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Different portrayals of the Holy Spirit as a dove

June 7, 2019

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A Dove and Holy Spirit. In religious art the Holy Spirit is most often depicted as a dove. The biblical basis for the dove symbolism is found in all four gospel accounts of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. Each evangelist describes the descent of the Holy Spirit as a dove coming down from heaven (Mt 3:16; Mk 1:10; Lk 3:22; Jn 1:32). The Holy Spirit that descended upon Jesus at his baptism and upon the apostles on the first Pentecost (Acts 2:4) is the same Holy Spirit that descends upon every believer at the time of their Baptism and Confirmation, as well as every time a person receives one of the other sacraments.

Holy Spirit DoveA Variety of Depictions. When the Holy Spirit is shown as a dove, it is depicted in a variety of ways. A common form is one dove alone. Sometimes the dove is shown with rays of light or flames emanating from its head or within its halo, and the number of rays or flames varies, typically three, seven, eleven, twelve, or thirteen, and the number is symbolic.

A Dove with Three Rays or Flames. Three signifies the three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity. The Holy Spirit is one of the three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity, and it is the Spirit who unifies the three Persons of the triune Godhead, and also serves as the presence of the Father and his Son Jesus. Three also signifies the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity (1 Cor 13:13), virtues that increase and flourish when a person submits to the direction and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

A Dove with Seven Rays or Flames. According to the Prophet Isaiah, there are six gifts of the Holy Spirit, wisdom and understanding, counsel and strength, knowledge and fear of the Lord (Is 11:2), and to round the number up to the biblically complete number of seven, piety was added to the list. There is another version of the seven gifts of the Spirit in the Book of Revelation: “power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing” (Rv 5:12).

A Dove with Nine Rays or Flames. The prevalent explanation for the symbolic value of the number nine is the fruits of the Holy Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” (Gal 5:22-23); while an alternative explanation is the less-often mentioned list: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, mighty deeds, prophecy, discernment of spirits, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues (1 Cor 12:8-10).

A Dove with Eleven Rays or Flames. Eleven represents the twelve apostles without Judas Iscariot (Mt 27:3-10; Acts 1:13). Each of them received the gift of the Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost (Acts 2:3).

A Dove with Twelve Rays or Flames. Twelve can be interpreted in two ways, either the eleven apostles with their new replacement, Matthias (Acts 1:26); or the eleven apostles with the Blessed Virgin Mary (Acts 1:14).

A Dove with Thirteen Rays or Flames. Thirteen represents the reconstituted Twelve, the Eleven plus Matthias (see Acts 1:26), as well as the Blessed Virgin Mary (see Acts 1:14). All thirteen miraculously received the gift of the Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost.

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The Ascension

May 31, 2019

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The Seventh Sunday of Easter is the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, how the Father lifted the Son from the earth after the Resurrection, bought him back to heaven, and enthroned him in glory and power at his right hand (Mk 16:19; Acts 2:33; 5:31; 7:55,56; Eph 1:20). The Ascension is a major mystery of our Christian faith, so important that it is the second Glorious Mystery of the Rosary.

AscensionAscension is relatively rare in Scripture. In fact, only two ascensions are reported directly, Elijah in the Old Testament (2 Kgs 2:11) and Jesus in the New Testament (Mk 16:19; Lk 24:51; Acts 1:9). Elijah’s Ascension was very dramatic. While he was conversing with his successor, Elisha the prophet, “a fiery chariot and fiery horses came between the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.” Jesus “was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight” (Acts 1:9). While there is no biblical account, our Tradition also holds that Mary was assumed into heaven.

The Ascension completed the glorification that the Father began when he raised Jesus from the dead. God did what human beings failed to do. After Jesus suffered his Passion, no one said thank you. After Jesus laid down his life on the Cross for our salvation, no one offered praise. So God “greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name” (Phil 2:9), placed him “far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion” (Eph 1:21), and “put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all things” (Eph 1:22). Thus, Jesus was enthroned as king of heaven and earth.

Many great things were accomplished through the Ascension. It confirmed Jesus’ identity as the Son of God and further underscored his divinity. The heavenly throne gives Jesus global and universal authority, and serves as the proper place for him to receive our praise and adoration which he so rightfully deserves. The disciples were present to witness the Ascension so their faith, which was still faltering, might be strengthened. It paved the way to heaven: where Jesus has gone we may follow. With the Ascension Jesus is no longer physically confined to a particular time or place so he might be spiritually present to all people at all times in all places. His departure set the stage for him to bestow the gift of the Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost. It also officially ended his earthly ministry of preaching and healing, a mission that he transferred to his disciples.

Jesus is eternally present at the right hand of God where he intercedes for us (Rom 8:34; Heb 7:25; 1 Jn 2:1). Jesus has his Father’s ear and his favor. Jesus knows what we need and speaks on our behalf. He is our Advocate. He pleads our cause. He makes intercession for us, so that God will bless us with everything that we need in this life and grant us a share in his eternal glory in the life to come.

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The Novena: Nine days of prayer

May 31, 2019

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Descent of the Holy Spirit

A Novena, a Devotional Form of Prayer. A novena is a period of nine consecutive days of intensified prayer. A novena may be offered in preparation for a major feast such as Pentecost, to deepen devotion to Jesus, to honor a particular saint, or to make a request for a special grace or favor. A novena may be offered by the entire Church, a particular community, or by an individual. The term is derived from the Latin word novem which means “nine.”

The Biblical Basis for a Novena. The practice of offering a novena is based upon the nine days that the Blessed Virgin Mary and the apostles spent in Jerusalem from the Ascension until Pentecost in prayerful preparation for the Descent of the Holy Spirit. The Easter Season is fifty days. Jesus ascended to heaven forty days after the Resurrection (see Acts 1:3), which leaves ten days. Shortly before his Ascension Jesus “enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait … [because] in a few days you will be baptized by the holy Spirit” (Acts 1:4,5). Accordingly, “they went to the upper room …. [and] devoted themselves with one accord to prayer” (Acts 1:13,14). They prayed for nine days and on the tenth they were filled with the Holy Spirit.

The Pentecost Novena. This novena begins on the Friday after Ascension Thursday and continues until the Saturday before Pentecost, the first and last days included. This novena is offered by the entire Church. It is a prayer for readiness to celebrate Pentecost, for greater openness to receive and cooperate with the gifts of the Holy Spirit (see Is 11:2), and for renewal within the worldwide Church, a diocese, a special group of people, or within one’s self.

Novenas at Special Times. It is also customary to make a novena in preparation for Christmas and before the memorial of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. Mary Major on August 5. In some places a Novena of Grace is offered in March. Many religious orders and parishes conduct a novena before their patronal feast.

Novenas Associated with Devotions. Novenas can be offered to honor the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Holy Name of Jesus, or the Blessed Sacrament. There are also novenas to venerate the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, St. Joseph, St. Anthony of Padua, and many other saints.

Novenas for Special Intentions. It is common to offer a novena for a serious need or for a special intention. Historically, novenas have been offered in times of desperation or disaster: to avert a war, to end a war, to end a plague, or to end a drought. It has also been customary to offer a novena to ask the Holy Spirit’s guidance and direction before the selection of a new leader: a Pope, a bishop, a religious superior, a pastor, a university president, or a school principal; or for a civic leader, such as before the election of the president or the governor, or the selection of a judge. It is also common to offer a novena for an urgently desired special request such as the right spouse, a child, or guidance in a career decision. Novenas are also made to request the extra graces needed to make spiritual headway in virtue and holiness: to grow in prayerfulness, faith, hope, charity, joyfulness, peacefulness, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, forgiveness, purity, humility, truthfulness, and compassion (see 1 Cor 13:13; Gal 5:22-23; Col 3:12-15).

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Summer Sunday Mass: Obligation or Option?

May 23, 2019

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Sunny day over Sava river

Sunny day over Sava river. Creative Commons license by Marko Cvejic

Sunday is the Lord’s Day. Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday morning, so Sunday is reserved as the “Lord’s Day,” the day to remember the Resurrection and to offer our praise and worship. God gave us the Third Commandment as a solemn obligation, not a suggestion or an option:  “Keep holy the Sabbath day” (Ex 20:8-11; Dt 5:12-15) (see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Numbers 2174 – 2178).

Regular Sunday worship dates back to the first generation of the Church.  Early Christians instinctively gathered to study the teachings of the apostles and to break the bread (Acts 2:42).  The Letter to the Hebrews gets straight to the point:  “We should not stay away from our assembly [i.e., the liturgical assembly, the Eucharist], as is the custom of some” (Heb 10:25).

It is shocking the number of people who say that they believe they are excused from Sunday Mass when they are on vacation or traveling.  This is not the case!  Church teaching is clear:  “On Sundays the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass” (Canon 1247).

There are a few legitimate reasons to miss Sunday Mass: illness or disability, serving as the sole caregiver for someone in need of constant attention, a natural disaster like a flood or a blizzard, or the absence of a priest.  There is no exception for vacation or traveling (Catechism, Nos. 2180-2188).

All we have is a gift from God, so God is entitled to our weekly thanks. Time is a precious commodity, and how we spend it is a clear indication of our priorities.  There are one hundred and sixty-eight (168) hours in a week, and one hour spent in worship barely puts a dent in the praise that we owe our God.

We need to put first things first, and for Christians, God comes first!  If there ever was a time that God deserves extra thanks, it would be vacation time.  It is a huge blessing to be able to take time off, to have the resources to travel, to have the wherewithal to enjoy a cabin or a RV or a lake home, to be blessed with the beauty of the lakes and the forests, to be able to go fishing or boating, and to have the leisure time to spend with family and friends.

The common error is to make recreational activities the starting point in building one’s weekend vacation schedule, and to relegate God and Mass to an afterthought, something to fit in if there is time left over or to be skipped entirely.  The proper way is to decide on a Mass time and place first, and then figure out the rest of the weekend’s activities.  God never goes on vacation when it comes to providing for us; we should never go on vacation from offering God our thanks and praise.

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What is new about the new commandment?

May 16, 2019

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At the Last Supper Jesus told his disciples, “I give you a new commandment: love one another” (Jn 13:34a). Jesus said that his commandment was “new.” What is new about it?

A New Commandment Giver. Previously in the Old Testament, the person who gave the commandments was Moses who spoke on behalf of God. This commandment was new because it was given by Jesus, the Son of God, who did not speak on his own, but said all that the Father commanded him to say and speak (Jn 12:49).

New CommandmentA New Single Commandment. Previously there were Ten Commandments (Ex 20:1-17; Dt 5:6-21), as well as the Mosaic Law with its 613 precepts, the Law of Ezra, and the Oral Law. The new commandment simplified and consolidated hundreds of commandments into a single commandment. As St. Paul stated, “The one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Rom 13:8), and, “Love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom 13:10).

A New Exemplar. Jesus taught, “As I have loved you, so you should love one another” (Jn 13:34b). Jesus demonstrated an entirely new kind of love, a self-giving, self-sacrificing kind of love, love without strings attached, a love with no expectation of repayment (see Lk 14:12). Jesus explained, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13). Jesus emptied himself for the sake of all (Phil 2:7). Jesus laid down his life freely for others (see Jn 10:18).

A New Pathway to God. Previously it was thought that a person loved God by going directly to God, and that the relationship was strictly vertical, from an individual person below to God above. Jesus broached a new paradigm: a person loves God by loving one’s neighbor, a horizontal relationship: a person goes to God through one’s neighbor. Jesus equated love of God with love of neighbor. It is the second half of the Great Commandment (see Mt 22:39;.Mk 12:31; Lk10:27). As John observed, “How can you love God, whom you do not see, if you do not love your neighbor whom you do see?” (paraphrase, 1 Jn 4:20,21).

A New Idealism. Previously the commandments gave a list of dos and don’ts, what a person should do and not do, a well-defined legal code, the minimum standards for the spiritual life. The commandment to love others is new because it states an ideal, not compliance with a set of rules and regulations, but the best a person can do.

A New Broader Focus. Previously a person was expected to love one’s family; fellow Jews; one’s next-door neighbors, one’s townsfolk; those of the same ethnic heritage; and the people who lived in one’s country, one’s fellow citizens, those of the same nationality. The new commandment dramatically expands the focus of those who should be loved. Jesus taught, “Love your enemy” (Mt 5:44). Disciples are to love foreigners, aliens, strangers, those of different faiths, different racial groups, different countries, as well as sinners. Disciples of Jesus are to love everyone.

A New Compassion. Previously a person who was offended by a sinner was required to forgive three times, and if the offender persisted in offensive and sinful behavior, forgiveness was no longer demanded. Jesus proposed a new standard, if your brother sins, forgive him, “seventy-seven times” (Mt 18:22), as many times as necessary. Jesus displayed this new compassionate love from the cross when he said to the worst of sinners, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).

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St. Matthias, Apostle and martyr

May 9, 2019

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St. Matthias is mentioned in chapter one of the Acts of the Apostles and nowhere else in Scripture. He was chosen to replace Judas Iscariot, and with his selection the number of apostles was restored to twelve. According to Eusebius, St. Clement of Alexandria, and St. Jerome, St. Matthias was one of the seventy-two disciples appointed by Jesus to go out in pairs to every town and place that he intended to visit (see Lk 10:1), but there is nothing to verify this. At one time his feast was celebrated on February 24, but it was moved to May 14 to be near the time of the Ascension and Pentecost.

St. MatthiasAfter the Ascension and before Pentecost, Peter stood up and addressed the community on the importance of choosing someone to succeed Judas Iscariot, and he quoted a Psalm in reference to the betrayer, “May another take his office” (Ps 109:8b; Acts 1:20). Peter then explained the selection criteria. The person must be “one of the men who accompanied us the whole time that the Lord Jesus came and went among us” (Acts 1:21), “beginning from the baptism of John until the day on which he was taken up from us, become with us a witness to the resurrection” (Acts 1:22). Two men were nominated as worthy from among those who had traveled with Jesus throughout his ministry, Joseph Barsabbas, also known as Justus, and Matthias.

Then, instead of taking a vote, it was decided that lots would be cast to make the choice. The usual method was to write each candidate’s name on a separate stone, place the stones in a container, shake the container, and the first stone to fall out would be the one chosen. By praying first and then leaving it to “chance,” the selection was made by God, the one who knows the hearts of all, and not by men, thereby eliminating the possibility of favoritism or error.

St. Matthias was given the rank of apostle and held in high regard by the Church. His name is included on the second list of apostles and martyrs in the Roman Canon or Eucharistic Prayer I.

After his selection, St. Matthias was with the apostles on Pentecost, and after receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, he was filled with zeal. According to St. Clement of Alexandria, St. Matthias emphasized the importance of “mortifying the flesh to subdue sensual appetites – a lesson he learned from Christ and which he faithfully practiced himself” (Butler’s Lives of the Saints).

St. Matthias began his preaching ministry in Jerusalem and throughout Judea. Then he made a major missionary journey to Cappadocia which is located in far northeastern Asia Minor, as far as Georgia at the southern edge of Russia along the Caspian Sea. He proclaimed the gospel with fervor and sincerity, and as a result he suffered bitter persecution from nonbelievers. He was martyred sometime near 64 AD in Colchis which is located in the Caucasus Mountains north of Cappadocia. Accounts of his death differ; either he was crucified on a wooden cross or beheaded with a halberd, a military weapon that is the combination of a spear and a battle axe. His remains were eventually taken to Jerusalem to be venerated, and then transferred to Rome by Queen St. Helena.

St. Matthias is the patron saint of carpenters because of the wooden cross, and tailors, and he is invoked against alcoholism and smallpox. His symbols are a halberd or an axe.

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Mothers who are Saints

May 9, 2019

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Mothers’ Day is a beautiful occasion to give tribute to mothers, each person’s own mother, for all of the love she has shared, and all mothers, for all they contribute to the wellbeing of the family and society. It is a day set aside to give special praise and thanks to those mothers who are alive and to honor the memory of those who have passed away. Spiritually, it is an opportunity to highlight mothers who are saints, because their good and holy lives can serve as an inspiration to the mothers of today.

Saints Perpetua and Felicity (180-203) are two great mothers of the Early Church. They lived in Carthage, a city in North Africa. Both were catechumens, baptized, and then arrested for their Christian faith. Perpetua gave birth to a son while under house arrest, and Felicity, her servant, gave birth to a daughter in prison. Aware of their impending deaths, they entrusted their children to other Christians so they would be raised in the faith. They were martyred on March 7, 203, both heroic witnesses to their children.

Sts. Constantine and Helena

St. Helena (255-330). She was the mother of Constantine, a Roman general who eventually became the Roman emperor. She converted to Christianity in 318 at the age of 63, and made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land c. 320. She discovered the True Cross, and with the authorization of her son, who by then was a catechumen, had the Temple to Venus over Calvary demolished, and shrines were built to honor Jesus’ death and Resurrection. Churches were also built on the Mount of Olives to honor the Ascension and in Bethlehem to honor the Nativity. As a mother, she had a strong spiritual influence on her son, both in the construction of churches and in his baptism which he accepted shortly before his death.

St. Bridget of Sweden (1303-1373). She was the mother of eight children, four boys and four girls. She dutifully raised her children as Christians, but she suffered bitter disappointments because her oldest daughter married a bad husband and her youngest son died in 1340. She served in the court of King Magnus II and Queen Blanche, and she tried to exert a positive spiritual influence upon them. She founded religious institutes for women and men, called for an end to the Avignon Papacy, and moved to Rome to minister to the sick and poor. She made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1371 and took three of her children with her, her sons Charles and Birger, and her daughter Catherine who was later named a saint. She had many visions and is famous for the way that she challenged sinners to reform their lives.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seaton (1774-1821). She was born in New York City, married at the age of 19, and was the mother of five children. Her husband William became sick with tuberculosis, the she moved the family to Pisa, Italy, for a warmer climate and to get help from his family, but he died six weeks later. Elizabeth was Episcopalian, and she stayed with William’s Catholic family in Italy and prayed with them every day in their family chapel. She decided to convert, and did so upon their return to New York. She attended daily Mass and prayed the Memorare, and she taught her children the importance of prayer. She was also a strong believer in the value of education, and she provided for the education of her own children. She opened a boarding school in New York, and later moved to Maryland with her family in 1808, established a school, and founded a community of religious sisters to teach and serve the poor, and later founded other schools and orphanages in Philadelphia and New York.

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The Easter Season

May 3, 2019

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EasterCandleLength.  The Easter Season is fifty days, not forty days, like Lent, or four weeks or slightly less, like Advent.  The Easter Season extends from Easter Sunday to Pentecost.  It is sometimes known as the “Festival of Weeks,” seven weeks of seven days (49 days), plus one, the fiftieth day, Pentecost.

The Octave of Easter.  The first eight days of the Easter Season are known as the Octave of Easter.  Easter is the greatest Christian feast, so great, in fact, that it cannot be celebrated adequately on a single one day.  All eight days from Easter Sunday to the Second Sunday of Easter are considered solemnities, the Church’s highest ranking feast, and each day is celebrated with festivity and joy.

The Easter Novena.  The last nine days of the Easter Season extend from Ascension Thursday to Pentecost Sunday, a novem, Latin for “nine.”  Jesus instructed his disciples “not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait … [because] in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:4,5).  The nine days from Ascension to Pentecost are a novena, a period of prayer before the coming of the Holy Spirit.

The Easter Liturgical Color.  The liturgical color for the Easter Season is white.  Gold is not a liturgical color, but it may be used to accent the white.  Together, they are symbols of joy and glory, as well as the Resurrection.

The Easter Liturgical Word.  The special word for the Easter Season is Alleluia.  It is used for the dismissal from Mass, and it is added to the antiphons and responses for the Liturgy of the Hours.  It is only found in the Book of Revelation (19:1,3,4,6), and it is an exclamation of great joy that means “Praise God!” the sentiment of the Easter Season.

Easter Eating.  The self-denial of Lent is set aside during the Easter Season.  It is not a time of fasting, but rather a season of celebration, a time for “a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines” (Is 25:6).  Jesus once said that “As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast” (Mk 2:19b), and because Jesus was with his disciples for forty days from his Resurrection to his Ascension (Acts 1;3), it was not a time of fasting then, and so it is not a time of fasting now.

The Major Easter Symbol.  The foremost symbol of Easter is the Christ Candle, also known as the Easter Candle or the Paschal Candle.  It represents the Risen Christ who is the Light of the World (Jn 8:12; see also 1:4-5,9  and 12:46).  The candle is given a prominent location during the Easter Season, usually in the sanctuary or somewhere in the front of the church, and after Pentecost it is moved back to its usual place.

The Easter Sacraments.  The Easter Sacraments are the Sacraments of Initiation:  Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation.  Because these sacraments are celebrated at the Easter Vigil when catechumens and candidates are welcomed into the Church, they are also featured throughout the Easter Season.  It is the preferred season to celebrate Baptisms within Sunday Mass, and the ideal time to celebrate First Holy Communion as well as Confirmation.

Easter Scripture Texts.  The gospels of the Easter Season focus on the appearances of Jesus after his Resurrection, near his tomb, in the Upper Room, on the road to Emmaus, and along the Sea of Galilee. The featured New Testament book throughout the Easter Season for both the first reading on Sundays and every weekday is the Acts of the Apostles, a powerful statement that the risen Christ remains alive and well within the Christian Community.  The second readings on the Sundays of Easter are taken from the first letter of Peter in Year A, the first letter of John in Year B, and the Book of Revelation in Year C.

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Why did Jesus rise from the dead?

April 18, 2019

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Jesus Risen, The Resurrection

After Jesus died and his body was placed in the tomb, he could have ascended to heaven without appearing to anyone. But Jesus rose and he appeared to his disciples, and he did so for a number of very important reasons.

Triumph and Victory. The Resurrection was emphatic proof that Jesus had decisively and convincingly conquered sin and death.

Glorification. God raised Jesus to glorify him. God was pleased that Jesus had become obedient, even unto death on the Cross; and to praise him, God greatly exalted him with the name above every other name (see Phil 2:8,9). Furthermore, the Father bestowed additional glory upon his Son by exalting him with a place at his right hand (Acts 2:33).

Fulfillment. Jesus had foretold that he would rise from the dead: “And three days after his death he will rise” (Mk 9:31; see also Mt 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; Mk 8:31; 10:34; Lk 9:22; 18:33). When Jesus rose, he proved that all he had promised was reliable and true.

Reconciliation. The disciples estranged themselves from Jesus when they fled and abandoned their Master at the time of his arrest (see Mt 26:56 and Mk 14:50). Moreover, they did not testify on his behalf at his trial, were absent during the crucifixion, and when it came to being faithful friends, they were miserable failures. Jesus rose so he could forgive them and reestablish a positive relationship with them. Reconciliation was such an urgent necessity that only moments after his Resurrection, Jesus appeared to them and said, “Peace be with you” (Lk 24:36; Jn 20:19,21,26), words that are tantamount to “I forgive you.”

Teaching and Re-instruction. The disciples were still confused about Jesus’ true identity. “They doubted” (Mt 28:17). Jesus rose and appeared to Cleopas and Simeon on the road to Emmaus to reinterpret for them all that referred to him in the scriptures (Lk 24:27; see also Lk 24:45). For forty days Jesus spoke to them about the Kingdom of God (Acts 1:3b).

Faith-Strengthening. After Jesus died, the faith of his disciples continued to waver. Seeing is believing! The risen Jesus appeared in the Upper Room and said, “Look at my hands and my feet” (Lk 24:39) to confirm and strengthen their faith. Jesus showed himself to Thomas (Jn 20:27) so that, with faith strengthened, he could make his profession of faith, “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28). “For many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem” (Acts 13:31; see also Acts 10:41 and 1 Cor 15:5-8).

Commissioning. Jesus rose to commission his disciples. He told them, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15); “make disciples of all nations,” “baptizing them,” and “teaching them” (Mt 28:19,20). He also instructed Peter [and the others] to “Feed my lambs” (Jn 21:15), “tend my sheep” (Jn 21:16), and “feed my sheep” (Jn 21:17).

Reassurance. Jesus rose so that he could reassure his disciples that even though he would ascend to heaven and be physically absent, he would always be their constant companion: “I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20b).

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Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord A Dual Feast

April 12, 2019

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The Dual Nature of the Feast.  Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord.  It is a dual feast.  It has traditionally been known as Palm Sunday because the Mass begins with a gospel text that recounts how palm branches were used to welcome Jesus into Jerusalem, and because palm branches are blessed at the beginning of Mass and carried in procession as part of the Entrance Rite.  It has also traditionally been known as Passion Sunday because the Passion Narrative is proclaimed during the Liturgy of the Word.

A Unique Aspect of the Palm-Passion Liturgy.  This is the only Sunday of the entire liturgical year in which two separate gospel passages are read at the same Mass.  The liturgy begins with a special opening rite with the gospel proclamation of the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem as the crowd waved palms and cried out, “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Year A, Mt 21:1-11; Year B, Mk 11:1-10 or Jn 12:12-16; Year C, Lk 19:28-40). At the regular gospel time the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ is proclaimed in its entirety (Year A, Mt 26:14-27:66; Year B, Mk 14:1-15:47; Year C, Lk 22:14-23:56).

One Mass with Two Distinct Moods.  The Mass has two very different sentiments or feeling tones, jubilation, then lamentation.  The opening scene is festive.  As Jesus mounted the donkey the excitement rose to a fever pitch.  The crowd swelled.  Full of joy, the people waved their palm branches with gladness, laid their cloaks on the roadway with reverence, marched next to Jesus in happiness, and raised their voices with exuberance as they confidently proclaimed Jesus as the “Son of David” (Mt 21:9), “the prophet” (Mt 21:11), and their King.  As the Mass begins with the procession with palms, we honor Christ as our King and sovereign Lord, and the procession with palms into or around the church is intended to recapture the energy and enthusiasm of Jesus’ regal cortege from Bethpage down the Mount of Olives and through the gates of the Holy City, Jerusalem.

An Abrupt Change.  Only moments later there is a jarring mood shift.  The former exhilaration comes to an abrupt halt.  The tone suddenly becomes dark and dreary with the proclamation of four somber readings.  The first reading is the third Suffering Servant Canticle of Isaiah (Is 50:4-7) with the sad words, “I gave my back to those who beat me” (Is 50:6a);  the Responsorial Psalm is Psalm 22, the first portion which foretells a chilling aspect of the passion of the Messiah, “They have pierced my hands and my feet” (Ps 22:17b); and the second reading is the Christ Hymn with the grim statement that Jesus became “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8b).  The culmination of the Liturgy of the Word is the proclamation of the Passion, the painful account of how Jesus was scourged, crowned with thorns, nailed, crucified, and killed.  This bitter account causes our hearts to ache with sorrow.

The Paschal Mystery.  Holy Week begins with mourning, weeping, and lamentation.  The Cross is the most ignominious of all deaths, yet it is through the Cross that Jesus ultimately triumphed as our King and Savior.  This solemn week is filled with anguish and grief, but it ends with an ever greater mood shift, the joy and exaltation of the Resurrection and Easter.

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