I am convinced that one of the main reasons 76 percent of Catholics in the United States don't believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is the shallowness of a big number of liturgical celebrations as well as the numerous and audacious liturgical abuses that have proliferated all over. Nowadays, attending a liturgical celebration free of errors, if not of abuses, is strange. It might seem simple: just follow all the rubrics in the Missal. Nonetheless, this doesn't happen ordinarily. How can we make people truly believe Jesus is present in the Eucharist when the sense of reverence before the sacred mysteries doesn't exist? Who will believe bread and wine really become the body and blood of our Lord when priests, deacons, and extraordinary ministers of the holy communion alike handle the sacred species so nonchalantly? Who will take seriously the fact that Mass is a Eucharistic sacrifice when so many jokes are heard from the altar and the attention seems to be centered in the choirs, who receive a big applause at the end as if they were the pop idols of the moment?
The faith crisis the Catholic church in the United States is going through, demands a sense of utmost reverence and sacredness as well as liturgical correctness. Mainly, from priests, as celebrants of the sacrifice of the altar, during which they act in persona Christi. Yet, when it is nearly three out of four Catholics who won't believe in the Real Presence in this country, it won't be surprising to accept the fact that among those, there are also priests and deacons, who can recite by heart all the Eucharistic dogmas, but who won't believe Jesus in their minds when he says, "This is my body. This is my blood."
Traveling to Mexico for Christmas, as I do every year, I had a great and joyful surprise on the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday. For the first time in my life, I attended mass at one of the parishes close to the home where I used to live. My parents began attending Mass at this parish lately, and dad insisted I would love it -I gladly went to Mass with them.
The demeanor of the priest as he approached the altar in the entrance procession, struck me. He was focused on the altar and not on greeting the faithful -I could sense he was one of those who take Mass very seriously -And I would be right.
I could see him incensing the altar, the crucifix (thrice), the image of Mary (twice), and of the patron saint (twice). I noticed the Reading explanations were read from a lectern, while the ambo was properly reserved for the Readings, the Gospel, the Homily, and the Universal Prayer. The homily was precise and to the point. The Eucharistic Prayer grasped my attention. The reverence of the priest was evident, and would reach its climax during Consecration. The celebrant priest elevated the consecrated host first, followed by the chalice, and kept holding each in the high for a long period. I could sense the contemplative silence of the faithful, who amidst the stillness, focused their attention on the host and the chalice as the priest held them with utmost reverence. I was moved by the delicate way the priest handled the host and made it rest on the paten, very carefully, as if it could break on his hands. It was clear the priest knew and felt in his hands he was holding no one else but Christ himself, a fact he reaffirmed with the two genuflections after the elevations. The priest did not just touch the floor with his knee and bounced back up to his feet. On the contrary, he remained touching the floor with his right knee for a long period, adoring Christ, present in the Eucharist.
The priest's reverence before the Most Holy, who had become present in his hands by the power of the Holy Spirit after being sent by the Heavenly Father, made me feel a lump in my throat. After communion, I could observe the priest was taking the same care as he handled the sacred vessels during Purification, evidently not taking any chance whatsoever of spilling any particle of the body or the blood of Our Lord.
This happened to be only the second Mass correctly celebrated, with no flaws or liturgical abuses, from beginning to end, that I have attended both in the United States an Mexico in the past 10 years.
Don't take me wrong. It is not that I am some sort of liturgical critic, who focuses on every subtle detail, as a film critic does, to make a commentary on every Mass I attend. No. But it happens that, by means of speaking, writing, and teaching about Sacred Liturgy, the same as speaking so extensively about liturgical abuses as part of my apostolic work, I have developed some sort of sixth sense that detects instantly when something is wrong. It is similar to the skill I have developed as editor of a Catholic magazine. By means of thoroughly chasing typos, spelling, and grammar mistakes before the magazine is sent to the printer, I cannot help but noticing errors of this kind every time I hold any kind of publication in my hands, even when my intent is not to chase errors but to read its contents.
Just the same, as Mass progressed, I could notice the priest was following every rubric in the Missal to a T, including the hand positions, the corporal inclinations during the Eucharist prayer -so commonly disregarded by priests-, and the sacred silence after the readings, the homily, and communion. Indeed! Both the organ and the cantor kept silent after communion.... Believe it or not.
I certainly couldn't care less about liturgical orthodoxy for the sake of fulfilling the rubrics and the prescriptions listed in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. That would be pharisaic and pedantic. My interest rather, as well as my passion about forming the faithful in liturgical correctness, is helping to safeguard the sacredness of the sacred mysteries that unfold at the altar during the celebration of Holy Mass. For sure, the pristine celebration of this Mass helped the faithful to have a full experience of God throughout the liturgy.
When Mass was ended, I came to the priest. I introduced myself and thanked him for the Eucharist. I also praised him for the pristine liturgy he had just celebrated and asked him for an interview to chat more about this experience. He gladly accepted.
I went back two days later in the evening, and held with Fr. Carlos a delightful conversation, sitting in a pew outdoors, going deep into each of the parts of his liturgical celebration that had struck me. I was not interested in asking Father why Mass has to be celebrated correctly. I was rather interested in exploring the feelings that burst in the heart of a priest who takes the Holy Mass so seriously. Every time I present my lecture At the Lord's table, understanding the Holy Mass, I focus on the ways Mass shall become an experience of God to the faithful, as we actively participate from the pews. But I had never pondered how priests experience God as they go through the celebration. This was the best chance to reflect on the latter, hand in hand with a priest himself.
I offered Fr. Carlos to record the interview in video for my YouTube channel, or in audio for my radio program. He preferred me to publish it in writing. Every answer from the priest merits an article on its own. So I will being to translate each answer Fr. Carlos shared with me and will publish them with a commentary of my own. This is the first of a series of articles that, without a doubt, will benefit all those who know the Holy Mass is the personal experience of God par excellence.
Be passionate about our faith!
What struck you from today’s Gospel reading? Here’s my take on it, based on my scribbles at mass on a piece of cardboard I found in the pew.
On the 26th Sunday in ordinary time, we read the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19.).
Jesus said to the Pharisees: “There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores.
When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, and from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.
And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.’Abraham replied, ‘My child, remember that you received
what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented. Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.’
He said, ‘Then I beg you, father, send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.’
But Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.’
He said, ‘Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ Then Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.’”
The important question is why the rich man was condemned. At a glance, one might suspect because of his richness -He is condemned while Lazarus (short for Eleazar, “the one who is helped by God”) goes to the Bosom of Abraham.
Others could say he was condemned because he ignored Lazarus at his doorstep. But, was that the reason?
Doing a quick narrative analysis of the pericope during mass, I realized how accurate the antithetical parallel between the two actors is.
The interlocution that follows, not between the rich man and Lazarus, but rather between the rich man and Abraham, gives us the key to answer the question. If you paid attention to the Gospel, Abraham never reproaches the rich man for not tending to Lazarus. The rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus to his alive brothers so they don’t get condemned as well. But Abraham answers that if they *don’t listen to Moses and the prophets* they won’t believe even if they see a man rising from the dead.
When Jesus refers to “Moses and the prophets” (in this case he does so through the words of Abraham to the rich man), he is using the common way of the Jews to refer to the Torah (we call it Pentateuch, which they attributed his writing to Moses) and to the Nebiim (The prophetic books). So he is not referring to Moses the liberator and to the prophets themselves, but rather to Scripture.
Hence, Abraham is telling the rich man that if his rich brothers “Don’t listen to Scripture”, in other words “If they don’t listen to God (who spoke through Scripture, through Moses (Torah) and the prophets (Nebiim)), they won’t believe even if they see a dead man resurrecting”.
So why was the rich man condemned in the first place?
Sending Lazarus to his rich brothers won’t save them. After all, the rich man had Lazarus sitting at his doorstep when both were alive and that didn’t save him. What condemned him in the first place is that like his rich brothers, *he did not listen to Moses and the prophets* which means that he didn’t listen to God (who spoke through Scripture).
An important lesson
And that is an important lesson to each of us: we can have a Lazarus next to us in our life, but if we ignore the Sacred Scripture, if we don’t listen to God, we won’t be saved either. Even if we see a man rising from the dead.
Be passionate about our faith!
© Mauricio I. Pérez. All rights reserved.
It’s Pentecost Sunday. 50 days since Easter, when Jesus resurrected. In fact, the word pentecost comes from the Greek penhékonta, which means fifty.
Pentecost Sunday is also known as Wheat Sunday, because 50 days after Passover, Jews celebrated the Shabuot festival, to give thanks for the wheat harvest.
Later on, Shabuot was intended to celebrate the anniversary of the institution of the Law of God, received by Moses at Mount Sinai (Ex 19:3-20).
Precisely on this festival, the Holy Spirit descended upon Mary and the apostles, gathered right at the Cenacle, where Christ instituted Eucharist and Priesthood and established the Law of Love.
The Holy Spirit appeared to them as tongues of fire, and each of the apostles began to speak in different tongues. The faith of more than 3,000 people was converted.
The Solemnity of Pentecost means to us the birthday of the Church. It was on Pentecost when the Church was born by the power of the Holy Spirit.
There are two theological keys that we can’t ignore: First, the fact that the Holy Spirit descends and the Church is born. The Spirit of God descends upon the Cenacle so the Church sees its birth among Mary and the apostles. The descent of the Holy Spirit to transform a community of people into the Church, reminds us of every time when the Holy Spirit descends to transform a given element into a sacrament -bread and wine to be transubstantiated into the Eucharist, for instance. So when the Holy Spirit descends upon this community – formed by Mary and the apostles – they are transformed into a sacrament of salvation. The Church that is born in Pentecost is then, a sacrament of salvation.
The second theological key is found in the fact that this account takes place precisely during the celebration of Shabuot, when Jews celebrated the institution of the Law of God at Mount Sinai, establishing the covenant between YHWH and the people of Israel. Jesus had said that he had not come to abolish the Law, but rather to fulfill it (Mt 5,17). Hence, by seeing its birth on this day, the Church fulfills the original People of God and its Covenant with YHWH. From this point on, the People of God will not only be the Jews, but the people of every corner of the world who opens their heart to the Gospel preached by the Apostles.
From a Biblical standpoint, the account of Pentecost, as referred by Luke in his the Acts of the Apostles, is the antithesis to what happened at Babel thousands of years earlier (Gen 11:1-9). As you may recall, back then the people intended to build a tall tower, not as an architectural big endeavor but rather as the fruit of their collective arrogance. The Lord considered that by allowing them to finish their work, they would forget of Him, and decided to mix up their tongue. Babel means confusion. People at Babel, by not speaking the same words, split up into nations -The beginning of the Era of Nations.
Now at Pentecost, by the apostles speaking different tongues, they begin to gather the people who spoke other tongues into one single community, the Church, the new and eternal People of God.
In Pentecost Sunday, between the Second Reading and the Proclamation Before the Gospel, we pray a beautiful Sequence to invoke the Holy Spirit on this very special day in the History of Salvation. It is worth our while to pay attention to every verse of this sequence, and at the same time, to make these words ours:
Come, Holy spirit, come!
And from your celestial home
Shed a ray of light divine!
Come, Father of the por!
Come, source of all our store!
Come, within the bosoms shine.
You, of comforters the best;
You, the soul’s most welcome guest;
Sweet refreshment here below;
In our labor, rest most sweet;
Grateful coolness in the heat;
Solace in the midst of woe.
O most blessed Light divine,
Shine within these hearts of yours,
And our inmost being fill!
Where you are not, we have naught,
Nothing good in deed or thought,
Nothing free from taint of ill.
Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour your dew;
Wash the stains of guilt away:
Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
Guide the steps that go astray.
On the faithful, who adore
And confess you, evermore
In your sevenfold gift descend;
Give them virtue’s sure reward;
Give them your salvation, Lord;
Give them joys that never end.
Be passionate about our faith!
(c) Seminans Media and Faith Formation. All rights reserved.
Can John Paul II’s trust in the founder of the Legion of Christ nullify the Pope’s holiness?
Divine Mercy Sunday 2014 will be remembered because of the historic canonization of two popes on this date: John XXIII, the Good Pope, and John Paul II the Great. The canonization date was not chosen randomly. John Paul II himself instituted the feast of Divine Mercy during a visit to the site where Saint Faustina shared the request she received from the Lord to promote his Divine Mercy. John Paul II was a fond devout of Divine Mercy. The Lord would grant him years later to die and enter into Heaven exactly on Divine Mercy Sunday vigil, the beginning of the feast. For these reasons it is impossible to try to dissociate the life, death and entrance into heaven of the new saint from our Lord’s Divine Mercy.
The beatification decree was issued after acknowledging formally that a miracle had been performed under the intercession of John Paul II, servant of God. The advanced Parkinson of sister Marie Simon Pierre Normand was unexpectedly healed after asking John Paul II for his intercession. Years later, the canonization decree was issued after acknowledging that the brain aneurism affecting Floribeth Mora was instantly healed with no medical or scientific explanation. This happened after praying for the intercession of now blessed John Paul II on May 1st, 2011, right on the day he was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI.
Alas, we see how in spite of the overwhelming joy in the Church around the world, several Catholics and non Catholics complain or at least doubt about the validity of the canonization of the Polish pope, affirming he protected Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legion of Christ.
Marcial Maciel had earned Pope John Paul II’s trust. Maciel founded the Legion of Christ and of the Regnum Christi movement in 1941 and 1951 (originally, the Legion of Christ was named by Maciel “Missionaries of the Sacred Hear and the Virgin of Sorrows”). But he was accused in the nineties of having sexually abused seminarians. In addition, the Legionaries acknowledged publicly in 2009 that Maciel had had at least one woman and some children. We also know he was addicted to dolantine, a morphine derivative. Pope Benedict XVI sentenced Maciel in 2006 to a life of silence and penance, away forever from any exercise of his priestly ministry. A little after one year later, in January 2008, Marcial Maciel died.
The moral harm provoked by Maciel was immense. He caused sexual damage to some. To some others, he left in their soul the same pain suffered by a child who discovers his father has been unfaithful to his wife. Some left the Legion and the Regnum Christi. A few -very few- abandoned priesthood. Yet, in the other hand the priestly order and movement founded by Maciel were bearing abundant fruit and doing good to thousands of people through their work in schools and missions in several countries. If all Christian life is a chiaroscuro with lights and shadows, Maciel’s life was painted in black and white.
Recently the Legion of Christ concluded an extensive process of renovation prescribed by Benedict XVI. Their constitutions were reviewed and renewed with Pope Francis’ final approval, marking a new chapter in the history of the Legionaries, this time with no connection to their founder, Maciel. Since long ago, the General Director of the Legionaries, Fr. Álvaro Corcuera at the time, had ordered the Legionaries and consecrated men and women of the Regnum Christi to remove all pictures from Maciel from their houses, schools and all facilities. Also, they received the order to refrain from publishing any writing from Maciel. We know now he also plagariazed some spiritual writings, which published as his own.
There are many who cannot understand how come Pope John Paul II didn’t take action againts Maciel early enough. Even worse, they cannot understand how the Pope could trust so highly someone who his successor, Benedict XVI, qualified as a “false prophet” (Seewald, P., Light of the world).
In reality, understanding why John Paul II trusted Marcial Maciel is not complicated. Their first contact took place back in 1979 when the recently appointed Pope was making plans to join the Conference of Latin American Bishops (CELAM) who would gather in Puebla, Mexico. For Pope John Paul, it was a top priority making that trip, but at the time Mexico did not have diplomatic relations with the Vatican State, which prevented the Pope from traveling to Mexico as a Head of State. It was Maciel himself who reached out to the mother of Mexico’s president José López Portillo. She convinced her son of allowing the Pope to make the trip, opening the doors to what would become the very first trip of John Paul II. It was in Mexico where he appreciated the potential of visiting every country as pastor of the Catholic Church, becoming the first “pilgrim Pope”.
Besides, Maciel had founded the Legion of Christ. A very orthodox priestly order, totally obedient to the Pope and faithful to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. A flourishing order with increasing vocations year over year. In addition, Maciel had founded the Regnum Christi movement. John Paul II was a big sponsor of the sanctification of the lay faithful and this movement was indeed a good means to achieve this purpose. The schools of the Legionaries were providing very high quality Catholic education to thousands of students around the world, from pre-school to college. And all this work had been started by Marcial Maciel. Why would Pope John Paul have a reason not to trust him?
Something of particular importance to understand this matter, is the undeniable reality of the constant persecution to the Catholic Church. In early times, christians were cruely persecuted and put to death by the Roman Empire. In our times, the Church is persecuted through communication mass media by means of a very obvious tactic: seeking ways to discredit its moral authority. The moral strenght of Jesus’ teachings in the Gospel is a hurdle to the selfish interests of many. The best way to harm the church -many think- is making people doubt and distrust. It becomes necessary making public any negative conduct of a priest or Bishop. And when this is not possible, it is common to present to audiences manipulated information in an effort to slander good priests and bishops.
Slandering cardinals, bishops, and reknown priests is common. Accusing priests and bishops of crimes they never committed happens also frequently. Pope John Paul II was well aware of this reality. Not only because he himself was subject of persecution and espionage as the Archbishop of Krakow, when government would place hidden microphones in his confessional. But also, because first as a Bishop and then as a pope, he was aware of unfounded accusations made with the intention to discredit those who strive to build the Kingdom of God. Both the Legion of Christ and the Regnum Christi worked earnestly to build the Kingdom of God on Earth when the first accusations against Maciel became public. Why would the Pope doubt about Maciel?
It is impossible to disregard as well the Pope’s very heavy workload. We all know John Paull II spent very long hours working every day, even at a very advanced age. The number of matters a pope has to attend is overwhelming. Time for John Paul II, was never enough. For this reason, the majority of the work has to be delegated to the dicasteries in the Vatican. A pope cannot attend personally every accusation against a priest that is submitted to the Holy See. The responsibility to handle the matter in question belonged to the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, whose prefect at the time was Card. Joseph Ratzinger.
In Light of the world, the book-interview by Peter Seewald, Pope Benedict XVI has acknowledged that in fact, this matter was handled slowly and lately. However, he explains this happened because somehow, everything was very well concealed. And it was not until 2,000 that the Congregation had finally solid evidence of what had only been mere accusations up to that point.
No one can proceed against anyone without real evidence. And as I mentioned before, false accusations against priests is part of the ordinary life of the Catholic Church. Without a doubt, this made matters more complicated and explains in a big part the lack of a disciplinary action against Maciel by John Paul II for so long.
Mexican journalist Valentina Alazraki, corresponsal at the Vatican since the late seventies, wrote a book titled John Paul II's eternal light). The book presents an explanation about the ways the Pope lived each of the cardinal and theological virtues along his life: prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance, faith, hope, and charity. This becomes a summary of the Pope’s “heroic life of virtue”. Proving the heroic life of virtue of a servant of God is a due step in his beatification process. Alazraki’s book is based on her interview to Msgr. Sławomir Oder, appointed by Pope Benedict XVI as promotor of the cause of beatification -and later of canonization- of John Paul II.
In “John Paul II’s Eternal Light”, Msgr. Oder explains Maciel’s case was analyzed as part of of the investigation around the holiness of the Pope. He concludes that indeed, no culpability is found in John Paul II, who trusted a man that in reality, was deceiving him. Sławomir Oder explains that Pope John Paul II had the tendency to blindly trust people. Hence, in different occasions he entrusted important responsibilities to people who ended up betraying him: “During the beatification process it was determined that, in fact, John Paul II delegated a good part of the curia’s internal government to the Secretariat of State. In several occasions, following the advise of some of his closest collaborators, he gave important appointments to people in reality unworthy from a moral perspective, or not apt given their limited skills. Theologians concluded that a beatification candidate is not a super man with no defects or mistakes and that a pope is not an infallible executive in the Church. The pope is only infallible in relation to doctrinal decisions concerning faith and morals.” Msgr. Oder reveals that for John Paul II, it was very upsetting to find out that someone had betrayed him: “If they have lied to me, they have lost already. It is not I who leads the Church, but Jesus Christ.”
John Paul II trusted Marcial Maciel, whose Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi made immense good to many people, but whose double life provoked also an immense moral harm to those he abused and to those who trusted him, loved him, and regarded him as “our father”.
In any case, the culpability does not lie in the one who trusted Maciel, based on the fruit of his apostolic works. Rather, in addition to Maciel’s crimes, he is guilty of having deceived the pope himself. He is guilty of having betrayed, among many others, John Paul II, who had trusted him fully. Certainly, a sad episode in the history of the Catholic Church. But nothing new after all -Jesus himself was betrayed by one of his beloved disciples, in exchange of 30 silver coins.
John Paul II’s goodness is unquestionable. From that goodness sprouted the ability of trusting everyone beyond being able of thinking bad of anyone. Maciel knew how to take advantage of this goodness
John Paul II’s holiness fame impelled the faithful to display banners during his funerals claiming in Italian “Santo subito!” declaring him an instant saint. At the end of the day, John Paul II’s holiness guarantee does not require any explanation or justification whatsoever. Whoever saw Pope John Paul II with his own eyes, even for just an instant passing by the streets in his popemobile, felt deep in his heart the presence of God, coming out from the Pope himself. A powerful feeling impossible to explain, but vividly blunt and undeniable. It is there, in the heart of people, where the truth of God makes its dwelling. In those millions of hearts which vibrated as eyes saw a saint riding a popemobile.
Be passionate about our faith!
About this Blog
Posts written by Mauricio I. Pérez, award-winning Catholic journalist and best-selling author.