Tag Archives: Liturgy

Question: On Devil’s Advocates and Infallible Canonizations

Would you look at this.  

 

A Q/A post!  

 

Renee Lin from Forget the Roads [go check out her blog] asked me several years ago (sorry I’m just now getting to it, Renee):

 

“Perhaps you know the answer to this.  It is my understanding that the position of “devil’s advocate” in the canonization process has been done away with.  Could you tell us why?  I think the process is fascinating – I also think that the idea of a devil’s advocate was a good one, so when, why and by whom was the decision made to eliminate the position?  I was also wondering if the declaration of sainthood is infallible.”

 

Let’s look at the infallibility of canonizations first.  This is a topic which comes up every so often when there is a big name canonization and in particular came up when the canonizations of John Paul II and John XXIII happened.  It would take a while to get into the gritty details of the discussion, so see the For Further Reading below for a plethora of articles discussing this point.

 

The simple answer is yes, canonizations are infallible, in that during the canonization the Pope states, without error, that the saint is in Heaven and that the universal Church can safely turn to him or her to intercede for us.  However, it is not the sort of infallible declaration one finds, say, in Pius XII’s declaration defining the dogma of Mary’s Assumption into Heaven.  It isn’t an infallible statement about dogma, because the fact that an individual is in Heaven is not drawn from Divine Revelation, as are the other declared dogmas on faith and morals.  In other words, we know that Mary was assumed into Heaven because we can draw the conclusion based on Scripture, but Scripture does not tell us that any specific saint is in Heaven, so we cannot declare the saint is in Heaven based on Divine Revelation.

 

The canonization is infallible not because it was directly revealed by God but because the evidence collected (miracles through the saint’s intercession, his life of heroic virtue, etc.) points to the fact that the saint is in Heaven.

 

Here’s the actual prayer the Pope says when canonizing:

 

To the honor of the Holy Trinity, for the exaltation of the Catholic faith, and for the increase of the Christian life, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul and Our own, after due deliberation and having implored the Divine Assistance by prayer, and by the counsel of many of our brothers, we declare and define Blessed [insert saint’s name here] to be a saint, and we enroll him/her in the catalog of the saints, commanding that he/she be held among the saints by the universal Church, and to be invoked as such by pious devotion. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

 

It’s a pretty powerful prayer.  It cuts no corners, leaves no doubt as to what is going on.

 

The way in which a canonization is not infallible is in reference to the specifics of the individual’s holiness.  The pope is not teaching that the person being canonized is perfect, or even great at what he or she did.  What is being declared is that the person is in Heaven.  True, saints tend to be models of sanctity, but they are not always models for living other ways of life.  Pope St. Celestine V, famous for being one of the popes to resign, was a terrible papal administrator.  He was a very holy man, but he was not strong in policy.  We should not look to him for an example of how to lead others; instead we should see in Pope Celestine an example of humility.  He was canonized not because he was a great pope, but because he made it to Heaven.

 

Like I said, check out the “For Further Reading” for more on this.

 

On to the Devil’s Advocate.

 

No, not the movie with Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves.

 

The role of the Devil’s Advocate, officially known as the Promoter of the Faith (the Promotor Fidei), was one of canon law, both the Promoter of the Faith and his “opponent,” the canon lawyer tasked with arguing the sanctity of the proposed saint.  Prior to the 1980s, when Pope St. John Paul II changed some of the regulations for the canonization process, the Devil’s Advocate had the role of raising objections to someone being considered a Servant of God.  Sometimes they were legitimate concerns, such as concerns about the person that had not been brought up by the postulator for the cause, but sometimes they were really nitpicky, focusing in some cases on the use of particular words found in the documents of the case.  These objections would be answered by the side supporting sainthood, and then the Promotor of the Faith would send more objections.  This happened three times before the person was declared a Servant of God, allowing the canonization process to move forward and the reports of miracles to be examined.

 

On the one hand, having the Devil’s Advocate in such a direct, constant position in the canonization process helped make sure that there was no doubt about the sanctity of the people canonized.  It made the process go slowly, to be sure.  However, in some cases the cause of a canonization could be held up for decades because of the debates, all written, back and forth between the two sides.  The canonization process, then, relied heavily on the arguments and arguing skills of these canon lawyers.

 

This brings us to Pope John Paul II and his changes to the canonization process in 1983.  In his apostolic constitution Divinus Prefectionis Magister, the Holy Father laid out the changes to the process, streamlining the whole thing.  He didn’t get rid of the Devil’s Advocate entirely; instead, the position of Protector of the Faith received a more concentrated role.  Instead of running the entire opposing position in the process, the Protector is part of a group of figures who read through the Position (the evidence that a person led a holy life) and submit questions about it.  As one commentator puts it, “Instead of a candidate being on trial and having to face accusations by the Promotor Fidei as the Church’s ‘prosecutor,’ the procedure now takes the form of a committee meeting where experts present reports.”  The emphasis in the canonization process is no longer the legal debates but rather the weight of the biographical study within the Position.  The direction of the canonization process is not directed by canon lawyers but rather by historians.

 

There is still an area for debating the merits of a particular person, but it is no longer the role of one man, one Devil’s Advocate.

 

This, of course, does not mean it is easy for a person to be declared a saint.  It isn’t, and it can still take many years and be stalled in the early investigation process.  There is also the process of going from Servant of God to Blessed (which used to require two verified miracles but now only requires one) and Blessed to Saint (again, only one miracle needed instead of two), which can take a very, very long time.  Think, for example, of Queen Isabel of Spain (died 1504) or Mateo Ricci (died 1610), who have both been declared Servants of God but have not had any miracles reported in their name to move them on to become Blesseds.  The same could be said about Pope Benedict XIII, who was declared a Servant of God in 1755, with no progress to his cause since.

 

Again, see below for some more to read about this.

 

I hope this helps answer your questions, Renee.

 

God bless!

 

For Further Reading

 

On Canonizations and Infallibility

Donald S. Prudlo,Are Canonizations based on Papal Infallibility?”

Dr. Prudlo also recently published a book examining how the Church’s understanding of papal infallibility grew out of it’s teaching about canonizations.  Something like that.  I haven’t read it yet, just going from the short info you can read online (you can get it here or here)

Edward McNamara,Canonizations and Infallibility

La Stampa with Giuseppe Sciacca, “Are canonizations infallible?”

Camillo Beccari, “Beatification and Canonization,” Catholic Encyclopedia (1907 edition) 

 

On the Devil’s Advocate

Unam Sanctam Catholicam (blog), “History of the Devil’s Advocate”

Matthew Bunson, “Devil’s Advocate Role Eliminated from Canonization Process”

John Paul II, Divinus Perfectionis Magister

Richard Burtsell, “Advocatus Diaboli” The Catholic Encyclopedia (1907) 

William Fanning, “Promotor Fidei” The Catholic Encyclopedia (1907) 

Jason A Gray, The Evolution of the Promoter of the Faith in the Causes of Beatification and Canonization: A Study of the Law of 1917 and 1983  [Note: I didn’t actually read through any of this one, as I found it towards the end of writing this post.  However, it looks interesting, so check it out.]

Kenneth L. Woodward, Making Saints: How the Catholic Church Determines Who Becomes A Saint, Who Doesn’t, and Why.

 

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , ,

Question: A Doxology for the Our Father?

Debbie from Maryland asks, “Why did we add the doxology at the end of the Our Father at Mass?”

In the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite Mass, the priest and people recite together the Our Father, the prayer that Jesus taught His disciples when they asked Him how to pray.  After all say the words, “but deliver us from evil,” the priest alone says the following: “Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day.  In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”  The people respond with a doxology, a prayer glorifying God: “For the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory are Yours now and forever.”  Prior to the late 1960s, the Roman Missal did not include the doxology.  However, most Protestants, when reciting the Our Father, say a similar doxology.  Did the Church add the doxology to the Mass in order to appease Protestant critics?  Is there another reason for the addition?

Doxologies in general are not a new concept.  The Hebrew Scriptures have multiple doxologies, oftentimes attached to one of the great Psalms of praise to God.  For example, Psalm 41:14 praises God in a manner similar to the doxology attached to the Our Father: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from all eternity and forever.  Amen.  Amen.”  In 1 Chronicles 29:10-13, David sings a song in praise of God; it begins with a doxology, saying that God is “from eternity to eternity.”  The New Testament also has several doxologies.  One of the clearest examples of this is in St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, where there are several statements glorifying God, each one ending with “Amen.”  They are little prayers peppering his letter.  Likewise, the “Glory Be,” a prayer which dates to the earliest days of the Church and appears in various Christian prayers, from the Divine Office to the Rosary, is a Trinitarian doxology

Clearly, doxologies are good, longstanding traditions in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and the Catholic Church has no problem with doxologies accompanying her prayers. The question is: why do we have a doxology at the end of the Our Father during Mass, but when we say the Our Father at other times, we do not have a doxology?  What precedence is there for the doxology accompanying the Our Father?

The controversy over the Our Father’s doxology begins in the Gospels, or at least in translations of the Gospels.  Most translations of Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4, where Our Lord teaches the Our Father to His disciples, do not include the doxology.  The two earliest editions of Matthew’s Gospel do not include the doxology (the Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus), while the third earliest (the Codex Washingtonensis, held at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.) does have the line.  The first two editions date to the 4th century, but the third dates to the late 4th/early 5th century.  That’s not much of a difference when dealing with ancient manuscripts.

Speaking of ancient manuscripts, the earliest reference to a doxology accompanying the Our Father is found in one of the Church’s earliest writing’s, the Didache.  This is important, because the Didache was probably written in the late first/early second century.  This means that early in the Church’s history a doxology went with the Our Father.  This practice continued in the eastern part of the Church.  Today, following this ancient tradition, the Eastern Churches (whether in union or not with the Roman Catholic Church) include a doxology at the end of the Our Father in the Divine Liturgy: “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.  Amen.”

An added doxology never really picked up in the West until the Protestant Reformation, and even then, it didn’t happen right away.  It was during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I in England that the doxology appears in Protestant editions of the Bible and in the Book of Common Prayer.  It seems that the addition was made by Protestants to distance themselves from the Church.

As Fr. Zuhlsdorf notes, “Catholics didn’t use the ancient Catholic prayer and Protestants did, in order to be Protestant, which is ironic.”

So we can see that, in both the Orthodox Church and in Protestant congregations, particularly in the English-speaking world, there is a tradition of using a doxology with the Our Father.

Fast forward to the 1960s.  While working on what would eventually become the Novus Ordo, or the Ordinary Form, of the Roman Missal, the liturgists included the doxology in the Mass after the Our Father.  These liturgists didn’t explain why they made the change.  Perhaps, given the Church’s liturgical history, they sought to be ecumenical, trying to reach out to Protestants and the Orthodox by including in the Mass a prayer praising God which would make them feel more at home.

Additionally, there was a push by many liturgists to bring back into the liturgy more practices and prayers from the ancient Church.  One can see this in the inclusion of the second Eucharistic Prayer, which was composed by St. Hippolytus in the early 3rd century.  As the Our Father doxology is just such a prayer, it would make sense that it was part of a larger push to reawaken in Catholics a sense of their tradition, a sense of the Catholic past.  At a time when many in society sought to break with their cultural ancestors, perhaps the liturgists sought to bring back these ancient prayers to save the Church from a similar wreckage, to reinvigorate the Church and help the faithful recognize their true identity as Christians.

In the end, however, without any notes left by the liturgists themselves, our guesses must suffice.  The doxology does not seem to have been added in any malice or heretical mindset.  On the one hand, if the prayer was added as a touchstone for Protestant and Orthodox converts, the addition is a genuine extension of Catholic welcome to our separated brethren.  On the other hand, if it is a sort of antiquarianism, perhaps it was done with the hope of using the old to transform the new, to use the voice of Tradition to transform the modern man’s heart.

One final note about the Our Father’s doxology.  In the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s meditation on the Our Father, which forms the bulk of the section on Prayer, there is a portion devoted to the doxology.  The Catechism reads, “The final doxology . . . takes up again, by inclusion, the first three petitions to our Father: the glorification of his name, the coming of his reign, and the power of his saving will.  But these prayers are now proclaimed as adoration and thanksgiving, as in the liturgy of heaven.  The ruler of this world has mendaciously attributed to himself the three titles of kingship, power, and glory.  Christ, the Lord, restores them to his Father and our Father, until he hands over the kingdom to him when the mystery of salvation will be brought to its completion and God will be all in all” (CCC 2855).

I hope this helps!

For further reading:

Saunders, William.  “Who Added the Doxology?”  Available at http://www.ewtn.com/library/ANSWERS/DOXOLOG.HTM.  Accessed 10/27/14.

“Is the Doxology of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:13 a Late Addition?”  Available at http://www.kjvtoday.com/home/is-the-doxology-to-the-lords-prayer-in-matthew-613-a-late-addition.  Accessed 10/27/14.

Zuhlsdorf, John.  “QUAERITUR: Why is the Protestant “For the kingdom, the power, the glory…” in Our Catholic Mass?”  Available at http://wdtprs.com/blog/2011/02/quaeritur-why-is-the-protestant-for-the-kingdom-the-power-the-glory-in-our-catholic-mass.  Accessed 10/27/14.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Question: The Dating of Christmas and Easter

The Date of Christmas

“Adoration of the Child” by Gerrit van Honthorst

This second part was, originally, to follow closely behind its predecessor, but circumstances beyond my control, and my tendency to over-research, delayed this post’s creation for far too long.  My original hope had been to have it online by the end of the Christmas season.  Lent is here, so I guess it will have to serve your Lenten meditations.

Oh well.

In the first of these two posts, we dealt with Marcy’s question: “Why are there so many pagan items incorporated into the celebration of Christmas (Yule log, Christmas tree, etc.)?”  I hoped to show that such pagan celebrations arise in Christian traditions because the Church, when preaching the Faith to these pagan peoples, incorporated what was useful into the life of the Church, creating an authentic culture.  In this second post, we will deal with her question involving the dating of Christmas: “Why is the date for Easter set according to a phase of the moon, instead of on a fixed date, like Christmas, and who set it up like that? Why is Christmas placed so close to the winter solstice instead of closer to the assumed actual time of year that Christ was supposed to have been born?”

The question assumes one commonly held belief concerning Christmas: the birth of Christ actually occurred during the spring.  Several pieces of evidence are put forward to support this.  The key one is that Luke’s Gospel reports that shepherds who were “in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock” (Luke 2: 8).  The obvious implication is that the area around Bethlehem, where Mary gave birth, would be too cold in late December for shepherds to be watching their sheep at night.  Christ must have been born during a warmer time (maybe Spring or Autumn, during the feast of Tabernacles, the harvest feast for the Jews), and thus December 25 is wrong.  The date, the theory continues, was chosen, like the Christmas tree and Yule logs, to incorporate pagan celebrations into the newly formed Christian Faith, a way of making new converts feel more at home.  That is the reason why the Church moved the celebration of Christ’s birth to December, away from its real date.

Often repeated, such evidence is, and with each repetition it sounds that much more convincing.  However, we should not be so quick to throw out the traditional date of Christmas.  There is evidence in favor of it, as well as against it.

First, let’s address the whole shepherd issue.  Does the presence of shepherds and sheep remove the possibility of a December Christmas?  Taylor Marshall, a professor and chancellor at FisherMoreCollege [http://www.fishermore.edu/] in Texas, notes that “Bethlehem is situated at the latitude of 31.7,” a latitude with “rather comfortable” outside temperature in December (Marshall, 52).  A quick glance at the weather nowadays in Bethlehem (January 2013) has a nighttime temperature of around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, not balmy, but bearable.  At the same time, the Catholic Encyclopedia notes that “Authorities moreover differ as to whether shepherds could or would keep flocks exposed during the nights of the rainy season” (Martindale, “Christmas”).  The issue of shepherding in the winter thus remains open.  We cannot reject the December dating of Christmas because of a shepherd-based argument.

The second argument against the dating of Christmas in December is the claim that Christians simply put Christmas in December to coincide with one of several pagan festivals: the festival of Saturnalia, which celebrated the winter solstice (the festival ran through middle/late December), or the celebration of the Natalis Solis Invicti, a celebration of the Unconquered Sun’s Birth (held on December 25).  The Christian Church, in an attempt to bring in more pagan converts, acquired these older pagan feasts, and thus made Christ’s birthday coincide with these festivals.

Is there evidence for such an acquisition?

Again, Dr. Taylor Marshall goes through a truly scholastic (in the original sense of the term) discussion of these points.  Regarding the winter solstice, he notes that the dates recorded for the celebrations (sometime between December 17 and December 22) do not coincide with the date for Christmas.  Now, this counterargument seems dismissive, but, then again, the connection between the winter solstice and Christmas is one of temporal approximation; there doesn’t seem to be any theological or spiritual connection between the coming of winter and the arrival of Christ.  If anything, springtime would be a better symbol, rather than the winter solstice, for the arrival of Christ, the life for the world.

The connection between Christmas and the celebration of the Natalis Solis Invicti is likewise tenuous.  Though there was a pre-Christian tradition of sun worship in Ancient Rome, the festival in honor of the Natalis Solis Invicti do not predate the celebration of Christmas in December.  The earliest references to the Natalis Solis Invicti occur during the reign of Emperor Aurelian.  Aurelian established the celebration in AD 274 with the intention of unifying various pagan rituals, possibly in reaction to increased Christian activity in the mid-3rd century.  Contemporary Christians did not seek to connect the date of Christmas to the festival.  Only in the 12th century does one find scholars connecting pagan festivals and Christmas, often with the explicit purpose of dissuading people from celebrating Christ’s birth.  On the contrary, many Church Fathers refer to the celebration of Christmas on December 25, whereas March 25 was given the date not only of the Annunciation, and therefore Christ’s Incarnation, but also the date of His crucifixion.

The argument over whether Christ was born in the spring versus the winter does not seem a part of the early Christian Church.  A more pressing debate in the early Church, it seems, was not if Christmas belonged in the spring, but rather if Christmas was on December 25 or January 6 (the Western half of the Church solved this problem in typical joyous fashion: 12 days of Christmas, from December 25 through January 6).

As far as Easter is concerned, much debate raged over when it should be celebrated.  What time of year was never an issue; all four Gospels are very clear in putting the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus in the context of the Jewish feast of Passover, commemorating the exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.  This answers the first part of Marcy’s question: Easter is so intrinsically linked with the feast of Passover (which, in turn, is based on the vernal equinox and the cycle of full moons) that to deviate from that context might diminish the importance of the feast.  All Christians, since the beginning, saw in the feast of Passover a precursor of Christ’s Passover from death into life through His resurrection.  On all of that, Christians agree.

The controversy, rather, was over what day of the week to celebrate this greatest of feasts.

Two camps emerged in the first centuries following the end of Roman persecution (because, of course, when one is worried for his or her life, one doesn’t quibble over when to celebrate Church feasts).  One camp said that Christians should celebrate Easter three days after the Jewish celebration of Passover, regardless of the day of the week on which this celebration fell.  The other major camp held that the Church should celebrate Easter near the time of Passover, but on a Sunday, in commemoration of how Christ rose on the “first day of the week.”  This controversy went through several phases during the first millennium of Christendom.  Popes and Church councils would decree, eventually, that Easter was to be always celebrated on Sunday, though not without some heavy debates (the last big debate over this issue arose at the Synod of Whitby, England, in 663; Wilfrid, a British cleric who sided with the Sunday date for Easter, by that time the official decision from Rome, persuaded the contingent of Irish monks to celebrate Easter on Sunday by invoking the Irish fidelity to the Holy See).

So there you go.  I hope that cleared up everything, or if it didn’t, just let me know.

Happy Lent!

For Further Reading:

Marshall, Taylor.  The Eternal City: Rome & and Origins of Catholic Christianity.  Dallas, TX: St. John Press, 2012. – Defends outright the traditional dating of Christmas.

Martindale, Cyril Charles.  “Christmas.”  The Catholic Encyclopedia.  Vol. 3.  New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908.  Accessed 11 Feb. 2013. Available at  http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03724b.htm.

McGowan, Andrew.  “How December 25 Became Christmas,” Biblical Archaeology Review, n. d.  Accessed 11 Feb. 2013.  Available at http://www.bib-arch.org/e-features/Christmas.asp.

Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal (Pope Benedict XVI).  The Spirit and the Liturgy.  Translated by John Saward.  San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000. – See especially Part II, Chapter 5 (“Sacred Time”) which has a fascinating look at the history of setting the dates for Easter and Christmas.

Thurston, Herbert.  “Easter Controversy.”  The Catholic Encyclopedia.  Vol. 5.  New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909.  Accessed 11 Feb. 2013.  Available at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05228a.htm.

Tighe, William J.  “Calculating Christmas,” Touchstone, December 2003.  Accessed 11 Feb. 2013.  Available at http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=16-10-012-v.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Married Priests?

In light of the earlier post about the supposed history of women priests, here is a practical examination of the married priest question (sometimes linked to the issue of women priests) by a Catholic married deacon.

DeaconCast

Every once in a while someone brings up the topic of married priests.  “Wouldn’t it be great if priests could marry?”  “There wouldn’t be a shortage of priests if they could be married.”  “There would be no sexual abuse crisis if priests were married.”  And on and on.  Then you hear the usual criticisms, “It’s all about money.  The Church doesn’t want married priests because then they’d have to pay them more money.”  “The Church doesn’t want married priests because they don’t want to have to take care of their widows.”  “The Church doesn’t want married priests because of the high cost of health insurance for families.”   “The Church doesn’t want married priests because they’d have to provide them with houses where they could raise their families.”  Again, on and on.

I’m no expert on the theology of married clergy, but since I am one, maybe I can shed…

View original post 757 more words

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Question: Are similar sacred symbolic signs coincidence or not?

Marcy asks: “What do you make of the similarity of various elements of ritual and their roles in religion?  For instance, many disparate and far-ranging belief systems share the use of fire and/or smoke to purify a space or item.  Similarly, water is often used.  And candles. And music/drumming.  Do you think this is coincidental, invented, or is there some inherent property of these items that compels people to incorporate them into rituals?”

It should not surprise us that similar rituals and symbols span across man’s worship of the divine.  Both monotheistic and polytheistic religions share similar rituals.  From whence do these rituals stem (and, by the way, when was the last time you saw “whence” in a blog post?!)?  Does this in some way cheapen or degrade highly ritualistic religions, such as Catholicism, the Orthodox Church, Hasidic Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism, since they all seem, at one glance, the same, with just some variety in their particulars (for some people, not me of course, important points like the number of deities and whether the soul is immortal count more as particulars to a religion rather than fundamental tenets of the faith)?  Or does it point to something higher, something that transcends our rituals?

First, let’s look at worship.

Worship is one of those acts of man that is defined by the Natural Law.  Natural Law is basically the basic, ethical beliefs man can know through reason alone, without the aid of divine Revelation.  Natural Law is not dependent on one set historical time or one physical location.  Most of Natural Law deals with our interaction with other people.  Respecting life falls under the Natural Law.  Monogamy falls under it as well, as does respecting the property of others.  In an intriguing twist of focus, the worship of God likewise falls under the auspices of Natural Law.  Now this worship of God has, of course, manifested itself in different aspects in different places and times.  It is natural for man to worship God, and thus we do it.  We must thank the Creator, and in doing so worship Him.  “It is right and just,” to quote the Roman Missal.  It is fitting to worship God, as He is the Creator of all things visible and invisible, all we can sense and all that is beyond our senses.  Is it any wonder that the ultimate form of Christian worship, the ritual instituted by Christ before His death on the Cross, is the Eucharist?  The very word Eucharist, after all, means “thanksgiving.”  Here is worship with thanksgiving as its very heart.

So we all should worship God.  Man has done just that for his entire existence.

Now, let us look at some rituals we mere mortals have used throughout the centuries to address God, to try to thank Him for His greatness.  Marcy notes several universally used items: fire and smoke, water, candles, and music.  I will reflect on these in turn, offering some historical examination, but also dive into some personal thoughts as to why these items are used.

1) Fire and Smoke:

How can one reach Heaven?  If in the sky the gods do dwell, and we mere morals must lie here below, then some other means must be chosen to bear up our burdens to the divine throne.

And so began the wide-spread ritual of burning offerings to the gods, or God, if you are a pious monotheist.

Fire held a strange power for early man.  Here was something which was pleasant and warm when you felt cold, but if you touched it the fire burned, and thus you were hurt.  Man had to control fire, but even when he thought he was in control, fire could still rage beyond stopping.  Fire destroys what it touches, burning and curling its victims until what was once one thing can no longer be recognized as what it once was.  Fire has strength, a wild and uncontrollable aspect to it, which man early on faced with great care.  Surely this fire must have come from God, for only the divine could make something so seemingly invincible.

We don’t know exactly when man first began to use fire, rather than fear it, but we do know it happened in the Old Stone Age, thousands of years before the earliest farming.  It may have been the second great invention of mankind, second only to the making of tools.  Once man controlled fire, he could move out of warmer climates close to the equator and head north; he could cook food, realizing that sweet smells emanated from cooking meat and vegetables.

Then man realized that fire, the sure sign of God’s power, could be a way to give back to God.  Here was the earliest sign of sacrifice.  Sacrifice requires the destruction of a victim, a victim which can replace the one offering the sacrifice.  Fire does the job nicely, destroying the victim beyond recognition.  It also purges away impurities, and can thus symbolize a purifying of our hearts (it is worth noting here that Catholic tradition uses the symbol of purging fire to represent the purgation process of Purgatory).  At the same time, smoke emanates from the fire, rising towards Heaven.  Here all cultures and religions agree: the smoke represents the prayers/sacrifices rising to the divine being, who then delights in the pleasing smell.  Fire thus has a practical purpose (destroying the sacrificial victim) and a symbolic one (raising the prayers to Heaven).

2) Water:

Water is life.  Is it any wonder why Thales, that notorious pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, thought that all matter was, in some way, made up of water?  Early man did not know that life began in the oceans; he did know, however, that if he did not find water, he and his family would die.  Water vivifies, purifies, and beautifies everything.  Dead lands erupt with green after the spring rains.  What was once a desert sprouts into a lush field.  Water brings new life; water brings resurrection.

It should not surprise us, then, that man incorporated water into religious rituals.  If one is to worship God, one must be (at least symbolically) purified.  Thus came washing rituals.  The priests in many religions underwent some sort of washing ritual to symbolize their cleansing themselves of their imperfections and sins, to better prepare themselves to worship God.  This is clearly illustrated in the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy in the Old Testament.  These two books lay out in details the ritual life for the Jewish people, including rituals for washing and purifying garments, items, and people after some sort of defilement.  One sees references to this throughout the New Testament as well (look at the scene during the Last Supper in John 13:1–20, wherein Jesus cleans the Apostles’ feet).  In Christian liturgy, water plays an essential role in the sacrament of Baptism (it is the matter, or physical reality, needed for the sacrament to be valid) but also in the Eucharist, where the priest washes his fingers during the preparation of the altar and also after the distribution of the Eucharist.  As always, water cleans and purifies, but in Baptism in particular, water is not merely a symbol; as in all sacraments, it does what it symbolizes.  With the waters of Baptism, Original Sin is washed away, leaving a soul perfect, purified and ready for God’s grace.

3) Candles:

Candles serve a practical purpose in religious ceremonies: they provide light.  Candles harness the darkness-shattering aspect of fire, but limit it to one small spot, specifically a darkened room in some sacred temple.  Again, usefulness led to symbolism, and the candles originally used for light came to represent some higher reality.  For example, lamps and candles hung in the temple in Jerusalem, illuminating and representing God’s light in darkness.

I don’t normally do this, but I’ll risk my credibility: The Wikipedia article “Ceremonial Use of Lights” does a better job discussing the various traditions and rituals associated with candles in various world religions than I could ever do.

4) Music: 

All religions, as far as I know, incorporate some sort of music into their rituals.  Music moves the heart and mind to focus on higher things, to draw into the divine life with God.  Music proper to worship turns the listener’s attention to God, rather than to the performer.  This is why applause is so out of place during a religious ceremony.  Literally, in such circumstances, the focus turns from divine matters to human achievements.  Worship should unite us with each other through the common worship of God; when we focus on the achievements of others rather than on God, we ignore the entire purpose of worship.  That is also why some music is inappropriate for worship.

Across the various world religions, polytheistic or monotheistic, ancient or recent, one style of liturgical music reappears throughout the centuries: chant.  Buddhists chant, as do Jews and Christians (at least Catholics and Orthodox Christians do; there is very little chant in Protestant Christian communities).  There is something about the melody of chant that speaks to the basic life in man.  It is as if the whole person bursts out in vocalizations to God.  Chanters worship God with their voices in a way that other liturgical music, even choral pieces (and even polyphonic pieces, no matter their breath-taking beauty), cannot match.  Chant is simple and expressive, and in it one feels the whole of human existence, its pains, hopes, and triumphs.

To conclude this post, let us return to our main focus.  Though all religions might share similar symbols, these do not point to some irreligious theory, that all religions are the same.  Even universal religious symbols, such as fire, can take on drastically different roles depending on the religion.  Fire meant something very different to the worshipers of Ba’al, in the days of Elijah the prophet and in the ancient city-state of Carthage, than it does to us Christians (read up on the worship of Ba’al, if you want to see the footprints of Satan in history).  Such differences point to the fundamental truths, the essential realities, which underline all systems of belief.  If only a couple, related systems of belief used these symbols, one could easily dismiss the similarities as sociological coincidences.  The universality of symbols such as water, fire, and music transcend time, and thus the quest to worship and honor the divine, a drive so essential to our human existence, manifests itself in striking similar ways.  Over the centuries, man has tried to worship God.  Some rituals work, and so rituals echo each other throughout time.  In reflecting on this, one should not think that religion is false.  On the contrary, one must confess, with almost the entire population of the planet, that there is a God who is deserving of our honor and worship.

So Marcy, no, it is not coincidence that most religions use the same liturgical symbols.  Mankind turns to reoccurring themes in worship, and so uses the same tools.  We spiritually cleanse ourselves with water; we send our offerings to Heaven with the smoke of incense; we draw our hearts to God through authentic liturgical music.  We are material creatures, and thus we must use the material world to try and reach God in worship and in our daily lives.  Most importantly, of course, is if we approach our daily lives correctly, we can worship unceasingly, for our daily life becomes a prayer, a sort of sacrament through which God works wonders.  We are meant to worship God, and for generations to come, people will use similar symbols not because of some human construction, but because the items themselves are the symbols.  In symbols, therefore, we see the unseen hand of God working and drawing us to Him, where we might worship and sing his praises forever.

For further reading:

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI).  The Spirit and the Liturgy.  Translated by John Saward.  San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000. – Though dealing mainly with Catholic liturgical practices, then-Cardinal Ratzinger does address in broad strokes some aspects of man’s universal desire to worship God (there is a whole chapter devoted to Music and Liturgy which ties in with the points made above concerning proper liturgical music).

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Question: What does “Ite, missa est” REALLY mean?

Jane and her husband were “just wondering about the literal translation of “Ite, missa est” because even my rudimentary high school Latin couldn’t figure out how to get “Go, you are sent” (the translation given) out of that.”

“Ite, Missa est” is the Latin concluding prayer of the Catholic Mass.  Non-Catholics listen up: the Mass is highest form of worship for Catholics.  It concludes with a brief dialogue between the priest and the congregation.  Here’s how it goes in Latin:

Priest: Dominus vobiscum [The Lord be with you]

People: Et cum spiritu tuo. [And with your spirit.]

Priest: Ite, missa est.

People: Deo gratias. [Thanks be to God]

Normally translated today as “Go, the Mass is ended,” “Ite, missa est” literally means “Go, it has been sent.”  From this phrase we get the word “Mass” as well as the word “missal,” which is the name for the book containing the prayers of the Mass.

As fascinating as this is, it does not answer the question of why perfectly sensible, very smart, and thoroughly-fluent-in-Latin people throughout the Church’s history insist on taking a phrase which clearly means “it is sent” and translating it as “the Mass is ended.”  It boggles the mind!

That means it’s time for some historical liturgical investigation.

We find quickly that the phrase “Ite, missa est” appears to be a Roman Mass practice.  Nowhere is it found in the liturgies of the Eastern Church, nor in non-Roman western rite liturgies.  The phrase does appear in many of the earlier Roman liturgies (some dating to soon after the collapse of the Roman Empire).  Such evidence ties the phrase with the Mass prayed by the popes at that time.  As was often the case in the early centuries of the Church, if you wanted to know how to do something liturgical, you turned to Rome, saw how the pope prayed, and then imitated him.  Such was the case with “Ite, missa est.”

The exact origin of this phrase puzzled even medieval liturgists.  Some argued that there is a word missing, which would explain the awkward sentence structure (perhaps “Hostia” or “ecclesia,” as John O’Brien suggests in A History of the Mass and its Ceremonies in the Eastern and Western Church [New York: The Catholic Publication Society, 1881], 388).  The Catholic Encyclopedia notes:

It has been thought that a word is omitted: Ite, missa est finita; or est is taken absolutely, as meaning “exists,” is now an accomplished fact.  The real explanation seems to lie rather in interpreting correctly the word missa.  Before it became the technical name of the holy Liturgy in the Roman Rite, it meant simply “dismissal”.  The form missa for missio is like that of collecta (for collectio), ascensa (ascensio), etc.  So Ite missa est should be translated “Go it is the dismissal.”  (See Florus the Deacon, “De expositione Missæ”, P.L., CIX, 72.)

This has allowed for a wide range of interpretations concerning this phrase.  St. Thomas Aquinas said it meant the offering of the Mass had been sent to God.

And from this the mass derives its name [missa]; because the priest sends [mittit] his prayers up to God through the angel, as the people do through the priest.  Or else because Christ is the victim sent [missa] to us: accordingly the deacon on festival days “dismisses” the people at the end of the mass, by saying: “Ite, missa est,” that is, the victim has been sent [missa est] to God through the angel, so that it may be accepted by God.  (Summa Theologica, III. Q. 83, a. 4, reply to Obj. 9)

In his beautiful reflection of the seven last words of Christ, which he connects to seven parts of the Mass, Venerable Fulton J. Sheen compares the “Ite, missa est” with Christ’s words, “It is finished.”

In his Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, Pope Benedict XVI discussed the development of missa from meaning “dismissed” to meaning one’s “mission.”  “In antiquity,” the Holy Father writes, “missa simply meant ‘dismissal.’  However in Christian usage it gradually took on a deeper meaning.  The word ‘dismissal’ has come to imply a ‘mission.’  These few words succinctly express the missionary nature of the Church (Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis, 51).

None of this really gets at the origin of the word.  I asked a former professor of mine at Christendom College, and he suggested it might refer to an ancient practice in Rome, where a deacon carried some of the Blessed Sacrament from the papal Mass to other parishes in Rome, to show unity between these other churches and the pope (See Fr. Grosch’s historical summary of this ritual.  The declaration “Ite, missa est” would be the sign for the congregation to leave, because the Eucharist had been sent forth from the Church, and thus so should the people.  However, I could not find a source independent of my professor to connect the “Ite” with the ancient custom.

I hope that answers your question, Jane.  If it didn’t, I hope it at least gave you some places to begin your search.

God Bless!

For further reading:

Adrian Fortescue, “Ite Missa Est” in The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. VIII  (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910), available at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08253a.htm, accessed August 8, 2012.

Fulton J. Sheen, Calvary and the Mass, available online at http://www.sanctamissa.org/en/resources/books/calvary/, accessed August 8, 2012.

Tagged , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: