The Great Gift of Holy Communion

Fr Angelico. Comunione degli apostoli, cella 35
Fra Angelico. Communion of the Apostles. 1440-1441 Museo di San Marco, Florence
On the feast of Corpus Christi, we celebrate the great gift of the Holy Eucharist in which Our Lord gives us Himself, truly present in the Blessed Sacrament as our Holy Communion, the food and life of our souls.

For centuries, Councils and Popes encouraged frequent Holy Communion. Great saints and spiritual writers fought against Jansenism which taught that people had to be perfect before they could receive Communion. For much of that time, people made great sacrifices to receive Holy Communion, such as fasting from all food and liquids from midnight. Receiving Holy Communion has been made easier and so we need to guard against it becoming something merely routine.

To receive Holy Communion, we must be Catholics, united with the Church, practising our faith (including coming to Mass every week except where prevented by a serious reason.) We must be living in accord with the Church’s teaching, especially with regard to marriage.

In terms of our personal spiritual life, we must be free from mortal sin, going regularly to Confession, and living a life of prayer, including making some spiritual preparation for receiving the sacrament. Holy Communion is itself a means of forgiveness for our venial sins, and therefore we should examine ourselves and repent of such sins before receiving the sacrament.

With such dispositions, we can make the most of what is a truly magnificent gift of God. In Holy Communion we receive Christ Himself. He cleanses and purifies our soul, fills us with grace, unites us with Himself and with each other in the Church, and gives us the pledge of future glory.

The Life-Giving Mystery of the Holy Trinity

Holy_Trinity

The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, was not revealed by Christ to the Church as a theological puzzle. It is a mystery in the Christian sense, a truth that is so great that our human minds cannot fully comprehend it, but a truth that brings us the life of God.

Pope Benedict explained how God is the eternal source which communicates all life “He does not live in splendid solitude but rather is an inexhaustible source of life that is ceaselessly given and communicated. To a certain extent we can perceive this by observing both the macro-universe: our earth, the planets, the stars, the galaxies; and the micro-universe: cells, atoms, elementary particles.”

The doctrine of the Trinity teaches us not only that God Himself lives in a communion of life and love, but also that He pours out that love to others. As St Paul said, “In Him we live and move and have our being. (Acts 17.28)

Pope Francis vividly expressed the quality of God’s love: “Let us recognize that God is not something vague, our God is not a God ‘spray’, he is tangible; he is not abstract but has a name: ‘God is love’. His is not a sentimental, emotional kind of love but the love of the Father who is the origin of all life, the love of the Son who dies on the Cross and is raised, the love of the Spirit who renews human beings and the world.”

One result of this is that we live in communion. “A person who loves others for the very joy of love is a reflection of the Trinity. A family in which each person loves and helps one another is a reflection of the Trinity. A parish in which each person loves and shares spiritual and material effects is a reflection of the Trinity.”

Pentecost and the Grace of Confirmation

Anthony van Dyck - Pentecost - WGA07442
Anthony van Dyck – Pentecost – Gemäldegalerie, Berlin
In the sacrament of Confirmation, the Holy Spirit gives us grace for strengthening, particularly to make us firm in bearing witness to Christ. In the earliest years of the Church, this often meant martyrdom: the Christians asked for the strength to stand firm when asked to deny the faith under pain of death. In several parts of the world, this is the meaning of Confirmation for our Catholic brothers and sisters today. In our relative comfort, we must pray for them.

Even though we do not face martyrdom, we do share with them our need of the Holy Spirit to help us bear witness to others. Many of those around us in Church give informal witness to their faith every day, sometimes standing up to hostility or going against the grain by their fidelity to the moral teaching of Christ and the Church. Good books can help us to be better informed when speaking to others so that in union with St Paul, we preach “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Cor 2.2) and not our own opinions.

Giving witness to others is not an optional extra for the specially devout. It is an integral and necessary part of our Christian discipleship as baptised and confirmed members of the body of Christ.

If we are the friends of Christ, we do what He asks of us. We deepen in our friendship with Him by regular confession, good Holy Communions where we make a proper preparation and thanksgiving, finding sound prayers, novenas and devotions to say, to enrich our life of prayer, and by spiritual reading such as the lives of the Saints.

Building on this solid base, we can then bring our discipleship to Mass on Sunday. The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. We draw upon the source of grace which is the Mass, and then bring to the Mass the offering of the witness that we have been able to give, the charity we have shown, and the deeper friendship with Christ that we have tried to foster in our souls.

Our Confirmation is our own personal Pentecost when we received the Holy Spirit and the permanent seal or character given in the sacrament. Confirmation is a sacrament which marks us out permanently as the soldiers of Christ, the people He relies upon to bring His word to the world today.

On this feast day of Pentecost, we should ask the Holy Spirit to renew His grace within us and confirm or strengthen us anew as the followers of Christ. We can examine ourselves on the gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. To what degree are these gifts evident in my life today? Do I fear the Lord or do I simply presume on His grace, taking it for granted? Do I have fortitude in following Christ or do I come to the Church as a “consumer”, expecting to get something and complaining if I think I have had poor “service.”

Awakened to the call of the Holy Spirit, we are then moved to ask humbly for the grace to live the seven gifts anew with the fervour and freshness given by the Holy Spirit. Then we can truly pray who desires to burn with love in our souls, making the prayer from our hearts,

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in them the fire of your love.

Sermon preached by Fr Finigan at St Austin and St Gregory, Margate on Pentecost Sunday 24 May 2015.

Plenary indulgence for Pentecost

On the feast of Pentecost a plenary indulgence may be gained under the usual conditions by the faithful who join in the singing or recitation of the Veni Creator Spiritus. In English, this hymn is translated as “Come Holy Ghost, Creator, come.”

We will sing the hymn in English before Saturday 5pm Mass, and Sunday 9.30am Mass, and in Latin before 11.30am Mass.

The Ascension as a New Beginning

Rembrandt The Ascension 1636 Oil on canvas Alte Pinakothek Munich Germany
Rembrandt The Ascension 1636 Oil on canvas Alte Pinakothek Munich Germany
When Our Lord ascended to heaven, the angel drew the apostles away from looking into the sky and encouraged them to look to the second coming of Christ. St Leo said,

“At his Ascension, everything about our Redeemer that had until then been visible was changed into a sacramental presence.”

The Ascension was a new beginning not only for the apostles but for the whole Church.

Our Lord took on our humanity so that He could glorify it. As a physical event, the Ascension shows us that Christ takes our humanity to heaven. From that time, He has been present in the Church to teach us and to sanctify us by means of the Church’s teaching and the sacraments.

Between the Ascension and Pentecost, the apostles remained fearful and hidden away. At Pentecost they received the Holy Spirit who strengthened them to bear witness. This grace for strengthening is communicated to us in the sacrament of Confirmation.

Traditionally, the days between the two feasts have been observed as a time of intense prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to come down upon us anew and give us the courage to show by our lives that we believe in Christ and follow His teaching. It is a good opportunity for us to examine our lives in the light of Christ and to resolve to live more faithfully as His disciples.

The sacred Liturgy of the Church teaches us to direct our eyes towards heaven, but it does not do so in order to lessen our action in the world. By focussing our minds and hearts on the risen Christ who sends the Holy Spirit, we draw inspiration and strength to make him better known through our witness and charity.

The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony

Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld - The Wedding Feast at Cana - (Kunsthalle Hamburg)
Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld – The Wedding Feast at Cana – (Kunsthalle Hamburg)
The Gospels show us how highly Our Lord thought of marriage. Not only does He use it frequently to illustrate the Kingdom of God, He worked His first miracle at a wedding in Cana. The Fathers of the Church explain that Our Lord went to the wedding to make all weddings holy by His grace.

By His death on the Cross, Christ won for us the grace of the seven sacraments, as symbolised by the blood and water flowing from His side. Marriage existed from the creation of the first man and woman: Our Lord raised that natural relationship to the dignity of a sacrament, so that when two baptised Christians are married, there is a sacramental bond which is given by God Himself and cannot be broken.

St John Paul said that the future of humanity passes by way of the family and he defended the family in the public square against efforts to undermine its nature and to usurp the God-given rights and duties of parents. For the sake of future generations, we need to follow his example with courage and stand up for Christian marriage and family life.

The saintly pope also reflected on the spiritual nature of marriage and the family as shown to us by God in the scriptures and the Church. He reflected on the communion of persons which is designed to be fruitful in bringing new life into the world. St John Paul compared this to the creative communion of persons of the Holy Trinity.

Last week we prayed for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. In today’s world, we also need to pray earnestly for vocations to Christian marriage, prepared for chastely, and lived in union with the teaching of Christ and the Church.

Praying for Vocations to the Priesthood

Peter Fendi (Austrian - Fridolin Assists with the Holy Mass - Google Art Project
Peter Fendi – Fridolin Assists with the Holy Mass – Google Art Project
The apostles were ordinary men, called and formed by Christ to celebrate the Eucharist and to preach the Gospel. In every age, Our Lord continues to call men to serve Him in the priesthood, to be “stewards of the mysteries of Christ.” (1 Cor 4.1)

The roles of the priest and of the lay faithful are complementary, not in opposition to each other. Families need priests, and priests need families if the work of the priesthood and the lay apostolate are to flourish. Today we pray especially for vocations to the priesthood: we must also nurture vocations in our parish and in our families by helping the young to become disciples of Christ who will gladly give their lives in His service.

The course of formation for the priesthood is long and demanding. Fortunately we are blessed with young men of fine character who have entered on this path for the sake of Christ and the Church so that they too may be good shepherds, ministering the sacraments, teaching people the truths necessary for salvation, and bringing pastoral care to those in need. However we need more young people who are open to the call of Christ and willing to respond to it.

Pope Francis said,

“Dear lay faithful, be close to your priests with affection and with your prayers, that they may be always be shepherds according to God’s heart. And pray for those whom God is calling to be priests that they may respond to this call with humility and joy.” (Homily at the Chrism Mass 2013)

The Holy Father reminds us all that priests and those preparing for the priesthood need the prayers and support of the faithful. On this Day of Prayer for Vocations, please keep this intention in your prayers.

Trusting in the Mercy of Jesus

Divine mercy

In the year 2000, St John Paul II canonised St Faustina, a humble sister who had little education, and took on the humblest tasks for her community. Our Lord appeared to her, revealed an image of Himself which is now popular worldwide, and asked for the observance of a feast of Divine Mercy on the Sunday after Easter. St John Paul established the feast and granted a plenary indulgence.

The devotion to the Divine Mercy is not a new message but a new presentation of something taught by Christ and by the Church from the beginning: that God is merciful and that He calls us to be merciful and forgiving to one another. He also invites us to trust in Christ without reserve.

The Divine Mercy devotion reminds us that our faith must be fruitful in good works, especially in mercy to others. This is especially needed today when broken relationships cause so much long-term resentment, leading to a vicious circle of further hurt.

Our Lord is also shown as the refuge and shelter for souls that trust in Him, especially for poor sinners who might despair of forgiveness or feel that they are not worthy to receive the mercy of God. By His mercy, God can take human frustration, self-loathing, and disgust, and forge a deeper sorrow which is supernatural, motivated by the love of God, and genuinely healing, accompanied by a firm and effective resolution to change one’s life and become truly a disciple of Christ.

The risen Lord who appeared to the disciples, sent the Holy Spirit upon them and gave them the power to remit sins through the sacrament of Penance as the first gift of His mercy to the nascent Church.

Sharing the Joy of the Resurrection

Francesco Buoneri, called Cecco del Caravaggio - The Resurrection - Google Art Project
Francesco Buoneri, called Cecco del Caravaggio (1588/90 – after 1620) “The Resurrection.” Current location: Art Institute of Chicago
“He is risen, he is not here” (Mark 16.6) After the devastation of Our Lord’s passion and death, we can scarcely imagine the joy of Our Lady and the apostles at seeing Jesus risen again from the dead. They loved Our Lord and knew Him to be the greatest man in their lives. Now they knew that He had overcome death.

We cannot share in this joy unless we believe in the resurrection. If we think of Our Lord simply as a figure in history, the celebration of his life will be like recalling any other historical triumph, such as England winning the World Cup in 1966, or VE Day: nice to remember and learn from, but not a matter of immediate personal experience.

We also need to understand the tragedy of the passion of Christ to know the full joy of Easter. The resurrection is not an event isolated from the passion, it is Our Lord’s triumph over sin and death. In our life here on earth, we must be a “Good Friday people” who understand the victory that Christ won over sin and death, before we can be an “Easter people.”

Genuine faith in the resurrection motivates us to action. This is not simply a bland humanistic agenda of “peace and tolerance” (which is always inevitably selective) but also an intolerance of sin and evil in our own lives, and a desire for supernatural grace and life, and the charity that goes with it.

Faith in the resurrection is a prerequisite of faith in the Holy Eucharist (Our Lord cannot be present in the Eucharist if He is not risen.) We share with Our Lady and the apostles the joy of the presence of Christ. We can ask them to pray for us to increase our living faith.

Holy Week and our Life in Christ

Pietro Di Giovanni D'Ambrogio - Entry of Christ to Jerusalem - WGA17723

The great Liturgies of Holy Week include dramatic elements such as the palms, processions, the unveiling of the Cross, and the blessing and veneration of the Paschal Candle which represents the light of Christ. These visible rites help us to ponder prayerfully the mysteries that we celebrate.

However we are not simply remembering events that happened a long time ago. The celebration of the sacred Liturgy brings us grace here and now. By participating devoutly in the ceremonies, we seek to die to ourselves, to take up our cross and follow Christ, and to live as Christians, renewing our faith in the Lord who is risen from the dead and alive today.

When the Pharisees told Jesus to rebuke His disciples for crying “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” He said “if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” (Lk 19.40) As Lord of all creation, Christ “comes into His own” and the very creation itself would recognise Him if there were no acclamation from His disciples. His subsequent crucifixion is the ultimate blasphemy, from which Our Lord brought the definitive triumph over evil by redeeming us.

We are also called to recognise Jesus Christ as Our Lord and Master, to devote ourselves wholly to Him in faith, hope and charity, giving Him the first place in our lives, not relegating Him to the sidelines as though following Christ were a part-time religious hobby.

In the sacred Liturgy of the solemn ceremonies of Holy Week and Easter, as throughout the year, we participate genuinely to the degree that we allow ourselves to be changed by it, and transformed in the likeness of Christ.