Saturday, June 02, 2007

Justin Martyr and the Liturgy

I almost forgot; since yesterday we remembered St. Justin Martyr, I wanted to reflect on some of his well-known discussion of the Christian liturgy as he knew it in the 2nd century.

From the First Apology, Ch. 65-66:
But we, after we have thus washed him who has been convinced and has assented to our teaching, bring him to the place where those who are called brethren are assembled, in order that we may offer hearty prayers in common for ourselves and for the baptized [illuminated] person, and for all others in every place, that we may be counted worthy, now that we have learned the truth, by our works also to be found good citizens and keepers of the commandments, so that we may be saved with an everlasting salvation. Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss. There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen. This word Amen answers in the Hebrew language to γένοιτο [so be it]. And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion.

And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, "This do in remembrance of Me, Luke 22:19 this is My body;" and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, "This is My blood;" and gave it to them alone.
Notice he refers to the presider giving thanks, and he then refers specifically to the elements of bread and wine over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, calling them "Eucharist", from the Greek Εὐχαριστία, from "thanksgiving". The prayer offered over the elements, involving a supreme act of thanksgiving, is therefore eucharistic in nature. The elements are blessed by the prayer of His word and are received not as common food but as the flesh and blood of Jesus who was made flesh. To support this, Justin then refers to the account of the Last Supper and Christ's institution of the Eucharistic meal with the command "This do in remembrance [anamnesis] of me". This is from anamnesis, which refers to more than just remembering an event but rather commemorating it, a reliving of the past as a present reality. With this in mind, we move on to the next chapter in which Justin goes into more detail concerning the whole of the liturgy itself as he experienced it:
And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.
These stories are obviously an important part of our history, although their meaning has been the subject of no little amount of debate between Christian groups. The reflections are very rich and contain great depth and insight. We Catholics are often accused of reading our own understanding into the text, which can be said of any group who reads it. I see it, rather, as simply the recognition of something that is so obviously familiar to us, having a more developed understanding of Eucharist, and what for us entails the Divine Liturgy, or the Mass, during which bread and wine are offered and blessed by the prayer of the Word of God in thanksgiving and are received by us not as common food but precisely as Jesus Christ in the flesh. I can appreciate the simplicity with which Justin describes the act and the experience of Christian liturgy.

Friday, June 01, 2007

St. Justin Martyr

Today is the memorial feast of St. Justin, philosopher, martyred with other companions during the reign of Marcus Aurelius circa 165AD. From today's Office of Readings:
From the Acts of the martyrdom of Saint Justin and his companion saints.

The saints were seized and brought before the prefect of Rome, whose name was Rusticus. As they stood before the judgment seat, Rusticus the prefect said to Justin: "Above all, have faith in the gods and obey the emperors." Justin said: "We cannot be accused or condemned for obeying the commands of our Savior, Jesus Christ."

Rusticus said: "What system of teaching do you profess?" Justin said: "I have tried to learn about every system, but I have accepted the true doctrines of the Christians, though these are not approved by those who are held fast by error."

The prefect Rusticus said: "Are those doctrines approved by you, wretch that you are?" Justin said: "Yes, for I follow them with their correct teaching."

The prefect Rustic said: "What sort of teaching is that?" Justin said: "Worship the God of the Christians. We hold him to be from the beginning the one creator and maker of the whole creation, of things seen and things unseen. We worship also the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He was foretold by the prophets as the future herald of salvation for the human race and the teacher of distinguished disciples. For myself, since I am a human being, I consider that what I say is insignificant in comparison with his infinite godhead. I acknowledge the existence of a prophetic power, for the one I have just spoken of as the Son of God was the subject of prophecy. I know that the prophets were inspired from above when they spoke of his coming among men."

Rusticus said: "You are a Christian, then?" Justin said: "Yes, I am a Christian."

The prefect said to Justin: "You are called a learned man and think you know what is true teaching. Listen: if you were scourged and beheaded, are you convinced that you would go up to heaven?" Justin said: "I hope that I shall enter God's house if I suffer in that way. For I know that God's favor is stored up until the end of the whole world for all who have lived good lives."

The prefect Rusticus said: "Do you have an idea that you will go up to heaven to receive some suitable rewards?" Justin said: "It is not an idea that I have; it is something I know well and hold to be most certain."

The prefect Rusticus said: "Now let us come to the point at issue, which is necessary and urgent. Gather round then and with one accord offer sacrifice to the gods." Justin said: "No one who is right-thinking stoops from true worship to false worship."

The prefect Rusticus said: "If you do not do as you are commanded you will be tortured without mercy." Justin said: "We hope to suffer torment for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, and so be saved. For this will bring us salvation and confidence as we stand before the more terrible and universal judgment-seat of our Lord and Savior."

In the same way the other martyrs also said: "Do what you will. We are Christians; we do not offer sacrifice to idols."

The prefect Rusticus pronounced sentence, saying: "Let those who have refused to sacrifice to the gods and to obey the command of the emperor be scourged and led away to suffer capital punishment according to the ruling of the laws." Glorifying God, the holy martyrs went out to the accustomed place. They were beheaded, and so fulfilled their witness of martyrdom in confessing their faith in their Savior."
St. Justin, pray for us!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

I look at Him, He looks at me

I recall a time when, long ago, as a Protestant, I had a powerful encounter with Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, reserved in the tabernacle. Back then, a heavy anchor weighed heavily on my soul. I clung to it, foolishly, yet I sought for some way to let it go. I walked into the church building where the tabernacle was located, merely desiring to sit and take my rest. More than not understanding the Real Presence (who does?), I didn't even believe in it at the time. Yet, something happened to me in that moment.

For a long time, I didn't know how to comprehend the experience. As I later reflected on it, I realized how contemplative the moment was, almost in spite of myself. I was blind - puffed up, full of myself. I had a desire to repent, not knowing how to take the first step. Christ stripped me down of that anchor and restored my sight. The moment was simple; no words were uttered. I had been a fool, but Christ had always been there, loving me throughout my entire life. In ways even surpassing the love of a mother for her child, He had loved me. The experience strengthened my resolve to run towards Christ, following Him to the Catholic Church.

Nowadays, I aim to spend some time each week before Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. I've gotten into the routine of visiting our parish's perpetual adoration chapel every Sunday before mass. Sorry fool that I am, much of the time is spent contending with the various distractions of the outside world. But then I remind myself, back to my encounter with Him so long ago and through to today, I don't leave my life on the doorstep when I enter the chapel. I take it with me, and there, in that place, I give it to Him. No words are necessary. I look at Him, and He looks at me. I like the way the Catechism describes some of these simple moments of contemplation (paragraphs 2711, 2715):
Entering into contemplative prayer is like entering into the Eucharistic liturgy: we "gather up:" the heart, recollect our whole being under the prompting of the Holy Spirit, abide in the dwelling place of the Lord which we are, awaken our faith in order to enter into the presence of him who awaits us. We let our masks fall and turn our hearts back to the Lord who loves us, so as to hand ourselves over to him as an offering to be purified and transformed.

Contemplation is a gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus. "I look at him and he looks at me": This is what a certain peasant of Ars in the time of his holy cure' used to say while praying before the tabernacle. This focus on Jesus is a renunciation of self. His gaze purifies our heart; the light of the countenance of Jesus illumines the eyes of our heart and teaches us to see everything in the light of his truth and his compassion for all men. Contemplation also turns its gaze on the mysteries of the life of Christ. Thus it learns the "interior knowledge of our Lord," the more to love him and follow him.
Laudetur Iesus Christus!

Sunday, May 27, 2007


From the treatise Against Heresies by Saint Irenaeus, bishop (Lib. 3, 17. 1-3):
When the Lord told his disciples to go and teach all nations and to baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, he conferred on them the power of giving men new life in God. He had promised through the prophets that in these last days he would pour out his Spirit on his servants and handmaids, and that they would prophesy. So when the Son of God became the Son of Man, the Spirit also descended upon him, becoming accustomed in this way to dwelling with the human race, to living in men and to inhabiting God’s creation. The Spirit accomplished the Father’s will in men who had grown old in sin, and gave them new life in Christ.

Luke says that the Spirit came down on the disciples at Pentecost, after the Lord’s ascension, with power to open the gates of life to all nations and to make known to them the new covenant. So it was that men of every language joined in singing one song of praise to God, and scattered tribes, restored to unity by the Spirit, were offered to the Father as the first fruits of all the nations.

This was why the Lord had promised to send the Advocate: he was to prepare us as an offering to God. Like dry flour, which cannot become one lump of dough, one loaf of bread, without moisture, we who are many could not become one in Christ Jesus without the water that comes down from heaven. And like parched ground, which yields no harvest unless it receives moisture, we who were once like a waterless tree could never have lived and borne fruit without this abundant rainfall from above. Through the baptism that liberates us from change and decay we have become one in body; through the Spirit we have become one in soul.

The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and strength, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of God came down upon the Lord, and the Lord in turn gave this Spirit to his Church, sending the Advocate from heaven into all the world into which, according to his own words, the devil too had been cast down like lightning. If we are not to be scorched and made unfruitful, we need the dew of God. Since we have our accuser, we need an Advocate as well. And so the Lord in his pity for man, who had fallen into the hands of brigands, having himself bound up his wounds and left for his care two coins bearing the royal image, entrusted him to the Holy Spirit. Now, through the Spirit, the image and inscription of the Father and the Son have been given to us, and it is our duty to use the coin committed to our charge and make it yield a rich profit for the Lord.
This Spirit, as Our Lord says in John 16:13, But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. Thank you, Lord, for the Catholic Church!


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