From Fear to Faith on Easter Morning

One option for Easter Sunday morning’s Mass is from the Gospel of John (20:1-8). (I have written before on the Matthean Gospel option (here)). Like most of the resurrection accounts, John’s version paints a portrait of a journey that some of the early disciples have to make: out of fear and into faith. It shows the need to experience the resurrection and then come to understand it more deeply. While the Gospel account begins with Mary Magdalene, the focus quickly shifts to St. John; let’s study his journey.

I. Reaction Mode – The text begins by describing everyone as being in reaction mode, quite literally running about in a panic! On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.”

The text describes the opening moments as “still dark.” John is likely trying to do more than tell us the time of day. The deeper point is that there is still a darkness that envelops everyone’s mind.  The darkness makes it difficult for us to see; our fears and sorrows can blind us.

Mary Magdalene sees direct evidence of the resurrection but presumes the worst: that grave robbers have snatched the Lord’s body! It doesn’t even occur to her to remember that Jesus had said that He would rise on the third day and that this was that very third day. She goes immediately into reaction mode instead of reflection mode. Her mind jumps to the worst conclusion; by reacting and failing to reflect, she looks right at the blessing and sees a curse.

We also tend to do this. We look at our life and see only the burdens instead of the blessings.

  1. I clutch my blanket and growl when the alarm goes off instead of thinking, “Thank you, Lord, that I can hear; there are many who are deaf. Thank you that I have the strength to rise; there are many who do not.”
  2. Even though the first hour of the day may be hectic: socks are lost, toast is burned, tempers are short, and the children are loud; we ought to be thinking, “Thank you, Lord, for my family; there are many who are lonely.”
  3. We can even be thankful for the taxes we pay because it means we’re employed, for the clothes that fit a little too snugly because it means we have enough to eat, for the heating bill because it means we are warm, for the weariness and aching muscles at the end of the day because it means we have been productive.

Every day millions of things go right and only a handful go wrong. What will we focus on? Will we look right at the signs of our blessings and call them burdens or will we thank the Lord? Do we live lives that are reactive and negative or do we live reflectively, remembering that the Lord says that even our burdens are gifts in strange packages? And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).

Do we know this, or are we like the disciples on that early morning when it was still dark, looking right at the blessings but drawing only negative conclusions, reacting and failing to reflect?

II. Recovery mode – The text goes on to describe a certain subtle move from reaction to reflection. So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first; he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in.

Mary Magdalene’s anxiety is contagious. She comes running to the disciples, all out of breath, and says that “they” (whoever “they” are) have taken the Lord (she speaks of Him as a corpse) and “we” (she and the other women who were with her) don’t know where they put Him (again, she speaks of Him as an inanimate corpse). Mary’s panic triggers that same reaction in the disciples. Now they’re all running! The mad dash to the tomb has begun.

Notice, though, that they are hurrying so that they can verify the grave robbery, not the resurrection. Like Mary, they didn’t take the time to reflect and perhaps remember that the Lord had said He would rise on the third day and that this was the third day. Instead, they also panic, rushing forth to try to confirm their worst fears.

But note a subtlety: John runs faster than Peter. Some scholars say it indicates merely that John was the younger man. I would argue, however, that it signals hope. The Holy Spirit, speaking through John, is not likely interested in passing things like youth. Some of the Fathers of the Church see a greater truth at work in the love and mystical tradition that John symbolizes. He was the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” the disciple who knew and experienced that love of God. Love often sees what knowledge and authority can only appreciate and later affirm. Love gets there first.

There is a different verse in Scripture that I believe explains John’s strength (manifested in his speed):

But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint (Is 40:31).

Perhaps John runs faster because he begins to move from reaction to reflection and remembrance. When you run quickly it’s hard to talk, so you tend to recede alone into your thoughts. There is something about love that enlightens, that recalls what the beloved has said. Perhaps John begins to think, to reflect and consider these things:

  1. Didn’t Jesus say He’d rise three days later and isn’t this that day?
  2. Didn’t the Lord deliver Daniel?
  3. Didn’t He deliver Noah from the flood?
  4. Didn’t He deliver Joseph from the hands of his brothers and from the deep dungeon?
  5. Didn’t He deliver Moses and the people from Egypt?
  6. Didn’t He deliver David from Goliath and Saul?
  7. Didn’t He deliver Jonah from the whale?
  8. Didn’t He deliver Queen Esther and the people from wicked men?
  9. Didn’t He deliver Susanna from her false accusers?
  10. Didn’t He deliver Judith from Holofernes?
  11. Didn’t Jesus raise the dead?
  12. Didn’t God promise to deliver the just from all their trials?
  13. As for me, I know that my redeemer liveth!

Something started to happen inside John. I have it on the best of authority that he began to sing this song in his heart as he ran:

“I don’t feel no ways tired. Come too far from where I started from. Nobody told me that the road would be easy but I don’t believe he brought me this far to leave me.”

Yes, John is in recovery now. He has moved from reaction to reflection. He is starting to regain his faith.

The text says that John looked in and saw the burial cloths, but waited for Peter. Mystics and lovers may get there first, but the Church has a Magisterium that must be respected, too.

III. Reassessment mode – In life we must often reassess our initial reactions as further evidence comes in. Peter and John must take a fresh look at the evidence from their own perspective. The text says, When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths [lying] there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.

Mary Magdalene’s assessment was that grave robbers must have struck, but the evidence for that seems weak. Grave robbers typically sought the fine linens in which the dead were buried. Yet here are the linens while the body is gone. If they were going to take the body, why not also take the valuable grave linens? The Greek text describes the clothes as κείμενα (keimena)—lying stretched out in place, in order. It is almost as if the clothes simply “deflated” in place when the body they covered disappeared. Finally, the most expensive cloth of all, the σουδάριον (soudarion), lies folded (rolled up, in some translations) in a separate place. Grave robbers would not leave the most valuable things behind. And surely, even if for some strange reason they wanted the body rather than the linens, they would not have bothered to carefully unwrap and fold things, leaving them all stretched out in an orderly way. Robbers work quickly; they snatch things and leave disarray in their wake.

Life is like this: you can’t simply accept the first interpretation of things. Every reporter knows that “in the fog of war” the first reports are often wrong. We have to be careful not to jump to conclusions just because someone else is worried about something. Sometimes we need to take a fresh look at the evidence and interpret it as people of faith and hope, as men and women who know that although God may test us He will not forsake us.

John is now looking at the same evidence that Mary Magdalene did, but his faith and hope give him a different vision. His capacity to move beyond fearful reaction to faithful reflection is changing the picture.

We know little of the reaction of Peter or Mary Magdalene at this point; the focus is on John. And the focus is on you. What do you see in life? Do you see grave robbers, or are you willing to reconsider and move from knee-jerk fear to reflective faith?

Does your resurrection faith make you ready to reassess the bad news you receive and look for blessings, even in crosses?

IV. Resurrection Mode – Somewhat cryptically, the text now focuses on the reaction and mindset of St. John. Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed. For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.

On one level the text says that St. John saw and believed. Does this mean merely that he now believed Mary Magdalene’s story that the body was gone? As is almost always the case with John’s Gospel, there is both a plain meaning and a deeper one. The text says that he ἐπίστευσεν (episteusen); he “believed.” The verb here is in the aorist tense, a tense that generally portrays a situation as simple or undivided, that is, as having a perfective (completed) aspect. In other words, something has come to fruition in him.

Yet the text also seems to qualify, saying, they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead. It is as if to say that John came to believe that Jesus had risen but had not yet come to fully understand all the scriptural connections and how this had to be. He only knew in his heart by love and through this evidence that Jesus was risen. Deeper understanding would have to come later.

For our purposes, let us observe that St. John has gone from fear to faith. He has not yet seen Jesus alive, but he believes based on the evidence and on what his own heart and mind tell him.

At this moment John is like us. He has not seen but he believes. Neither have we seen, but we believe. John would see him alive soon enough and so will we!

We may not have an advanced degree in Scripture, but through love we too can know that He lives. Why and how? Because of the same evidence:

  1. The grave clothes of my old life are strewn before me.
  2. I am rising to new life.
  3. I am experiencing greater victory over sin.
  4. Old sins and my old Adam are being put to death.
  5. The life of the new Adam, Christ, is coming alive.
  6. I am being set free and have hope and confidence, new life and new gifts.
  7. I have increasing gratitude, courage, and a deep peace that tells me that everything is all right.
  8. The grave clothes of my old way of life lie stretched out before me and I now wear a new robe of righteousness.
  9. I am not what I want to be but I am not what I used to be.

So we, like John, see. We do not see the risen Lord—not yet anyway, but we see the evidence and we believe.

St. John leaves this scene as a believer. His faith may not be the fully perfected faith that it will become, but he does believe. John has gone from fear to faith, from reaction to reflection, from panic to peace.

Why Did Christ Die in Jerusalem? And, Why Outside the City Gate, Not in the Temple

We do well to ponder the whys and wherefores of the Passion of Our Lord. St. Thomas Aquinas presents the premise that God does nothing in an arbitrary way, but rather as Lord of History sets forth everything in fitting ways and at appropriate places and times. Every detail has something to teach us.

Let’s consider why Christ suffered in Jerusalem (but outside its walls) in a place called “the skull.” St. Thomas covered these matters in his Summa Theologiae, Part III, Question 46, Article 10. His words are in bold, black italics; my inferior comments are shown in plain red text.

Christ died most appropriately in Jerusalem. First of all, because Jerusalem was God’s chosen place for the offering of sacrifices to Himself: and these figurative sacrifices foreshadowed Christ’s Passion

For the Jewish people of that time, there was only one place to offer sacrifices to the Lord: Jerusalem. Although towns had synagogues, only Jerusalem had the Temple, and one had to go there to offer sacrifices to the Lord.

This rule had become quite firm. Indeed, even when Temple sacrifices were interrupted during the Babylonian captivity (the Temple was destroyed in in 587 B.C. and not rebuilt until about 70 years later), rather than relocate the place for sacrifice, the people lamented, We have in our day no prince, prophet, or leader, no burnt offering, sacrifice, oblation, or incense, no place to offer first fruits, to find favor with you (Daniel 3:38).

Therefore, because salvation is from the Jews (Jn 4:22), it was fitting that Christ, our Paschal Lamb and perfect, once-for-all sacrifice, was sacrificed in the only acceptable place.

Secondly, because the virtue of His Passion was to be spread over the whole world, He wished to suffer in the center of the habitable world–that is, in Jerusalem. Accordingly, it is written, “But God is our King before ages: He hath wrought salvation in the midst of the earth” (Psalm 73:12)—that is, in Jerusalem, which is called “the navel of the earth.”

A glimpse at a map shows that Jerusalem is arguably at the very intersection of three continents: Europe, Asia, and Africa. Psalm 48:2 reads, Mount Zion, true pole of the earth, the Great King’s city!

Thirdly, because it was specially in keeping with His humility: that, as He chose the most shameful manner of death, so likewise it was part of His humility that He did not refuse to suffer in so celebrated a place.

Not only was Christ’s humiliation very public, it occurred when Jerusalem was packed for the Passover feast!

Fourthly, He willed to suffer in Jerusalem, where the chief priests dwelt, to show that the wickedness of His slayers arose from the chiefs of the Jewish people.

Jerusalem had the reputation of being the place where prophets suffered the most and where most of them went to die. This is likely because it was there that faith and power intersected. Human beings seldom negotiate that intersection well and the scale is tipped more to power than to faith.

      1. Jesus said, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were unwilling. Look, your house is left to you desolate. And I tell you, you will not see Me again until you say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” (Luke 13:34-35).
      2. Jesus said, Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your ancestors who killed them. So you testify that you approve of what your ancestors did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs. Because of this, God in his wisdom said, “I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.” Therefore, this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all. (Luke 11:47-51).
      3. Stephen added, You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it (Acts 7:51-53).

These teachings, fitting though they are, give rise to these questions: If Jerusalem was the appropriate place, why was Jesus not sacrificed on the Temple mount, inside the city? Why was He instead sacrificed outside the city gates? St. Thomas answers this as follows:

For three reasons Christ suffered outside the gate, and not in the Temple nor in the city. First of all, that the truth might correspond with the figure. For the calf and the goat which were offered in most solemn sacrifice for expiation on behalf of the entire multitude were burnt outside the camp, as commanded in Leviticus 16:27.

Note the distinction between the sacrifice of an individual family (which was offered at the temple and burnt on the altar there) and the sacrifice offered on behalf of all the people on the Day of Atonement. Leviticus 16:27 says, The bull and the goat for the sin offerings, whose blood was brought into the Most Holy Place to make atonement, must be taken outside the camp; their hides, flesh and intestines are to be burned up. Therefore, it is fitting that Christ, who died for all, should be sacrificed outside the gate (“outside the camp,” as it were).

Secondly, to set us the example of shunning worldly conversation. Accordingly, the passage continues: “Let us go forth therefore to Him without the camp, bearing His reproach.”

Out worldly categories and notions cannot contain Christ. In His time there were at least three political and religious groups: the Sadducees, the Pharisees, and the Zealots. Jesus walked with none of them; neither did He simply parrot their views. There was only one thing the groups could agree on—Jesus had to go. Thus, fitting nowhere, Christ was crucified outside the camp.

Thirdly, as Chrysostom says in a sermon on the Passion (Hom. i De Cruce et Latrone): “The Lord was not willing to suffer under a roof, nor in the Jewish Temple…lest you might think He was offered for that people only. Consequently, it was beyond the city and outside the walls, that you may learn it was a universal sacrifice, an oblation for the whole world, a cleansing for all.”

He suffered once and for all. As Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well, A time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth (Jn 4:21-24).

St. Thomas presents two additional reasons that Jesus was crucified where He was, noting especially the name of the place: Golgotha. Although Aquinas described both reasons, he concluded that only one is correct.

According to Jerome, in his commentary on Matthew 27:33, someone explained “the place of Calvary” as being the place where Adam was buried; and that it was so called because the skull of the first man was buried there. A pleasing interpretation indeed, and one suited to catch the ear of the people, but, still, not the true one. … [For] Adam was buried close by Hebron and Arbe, as we read in the book of Jesus Ben Nave.

To this day, in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher there is a small opening or cave at the base of Golgotha that is venerated by some as the tomb of Adam. One can stop in there prior to climbing the stairs to Calvary. Legend has it that the Blood of Christ dripped though the opening and touched the bones of Adam, causing him to get up and dance a jig.

St. Thomas was not impressed with such legends or even with the teaching of St. Jerome; instead, he offered another interpretation.

For the spots where the condemned are beheaded are outside the city and beyond the gates, deriving thence the name of Calvary—that is, of the beheaded. Jesus, accordingly, was crucified there, that the standards of martyrdom might be uplifted over what was formerly the place of the condemned. … [So] Jesus was to be crucified in the common spot of the condemned rather than beside Adam’s sepulcher, to make it manifest that Christ’s cross was the remedy, not only for Adam’s personal sin, but also for the sin of the entire world.

Martyrs die for Christ, not as mere condemned criminals. And though Christ did die for all, not just for Adam, the primordial sin was Adam’s.

It is curious to me that St. Thomas, writing in a style somewhat out of keeping with his usually reserved way, so forcefully set aside St. Jerome’s interpretation. Perhaps we can learn something from both views! This is especially the case because the location of Adam’s burial remains a matter of dispute to this day, with many continuing to venerate the site beneath Calvary.

Seven Teachings on Hell From St. Thomas Aquinas

The teachings of the Lord on Hell are difficult, especially in today’s climate. The most difficult questions that arise relate to its eternal nature and how to square its existence with a God who is loving and rich in mercy.

1. Does God love the souls in Hell? Yes.

How could they continue to exist if He did not love them, sustain them, and continue to provide for them? God loves because He is love. Although we may fail to be able to experience or accept His love, God loves every being He has made, human or angelic.

The souls in Hell may have refused to empty their arms to receive His embrace, but God has not withdrawn His love for them. He permits those who have rejected Him to live apart from him. God honors their freedom to say no, even respecting it when it becomes permanent, as it has for fallen angels and the souls in Hell.

God is not tormenting the damned. The fire and other miseries are largely expressions of the sad condition of those who have rejected the one thing for which they were made: to be caught up into the love and perfection of God and the joy of all the saints.

2. Is there any good at all in Hell? Yes. Are all the damned punished equally? No.

While Heaven is perfection and pure goodness, Hell is not pure evil. The reason for this is that evil is the privation or absence of something good that should be there. If goodness were completely absent, there would be nothing there. Therefore, there must be some goodness in Hell or there would be nothing at all. St. Thomas Aquinas teaches,

It is impossible for evil to be pure and without the admixture of good …. [So]those who will be thrust into hell will not be free from all good … those who are in hell can receive the reward of their goods, in so far as their past goods avail for the mitigation of their punishment (Summa Theologica, Supplement 69.7, reply ad 9).

This can assist us in understanding that God’s punishments are just and that the damned are neither devoid of all good nor lacking in any experience of good. Even though a soul does not wish to dwell in God’s Kingdom (evidenced by rejection of God or the values of His Kingdom), the nature of suffering in Hell is commensurate with the sin(s) that caused exclusion from Heaven.

This would seem to be true even of demons. In the Rite of Exorcism, the exorcist warns the possessing demons, “The longer you delay your departure, the worse your punishment shall be.” This suggest levels of punishment in Hell based on the degree of unrepented wickedness.

In his Inferno, Dante described levels within Hell and wrote that not all the damned experience identical sufferings. Thus, an unrepentant adulterer might not experience the same suffering in kind or degree as would a genocidal, atheistic head of state responsible for the death of millions. Both have rejected key values of the Kingdom: one rejected chastity, the other rejected the worship due to God and the sacredness of human life. The magnitude of those sins is very different and so would be the consequences.

Heaven is a place of absolute perfection, a work accomplished by God for those who say yes. Hell, though a place of great evil, is not one of absolute evil. It cannot be, because God continues to sustain human and angelic beings in existence there and existence itself is good. God also judges them according to their deeds (Rom 2:6). Their good deeds may ameliorate their sufferings. This, too, is good and allows for good in varying degrees there. Hell is not in any way pleasant, but it is not equally bad for all. Thus God’s justice, which is good, reaches even Hell.

3. Do the souls in Hell repent of what they have done? No, not directly.

After death, repentance in the formal sense is not possible. However, St. Thomas makes an important distinction. He says,

A person may repent of sin in two ways: in one way directly, in another way indirectly. He repents of a sin directly who hates sin as such: and he repents indirectly who hates it on account of something connected with it, for instance punishment or something of that kind. Accordingly, the wicked will not repent of their sins directly, because consent in the malice of sin will remain in them; but they will repent indirectly, inasmuch as they will suffer from the punishment inflicted on them for sin (Summa Theologica, Supplement, q 98, art 2).

This explains the “wailing and grinding of teeth” in so far as it points to the lament of the damned. They do not lament their choice to sin without repenting, but for the consequences. In the Parable of Lazarus, the rich man in Hell laments his suffering but expresses no regret over the way he treated the beggar Lazarus. Indeed, he still sees Lazarus as a kind of errand-boy, who should fetch him water and warn his brothers. In a certain sense the rich man cannot repent; his character is now quickened and his choices forever fixed.

4. Is eternal punishment just? Yes.

Many who might otherwise accept God’s punishment of sinners are still dismayed that Hell is eternal. Why should one be punished eternally for sins committed over a brief time span, perhaps in just a moment? The punishment does not seem to fit the crime.

This logic presumes that the eternal nature of Hell is intrinsic to the punishment, but it is not. Rather, Hell is eternal because repentance is no longer available after death. Our decision for or against God and the values of His Kingdom values becomes forever fixed. Because at this point the will is fixed and obstinate, the repentance that unlocks mercy will never be forthcoming.

St. Thomas teaches,

[A]s Damascene says (De Fide Orth. ii) “death is to men what their fall was to the angels.” Now after their fall the angels could not be restored [Cf. I:64:2]. Therefore, neither can man after death: and thus the punishment of the damned will have no end. … [So] just as the demons are obstinate in wickedness and therefore have to be punished for ever, so too are the souls of men who die without charity, since “death is to men what their fall was to the angels,” as Damascene says (Summa Theologica, Supplement, q 99, art 3).

5. Do the souls in Hell hate God? No, not directly.

St. Thomas teaches,

The appetite is moved by good or evil apprehended. Now God is apprehended in two ways, namely in Himself, as by the blessed, who see Him in His essence; and in His effects, as by us and by the damned. Since, then, He is goodness by His essence, He cannot in Himself be displeasing to any will; wherefore whoever sees Him in His essence cannot hate Him.

On the other hand, some of His effects are displeasing to the will in so far as they are opposed to any one: and accordingly a person may hate God not in Himself, but by reason of His effects. Therefore, the damned, perceiving God in His punishment, which is the effect of His justice, hate Him, even as they hate the punishment inflicted on them (Summa Theologica, Supplement, q 98, art 5).

6. Do the souls in hell wish they were dead? No.

It is impossible to detest what is fundamentally good, and to exist is fundamentally good. Those who say that they “wish they were dead” do not really wish nonexistence upon themselves. Rather, they wish an end to their suffering. So it is with the souls in Hell. St. Thomas teaches,

Not to be may be considered in two ways. First, in itself, and thus it can nowise be desirable, since it has no aspect of good, but is pure privation of good. Secondly, it may be considered as a relief from a painful life or from some unhappiness: and thus “not to be” takes on the aspect of good, since “to lack an evil is a kind of good” as the Philosopher says (Ethic. v, 1). In this way it is better for the damned not to be than to be unhappy. Hence it is said (Matthew 26:24): “It were better for him, if that man had not been born,” and (Jeremiah 20:14): “Cursed be the day wherein I was born,” where a gloss of Jerome observes: “It is better not to be than to be evilly.” In this sense the damned can prefer “not to be” according to their deliberate reason (Summa Theologica, Supplement, q 98, art 3).

7. Do the souls in Hell see the blessed in Heaven?

Some biblical texts say that the damned see the saints in glory. For example, the rich man in the parable can see Lazarus in the Bosom of Abraham (Lk 16:3). Further, Jesus says, There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves are thrown out (Lk 13:28). However, St Thomas makes a distinction:

The damned, before the judgment day, will see the blessed in glory, in such a way as to know, not what that glory is like, but only that they are in a state of glory that surpasses all thought. This will trouble them, both because they will, through envy, grieve for their happiness, and because they have forfeited that glory. Hence it is written (Wisdom 5:2) concerning the wicked: “Seeing it” they “shall be troubled with terrible fear.”

After the judgment day, however, they will be altogether deprived of seeing the blessed: nor will this lessen their punishment, but will increase it; because they will bear in remembrance the glory of the blessed which they saw at or before the judgment: and this will torment them. Moreover, they will be tormented by finding themselves deemed unworthy even to see the glory which the saints merit to have (Summa Theologica, Supplement, q 98, art 9).

St Thomas does not cite a Scripture for this conclusion. However, certain texts about the Last Judgment emphasize a kind of definitive separation. For example, in Matthew 25 we read this: All the nations will be gathered before [the Son of Man], and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. … Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life (Mat 25:32, 46).

Clearly, Hell is a tragic and eternal separation from God. Repentance, which unlocks mercy, is available to us; but after death, like clay pottery placed in the kiln, our decision is forever fixed.

Choose the Lord today! Judgment day looms. Now is the time to admit our sins humbly and to seek the Lord’s mercy. There is simply nothing more foolish than defiance and an obstinate refusal to repent. At some point, our hardened hearts will reach a state in which there is no turning back. To die in such a condition is to close the door of our heart on God forever.

Somebody’s knocking at your door.
Oh sinner, why don’t you answer?
Somebody’s knocking at your door!

How Mortal Sin Cuts Off Charity by Us Turning From God

In response to some in the current scene who are dismissing mortal sin as a clear or present danger to the human person, yesterday’s article sought to address the conditions for mortal sin. Grave matter, due discretion, and deliberate consent are not as hard to come by as some allege.

In today’s brief post,  there is addressed the rather brusque dismissal of the notion that anyone ever chooses to turn away from God. Tomorrow’s post will, with proper caveats seek to list some of the more some of the more common mortal sins committed.

As just noted then, Many people today scoff at the idea that mortal sin is a turning away from God. They doubt that most people directly intend to turn away from God, as if to say, “I hate God and so I am going to turn away from Him by sinning.” But of course, this both caricatures and absolutizes the turning away from God. Almost no one explicitly sets out to sever their relationship with God as the principle motive of their sinning, and this is not what is meant by the Church teaching that serious sin separates us from God. 

That Catechism gives a more realistic description and common occurance of what occurs in mortal sin, teaching that our preference for an inferior good to God by a serious violation of His law is what turns us away from him.

[M]ortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God’s law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him. In mortal sin the will sets itself upon something that is of its nature incompatible with the charity that orients man toward his ultimate end. As such, the sin is mortal by its very object whether it contradicts the love of God, such as blasphemy or perjury, or the love of neighbor, such as homicide or adultery (Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1855-1856).

So, once again, we are taught that in mortal sin we set our will upon something we know to be incompatible with our ultimate end. And, even though our first thought may not be that we are rejecting God, we set our will on something incompatible with God. In so doing, we are preferring something or someone to God.

This poisons our heart if we do not repent because we feed a desire in our heart for what is not God and we starve our heart from Him and what He offers. If unrepentant, soon enough we prefer the darkness to the light. We prefer the trinkets of this world to God and come to regard Him as a thief who comes to take what we want and keeps us from doing what we want to do. God becomes our enemy.

If we die in this state, the warmth of God and Heaven seem overwhelming, wrathful, and like a consuming fire. We cannot endure and so we turn away finally and permanently to a place that we strangely prefer, but which is hellacious because it is not that for which we were made. It lacks the one thing necessary: God.

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the Light and does not come into the Light (John 3:19-20).

So, in mortal sin it is not that we directly turn from God — at least not at first — but that we turn to the lesser things, preferring the darkness, and come to hate Him who is the Light.

Without repentance and regular confession we soon settle down with sin and prefer it to God and what he teaches. Gradually we can even come to see God and his teaching as obnoxious, “intolerant” and hateful. Or, alternately we imagine our own version of a god who is not the God of Scripture, who approves of our turning away to lesser things.  Of course this is idolatry as we place other gods before the Lord God. In either case we turn from God by persisting in our desire for lesser things and letting it grow. We seen then how  mortal sin and its effects do turn us from God.

Don’t do it.



Ash Wednesday Breaks All the Rules of Modern Churchthink

The Word for Lent is Repent. Metanoiate, the Greek Word for repent, means more literally, “come to a new way of thinking.” Here then is a second installment in my proposed Lenten series challenging us to think differently and see things in a new or differently ways from the common zeitgeist.

Modern Evangelization methods and parish “mission and vision statements” seem almost exclusively focused on staying “positive.”  Keywords include: welcoming, inclusion, and diversity.  Yes indeed, come to our lovely parishes, we are a welcoming, embracing and joyful faith family! or so the sayings go. Still-shrinking numbers suggest most people aren’t buying it and don’t find the vision compelling.

And then comes Ash Wednesday, a wildly popular day that isn’t even a Holy Day of Obligation, and it breaks every rule of the typically modern parish plan. Numbers aren’t just slightly higher on Ash Wednesday, they are remarkably higher.

And what is our message (if we are faithful to it)? Simply this: “Repent, you are going to die.” And while you’re at it, fast, pray and give alms.  We further alarm the congregants with messages from the Prophet Joel and St. Paul that give  urgent admonition that we should weep and fast on account of our sins, that we must be reconciled to God. And then we smudge soot on their foreheads.

It’s pretty humbling isn’t it? The usual Catholic fare in too many parishes looks and sounds nothing like this. Sin is soft pedaled, calls to repentance and conversion are shunned as non-welcoming and even hateful, and any talk of death, judgement or the possibility of Hell is just unthinkable. Maybe Ash Wednesday teaches us that we have things to learn!

There is very little “gravitas” evident in many modern parish settings. Hence, there is often little respect given to what we do. Frankly the problem isn’t what we do, it is what we fail to do. Cheerfulness has its place but, if you don’t know the bad news, the good news is no news. And hence, we fail to explain the very reason for our existence. We’re running a spiritual hospital but through our widespread silence about sin we imply there is no real illness or dangerous injuries to avoid. So who needs our hospital?  Our widespread modern cheerfulness is  not a compelling message because deep down most people know they’re in rough shape but the appointed doctors are more interested in attracting patients than healing them.

But then comes Ash Wednesday when, for at least a minute, the doctor (pastor) is willing to say, “You’ve got to be more serious and get with the program since your death will not tarry.” And this commands the respect that so much of our other messages fail to summon. It is not the cheerful, welcoming, inclusive and diverse message we are told will fill the pews, but we do well to heed the lesson motivation is more complicated than just seeming appealing. Commanding respect through a serious and necessary message is more important than many realize. Jesus was no clown attracting people to some circus entertainment. He knew how to look crowds in the eye, urgently summon them to repent and be serious about the difficult task of being true disciples. Death and judgment awaited them and there were but two outcomes: Heaven or Hell. Something of Ash Wednesday touches this serious side of Jesus that we have too easily cast aside.

Visions in Lent: Family Life As a Seen in a Rock Tumbler.

Most Lenten reflections center on fasting or abstinence along with prayer and almsgiving. However, the word “repent” in our English bibles translates the Greek word “Metanoiate” which most literally summons us “to change (meta) the way we think (noiate).” With this in mind, I would like to post some articles this Lent that help us to think of and see things differently, and in a more helpful way.

Family life is so central to our experience and moral life that I begin by offering a humble picture of it that emphasizes its somewhat tumultuous quality. As we well know, family life can be wonderful, but it can also be challenging and even terrible at times.  We can choose our friends, but seldom can we choose our family. Family is assigned by God and thus, we do well to understand that what we want is not always the same as what we need.

Family members have a way way of keeping us humble. Siblings, especially, are ever present to remind us that we are not all we are “not all that” and that life isn’t just about us. Sadly today, many people have few, if any, siblings and this factor tends to produce a lot more narcissism and idiosyncrasy. But oh, for a few siblings to keep you humble! Parents too can humble us and also encourage us, they can edify us and also cause deep pain. Add to the mix cousins and in-laws of every sort and the mix becomes quite a show. Our families can have all the glory, and all the gorey. Among us there are saints and there are aint’s; there are the mighty oaks of legendary renown and more than a few nuts falling from the same family tree.  Ah family, can’t live with it, can’t live without it.

This Lent we do well to ponder however that even the difficult and trying aspects of family life have a way of helping us. Somehow it all reminds me of a rock tumbler.

Indeed, when I was a kid there was a school geology kit that included a “rock-tumbler” which was meant to teach us how stones can go from being jagged and drab to being smooth, polished and even colorful.  It was a round drum that looked a bit link a cement mixer. Throw in some rocks and various sorts of sand and run it for a few weeks and, shazam, the rocks came out looking beautiful, almost like gems or marble.

And this is all a paradigm or image for family life. We are the rocks and the tumbler represents life with all its twists and turns. The sand is the tuff grit that comes from living in a world that has its fair weather but overall, is a kind of sandstorm of trials and tumult, tensions and disagreements. And so the world turns and we, especially in our families, bump up against each other and face the often-abrasive sands of life. But through it all, our rough edges are chipped away, the sands cause a polish to emerge on each of us. The process is harsh and gorey, but at the end, someone beautiful emerges: the very man or woman God has created us to be. We begin as diamonds in the rough or coarse stones and come forth as beautiful jewels, polished and lightesome.

Hence, even the less desirable aspects of life can ultimately be a blessing for us. Scripture says that “All things work together for good to those who trust the Lord and are called according to His purposes.” (Rom 8:28) So, in marriages, families and parishes, the rough and tumble of human interactions is often permitted by God to smooth us, polish us and beautify us.

This is not to sanctify every problem in family life. There is some abuse that is simply evil and should in no way be considered part of the rough and tumble that helps perfect us.

But in Lent, we do well to see beyond the annoyances of life and the tensions of family, to the greater purposes of God who permits such things for our good. A little less resentment and a lot more acceptance is a good lenten theme.

Metanoiate! Think differently this Lent about the ups and downs of Family life. Thank God even for those gifts in strange packages.


The Cycle of Hatred and Revenge Ends With Me – A Homily for the 7th Sunday of the Year

In today’s Gospel the Lord is teaching us, by His grace, to break the cycle of hatred and retribution. When someone harms me I may well become angry, and in my anger seek to get back at the offender. If I do that, though, then Satan has earned a second victory and brought the anger and retribution to a higher level. Most likely, the one who originally harmed me will then take exception to my retribution and try to inflict more harm on me. And so the cycle continues and escalates. Satan loves this.

Break the cycle. The Lord has dispatched us onto the field to turn the game around and break this cycle of retribution and hatred. The “play” He wants us to execute is the “it ends with me” play.

Don’t play on Satan’s team. To hate those who hate me, to get back at those who harm me, is to work for Satan, to play on his team. Why do that?

To advance the ball for Jesus is to break the cycle of retribution and hatred by taking the hit and not returning it. By loving our enemy, we break the cycle of hate. By refusing retribution, we rob Satan of a double victory.

Recall the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. … The chain reaction of evil—hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars—must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation (From Strength to Love, 1963).

Christ, living in us, wants to break the cycle.

The Necessity of Grace – Recall as well a point made in last Sunday’s reflection: that the antitheses contained in chapter 5 of the Gospel of Matthew are pictures of the transformed human person. Jesus is describing here what happens to a person in whom He has begun to live through the Holy Spirit. The verses are a description more so than a prescription. Jesus is not merely telling us to stop being so thin-skinned, easily offended, and retaliatory. He’s not just telling us to stop hating people. If that were the case, it would be easy for us to get discouraged or to write them off as some impossible ideal. No, the Lord is doing something far greater than just giving us a set of rules. He is describing what will happen to us more and more as His grace transforms us.

With this in mind, let’s look at the particulars in three sections.

I. Regarding Retaliation – The first of the antitheses reads as follows:

You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.

Behind this text is the gift from the Lord of a generous heart. Psalm 118 says, In the ways of your precepts I run O Lord for you have enlarged my heart. It takes a large heart not to retaliate, to go the extra mile, to give alms. The transformed mind and heart that Jesus gives us is like this. It is a big heart, able to endure personal slights and attacks, refuse retaliation, and let go of personal possessions in pursuit of a higher goal.

That said, there are surely many questions that arise out of these sayings of Jesus’. Most of them, however, come from seeing Jesus’ words as a legalistic prescription rather than as a descriptive example. Nevertheless, they are important questions.

  • What does it mean to offer no resistance to injury?
  • Does it mean that there is no place for a criminal justice system?
  • Should police forces be banned?
  • It there no place for national defense or armed forces?
  • Should all punishment be banned?
  • Should bad behavior never be rebuked?
  • Am I required to relinquish anything anyone asks me for?
  • Must I always give money to beggars?
  • Is it always wise to give someone whatever he asks for?
  • Should I agree to accept every task that is asked of me?

To answer some of these questions, we do well to recall that the Lord is speaking to us as individuals. The state, which has an obligation to protect the innocent from enemies within and without, may be required to use force to repel threats. Further, it has an obligation to secure basic justice and may therefore be required to impose punishment on those who commit crimes. This has been the most common Catholic understanding of this passage. The New Testament seems to accept that the state does have punitive powers, to be used for the common good.

But don’t miss Jesus’ main point, which is directed to us as individuals. He testifies that, to the degree that we are transformed, we will not seek to retaliate or avenge personal injuries. Rather, due to our relationship with God the Father, we will be content to leave such matters to God. As Scripture testifies, Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Rom 12:19). Further and even more important, to the degree that Jesus lives in us, we will be less easily offended. This is because our sense of our dignity is rooted in Him, not in what some mere mortal thinks, says, or does.

Jesus goes on to give four examples of what He means by us becoming less vengeful and retaliatory.

  1. When someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. In ancient times, striking someone in this manner was a sign of disrespect, just as it would be today. There is an intended humiliation when someone strikes another on the cheek. By turning the other cheek, one would then be struck with the back side of the striker’s hand. This was an even greater indignity in the ancient world! But as a Christian in whom Christ is really living, who can really dishonor me? God is the source of my dignity; no one can take it from me. By this grace, I can let any slight pass, because I have not been stripped of my dignity. The world did not give me my dignity and the world cannot take it away. From this perspective, Jesus is not offering us merely the grace to endure indignity, but the grace not to suffer or experience indignity at all.
  2. If anyone wants to go to the law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. In ancient times, it was forbidden to take someone’s tunic in pledge for a loan. Thus Jesus would seem to be using this example as a symbol of our rights. There are some people who are forever demanding and clinging to their rights. They clutch their privileges and will not let them go even if the common good would require it. They will go to the law rather than suffer any infringement upon their rights. The true Christian thinks more in terms of duties than rights, more of responsibilities than privileges. All this
    “personal honor” stuff is unimportant when Christ lives in us. To be sure, there are some rights necessary for the completion of our duties or for meeting our basic needs. It is unlikely that Jesus has in mind to forbid this. But as a general rule, Jesus is indicating that we can be freed of obsession over our “rights,” “dignity,” and also our personal possessions. Increasingly, we can be freed of the anger that can arise when someone might even think of touching anything that is “ours.” The more we are detached from earthly possessions, the less we get anxious or angry when these things are somehow threatened or used without our permission, or when our precious “rights” are trampled upon.
  3. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. It was legal for a Roman solider to press a person into service for one mile to carry things. Some might be bent out of shape over such indignities. Jesus offers us a generous heart that will go the extra mile. Jesus came as the servant of all; He came to serve rather than to be served. To the degree that He lives in us, we will willingly serve and not feel slighted when someone asks us to do something. Neither will we cop the “Why me?” attitude that commonly afflicts the ungenerous soul. The key gift here is a generous heart, even in situations in which others do not assign work to us fairly or appreciate our efforts sufficiently. This is of little concern for us, because we work for God.
  4. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow. Many questions arise related to indiscriminate giving. In some cases, it may not be wise thing to give money simply because someone asks. But don’t miss the main point here: when Jesus lives in us, we will be more generous. We will give cheerfully and assist others gladly. We will not get bent out of shape when someone asks us for help. We may not always be able to help, but our generous heart will not begrudge the beggar; we will remain cheerful and treat him or her with respect.

Here, then, is a description of a transformation of the mind and heart. We will view things differently. We will not be so easily bent out of shape, retaliatory, or vengeful. We will be more patient, more generous, less grasping, and more giving. This is what happens when we live in a transformative relationship with Jesus.

II. Radical Requirement – Love your enemy.

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same?

This is the acid test, the hallmark of a true Christian: love of one’s enemy. Note that the Lord links this to being a true child of God. Why? Because God loves everyone and gives gifts of sun and rain to all. If we are a “chip off the old block,” we will do the same. It’s easy to love those who love us, but a Christian is called to fulfill the Law and exceed it.

If Christ lives in us, then we will love even our enemy. Recall that Jesus loved us even when we hated Him and killed Him. Jesus said, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34). Elsewhere in Scripture is written, While we were his enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son (Rom 5:10).

We should be careful not to make love an abstraction. The Lord is talking about a real transformation of our hearts. Sometimes we say silly things like this: You don’t have to like everyone but you have to love them. This turns love into something of an abstraction. God doesn’t just love me; he even likes me. The Lord is talking about a deep love that wills good things for our enemy and even works toward them.

We are called to have compassion, understanding, and even affection for those who hate us and will us evil. We may wonder how this can happen in us. How can we have affection for those who hate us? It can be so when Christ lives His life in us. We will good and do good to them who hate us, just as Jesus did.

It is also important not to sentimentalize this love. Jesus loved His enemies but did not coddle them. He spoke the truth to the Scribes and Pharisees of His day, often forcefully and uncompromisingly. We are called to a strong love, one which wants the truth for everyone, but we must give this testimony with understanding and true (not fake or false) compassion.

III. Remarkable Recapitulation – Finally, the Lord says,

So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Here is the fundamental summary, the recapitulation: God-like perfection! Nothing less will do. How could there be anything less when Christ lives His life in us? To the degree that He lives in us and the old Adam dies, we become perfect. This is the state of the saints in Heaven: they have been made perfect. Christ’s work in them is complete. The Greek word used here is τέλειός (teleios) which means complete or perfect. Thus, the emphasis is on the completion of a work in us more so than mere excellence in performance. Paul writes to the Philippians, And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Phil 1:6).

This sentence also serves as an open-ended conclusion to the antitheses today’s Gospel. It’s almost as if Jesus says, “I’ve only given you a few examples here. The point is to be perfect, complete in every way, totally transformed in your mind, heart, and behavior.”

And thus we return to the original theme: it ends with me. In these final two antitheses the Lord wants to break the cycle of anger, retribution, and violence. He wants the downward spiral of hatred and vengeance to end with me. When, on account of His grace, I do not retaliate, I break the cycle. When I do not escalate the bitterness or return the spite, when I refuse to allow hate to take possession of me, the cycle ends with me. Only God can do this for me.

But He does do it. I promise you in the Lord Jesus Christ that He can deliver us from anger, wrath, vengefulness, and pettiness. I can promise you because He is doing it in me. I do not boast; I am only telling you what the Lord has done. For the most part, I have been delivered from my anger, something that was once a major struggle for me. It is not any longer. I did not deliver myself—Jesus did. The promise of the Lord here is true. Only God can do it. He has said it and He will do it—if we let Him.

This song says, “I Look to you. After all my strength is gone, in you I can be strong. I look to you!”

Improving the Prayer of the Faithful

They have been called by many names: the prayer of the faithful, the general intercessions, and now most commonly the universal prayers.

But they are not the prayers of the faithful since they are usually written by an individual. They are really general intercessions, since they are often rather specific, and they are not universal in the sense that they are, by necessity, particular. It would be impossible to cover the full or universal range of human needs.  So even the nomenclature of this part of the Mass is difficult to pin down. This, in turn reflects a merely vague  understanding of the purpose of these prayers.

Further, there is an often disappointing quality to the intentions as they are used today. Some years ago, Peter Kwasniewski, in an article at New Liturgical (here), summarized the problem very well.

It is surely no exaggeration to say that throughout the world the quality of these intercessions has tended to be deplorable, ranging from trite and saccharine sentiments to political propaganda, from progressivist daydreams to downright heretical propositions to which no one could assent without offending God. Even when the content is doctrinally unobjectionable, all too often the literary style is dull, flaccid, rambling, or vague. … [There is] problematic content, poor writing, and [a] monotonous manner of delivery.

Additional problems occur when there are people of many different nationalities present and it is felt necessary to have the petitions read in multiple languages. The impression is given that the intentions are directed more to the congregation than to God, who knows all languages and thoughts. I have been at Mass in the Basilica here in Washington, D.C. when as many as nine different languages were used in the Prayer of the Faithful, despite the fact that the vast majority of those present spoke English and/or Spanish. I seriously doubt that there were more than five people in attendance who could speak only German, Mandarin, or one of the other languages used. It quickly gets very tedious as a line of people traipse back and forth to the microphone. Is God the focus of these prayers or are we, in a self-referential concern just checking the diversity box?

It is all so different in the Eastern Liturgies, in which the Great Litany is so artfully woven into the liturgical experience and beautifully sung as well. I have memorized the Great Litany from the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (see video below).

History – These intentions were very common in the early Church, occurring at about the same point in the Mass as today. They followed the Homily (note that in earlier days the Creed was typically not said). All of the Fathers of the Church make mention of them. In the beginning, this prayer was recited antiphonally by the priest and the assembly. Over time, the deacon assumed a more prominent role; he announced all the intentions and then the faithful responded with Kyrie eleison or some other acclamation. You can read the Kyrie Litany of Pope Gelasius here: Litany of Gelasius

These intercessions endured until about the 9th century, well past the close of the patristic period. Their disappearance seems to coincide with their evolution into a Kyrie litany and their transfer to the beginning of the Mass. They eventually came to be regarded as an unnecessary appendage and were phased out. In the West they were used only on Good Friday, though they endured longer in certain particular areas. In the East they were never dropped. Today they have been restored to their original place in the Mass, but as noted, are difficult to craft in such as way that they feel integrated more than interruptive, as something to get through, rather than as something that flows from our liturgical experience

In his article (here), Mr. Kwasniewski offers a variety of intercessions, and download links are provided. I have done so for my own use and you might wish to do the same.

I would also like to add that St. Peter Canisius composed intercessions for use in his time. Saints are certainly reputable sources of such things! Here is an article by Mark Woodruff  that details those prayers.

The point is that much can be done to improve the quality of the Prayer of the Faithful, which has remained an amateur outing at best and an ideological hornet’s nest at worst.

Perhaps some benefit can be obtained from reviewing the norms and the history of this portion of the Mass.

The General Instruction in the Roman Missal (GIRM) has this to say about the Prayer of the Faithful:

In the Prayer of the Faithful, the people respond in a certain way to the word of God which they have welcomed in faith and, exercising the office of their baptismal priesthood, offer prayers to God for the salvation of all. It is fitting that such a prayer be included, as a rule, in Masses celebrated with a congregation, so that petitions will be offered for the holy Church, for civil authorities, for those weighed down by various needs, for all men and women, and for the salvation of the whole world. As a rule, the series of intentions is to be

      1. For the needs of the Church;
        2. For public authorities and the salvation of the whole world;
        3. For those burdened by any kind of difficulty;
        4. For the local community.

Nevertheless, in a particular celebration, such as Confirmation, Marriage, or a Funeral, the series of intentions may reflect more closely the particular occasion.

It is for the priest celebrant to direct this prayer from the chair. He himself begins it with a brief introduction, by which he invites the faithful to pray, and likewise he concludes it with a prayer. The intentions announced should be sober, be composed freely but prudently, and be succinct, and they should express the prayer of the entire community (GIRM 69-71).

In the end, I think these intentions deserve better than we have given them. I realize that enthusiasts of the Traditional Latin Mass (of which I am one) may say, “Just get rid of them entirely,” but that is not realistic. They are here to stay, at least in our lifetime. Maybe we can try to do better by making use of multiple sources: ancient, Eastern, and modern yet elegant. I

Here is the Great Litany from the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom: