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December 13, 2007 Edition

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Word to Life
• Understanding the Mass -- What we believe is what we pray and live
This week's readings
Pope's Prayer Intentions
A Prayer in Autumn for Country Living
Faith Alive! page

Advent: a time of waiting in hope

Word to Life 

Jeff Hensley 

My friend Michael and his family endured a long, trying period of transition several years ago that parallels the admonition in this week's readings to wait patiently as the Lord accomplishes his purposes.

Michael had taken a job teaching at the University of Oklahoma's College of Law. But during his four years in that job, he commuted between Norman, Okla., and Austin, Texas, where his wife and four children remained until they could finalize the family move. Most weekends, he'd make the 400-mile trek home, only to reverse his path on Sunday for a long, lonely ride back to Oklahoma. It was a hard time for Michael, his wife Mar-a, and their children.

In James 5, the writer tells the Christian community to be patient until the coming of the Lord: "See how the farmer waits the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and late rains. You too must be patient. Make your hearts firm."

December 16, 2007
Third Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 35:1-6a, 10
Psalm 146:6-10
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11

The psalm points to the hope we have because it is hope in the Lord, "who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever, secures justice for the oppressed."

These really are Advent readings, aren't they? They are all about waiting, but waiting with hope and confidence in the One who holds the future, in the One who is coming.

Also, Jesus points to the somewhat amazing nature of God's promises to those who come into the kingdom which he is initiating when he says in Matthew 11: "I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he."

Michael's family trial didn't last forever. There was a fruition. They found Norman to be a great place to raise their four quite talented children. They became deeply involved in the faith communities there. Michael's teaching evolved into a tenured chair at the OU College of Law, with the budget to do things like hold a national conference on Catholic perspectives on American Law at The Catholic University of America in Washington. Mar-a's writing continued to prosper, and they co-wrote a book on Catholic pilgrimages.

For reflection:

• Are you in a time of waiting, of hoping for the Lord's coming into trying circumstances?

Advent is a time of waiting, even, sometimes, of enduring, but Christmas comes. The birth of the Lord comes in this season of December, and it comes in our lives. Wait for it with hope.

This column is offered in cooperation with the North Texas Catholic of Fort Worth, Texas.

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What we believe is what we pray and live

photo of Fr. Tom Margevicius

the Mass 

Fr. Tom Margevicius 

Editor's note: This is the first in a seven-part series on the Mass. The author is Fr. Tom Margevicius, a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. He teaches liturgy at St. Paul Seminary, St. Paul, Minn.

"Ite, Missa est." This is the Latin ending of the Mass, rendered in English as: "The Mass is ended, go in peace."

I know the old Latin Mass is a hot topic, but I start this column with the Latin words for two other reasons.

The first is to say that "missa" is where we get the English word "Mass." Second, "Ite, Missa est" means we are "missioned" by Jesus Christ himself to bring the Good News to the world (Matthew 28:19-20). The dismissal more than just signals that we can go home - it tells us what to do after Mass.

Look at how we pray

The church uses the Latin phrase, "lex credendi, lex orandi" - "the law of believing is the law of praying" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1124). This means that if you want to know what we Catholics believe, look at how we pray, and vice versa.

Pope Benedict XVI's exhortation, The Sacrament of Charity, follows that basic pattern: Part 1 is titled "A Mystery to Be Believed" ("lex credendi"). Part 2 is "A Mystery to Be Celebrated" ("lex orandi").

But the pope adds a Part 3: "A Mystery to Be Lived."

One might say Pope Benedict XVI expands the phrase to "lex credendi, lex orandi, lex vivendi" - the law of belief is the law of praying is the law of living.

Mass is about changed lives

Mass is about more than fancy words and strange vestments and vessels. It's about changed lives: ours, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, the lives of those we encounter.

For that reason, the popular "Gather" hymnal we use in church could also have been titled "Dismiss!" because we are charged to go out and bring Christ to a world that needs him.

These articles on what happens at Mass mean nothing unless we are converted. _But I'm ahead of myself. We'll discuss the dismissal in a few weeks. For now, let's start with a few other basic concepts for understanding Mass.

Basic concepts

• Time and space. The incarnation, Passion, and resurrection of Jesus are timeless. Though they happened historically and geographically in Palestine 2,000 years ago, their reality becomes present here and now in our celebration. "Remembering," in the strong liturgical sense, is how we become present to that always-and-everywhere reality (CCC, 1362-1363).

• Signs and symbols. Question: Is the Eucharist the real presence of Christ, or is it a symbol? Answer: Yes.

The Eucharist is both the real presence and a symbol, or better, a collection of symbols. We hesitate because "symbol" to us connotes something unreal, but that is not the traditional Catholic understanding. Every sacrament is a sign (CCC, 1123); the sign is the reality, present in a particular way.

To say the eucharistic presence is symbolic means Jesus Christ comes to us through bread and wine, which the Spirit changes into Christ's Body and Blood, and also through the Word, people, actions, and even objects of the Mass (CCC, 1131).

• Distinctive roles, words, actions, and objects. A few years ago, a college sports team met with President Bush, and people gasped because some women on the team wore flip-flop sandals. The reaction was reasonable because for really special events we dress up.

The Eucharist commemorates the most important event ever, and our words, actions, and objects should dress it up. That's why the church protects worship from becoming too pedestrian. Not just anybody leads the Eucharist. We choose particular men and ordain them to do so. We don't use paper cups and plates, nor do we talk to God using words like, "Hey, Dude!" Something special is going on.

• Full and active participation. St. Pius X didn't want people to pray at Mass, he wanted them to pray the Mass. Pius XII encouraged full and active participation, a phrase re-emphasized at Vatican II. The better we understand our special roles, words and actions, the better our worship.

During the next six weeks, we will look at each part of the Mass in succession so we can understand, celebrate, and live it even better.

Father Tom Margevicius is instructor of liturgical theology at St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity in St. Paul.

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This week's readings

Week of December 16 - 22, 2007

Sunday, December 16, 2007
Third Sunday of Advent
Reading I: Is 35:1-6a, 10
Reading II: Jas 5:7-10
Gospel: Mt 11:2-11

Monday, December 17, 2007
Reading I: Gn 49:2, 8-10
Gospel: Mt 1:1-17

Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Reading I: Jer 23:5-8
Gospel: Mt 1:18-25

Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Reading I: Jgs 13:2-7, 24-25a
Gospel: Lk 1:5-25

Thursday, December 20, 2007
Reading I: Is 7:10-14
Gospel: Lk 1:26-38

Friday, December 21, 2007
Reading I: Sgs 2:8-14 or Zep 3:14-18a
Gospel: Lk 1:39-45

Saturday, December 22, 2007
Reading I: 1 Sm 1:24-28
Gospel: Lk 1:46-56

Pope's Prayer Intentions

December General Intention

Those Suffering from AIDS. That society may care for those stricken with AIDS, especially women and children, and that the Church may help them feel the Lord's love.

December Mission Intention

Asia. That the incarnation of the Son of God may help the peoples of Asia recognize Jesus as God's Envoy, the only Savior of the world.

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A Prayer in Autumn for Country Living

GOOD and generous Lord, You have once more brought the year full circle, through planting and growing and ripening to harvest time, and autumn.

We thank You for the sun and the wind, the rain and the dew, the minerals of the earth and all the plants that grow and all the beasts and birds of farm and field. We marvel at Your wonderful ways of bringing food from the earth for the good of us all.

Dear God, help us to use Your rich gifts as You want us to. Teach us to share them with our neighbors when they are in need. Make us see, in the marvelous succession of seasons and in the growth and ripening of our crops, the merciful, generous hand of Your divine providence.

Help us to realize, too, that if we keep Your commandments and live according to the inspirations of Your grace, we shall also reap a plentiful harvest in the autumn of our lifetime: a harvest that we will be able to enjoy for ever and ever, where no rust can destroy, nor blight spoil any least part of it.


Prayer courtesy of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference

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