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Friday, January 28, 2011

Doesn't the Bible condemn vain repetition?

Doesn't the Bible condemn vain repetition (Matt 6:7)?  Why then do Catholics pray such repetitive prayers like the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet?

"And in praying use not vain repetitions, as the Gentiles do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking."--Matt 6:7

To be sure, if we pray the Rosary or Divine Mercy Chaplet (et al) in a superficial and mechanical manner, we may indeed be in violation of Jesus' command against "vain repetition." However, the emphasis on Jesus' prohibition is on the "vain" part, not the "repetition" part. "Vain" meaning:  without purpose or intention or by being disengaged from the meditative aspects of the prayer.

"Jesus...was not condemning repetitive prayer. Rather, he was criticizing the Gentiles’ practice of reciting endless formulations and divine names in order to say the words that would force the gods to answer their petitions. Magical formulas were not the way to get God to answer prayers. Jesus challenged us to approach our heavenly Father not the way the pagans do their deities but rather in confident trust that "your Father knows what you need before you ask him." Indeed, he knows what we need better than we do and is providing for those needs even before we realize them ourselves (Matt. 6:25–34). source.

Interestingly, Scripture is FULL of prayers of repetition:
-check out Daniel chapter 3, from v. 57 onwards:  "Bless the Lord, praise and exalt Him above all for ever" is repeated, and repeated.  And repeated.

-in Psalm 136, "For His mercy endures forever" is repeated, and repeated.  And repeated.

Matt 20:31, Jesus grants the request of the blind men, who offer repetitive prayers for mercy. 

Mark 11:9, the inspired author writes that "Those preceding him as well as those following kept crying out (that is, repeating): "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"

Finally, Scripture tells us that in heaven all prayers and worship will be offered, repetitively, before the Eternal Throne of God:
  -The four living creatures, each of them with six wings, were covered with eyes inside and out. Day and night they do not stop exclaiming: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty, who was, and who is, and who is to come."-Rev. 4:8

Thus, we see that it is not repetition that is condemned, but praying without intention. To use a metaphor from my parish deacon, vainly repeating prayers is like getting in a rowboat but not rowing anywhere.  However, he states that even if we do say these prayers in a vain or "ineffective" manner, we are still "in the boat" so to speak, so it's still a good thing that we're praying them!

The Rosary, Divine Mercy Chaplet and all the other magnificent prayers of the Church are treasures which bring to mind the heart and soul of the Gospel.  As Pope John Paul II so beautifully
stated: To recite the Rosary is nothing other than to contemplate with Mary the face of Christ.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Part II: Why do Catholics call the Mass a "sacrifice"?

“Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your MIND”--Matt 22:37

Question:  Why do Catholics call the Mass a "sacrifice"?  Who is being sacrificed?  If it's Christ doesn't the Bible say that Jesus was offered "once for all"?
Part II

When I was younger I used to think that the sacrifice was ourselves.  That is, our time that we could be spending otherwise, we were offering up to God during the one hour service.  While there is a part of this that is indeed true, we do indeed bring our time, our selves, to the altar metaphorically speaking, at the presentation of the gifts, what is truly being sacrificed is Jesus.  But he is not being sacrificed again, bloody and suffering, up on the Cross.  At the Mass we enter into the Sacrifice that occurred, once and for all, 2000 years ago.
Christ’s atoning death on the Cross took place once, and it will never be repeated. 

Fundamentalists believe that we are repeating this bloody sacrifice at each Mass, thus implying that Catholics believe that Jesus' suffering was ineffective or insufficient, like the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament that could never take away sins. In the Old Testament, the Israelites would sacrifice a perfect lamb once a year in atonement for their sins.  By placing their hands on this unblemished lamb they would symbolically transmit their sins to this lamb, who would then be offered as a sacrifice of atonement.

While the OT sacrifices were insufficient,
Jesus, the Unblemished Lamb, became the perfect, efficacious and eternal Sacrifice which atoned for all the sins of humanity.  He did this once, for all, 2000 years ago on Calvary.
He has no need, as did the high priests, to offer sacrifice day after day, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did that once for all when he offered himself.-Hebrews 7:27
Catholics are not re-sacrificing Christ again, but are participating in the once for all sacrifice.  "At Mass, we do not sacrifice Christ over and over again. That is ridiculous. Rather, the Mass is a participation in the once for all sacrifice of Christ. It is not a representation of Christ's once for all sacrifice, but a re-presentation. Each time we go to Mass, we become part of that once for all sacrifice with all eternity! That's powerful! The Catechism of the Catholic Church, number 1368, says this, "Christ's sacrifice present on the altar makes it possible for all generations of Christians to be united with his offering." (source here)
In other words, there is, so to speak, a "time warp" going on at each and every Mass.  We are "transported" to the foot of Calvary in order to participate in the "once for all" eternal sacrifice of our Savior.  How magnificent a gift is it that we are given the privilege to participate in the only event that that ever really mattered!!  In the Eucharist the Church is as it were at the foot of the cross with Mary, united with the offering and intercession of Christ. Catechism-1370.

Apologist Jimmy Akin does not espouse this "time warp" metaphor, but nevertheless presents it in this article as a viable way for Catholics to understand how the Mass can be a sacrifice.
Finally, "Protestants have no qualms accepting the perfect and efficacious nature of Christ’s sacrifice, but invite them to consider its eternal aspect. Jesus is eternally a priest, and a priest’s very nature is to offer sacrifice. In the case of Christ, the eternal sacrifice that he offers is himself. This is why he appears in the book of Revelation as a lamb, standing as though he had been slain (Rev. 5:6). He appears in heaven in the state of a victim not because he still needs to suffer but because for all eternity he re-presents himself to God appealing to the work of the cross, interceding for us (Rom 8:34), and bringing the graces of Calvary to us.

The Mass is a participation in this one heavenly offering. The risen Christ becomes present on the altar and offers himself to God as a living sacrifice. Like the Mass, Christ words at the Last Supper are words of sacrifice, "This is my body . . . this is my blood . . . given up for you." So, the Mass is not repeating the murder of Jesus, but is taking part in what never ends: the offering of Christ to the Father for our sake (Heb 7:25, 9:24). After all, if Calvary didn’t get the job done, then the Mass won’t help. It is precisely because the death of Christ was sufficient that the Mass is celebrated. It does not add to or take away from the work of Christ—it is the work of Christ.

For more in-depth study visit these websites:

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" - 1 Peter 3:15

Friday, January 21, 2011

Part I: Why do Catholics call the Mass a "sacrifice"? Who is being sacrificed? If it's Christ doesn't the Bible say that Jesus was offered "once for all"?

“Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your MIND”--Matt 22:37

Question:  Why do Catholics call the Mass a "sacrifice"?  Who is being sacrificed?  If it's Christ doesn't the Bible say that Jesus was offered "once for all"?

Ah, the Mass!  No other Catholic practice is more misunderstood and maligned than the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (and this rejection is often by Catholics who really have no clue about this "powerful supernatural drama that enfolds them"--from Scott Hahn in The Lamb's Supper). Not only is it rejected and scorned-it's borrrrring!  it's repetitive!  the priest gives a monotone homily I've heard a million timesthe music and the singing are horrible!!--but it seemingly can't compete with the lively, spirit-filled Evangelical Christian services which are attracting our poorly-catechized fellow Catholics in droves.  (Again, Time Magazine reports that Catholics are the largest religious group in the US, and that ex-Catholics are almost the second largest religious group!)
Apologist Tim Staples, a convert from the Assemblies of God, studied his way into the Catholic Church.  He knew Catholicism was true before he ever set foot inside a Catholic Church.  But the first thought he had when he went to investigate his first Mass was, "Why does everyone look so mad?"   <sigh...>  This is indeed a sad testament to the poor catechesis we've had.  We know not the magnificent treasures we have in the Church. 

I must say that I have attended a few non-Catholic worship services, and as far as making me feel welcome and wanted, and seeing people in love with the Lord, these services put Catholics to shame.  I remember thinking, "Wow!  Everyone really wants to be here.  And they seem to want me to be here, too!"  The Catholic Mass cannot compete with these other services with their lively, entertaining, articulate, energetic, charismatic pastors preaching a message that's palatable and funny and insightful.  While driving recently I passed a mega-church that had a 3 story blow-up slide, easily visible from the highway.  That's attractive to families.  That makes people want to go and check it out.

Sadly, we don't have that.

But, we have something better.

Or, rather, Someone better.

We have Jesus.  Present, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.  It's where we become One Flesh with Him. The Mass is where the life-giving Presence of Jesus in the Bessed Sacrament is given to us.  The Mass is where we "consummate our marriage" to our Beloved.

(Note: I am not saying that Jesus is not present in these other non-Catholic worship services.  For of course where two or three are gathered in His name, He is there!   But He is not there in the Eucharist.  No one can enjoy the One Flesh Union--this profound, sublime intimate joining of man with his Beloved--unless the Eucharist is there.)

At each and every Mass we have heaven crashing to earth.  Author Annie Dillard writes that if Catholics really understood what was happening at the Mass we'd all be wearing crash helmets and not dainty little Sunday hats to Mass!  We have the Church Triumphant (the angels and saints) present with us at each and every Mass worshiping with us before the Eternal Throne of God.  It ought not matter one whit that the priest mumbled the prayers, the cantor sang off-key or that we've heard the same parable for the 50th time.  The mystery of the sublime reality of the Mass surpasses and overwhelms even the worst homily/singing/priest/readings/ etc etc etc.
From Fr. Benedict Groeschel's introduction to Scott Hahn's The Lamb's Supper:
"I always feel a twinge of annoyance when I see in a college or a hotel a list of "religious services" and observe the Mass listed at 9 A.M. The Mass is not a religious service. When Catholics say morning prayer or the recitation of the rosary or even have Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, that's a service. It's something that we do for God, similar to the public prayer of any religious denomination. But the Holy Sacrifice of the Eucharist, the Divine Liturgy, is not precisely - in its essence - done by man at all.

Let me tell you, I've been a priest for forty years and I never conducted a "'service" called a Mass, I was a "stand-in" for the High Priest, to use the words of Church teaching, I was there functioning in persona Christi - in the person of Christ, the High Priest of the Epistle to the Hebrews. People do not come to Mass to receive my body and blood, and I could not have given it to them if they did. They come for communion with Christ."

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" - 1 Peter 3:15

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

30-second apologetics: Why do Catholics genuflect before entering a pew?

Why do Catholics genuflect (bend down on one's right knee) before entering a pew?

 We are making a sign of reverence before the Real Presence of Our Lord, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Tabernacle (meaning dwelling place):

Whenever the Blessed Sacrament (the consecrated Host) is present, we make this sign of respect as a way of acknowledging that He is really present here. 

We are not genuflecting to the altar, but rather to the Blessed Sacrament.  (However, I believe that when one passes in front of an altar, a bow is required.)

Incidentally, during the 1980's and 90's many Catholic Churches were re-designed and, unfortunately, in a misguided attempt to make the Mass more horizontally focused rather than vertically focused, the tabernacle with the Blessed Sacrament was displaced to a side altar, often away from the sanctuary.  When one enters a such a church it is often difficult to find the tabernacle.  Nevertheless, we ought to search for this hidden tabernacle and give Him an acknowledgment of His presence by a reverent genuflection before we sit in the pew!

If the monstrance 

is exposed during Adoration, the custom has been to offer a "double genuflection" that is, to kneel with both knees and bow one's head.  However, new liturgical norms state that  “a single genuflection is made in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, whether reserved in the tabernacle or exposed for public adoration.” The rationale for that change simply was that it is the one Lord who is present in the Holy Eucharist – and equally so – whether in the reserved Sacrament in the tabernacle or in the exposed Sacrament during adoration. Thus, any distinction between acts of reverence to our Lord present in the tabernacle or in the monstrance is avoided. ...However, this does not prohibit any of the faithful from doing a double genuflection out of their own personal piety. (source)

Just my opinion here: when we enter a Catholic Church for a meeting we often forget that we are in the presence of the Divine.  It would be proper to genuflect towards the tabernacle (wherever it is these days!) and kneel in prayer before the speaker/meeting begins.  What a powerful witness that would be that we believe in His Presence in the Blessed Sacrament! 

Once you accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior and are saved, are you always saved?

“Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your MIND”--Matt 22:37

Once you accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior and are saved, are you always saved?  That is, can you lose your salvation? 

This question is a corollary to the "Are Catholics saved?" topic. Many non-Catholic Christians profess this doctrine of "Once Saved, Always Saved" (OSAS).  Indeed, the issue of soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) is a main point of contention among Evangelical Christians.  It is derived, I believe, from the Evangelicals' great love of Christ and His atoning work on the cross.  What Evangelicals object to is the notion that we must do anything to "earn' heaven.  It's ALL Jesus, all the time, in their paradigm.  God's forgiveness is sooo complete, sooo infinite, that the moment they profess their repentance, all sins, past, present and future, are forgiven.  Anything less than that indicates that Jesus' salvific gift is ineffective, to their way of thinking.
Catholics, of course, ought to give a hearty "amen!" to the Evangelical's "it's ALL Jesus" mantra.  And we ought to be humbled by their great devotion to the atoning work of Christ on the Cross.

Where the Evangelicals get it wrong with the OSAS doctrine is that they ignore all the Scripture verses which state that salvation is conditional.  We have a moral assurance of salvation, but not an absolute assurance.  Thus, if we sin, we can indeed lose our salvation.  The Bible speaks of this, well,  everywhere.
There is a significant number of Bible Christians who believe that you are saved through saying the "Sinner's Prayer".  Sometimes this is done through an altar call, in which people are called to make a public commitment to Christ.  While this practice ought not be denigrated--truly, many have started their beautiful walk with God because of this invitation-- some ironies do exist:
  • the "Sinner's Prayer" is not found in the Bible
  • an altar call is not found in the Bible
  • typically there is no altar in the "altar" call, for most churches of this type eschew the notion of a sacrifice (it was done once and for all by Jesus and cannot be repeated).  Altars are missing from these churches because sacrifice is missing.  (The purpose of an altar, of course, is to offer up sacrifices.)
Again, I offer a disclaimer:  please read my presentation of what Evangelical Christians believe with the same healthy skepticism you would have if you heard a Protestant say, "Catholics believe _______"  Sometimes they get it right; more often than not they get it wrong.  At any rate, as there are over 30,000--and counting--different Protestant denominations it's really difficult to represent the Protestant position anyway.  Also, please note that I use the terms Evangelical Christians, Protestants,  Fundamentalists, non-Catholic Christians, and Bible Christians synonymously, although there are differences--but the distinctions are quite fluid.

(Actually, Catholics are Bible Christians, are we not?  We are the original Bible Christians! 
)So with regard to the Evangelical's OSAS assertion, 'tis true that there are some verses in the Bible which seem to support their doctrine. There are, however, multiple Bible verses which proclaim that salvation is not a "done deal".  How do we reconcile this?  Because Catholics do not use Scripture alone to discern God's Revelation, we have the benefit of the other channel of God's WordSacred Tradition.  And Tradition tells us what truths these Bible verses, in their entirety, profess.  We understand the Bible through the lens of the Faith which was handed down to us through the Apostles.

Finally, "if you can lose your salvation by sin, doesn’t that imply that you are earning your salvation? Ephesians 2:8–9, says, "for by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God—not because of works, lest any man should boast."
...The New Covenant is not a system of works righteousness whereby a person can please God and earn heaven by doing a number of good deeds. This is what Paul is driving at in Ephesians 2. He is not saying that sin cannot separate us from Christ.

When he gave a litany of created things that can not separate us from the love of God in Romans 8:39, notice that he did not say, "neither fornication nor adultery nor drunkenness nor murder will separate us from the love of God." He was well aware that if we choose sin, we renounce Christ. In 1 Corinthians 15:1–2, Paul says, "Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast—unless you believed in vain." So, you could believe, but fail to hold fast to the gospel, and not be saved (cf. 2 Pet. 2:20).

This is why Paul spoke in the book of Romans about the "obedience of faith" (Rom. 1:5, 16:26). It is not enough that one call Jesus Lord, for, as he said, "Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 7:21; cf. Matt. 10:33, 18:35). If we are disobedient, God will "take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city" (Rev 22:19).

Just because you may choose to no longer hold fast to what was freely given to you does not mean that you were ever capable of earning what was given to you in the first place. The same is true of earthly sonship—it cannot be earned. But if you were adopted, you would be free to run away as a prodigal son and lose your inheritance." source

I am trying to be cautious about my presentation of the (OSAS) teaching, lest I misrepresent this concept.  However, it would seem to lend itself to living a life of sin because "hey!  I'm saved!"  I suspect that most advocates of OSAS would deny that their belief promotes a life of sin.  (Just like it's a misrepresentation of Catholicism for objectors to state, "Catholics think they can live a life of sin because they can confess their sins the next day to a priest."  Either way is not a fair portrayal of one's beliefs.)  That being said, it does seem that there has been many an Evangelical Christian who has lived a dissolute life but feels his salvation is still guaranteed. 

For more in-depth study visit these websites:

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect
1 Peter 3:15

Are Catholics "saved"?

“Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your MIND”--Matt 22:37

Question: Are Catholics "saved"?

Probably most of us have heard some variation of this before:  "Are you saved?"  or "I used to be Catholic, but then I got saved."

What's the Catholic response?  Firstly, in the strictest sense, we are not saved until we die.  Salvation happens when we die.  Period.  For salvation means that we are united with Christ in heaven.

So I find the question "are you saved?" puzzling and peculiar.

But, I also understand the question.  What's also being asked by Evangelical Christians is if we know with any certainty that we are going to heaven. And the answer comes from St. Paul: “I do not judge myself.  I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted.  It is the Lord who judges me.”-1 Cor 4:3-4.

Salvation is a process.  We get "saved" when we are born again at baptism (baptism now saves you, says St. Peter in 1 Peter 3:21); we are saved continuously throughout our lives, and we hope to be saved in the end on judgment day.  

Thus, we can have a moral assurance of our salvation (that is, Christ offers us the hope of our salvation through his atoning death on the cross), but we do not know with an absolute certainty if we are saved.  But if we are saved, it is not through any works that we have done, (and it is not by "being a good person") but by saying Yes to the Divine Marriage Proposal of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (that is, heaven) through our cooperation with God's salvific grace.  

Catholics profess that we  "work out our salvation with fear and trembling" -Phil 2:12, as St. Paul states
We proclaim that salvation is a processwe were saved (once, 2000 years ago by Christ's atoning death on the cross, and at the moment of our baptism), we are being saved (every day when we turn our hearts, minds and souls towards God) and we hope to be saved (when we die and say yes!).

Scripture reiterates the above: 
I am already saved (Rom. 8:24, Eph. 2:5-8), but I’m also being saved (1 Cor. 1:8, 2 Cor. 2:15, Phil. 2:12), and I have the hope that I will be saved (Rom. 5:9-10, 1 Cor. 3:12-15).
(Note:  even though we "work" out our salvation with fear and trembling, as St. Paul professes, this ought not be mistaken for thinking that Catholics must perform "works" in order to get to heaven. This is something we Catholics are often accused of believing.  Not true at all.  This heresy called Pelagianism (that we are saved by our own good deeds/acts/prayers) was condemned by the Catholic Church way back in the 5th century. 

"Protestants are often confused about the role Catholics believe good works play in salvation, so you should clear this up for the Fundamentalist you know. You should explain to him that we do not perform good works in order to enter a state of justification. The Council of Trent stated that "nothing which precedes justification, whether faith or works, merits the grace of justification" (Decree on Justification 8)." source
On the other hand, while Catholics get accused of believing we can work our way into heaven (something that has never been taught by the Church) there is the other perspective in which some Fundamentalists proclaim that all we must do to get saved is believe in the Lord Jesus. "All we need to do is ask Jesus into our hearts and we are saved". This, also, is not true and a corruption of the faith given to us by the apostles.  The Scriptures attest that not all who believe will enter heaven, for do not "even the demons believe, and tremble"? -James 2:19. And"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven"-Matt 7:21

Thus, if it's not through our works, and it's not by faith alone,
how do we receive salvation, justification, new birth, and eternal life?

 "The Catholic Church teaches that salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ and, by his grace, in obedience to his commands ("For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not from you; it is the gift of God. It is not from works, so no one may boast" [Eph. 2:8-9; see Phil. 2:13, Col. 1:29, Jas. 2:14-26]). That is an uncompromising Truth.

That is, we take ALL of Scripture to understand the plan of salvation established by Jesus Christ. 

Thus we are saved
  • By believing in Christ (Jn 3:16; Acts 16:31)!
  • By declaring with our mouths (Lk 12:8; Rom 10:9)!
  • By coming to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4; Heb 10:26)!
  • By works (Rom 2:6-7; James 2:24)!
  • By grace (Acts 15:11; Eph 2:8)!
  • By his blood (Rom 5:9; Heb 9:22)!
  • By his righteousness (Rom 5:17; 2 Pet 1:1)!
  • By his Cross (Eph 2:16; Col 2:14)!
  • By repentance (Acts 2:38; 2 Pet 3:9)!
  • By baptism (Jn 3:5; 1 Pet 3:21; Titus 3:5)!
  • By the work of the Spirit (Jn 3:5; 2 Cor 3:6)!

    Can we cut any one of these out of the list and proclaim it alone as the means of salvation? Can we be saved without faith? Without God’s grace? Without repentance? Without baptism? Without the Spirit?
The Answer:
These are all involved and necessary; not one of them can be dismissed as a means of obtaining eternal life. Neither can one be emphasized to the exclusion of another. They are all involved in salvation and entry into the Church. The Catholic Church does not divide these various elements of salvation up; overemphasizing some while ignoring others; rather, she holds them all in their fullness." source:  Apologist Steve Ray.

For more in-depth study visit these websites:

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect
1 Peter 3:15