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January 2, 2014 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

Q. I noticed in the Gospel readings just before Christmas that Zechariah and the Virgin Mary both seemed to have the same doubts about the announcement by the Angel Gabriel. However, Zechariah was struck dumb, but Mary was not. Why were they treated differently? — M.K., Florida.
A. Zechariah was punished because he doubted the power of God to give his elderly wife a child (“How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”). Mary, on the other hand, did not doubt the power of God, but only wanted to know the manner in which she would conceive a child since she had taken a vow of virginity (“How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”). She did not ask, as Zechariah did, whether the promise could be fulfilled, but how it could be fulfilled. Once she was assured by Gabriel that her motherhood would not come about in the normal way, but through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

Q. I’ve attended Mass in two neighboring dioceses where the celebrant has everyone introduce themselves before Mass begins. Usually handshakes are involved. Then there’s more handshaking at the Sign of Peace. The usher has to shake everyone’s hand as they exit the pew for Communion. Now the same “tradition” is being established in my home diocese — shoehorned in as an Advent thing. Is all of this reach-out-and-touch someone action called for, especially with the onset of the cold and flu season? At least our extraordinary ministers have access to hand sanitizers in the sanctuary. — M.S., Michigan.
A. There is nothing in the instructions for participation at Mass that mentions handshaking, even at the Sign of Peace. By the Rite of Peace, says the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, “the Church entreats peace and unity for herself and for the whole human family, and the faithful express to each other their ecclesial communion and mutual charity before communicating in the Sacrament” (n. 82). However, the same paragraph does not specify, nor has the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops ever specified, the manner (handshake, hug, kiss, wave) in which the sign is to be given. All the GIRM says is that “it is appropriate that each person, in a sober manner, offer the sign of peace only to those who are nearest.”
That you have also observed handshaking at the beginning of Mass, and by the ushers as the faithful leave their pews to go up to Communion (shouldn’t one be recollecting oneself for the awesome privilege of receiving the Lord in the Eucharist instead of being distracted by an usher’s handshake?), is an indication of how far we have strayed from proper conduct at Mass. Instead of being about the worship of God, the Masses you have attended are about socializing with other members of the congregation. No wonder people have so little appreciation for what is taking place at the altar.
In a recent post on his blog, Msgr. Charles Pope illustrated the profound but mostly unappreciated meaning of Holy Mass as a participation in the Mass being celebrated perpetually in Heaven. Referring just to the priest’s invitation to “Lift up your hearts,” Msgr. Pope said:
“Very few attending Mass today think much of the heavenly liturgy. Rather, most are focused on their parish church, the priest in front of them, and the people around them. But this is NOT an adequate vision for the Mass. In the end, there is only one liturgy: the one in Heaven. There is only one altar: the one in Heaven. There is only one High Priest: Jesus in Heaven. In the Mass, we are swept up into the heavenly liturgy. There, with myriad angels and saints beyond number, we worship the Father through Jesus, with Jesus, and in Jesus. In the Mass, we are swept up into Heaven.
“More so than ‘Lift up your hearts,’ a better translation of Sursum Corda is ‘Hearts aloft!’ What is the celebrant really inviting us to do? After greeting us in the Lord, he invites us to go to Heaven! But remember, the priest is in persona Christi. Hence, when he speaks it is really the Lord Jesus speaking, making use of the priest’s voice. And what does the Lord say to us in the magnificent dialogue and preface that follows?. . . ‘Let your hearts be taken up! Come and go with me to the altar that is in Heaven where I, Jesus the great High Priest, with all the members of my body render perfect thanks to God the Father!’. . . .
“Hence, the Mass is never just the ’10:00 a.m. Mass at St. Joe’s.’ It is the heavenly liturgy.”

Q. I don’t understand how God could make a pact with the Devil regarding Job in the Old Testament. Do you have any thoughts on this? — J.B., Massachusetts.
A. Even though the Book of Job says that Satan was among those in the presence of the Lord, we think it is safe to say that God did not actually meet with Satan and make a pact with him regarding Job. This was a literary device that allowed the author of the book to show the Devil’s antipathy toward God and the Almighty’s power to overcome Satan’s extraordinary efforts to turn a righteous man away from Him.
Through six temptations, Job perseveres with heroic patience, without complaining or wavering in his loyalty to God. He tells his three friends that they are wrong in thinking that his trials are a punishment for his sins because he was truly a just man. Though it was the conventional wisdom at that time that all suffering was the result of sin, that God rewards the just but punishes sinners, Job shows that is not true and that sometimes God sends trials to test our faithfulness and to strengthen us in virtue.
Although God permitted Satan to inflict terrible calamities on Job — the loss of family and fortune, as well as boils over his entire body — He provided Job with the perseverance and trust to endure these afflictions without turning away from God. “Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb,/ and naked shall I go back again,”/ was Job’s answer to being deprived of his family and wealth. “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;/ blessed be the name of the LORD!” (Job 1:21).
And later in the book, he expressed his hope in a future life by saying: “But as for me, I know that my Vindicator lives,/ and that he will at last stand forth upon/ the dust; Whom I myself shall see:/ my own eyes, not another’s, shall behold him,/ And from my flesh I shall see God;/ my inmost being is consumed with longing” (19:25-26).
All through the Book of Job, said Fathers Leslie Rumble and Charles Carty in volume one of their Radio Replies, “God permitted affliction for the greater good of Job. Satan inflicted suffering for the greater misery of Job. God intended the justification of right principles, Satan their destruction. God was more reliable than Satan, for He was ever prepared to assist Job by His grace as often as Job demanded it, whilst Satan intended only the degradation of Job and the insulting of God. God is always reliable, Satan never” (p. 35).
It is very difficult to reconcile a loving and merciful God with the fact of suffering and evil. But Job shows us that God, while He sends us many trials, never abandons us. Jesus died on the cross out of love for us and has promised us the joy of Heaven if we are loyal to Him. Any pain or suffering in this life will seem as nothing compared to the glory and happiness of Heaven. In a homily delivered on February 7, 1988, St. John Paul II put the sufferings of Job into perspective:
“We can say that the ancient figure of Job, of this righteous man afflicted by terrible suffering which, humanly speaking, he does not deserve, represents a great question for man of all times. Man constantly asks about the reasons for suffering and seeks its meaning in the context of all earthly existence. His is a question addressed directly to God. The Gospel provides the answer. Christ is ever near to those who suffer; Christ, who in the end takes upon His shoulders the Cross, sign of disgrace, only to die upon it — He Himself is the answer. In Him God responds to the Job of the Old Testament and to all the Jobs down through the centuries and the generations. This answer is subtle, but at the same time powerful and definitive.”

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