Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Christmas Bread

When I think of Christmas, I think of trees, lights & having to endure family dinners. I think of nativity scenes, sheep & camels, Joseph & Mary. And Jesus? He's just a pale little baby lying in the straw... the "reason for the season" & all that. He's not much to look at...  give Him 30 years or so to make something of Himself.

We all know a choir of angels announced to some shepherds that Jesus had been born in Bethlehem (the House of Bread) that fateful night. Jesus was placed in a feeding trough & the shepherds who feasted their eyes upon Him immediately took Him into their hearts. Though they numbered but a few, the shepherds went & shared their "bread" with the townsfolk the only way they knew how. Imagine what it would have been like to be awakened in the middle of the night by a dirty, wide eyed shepherd gasping for breath on your doorstep? How many people ignored or cursed their presence? How many invited them in & bothered to listen? Would you or I have responded to the call to "come & see"? I think I might have gone for the novelty, nothing more.

I'm reminded of a very non-Christmasy verse just now... its that first one from Ecclesiastes 11- "Send out your bread upon the waters, for after many days, you will get it back." The Living Bread has come to us also, swirling about on the waters of humanity. It has been carried to us by the currents of time via the prophets, the shepherds, the disciples & saints of old... Will we abandon It like Joseph & Mary had been abandoned that night? Or will we be like the owner of the cave where Jesus was born, who offered all he had so the family could be safe & warm?

God cast His one Son upon the amniotic waters of Mary's womb... That "loaf", the Bread of Life was was placed in a food trough for a reason. He embodied everything we needed in that very moment- hope. And "Hope", Paul says, "does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." Romans 5:5.  Its easy to get discouraged in the world these days... Maybe we can find some small way to cast our hope upon the waters this Christmas season &  "...not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up". Galatians 6:9. We may have but one loaf left, but then, remember what Jesus did for the 4,000, the 5,000.

Adeste fideles, venite adoramus, Dominum!
(Come all ye faithful, let us adore Christ the Lord!)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Holding My Breath

Today, life has found me perched at the edge of a continent. I've crossed in increments that seem to get smaller each time I use them. These vast oceanic waters touch not only my continent, but every other one in this world. Some people sail it all- circle the globe- while others, like me, only know a portion. Within these waters live unfathomable creatures, big & small. Some we consume, others we throw away & still others we never "see", yet we know they're out there... somewhere.

Its quiet here. The tide is out & misty clouds conceal the sun. My coffee is wearing off & I'm starting to feel the effects of my early morning drive. No soul on earth knows I'm here. And where is "here"? In one sense, I know I'm lost. On the other hand, I know exactly where I am. I can name the road that brought me here, the town I'm in & how to get to 3 different coffee shops, thrift stores & gas stations. This place is familiar to me. And yet, I am nameless, though I have a name; a stranger, though I've been here often.  At times, I wish to dwell in the aimless anonymity I've carried with me here. Today however, I wish to be known, thought of, remembered.

There are whales out in the bay. I can see them from here. Two boats honed in on their presence & motored out to surround them. I am surrounded by dogs & gulls, seniors, parents & children... tramping past me to get a better view. But the whales will disappear, hold their breath & dive deep to escape detection. I've seen it before. Its just their way. Meanwhile, the blue sky is emerging, pushing the morning clouds back. I'm trying to connect with this moment- the sun, the ocean breeze, the waves crashing below... isn't it joy that's supposed to meet me in the morning? I take a deep breath, slip the key into the ignition & pull out onto the road... on my way to God knows where.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

An Even Shorter History of the Mass

I just got done reading a book called A Short History of the Mass by Alfred McBride, O. PRAEM (O. PRAEMs are also known as Norbertines).

The author launches right into the celebration of the Last Supper & its components. The celebration of the Eucharist began as a Passover meal & continued as a meal in the "Breaking of the Bread" which was celebrated on the Lord's day (Sunday). Eventually the practice of the meal was done away with in favor of a more structured setting because cliques had formed, folks were getting drunk & the poor were being left out (1 Co. 11:20-21, 34).

A kind of liturgy was adopted in the 1st & 2nd centuries based on the model they had from the Jewish synagogues. The apostles ordained bishops as their successors & these ordained priests & deacons to see to the Mass. Blessings, prayers, scripture & praise began to surround the Eucharist as Christians met in various homes / house churches (& even the catacombs) to avoid detection & persecution by the Roman government. I found it interesting to note that the bread & wine were brought by the people as gifts. The priests faced the people, they gathered around common wooden tables & used common baskets & goblets. There was no altar guild. Everyone had a part to play.

When Constantine came along in the third century, the persecutions ceased. He began building large churches called basilicas. House churches fell by the wayside, but the structure of the Mass had been established. Christians met to hear the great church fathers' homilies, incense came into use & folks started bowing & genuflecting to God as they would to an Emperor. Bishops began standardization of Eucharistic Prayers at this time. Gold & silver receptacles replaced the common fare. Tables were now made of stone or marble. Hymns & chants were introduced & the Nicene Creed was established thanks to the Council of Nicea (325). To maintain a sense of unity between congregations, the Bishop would break consecrated hosts & send pieces abroad to the other parishes, kind of like what we do today with the 3 holy oils (the Oil of Catechumens, the Oil of the Infirm, and the Oil of Holy Chrism).

In the middle ages, the people began to become separated from the Mass. The priest began Mass facing the people as usual, but turned East to celebrate "with the people" for the Eucharistic prayer. The universal language of the Mass eventually became Latin, which sent some packing. Others engaged in private devotions (such as the Rosary or other prayers) during Mass in an attempt to remain participants of the proceedings. The communion rail was introduced & people could no longer receive in the hand. They were now required to kneel & receive on the tongue. Eventually, they could only receive the Eucharist at certain times of the year.

By the time Luther had come onto the scene, major abuses were in play & the Council of Trent convened to combat them. The Tridentine Mass was introduced & the priest now celebrated with his back to the people the entire time. Eventually, church architecture became infused with dramatic baroque elements. Pulpits were elevated & garish. The stations of the cross began to line the walls & statues of Jesus & Mary, saints & angels appeared around the sanctuary. Concert worthy hymns & choral Masses were sung. The church was now seen as a throne room for the presence of God.

When Vatican 2 came along some 400 years later, the churches were essentially stripped. Statues & communion rails disappeared, tables replaced altars, the priest faced the people & they could now partake on the tongue or in the hand. Worship bands replaced choirs & Latin was reserved as an option for select prayers. The Novus Ordo was born.

So what?  As a new Catholic, I've heard countless people talk about how the Tridentine (Latin) Mass is superior to the Novus Ordo (Vatican 2). But after reading this book, I can see that V2 was a valid attempt to return to the Mass of our fathers. The Tridentine Mass is beautiful in its own right, but it can't be denied that certain aspects of it were divisive. Novus ordo- while also far from perfect- seems a fair medium... considering.