Saturday, March 26, 2005


He Descended into Hell

Growing up, I recited The Apostle's Creed and not The Nicene Creed. It's the Apostles Creed that says Jesus descended into Hell after his death on the cross. I don't believe I ever heard a Methodist Minister give a sermon on Christ's descent into Hell, perhaps I have and don't remember, but the Catholic Faith seems more than willing to discuss the matter:

Catechism: Descent into Hell

A Homily on the Descent into Hell

Despite the joy I anticipate this evening, many reasons feed a great sadness today. The Apostles huddled in fear, disconsolate, on this day. Unlike the protesters in Florida, the Apostles were afraid for their lives and the Holy Spirit had not yet been poured out over them. While Christ's Church lay huddled in each others' arms, He became light in the darkness of Death. When Jesus died, existence flipped for a time: darkness came over the Earth and light filled the realms of the dead.

I seek the same reversal this evening when the host touches my tongue. Not that light leave the earth, but enter my life.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Good Friday 

We left the church in silence Holy Thursday and the silence continued today at the Good Friday service. Our pews were full to overflowing with silent, reverant folks. Our first reading was from Isaiah 52 and 53:
He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed.

Balsam & Oil of Chrism

And our second reading was from Hebrews 4:
we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
Then, for the Gospel reading, we had a full reading of the Passion from John 18 & 19, with different people reading the parts and our priest reading for Christ.

After a short homily on the opening images of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," (where Jesus is tempted and passes the test where Adam failed) we had a very, very long series of prayers for the Church, for the Pope, for the clergy, for those preparing for baptism and entry into the church (ME!), for the Jewish people, for those who don't believe in Christ, for those who don't believe in God, for all those in public office (how about those judges!), for the men and women in the military, etc. It was a long time to kneel.

Next up, the veneration of the cross. Three teenagers brought a large cross up to the alter made of good sized logs. Everyone in the church then filed up to the alter and bowed and kissed the cross. This was a slow process as every person took their time and was respectful.

Finally, we celebrated Holy Communion. Father went to the side room where he had put the Host on Holy Thursday and brought it out. We did not have the Blood of Christ, just the Body and then the Host was returned again to the side room. We filed out in silence once more. This service, too, was nearly two hours long and tomorrow night, when we join the church, the Easter Vigil will be well over three hours. I can well believe that many would consider a week of attendance at the Chrism Mass, Holy Thursday Mass, Good Friday Service, and the Easter Vigil Mass followed by Easter Sunday Mass as excessive... but this is serious business. This is the celebration of God's victory over sin, this is the central theme of Christianity and the central mystery of salvation. One wonders if the end of time, the final judgement, will be any more of a serious business than this. "Left Behind" be tossed, the final war is already won. Why wait to celebrate until we're dead?

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Holy Thursday 

The Washing of Feet

This image of Christ washing the feet of his disciples is by Leszek Forczek from a series. You can see more in this series by clicking on the picture.

I have managed, somehow, to avoid going to church on Holy Thursday and tonight was my first attendance at a foot washing, in any faith. Our RCIA instructors didn't make attendence mandatory at Chrism Mass and Holy Thursday and Good Friday, but they strongly recommended we go so we can learn more about the Easter Triduum.

The Mass was long, nearly two hours long. Our priest came in with many alter boys and incense was swung all around the oils the Bishop blessed at the Chrism Mass. The oils were near the alter on three different pedistals. Our readings were from Exodus 12 concerning the Passover, from 1st Corinthians 11 concerning the Last Supper, and from John 13 concerning Jesus washing the Apostles feet. Our priest processed down every aisle, back and forth, with the Gospels held high and incense waving before him before approaching the alter to read from John.

Father's homily was about how we don't replay the last supper at every Mass, we join in the original event. Receiving communion makes us different -- we become what we eat. Father said our world is a broken place, our church is a broken church, but we come together when we share in the body and blood of Christ. He mentioned Terri Schiavo and that she, too, joins with us through her past communions. Father mentioned how the law in Florida won't allow an animal to be starved or tortured by removing its water -- but look at our world, at our country allowing, actually demanding, that this woman suffer and die. (I saw many shaking their heads in agreement and disbelief at the cruelty being visited on Mrs. Schiavo.) We are better than this, Father said, we are different from this. We should focus on being Christlike, not just better than others. We are all invited to join Christ and we can either accept Him or reject Him. If we accept we need to go to regular confession, pray regularly, go to Mass regularly and become better people.

After the homily, twelve people, previously chosen, retrieved chairs and sat up front, facing the congregation. Our priest removed his vestments and rolled up his sleeves and washed each of their feet. Father never left his knees, but crawled along the floor, dragging a bowl, between the people. This, the crawling, was very effective for me and I could imagine the scene with Christ in place of our priest. Those chosen, young and old, men and women, were sober and dignified. All of them and our priest let the actions speak for themselves; none of it was belabored and it was really more powerful than I had imagined it would be.

After the foot washing, we held a normal mass. Normal, anyway, until the end when Father gathered up all of the host and put it away in containers instead of in the Tabernacle. When he had gathered all the host, an alter boy wrapped a gold stole with a red cross on the back around the priest. Our priest then wrapped the ends of the stole around the containers of the Host as if to honor and protect the Body of Christ. Then the alter boys with incense and candles led Father through every aisle among the congregation before placing the containers in a side room. After Mass we were instructed to be completely silent in the Church until the Easter Vigil, so we filed out without a word being spoken.

Earlier today I mentioned that the Agony in the Garden better defined the day for me, considering the events in Florida . . . but one has to wonder how the call to servitude, if allowed to be heard, would alter those events.

Maundy Thursday 

Gauguin, the Agony in the Garden

Maundy Thursday ('Maundy' means 'Command' as in Jesus commanded his disciples to love one another) is mostly associated with Jesus washing the feet of his Apostles, showing them what it means to be a true servant. But Holy Thursday is also when Christ suffered the Agony in the Garden (which is the title of Gauguin's painting above). Perhaps because I'm reading Emmerich's "The Dolorous Passion" or perhaps because we are all so focused on the events surrounding the starvation and dehydration of Terri Schiavo in Florida, but for whatever reason, the Agony calls out to me more this year than the Washing of Feet.

Anne Catherine Emmerich describes Jesus as a true scapegoat in the Garden of Gethsemani, sinless, but taking on all sins. She has Christ alone, his Apostles nearby, but asleep, as Satan taunts Him with the sins of all Mankind. The images of all of the sins of the world from the beginning to the end flood into Jesus and He understands completely the burden He must take on for us... for me. Satan dances around out of reach saying, "Who can take all these sins on, surely not you, you can't even stop your own disciples from sinning." If the image sounds like it came from the opening of Gibson's "The Passion" that's because Gibson's script was informed by this book.

It would be easy to compare the Apostles sleeping while Christ suffers the Agony with so many, today, ignoring the starvation of Terri Schiavo. But that comparison is really too simple. So very many people are praying today, "Abba, Father, all things are possible to you." So many, too, are adding "Yet your will, not mine, be done." Perhaps it is throwing stones to point out the sin of what is being done in Florida (yet another sin heaped upon the Agony of Christ) and yet ignore the weight each of us has added to the burden on the Cross.

The Agony in the Garden is one of the sorrowful mysteries. The death of Terri Schiavo will not be a mystery: we see the cause, the decisions, and the result, even if we don't understand the purpose. What can our response be, this Maundy Thursday? I think, when our representatives are having our priest wash their feet this evening, I will be quiet and still -- like a sleeping Apostle, unaware of the scope of sins falling on the shoulders of Jesus Christ. I don't know what else to do.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005


We had practice for our Easter Vigil tonight. Standing outside, in the darkness, around the spot where a fine bonfire will be blessed on Saturday night, we were all so cold. The thought of partaking in the body and blood of Christ three nights from now chases away the worst of the darkness and warms the soul, cold from day of dejecting news. It's only 34 degrees here and will remain cold and cloudy through Easter. I haven't had Communion since around September of 2003. That's not the longest I've ever gone, but it is the longest I've ever gone when I've been so focused on wanting to go.

How Do I Feel? 

Amy Welborn asks how do we feel, watching Terri Schiavo die. I'll try to answer.

I decided to enter RCIA and started this Blog on March 8, 2004. On March 20, 2004, Pope John Paul II put to rest twenty years of debate concerning the Catholic response to Persistent Vegetative State (PVS). I am disregarding in this comment all arguments about whether Terri Schiavo is in that state because the Pope's teaching concerns anyone who is unable to exercise their highest functions of consciousness and that fits Terri Schiavo's current state. I didn't decide to become Catholic in order to argue with the Pope. I wasn't born a Catholic and I don't have the desire or the knowledge to guide The Church down paths of my own, ill-formed conscience. I decided to become Catholic, or was led to become Catholic, because I saw the Catholic Church as a defender of the same Truth and Life that other Christian demoninations are no longer defending. I didn't decide to become Catholic to be a Christian warrior against the Rome our world is becoming.

How do I feel? For most of the 2000 years of Christianity, Terri Schiavo would not have survived the past fifteen years. For most of my life, until March 20, 2004, I would not have wanted to survive myself in a state like Terri Schiavo. Now I am called to defend her life, a life I wouldn't want, a life past Christians most likely could not have envisioned. And so I defend her life, I alter my own belief and decide that I, too, and my family, must live if ever such a state comes to us. The only comfort in this is the belief that it is God's will that Men suffer. It is God's will that Christians be apart and call others to follow. Well, here we are: apart. Here we are praying for God to somehow turn this tragedy into something good and holy.

We learned in RCIA that Holy means "separated," means "apart from the world." How do I feel watching Terri Schiavo pass away before my very eyes? I feel Holy. I feel Holy and it comes with an unaccustomed weight.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Chrism Mass 

The Cathedral was full tonight. Many more people were present for the Chrism Mass, for the blessing of oils, than were present for the Rite of Sending. A full choir with horns and drums held forth from the balcony and I think every priest in the area was present in white to help the bishop with the Mass. Forty or so priests, followed by the Bishop, processed the main aisle, amid incense and music, to the alter. The first reading (in Spanish) was Isaiah 61:1-9 and the second (in English) was from Revelations 1:1-8. Then Bishop D'Arcy read Luke 4:16-21 and gave a long homily on the sacraments as vehicles of glory. The homily focused on priestly vows and how priests, and we, should focus not on all that has been sacrificed, but instead give thanks for all that has been given. All priests, indeed all Christians, are called to the model of Christ. Servants all and thankfully so.

After the homily, four deacons brought the oil from the back of the Cathedral to the alter. The oil was held in large, glass jugs. Another deacon carried a smaller glass jar of balsam. The Bishop then mixed balsam in with the oil and blessed the oils. It was hard to see, but I didn't see him make any extra effort to breathe over the oils beyond standing over them and saying the prayers. At the moments of blessing, all of the many priests raised their right hands for the blessings.

After the oils were blessed and taken away for us to pick up later, a regular Mass began. Regular, that is, in form but not in spirit because forty priests and a bishop holding Mass is a sight! The Sanctus (Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of Power, God of might) was warm and full and lofty with the choir in the great Cathedral. The many priests mirrored the motions of the Bishop when he held the body and then the blood of Christ aloft. Priests went off in pairs to all corners of the church to offer the Eucharist. We still in RCIA were blessed since we're still four days away from partaking ourselves in the body and blood of Christ.

After Mass, the assigned delegates of each church found their way to the room where each church's oils had been poured into each church's containers. We packed ours up and our priest found us and took the bottles home. The entire Chrism Mass was, I believe, under an hour and half long. The music and people and sights and smells were uplifting, full of mystery, and interesting. As with the Rite of Election, I got the feeling that the priests truly enjoy these times when they can all be together and share in the same event. I saw so many smiling, joking, laughing and joyous priests walking about afterward. I enjoyed it all.

Update: As proof that priests enjoy the Chrism Mass get together, witness Catholic Rage Monkey.

Not One Drop 

Judge Whittenmore, after a two hour hearing on a 10 year De Novo court battle, refused to allow Terri Schiavo to have food or water. After four days, the case will now have to go to appeal. More time she doesn't have. Two hours in court to review this long court battle. Two hours of talk instead of even one new medical test. Two hours of rhetoric and not one drop of water. De Novo is supposed to mean "start from scratch and take another look" -- this can only mean that Whittenmore threw Congress and the President out on their ears.

Update: According to NewsMax, Senator Santorum is calling Whittenmore's ruling "Judicial Tyranny." The weakness of Congress is evident in their name-calling. The Florida Judges ignored the subpoena Congress issued, as well.

Monday, March 21, 2005

The Oils of Chrism 

Tomorrow night, I'll be attending the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral. Our Bishop will be blessing the oil of the sick, the oil of the Catechumens and the Sacred Chrism. Volunteers prepare the oil for the Chrism Mass, and representatives from each church collect their portion for the year.

  • Oil of the Sick -- Used as a remedy for both spiritual and bodily illness, an understanding already evident in the New Testament (see James 5:14). At one time this oil was used to consecrate church bells which, because of their melodic, far-reaching tones, linked the sick and the homebound with the local assembly which gathered for prayer.
  • Oil of the Catechumens -- Used prior to initiation into the church, it has an exorcistic value. The oil is meant to strengthen candidates to renounce evil in preparation for their baptismal washing.
  • Sacred Chrism -- The most celebrated and used of the oils. At baptism and confirmation it seals Christians in the gift of the Holy Spirit. At the ordination of priests and bishops it designates those who lead the ecclesial community in an official capacity. In the dedication of church buildings it is the oils that anoint the walls and altar so that even physical structures participate in the holiness of those who gather within them.
  • Read more at the Catholic Telegraph: Understanding the Chrism Mass


    I'm sure many others have mentioned this, but why is it that when the Executive or Legislative branches step on a pinkie toe of the Judicial Branch of our government, the cry goes forth that the balance of powers is being corrupted... but when Judges write law and discover new law never written in the constitution we hear no such cry? It seems clear that the three branches of government are no longer co-equal. Neither Congress nor the President can stop the Judicial branch from doing anything they want. Said another way, neither the Legislative nor the Executive branch have the guts to stand up to the judges. They don't have the guts to ignore rulings clearly out of the scope of the judiciary and they don't have the guts to MOVE when a Judge says SIT. The same executive branch soldiers with the same executive branch guns that stole Elian away can enter that hospice and put that feeding tube back in place... can remove Terri Schiavo to safety. Where are they?

    The Texas Law 

    Amy Welborn at OpenBook did a good job of live blogging the Congress last night. I saw some of it live, as well, and especially damaging was Congresswomen Debbie Wasserman Schultz, from Florida who read from past court cases and findings. I think Congresswomen Schultz was also the one, who made a big deal of the Texas law that Bush signed into place making it easier to kill people who have no hope. She stated it was used just a few days ago to end the life of a baby over the objections of the parents. Well I looked it up and
    Here's that Case
    In short, if the hospital or health workers are ready for someone to die and the family is not, an ethics panel makes the decision. If it goes against the family, the family has ten days to find a hospital that will take on the case, otherwise all treatment of any kind is stopped. The ethics panels don't even have to involve the courts. When President Bush signed the bill as Governor of Texas, it was only for Adult-use. In 2003 is was extended to cover minors, as well.

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