The prayer of the sacred Liturgy usually has the form of pleading to the Father, through Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. This follows the pattern of our creation and redemption, and of the work of God in the Church. Praying in union with the Church is the best way to appreciate the profound mystery of the most Blessed Trinity.
At Holy Mass, the elements of bread and wine are offered to the Father and accepted by Him. This acceptance of the Father is what brings about the change of the bread and wine so that they become the body and blood of Christ. We may also invoke the sanctifying action of the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
In our devout participation in the Liturgy, we offer ourselves in union with the offering of Jesus Christ who gave Himself on the Cross.
United with Christ, we adore the Father reverently, recall the many gifts for which we must give Him thanks, repent of our sins and plead for His forgiveness, and then call to mind the various needs that we have, especially of His grace, to serve Him better in our lives.
The Holy Spirit is a person, not an impersonal force. He speaks, leads, warns, decrees, teaches, chooses, calls and sends. He is given to the disciple to consecrate him as a prophet of the new era in Jesus Christ and to enable him to give witness to Christ as the particular circumstances and the will of God require.
John the Baptist, Elizabeth, Zachary and Simeon were all filled with the Spirit to give witness to the one who had come, Jesus the Messiah. In their different ways, they announced that the Saviour was here. The apostles, Stephen, Philip, Paul, Cornelius, and Barnabas, received the same grace of the Holy Spirit to carry out the same task of announcing Christ, though in different ways. The Holy Spirit filled our Lord with joy, descended upon Him and anointed Him in His humanity at the beginning of his public ministry.
We receive the anointing of the Holy Spirit at our Confirmation. It is a gift for which we should renew our thanks and devotion every year on the feast of Pentecost, resolving to be true to the vocation that we are given to be missionary disciples of Christ.
The great feast of the Ascension is part of the cycle of Easter. Our Lord, crucified to redeem us, and risen in glory, now ascends to heaven to take His place at the right hand of the Father. In the sacrifice of the Cross, He is our supreme High Priest. In His throne of glory in heaven, that supreme high priesthood is eternal: He is indeed, as King David put it, “a priest for ever according to the order of Melchizedek.”
In the worship of the Old Testament, which was still in place during the earthly life of Jesus, the High Priest went into the holy of holies to offer sacrifice, an animal killed for the worship of God and other gifts given over as a symbol of our offering ourselves to God.
Our Lord put an end to all of these sacrifices by offering Himself at the Last Supper and being sacrificed on the cross. In this sacrifice, He is also the priest, but he does not go through the curtain to enter the holy of holies in the temple. That is only symbol of the true holy place. At the time of His crucifixion in fact, the veil was torn apart, showing the end of those old sacrifices.
Our Lord now enters heaven itself, so that that he may appear in the presence of God for us, as St Paul explains in the letter to the Hebrews. (Heb 9.24) There, as St John tells us in the book of Revelation, the angels and the priests, the martyrs and other saints, cry out with triumphant joy, acclaiming the holiness of the lamb of God, and bowing in adoration to offer joyful worship to Him for all eternity. (Rev 5.11-14)
As St Paul explains again, the eternal and heavenly priesthood of Our Lord means that He is for ever able to save those who come to Him since He always lives to plead for us in intercession. (Heb 7.25) This is the ground of our hope, our trust in Jesus Christ. He is our eternal High Priest, always pleading for us before the Father. When we come before Him as sinners, we know that we have our advocate, our mediator, Jesus Christ. He receives our sorrow and our prayer and presents it to the Father, perfected in His own eternal prayer.
St Paul goes on to explain that when we celebrate the sacred Liturgy, we do something much greater than even Moses on Mount Sinai when there was the fire, and whirlwind and darkness and storm. We come to something greater than that. He says:
But you are come to mount Sion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to the company of many thousands of angels, And to the church of the firstborn, who are written in the heavens, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the just made perfect, And to Jesus the mediator of the new testament, and to the sprinkling of blood which speaketh better than that of Abel. (Heb 12.22-24)
St Paul is speaking here of the worship of the Holy Mass, the tremendous mystery in which Christ is offered and received. We have this available to us because Our Lord ascended to heaven. That is why this great feast is one of rejoicing. There could be no greater benefit than what Our Lord brings us here. That is why, like the apostles, we do not stand gazing into the sky, wondering what will be next. We come to share here and now in the worship of heaven in spirit and in truth. Come, let us adore Christ the Lord.
When Our Lady appeared to the children of Fatima, she asked them to offer sacrifices not only for their own sins but for those of others by which Our Lord was, she said, “too much offended.” This is the dynamic of reparation by which we console the heart of Jesus and contribute to peace, and to the good of the world.
The means of such reparation are prayer and penance. Our Lady encouraged us to say the Rosary every day, and the Angel prepared the children for their meeting with Mary by teaching them to receive Holy Communion with great devotion and reverence. One of the simple prayers he taught them was: “My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love You. I ask pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, and do not love You.” We could say this prayer especially before the tabernacle when we come into the Church.
Our prayers must be accompanied with the offering of penance. One of the most effective penances is to accept daily inconveniences without complaining, and in a spirit of charity towards others, offering our sacrifice to Our Lord.
One hundred years ago, on 13 May 1917, Our Lady appeared for the first time to three Portuguese children. In a series of apparitions, she told them to ask people to amend their lives, ask pardon of their sins and stop offending Our Lord “who is already too much offended.”
She spoke of war as a punishment for sin, and devotion to her Immaculate Heart as a remedy which would bring peace to the world. Strikingly, in a message to Lucia, she predicted that another and worse war would break out (the second world war.)
Our Lady also warned the children of the damage done to souls by sins against chastity, modesty and marriage. The last hundred years have shown increasingly how true these words were. Our Lady particularly encouraged the use of the Rosary and the devotion of the five first Saturdays in reparation for sin.
As we celebrate the centenary of Our Lady’s manifest care and concern for our spiritual welfare, we can take strong motivation for conversion in our lives, and commitment to penance and fervent prayer.
This week we celebrate the feast of the martyrs of England and Wales. Between 1535 and 1681, several hundred Catholics were executed for the faith, under the penal laws in England. There were various alleged causes, usually a spurious allegation of treason, but the majority suffered for their love of the Holy Mass, and a large number of those martyred were young priests who had trained secretly abroad, to come on the mission to England, knowing that they did so at risk of their lives. The first martyr of 44 from the English College in Rome, St Ralph Sherwin, was asked to sign the missionary oath that he would not hang around in Rome but return to England to preach the faith secretly. He signed the Liber Ruber, the “red book” with the addition potius hodie quam cras, “rather today than tomorrow.”
The stories of the martyrs’ heroism were preserved by contemporary writers, and later, many were set in order by the great Bishop Challoner who organised and cared for the Church in England and especially in London and the South during the difficult years when Catholics were no longer put to death but suffered debilitating discrimination, not being allowed to enter the universities or the professions, or even freely to leave their property to their family when they died.
Just one example of the events he recorded for posterity in his Memoirs of Missionary Priests was the Mass celebrated by St Edmund Gennings in the upstairs room of a Catholic house in Holborn on the Octave day of All Saints in 1591. During the Mass, Topcliffe, the arch-priest-catcher burst into the room. To prevent the desecration of the Blessed Sacrament, one of the men threw Topcliffe down the stairs and fell with him. St Polydore Plasden, another priest, blocked the door, but Topcliffe came up again with his officers. He was told that once the Mass was finished, they would come quietly, but they were determined to defend the Holy Eucharist from profanation if they tried to break in before then. They gave themselves up and with the exception of one woman, all the ten present at Mass were martyred, Fr Gennings with particular brutality.
Pope Paul VI made sure that the three women martyrs were remembered by including them in his canonisations in 1970. They suffered particularly for aiding or sheltering priests and for making it possible for Mass to be celebrated. A watchword that continued in common parlance in England was “It is the Mass that matters.”
We should be inspired by the history of those who kept the faith alive in dark times, and celebrate the glory that they share in heaven. Their stories are an important part of the history and culture of our country which impartial historians are rediscovering today. It behoves us to celebrate their holiness and valour. The English Martyrs also teach us to love the Holy Mass in which Our Lord is offered and received, and to give it the greatest priority in our lives.
St Thomas mistrusted the promise of Jesus and refused to believe that He had risen. Our Lord showed Him great mercy and forbearance by giving Him the chance to repent. When he fell down on his knees and humbly professed His faith in Jesus “My Lord and my God”, Our Lord immediately forgave him. The apostles would have been familiar with all of the texts of the Old Testament proclaiming the steadfast mercy of God and would have rejoiced to see this shown in the living and risen Messiah.
St Alphonsus explains that the mercy of God is infinite, far beyond the mercy of even the greatest saint. He says:
Oh, if we could but understand the love that burns in the Heart of Jesus for us! He has loved us so much, that if all men, all the Angels, and all the Saints were to unite with all their energies, they could not arrive at the thousandth part of the love that Jesus bears to us. He loves us infinitely more than we love ourselves.
God seeks our good both here and for all eternity, and He longs to give us His gifts of grace far more than we desire to receive them. We might think that we are loving ourselves or doing ourselves good by our moral and spiritual weakness, but the Lord created us and loves us with an infinite love. He knows that the life of grace brings us far greater benefits than any earthly goods.
Even so, God will not force us to love Him because love can only be truly such if it is freely given. God created us with a spiritual soul precisely so that we could actually love freely and without compulsion. We are also able to reject God’s mercy by sinning.
If we insult God by sin, we must not insult Him further by abusing His mercy and continuing in the same sin. As St Alphonsus says again:
The sinner says: But God is merciful. I reply: Who denies it? The mercy of God is infinite; but with all that mercy, how many are lost every day! I come to heal the contrite of heart. (Is 61.1). God heals those who have a good will. He pardons sin; but He cannot pardon the determination to sin.
Or as he put it in another place:
Our Lord exercises mercy toward those who fear offending Him, but not toward those who use His mercy as a pretext to insult Him.
The Saint is referring here to the very words of Our Lady herself in the Magnificat “His mercy is from generation to generation upon those who fear Him.” (Lk 1.50) This fear is not a servile fear as we might have for a tyrant, it is the noble fear of offending the one who is infinitely good and benevolent towards us.
St Alphonsus gave an easy rule for putting into practice both the fear of God and trust in His mercy. He said that after we have sinned, we should not despair, we should hope for His mercy; but before sin, when we are tempted to sin, we should fear His divine justice. We might do well also to remember at those times of trial the words of Our Lady: “His mercy is upon those who fear Him.”
At Easter we conclude our devout following of the momentous events of Holy Week by proclaiming the gospel of the discovery of the empty tomb and of the risen Jesus Christ. The historical details make it clear that the resurrection is not simply a feeling or a conviction, but something that really happened.
The resurrection is also something more than just the coming to life again of someone who has died. The mysterious way in which Our Lord enters a room with closed doors, and the way that the disciples only gradually come to recognise Him, tell of a life that is greater than ordinary life on earth. Our Lord is risen and glorified and will never die again. He is alive for ever to bring life to all mankind. Just as His passion is effective for the forgiveness of our sins, His resurrection brings about a new life in us that is eternal.
On this day we give special thanks for our Baptism. On that day, we shared in the death and resurrection of Christ, and we were born again to the new life of grace. By living the life of Christ, we seek to preserve at all costs the life that Christ has given us and never to lose it through sin.
From Easter Sunday until the Saturday before Trinity Sunday the anthem that we sing to Our Lady is the Regina Caeli(“Queen of heaven”) This beautiful chant, dates back to the 12th century. In the above video, it is sung by the Benedictine monks of Santo Domingo de Silos.