Paschaltide 2009: May 2009 Archives


Homily of Pope Benedict XVI for the Solemnity of Pentecost 2009

Apart from being a magnificent example of mystagogical preaching, the Holy Father's Pentecost homily reveals an exquisite sensitivity to role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in preparing the Church for the descent of the Holy Spirit. Pope Benedict XVI continues to offer us a wealth of Mariological insights masterfully harmonized with the liturgical cycle of feasts and mysteries. The subtitles and italics are my own.

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

The One Center of the Liturgy and of the Christian Life

Every time that we celebrate the Eucharist we experience in faith the mystery that is accomplished on the altar, that is, we participate in the supreme act of love that Christ realized with his death and resurrection. The one center of the liturgy and of Christian life -- the paschal mystery -- then assumes specific "forms," with different meanings and particular gifts of grace, in the different solemnities and feasts.

The Holy Spirit, the True Fire

Among all the solemnities, Pentecost is distinguished by its importance, because in it that which Jesus himself proclaimed as being the purpose of his whole earthly mission is accomplished. In fact, while he was going up to Jerusalem, he declared to his disciples: "I have come to cast fire upon the earth, and how I wish for it to be kindled!" (Luke 12:49). These words find their most obvious realization 50 days after the resurrection, in Pentecost, the ancient Jewish feast that, in the Church, has become the feast of the Holy Spirit par excellence: "There appeared to them parted tongues as of fire ... and all were filled with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:3-4). The Holy Spirit, the true fire, was brought to earth by Christ. He did not steal it from the gods -- as Prometheus did according to the Greek myth -- but he became the mediator of the "gift of God," obtaining it for us with the greatest act of love in history: his death on the cross.

Receive the Holy Spirit

God wants to continue to give this "fire" to every human generation, and naturally he is free to do this how and when he wants. He is spirit, and the spirit "blows where he wills" (cf. John 3:8). However, there is an "ordinary way" that God himself has chosen for "casting fire upon the earth": Jesus is this way, the incarnate only begotten Son of God, dead and risen. For his part, Jesus constituted the Church as his mystical body, so that it prolongs his mission in history. "Receive the Holy Spirit" -- the Lord says to the Apostles on the evening of his resurrection, accompanying those words with an expressive gesture: he "breathed" upon them (cf. John 20:22). In this way he showed them that he was transmitting his Spirit to them, the Spirit of the Father and the Son.

The Grace of the Cenacle: Prayer and Concord

Now, dear brothers and sisters, in today's solemnity Scripture tells us how the community must be, how we must be to receive the Holy Spirit. In his account of Pentecost the sacred author says that the disciples "were together in the same place." This "place" is the Cenacle, the "upper room," where Jesus held the Last Supper with his disciples, where he appeared to them after his resurrection; that room that had become the "seat," so to speak, of the nascent Church (cf. Acts 1:13). Nevertheless, the intention in the Acts of the Apostles is more to indicate the interior attitude of the disciples than to insist on a physical place: "They all persevered in concord and prayer" (Acts 1:14). So, the concord of the disciples is the condition for the coming of the Holy Spirit; and prayer is the presupposition of concord.

A Church Less Preoccupied With Activities and More Dedicated to Prayer

This is also true for the Church today, dear brothers and sisters. It is true for us who are gathered together here. If we do not want Pentecost to be reduced to a mere ritual or to a suggestive commemoration, but that it be a real event of salvation, through a humble and silent listening to God's Word we must predispose ourselves to God's gift in religious openness. So that Pentecost renew itself in our time, perhaps there is need -- without taking anything away from God's freedom [to do as he pleases] -- for the Church to be less "preoccupied" with activities and more dedicated to prayer.

Mary Most Holy, the Mother of the Church and Bride of the Holy Spirit

Mary Most Holy, the Mother of the Church and Bride of the Holy Spirit, teaches us this. This year Pentecost occurs on the last day of May, when the Feast of the Visitation is customarily celebrated. This event was also a little "Pentecost," bringing forth joy and praise from the hearts of Elizabeth and Mary -- the one barren and the other a virgin -- who both became mothers by an extraordinary divine intervention (cf. Luke 1:41-45).

The Hayden Harmoniemesse

The music and singing that is accompanying our liturgy, also help us to united in prayer, and in this regard I express a lively recognition of the choir of the Cologne cathedral and the Cologne Chamber Orchestra. Joseph Haydn's "Harmoniemesse," the last of the Masses composed by this great musician, and a sublime symphony for the glory of God, was chosen for today's Mass. The Haydn Mass was a fitting choice given that it is the bicentennial of the composer's death. I address a cordial greeting to all those who have come for this.

The Air We Breathe

To indicate the Holy Spirit, the account in the Acts of the Apostles uses two great images, the image of the tempest and the image of fire. Clearly, St. Luke had in mind the theophany of Sinai, recounted in Exodus (19:16-19) and Deuteronomy (4:10-12:36). In the ancient world the tempest was seen as a sign of divine power, in whose presence man felt subjugated and terrified. But I would like to highlight another aspect: the tempest is described as a "strong driving wind," and this brings to mind the air that distinguishes our planet from others and permits us to live on it. What air is for biological life, the Holy Spirit is for the spiritual life; and as there is air pollution, that poisons the environment and living things, there is also pollution of the heart and the spirit, that mortifies and poisons spiritual existence. In the same way that we should not be complacent about the poisons in the air -- and for this reason ecological efforts are a priority today -- we should also not be complacent about that which corrupts the spirit. But instead it seems that our minds and hearts are menaced by many pollutants that circulate in society today -- the images, for example, that make pleasure a spectacle, violence that degrades men and women -- and people seem to habituate themselves to this without any problem. It is said that this is freedom but it is just a failure to recognize all that which pollutes, poisons the soul, above all of the new generations, and ends up limiting freedom itself. The metaphor of the strong driving wind of Pentecost makes one think of how precious it is to breathe clean air, be it physical air without lungs, or spiritual air -- the healthy air of the spirit that is love -- with our heart.

Fire From Heaven

Fire is the other image of the Holy Spirit that we find in the Acts of the Apostles. I compared Jesus with the mythological figure of Prometheus at the beginning of the homily. The figure of Prometheus suggests a characteristic aspect of modern man. Taking control of the energies of the cosmos -- "fire" -- today human beings seem to claim themselves as gods and want to transform the world excluding, putting aside or simply rejecting the Creator of the universe. Man no longer wants to be the image of God but the image of himself; he declares himself autonomous, free, adult. Obviously that reveals an inauthentic relationship with God, the consequence of a false image that has been constructed of him, like the prodigal son in the Gospel parable who thought that he could find himself by distancing himself from the house of his father. In the hands of man in this condition, "fire" and its enormous possibilities become dangerous: they can destroy life and humanity itself, as history unfortunately shows. The tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in which atomic energy, used as a weapon, ended up bringing death in unheard of proportions, remain a perennial warning.

With Mary in the Cenacle

We could of course find many examples, less grave and yet just as symptomatic, in the reality of everyday life. Sacred Scripture reveals that the energy that has the ability to move the world is not an anonymous and blind power, but the action of the "spirit of God that broods over the waters" (Genesis 1:2) at the beginning of creation. And Jesus Christ "cast upon the earth" not a native power that was already present but the Holy Spirit, that is, the love of God, who "renews the face of the earth," purifying it of evil and liberating it from the dominion of death (cf. Psalm 103 [104]: 29-30). This pure "fire," essential and personal, the fire of love, descended upon the Apostles, gathered together with Mary in prayer in the Cenacle, to make the Church the extension of Christ's work of renewal.

The Holy Spirit Overcomes Fear

Finally, a last thought also taken from the Acts of the Apostles: the Holy Spirit overcomes fear. We know that the disciples fled to the Cenacle after the Master's arrest and remained there out of fear of suffering the same fate. After Jesus' resurrection this fear did not suddenly disappear. But when the Holy Spirit descended upon them at Pentecost, those men went out without fear and began to proclaim the good news of Christ crucified and risen. They had no fear, because they felt that they were in stronger hands.

His Infinite Love Will Not Abandon Us

Yes, dear brothers and sisters, where the Spirit of God enters, he chases out fear; he makes us know and feel that we are in the hands of an Omnipotence of love: whatever happens, his infinite love will not abandon us. The witness of the martyrs, the courage of the confessors, the intrepid élan of missionaries, the frankness of preachers, the example of all the saints -- some who were even adolescents and children -- demonstrate this. It is also demonstrated by the very existence of the Church, which, despite the limits and faults of men, continues to sail across the ocean of history, driven by the breath of God and animated by his purifying fire. With this faith and this joyous hope we repeat today, through Mary's intercession: "Send forth your Spirit, O Lord, and renew the face of the earth!"

[Zenit Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]

Domine, tu omnia scis

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Goya's painting of the repentant Apostle Peter fits today's Gospel. Note the keys resting on a rock directly beneath Saint Peter's hands.

Raised Up by the Hand of Christ

Today the Church gives us the Gospel of a saint who fell as low as one can fall, only to be raised up by the hand of the risen Christ. Mysteriously and powerfully, the Holy Ghost is at work in the fallen Saint Peter and in the risen Christ. In Our Lord's encounter with Saint Peter one senses the same communion in the Holy Ghost that binds priest to penitent, and penitent to priest, in the Sacrament of Penance. The Heart of Jesus goes out to the heart of Peter, and the heart of Peter rises to the Heart of Jesus.

In the Responsorial Psalm we heard that, "as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His abiding mercy toward those who fear Him" (Ps 103:11). The pierced Heart of Jesus draws repentance out of His apostle's heart, broken with compunction. The Heart of Jesus overflows with mercy and forgiveness. The heart of the apostle is burdened with the shame of his betrayal and heavy with sorrow.

Peter's Shame

Peter is ashamed of his weakness, ashamed of having trembled with fear in front of a serving girl who recognized him by his Galilean accent, ashamed of having denied Jesus his Lord, not once but three times. Peter's denial was not a private affair. Everyone knew about it. The other apostles were sickened and embarrassed by it. And yet, the word of the psalm finds here its fulfillment: "As far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us" (Ps 103:12).

The Choice of Peter

The ways and choices of God are not the ways and choices of men. As chief shepherd of His Church, Jesus did not designate John, the beloved disciple who rested his head upon the Bridegroom's breast at the Mystical Supper, John who stood faithful with Mary, the Mother of Jesus at the foot of His Cross. He chose rather Peter -- insecure, bumbling, fearful Peter. Peter was to be the pillar of the Church's faith, the servant of the Church's unity, the shepherd chosen to nourish the lambs of Christ and care for His sheep.

Another shepherd, Saint Aelred, the gentle abbot of Rievaulx in the twelfth century, prayed:

O Good Shepherd Jesus,
good, gentle, tender Shepherd,
behold a shepherd, poor and pitiful,
a shepherd of Thy sheep indeed,
but weak and clumsy and of little use,
cries out to Thee.
To Thee, I say, Good Shepherd,
this shepherd, who is not good, makes his prayer.
He cries to Thee,
troubled upon his own account,
and troubled for Thy sheep.
(Saint Aelred of Rievaulx, The Pastoral Prayer)


In reparation for his triple denial, Jesus invites Peter to make a triple profession of love. "Simon, Son of John, lovest thou me?" (Jn 21:17) With each profession of love comes a responsibility to nourish and care for the lambs of Christ. One cannot profess to love Christ the Head without enfleshing that love in the feeding and care of Christ's members.


It is for us today as it was for Peter then. No matter what our weaknesses are, no matter what our betrayals may have been, Jesus invites us to profess our love, to confess our attachment to Him. He invites us to reparation. Reparation is the love offered to the Heart of Jesus to make up for our denials, for our indifference, and for our want of trust in His mercy. Reparation is also the prayer by which we offer ourselves to Him for the healing of all who are fragmented by sin, wounded, and sick of soul. Adoration of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus, close to His Open Heart, remains the privileged expression of our desire to make reparation.

The Great Thanksgiving

Our Lord nourishes us with His Word and with the Sacred Mysteries of His Body and Blood, that we might nourish one another and, out of the grace of compunction, offer a broken world the healing that we ourselves have received. The work of reparation flows out of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and returns to it. The Mass is the Great Thanksgiving of those "repaired," that is, made whole, by the love of Christ and the action of the Holy Ghost.

Follow Me

In the end we are left with Our Lord's enigmatic and prophetic command to Saint Peter, "Follow Me" (Jn 21:19). Implicit in this command is the gift of the Divine Paraclete, for apart from the Holy Spirit there can be no sequela Christi, no following of Christ. At the close of the Holy Sacrifice, Our Lord says "Follow me" to each of us; the Holy Mysteries are viaticum, food for the journey, and sustenance for the passage out of ourselves into the mystery of Christ. "Follow Me," He says, "follow Me into the unknown. Follow Me into the unfamiliar. Follow Me into the uncharted. Follow Me into the unforeseen.

"Fear not, for I have redeemed thee, and called thee by thy name: thou art Mine. When thou shalt pass through the waters, I will be with thee, and the rivers shall not cover thee: when thou shalt walk in the fire, thou shalt not be burnt, and the flames shall not burn in thee: For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour" (Is 43:2-4).

Our Ld St John Cowley.jpg

Sixth Sunday of Paschaltide B

John 15:9-17
1 John 4:7-10
Acts 10:25-26. 34-35.

Photo of a window in the chapel of All Saints Convent, Oxford, by Fra Lawrence, O.P.

When Love Awakens Love

Love alone can awaken love. Love is always a resurrection, a springing from death to life, a passage from solitude to communion, a calling forth from the chill darkness of the tomb into a pure and wonderful light. The Father's love for us was revealed when He sent into the world His only-begotten Son (Jn 3:17) so that we could have life through Him. This is the love that is life-giving: not our love for God, but God's love for us revealed in the friendship of Christ (1 Jn 4:10). "I have called you friends," He says (Jn 15:15).

Catholic Love

We have heard so many times that God loves us that we are in danger of being lullabyed into a religion of comfortable sentimentality, one that, as Father Aidan Kavanagh would say, "tucks us in with feather puffs." Institutionalized Christianity is all too easily subverted by the socially acceptable gospel of niceness, by a religion that finds the saccharine verses in greeting cards interchangeable with the hard, bracing words of the Gospel. A Catholicism that makes few demands on us, that offers a cheap consolation, and leaves us relatively untouched, unmoved, and undisturbed, is no Catholicism at all, certainly not the Catholicism of the apostles, the martyrs, and the mystics.

With Riven Heart

It is easy to forget that the revelation of God's infinite love for us is something which burns, which pierces, which wounds, which sets us all ablaze. I am reminded of the words of a Franciscan poet of the thirteenth century:

Before I knew its power, I asked in prayer
For love of Christ, believing it was sweet;
I thought to breathe a calm and tranquil air,
On peaceful heights where tempests never beat.
Torment I find instead of sweetness there.
My heart is riven by the dreadful heat;
Of these strange things to treat
All words are vain;
By bliss I am slain,
And yet I live and move.

(Jacopone da Todi, Lauda 90)

This searing experience of Divine Love has nothing in common with the complacent, insipid sort of piety that so many confuse with authentic Christianity. This experience of the friendship of Christ is wounding; it has nothing in common with a friendship content with vague sentiments and the occasional nod to a conventional piety.

As the Father Has Loved Me

Today's Gospel is a passionate declaration of love on the part of God. It comes from the mouth of Jesus, the Father's Eternal Word, the Friend and Lover of our souls. Like a flame, it leaps out of the blazing furnace of His Heart. "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you" (Jn 15:9).

How does the Father love the Son? The Father loves the Son infinitely, immeasurably, eternally, ineffably, from before the creation of the world unto the ages of ages. The Son is pure response to that love, equally perfect, equally eternal. So intense, so immense, so alive is the ebb and flow of love between the Father and the Son that it is their Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Love with which God the Father loves the Son. The Holy Spirit is the Love with which God the Son loves the Father. The Holy Spirit is the embrace of the Father and the Son, the Kiss of the Mouth of God.

The Holy Spirit

Today, Our Divine Lord says to us, "As the Father has loved me so I have loved you" (Jn 15:9). Christ's love for us brings us -- created and finite human beings -- into the circle of God's Trinitarian life, not as mere spectators, but as participants. Christ loves us with the same burning, boundless, love with which He Himself is loved by the Father. The seal of that love is the Holy Spirit. Jesus says to us, "Abide in my love" (Jn 15:9 ), which means, "Abide in my Holy Spirit." The Holy Spirit is the seal of our friendship with Christ. "I have called you friends" (Jn 15:15), and that you may grasp this, I give you my Holy Spirit, the Kiss of My Mouth.

A Love Stretched and Broadened

The words of Jesus, "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you" (Jn 15:9) are completed by these other words, "Love one another as I have loved you" (Jn 15:12). Christ loves us with all the wideness of His mercy; He loves us with a love that cannot be measured. We, for our part, love selectively and cautiously. We have set ideas about who is lovable, and who is not; we have our own private criteria for determining who is worthy of our love, and who is not. We love narrowly, not widely. We exclude certain categories of people. We are reluctant to invest love in people too different from ourselves. Different race, different background, different religion. Different tastes, different culture, different appearance, different values, different politics. The lists could go on and on.

In today's lesson from the Acts of the Apostles, we see Saint Peter's capacity for love stretched and broadened by circumstances, and by the Holy Spirit. Peter's change of heart takes place in three steps. In verse 28, Peter says, "God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean" (Ac 10:28). In verse 35, he stretches a little more: "Truly, I perceive that God shows no partiality . . . . In every nation anyone who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him" (Ac 10:35). Finally, in verse 47, his change of heart is complete: "These people, he says, have received the Holy Spirit just as we have" (Ac 10: 47). Peter begins to love people different from himself. Peter begins to love as Christ loves.

By the Holy Spirit

How can we, narrow-hearted sinners, wounded by life's hurts--selfish, impatient, and limited -- how can we ever hope to love each other as Christ loves us? The point is, of course, that it is impossible. The realization that the Christian life is impossible is precisely what begins to make it possible. We cannot love one another as Christ has loved us, except by the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is not the optional Person of the Most Holy Trinity. Christ was conceived in the Virgin Mary's womb by the power of the Holy Spirit. Christians are brought to birth in the bath of regeneration by the power of the Holy Spirit. Bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Christians are made, not by dint of their own efforts to love, but by "God's love poured forth into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us" (Rom 5:5). The Holy Spirit is Christ's first gift to those who believe. The Holy Spirit is fire, consuming our sins, cauterizing our wounds, purifying us of the selfishness, narrow-mindedness, and fear that thwart our best attempts to love as Christ loves.

Seven Gifts

The Holy Spirit dilates the hearts' capacity for love. The Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to correspond to the friendship of Christ and to love as Christ loves by gracing us with His seven gifts. Tradition identifies them as wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. These gifts of the Holy Spirit make us capable of a bold love, an inventive love, a wise love, a sacrificial love. Thus what was impossible becomes possible. This is what we see and admire in the lives of the saints.

Twelve Fruits

When we begin to rely on the Holy Spirit's gifts more than on ourselves, fruits of the Holy Spirit begin to blossom, to develop, and to mature. The tradition of the Church, based on Saint Paul (Gal 5:22-23), lists twelve of them: "charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity (CCC, 1832).

Fruitful Friendship

By the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit, we are able to do what Jesus commands us. Without them, the Christian life is impossible. And if, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we do what Christ commands us, then we become more than the servants of Christ (Jn 15:15), we become, according to the desire of His Heart, His friends (Jn 15:15), His intimates, those with whom He is pleased to share everything He has heard from His Father (Jn 15:15), the secrets of His mercy, of His wisdom, of His love.

Jesus commissions us to go and bear fruit, fruit that will abide (Jn 15:16). The fruit we bear manifests the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in the Church. The fruits of the Holy Spirit are dependent upon the Spirit's seven gifts. The seven gifts themselves are grafted onto the virtues of faith, hope and charity, the theological virtues infused by the Holy Spirit at Baptism and Confirmation. The same Holy Spirit is given us afresh in every Eucharist, overshadowing altar and assembly, descending to gather us into the circle of Trinitarian love, and into its earthly manifestation, the communion of the Church.

Toward Pentecost

The liturgy begins to prepare us for Pentecost, inviting us to make ready our hearts for the breath of the risen Christ who says "Receive the Holy Spirit" (Jn 20:22). Prepare then for the "rush of a mighty wind" (Ac 2:2) and for "tongues as of fire" (Ac 2:3). Already, the liturgy invites us to lift our faces heavenward that we might receive anew the Kiss of the Mouth of God. Why not pray in the words of the Song of Songs, "O that you would kiss me with the kiss of your mouth" (Ct 1:2)?

And the Inexhaustible Chalice

In just a few moments, we will approach the Inexhaustible Chalice, if not by a movement of the feet, then by a movement of the heart by the vehemence of a holy desire that God will honour. He will not send the hungry away empty. The friendship of Christ is not paralyzed by the dullness of our bureaucracies and the impersonal strictures of a system that, at times, seems distant, faceless, and even heartless. Nothing can separate us from the friendship of Christ; nothing can come between those to whom He says, "I have called you friends" (Jn 15:15) and the love revealed on His Face and in His pierced Heart. Receive the Eucharistic infusion of the Holy Spirit, if not in eating and drinking the Holy Mysteries, then by desiring them with a great desire. He who says, "I have called you friends" (Jn 15:15), wants nothing but that "His joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full" (cf. Jn 15:11).

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Fifth Monday of Paschaltide

Acts 14:5-18
John 14:21-26

And I Will Love Him

I am grateful to the Apostle Saint Jude for the marvelous dialogue recounted in today's Gospel. Our Lord reveals what it means to love Him and to be loved by Him. He declares that anyone who loves Him will be loved by the Father. He promises to love the one who loves Him and to manifest Himself to him. "He who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him" (Jn 14:21).

The Way of Love

Saint Jude doesn't immediately grasp what Our Lord is saying. He cannot conceive of a way of knowing Christ apart from the obvious way given to all. Jude seems to think that it is enough to observe Jesus: something that everyone can do. That there should be a higher way of knowing, a more intimate way, the way of love, completely eludes him. "Lord, how is it that You will manifest Yourself to us, and not to the world?" (Jn 14:22).

We Will Make Our Home With Him

Our Lord explains that the manifestation of Himself to His disciples will be inseparable from His Father's love for them. He promises a mysterious indwelling: "We will come to him and make our home with him" (Jn 14:23). He declares that anyone who loves Him will hold fast to His words. Those who let go of His words, those who fail to store them up in their hearts, will not enjoy the manifestation reserved to His friends. They will remain strangers to the joy of the indwelling of the Father and the Son.

The Heart of Jesus

How can we not relate this Gospel to the tender love Our Lord revealed in manifesting Himself to the friends of His Sacred Heart over the centuries. To each one of them He said in a unique way, "Behold, I love you and manifest Myself to you, even as I promised."

The Virgin Mother and the Virgin Disciple

I am thinking above all of the Virgin Mother beneath whose own Pure Heart His Sacred Heart of flesh first began to beat. I am thinking of Saint John the Beloved Disciple who, inflamed by his experience of the Heart of Jesus, was compelled to write: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life-- the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it" (1 Jn1:1-2).

Lovers of the Sacred Heart

I am thinking of Saint Bernard, Saint Gertrude, Saint Mechthilde, Saint Lutgarde, and Saint Bonaventure. I am thinking of Saint Margaret Mary, of Saint Claude la Colombière, of Blessed Marie de Jésus Deluil-Martiny, of Sister Josefa Menendez, of Father Mateo Crawley-Boevey, Father Jean du Coeur de Jésus d'Elbée, and of so many others. For each one of these men and women Our Lord fulfilled the promise he makes in today's Gospel: "He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him" (Jn 14:21).

Pius XII.jpg

Christ's Gift to Us

Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, before being a gift of ours offered to Christ is a gift that He offers us. "If you but knew the gift of God!" (Jn 4:10). This is the clear teaching of Pope Pius XII in Haurietis Aquas: "We are perfectly justified in seeing in this same devotion . . . a gift without price which our divine Saviour . . . imparted to the Church, His mystical Spouse in recent centuries when she had to endure such trials and surmount so many difficulties" (HA, art. 2).

The Holy Spirit, Gift of the Heart of the Son

For Pope Pius XII, the Holy Spirit is the first Gift from the Heart of the risen Christ. This too is announced in today's Gospel: "The Counselor, the Holy Spirit Whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you" (Jn 14:26). The work of the Holy Spirit is threefold. (1) The Holy Spirit is our Advocate with the Father, "interceding for us with sighs too deeps for words" because "we do not know how to pray as we ought" (Rom 8:26). (2) The Holy Spirit is sent to teach us all things, that is, to make clear for us "the unsearchable riches of Christ" (Eph 3:8). (3) The Holy Spirit is sent to quicken the memory of the Church, to bring to remembrance all that Christ said, lest any word of His be neglected or forgotten.

Advocate, Teacher, and Prompter

The Holy Spirit is our Advocate, our Teacher, and our Prompter. As Advocate, the Holy Spirit aligns us with the prayer of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to the Father; "the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God" (Rom 8:27), that is, according to the Heart of Christ. As Teacher, the Holy Spirit gives us "the power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge" (Eph 3:18); in a word, the Holy Spirit teaches us the Heart of Christ. As Prompter, the Holy Spirit calls to mind the words by which Christ communicates to us all "the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col 2:3) hidden in His Sacred Heart.

Saint Athanasius

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Here are some "jottings in the margin of the Missal" as Dom Marmion would call them: just a few random thoughts on the Propers of today's Mass. I don't treat of the Gregorian melodies that clothe the Introit, Offertory, and Communion with a particularly penetrating grace; one has to sing them or hear them sung in order to experience them in all their richness.

Looking at today's Mass

In the midst of the Church
the Lord opened his mouth,
and He filled him with the spirit of wisdom and understanding;
He clothed him with a robe of glory, alleluia (cf. Sir 15:5).

Wisdom and Understanding

In the midst of His Church, Our Lord Jesus Christ raised up Saint Athanasius, and opened his mouth. He filled Athanasius with the Spirit, that is the Divine Breath of wisdom and understanding. Wisdom is the gift of the Holy Spirit by which a soul tastes God and the things that are God's; understanding is the gift of the Holy Spirit by which one enters into the plan of God, rejoicing in His providence, in His mercy, and in the truth of all that He has revealed and promised. The robe of grace, given in Baptism, becomes for all the saints a robe of glory.

Almighty and ever-living God,
Who raised up the blessed bishop Athanasius
as the wonderful champion of the divinity of Your Son,
mercifully grant that we,
rejoicing in his doctrine and protection,
may grow ceaselessly in the knowledge and love of You.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

Saint Athanasius holds the title, "Father of Orthodoxy." The Collect calls him "the wonderful champion of the divinity of your Son." A champion he was: unafraid of engaging in battle, intransigent and stalwart when it came to the defense of catholic truth.

The Strength of the Saints

Offertory Antiphon
I have found David my servant,
with my holy oil I have anointed him;
my hand shall help him,
and my arm shall make him strong, alleluia (Ps 88:21-22).

The Offertory Antiphon applies to Saint Athanasius the prophecy concerning David: "My hand shall help him, and my arms shall make him strong" (Ps 88:22). Athanasius needed the hand of God and the might of his arms; he suffered no less than five periods of exile, almost sixteen years in all, for his uncompromising support of the Nicene Orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.

The Splendour of the Faith

Prayer Over the Oblations
Look, O Lord,
upon the offerings that we set before you
in commemoration of Saint Athanasius,
that his witness to the truth
may be for the salvation of those
who profess untainted the faith he taught.
Through Christ our Lord.

In the Prayer Over the Oblations we will ask that Saint Athanasius' witness to the truth may be "for the salvation of those who profess untainted the faith he taught." The untainted faith of the saints is not old, dusty, and boring; it is a splendid thing, a living reality. "Its flashes are flashes of fire, a most vehement flame" (Ct 8:6).

The liturgy offers two Communion Antiphons for today's Mass. The first, given in the Roman Missal, has to be heard in the mouth of Athanasius:

Communion Antiphon in the Roman Missal
No other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid,
which is Jesus Christ, alleluia. (1 Cor 3:11)

The Church wants us to hear this at the very moment we approach the mysteries of Christ's Body and Blood. The foundation of the Church, the foundation of the doctrine that nourishes life is given whole, entire, unchanging and ever new in the mystery of the Eucharist: "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and today and forever" (Heb 13:8).

Listening in the Night

Communion Antiphon in the Graduale Romanum
That which I tell you in the dark, speak in the light, says the Lord;
and that which you hear in the ear,
preach upon the housetops, alleluia (Mt 10:27).

The Communion Antiphon given in the Roman Gradual has the Lord Jesus Himself speak to us, saying, "That which I tell you in the dark, speak in the light, and that which you hear in the ear, preach upon the housetops, alleluia" (Mt 10:27). The darkness here is the obscurity of faith, the prayer in the night by which God comes closer to us than He does in what we take for light. The secrets whispered in the ear are those of the Holy Spirit, secrets that only the listening heart can hear. It is of this that Jesus speaks in today's Gospel: "When the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, Who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness to me" (Jn 15:26). Saint Athanasius, receiving the witness of the Holy Spirit concerning Christ, was compelled to preach it from the housetops and, even today, his voice resounds in the Church.

Quickened and Protected

Grant, we beseech you, almighty God,
that we who, together with Saint Athanasius,
steadfastly confess the divinity of Your Only-Begotten Son,
may ever be enlivened and protected by this sacrament.
Through Christ our Lord.

In the Postcommunion Prayer we ask that, "we who steadfastly confess the divinity of your only-begotten Son, may ever be enlivened and protected by this sacrament." Note the two parts to the petition: we ask both to be enlivened (or quickened) and to be protected. This is why we go to the altar today: for an infusion of divine vitality, and for the divine protection without which the life we bear in ourselves, as in earthen vessels, is fragile and at every moment threatened.

Saint Anthony of Egypt

Saint Athanasius gave us, we must not forget, the Life of the Father of Monks in East and West, Saint Anthony of Egypt. Nothing better illustrates the principle of the Postcommunion Prayer at work. Anthony was a man fully alive in Christ. He was, at the same time, thrust into fierce spiritual combat where his only recourse was the protection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Anthony's triumph was the triumph of Christ in him. Saint Athanasius wants us to understand this above all else. That same triumph of Christ over sin, the flesh, and the devil, the glorious triumph of Christ over death, is given us in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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