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!

Faith Has to Become Flesh

At Christmas we celebrate the fact of the Word Becoming Flesh. God’s love for us is not just some theory or idea. It is a flesh and blood reality that can actually be seen, heard and touched. But the challenge of the Christmas season is for us to allow the same thing to happen to our faith. The Word of God and our faith cannot simply remain on the pages of  a book or the recesses of our intellect. They have to become flesh in our life. Our faith has to leap off the pages of the Bible and Catechism and become flesh in the very way we live our lives, the decisions we make, the very way we use our body, mind, intellect and will.

Consider a passage from the liturgy of the Christmas Octave from the First Letter of John. I would like to produce an excerpt and then make a few comments.

The way we may be sure that we know Jesus is to keep his commandments. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him. This is the way we may know that we are in union with him: whoever claims to abide in him ought to walk just as he walked.  (1 John 2:3ff)

  1. Faith is incarnational – Note first of all what a practical man John is. Faith is not an abstraction, it is not about theories and words on a page. It is not about slogans. It is about a transformed life, it is about the actual love of God and his Commandments. It is about the actual love of of my neighbor. True faith is incarnational, it takes on flesh in my very “body-person.” Remember, we human beings are not pure spirit, we are not intellect and will only, we are also flesh and blood. And what we are cannot remain merely immaterial. What we most are must be reflected in our bodies, what we actually, physically do as well. Too many people often repeat the phrase, “I’ll be with you in spirit.” Perhaps an occasional absence is understandable but after a while the phrase rings hollow. Actually showing up and actually doing what we say is an essential demonstration of our sincerity. We are body persons and our faith must have a physical, flesh and blood dimension. Our faith is to be reflected in our actual behavior and the physical conduct of our life.
  2. A sure sign – John says that The way we may be sure that we know Jesus is to keep his commandments. Now be careful of the logic here. The keeping of the commandments is not the cause of faith, it is the fruit of it. It is not the cause of love, it is the fruit of it. Note this too, in the Scriptures, to “know” is always more than a mere intellectual knowing. To “know” in the Scriptures means, “deep intimate personal experience of the thing or person known.” It is one thing to know about God, it is another thing to “know the Lord.” So, what John is saying here is that to be sure we authentically have deep intimate personal experience of God is to observe the fact that this changes the way we live. An authentic faith, an authentic knowing of the Lord will change our actual behavior in such a way that we keep the commandments as a fruit of that authentic faith and relationship with the Lord. It means that our faith becomes flesh in us. It changes the way we live and move and have our being. For a human being who is a body-person faith cannot be an abstraction, it has to become flesh and blood if it is authentic. John also uses the image of walking: This is the way we may know that we are in union with him: whoever claims to abide in him ought to walk just as he walked.  Now walking is a very physical thing. It is also a very symbolic thing. The very place we take our body is both physical and indicative of what we value, what we think.
  3. Liar? – John goes on to say Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not keep his commandments is a liar. John uses strong language here. Either we believe and keep the commandments or we fail to keep the commandments and thus lie about knowing the Lord. But all of us struggle to keep the commandments fully!  John seems so “all or nothing.” But his math is clear. To know the Lord fully, is never to sin (cf 1 John 3:9). To know him imperfectly is still to experience sin. Hence, the more we know him (remember the definition of know from above!) the less we sin. If we still sin it is a sign that we do not know him enough. It is not really John who speaks too absolutely. It is really we who do so. We say, “I have faith, I am a believer, I love the Lord, I know the the Lord!”  We speak so absolutely. Perhaps we could better say, I am growing in faith, I am striving to be a better believer, I’m learning to love and know the Lord better and better. Otherwise we risk lying. Faith is something we grow in. Many Protestants have a bad habit of reducing faith to an event such as answering an altar call, or accepting the Lord  as “personal Lord and savior.” But we Catholics do it too. Many think all they have to do is be baptized but they never attend Mass faithfully later. Others claim to be “loyal” even “devout” Catholics  but they dissent from important Church teachings. Faith is about more than membership. It is about the way we walk, the decisions we actually make. Without this harmony between faith and our actual walk we live a lie. We lie to ourselves and to others. Bottom line: Come to know the Lord more an more perfectly and, if this knowing is real knowing,  we will grow in holiness, keep the commandments be of the mind of Christ. We will walk just as Jesus walked.
  4. Uh Oh! Is this salvation by works? Of course not. The keeping of the commandments is not the cause of saving and real faith it is the result of it. The keeping of the commandments is the necessary evidence of saving faith but it does not cause us to be saved, it only indicates that the Lord is saving us from sin and its effects. But here too certain Protestants have a nasty habit of dividing faith and works. The cry went up in the 16th Century by the Protestants that we are saved by faith “alone.”  Careful. Faith is never alone. It always brings effects with it. Our big brains can get in the way here and we think that just because we can distinguish or divide something in our mind we can divide it in reality. This is arrogant and silly. Consider for a moment a candle flame. Now the flame has two qualities: heat and light. In our mind we can separate the two but not in reality. I could never take a knife and divide the heat of the flame and the light. They are so together as to be one reality. Yes, heat and light in a candle flame are separate theoretically but they are always together in reality. This is how it is with faith and works. We are not saved by works but as John here teaches to know the Lord is always accompanied by the evidence of keeping the commandments and walking as Jesus did.

Faith is real. It is incarnational. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, really and physically. So too our own faith must become flesh in us, really, physically in our actual behavior in our very body-person.

I put this video together with a lesser known carol (possibly by Praetorius). The translation is as follows:

  • Verbum Caro Factum Est (The Word was made flesh)
  • Habitavit in Nobis (And dwelt among us)
  • Alleluia
  • Notum fecti Dominus (The Lord has made known)
  • Salutare suum (His Salvation)
  • Alleluia
  • Prope invocavit me: (Near is he who calls me: )
  • Frater meus est tu!”” (“You are my brother!”)
  • Alleluia

The Threefold Sign of Christmas

  • And  this will be a sign for you.
  • You will find an infant,
  • wrapped in swaddling clothes,
  • and lying in a manger.
  1. An infant – here we have show for us the humility of our God. The infinite, becomes an infant. The voice that summoned the universe into existence is now heard as the crying of an infant. The hand from which galaxies tumbled into existence now grips the finger of his mother. He who holds all creation together in himself, is now held by his mother. He who looks down on all creation now looks up from a manger. Alpha et O, matris in gremio (Alpha et Omega is sitting in Mommy’s lap).  The humility of our God, who humbles himself so that we will not fear to approach. This is the first sign.
  2. Wrapped in swaddling clothes – Women in the ancient world “swaddled” their newborn children. That is to say they wrapped them in linens that were rather tight and constricted the the movement of their arms and legs. It was thought that the newborn infant might injure himself by jerky motions of the limbs so newly freed from the tight confines of the womb. The wrappings kept such motions to a minimum for the first days after birth. The sign here of the infant Jesus being wrapped in linens in a foreshadowing of the wrapping (same verb) of his body after it was taken down from the cross. The binding of the limbs too reminds us of his limbs being nailed to a cross some thirty years later.
  3. Lying in a manger – A manger is a feeding trough for animals. Jesus would later speak of himself as our food in John 6. He who was born in Bethlehem (a name which means  House of bread) and laid in a feeding trough would one declare himself to be the Bread of Life and that his flesh was real food and his blood real drink (John 6).

Alright Christian, have you beheld the threefold sign of Christmas? Our God humbles himself for us in his birth, would die for us, and feed on with his very flesh and blood. Behold our God, Behold the Lamb of God.

40 Reasons for Coming Home – Reason # 36 – The Incarnation

Reason # 36 Catholicism upholds the “incarnational principle,” wherein Jesus became flesh and thus raised flesh and matter to new spiritual heights.

One of the beauties of the Catholic Faith is the way that all creation is summoned to praise God. In the sacraments we use water, bread, wine, and oil. In the Liturgy we use candles and incense. Our bodies are very involved in worship as we stand, sit, kneel, even prostrate at times. Our Churches (at least the traditional ones) make use of beautiful stained glass, wood, marble and stone. Music is rich and varied from the haunting Chant, to joyful polyphony, from the mighty pipe organ to the unaccompanied voice. For us as Catholics we expect to encounter our faith in what is, in the world around us. The liturgy is no mere lecture or just intellectual ideas and values. It is creation in action, the Word become flesh. When Jesus took on flesh God joined with his creation and elevated it. Jesus made frequent use of creation and often spoke of it in his parables.

Obviously some of the things I have mentioned above have diminished in Catholicism in recent decades as many of our older church buildings were stripped and many of our newer buildings are minimalist in their design.  But traditional architecture is making a comeback and some of our older buildings are being tastefully restored.

Why is this a reason to come home? Because faith is not merely an abstraction that exists only in our minds or a televised message. Faith is found in our church buildings, in the people who gather there, in the sacraments and liturgies that are celebrated there. Place and time are important dimensions to faith. Here there is an intersection between the good, the true and the beautiful. It is like the old family home. Our memories are not just stored in our brains but on the worn back stairways of the house, in the pictures on the wall,  little trinkets that have been collected over the years, in the magnets on the refrigerator door, and at the kitchen table. Our churches are like this, the old familiar statues, the altar, the meeting rooms, the smell of candles and incense in the air, the rituals and sacraments that call us home.  Come home. Faith is not merely an idea, it is an old familiar place, it is sacraments and rituals that literally touch you, it is about an incarnation, something tangible, and touchable, something familiar. The Catholic Church does all this well. We may have forgotten some of it for a time, but we never fully lost it. Catholicism upholds the “incarnational principle,” wherein Jesus became flesh and thus raised flesh and matter to new spiritual heights. So come home and reconnect with Jesus, the Word made flesh.