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Finding the Fullness of Christian Truth…

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“Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours” (2 Thess. 2:15)

Tradition, Scripture, and Magisterium: The Fullness of Truth

By F. K. Bartels
3/24/2011
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The Christian faith is not a “religion of the book.” Christianity is the religion of the “Word” of God, a word which is “not a written and mute word, but the Word which is incarnate and living” (Catechism of The Catholic Church, No. 108).

GLADE PARK, CO (Catholic Online) – On March 23 Pope Benedict XVI, during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square, focused his catechesis on St. Lawrence, whom he acknowledged as an “effective preacher,” and a “theologian versed in sacred Scripture and the fathers of the Church.” St. Lawrence was, continued the Pope, “also able to illustrate in an exemplary way the Catholic doctrine to Christians who, above all in Germany, had followed the Reformation.” 

“With his clear and quiet exposition,” continued our Holy Father, St. Lawrence “showed the biblical and patristic foundation of all the articles of the faith called into question by Martin Luther. Among these, the primacy of St. Peter and his Successors, the divine origin of the episcopate, justification as man’s interior transformation, the need of good works for salvation. The success that Lawrence enjoyed helps us to understand that also today, in carrying forward ecumenical dialogue with so much hope, the confrontation with sacred Scripture, read in the Tradition of the Church, is an irreplaceable element of fundamental importance, as I wished to recall in the apostolic exhortation Verbum Domini.”

It is not necessary to ask why Pope Benedict would use the phrase “confrontation with sacred Scripture”; for it is the inconsistent interpretation of Scripture itself which often continues to — at least to a large extent — fuel disunity in contemporary Christendom. Our Lord prayed for unity among his followers on the eve of his Passion (see Jn. 17); however, it will not be achieved until Christians can agree on key doctrines of the Christian religion, such as those mentioned above by our Holy Father.

Pope Benedict also emphasized the importance of reading Scripture “in the Tradition of the Church.” The inseparable relationship between Tradition (the word of God revealed to the living community of the Church) and Scripture remains as perhaps the single most misunderstood element of the true Christian religion among those who trace the origin of their particular faith tradition to the Reformation. Simply, Tradition is viewed today by some Christians as an intrusion on the word of God, when, in fact, it is just the opposite: it is essential to a fruitful and proper understanding of Scripture. One without the other diminishes the whole of God’s revealed word.

The notion that Scripture should be interpreted in an isolated fashion apart from Tradition was foreign to the apostolic Church, as St. Paul attests: “Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours” (2 Thess. 2:15). It was not until Martin Luther and the Reformation in the sixteenth century that sola scriptura became entrenched in parts of Christendom. Thomas Bokenkotter wrote that for “Luther, ‘Scripture alone’ was the supreme authority in religion-and henceforth this phrase became the rallying cry of all Protestants” (A Concise History of the Catholic Church, 208).

Further, Hilaire Belloc noted that the main principle of the Reformation was a “reaction against a united spiritual authority” (The Great Heresies, 97). While the Reformation was ignited by a complex array of disagreements, clergy abuses, frustration over certain practices in the Church at that time, and other issues, it was nevertheless the tenet of “Scripture alone” which provided the reformers with an anchor point on which a break from the authority of the Catholic Church could be both implemented and, so it seems, sustained. The Christians of that period were Catholics and, in order to facilitate a break with Rome, it became necessary to argue against the importance of Tradition and the authority of the Church: “Scripture alone” became the foundation of such an argument.

Tradition: The Revealed Word of God In History

In Part One of Verbum Domini, Pope Benedict XVI, in describing the various ways in which the word of God is spoken throughout salvation history, focuses on the relationship between Tradition and Scripture. It is important to recognize that, at the very outset, our Holy Father wished to make clear the inseparable relationship between the apostolic Tradition contained in the living Church and the written word of God preserved in Sacred Scripture:

“Then too, the word of God is that word preached by the Apostles in obedience to the command of the Risen Jesus: ‘Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation’ (Mk. 16:15). The word of God is thus handed on in the Church’s living Tradition. Finally, the word of God, attested and divinely inspired, is sacred Scripture, the Old and New Testaments. All this helps us to see that, while in the Church we greatly venerate the sacred Scriptures, the Christian faith is not a ‘religion of the book’: Christianity is the ‘religion of the word of God,’ not of ‘a written and mute word, but of the incarnate and living Word’ (qtd. from St. Bernard of Clairvaux). Consequently the Scripture is to be proclaimed, heard, read, received and experienced as the word of God, in the stream of the apostolic Tradition from which it is inseparable” (Verbum Domini, 7).

We might think of Tradition as the foundation upon which Sacred Scripture is built, for Tradition is of apostolic origin, and was first received into the Church by the Apostles who heard it from the Savior’s own lips. These men, the foundation-stones of the Church (Eph. 2:20), went forth and, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, handed on by “oral preaching, by their example, [and] by their ordinances, what they themselves had received.” It was the “Apostles and others associated with them who, under the inspiration [of the] Holy Spirit, committed the message of salvation to writing” (Ibid., 17-18).

Quoting from Vatican IIs Dei Verbum, Pope Benedict XVI stated that Tradition is “a living and dynamic reality”: it “‘makes progress in the Church, with the help of the Holy Spirit’; yet not in the sense that it changes in its truth, which is perennial. Rather, ‘there is a growth in insight into the realities and the words that are being passed on,’ through contemplation and study, with the understanding granted by deeper spiritual experience and by the ‘preaching of those who, on succeeding to the office of bishop, have received the sure charism of truth'” (Ibid.).

Tradition, Scripture and Magisterium: The Threefold Key To Christian Unity

It is hardly necessary to ask whether “Scripture alone” is entirely sufficient as the sole rule of faith for the Christian religion. The centuries since the Reformation up to present times adequately demonstrate that it is not. Nevertheless, it should be of great interest to every Christian who cherishes the word of God in their heart to contemplate sincerely and carefully whether or not they are receiving God’s revelation in its entirety. In a word, is the fullness of truth important? Surely every devout and pious Christian will agree that it is. In our love for God we want to know the whole truth, for God is Truth, and we intuitively understand that it is necessary to live in the truth to live with God. The truth is an inseparable and integral part of the Christian life, for it was Jesus Christ who said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn. 14:6). It could easily be argued that, for the Christian, accessing the fullness of truth is as important as even a breath of air: while oxygen is necessary for our bodies it is the Risen Lord of Truth who sustains us and provides our very life-principle.

It becomes, then, a question of whether Scripture contains the whole of God’s revelation to his people. As much as we cherish Scripture, the answer can be nothing other than a definitive “no.” In the economy of salvation God speaks to his people through history, creation, the prophets, and “most fully in the mystery of the incarnation, death and resurrection of the Son of God” (Verbum Domini, 7). It was the Person of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God, who self-communicated his word to the Apostles, informing them of what he desired them to know and what he wished them to communicate to the Church, the People for whom he gave up his life on the cross. The point is, the transmission of God’s revelation took place first in the ecclesial community through oral preaching. Later, it was members of that same Church who, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, recorded in the New Testament some of the sayings and parables of Jesus, the mysteries of his life, his commands, and some of what had been revealed to the Apostles by the Spirit.

Through apostolic succession, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Church has faithfully cherished and transmitted the deposit of faith she received from Christ, which includes both Tradition and Scripture in accordance with the Risen Lord’s command: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15). Thus we can easily see that in order to access the fullness of truth — the deposit of faith given the Church by Jesus Christ — one must consult both Tradition and Scripture. The Gospel is both God’s unwritten and written word, not, rather, simply the written word only. As Pope Benedict observed, “Ultimately, it is the living Tradition of the Church which makes us adequately understand sacred Scripture as the word of God” (Verbum Domini, 17-18).

Further, the spiritual authority of the Catholic Church Christ founded and which the reformers so often sought to dismiss is just as integral and inseparable from the fullness of truth as is Tradition and Scripture. For apart from the Magisterium (teaching authority) of the Church, the fullness of God’s revelation cannot be maintained on earth in its integrity.

“It is clear therefore that, in the supremely wise arrangement of God, sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others. Working together, each in its own way, under the action of the one Holy Spirit, they all contribute effectively to the salvation of souls” (Catechism of The Catholic Church, No. 95).

Pope Benedict XVI reminds those faithful who thirst for the fullness of God’s revealed truth where the nourishing fount of “the supreme rule of faith” is to be found: “In short, by the work of the Holy Spirit and under the guidance of the magisterium, the Church hands on to every generation all that has been revealed in Christ. The Church lives in the certainty that her Lord, who spoke in the past, continues today to communicate his word in her living Tradition and in sacred Scripture. Indeed, the word of God is given to us in sacred Scripture as an inspired testimony to revelation; together with the Church’s living Tradition, it constitutes the supreme rule of faith” (Verbum Domini, 17-18).

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F. K. Bartels is a Catholic writer who knows his Catholic Faith is one of the greatest gifts a man could ever receive. He is a contributing writer for Catholic Online. Visit him also at catholicpathways.com

Article brought to you by: Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Pope Benedict XVI: Address at Ecumenical Prayer Service, St. Joseph Parish, New York 04.18.08

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

My heart abounds with gratitude to Almighty God – “the Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:6) – for this blessed opportunity to gather with you this evening in prayer. I thank Bishop Dennis Sullivan for his cordial welcome, and I warmly greet all those in attendance representing Christian communities throughout the United States. May the peace of our Lord and Savior be with you all!

Through you, I express my sincere appreciation for the invaluable work of all those engaged in ecumenism: the National Council of Churches, Christian Churches Together, the Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, and many others. The contribution of Christians in the United States to the ecumenical movement is felt throughout the world. I encourage all of you to persevere, always relying on the grace of the risen Christ whom we strive to serve by bringing about “the obedience of faith for the sake of his name” (Rom 1:5).

We have just listened to the scriptural passage in which Paul – a “prisoner for the Lord” – delivers his ardent appeal to the members of the Christian community at Ephesus. “I beg you,” he writes, “to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called … eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:1-3). Then, after his impassioned litany of unity, Paul reminds his hearers that Jesus, having ascended into heaven, has bestowed upon men and women all the gifts necessary for building up the Body of Christ (cf. Eph 4:11-13).

Paul’s exhortation resounds with no less vigor today. His words instill in us the confidence that the Lord will never abandon us in our quest for unity. They also call us to live in a way that bears witness to the “one heart and mind” (Acts 4:32), which has always been the distinguishing trait of Christian koinonia (cf. Acts 2:42), and the force drawing others to join the community of believers so that they too might come to share in the “unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph 3:8; cf. Acts 2:47; 5:14).

Globalization has humanity poised between two poles. On the one hand, there is a growing sense of interconnectedness and interdependency between peoples even when – geographically and culturally speaking – they are far apart. This new situation offers the potential for enhancing a sense of global solidarity and shared responsibility for the well-being of mankind. On the other hand, we cannot deny that the rapid changes occurring in our world also present some disturbing signs of fragmentation and a retreat into individualism. The expanding use of electronic communications has in some cases paradoxically resulted in greater isolation. Many people – including the young – are seeking therefore more authentic forms of community. Also of grave concern is the spread of a secularist ideology that undermines or even rejects transcendent truth. The very possibility of divine revelation, and therefore of Christian faith, is often placed into question by cultural trends widely present in academia, the mass media and public debate. For these reasons, a faithful witness to the Gospel is as urgent as ever. Christians are challenged to give a clear account of the hope that they hold (cf. 1 Pet 3:15).

Too often those who are not Christians, as they observe the splintering of Christian communities, are understandably confused about the Gospel message itself. Fundamental Christian beliefs and practices are sometimes changed within communities by so-called “prophetic actions” that are based on a hermeneutic not always consonant with the datum of Scripture and Tradition. Communities consequently give up the attempt to act as a unified body, choosing instead to function according to the idea of “local options”. Somewhere in this process the need for diachronic koinonia – communion with the Church in every age – is lost, just at the time when the world is losing its bearings and needs a persuasive common witness to the saving power of the Gospel (cf. Rom 1:18-23).

Faced with these difficulties, we must first recall that the unity of the Church flows from the perfect oneness of the triune God. In John’s Gospel, we are told that Jesus prayed to his Father that his disciples might be one, “just as you are in me and I am in you” (Jn 17:21). This passage reflects the unwavering conviction of the early Christian community that its unity was both caused by, and is reflective of, the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This, in turn, suggests that the internal cohesion of believers was based on the sound integrity of their doctrinal confession (cf. 1 Tim 1:3-11). Throughout the New Testament, we find that the Apostles were repeatedly called to give an account for their faith to both Gentiles (cf. Acts 17:16-34) and Jews (cf. Acts 4:5-22; 5:27-42). The core of their argument was always the historical fact of Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the tomb (Acts 2:24, 32; 3:15; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40; 13:30). The ultimate effectiveness of their preaching did not depend on “lofty words” or “human wisdom” (1 Cor 2:13), but rather on the work of the Spirit (Eph 3:5) who confirmed the authoritative witness of the Apostles (cf. 1 Cor 15:1-11). The nucleus of Paul’s preaching and that of the early Church was none other than Jesus Christ, and “him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). But this proclamation had to be guaranteed by the purity of normative doctrine expressed in creedal formulae – symbola – which articulated the essence of the Christian faith and constituted the foundation for the unity of the baptized (cf. 1 Cor 15:3-5; Gal 1:6-9; Unitatis Redintegratio, 2).

My dear friends, the power of the kerygma has lost none of its internal dynamism. Yet we must ask ourselves whether its full force has not been attenuated by a relativistic approach to Christian doctrine similar to that found in secular ideologies, which, in alleging that science alone is “objective”, relegate religion entirely to the subjective sphere of individual feeling. Scientific discoveries, and their application through human ingenuity, undoubtedly offer new possibilities for the betterment of humankind. This does not mean, however, that the “knowable” is limited to the empirically verifiable, nor religion restricted to the shifting realm of “personal experience”.

For Christians to accept this faulty line of reasoning would lead to the notion that there is little need to emphasize objective truth in the presentation of the Christian faith, for one need but follow his or her own conscience and choose a community that best suits his or her individual tastes. The result is seen in the continual proliferation of communities which often eschew institutional structures and minimize the importance of doctrinal content for Christian living.

Even within the ecumenical movement, Christians may be reluctant to assert the role of doctrine for fear that it would only exacerbate rather than heal the wounds of division. Yet a clear, convincing testimony to the salvation wrought for us in Christ Jesus has to be based upon the notion of normative apostolic teaching: a teaching which indeed underlies the inspired word of God and sustains the sacramental life of Christians today.

Only by “holding fast” to sound teaching (2 Thess 2:15; cf. Rev 2:12-29) will we be able to respond to the challenges that confront us in an evolving world. Only in this way will we give unambiguous testimony to the truth of the Gospel and its moral teaching. This is the message which the world is waiting to hear from us. Like the early Christians, we have a responsibility to give transparent witness to the “reasons for our hope”, so that the eyes of all men and women of goodwill may be opened to see that God has shown us his face (cf. 2 Cor 3:12-18) and granted us access to his divine life through Jesus Christ. He alone is our hope! God has revealed his love for all peoples through the mystery of his Son’s passion and death, and has called us to proclaim that he is indeed risen, has taken his place at the right hand of the Father, and “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead” (Nicene Creed).

May the word of God we have heard this evening inflame our hearts with hope on the path to unity (cf. Lk 24:32). May this prayer service exemplify the centrality of prayer in the ecumenical movement (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio, 8); for without it, ecumenical structures, institutions and programs would be deprived of their heart and soul. Let us give thanks to Almighty God for the progress that has been made through the work of his Spirit, as we acknowledge with gratitude the personal sacrifices made by so many present and by those who have gone before us.

By following in their footsteps, and by placing our trust in God alone, I am confident that – to borrow the words of Father Paul Wattson – we will achieve the “oneness of hope, oneness of faith, and oneness of love” that alone will convince the world that Jesus Christ is the one sent by the Father for the salvation of all.

I thank you all.

Source

Holy Week 2008

Holy Week

            jesus-and-the-twelve.jpg“In Holy Week, the Church celebrates the mysteries of salvation accomplished by Christ in the last days of the earthly life, beginning with his messianic entry into Jerusalem”(141).

            The people are notably involved in the rites of Holy Week. Many of them still bear the traces of their origins in popular piety. It has come about, however, that in the course of the centauries, a form of celebrative parallelism has arisen in the Rites of Holy Week, resulting in two cycles each with its own specific character: one is strictly liturgical, the other is marked by particular pious exercise, especially processions.

            This divergence should be oriented towards a correct harmonisation of the liturgical celebrations and pious exercises. Indeed, the attention and interest in manifestations of popular piety, traditionally observed among the people, should lead to a correct appreciation of the liturgical actions, which are supported by popular piety.

 

Palm Sunday 

Palms, olive branches and other fronds

            Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday, or “Passion Sunday”, which unites the royal splendour of Christ with the proclamation of his Passion”(142).

            The procession, commemorating Christ’s messianic entry into Jerusalem, is joyous and popular in character. The faithful usually keep palm or olive branches, or other greenery which have been blessed on Palm Sunday in their homes or in their work places.

            The faithful, however, should be instructed as to the meaning of this celebration so that they might grasp its significance. They should be opportunely reminded that the important thing is participation at the procession and not only the obtaining of palm or olive branches. Palms or olive branches should not be kept as amulets, or for therapeutic or magical reasons to dispel evil spirits or to prevent the damage these cause in the fields or in the homes, all of which can assume a certain superstitious guise.

            Palms and olive branches are kept in the home as a witness to faith in Jesus Christ, the messianic king, and in his Paschal Victory.

 

The Paschal Triduum 

            Every year, the Church celebrates the great mysteries of the redemption of mankind in the “most sacred triduum of the crucifixion, burial and resurrection”(143). The Sacred Triduum extends from the Mass of the Lord’s Supper to Vespers on Easter Sunday and is celebrated “in intimate communion with Christ her Spouse”(144).

 

Holy Thursday  

Visiting the Altar of Repose

            Popular piety is particularly sensitive to the adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament in the wake of the Mass of the Lord’s supper(145). Because of a long historical process, whose origins are not entirely clear, the place of repose has traditionally been referred to as a “a holy sepulchre”. The faithful go there to venerate Jesus who was placed in a tomb following the crucifixion and in which he remained for some forty hours.

            It is necessary to instruct the faithful on the meaning of the reposition: it is an austere solemn conservation of the Body of Christ for the community of the faithful which takes part in the liturgy of Good Friday and for the viaticum of the infirmed(146). It is an invitation to silent and prolonged adoration of the wondrous sacrament instituted by Jesus on this day.

            In reference to the altar of repose, therefore, the term “sepulchre” should be avoided, and its decoration should not have any suggestion of a tomb. The tabernacle on this altar should not be in the form of a tomb or funerary urn. The Blessed Sacrament should be conserved in a closed tabernacle and should not be exposed in a monstrance.

            After mid-night on Holy Thursday, the adoration should conclude without solemnity, since the day of the Lord’s Passion has already begun.

 

Good Friday  

Good Friday Procession

            The Church celebrates the redemptive death of Christ on Good Friday. The Church meditates on the Lord’s Passion in the afternoon liturgical action, in which she prays for the salvation of the word, adores the Cross and commemorates her very origin in the sacred wound in Christ’s side (cf. John 19, 34)(149).

            In addition to the various forms of popular piety on Good Friday such as the Via Crucis, the passion processions are undoubtedly the most important. These correspond, after the fashion of popular piety, to the small procession of friends and disciples who, having taken the body of Jesus down from the Cross, carried it to the place where there “was a tomb hewn in the rock in which no one had yet been buried” (Lk 23, 53).

            The procession of the “dead Christ” is usually conducted in austere silence, prayer, and the participation of many of the faithful, who intuit much of the significance of the Lord’s burial.

            It is necessary, however, to ensure that such manifestations of popular piety, either by time or the manner in which the faithful are convoked, do not become a surrogate for the liturgical celebrations of Good Friday.

            In the pastoral planning of Good Friday primary attention and maximum importance must be given to the solemn liturgical action and the faithful must be brought to realize that no other exercise can objectively substitute for this liturgical celebration.

            Finally, the integration of the “dead Christ” procession with the solemn liturgical action of Good Friday should be avoided for such would constitute a distorted celebrative hybrid.

Passion Plays

            In many countries, passion plays take place during Holy Week, especially on Good Friday. These are often “sacred representations”which can justly be regarded as pious exercises. Indeed, such sacred representations have their origins in the Sacred Liturgy. Some of these plays, which began in the monks’ choir, so as to speak, have undergone a progressive dramatisation that has taken them outside of the church.

            In some places, responsibility for the representations of the Lord’s passion has been given over to the Confraternities, whose members have assumed particular responsibilities to live the Christian life. In such representations, actors and spectators are involved in a movement of faith and genuine piety. It is singularly important to ensure that representations of the Lord’s Passion do not deviate from this pure line of sincere and gratuitous piety, or take on the characteristics of folk productions, which are not so much manifestations of piety as tourist attractions.

            In relation to sacred “representations” it is important to instruct the faithful on the difference between a “representation” which is commemorative, and the “liturgical actions” which are anamnesis, or mysterious presence of the redemptive event of the Passion.

            Penitential practices leading to self-crucifixion with nails are not to be encouraged.

Our Lady of Dolours

            Because of its doctrinal and pastoral importance, it is recommended that “the memorial of Our Lady of Dolours”(150) should be recalled. Popular piety, following the Gospel account, emphasizes the association of Mary with the saving Passion her Son (cf, John 19, 25-27; Lk 2, 34f), and has given rise to many pious exercises, including:

  • the Planctus Mariae, an intense expression of sorrow, often accompanied by literary or musical pieces of a very high quality, in which Our Lady cries not only for the death of her Son, the Innocent, Holy, and Good One, but also for the errors of his people and the sins of mankind;

  • the Ora della Desolata, in which the faithful devoutly keep vigil with the Mother of Our Lord, in her abandonment and profound sorrow following the death of her only Son; they contemplate Our Lady as she receives the dead body of Christ (the Pietà) realizing that the sorrow of the world for the Lord’s death finds expression in Mary; in her they behold the personification of all mothers throughout the ages who have mourned the loss of a son. This pious exercise, which in some parts of Latin America is called El Pésame, should not be limited merely to the expression of emotion before a sorrowing mother. Rather, with faith in the resurrection, it should assist in understanding the greatness of Christ’s redemptive love and his Mother’s participation in it.

 

Holy Saturday 

            “On Holy Saturday, the Church pauses at the Lord’s tomb, meditating his Passion and Death, his descent into Hell, and, with prayer and fasting, awaits his resurrection”(151).

            Popular piety should not be impervious to the peculiar character of Holy Saturday. The festive customs and practices connected with this day, on which the celebration of the Lord’s resurrection was once anticipated, should be reserved for the vigil and for Easter Sunday.

The “Ora della Madre”

            According to tradition, the entire body of the Church is represented in Mary: she is the “credentium collectio universa”(152). Thus, the Blessed Virgin Mary, as she waits near the Lord’s tomb, as she is represented in Christian tradition, is an icon of the Virgin Church keeping vigil at the tomb of her Spouse while awaiting the celebration of his resurrection.

            The pious exercise of the Ora di Maria is inspired by this intuition of the relationship between the Virgin Mary and the Church: while the body of her Son lays in the tomb and his soul has descended to the dead to announce liberation from the shadow of darkness to his ancestors, the Blessed Virgin Mary, foreshadowing and representing the Church, awaits, in faith, the victorious triumph of her Son over death.

 

Easter Sunday 

            Easter Sunday, the greatest solemnity in the liturgical year, is often associated with many displays of popular piety: these are all cultic expressions which proclaim the new and glorious condition of the risen Christ, and the divine power released from his triumph over sin and death.

The Risen Christ meets his Mother

            Popular piety intuits a constancy in the relationship between Christ and his mother: in suffering and death and in the joy of the resurrection.

            The liturgical affirmation that God replenished the Blessed Virgin Mary with joy in the resurrection of her Son(153), has been translated and represented, so as to speak, in the pious exercise of the meeting of the Risen Christ with His Mother: on Easter morning two processions, one bearing the image of Our Lady of Dolours, the other that of the Risen Christ, meet each other so as to show that Our Lady was the first, and full participant in the mystery of the Lord’s resurrection.

            What has already been said in relation to the processions of “the dead Christ” also applies to this pious exercise: the observance of the pious exercise should not acquire greater importance than the liturgical celebration of Easter Sunday nor occasion inappropriate mixing of liturgical expressions with those of popular piety(154).

Blessing of the Family Table

            The Easter liturgy is permeated by a sense of newness: nature has been renewed, since Easter coincides with Spring in the Northern hemisphere; fire and water have been renewed; Christian hearts have been renewed through the Sacrament of Penance, and, where possible, through administration of the Sacraments of Christian initiation; the Eucharist is renewed, so as to speak: these are signs and sign-realities of the new life begun by Christ in the resurrection.

            Among the pious exercises connected with Easter Sunday, mention must be made of the traditional blessing of eggs, the symbol of life, and the blessing of the family table; this latter, which is a daily habit in many Christian families that should be encouraged(155), is particularly important on Easter Sunday: the head of the household or some other member of the household, blesses the festive meal with Easter water which is brought by the faithful from the Easter Vigil.

Visit to the Mother of the Risen Christ

            At the conclusion of the Easter Vigil, or following the Second Vespers of Easter, a short pious exercise is kept in many places: flowers are blessed and distributed to the faithful as a sign of Easter joy. Some are brought to the image of Our Lady of Dolours, which is then crowned, as the Regina Coeli is sung. The faithful, having associated themselves with the sorrows of the Blessed Virgin in the Lord’s Passion and Death, now rejoice with her in His resurrection.

            While this pious exercise should not be incorporated into the liturgical action, it is completely in harmony with the content of the Paschal Mystery and is a further example of the manner in which popular piety grasps the Blessed Virgin Mary’s association with the saving work of her Son.

 

Eastertide 

The Annual Blessing of Family Homes

            The annual blessing of families takes places in their homes during Eastertide – or at other times of the year. This pastoral practice is highly recommended to parish priests and to their assistant priests since it is greatly appreciated by the faithful and affords a precious occasion to recollect God’s constant presence among Christian families. It is also an opportunity to invite the faithful to live according to the Gospel, and to exhort parents and children to preserve and promote the mystery of being “a domestic church”.

The Via Lucis

            A pious exercise called the Via Lucis has developed and spread to many regions in recent years. Following the model of the Via Crucis, the faithful process while meditating on the various appearances of Jesus – from his Resurrection to his Ascension – in which he showed his glory to the disciples who awaited the coming of the Holy Spirit (cf. John 14, 26; 16, 13-15; Lk 24, 49), strengthened their faith, brought to completion his teaching on the Kingdom and more closely defined the sacramental and hierarchical structure of the Church.

            Through the Via Lucis, the faithful recall the central event of the faith – the resurrection of Christ – and their discipleship in virtue of Baptism, the paschal sacrament by which they have passed from the darkness of sin to the bright radiance of the light of grace (cf. Col 1, 13; Ef 5, 8).

            For centuries the Via Crucis involved the faithful in the first moment of the Easter event, namely the Passion, and helped to fixed its most important aspects in their consciousness. Analogously, the Via Lucis, when celebrated in fidelity to the Gospel text, can effectively convey a living understanding to the faithful of the second moment of the Pascal event, namely the Lord’s Resurrection.

            The Via Lucis is potentially an excellent pedagogy of the faith, since “per crucem ad lucem”. Using the metaphor of a journey, the Via Lucis moves from the experience of suffering, which in God’s plan is part of life, to the hope of arriving at man’s true end: liberation, joy and peace which are essentially paschal values.

            The Via Lucis is a potential stimulus for the restoration of a “culture of life” which is open to the hope and certitude offered by faith, in a society often characterized by a “culture of death”, despair and nihilism.

Devotion to the Divine Mercy

            In connection with the octave of Easter, recent years have witnessed the development and diffusion of a special devotion to the Divine Mercy based on the writings of Sr. Faustina Kowalska who was canonized 30 April 2000. It concentrates on the mercy poured forth in Christ’s death and resurrection, fount of the Holy Spirit who forgives sins and restores joy at having been redeemed. Since the liturgy of the Second Sunday of Easter or Divine Mercy Sunday – as it is now called – is the natural locus in which to express man’s acceptance of the Redeemer’s mercy, the faithful should be taught to understand this devotion in the light of the liturgical celebrations of these Easter days. Indeed, “the paschal Christ is the definitive incarnation of mercy, his living sign which is both historico-salvific and eschatological. At the same time, the Easter liturgy places the words of the psalm on our lips: “I shall sing forever of the Lord’s mercy” (Ps 89[88] 2)”.

The Pentecost Novena

            The New Testament tells us that during the period between the Ascension and Pentecost “all…joined in continuous prayer, together with several women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers” (Acts 1, 14) while they awaited being “clothed with the power from on high” (Lk 24, 49). The pious exercise of the Pentecost novena, widely practised among the faithful, emerged from prayerful reflection on this salvific event.

            Indeed, this novena is already present in the Missal and in the Liturgy of the Hours, especially in the second vespers of Pentecost: the biblical and eucological texts, in different ways, recall the disciples’ expectation of the Paraclete. Where possible, the Pentecost novena should consist of the solemn celebration of vespers. Where such is not possible, the novena should try to reflect the liturgical themes of the days from Ascension to the Vigil of Pentecost.

            In some places, the week of prayer for the unity Christians is celebrated at this time.

Source: Directory of Popular Piety

Lenten Prayer For Christian Unity: The Akathist Hymn to the Blessed Virgin Mary

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In the Byzantine tradition, one of the oldest and most revered expressions of Marian devotion is the hymn “Akathistos” – meaning the hymn sung while standing. It is a literary and theological masterpiece, encapsulating in the form of a prayer, the universally held Marian belief of the primitive Church. The hymn is inspired by the Scriptures, the doctrine defined by the Councils of Nicea (325), Ephesus (431), and Chalcedon (451), and reflects the Greek fathers of the fourth and fifth centuries. It is solemnly celebrated in the Eastern Liturgy on the Fifth Saturday of Lent. The hymn is also sung on many other liturgical occasions and is recommended for the use of the clergy and faithful.  

In recent times the Akathistos has been introduced to some communities in the Latin Rite(261). Some solemn liturgical celebrations of particular ecclesial significance, in the presence of the Pope, have also helped to popularize the use of the hymn in Rome(262). This very ancient hymn(263), the mature fruit of the undivided Church’s earliest devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, constitutes an appeal and invocation for the unity of Christians under the guidance of the Mother of God: “Such richness of praise, accumulated from the various forms of the great tradition of the Church, could help to ensure that she may once again breath with “both lungs”: the East and the West”(264).  

THE AKATHIST HYMN
TO THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY

[The entire service is either sung or chanted, preferably sung, to traditional melodies. If the melodies are unknown, a chanting ‘recto tono’ will suffice, though much of the grandeur will be lost.]—–  

[LEADER]: BLESSED IS OUR GOD, ALWAYS, NOW AND FOREVERMORE. AMEN.  

– O HEAVENLY KING, COMFORTER, SPIRIT OF TRUTH, YOU ARE EVERYWHERE PRESENT AND FIT ALL THINGS. TREASURY OF BLESSINGS, AND GIVER OF LIFE, COME AND DWELL WITHIN US, CLEANSE US OF ALL STAIN, AND SAVE OUR SOULS, O GRACIOUS ONE!  

– HOLY GOD, HOLY AND MIGHTY, HOLY AND IMMORTAL ONE, HAVE MERCY ON US. (Three times)  

– O MOST HOLY TRINITY, HAVE MERCY ON US! O LORD, CLEANSE US OF OUR SINS! O MASTER, FORGIVE OUR TRANSGRESSIONS! O HOLY ONE, COME TO US AND HEAL OUR INFIRMITIES FOR YOUR NAME’S SAKE!  

– LORD, HAVE MERCY. (Three times)  

– GLORY BE TO THE FATHER + AND TO THE SON, AND TO THE HOLY SPIRIT, NOW AND EVER, AND FOREVER, AMEN.  

– OUR FATHER WHO ART IN HEAVEN, HALLOWED BE THY NAME, THY KINGDOM COME, THY WILL BE DONE, ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN. GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD, AND FORGIVE US OUR TRESPASSES, AS WE FORGIVE THOSE WHO TRESPASS AGAINST US, AND LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION, BUT DELIVER US FROM EVIL.  

– FOR THINE IS THE KINGDOM AND THE POWER AND THE GLORY, FATHER +, SON, AND HOLY SPIRIT, NOW AND EVER AND FOREVER. AMEN.  

– LET US PRAY TO THE LORD.  

[RESPONSE]: Lord, have mercy!  

PREAMBLE

As soon as the angel had received his command, he hastened to Joseph’s house and said to the ever-virgin: “Behold, heaven was brought down to earth when the Word Himself was fully contained in you! Now that I see Him in your womb, taking a servant’s form, I cry out to you in wonder: Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!”  

FIRST CHANT

An Archangel was sent from heaven to greet the Mother of God, and as he saw you assuming a body at the sound of his bodiless voice, O Lord, he stood rapt in amazement and cried out to her in these words:Hail, O you, through whom Joy will shine forth!
Hail, O you, through whom the curse will disappear!
Hail, O Restoration of the Fallen Adam!
Hail, O Redemption of the Tears of Eve!
Hail, O Peak above the reach of human thought!
Hail, O Depth even beyond the sight of angels!
Hail, O you who have become a Kingly Throne!
Hail, O you who carry Him Who Carries All!
Hail, O Star who manifest the Sun!
Hail, O Womb of the Divine Incarnation!
Hail, O you through whom creation is renewed!
Hail, O you through whom the Creator becomes a Babe!
Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!  

[RESPONSE]: Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!  

KONTAKION

Knowing that she was a virgin, the blessed one courageously answered the angel: “Your surprising words seem hard for my mind to accept: how can you speak of a birth that is to come from a conception without seed? And why do you cry, Alleluia?”[RESPONSE]: Alleluia!  

SECOND CHANT

Trying to grasp the meaning of this mystery, the Virgin asked the holy messenger: “How is it possible tha a son be born from a virginal womb? Tell me.” And he answered her with awe, crying out in these words:Hail, O hidden Sense of the Ineffable Plan!
Hail, O Belief in Silence That Must Be!
Hail, O Forecast of the Marvels of Christ!
Hail, O Fountainhead of truths concerning Him!
Hail, Celestial Ladder, by whom God came down!
Hail, O Bridge leading earthly ones to heaven!
Hail, O Wonder, ever-thrilling to the angels!
Hail, O Wound, ever-hurting to the demons!
Hail, O you who gave birth to Light ineffably!
Hail, O you who told no one how it was done!
Hail, O you who surpass the wisdom of the wise!
Hail, O you who enlighten faithful minds!
Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!  

[RESPONSE]: Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!  

KONTAKION

When the power of the Most High overshadowed the one who had never known the nuptial bed, her fruitful womb conceived, and she became for all a delicious field: for those who wished to reap salvation by singing “ALLELUIA!”[RESPONSE]: Alleluia!  

THIRD CHANT

Pregnant with God, the Virgin hastened to Elizabeth, her unborn child rejoiced, immediately knowing her embrace. Bouncing and singing, he cried out to the Mother of God:Hail, O Tendril whose Bud shall not wilt!
Hail, O Soil whose Fruit shall not perish!
Hail, O Tender of mankind’s loving Tender!
Hail, O Gardener of the Gardener of Life!
Hail, O Earth who yielded abundant mercies!
Hail, O Table full-laden with appeasement!
Hail, for you have greened anew the pastures of delight!
Hail, for you have prepared a haven for the souls!
Hail, acceptable Incense of Prayer!
Hail, Expiation of the whole universe!
Hail, O you Favor of God to mortal men!
Hail, O you Trust of mortals before God!
Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!  

[RESPONSE]: Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!  

KONTAKION

Filled with a storm of contradictory thoughts, the wise Joseph was greatly disturbed: until then, he had seen you a virgin, and now he suspected you of secret guilt, all-blameless one! Learning that your conception was of the Holyl Spirit, he cried out: “Alleluia!”[RESPONSE]: Alleluia!  

FOURTH CHANT

The Shepherds heard the angels singing hymns of praise tot he coming of Christ in the Flesh. And running to Him as to a shepherd, they saw Him as a spotless lamb, grazing at Mary’s breast. They sang a hymn to her and said:Hail, O Mother of Lamb and Shepherd!
Hail, O Fold of rational sheep!
Hail, O Protection against unseen foes!
Hail, O Key to the Doors of Paradise!
Hail, for the heavenly rejoice with the earth!
Hail, for the earthly meet the heavens in song!
Hail, the Unsilenced Voice of the Apostles!
Hail, the Undaunted Might of Martyrs!
Hail, O Steadfast Foundation of Faith!
Hail, O Shining Emblem of Grace!
Hail, O you through whom death was despoiled!
Hail, O you through whom we were clothed with glory!
Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!  

[RESPONSE]: Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!  

KONTAKION

When they saw the Star moved by God, the Magi followed its glittering light. Using it as a beacon, they found through it the Mighty King, and reaching the One Beyond All Reach, they rejoiced and cried out to Him: “Alleluia!”[RESPONSE]: Alleluia!  

FIFTH CHANT

The Sons of Chaldaea saw in the Virgin’s hands the One whose hands had fashioned men: and acknowledging Him as the Master, although He had taken the form of a servant, they hastened to honor Him with their gifts and cried out to the Blessed One:Hail, O Mother of the Star Without Setting!
Hail, O Radiance of the Mystical Day!
Hail, O you who quenched the flame of error!
Hail, O Light of those who search the Trinity!
Hail, O you who unthroned the Enemy of Men!
Hail, O you who showed forth Christ the Lord, Lover of Mankind!
Hail, O you who cleansed us from the stain of pagan worship!
Hail, O you who saved us from the mire of evil deeds!
Hail, O you who made cease the cult of fire!
Hail, O you who guide the faithful toward wisdom!
Hail, O you, Delight of all the Nations!
Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!  

[RESPONSE]: Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!  

KONTAKION

The Magi, become God-bearing heralds, returned to Babylon, conforming to your command, announcing You, the Christ, to all, and leaving Herod as a fool who did not know how to sing: “Alleluia!”[RESPONSE]: Alleluia!  

SIXTH CHANT

Illuminating Egypt with the Light of Truth, you cast away the darkness of error. For the idols, unable to stand your might, fell down, and those who had been delivered from them cried out to the Mother of God:Hail, O Resurrection of mankind!
Hail, O Downfall of the Demons!
Hail, O you who crushed the error of deceit!
Hail, O you who exposed the fraud of idols!
Hail, O Sea who drowned the symbolic Pharaon!
Hail, O Rock who quenched those who thirst for Life!
Hail, O Pillar of Fire who guided those in darkness!
Hail, O Shelter of the World, wider than the clouds!
Hail, O Food who took the place of Manna!
Hail, O Handmaid of holy delight!
Hail, O Land of the promised good!
Hail, O you who flow with milk and honey!
Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!  

[RESPONSE]: Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!  

KONTAKION

As Simeon was about to leave the present deceitful world, You were entrusted to him as an infant, but You made Yourself known to him as the perfect God. Wherefore he marveled at your wisdom beyond words, and cried out: “Alleluia!”[RESPONSE]: Alleluia!  

SEVENTH CHANT

The Creator displayed a new creation to us who had come from Him: He came forth from a womb that had received no seed, and He left it intact as it had been, so that at the sight of this marvel, we would sing to her and cry out:Hail, O Blossom of Incorruption!
Hail, O Crown of Self-mastery!
Hail, O you who shone forth as a Sign of Resurrection!
Hail, O you who displayed the Life of Angels!
Hail, Fruitful Tree from whom believers feed!
Hail, Shady Glen where many are sheltered!
Hail, O you who have born the Guide of the Lost!
Hail, Source of Life to the captives’ Release!
Hail, O you who unsettled even the Just Judge!
Hail, Indulgence of many who have fallen!
Hail, O Stole for those who lack freedom to speak!
Hail, O Tenderness who exceed all desire!
Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!  

[RESPONSE]: Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!  

KONTAKION

Now that we have seen this strange birth, let us estrange ourselves from the world and turn our minds to heaven: indeed, it is for this that the God Most High appeared on earth as a lowly man, desiring to draw up to heaven those who cry out to Him: “Alleluia!”[RESPONSE]: Alleluia!  

EIGHTH CHANT

While fully present amid those below, the uncircumscribed Word was in no way absent from those above: for what happened was a divine condescension, and not a moving from one place to another: and it was a birth from a Virgin inspired by God, who heard these words:Hail, O Space of the Spaceless God!
Hail, O Gate of the Sublime Mystery!
Hail, O Message unsure to men without faith!
Hail, O Glory most certain to those who believe!
Hail, O Sacred Chariot of the One above the Cherubim!
Hail, Perfect Dwelling of the One above the Seraphim!
Hail, O you who reconciled opposites!
Hail, O you who combined maidenhood and motherhood!
Hail, O you through whom Paradise was opened!
Hail, O Key to the Kingdom of Christ!
Hail, O Hope for the Ages of Bliss!
Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!  

[RESPONSE]: Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!  

KONTAKION

The whole order of the Angels marveled at the great work of your becoming a man: for they saw the One Inaccessible as God become a Man accessible to all, living with us and hearing us cry out: “Alleluia!”[RESPONSE]: Alleluia!  

NINTH CHANT

O Mother of God, we see the best of speakers become as mute as fish in your regard, for they could not explain how you could give birth while remaining a virgin. As for us, while marveling at the mystery, we cry out to you with faith:Hail, O Container of God’s Wisdom!
Hail, O Treasury of His Providence!
Hail, O Reproof of foolish philosophers!
Hail, O Confusion of speechless wise men!
Hail, for you perplexed the inquisitive minds!
Hail, for you dried up the inventors of myths!
Hail, for you ripped the Athenians’ meshes!
Hail, for you filled the Fishermen’s nets!
Hail, O Retriever from the Abyss of Ignorance!
Hail, O Lamplight of Knowledge to many!
Hail, O Ship for those who seek Salvation!
Hail, O Harbor for the Sailors of Life!
Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!  

[RESPONSE]: Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!  

KONTAKION

Desiring to save the world, the Creator of All came down to it of His own will. Being at the same time our Shepherd and our God, He appeared among us. And so the like called upon the like, and as God He heard: “Alleluia!”[RESPONSE]: Alleluia!  

TENTH CHANT

O Virgin Mother of God, you are the strength of Virgins and of all those who have recourse to you. For the Maker of heaven and earth covered you with His shadow, O Pure One, and came to dwell in your womb, and taught us all to cry out to you:Hail, O Pillar of Virginity!
Hail, O Gateway of Salvation!
Hail, O Principle of the New Creation!
Hail, O Dispenser of God’s bounties!
Hail, for you restored those born in shame!
Hail, for you gave sense to those who had lost it!
Hail, O you who stopped the corruptor of minds!
Hail, O you who bore the Sower of Chastity!
Hail, Holy Chamber of virginal wedlock!
Hail, O you who join the faithful with God!
Hail, O gracious Foster-Mother of virgins!
Hail, O Bridesmaid of holy souls!
Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!  

[RESPONSE]: Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!  

KONTAKION

Because He wished to grant release from all the ancient debts, the One who pays men’s dues came down Himself to those who had spurned His grace; He tore up their obligations, and heard from all of them this cry: “Alleluia!”[RESPONSE]: Alleluia!  

TWELFTH CHANT

By singing praise to your maternity, we all exalt you as a spiritual temple, Mother of God! For the One Who Dwelt Within Your Womb, the Lord Who Holds All Things in His Hands, sanctified you, glorified you, and taught all men to sing to you:Hail, O Tabernacle of God the Word!
Hail, O Holy One, more holy than the saints!
Hail, O Ark that the Spirit has gilded!
Hail, Inexhaustible Treasure of Life!
Hail, Precious Crown of rightful authorities!
Hail, Sacred Glory of reverent priests!
Hail, Unshakable Tower of the Church!
Hail, Unbreachable Wall of the Kingdom!
Hail, O you through whom the trophies are raised!
Hail, O you through whome the enemies are routed!
Hail, O healing of my body!
Hail, O salvation of my soul!
Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!  

[RESPONSE]: Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!  

KONTAKION

O Mother worthy of all praise, you who have given birth to the Word, the Holiest of the Holy, accept this present offering, deliver all men from every affliction, and save from the future punishment those who cry out to you: “Alleluia!”[RESPONSE]: Alleluia!  

Gabriel was rapt in amazement as he beheld your virginity and the splendor of your purity, O Mother of God, and he cried out to you: “By what name shall I call you? I am bewildered; I am lost! I shall greet you as I was commanded to do: ‘Hail, O Woman full of Grace!'”  

DISMISSAL

– GLORY TO YOU, O CHRIST, OUR GOD AND OUR HOPE: GLORY BE TO YOU![RESPONSE]: GLORY BE TO THE FATHER +, AND TO THE SON, AND TO THE HOLY SPIRIT, NOW AND EVER, AND FOREVER AMEN. LORD, HAVE MERCY! LORD, HAVE MERCY! GIVE THE BLESSING!  

MAY CHRIST OUR TRUE GOD (If a Sunday or the Easter Season: WHO IS RISEN FROM THE DEAD) HAVE MERCY ON US AND SAVE US, THROUGH THE PRAYERS OF HIS MOST PURE MOTHER AND OF ALL THE HOLY, GLORIOUS, AND ILLUSTRIOUS APOSTLES, THROUGH THE PRAYERS OF ST. (N) WHOSE MEMORY WE CELEBRATE TODAY, AND OF ALL THE SAINTS, FOR HE IS GRACIOUS AND LOVES MANKIND!  

[RESPONSE]: AMEN!  

Source  

Pope Benedict XVI: The Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lourdes: Message for World Day of the Sick

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

grotte_1024x768.jpg1. On 11 February, the memorial of the Blessed Mary Virgin of Lourdes, the World Day of the Sick will be celebrated, a propitious occasion to reflect on the meaning of pain and the Christian duty to take responsibility for it in whatever situation it arises. This year this significant day is connected to two important events for the life of the Church, as one already understands from the theme chosen ‘The Eucharist, Lourdes and Pastoral Care for the Sick’: the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the apparitions of the Immaculate Mary at Lourdes, and the celebration of the International Eucharistic Congress at Quebec in Canada. In this way, a remarkable opportunity to consider the close connection that exists between the Mystery of the Eucharist, the role of Mary in the project of salvation, and the reality of human pain and suffering, is offered to us.

The hundred and fifty years since the apparitions of Lourdes invite us to turn our gazeprocession_1024x768.jpg towards the Holy Virgin, whose Immaculate Conception constitutes the sublime and freely-given gift of God to a woman so that she could fully adhere to divine designs with a steady and unshakable faith, despite the tribulations and the sufferings that she would have to face. For this reason, Mary is a model of total self-abandonment to the will of God: she received in her heart the eternal Word and she conceived it in her virginal womb; she trusted to God and, with her soul pierced by a sword (cf. Lk 2:35), she did not hesitate to share the passion of her Son, renewing on Calvary at the foot of the Cross her ‘Yes’ of the Annunciation. To reflect upon the Immaculate Conception of Mary is thus to allow oneself to be attracted by the ‘Yes’ which joined her wonderfully to the mission of Christ, the redeemer of humanity; it is to allow oneself to be taken and led by her hand to pronounce in one’s turn ‘fiat’ to the will of God, with all one’s existence interwoven with joys and sadness, hopes and disappointments, in the awareness that tribulations, pain and suffering make rich the meaning of our pilgrimage on the earth.

2. One cannot contemplate Mary without being attracted by Christ and one cannot look at Christ without immediately perceiving the presence of Mary. There is an indissoluble link between the Mother and the Son, generated in her womb by work of the Holy Spirit, and this link we perceive, in a mysterious way, in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, as the Fathers of the Church and theologians pointed out from the early centuries onwards. ‘The flesh born of Mary, coming from the Holy Spirit, is bread descended from heaven’, observed St. Hilary of Poitiers. In the Bergomensium Sacramentary of the ninth century we read: ‘Her womb made flower a fruit, a bread that has filled us with an angelic gift. Mary restored to salvation what Eve had destroyed by her sin’. And St. Pier Damiani observed: ‘That body that the most blessed Virgin generated, nourished in her womb with maternal care, that body I say, without doubt and no other, we now receive from the sacred altar, and we drink its blood as a sacrament of our redemption.320px-mass_at_lourdes.jpg This is what the Catholic faith believes, this the holy Church faithfully teaches’. The link of the Holy Virgin with the Son, the sacrificed Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, is extended to the Church, the mystic Body of Christ. Mary, observes the Servant of God John Paul II, is a ‘woman of the Eucharist’ in her whole life, as a result of which the Church, seeing Mary as her model, ‘is also called to imitate her in her relationship with this most holy mystery’ (Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, n. 53). In this perspective one understands even further why in Lourdes the cult of the Blessed Virgin Mary is joined to a strong and constant reference to the Eucharist with daily Celebrations of the Eucharist, with adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament, and with the blessing of the sick, which constitutes one of the strongest moments of the visit of pilgrims to the grotto of Massabielles.

The presence of many sick pilgrims in Lourdes, and of the volunteers who accompany them, helps us to reflect on the maternal and tender care that the Virgin expresses towards human pain and suffering. Associated with the Sacrifice of Christ, Mary, Mater Dolorosa, who at the foot of the Cross suffers with her divine Son, is felt to be especially near by the Christian community, which gathers around its suffering members, who bear the signs of the passion of the Lord. Mary suffers with those who are in affliction, with them she hopes, and she is their comfort, supporting them with her maternal help. And is it not perhaps true that the spiritual experience of very many sick people leads us to understand increasingly that ‘the Divine Redeemer wishes to penetrate the soul of every sufferer through the heart of his holy Mother, the first and the most exalted of all the redeemed’? (John Paul II, Apostolic Letter, Salvifici doloris, n. 26).

rosaire_1024x768.jpg3. If Lourdes leads us to reflect upon the maternal love of the Immaculate Virgin for her sick and suffering children, the next International Eucharistic Congress will be an opportunity to worship Jesus Christ present in the Sacrament of the altar, to entrust ourselves to him as Hope that does not disappoint, to receive him as that medicine of immortality which heals the body and the spirit. Jesus Christ redeemed the world through his suffering, his death and his resurrection, and he wanted to remain with us as the ‘bread of life’ on our earthly pilgrimage. ‘The Eucharist, Gift of God for the Life of the World’: this is the theme of the Eucharistic Congress and it emphasises how the Eucharist is the gift that the Father makes to the world of His only Son, incarnated and crucified. It is he who gathers us around the Eucharistic table, provoking in his disciples loving care for the suffering and the sick, in whom the Christian community recognises the face of its Lord. As I pointed out in the Post-Synodal Exhortation Sacramentum caritatis, ‘Our communities, when they celebrate the Eucharist, must become ever more conscious that the sacrifice of Christ is for all, and that the Eucharist thus compels all who believe in him to become “bread that is broken” for others’ (n. 88). We are thus encouraged to commit ourselves in the first person to helping our brethren, especially those in difficulty, because the vocation of every Christian is truly that of being, together with Jesus, bread that is broken for the life of the world.

4. It thus appears clear that it is specifically from the Eucharist that pastoral care in health 18.jpgmust draw the necessary spiritual strength to come effectively to man’s aid and to help him to understand the salvific value of his own suffering. As the Servant of God John Paul II was to write in the already quoted Apostolic Letter Salvifici doloris, the Church sees in her suffering brothers and sisters as it were a multiple subject of the supernatural power of Christ (cf. n. 27). Mysteriously united to Christ, the man who suffers with love and meek self-abandonment to the will of God becomes a living offering for the salvation of the world. My beloved Predecessor also stated that ‘The more a person is threatened by sin, the heavier the structures of sin which today’s world brings with it, the greater is the eloquence which human suffering possesses in itself. And the more the Church feels the need to have recourse to the value of human sufferings for the salvation of the world’ (ibidem). If, therefore, at Quebec the mystery of the Eucharist, the gift of God for the life of the world, is contemplated during the World Day of the Sick in an ideal spiritual parallelism, not only will the actual participation of human suffering in the salvific work of God be celebrated, but the valuable fruits promised to those who believe can in a certain sense be enjoyed. Thus pain, received with faith, becomes the door by which to enter the mystery of the redemptive suffering of Jesus and to reach with him the peace and the happiness of his Resurrection.

5. While I extend my cordial greetings to all sick people and to all those who take care of them in various ways, I invite the diocesan and parish communities to celebrate the next World Day of the Sick by appreciating to the full the happy coinciding of the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady at Lourdes with the International Eucharistic Congress. May it be an occasion to emphasise the importance of the Holy Mass, of the Adoration of the Eucharist and of the cult of the Eucharist, so that chapels in our health-care centres become a beating heart in which Jesus offers himself unceasingly to the Father for the life of humanity! The distribution of the Eucharist to the sick as well, done with decorum and in a spirit of prayer, is true comfort for those who suffer, afflicted by all forms of infirmity.

May the next World Day of the Sick be, in addition, a propitious circumstance to invoke in a special way the maternal protection of Mary over those who are weighed down by illness; health-care workers; and workers in pastoral care in health! I think in particular of priests involved in this field, women and men religious, volunteers and all those who with active dedication are concerned to serve, in body and soul, the sick and those in need. I entrust all to Mary, the Mother of God and our Mother, the Immaculate Conception. May she help everyone in testifying that the only valid response to human pain and suffering is Christ, who in resurrecting defeated death and gave us the life that knows no end. With these feelings, from my heart I impart to everyone my special Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, 11 January 2008

BENEDICTUS PP. XVI

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

VATICAN CITY, 15 JAN 2008 (VIS) – The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, traditionally celebrated every year from January 18 to 25, begins on Friday. The theme chosen for this year’s initiative, taken from the First Letter of Paul to the Thessalonians, is: “Pray without ceasing”. The texts for reflection and prayer have been prepared by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches.tree.jpg

Each day of the Week will have a different theme:

18 January: Pray always. “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5, 17).

19 January: Pray always, trusting God alone. “Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5, 18).

20 January: Pray without ceasing for the conversion of hearts. “Admonish the idlers, encourage the faint-hearted” (1 Thessalonians 5, 14).

21 January: Pray always for justice. “See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all” (1 Thessalonians 5, 15).

22 January: Pray constantly with a patient heart. “Be patient with all of them” (1 Thessalonians 5, 14).

23 January: Pray always for grace to work with God. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5, 16).

24 January: Pray for what we need. “. help the weak” (1 Thessalonians 5, 14).

25 January: Pray always that they all may be one. “Be at peace” (1 Thessalonians 5, 13b)

Although the traditional period for celebrating this week of prayer is in the month of January, in the southern hemisphere Churches sometimes seek other periods such as, for example, around the time of Pentecost, which is also a symbolically significant date for the unity of the Church, and was suggested by the Faith and Order movement in 1926.

In the basilica of St. Paul’s Outside-the-Walls at 5.30 p.m. on Friday, 25 January, Feast of the Conversion of the Apostle Paul, Benedict XVI will preside at the celebration of Vespers to mark the close of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.