Thursday 21st September 2017

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A Leaven In The World… “In Meam Commemorationem”

September 4, 2017 Our Catholic Faith No Comments


Visiting us at our little parish in southern Maryland for nearly two months is Fr. Michael, a Catholic priest from the Diocese of Onitsha in Nigeria. He is with our parish family to learn how to offer the Traditional Latin Mass and how to plant the sacred liturgy among the priests and people when he returns to his home country.
Fr. Michael tells an interesting story of his conversion. He was raised as an Anglican and, as an adult, suffered the rejection of his family as a result of converting to the Catholic faith. This is the example of someone who would never want to “go back.” Fr. Mike went forward to the faith in order to be in communion with Christ: the Way, the Truth and the Life. His choice to embrace the faith meant that he crossed a divide which is now forever closed to him. To go back in his case would be to cross a Rubicon of betrayal of all that he holds most dear.
When any Catholic in reference to matters of the true faith, however, says that he is “never going back,” he betrays a dangerous misunderstanding of the faith itself. Recently a Catholic academic did precisely this when she posted her reaction on Facebook to a pronouncement by Pope Francis.
As you may recall, the Holy Father recently stated that the reform of the sacred liturgy put into motion as a result of Vatican II is “irreversible.” In response, the practicing Catholic professor posted the comment:
“Yes. Thank God! Even without this pronouncement there is no going back!”
Her response betrays a serious misunderstanding of the process and purpose of reform and of the purpose of the liturgy itself. She also violates a basic principle enunciated by Pope Benedict XVI in Summorum Pontificum when he said, “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too.”
When a lifelong Catholic exults with the cry “no going back,” he betrays the very faith which he claims for himself. Does such a person include Jesus and the apostles among the class of things he will never revisit in memory or understanding? We always go forward to the Resurrection and the life in Jesus Christ; however, we can never do it without first “going back.”
The history of sacred tradition is the history of all those things necessary for our salvation coming from Christ through the apostles. Among these things coming from the past toward which we look back in memory, with gratitude and for understanding, is the most Sacred One who is handed down: Jesus Himself in the Mass which is handed on through the Church.
But these are not the most important reasons for always looking back in memory and love. Jesus Christ in the act of instituting the Sacred Liturgy of the Holy Mass Himself commanded, “Do this in memory of me.” The reason why we look back in memory every time we celebrate the Holy Mass is Christ Himself. If we do not look back, we disobey God. We cannot celebrate the most sacred gift of the liturgy which brings us God in the Eucharist without looking back in time through the gift of memory.
The sacred liturgy is precisely a “going back” because it is, par excellence, the memorial of the Lord’s Passion, death, and Resurrection.
Pope Francis’ comments were completely misinterpreted by the Catholic academic who thanked God that she doesn’t have to look back. I would warn her that she will never be able to move forward to a future through, with, and in Christ who is the Resurrection and the Life, if she doesn’t first look back in order to recall His Passion and death. Just as there is no meal without sacrifice, there would be no resurrection for all human flesh were it not for the suffering and death of the Incarnate God at a particular place and time, 2,000 years ago.
The Holy Father stated a verity that is always relevant for the Church. He offered the context for his comments by reminding us that the Church is always being reformed, semper reformanda. This is true, however, not because of God but because of us. The members of the Body of Christ, prone to sin as we are, must always be purified of the effects of sin. Our motives and intentions must always be illumined and raised up by grace to be used for the purposes of God in saving our souls.
Pope Francis’ comments that the reforms of the liturgy are “irreversible” have also been misinterpreted. Many people have been scandalized into believing that the innovations of a Protestant flavor which have wormed their way into the celebration of Holy Mass in many places are from the Vatican Council itself. The only elements mandated by the fathers, however, are those which preserve the tradition. Mass offered with the Canon prayed in Latin, celebrated ad orientem, and with Latin Gregorian chant sung responses is in fact what we should have in mind when we think of Vatican II’s “irreversible” reforms.
Our repentance for sin which welcomes God’s mercy is the most intimate kind of reform necessary for all people who would seek to put their hopes in Christ and their future in His hands. We will always suffer the ill-conceived comments of those who believe they have perfect understanding. These serve as perhaps unwitting proof of the need for the purification of the Church through constant reform.
Let us pray that we may always shun the irrationality of emotions unguided by intellect and will in obedience to truth. One who is puffed up with sinful pride betrays a lack of docility that nearly guarantees the Lord’s work will be blocked for the redemption of that soul.
A Catholic can never go forward without at the same time always going back: returning to Christ through the fullness of sacred Tradition. To be in Christ is to always go forward by going back.
Jesus Christ commanded in the act of instituting the sacred liturgy, “Do this in memory of me.” Memory always requires a “going back” in time to the events remembered. Salvation history is the story of the Chosen People which they recalled in their celebrations precisely to remember and celebrate how God is active among them.
We do the same every time we celebrate the sacred Liturgy. Now our remembering is the perfect remembrance because it accomplishes what it signifies. Christ remembered becomes Christ truly present through the actions of the priest in persona Christi.
Fr. Michael may be seeking a sign of hope within our Catholic community for better inoculating the people of Nigeria against the heretical infection of Pentecostalism. But we also look to him as a sign of hope for a Church always being reformed throughout the world.
We are always in need of purification through Christ, who is recalled in the liturgy and who becomes truly present, the Risen One who is the way to future glory, realized by a share in His Resurrection.
Thank you for reading and praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever.

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