neither is it true that his divine nature came upon him at a later time such as his baptism. No, his two natures were united in his one person from the moment of of his human conception. And since Jesus is one, Mary gives birth and is mother to the whole Christ. Mary is Mother of God because Jesus is God. This title was given to Mary at the Council of Ephesus in 431 in defense of Christ’s divinity. The Greek form of this title is Θεοτόκος (Theotokos) translated more literally as “God Bearer.”

Evidence for the celebration of this feast goes back in the Roman Church all the way to the 7th Century. Prior to that there is evidence of this feast being celebrated in other parts of Europe but usually on the Fourth Sunday of Advent. By the 13th and 14th Centuries However the Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord came to replace this feast, and the Feast of Mary Mother of God was eventually moved to October 11th and renamed the feast of the “Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” Just after Vatican II The more ancient Feast of Mary Mother of God was restored to January 1st.

That said, and as much as I love the Blessed Mother and affirm her under this proper title, I regret the loss of the Feast of the Circumcision. I generally prefer to stick as close to the Biblical narrative as possible. In this case Scripture is clear, on the eighth day (i.e. January 1st for us), Jesus was Circumcised and his name given. Three important truths and events are celebrated here. First that Jesus was born under the law and submitted himself to it so that he might fulfill it. Secondly there is the first shedding of blood, and this refers to the passion. Thirdly his name is announced: Jesus, a name which means “God saves.” There is no other name given to men by which we are to be saved, there is no other blood that can atone for our sins than the blood of Jesus and there is no one who can fulfill the Law as Jesus does. It seems a bit of a loss not to explicitly celebrate these events in Jesus life and these truth about him on the very day (the eighth day) they happened.

You may wish to dispute this regret of mine and I hope you will use the comments section to advance your points. Obviously the Church has decided to return to the more ancient observance of Mary Mother of God and so this is out of my hands. But I thought it might be appropriate at least give a nod to the Feast of the Circumcision.

I suppose if I had it my what here is what I would do:

  1. Celebrate the Feast of Mary Mother of God on the Sunday Between Christmas and January 1st.
  2. Move the Feast of the Holy Family to the Sunday after Epiphany (where it used to be before 1968). In fact, I would also like to say that the Feast of the Holy Family is rather confusing where it currently is since most the Gospel most years is of the Finding of Jesus in the Temple when he was 12 years old. So, suddenly after Christmas he is 12, and then at Epiphany, days later he is back to being an infant. A little confusing. So this Feast seems better celebrated after Epiphany as a kind of bridge: Jesus at 12 years of age links the infant Chirst and the adult Christ as we return to Ordinary time.
  3. Restore the Feast of the Circumcision to January 1st.
  4. But nobody is asking me from Rome what I think!  🙂  So enjoy my “rant” for what it is, just a slight grief for a feast that is missing in action and a wish to tweek the Christmas calendar so it flows a little better.

For the record, it is still possible to celebrate the Feast of the Circumcision using the Old Latin Mass (Extraordinary Form). However even there, the prayers are a little unusual in that none of them mention the circumcision at all. Rather, they are prayers that focus on the motherhood of Mary. Only the Gospel mentions the Circumcision. Any way don’t fail to thank the Lord Jesus for accepting  humbly the obligations of the Law, shedding his first Blood and for revealing his precious and saving name!

Enjoy The Ave Maria by Rachmanivov on this Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.

Jesus Wasn’t Found in a Perfect Christmas

We tend to romanticize what the birth of Jesus was like. It all seems so picturesque to us now: Bethlehem, the manger, Jesus, Mary, Joseph, cute animals, shepherds, the star, and so forth. But the fact is that the birth of Jesus was burdened with many hardships and if we look, it is not hard to see the Passion already prefigured in the birth of Jesus.

I do not write this post to burst any bubbles or simply to be contrary. But I am aware that we set up great expectations for Christmas, that it will be a wonderful, magical time. In some years those dreams come true, but in other years Christmas is difficult. Maybe it is our first Christmas without a loved one, maybe finances trouble us, perhaps we are rushed and hurried and cannot find the gift(s) we want to get for others. Christmas is seldom an “easy” time for any of us. But at some level we have to stop trying to have the perfect Christmas and come to accept the actual Christmas we have.

Christ was not found in a “perfect” Christmas by any means. The first Christmas was difficult at best. Consider the following:

  1. What Kind of Woman is That! There were many questions likely swirling about due to the circumstances of Jesus’ conception. For Joseph they had been resolved through the message of an angel. But it is unlikely that other family members and townsfolk at Nazareth were as accepting of what had happened. Scripture is silent on these matters but the culture of that time did not easily accept that a young woman was pregnant apart from the marriage bed. There was surely tension, perhaps even some shunning of Mary, and Joseph too for he had agree to take a “woman like that” into his home. Perhaps some of them thought that Joseph too was less than innocent in the whole matter. Some of this is speculative I know but the culture of the time was quite exacting about such matters.
  2. Terrible Travels! Just prior to Jesus’ birth Joseph and Mary receive word that they must travel to Bethlehem due to hastily called census. Mary is almost 9 months pregnant and the trip to Bethlehem is almost 80 miles. The only way to get there was on foot. The terrain in the Holy Land is mountainous. The hills around Nazareth are not little rolling hills, they are like the Appalachian Mountains in size and the terrain only gets steeper and rockier as one gets to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Now these were hardy people and such journeys were not unknown to them. Pious Jews went as often as once a year to Jerusalem (70 Miles from Nazareth) to worship at the Temple. Nevertheless the hardships of such a journey on a woman near to giving birth cannot be underestimated. We often see pictures of Mary riding a donkey. It is unlikely that she actually did. Joseph and Mary were not destitute but they were among the working poor. It is unlikely they could have afforded a donkey for such a journey. It is possible that Joseph was able to pull a small cart upon which Mary could ride along with some of their belongings. But remember the steep hills to which we have referred. Such carts were often more trouble than they were worth. Probably they both walked.
  3. Bethlehem was No Blessing! After a long and difficult journey of several days Joseph and Mary reached the town of Bethlehem. Now I don’t want to be unkind but let me just make it plain. Bethlehem is no cute “little town of Bethlehem.” It is a run down city set on steep hills. The terrain is rocky. And the Shepherds field was not a grassy rolling pasture. It is a very rocky, hard scrabble land. Even today after all the glory that happened there, the town is still a very poor and run down place. Due to Israeli/Palestinian conflict, the town is largely cut off economically and the poor line the streets begging you to buy olive wood trinkets from them. It is rather a sad place actually. At the time of Jesus’ birth the town was vastly over crowded due to the Census. Huge numbers who had long since left (like Joseph and Mary) had now returned for the count. On my recent trip I took pictures in Bethlehem which you can see here: Bethlehem
  4. Born like That?!? As they enter town Mary may be experiencing her first labor pains. Joseph with great anxiety seeks a place quickly for her. Surely room could be found for a woman in labor! But no. Surely someone would understand and give their spot over to the couple! But no. Scripture gives us very little detail actually as to the place of Jesus’ birth. We are only told by Luke that Mary laid Jesus in a manger (a feed box for animals) because there was no room for them in an inn. Most moderns think of a wooden stable or barn-like structure. But it was more likely a cave beneath and behind a house where people routinely sheltered their animals. This is the likely place where Jesus was born for this is where mangers are found. Ancient tradition confirms this for the place of Jesus Birth in in the subbasement of the Church of the Nativity and, sure enough, it is a cave.  But consider the awful discomfort that this must have caused. We romanticize it but let us be honest, it was damp or dusty (depending on the time of year)  and it was smelly. Joseph must have been devastated that he could find nothing better for his wife and newborn Son. Luke hints at the Passion when he tells us that Mary wrapped him in swaddling clothes, using the same verb that would later be used to describe how Jesus body was wrapped in linen cloths at his burial. This was no pleasant Hallmark moment for any of the them. It was a difficult time, away from family and the comforts of home, in an unfriendly, unwelcoming and run down city, giving birth in a smelly animal pen. An old Latin song says, O magnum mysterium et admirabile sacramentum ut animalia viderunt Dominum natum, jacentem in praesepio!  (O great mystery and wondrous sign that animals would see the newborn Lord lying in a feed box).
  5. Strange Visitors! We think of numerous visitors that night  but it was probably only  the shepherds that first night. Now shepherds were the cowboys of their day. They tended to be a rough sort of crowd. Once again we tend to clean things up a bit. But it is sort of a strange fit that these rough and tumble cowboys of their day should be the ones summoned by the angels to be the first visitors of the Lord of Glory. The magi from the East surely came but not likely that first night for Matthew describes them as finding Jesus and Mary in a “house.” Perhaps the next day or some days later Joseph was able to find lodging and that is where the Magi found them in Bethlehem.
  6. Flee for your Life!  Not long after the birth word comes to Joseph that he must flee to Egypt at once for Herod is seeking to kill the Child. They flee into the night to make the Journey of 150 miles into Egypt.

Well I hope you can see that the first Christmas was anything but idyllic, anything but perfect, anything but comfortable. I do not deny that there is a place for sentimentality but, truth be told, our sentimentality often sets us up for disappointment. We want Christmas to be Hallmark perfect. And then Uncle Joe shows up at Christmas dinner drunk, and son Ben is away in Iraq, Mom died last June, and instead of snow, it is warm. But guess what. Jesus wasn’t found in a perfect Christmas either. If you’re looking for a perfect Christmas, Jesus is not there. He is in the imperfect one. He’s in your actual Christmas not your imagined Christmas. Find him there.

Beyond the Rhetoric: Why Not Mary?

Most of us who are Catholics eventually get asked, “Why do you Catholics worship Mary?” More often than not the question is not a real question it is a rhetorical question. For a few of you who might not know what is meant by the expression “rhetorical question,”  it refers to a “question” whose purpose is not to seek an answer, but, rather, to make a (usually hostile) point. For example the expression “Who do you think you are!?” is in the form of a question but it does not seek an answer. Instead it is meant as a rebuke. And so it usually is when we Catholics get asked the “question” Why do you worship Mary?” we’re usually aware that it is not a sincere question seeking a sincere answer. However, for those cases where an answer really is sought I might propose the following approach:

“Well, of course we don’t worship Mary since that would be a terrible sin. Worship belongs to God alone. We DO honor her though. Afterall, she is Jesus’ mother. But let me ask you a question. Why in your church, do you NOT honor Mary at all? Doesn’t scripture say Every generation will call [Mary] blessed because God who is mighty has done great things for [her]? (Luke 1:48-49) It seems to me that we Catholics are fulfilling scripture but that in your denomination you are not fulfilling or following it. So why don’t you honor her at all? Why don’t you call her blessed as the Bible says?”

Now stop there and wait for an answer. Don’t keep going. Just stop and wait.  Have them answer for a change. We Catholics are always on the defensive, always in answer mode. But we ought to ask a few questions too. And try to avoid a merely rhetorical or hostile tone. Try to allow this question to be genuine, respectful, one meant to provoke thought. It is possible that many Protestants have never been asked this question or pondered an answer. Now it is also possible that your interlocutor will try to change the subject or evade an answer by piling on about Catholics but just repeat the question respectfully and ask for an answer. Remember your point is not to argue, be hostile or win an argument. Your point is to provoke thought and get a real answer. And even if the conversation ends badly or with no answer, you’ve planted a seed, a question that they will ponder even if they don’t admit it. Jesus often asked questions to proke thought and conversion. I will be doing a post on this next week.

A final thought on Mary. Another way to explain out devotion and love for Mary is that we are imitating Jesus. We love, honor, respect and entrust ourselves to her care because Jesus did all these things and we want to be just like Jesus. Consider that the very Son of God, dwelled in Mary’s womb, nursed at her breasts, was held in her arms, sat on her lap and entrusted himself to her care. Our Lord could have chosen to enter our world in other ways. Perhaps He could simply have entered the world as a full grown man. The fact is that He freely chose Mary to be his mother and he was truly her Son. As her son he loved and honored her as any good son must and as her son he entrusted himself to her care. All of this serves to highlight Mary’s dignity and to show us how devotion to her is in perfect imitation of Jesus himself.

What more need we say: Jesus our Lord and God honors and loves Mary, and his very scriptures sing her praises; so too His Angel Gabriel and countless saints. When we honor Mary we imitate the very Son of God and fulfill Holy Scripture. Certainly our Lord is pleased that we love and honor his mother.

Here’s a little viseo I recently put together. The Music is from the Daughters of St Paul, “I Am Thine” from the Handmaiden of the Lord Album:

Assumption of Mary into Heaven

To be “assumed” means to be taken up by God bodily into heaven. It happened to Enoch in the Old Testament (Gen. 5:24) and it also happened to Elijah (2 Kings 2:11 ). Some say Moses too was taken up since his grave is not known but the text is not clear as to that fact (cf Dt. 34:6).

Church Tradition and teaching going back as far as we can remember hold that Mary too, at her death was taken up, body and soul, into heaven. There is no earthly tomb containing her body, neither are there relics of her body to be found among the Christian faithful.  She like Enoch and Elijah was taken up bodily to heaven.

It this recorded in Scripture? Yes and no. No the historical event of Mary’s assumption is not recorded. But the Bible does indicate her place in heaven. In Rev. 11 John records his sighting of the Ark of God!

Rev 11:19Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a great hailstorm.

John then goes on to describe the Ark as he sees it and he describes the Ark as none other than Mary for this woman gives birth to a Son who is none other than Jesus:

A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. 2She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. 3Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads… The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. 5She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. (Rev 12:1-5)

The Woman is clearly Mary since the child is clearly Jesus. And where is Mary seen? In heaven. Hence Scripture confirms what is taught by the solemn Tradition of the Church that Mary, whose body is the Ark of the New Covenant is in heaven. Mary has been taken up to heaven.