Different from all other nights

There are several cues during the Evening Mass on Holy Thursday that tell you something is different tonight. Mass begins and ends with an empty tabernacle.  Flowers and the Gloria make appearances after absences during these days of Lent (with a few exceptions), but the joy doesn’t remain long. The organ is quiet. The bells are replaced with clackers. The Mass ends with the procession of the Blessed Sacrament to the altar of repose and ends silently, as we wait with Jesus in the Garden. The altars are stripped.  We wait.

Two thousand years ago, twelve men celebrating Passover with their leader would have noticed differences to a familiar liturgy as well.  Jesus spoke of the unleavened bread being His Body.  And he spoke to them of a new covenant.  Then, after singing the Hallel Psalms, instead of finishing the Passover meal, Jesus left and led them to the Garden to pray.  It was a memorial they celebrated for 30+ years of their lives, and suddenly Jesus was doing something different.

Understanding the Passover sacrifice and meal helps us to understand exactly what Jesus was doing that night.  (Which is why I recommend Brant Pitre’s book Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist to everyone I meet.)

Why is this night different from all other nights?  This is the famous question the son would ask his father during the Passover liturgy.  And the father would respond, “It is because of what the LORD did for me when he brought me out of the land of Egypt…”

Notice – it is what the Lord did for me.  Not for my fathers.  Not for our people a thousand years ago, two thousand years ago.  For ME.

For the Jewish people, this “memorial” (go back to Exodus 12 and see how often it is referred to as a memorial, remembrance) was not just a way to recall a past event.  The Hebrew understanding of remembering, memorial — zikaron — was not a passive remembering of a past event.  It was a participation in that event.  The past event was being made present for you, so that you too could share in the Passover, the redemption of the first born.

It was what the Lord did for you.

This was in the forefront of the minds of the Apostles that night.  This was on their minds as they heard Jesus’ words: Do this in memory of me.  Same word.  Zikaron.  Anamnesis.  Not “think back to this night years from now and think of me fondly.”

No.  Zikaron.  Make this present.  Participate in it.  So that it is not just the redemption of your fathers or your people two thousand years ago — but so that you can share in that redemption.

And then Jesus tells them something drastic — He is here to make a new covenant.

But hadn’t God told the Israelites that Passover was supposed to be a “perpetual institution?”

The call of the first born is not revoked.  It is fulfilled.

Do this in memory of me.


photo copyright Stephen Golder


The Chrism Mass

Last night was our diocesan Chrism Mass. Some dioceses have it on Thursday morning, but many move it to a night earlier in the week so more people can attend.

If you have never been to a Chrism Mass, I recommend making it part of your Holy Week tradition. It has become one of my favorite liturgies.

The cathedral was packed, and it seemed like most of the priests were present. At the Chrism Mass, the priests renew their priestly promises and the Bishop and the laity renew their support for their priests.

Few things are so moving as the sound of dozens of priests saying the words of consecration together, their hands outstretched. An interesting note- in Rome, the Chrism Mass is the liturgy where all priests concelebrate with the Pope, they don’t just sit in choir to later distribute communion. This is because this liturgy in a special way recalls Christ’s action on Holy Thursday when he gave us the priesthood as our incarnational link to his public ministry.

The oils used for the sacraments throughout the year are blessed at the Mass. One of my favorite parts is when the Bishop breathes over the chrism oil that will be used in baptisms, confirmations, ordinations. It recalls Christ’s breath on the Apostles in the Upper Room as he gave them the incredible power over the natural realm to change tangible matter into efficacious signs of his grace. That breath was breathed on the Apostles, and now this successor of the Apostle, our Bishop, continues that ministry of Christ.

It was also moving to see Deacon Terrance carrying the oil of chrism that will anoint him in a few months, making him a priest in the line of Melchizedek.

Tonight we will celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, and remember why this night was different than all other nights.

But since I’m about to board a flight to see my new nephew, I’ll save that for another post.

Pope Squared

(That subject line is in jest, of course.  I really don’t think we have two Popes.  So put down the phone you were dialing – you don’t need to call the Bishop about me.)

I wanted to come on my blog and publicly admit I was wrong.  (I’m getting good at this, after the whole resignation vs abdication thing.)

I thought we would never see Pope Benedict again. In fact, I was kind of a wreck after watching him go to Castel Gandolfo because I missed him turning away from the balcony and I thought that was my last chance to ever see him, except in archived video.

Well, speaking of video, we had the chance to see him yesterday. I was really surprised when they released pictures and video of Pope Francis meeting with his predecessor.  But here it is.

Some notes:

1) I feel like it’s been much longer than 24 days since we last saw Benedict.  It was almost jarring to see him after the sede vacante, the conclave, and the election.  Part of me wishes I didn’t have the chance to see this meeting, because it reminded me how much I miss him.  But more of me is glad I got to see him again and glad to see him with Pope Francis.

2) What is up with the guys in mylar suits?  They made me crack up during the poignant arrival at Castel Gandolfo, and now they’re back.  I suppose I can see the need for firemen in case something goes wrong, but standing at the door of the helicopter?  Really?  And why do they look like something out of a Mystery Science Theatre film?

3) I love Benedict at 0:40, rushing over to tell Francis to kneel at the special prie-dieu.  We rarely get a chance to see him doing something so unscripted. “Hey- I put this prie-dieu out for you, because you’re the Pope, remember?!” And Francis is like, “Let’s kneel over here together, okay?”  (He actually said, “We are brothers.”)

3) At 1:56-2:02, you can see Archbishop Ganswein plotting an elaborate practical joke with someone else in the room – apparently they are going to convince the Popes to swap for a day and throw everyone for a loop.

Trying to take my Catholic glasses off

I’m watching The Bible on the History Channel as I do odds and ends tonight, and I stopped doing what I was doing to watch their depiction of The Last Supper.  Jesus tore bread and handed it to his disciples to tear and pass around, telling them “This is my body.”

Since the series was made by a Protestant, I was curious to see how they would depict the scene.  And you know what conclusion I came to, watching it?

Taking away the believe that Jesus meant for us to take him literally, the scene just seems really weird.

“This is my Body,” he tells them.  But he doesn’t mean it?

“Here, this is how I want you to remember me.  I’m going to tell you this Bread is My Body.  It isn’t really, but share it and pass it around and it’ll be a symbol of my Body for you.  And you’ll eat this symbol, and you’ll share the bread with people and tell them it’s my Body, too.  Then you’ll all sit around and pass grape juice in little cups and pretend its a symbol for my blood, and you’ll drink that. It’s not really my blood, but it’ll be a symbol of my blood, so it’s sort of like you’ll pretend to drink my blood.”

Yes, I know that belief in the Real Presence — that the bread and wine truly become Jesus’ body and blood– is radical and crazy.  Just as crazy as God becoming Man and walking around this earth for 30 years.

But any other interpretation seems even weirder.

My thoughts of Benedict, Francis, and the transition

I’ve mentioned here before my feelings about change.  Basically, it’s hard for me.  I don’t even know if it’s that I dislike it; it’s mostly just that when I really like the way things are, and something is going to be different, I get really worried about it– even if it could be really great.  For example, when I move my furniture around, I immediately regret doing it and kind of freak out. Even though I end up liking it even more.

That’s normal, right?

So what does this have to do with Benedict and Francis?  I think you can guess.

I’m feeling a little guilty because I miss Benedict.  And I know I’ll love Francis — I already do — but seeing someone else in white is weird and I kind of wish I could rewind things and have my Benedict back.

Every time someone says something about Francis, I immediately want to defend Benedict.  And sometimes it is meant as an insult to Benedict, but most of the time it isn’t.  They’re just different.

It’s funny, I was writing this post in my head when I read my friend Jenny’s post this morning, (see her awesome post here) and then Lino Rulli and Father Rob were talking about a similar thing on the Catholic Guy show today, too.  They pointed out that when someone says something positive about Francis, it sounds like it’s an insult to Benedict.

Even if it’s not meant to be!

So I suppose that in this post, when I speak about my feelings about Benedict and Francis, it will sound the opposite – that I’m insulting Francis.  But I’m not, no more than they’re insulting Benedict.  Capito?

With that in mind, here are my thoughts.

I am excited to see what is in store for the Church.  I think Francis is going to challenge people who think they know what the Catholic Church is all about.  We’ve already seen that he has a desire to bring unity, and it seems that the world is rather captivated by him for the time being.

Francis is obviously emphasizing the need for the Church to be poor and humble, to care for God’s gifts, and to be good stewards.  I find it kind of funny that Benedict said the same things (here, & here, & here, & here, &  here, & here, & here, & here… need I go on?) but everyone is acting like this is somehow a new phenomena.

Is it because the world is still listening to this baby Pope, and they haven’t tuned him out yet?  Probably. Is it because he’s speaking off the cuff and seems to be more relatable?  Perhaps.  Is it because he’s living it out, by not wearing red shoes, wearing simple vestments, and riding the bus with the cardinals?  Sure.

In regards to that last one, I think we need to examine what Pope Francis is doing.  Do I like the fact that he’s not wearing red shoes and that he’s wearing simpler vestments?  I have mixed feelings.

First, I can see that he wants to live a simpler life.  And maybe the world won’t accept a message of poverty from a man wearing gold vestments.  But even Jesus allowed money to be spent on him (Mt 26:11).  As long as it’s not to the neglect of the poor (which it isn’t – the Church does more for the poor than any other institution in the world, and the Vatican  isn’t buying new gold vestments, after all), Jesus deserves the best.  The liturgy is Heaven on earth, and the Pope and the Cardinals are successors of Peter and the Apostles.

So are red shoes the be all and end all?  No. But is Jorge Bergoglio just Jorge Bergoglio anymore?  No.  He’s Peter.  And while the shoes don’t make the man, there are certain things he’s going to have to do because he’s no longer his own.  He’s going to have to live in the Apostolic palace, behind the walls of the Vatican, because that’s where he’s safest and can govern the best, and that’s where Peter lives.  Is he going to like it?  Probably not.  Benedict probably didn’t either.

Did Benedict want to sneak out of the Vatican and go do what he wanted to do?  Of course he did.  He wanted to go back to his coffeeshop, the place he went to every morning as Prefect of the CDF.  Could he?  No.  Why?  Because he wasn’t his own anymore.  He was Peter, and he was carried “where he did not wish to go.” (John 21:18)  Maybe he didn’t want to wear red shoes.  But it’s the tradition (I know, I know, John Paul wore brown shoes.  But I’m only using the shoes as an example- they’re not really the point) and the Church has a right to her traditio.

What the Pope does he does not as Wojtyla, or Ratzinger, or Bergoglio.  He does it as Pope.

What the Pope does has an impact on the entire Church — for good or for ill.  Pope Francis wanted to wear simple vestments at his installation, and that’s fine, but he has to remember that he’s standing as Peter and everyone will look to him for an example.  To tell you the truth, I thought it was sort of jarring to see him next to the Orthodox patriarchs in their finery.  I’m sure the world thought it was a good change — get rid of the finery and bring me a simple Church — but as I mentioned before, the liturgy is worth more than anything in the world, and Heaven on earth deserves gold.  Even St. Francis believed that.

Second, he is now a world leader.  I didn’t think of this before someone at work mentioned it, but the Holy Father rides in a car with an escort for a reason.  Riding on a bus with cardinals is great (and it certainly was an awesome photo), but he has to make sure he doesn’t endanger his life or the lives of people around him with his boldness.  I’ve been in St. Peter’s Square with a lunatic who could have harmed the Pope and any number of us.  It wasn’t a good situation.  The Church needs him, and the guards are there to protect him.

I don’t want this to sound like a giant critique of our Holy Father, because I really do love him and I am excited for the future.  I am sure that Benedict isn’t sitting in Castel Gandolfo wondering why no one listened to him like they’re listening to Pope Francis. haha.  Instead, I think he’s probably praying in Castel Gandolfo in thanksgiving for such a beautiful and holy shepherd.

Benedict stepped down in humility and Pope Francis stepped up in humility.

They worship the same Master and they serve the same People of God.

So when I read statements like this one: “His abrupt change in style from the previous pontificate has overwhelmingly charmed the press and the public.”  I just don’t know how to take it.  Let’s just be careful that we don’t assume Benedict loved living in the Apostolic Palace, never wanted to leave, ate off gold plates, and never wanted to be with people.  We can embrace Francis as Francis without judging Benedict as Benedict.  I’m sure they went through a similar transition between Pius XII and John XXIII.  The Popes are men with different personalties, different strengths, and different weaknesses.  That’s the beauty of the Church.

Let us pray for Pope Francis, for Benedict, and for our Church in these comings weeks and years.

Another linkup

I’m pretty sure this is the laziest way I can continue blogging — post quotes from Francis and post links of other people talking about Francis.

So I promise I’m going to actually craft some original thoughts tonight.  But not before giving you more links – to read people far more intelligent and well-spoken than I.  I can pretend to be a Vaticanista, but these people really are experts.

A great interview with Cardinal Marc Ouellet: On Vatileaks, Benedict’s act of faith and the new Pope
       I really thought that Ouellet might come out of those doors that night, and I had him picked in our office “Predict-A-Pope” pool (no money exchanged hands.  Perhaps because no one won…)  So it’s neat to read his thoughts on it all.

A great post written the day before the election of Pope Francis, which I think is even more interesting after: My Take: Benedict’s ‘master plan’
When you look at the type of person Bergoglio is and what his Papacy is already shaping up to be like, I think Sebastian’s post is quite astute

Now I’m off to put my own thoughts on paper.


A phone call from your Papa

Pope Francis made a surprise phone call to the pilgrims gathered in Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires this morning, shortly before he took his spin in the Popemobile.

Below is the text of his remarks in Spanish, and then English.


“Queridos hijos, sé que están en la plaza. Sé que están rezando y haciendo oraciones, las necesito mucho. Es tan lindo rezar. Gracias por eso.

Les quiero pedir un favor. Les quiero pedir que caminemos juntos todos, cuidemos los unos a los otros, cuídense entre ustedes, no se hagan daño, cuídense, cuídense la vida. Cuiden la familia, cuiden la naturaleza, cuiden a los niños, cuiden a los viejos; que no haya odio, que no haya pelea, dejen de lado la envidia, no le saquen el cuero a nadie. Dialoguen, que entre ustedes se viva el deseo de cuidarse.

Que vaya creciendo el corazón y acérquense a Dios. Dios es bueno, siempre perdona, comprende, no le tengan miedo; es Padre, acérquense a Él. Que la virgen los bendiga mucho, no se olviden de este obispo que está lejos pero los quiere mucho. Recen por mí”.

Dear children, I know you are in the square. I know you are praying and saying prayers, I need them very much. It is so beautiful to pray. Thank you for that.

I want to ask you a favor. I want to ask that we all walk together, to take care of one for the other, take care of each other, do not hurt each other, take care of yourselves, take care of your lives. Take care of the family, take care of nature, take care of children, take care of the elderly; that there may be no hate, no fights, leave aside envy, do not speak ill of anybody. Dialogue amongst each other, so that in all of you may live the desire to care for one another.

That your hearts may grow and come close to God. God is good, He always forgives, understands, do not be afraid of Him; He is Father, be close to Him. May the Virgin bless you, do not forget this bishop who is far but loves you very much. Pray for me.