Check out this commercial our Diocese will be running on prime-time TV this Lent to promote the Sacrament of Confession:
Archive for the ‘Sacraments’ Category
This past weekend was flowing with graces in the Sammons household. On Saturday, my oldest daughter was confirmed. For the past year I have been preparing her and a group of homeschoolers for their confirmation. I was not only extremely proud of my own daughter, but also the wonderful young souls who were excited to become full members of the Church.
Then on Sunday my son received his First Communion (and it was also his birthday – what a great gift!). I still remember his excitement two years ago when one of my daughters was making her First Communion – I don’t think then he thought he could wait two whole years until he received Jesus sacramentally!
Needless to say, I was busting at the seams this weekend in thanksgiving for all the graces and gifts our Lord has bestowed upon my children. Praise be to God!
(The following is from Who is Jesus Christ? Unlocking the Mystery in the Gospel of Matthew, pp. 133-134.)
In Acts, Luke relates that the Church in its earliest days was united in purpose and action:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
— Acts 2:42
This description shows the vital relationship between the “breaking of the bread” and achieving true fellowship. As the Shepherd of the Church, Jesus has remained with his sheep, keeping them united in one flock, primarily through the sacrament of the Eucharist — the “breaking of the bread,” which is the sacrament of unity. The Eucharist binds the Church into a mystical communion that is impossible through any human means. Simply put, without the Eucharist, there is no Church: “The Eucharist makes the Church” (CCC 1395). Examining the history of the Church, one cannot but marvel that it still even exists today; the attacks from both within and without have been constant and, at times, brutal. From heresies arising from the bosom of the Church to persecutions launched by the state, the gates of hell have not relented in their assaults (cf. Mt 16:18). How could a purely human institution survive through the centuries against such opposition? But the Church has the benefit of a divine Shepherd who not only watches over his flock but gives his body as the very food by which it can remain united and strong.
From the very origins of the Church, her Eucharistic unity is clearly visible. St. Paul writes to the church in Corinth:
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.
—1 Cor 10:16-18
It is through participation in the Eucharist that Christ’s followers become more than just a likeminded group of people — they become one body. The Eucharist unites the Church to the saving act of Jesus on the cross, making her part of the world’s redemption.
The Eucharist binds its recipients not only to the Lord but also to each other. In a very real way, the bond a partaker of the Eucharist has with his fellow communicants is deeper than that of flesh and blood. Biological unity is of the flesh, but Eucharistic unity is of the Spirit of God. Christ said in his Eucharistic discourse, “It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail” (Jn 6:63). Each member of the Church is a true brother and sister in the Lord, and the Church is the family of God. A family may have arguments or disagreements, but nothing can make two of its members cease to be part of the same family. Likewise, the Church cannot be divided as long as it is united in the Eucharist.
This past weekend I attended the most important event in the life of any person: a baptism. A friend’s child was being baptized and it was wonderful to be there when this young soul was washed clean of Original Sin and transformed into a child of God.
During the actual pouring of water, I was struck with a wild thought: what if God decided not to pour His grace on this child when the water was poured over him? And of course I realized that this was impossible, because God promised us new life in baptism and He cannot break His promises. It made me realize that, in a way, God is at our beck and call: whenever a baptism is performed, no matter what the circumstances, God must cleanse the person of Original Sin and transform him into a child of God . How amazing is that?
The Catechism says that we are bound to the sacraments for our salvation, but God is not bound to them. This means that God in his mercy may save someone who has not received the sacraments. But if someone does receive the sacraments validly, then God is bound to pour grace on them because He promised He would. God the Almighty humbles Himself so much that He becomes a servant of our actions. And this is the case with every sacrament. If a priest validly says a Mass, the bread and wine must transform into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. When a priest says absolution after a worthy confession, God must forgive the penitent of his sins. If He were to not respond to the sacramental actions, He would be breaking His word, which is impossible for the One who is Truth.
This humbling of God reminds me of Philippians 2:5-11, which is set as a model for our own attitude as Christians:
Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
If God is willing to humble Himself to be at our beck and call, should we not also be willing to humble ourselves for others? If we do humble ourselves, though, God one day will exalt us as well.
…or, at least Huldrych Zwingli claimed it was.
On August 17, 1525, Zwingli, a leader in the Swiss Protestant Reformation, published the book “Subsidium sive coronis de eucharistia” in which he defended his novel belief that the bread and wine of the Eucharist were only symbols. He also rejected the idea that the Eucharistic liturgy was a sacrifice, relegating it to merely a “remembrance.” The reverberations of this book cannot be underestimated: today, the vast majority of Protestants accept Zwingli’s view, often not even realizing that it was not the view of Luther or even Calvin.
Reducing the Eucharist to a mere symbol has had profound effects, but the greatest is the disunity that has prevailed in Western Christendom since the Reformation. As I wrote in Who is Jesus Christ? Unlocking the Mystery in the Gospel of Matthew in the chapter entitled “Shepherd”:
[U]nity in the Church is not the result of theological conformity; rather, theological agreement is the result of a preexisting unity founded upon the Eucharist. It is not coincidental that the greatest case of disunity in the Church — the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation — included a denigration of the Eucharist to merely a symbol of Christ rather than His real Presence. No longer bound by the Eucharist, the leaders of the Reformation began a never-ending proliferation of new denominations and Christian bodies.
The Church is not united based on the desires and strengths of men, but because of the unifying grace of the Eucharist. Without it, our fallen race is guaranteed to be divided. Thus, those who are still united through the Eucharist should not look upon these sad events in a spirit of pride or triumphalism; it is not of man’s power that the Church remains united. Only — only — by the presence of the Shepherd in the Eucharist can it hope to remain one flock. Without Him as the source of unity, his followers will truly be a flock that is scattered.
Let us pray that one day all Christians will be united in the one Eucharistic Body of the Lord, which is no mere symbol, but is truly the Real Presence of Christ among us.
Yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of the papal decree which lowered the age of first communion in the Roman Catholic Church. Instead of waiting until the age of 12 or 13, first communicants are now allowed to receive the Eucharist at the “age of reason”, which is usually interpreted to be around 7 or 8 years old. This decree has been a wonderful blessing in the Church and I know that I am very thankful that my own children have been able to receive the Eucharist before they reach their teen years. However, at the risk of sounding ungrateful for this decision, I do have to say:
I wish children could receive the Eucharist at an earlier age, even as infants.
Some might argue that communion should not be given to someone until he understands what it is that he is receiving; in fact, this is one of the primary arguments for waiting until the “age of reason.” However, this fails to appreciate the mystery involved in all the sacraments, including the Eucharist. After all, does anyone really understand what they receive at communion? Sure, we can acknowledge that it is the Lord Himself, body, blood, soul and divinity that we receive in the Eucharist, but it is impossible for the human mind to comprehend this great mystery. Reason simply is unable to grasp what is happening. So connecting the Eucharist to “reason” seems to me to be a tenuous connection at best.
Another argument against an earlier communion age is that one should receive confession before receiving communion. And it is true that once one has reached the age of reason, he should go to confession before making his first communion. Since a person can truly sin after they can reason, they should learn that confession is an integral part of receiving our Lord in the Eucharist. But obviously an infant cannot commit actual sin, and since he is baptized, he has been washed clean of the stain of original sin. So in fact such a child would be more pure to receive the Eucharist than most adults.
A third argument for waiting for the age of reason is that small children might not be properly respectful of this great gift – they may simply look at it as a “treat” they receive at Mass and not as the life-giving food it really is. However, children have always received the Eucharist in the Eastern churches (including Eastern Catholic churches) and they have never encountered this problem. Furthermore, this argument sounds much like the apostles’ protests about children “bothering” our Lord during his ministry. Christ told them, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14). Jesus treated little children as co-heirs to his kingdom, not as “extras” that needed to wait until they were mature to be full members of it.
The Western practice today is to baptize infants, give first communion at the “age of reason” and confirm in the teenage years. Aside from the ages that these sacraments are given, there is something irregular about this setup, as it changes the ordering of the Sacraments of Initiation from its original order of baptism, confirmation, then communion. This order is still preserved for adult converts such as myself, who receive confirmation at the Easter Vigil before they receive their first communion. But for cradle Catholics, it is communion first, then confirmation. So I would argue for embracing the complete Eastern practice of infants receiving all three Sacraments of Initiation at once: baptism, confirmation, then first communion. In today’s world I believe our children need as much grace as possible, and as early as possible, to withstand the enormous obstacles to holiness that they will face growing up. Receiving all three sacraments soon after birth, and regular reception of the Eucharist after that, would go a long way in helping them. Our Lord wants all children to come to him, and infant communion would be one way to obey that command.
Obviously, I submit to the practice of the Church and I follow her rules in this matter. Individuals like myself do not have any authority to change such practices and should never break the guidelines set out by the successors to the apostles. But I do wish and pray that one day the Church will change the practice of the Latin rite so that even the smallest children can be part of the Eucharistic feast.
Nearly 1,200 people were baptized last weekend in the Archdiocese of Washington alone. If the angels in heaven rejoice over one person’s conversion (Luke 15:7), then that was quite some party in heaven last Saturday night.
For the past few years, the Archdiocese of Washington has urged Catholics to go to the sacrament of confession during Lent through a wonderful program called “The Light is On”. Archbishop Wuerl has told all parishes in the Archdiocese to have extended confession hours and asked that confession be promoted as much as possible. He has also told all parishes to offer confession every Wednesday night during Lent from 6:30-8:00pm. I can’t think of a better idea to help Catholics enter into this penitential season.
This year, however, the Archbishop has added a new wrinkle: Eucharistic adoration. During those Wednesday evening hours, parishes will also have the Blessed Sacrament exposed for quiet adoration. As Archbishop Wuerl noted, “What better place to say penance after Confession than before the Blessed Sacrament?”
Here are more details:
- The Light is On website
- An interview with Archbishop Wuerl about the program
- Archbishop Wuerl’s pastoral letter
This Lent, get to confession and make time to prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament as well. You will not regret it!
It has become a rite of passage of sorts in our modern world: the TV confession. A public figure does something disgraceful and after a period of time in which everyone piles on in self-righteous answer, he (usually it is a “he”) goes on television, usually in interview-format, and makes a “confession” and asks the public for forgiveness. As long as we believe him to be sincere, this has an amazing effect on the public’s perception of him, and he goes from reviled to beloved, or at least forgiven, in a few short hours. After all, we Americans are a pretty forgiving people.
The latest examples of this phenomenon are Mark McGwire and Harry Reid. McGwire has been hounded by steroid rumors for years and he finally admitted to their use this week. Reid, it was recently discovered, made what many consider racially insensitive remarks about President Obama over a year ago, for which he has now apologized. Big Mac and the Senate Majority Leader follow in a long line of public TV confessions that have occurred over the past decades.
These confessions often take a standard form:
1) Admit to wrongdoing, often without being too specific. (“I made inartful statements”)
2) Note that the alleged wrongdoing didn’t really change anything (“I took steroids, but it didn’t impact my performance in any way”).
3) Be sure to cite mitigating factors (“I played during the Steroid Era”).
4) Deflect the emphasis from your apology to the offense others have taken (it’s not “I’m sorry for my actions”, but “I’m sorry for any who are offended by my actions”)
5) Hope desperately that the public will forgive you.
As Catholics, we need to be careful that we don’t take these TV confessions as our model when we go to sacramental confession. Instead, our whole outlook must be precisely the opposite:
1) We are brutally specific about our sins.
2) We admit that our sinfulness has dire consequences, even if we can’t see them.
3) We do not excuse or mitigate our sins, but instead take full responsibility for them.
4) We do not talk about others, but only focus on our own sinfulness.
5) We have confidence in the mercy of God and God alone to forgive our sins.
It is a good thing that people still feel the need to ask for forgiveness when they do something wrong; we can take that as a reminder of our own need to ask for forgiveness. However, we must not model our own confessions after TV confessions, but instead model them on the advice of saints and doctors throughout the ages.
St. John Vianney, pray for us!
At least a few times a year I attend an Eastern Catholic liturgy, and many times I will try to encourage friends to attend with me to that they can experience this beautiful liturgy of the Church. The first time someone attends I usually try to prepare them by explaining some of the aspects of the Eastern Liturgy that differ from the Western Mass. I usually am sure to mention the following:
- Everything is sung.
- There is no kneeling, and you stand for almost the entire liturgy.
- There is a lot, I mean a lot, of incense used.
- There are many, many icons.
- The priest faces the same direction as the people during the Eucharistic prayers.
- Communion is received on the tongue.
- The bread used for communion is leavened, not unleavened.
- Baptized infants can receive communion.
It is that last one that usually gives people pause. After all, the other practices are clearly outward signs and are not fundamental to our faith. But infants receiving communion? Don’t you have to reach the “age of reason” to be able to received our Lord in the Eucharist? Isn’t this somehow disrespectful of this great Sacrament?
The reality is that infant communion (also called “paedocommunion”) has always been the practice of the Church in the East, and was also the practice of the Church in the West until the 1200′s. Fellow blogger Orthocath gives a useful overview of the practice in this post, quoting Fr. Robert Taft, S.J. (one of the foremost scholars on Eastern Christianity in the world today):
“The practice [of communing infants] began to be called into question in the 12th century not because of any argument about the need to have attained the “age of reason” (aetus discretionis) to communicate. Rather, the fear of profanation of the Host if the child could not swallow it led to giving the Precious Blood only. And then the forbidding of the chalice to the laity in the West led automatically to the disappearance of infant Communion, too. This was not the result of any pastoral or theological reasoning. When the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) ordered yearly confession and Communion for those who have reached the “age of reason” (annos discretionis), it was not affirming this age as a requirement for reception of the Eucharist.
“Nevertheless, the notion eventually took hold that Communion could not be received until the age of reason, even though infant Communion in the Latin rite continued in some parts of the West until the 16th century. Though the Fathers of Trent (Session XXI,4) denied the necessity of infant Communion, they refused to agree with those who said it was useless and inefficacious — realizing undoubtedly that the exact same arguments used against infant Communion could also be used against infant baptism, because for over ten centuries in the West, the same theology was used to justify both! For the Byzantine rite, on December 23, 1534, Paul III explicitly confirmed the Italo-Albanian custom of administering Communion to infants….So the plain facts of history show that for 1200 years the universal practice of the entire Church of East and West was to communicate infants. Hence, to advance doctrinal arguments against infant Communion is to assert that the sacramental teaching and practice of the Roman Church was in error for 1200 years. Infant Communion was not only permitted in the Roman Church, at one time the supreme magisterium taught that it was necessary for salvation. In the Latin Church the practice was not suppressed by any doctrinal or pastoral decision, but simply died out. Only later, in the 13th century, was the ‘age of reason’ theory advanced to support the innovation of baptizing infants without also giving them Communion. So the “age of reason” requirement for Communion is a medieval Western pastoral innovation, not a doctrinal argument. And the true ancient tradition of the whole Catholic Church is to give Communion to infants. Present Latin usage is a medieval innovation.” (Emphasis added) (Text from here.)
I admit that I am supportive of the idea of returning the practice of infant communion to the Western Church, although I do think there can be solid pastoral reasons for refraining until the age of reason is reached. The grace that is received from the sacrament – grace that is not due to our ability to understand it (for who can really understand it?) and therefore unrelated to our use of reason – is needed from the earliest ages. I personally would love it if my own 6-month-old daughter was allowed to participate at the Lord’s Table with the rest of the baptized.
I hope every one of my American readers have a restful and happy Thanksgiving tomorrow. It is a wonderful idea to take a day to remember all that we have to be thankful for (as well as stuff ourselves with turkey, argue with relatives, watch football games and prepare for crazy shopping the next day just like the original pilgrims did).
But let us remember that as Catholics we can celebrate Thanksgiving every day. After all, the word Eucharist is from the Greek word for “thanksgiving”, so every time we attend Mass we are celebrating thanksgiving. In the Mass we are thanking God for the incredible sacrifice of His Son for our salvation. What is a greater gift than that?
Vatican II taught that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of the Christian life. Among other things, this means that giving thanks should be an integral part of our spiritual lives. Do we thank God every day for the wonderful gifts He has given us?
What a beautiful picture (click to enlarge):
See full story here.
I recently read an interesting article on the rise of “online churches”. Many Evangelicals are building “churches” on the Internet, allowing people to come together for services very similar to Protestant church services. This has been a growing trend, and some Evangelicals are even replacing their participation in physical churches with online “churches”.
The article also mentions that Catholics and Orthodox are creating many online spaces for believers to “gather” together. However, neither of these two Churches will ever have an “online church”. Why? Because, simply put, “the Eucharist makes the Church”. With no Eucharist, you have no Church (and the reverse is true as well: without a Church you have no Eucharist). And since the Eucharist is, and always will be, a physical phenomenon, it is impossible to have a true “church” online.
The Church is not simply a gathering of like-minded believers, like the Elks club or the Rotary club. It is the Body of Christ and it is mystically united in the Eucharist, not simply in a common belief (in fact, our common belief is a fruit of the Eucharist). This great Sacrament is the sacrament of unity and it binds together diverse people into one physical body. As St. Paul wrote in today’s first reading, “We, though many, are one Body in Christ, and individually parts of one another.” (Romans 12:5). This unity is humanly impossible, but it is possible in the divine economy.
Catholics should have a presence in the online world and through that presence we can and should bring people closer to Christ. However, we are not a “church” online; our churches can only be found where there is the Eucharist.
Here is a tradition I didn’t know: when you have your 12th child, you have a bishop baptize him or her. But that is exactly what happened here in Maryland recently, as Kolbe Peter Fatzinger, the 12th child of Rob and Cecilia Fatzinger, was baptized by Bishop Martin Holley (the Auxiliary Bishop of Washington DC who is himself the 8th of 14 children) a few Saturdays ago.
Earlier the [Bishop Holley] told participants through the beautiful sacrament of marriage, Kolbe’s parents became co-creators with God – and the new baby is a “product of that love,” Bishop Holley added.
“Out of the sacrament of marriage is born all the other sacraments,” Bishop Holley later said. “The graces from (his parents’) marriage continues to be perpetuated in the life of this young boy – who will eventually make a decision of his own life,” whether that choice be marriage, a vocation to the religious life or a faithful lay person.
As the eighth of 14 children, Bishop Holley seemed right at home in front of the Fatzinger family. A large family teaches you Gospel truths, Bishop Holley noted. Children learn about God’s love through their parents – their first teachers. Later, children are taught how to love their neighbors by learning to love their siblings. “We often refer to the family as the ‘domestic church,’” Bishop Holley told the Catholic Standard.
He pointed out the younger children in the family who were gathered around their older siblings and parents watching them intently. “All eyes are looking at their parents,” Bishop Holley said. “The graces that come from marriages, are important for society, and so important for the continuation of the Church,” Bishop Holley said. “Marriage gives life to all the other sacraments.”
Or, as Mother Teresa once said, “big family, holy family.” And the Fatzingers seem like quite a family. They have only been married 20 years, yet have 12 children and already one of them is in the Seminary!
May God continue to shower His blessings on the Fatzingers!