During my retreat, I had the privilege to attend Daily Mass. Despite our different ethnic backgrounds, it was a big treat to witness all 8 ‘retreatants’ from Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, UK, and Australia all coming together to celebrate the same Mass and read the same readings as all other Catholics in the world. This is why the Catholic Church is one; united in doctrine, mind and worship.
There is a running joke that being a Catholic entitles you to a ‘global passport’. You can be overseas, but every mass celebrated around the world in a Catholic Church is the same. This is one of the main reasons why I am proud to be Catholic! Truly; the meaning of the name is fully embodied (Catholic means Universal); and as Christ Himself said — one flock, one shepherd (Jn 10:16, 17:21-22).
One of the other major moments for me during the retreat was spending dawn, noon and night in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus Christ Himself. Although being in nature had a sense of beauty, I personally felt that I could focus best when I was with Jesus, kneeling in front of my King and Savior.
In any Catholic Adoration chapel; one would find a small ‘cupboard’ which we humbly call the Tabernacle, acknowledging our Jewish roots. Every Catholic Tabernacle in the world contains consecrated bread and wine by an ordained priest. This Bread and Wine is truly the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in its totality: physically and spiritually (c.f. Jn 6:51-54).
This is signified by a burning candle lit at the side of every tabernacle (see pics). As long as Jesus is inside, this candle must be lit to symbolize the Light of the World being truly present (Jn 8:12). This is an ancient and beautiful practice dated way back to the 4th Century!
As a lover of history, I find it fascinating that just as the ancient Israelites in the OT believed the Holy of Holies resided within their Holy Tabernacle, Catholics today also believe that Jesus Christ Himself is present inside each modern Tabernacle in the form of consecrated bread and wine!
Jesus’s dialogue with the Sadducees in today’s Gospel highlights prudence while evangelizing. What most people don’t know about the Sadducees is that despite being Jewish, they differed strongly in theological beliefs with other sects like the Pharisees, Essenes or Zealots.
The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection. Apart from this, the Sadducees only accepted the first five books of the Old Testament, or what the Jews refer to as the ‘Torah’ or ‘Books of Law’. Basically, only Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy were considered inspired Scripture to them.
It is in this context that they desired to ‘trap’ Jesus by asking whose husband would a wife who has seven husbands belong to in heaven. The Sadducees’ intent was to mock the idea of a ‘life after physical death’.
Here is where it gets interesting. Jesus wisely answered NOT from the books of the prophets like Isaiah or from the historical books like Chronicles. Instead, Jesus drew upon THEIR ‘canon’ of Scripture and quoted from Exodus, stating that God is a “LIVING God, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
This is a subtle but important point to take away when it comes to sharing God’s Word. The Evangeliser has to go down to the level of the Evangelisee. If the Evangelisee is a non-believer, it would not be prudent to throw Bible verses at them. Instead, the Evangeliser should find out what the non-believer’s view of God is and reflect/point out the errors in his thinking. However, if the Evangelisee believes in Jesus and has at least Scripture as a starting point, then it becomes essential to quote Scripture with contextual history and logic.
Let us remember Jesus’s example of sharing the Truths of Christianity prudently at a level which others can relate to. Most importantly, the heart of Evangelisation is through small actions in our daily lives. If we radiate Christ through us, the world will notice and inquire automatically.
Acts 2:1-11, Psalm 104, Galatians 5:16-25, John 20:19-23
Catholicism sprouted from Judaism. The Church has always promulgated that because well; Jesus chose to be born into a Jewish family and was faithful to the Jewish traditions of his time. So my Catholic friends, always be proud of your Jewish roots because its a sign of authentic historicity of our Faith!
The Jews had a cycle of feast days just like Catholics (Lev 23). Out of these, two have been brought over to the New Covenant in the Catholic Church:
Passover 👉 Easter
Feast of Weeks (Shebuoth) 👉Pentecost.
The word ‘Pentecost’ comes from the Greek ’50’, which means 50th day after Passover. This is why the Church celebrates it 50 days after Easter.
From a Jewish perspective, Pentecost was immensely important because it was one of the three pilgrimage feasts. (This meant that adult male Jews were required to go up to the temple and offer sacrifices on this day.) Why? Well, the Babylonian Talmud indicates that Pentecost was the day Moses received the Ten Commandments on Sinai.
Understanding this is crucial to draw the parallel to Luke’s account of ‘Tongues of Fire’ in Acts, because Exodus 19:16-18 describes how God also descended upon Sinai ‘ in fire’.
12 Tribes + Ark present (Ex 19) = 🔥
12 Apostles + Mary present (Lk 1:14) =🔥
Pentecost is thus an extremely important feast day for it marked the sign of a New Covenant. The Psalmist sings: ‘Lord, send out your spirit and renew the face of the earth!’ (Ps 104:30). An early Church Father comments:
“Now the Holy Spirit appeared in fire and in tongues because all those whom He fills He makes simultaneously to burn and to speak—to burn because of Him and to speak about Him. And at the same time He indicated that the Holy Church, when it had spread to the ends of the earth, was to speak in the languages of all nations.” (Ven. Bede, 8th Cent.)
Yesterday I finished the first book I’ve ever read by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. I’m quite proud of myself. This isn’t the first one I’ve started. One of the Lay Dominicans in my chapter has made the argument that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI will one day be declared a Doctor of the Church. To be declared a Doctor of the Church, you have to be someone that people generally agree wrote or spoke in such a way as to clarify or develop Christian doctrine. Many commentators have pointed out that Benedict XVI was much more of a scholar and professor compared to his more charismatic predecessor St. John Paul II or successor Francis. This is very apparent in all of his writings — this book being no exception.
Even for someone like me with a Master’s degree in church teaching, I could only take this book in small chunks with long breaks. I highly recommend reading until it doesn’t make sense anymore, then put it down. When you pick it back up with a fresh mind, it’ll all make perfect sense again.
It’s dense. As he explains in the introduction, it’s basically three college lectures elaborated, revised and edited into book form. It’s only 90 pages, the last 10 or so of which are end-notes.
It does, however, look deeply and thoroughly into our Marian dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and Assumption. He actually digs into the Old Testament for proof and explanation. He shows how Mary is truly a daughter of Israel found in the Old Testament writings and prophets just as much as her Son. As an old hymn states:
O Mary of all women,
You are the chosen one,
Who, ancient prophets promised,
Would bear God’s only Son;
All Hebrew generations
Prepared the way to thee,
That in your womb the God-man
Might come to set us free.
O Mary, you embody
all God taught to our race,
For you are first and foremost
In fullness of His grace;
We praise this wondrous honor
That you gave birth to Him
Who from you took humanity
And saved us from our sin.
It was a very appropriate book to work on during the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lady.
If you would like to better understand how the Catholic faith fits into the Old Testament, give this book a chance. If you’d like to understand the role of Our Lady better especially in light of her identity as a Jewish woman, give this book a chance. If you wish you could brag to all your intellectual friends that you’ve read something by Benedict XVI, give this book a chance.
I’m glad I did for all of those reasons.
Daughter Zion is hard to find unless you look online. It is available in e-book and paperback format from several sources. You just need to let your fingers do the walking.
“Eh, Bart, I’m glad you had fun, but I wouldn’t get too into that Catholic Church. With all the sitting and standing and kneeling, it’s like Simon Says without a winner.” – Marge
“Mom, that’s blasphemy! I’ll say a rosary for you.” – Bart
– The Simpsons, Season 16 Episode 21 (“The Father, the Son, and the Holy Guest Star”)
Liturgy is central to the Christian life. In Roman times, “liturgy” (Greek: leitourgia) meant “a tax or financial obligation paid by one for the benefit of many”. Think about the Crucifixion and the Mass, which joins in on that perpetual single Sacrifice (Hebrews 10:11-14), and realize the meaning of the word itself.
“[I]n the beauty of the liturgy…wherever we join in singing, praising, exalting and worshiping God, a little bit of heaven will become present on earth. Truly it would not be presumptuous to say that, in a liturgy completely centered on God, we can see, in its rituals and chant, an image of eternity.” – Pope Benedict XVI [link]
The Mass is, of course, totally in line with both Scripture and Tradition. It has been integral to Christianity since the Last Supper. St. Peter Julian Eymard said, “The Mass is the most holy act of religion; you can do nothing that can give greater glory to God or be more profitable for your soul than to hear Mass both frequently and devoutly. It is the favorite devotion of the saints.”
The Mass also has a very rich history. Some forms of it, like the Ambrosian – which is still in use today – have older origins than even the Tridentine form. At great personal risk, Catholics preserved early liturgical documents. Thanks to their efforts, teachings have survived wars, famines, persecution, and the elements.
In addition, the Mass is another sign of the Christian fulfillment of the Law (Matthew 5:17-18), because it is in harmony with ancient Jewish traditions. We use stone altars, as the Jews did. Priests also ritually wash their hands before celebrating the Sacrifice, in accordance with commands from the Old Testament (Exodus 30:17-21, Psalm 26:6). Even the use of holy water at parish entrances has its roots in Judaism. Before entering the Temple, Jews were required to undergo immersion in a mikveh (ritual bath).
Unfortunately, within this liturgical framework, there is a minority that puts its personal preferences above the judgment of the Church. There are some that insist on identifying only with the Tridentine form (which, by the way, was not even promulgated until 1570, despite its proponents’ focus on antiquity) and push willful neglect of the perfectly-valid Novus Ordo, and there are some that advocate the reverse. Both sides are wrong – both forms are right. These factions do nothing but needlessly scare off potential converts that seek a unified message.
All approved forms of the Mass are equally valid, but sometimes differently demonstrated. In keeping with the centrality of sacrifices in Judeo-Christian history, the Eucharist is essential – that, not our preferences, is what matters. For example, I may not be thrilled that the Ambrosian rite has the Epiklesis after the Words of Institution (rather than before), but I defer to the wisdom of the Church and recognize that its Eucharist is valid.
On the Sunday before Christmas, I attended an Orthodox (OCA) liturgy. It was mesmerizing and markedly devout. The “smells and bells,” the obvious reverence, and the different prayers kept me piqued. One part of the Communion prayers struck me especially: “Receive me today, Son of God, as a partaker of Your mystical Supper. I will not reveal Your mystery to Your adversaries, nor will I give You a kiss as did Judas. But as the thief I confess to You: Lord, remember me in Your kingdom.”
This is how a proper liturgy should be. A liturgy is supposed to be transcendent, to connect us to God. The Church tirelessly works to ensure that this is the reality, but we need knowledge to appreciate this. Let us all learn more about our liturgical heritage and continuously fall in love with the Church over and over again.
It was one of the odder things about returning to the Catholic Church.
Suddenly I realised that I had seven more books, and a few extra chapters, in my Bible than I did as a Protestant. This is because the Protestant Bible has 39 books in the Old Testament, the Catholic Old Testament has 46 (yay more bible!). It seems we can’t agree on how many books we should have in the Old Testament.
These disputed books are called the deuterocanon (if you’re Catholic) and apocrypha (if you’re Protestant). There are plenty of good theological arguments for the deuterocanon/apocrypha, but today, I want to look at the history.
Also, I’ve abbreviated Deuterocanon/Apocrypha to AC/DC for ApoCrypha/DeuteroCanon (pronounced Acca Dacca) because I’m Australian and I refuse to use long, appropriate words when I could use slang, kitschy, and totally inappropriate ones.
So, shall we?
The Jewish Bible
The Christian Old Testament is basically the Jewish Bible. The debate over the Christian Old Testament comes from the fact that the Jewish Bible wasn’t set at the time of Christ or the beginnings of Christianity.
The Hebrew canon was solidified somewhere between the 2nd Century BC and the 2nd Century AD. For example, at the time of Christ, the Sadducees accepted only the Torah, the Pharisees had roughly the modern Jewish canon, Jews in the Diaspora had a wider canon that included the AC/DC and other groups like the Essenes had different lists of authoritative books too.
The Greek Septuagint
To really understand the differences, however, we have to know about the Septuagint and its importance to early Christians.
At the beginning of this period of canonisation for the Jewish Bible, Jewish scholars in the Diaspora (and possibly the Holy Land as well) translated the Hebrew texts into Koine Greek to create the Septuagint. This translation probably took place from the 3rd Century BC to the 1st Century BC. It is said to have been commissioned by the Pharaoh Ptolemy II and carried out by 70 or 72 Jewish scholars in Alexandria — which is why it’s the Septuagint, meaning seventy. As such, it’s also referred to by it’s Roman numerals LXX. (See, acronyms are cool!)
At the time, there were many Jews living in Egypt as part of the Diaspora, as well as throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East. Their lingua franca was Greek and the Septuagint is in Koine Greek, just like the New Testament is.
Importantly, the New Testament almost exclusively quotes from the Septuagint. (It’s why sometimes the quotes OT as quoted in the NT is slightly different from the OT itself.) The early Christians also used the Septuagint almost exclusively and Christians kept using it. In fact, the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox still use the Septuagint. (Some believe the translation is divinely inspired.)
Canon of the Septuagint
The canon of the Septuagint, however, isn’t identical to the modern Jewish Bible. (Remember, there was a number of different biblical canons at the time.) The Septuagint had (give and take) seven to ten “extra” books.
1 Esdras (also called Esdras A or 3 Esdras just to confuse everyone – the whole situation with Ezra is rather complicated)*
Wisdom of Solomon
Wisdom of Sirach (also called Ecclesiasticus)
Epistle of Jeremiah*
There were also additions to Esther, Daniel, and sometimes a total of 151 psalms.
The canon of the Septuagint is the same used by Catholics and Orthodox to this day. (The Ethiopian and other Orthodox churches have an even bigger – and stranger – canon.)
The Problem of Canons
The Septuagint itself wasn’t 100% set and there were variations within its canon too. So while the Orthodox have 49 books in their Old Testament, Catholics have 46.
Catholics have all of the books listed above expect for 1 (or 3) Esdras and 3 Maccabees. (Marked with asterisks above.) We also have 150 psalms and we include the Epistle of Jeremiah in Baruch. So it’s actually a difference of 2 books that because of our counting systems, comes out as 3. These differences come from the different canons of the Septuagint circulating at the time.
There were also quite fluid concepts of what was truly canonical, what was deuterocanonical (and what that meant), and what was apocryphal. If the boundaries of the New Testament were still a little “porous” at the time, that’s nothing compared to the Old Testament.
It was messy.
Sometimes, the Church Fathers quoted from the deuterocanonical books as Scripture, other times they distinguished them from Scripture. Often, the same Church Father would do both – along with occasionally quoting as Scripture other things no one accepts anymore, and even rejecting other things we all agree are Scripture as not Scripture.
The Latin Vulgate
By the end of the 4th Century, Christians in the Latin West had settled the matter of the deuterocanon, accepting the seven books of our current canon as Scripture. The Synod of Hippo in 393 and the Council of Carthage in 397 confirmed this.
This process of solidifying the canon was helped by the translation of the bible into the Latin. In 382, Pope Damascus I commissioned St Jerome to translate the whole Bible into Latin, the vulgar or common tongue of the West (hence, Vulgate).
St Jerome was unusual for his context, however, because he thought that the AC/DC was apocryphal and didn’t belong in the Bible. Luckily, he was over-ruled — further proof of how well accepted the AC/DC was even at this early date.
Thus, between the Septuagint and Vulgate, the vast bulk of Christians for the first 1,500 years had Bibles with the AC/DC in them.
The Protestant Old Testament
Fast forward to the Protestant Reformation, and these “extra” books were “removed” from Protestant Old Testaments.
This is because they weren’t in the Jewish canon, specifically in the Masoretic Text, a 7th to 10th Century AD Jewish standardisation/translation of the Hebrew texts.
As mentioned above, the Jewish canon was finally set around the 2nd Century AD — and a good two centuries after the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the biblical canon of Rabbinical Judaism, which emerged after the destruction of the temple and the rise of Christianity.The Protestant Reformers believed that this was a far more reliable translation than the Vulgate and Septuagint. (This is doubtful…)
In fact, the evidence suggests that it the Septuagint with its wider canon fell out of favour with the Jews because it was seen as being too Christian.
So Protestants re-classified the deuterocanon as apocrypha, and that’s how we find ourselves in the mess we’re in today.
Protestants and Catholics disagree over the Old Testament canon because the canon of the Hebrew Bible, our Old Testament, was still pretty fluid at the time of Christ.
To put it simply, Catholics and Orthodox follow the canon of the Septuagint, the translation used by the New Testament writers and early Christians, while Protestants follow the canon of Rabbinical Judaism that was set after Christianity began.
I said I wasn’t going into theological arguments… but I know which one I’d choose!
I love incense. In fact, I love it a lot, and I think it should be used in far more parishes far more frequently.
The use of incense has a long and interesting history, especially within Judaism. In the Old Testament, it is recorded that incense was included in thanksgiving offerings (Numbers 7:13-17). Also, Moses was instructed by God to build a golden altar for the burning of incense and “perpetual incense before the Lord throughout your generations” was encouraged (Exodus 30:1-10). God also forbade the secular use of some incense, demanding that it only be used for holy purposes (Exodus 30:34-37).
Now, why should we take into account ancient Jewish practices? Because, in this instance, they are plainly recorded within the Old Testament.
It is important to remember that many members of the very early Church originally saw themselves as largely in conformity with Judaism and the Law, only differing in their acceptance of Christ as the fulfillment of the Law (Matthew 5:17-20). It was not until the Jewish authorities made clear that they would never truly accept Christ in the way Christians understand Him that Christianity broke off as its own, entirely separate religion.
As for when the use of incense was adopted by the Church, we are uncertain. From this article of the Catholic Encyclopedia:
“When, exactly, incense was introduced into the religious services of the Church it is not easy to say. During the first four centuries there is no evidence for its use. Still, its common employment in the Temple and the references to it in the New Testament (cf. Luke 1:10 ; Revelation 8:3-5 ) would suggest an early familiarity with it in Christian worship . The earliest authentic reference to its use in the service of the Church is found in Pseudo-Dionysius (“De Hier. Ecc.”, III, 2). The Liturgies of Sts. James and Mark — which in their present form are not older than the fifth century — refer to its use at the Sacred Mysteries. A Roman Ordo of the seventh century mentions that it was used in the procession of the bishop to the altar and on Good Friday (cf. “Ordo Romanus VIII” of St. Amand). The pilgrim Etheria saw it employed at the vigil Offices of the Sunday in Jerusalem (cf. Peregrinatio, II).”
Incense smoke symbolizes the prayers of the faithful drifting up to God (Psalm 141:2, Revelation 8:3-4). Plus, incense lends itself to the creation of a certain ambiance and it even smells delightful. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops describes the purpose of incense as an “expression of reverence and of prayer.”
According to this article from EWTN, in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, incense may be used…
during the entrance procession
to incense the altar at the beginning of Mass
at the procession and proclamation of the Gospel
at the offertory, to incense the offerings, altar, priest and people
at the elevation of the Sacred Host and chalice of Precious Blood after the consecration
and at funeral Masses, during which the priest, at the final commendation, may incense the coffin as a sign of honor to the body of the deceased which became the temple of the Holy Spirit at Baptism and as a sign of the faithful’s prayers for the deceased rising to God.
The first time I experienced incense being used during Mass, I watched attentively as the priest swung the thurible back and forth. In that moment, I was overcome by emotion. I was in awe. I was witnessing tradition in action. Words can not describe how I felt, but I want everyone to experience that.
Some might say that I am overly concerned with “smells and bells,” but I am okay with that, mostly because they are right.
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