Saving Jesus from the Flames

by Fr. Aaron Johanneck

     In the past several months, I have become aware of two different stories of priests running into burning churches to save precious items from being destroyed.  The first story is told in the opening scenes of the first video of the Augustine Institute’s three-part video series entitled, Presence: The Mystery of the Eucharist.  According to the video, in early December of 1912, Father Daniel Burke and Father Joseph Congedo ran into the burning Church of St. Philip Neri in New York to try to save what was most precious in the building.

     More recently, on April 17 of this year, the Monday of Holy Week, another priest, Father Jean-Marc Fournier, entered the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris as the world watched the wooden roof and spire of the more than 800-year-old building consumed with flames and the spire eventually collapsing.

     In both cases, among the precious items saved, indeed the most precious item in each of the churches, was the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

     Fr. Fournier is the chaplain to the Paris Fire Brigade.  He served as an army chaplain in Afghanistan.  In 2015, when terrorists attacked a concert in Paris, he rushed into the theater to pray over the dead and to comfort the wounded and those who witnessed loved ones perish.  He is clearly a selfless and brave man.

     When he heard about the fire at Notre Dame, he rushed to the cathedral to save the precious relics that could be saved.  Fr. Fournier described in interviews that in the church itself there was no smoke and it was not excessively hot.  The fire was raging above, and rains of fire fell into the cathedral below.  He and those who accompanied him first went to save, perhaps the most famous relic of Notre Dame, the Crown of Thorns, from the safe in which it was kept.  Others hurried to retrieve and save other precious items.

     From the Crown of Thorns, Fr. Fournier turned his attention to the Blessed Sacrament.  A sacristan directed him to where the Sacrament was kept.  He retrieved the Sacred Hosts from the tabernacle and then he blessed the burning cathedral with them.  He asked Jesus—whom he affirmed he truly believes is present in the hosts—to fight the fire and to save the church dedicated to His Mother (Notre Dame is French for Our Lady).  He explained that this blessing coincided with the beginning of a fire in the North Tower.  In the end, both of the great towers of Notre Dame were saved.  Fr. Fournier is convinced that this is due both to the work of the firefighters, and to the power of the blessing with the Holy Eucharist.

     Had the Sacred Hosts in these true stories been mere bread, these priests would have been foolish to risk their lives by running into burning churches to save them.  But they, of course, knew that at the moment of the Consecration those Hosts became the Sacred Body of Jesus Christ.  The Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist is the greatest treasure Christ has left to the Church, where He truly remains with us until the end of the world. 

     These priests, along with the whole Church from the beginning, take Jesus at His word when He says, “This is my Body,” and, “This is my Blood” (Matthew 26:26, 28, and parallels in Mark and Luke).  They were willing to risk their lives for this powerful and beautiful revealed truth.

The Importance and Power of Ritual

By Fr. Aaron Johanneck, S.T.L.

     As a junior in high school I had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C.  Among the many beautiful and fascinating sites, programs, and shows I took in, one of the most memorable experiences was watching the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.

     The Changing of the Guard is an impressive ceremony to behold.  The Guards of Honor keep watch over the tomb twenty-four hours a day, three hundred and sixty-five days a year in honor of all missing or unidentified service members who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.  The three guards who are involved dress in dignified and impeccably maintained uniforms.  Every movement—how they walk, how they turn corners, the reverential salute they give to the tomb, how their weapons are inspected—is carried out with the greatest attention and precision. 

     While there are no explanations given during the ceremony, the ceremony itself communicates a great deal about the importance of what it represents: namely, the value of the sacrifice of the service members represented by the tomb.  With almost no words offered or exchanged, those observing understand that they are in the presence of something significant, even sacred.  All of this is communicated with no explanation of the ritual.

     Ritual has the power to do this.  It has the power to speak to us on levels that are deeper than words.  Who is not moved by military rituals?  The Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  The folding of the American flag.  Military honors at funerals with the twenty-one gun salute and the playing of Taps.  Even if we do not know all of the history or the meaning behind these rituals, they have a power to speak to us, and to demand our respect.

     This is also the case for the rituals of the Catholic Church.  The Church’s Sacred Liturgy is filled with rituals.  In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass there are processions and gestures, incense, bows and genuflections, the beating of our breasts, the carrying of the Book of the Gospel, the kissing of the altar.  The celebration of each of the sacraments is made up of many rituals.  We may not know all of the history, symbolism, or meaning behind every element of these rituals, but when they are celebrated with due honor, reverence, and prayerfulness, they communicate much to us even without being explained.

     In fact, too many explanations can greatly reduce the beauty and power of a ritual.  Ritual with no, or minimal explanation helps us to understand and experience that we are entering into something that is bigger than us; something that is important and worthy of our veneration.  In the case of the Church’s liturgy, we are drawn into the heavenly liturgy, the worship and adoration of God that never ceases.  In the Sacred Liturgy, we give honor and praise to God for the ultimate sacrifice of His Son who gave up His life and shed His Blood not only for our nation, but for the salvation of the whole world.  In the liturgy, we are united to His Passion, Death, and Resurrection, and we offer ourselves to the Father in union with Him.  We rightly give great reverence to military rituals for what they represent; how much more should we reverence the rituals of the Sacred Liturgy for what they not only represent, but actually make present?

     Whether a military ceremony like the Changing of the Guard, or the Church’s Sacred Liturgy, when these rituals and ceremonies are carried out well, with dignity and honor, they help us to understand on a deep level that that which we are observing and participating in represents (or in the case of the liturgy, makes present) something important, beautiful, and powerful.  Even without explanation, they can communicate to us that we are in the presence of a truth worth reverencing, and even giving our lives for.

Offering the Peace that Flows from the Altar

     By Fr. Aaron Johanneck, STL 

     Christ came to bring us the peace for which we all long.  He tells the Apostles at the Last Supper, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (John 14:27).  Christ won this peace for us through His Passion, Death, and Resurrection.  After He rose from the dead He greeted His disciples with the words, “Peace be with you.”

     The Holy Eucharist is the sacrament of peace.  In the Holy Mass we are united to the sacrifice of Christ through which we are reconciled to God.  This is the source of true peace.  Through the Rite of Peace during the Mass, which occurs after the Lord’s Prayer and before the reception of Holy Communion, the Church, “entreats peace and unity for herself and for the whole human family, and the faithful express to each other their ecclesial communion and mutual charity before communicating in the Sacrament” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal 82).  Here we entreat Christ to grant us the peace that only He can give, and we exchange His peace with those around us.

     The Sign of Peace is not a social exchange.  It is a sacred ritual gesture that signifies the peace of Christ which flows from the sacrifice made present on the altar.  In the past, the offering of this sign began with the priest kissing the altar.  He then offered peace to the deacon, who in turn offered it to the subdeacon, and so on down the line of ministers in a ritualized “embrace.”  Other liturgical rites of the Catholic Church retain similar practices.  In this way peace is “passed” from the altar of Christ’s sacrifice, through the sacred ministers, to the faithful.

     Today the Sign of Peace is offered by everyone to those around them.  The common practice with which we are familiar is to shake hands while saying, “Peace be with you.”  However, because the handshake is a gesture also used in other social settings there is risk that it can be treated and interpreted in the same manner as in those other settings.  It is important to remember that the Sign of Peace is offered at a very holy point in the Mass, just after the Eucharistic Prayer and just before Holy Communion. 

     Because of concerns that were raised about misunderstandings of this sign which can distract the faithful from remaining prayerfully focused on the Eucharist they are about to receive, the Congregation for Divine Worship in Rome reviewed the current practice “in order to safeguard the sacred sense of the Eucharistic celebration and the sense of mystery at the moment of receiving Holy Communion.”  The Congregation gave some practical guidelines to help ensure that the Sign of Peace is better understood and “to moderate excessive expressions that give rise to disarray in the liturgical assembly before Communion.”

     Among these guidelines, the Congregation described certain abuses that must be avoided so as not to distract the faithful from the holiness of the moment and obscure the true meaning of the gesture.  The guidelines direct that there should be no “song of peace” at this time, which is not called for in the rite.  They also state that the faithful should not move from their places in order to exchange peace with those who are not in their immediate vicinity.  Instead, “it is appropriate that each person, in a sober manner, offer the Sign of Peace only to those who are nearest” (GIRM 82). 

     Our exchange of peace during Holy Mass is an offering of the peace that we can receive only from Christ as a gift that flows from His sacrifice made present on the altar.  We exchange this peace with holy reverence so as to stay focused on the holiness of the moment when Christ is about to share with us the peace that comes from worthily receiving His Sacred Body and Blood in Holy Communion.

Turning toward the Lord during Advent and in the Sacred Liturgy

by Fr. Aaron Johanneck, S.T.L.

      The season of Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of Christ.  The word “advent” is from the Latin word “adventus”, which means “coming.”  During this short season we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.  However, it is important for us to remember that Advent is a time not only to prepare for this First Coming of Christ, but also for His glorious Second Coming at the end of time.  As stated in the Catholic Church’s Universal Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar, “Advent has a twofold character, for it is a time of preparation for the Solemnities of Christmas, in which the First Coming of the Son of God to humanity is remembered, and likewise a time when, by remembrance of this, minds and hearts are led to look forward to Christ’s Second Coming at the end of time.”

     The Church turns her attention to the Second Coming of the Lord both at the end and at the beginning of the liturgical year, which begins with the First Sunday of Advent.  Many of the Gospel passages for Mass during this time describe what this will be like and emphasize the need to be prepared.  The Advent summons to “Prepare the way of the Lord” is not only a summons to prepare ourselves for Christmas, but also to prepare our hearts to welcome Christ when He comes again in glory, whenever that might be, for we know not the day nor the hour (cf. Mark 13:32).

     Looking forward to the Lord’s Second Coming is also an important aspect of the sacred liturgy.  In the liturgy, we recall and sacramentally make present, or “re-present,” the saving events of the life of Jesus Christ.  We also look forward to when Christ will come again in glory at the end of time.  We see this reality expressed in some of the texts of the Mass.  Two of the three Memorial Acclamations, which we proclaim after the Consecration, conclude with the words, “until you come again.”  In Eucharistic Prayer III the priest prays, “as we look forward to His Second Coming, we offer you in thanksgiving this holy and living sacrifice.”  After the Our Father, the priest asks the Lord to deliver us from all evil, “as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”

     From very early in Christianity the rising sun came to represent the coming of Christ in His glory.  For this reason it was common for Christians to pray toward the east, the direction of the rising sun.  During the celebration of the Holy Mass, especially during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the priest and the whole assembly would face east in expectation of the coming of the Lord.  As Jews pray toward the Temple in Jerusalem, and Muslims to Mecca, so Christians prayed to the east.  Since it was not always possible for churches to be oriented (from the Latin, orient, or east) with the altar on the east end of the building, the Church eventually came to the notion of “liturgical east.”  Together the priest and people would face the apse (the curved back wall of the church), on which was often depicted an image of Christ in glory seated on His throne in heaven or of Christ crucified, or where the high altar and tabernacle were located. 

     This position of the priest in relation to the people is not properly understood as Mass celebrated with the priest “facing the wall” or “with his back to the people.”  Rather, this position of the priest during certain points of the Mass manifests the truth that the priest is addressing God the Father on behalf of all the people in the person of Christ.  The priest stands at the head of the assembly and leads them in prayer to God.  Together priest and people are turned, not toward each other, but to the Lord who will come again in glory like the sun rising in the east, conquering the darkness and filling the world with light.  Come, Lord Jesus!

Praying for the Dead in November and in the Funeral Liturgy

By Fr. Aaron Johanneck


    November is the month during which the Church remembers in a particular way the souls of the faithful departed.  The month begins with the Solemnity of All Saints on November 1.  The next day, November 2, is the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, or All Souls’ Day.  On this day we pray in a particular way for the souls of those who died in friendship with God, but who are still in need of purification.  These are the souls in Purgatory.  These souls are not yet in heaven, but they are on the way.  The souls in Purgatory are guaranteed salvation.  Our prayers and offerings on their behalf assist them as their imperfections and earthly attachments are burned away in the fire of God’s love, and as they are prepared to enter into the joy of heaven (cf. CCC 1030).

     Each year, the month of November reminds us of the importance of praying for the dead.  To pray for the dead (along with the living) is one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy.  It is important that we not make presumptions about where a particular soul is after death.  Only God knows the depths of the heart and the true state of anyone’s soul.  When we presume that a soul is in heaven, or in hell for that matter, we do not see the need to pray for them.  A soul in heaven does not need our prayers; and a soul in hell cannot benefit from them.  We offer our prayers and have Masses celebrated for the dead, entrusting them to the love and mercy of God.  In this way those souls in need of prayers are not deprived of them. 

     The reminder to pray for the dead that November offers us is also a good time to reflect on the purpose and importance of the funeral liturgy.  The Church celebrates the funeral liturgy, especially within the Holy Mass, “to offer worship, praise, and thanksgiving to God for the gift of a life which has now been returned to God, the author of life and the hope of the just” (Order of Christian Funerals 5).  Through the funeral rites the Church “commends the dead to God’s merciful love and pleads for the forgiveness of their sins” (OCF 6).  The text of the traditional Introit or Entrance Antiphon given for the Funeral Mass reminds us that at the funeral we gather to pray for the repose of the soul of the deceased: “Eternal rest grant unto him/her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him/her.”  Confident in the love and mercy of God, we entrust the departed to Him through our prayers. 

     During the funeral, the Liturgy of the Word leads us to reflect on the Christian meaning of death.  The readings from Scripture are not primarily about the one who has died, but about the hope we have in Jesus Christ.  The homily, too, should “illumine the mystery of Christian death in the light of the risen Christ” and “must avoid the literary genre of funeral eulogy” (CCC 1688).  The most profound consolation for those who mourn comes from the message of hope in life after death brought about through the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ.

         During the Liturgy of the Eucharist of the Funeral Mass, the Church “expresses her efficacious communion with the departed: offering to the Father in the Holy Spirit the sacrifice of the Death and Resurrection of Christ, she asks to purify His child of his sins and their consequences, and to admit him to the Paschal fullness of the table of the Kingdom” (CCC 1689).  The focus is always on Christ, who is the source of our hope and to whom we entrust the souls of the departed.

     In November, and always, let us not deny the souls of our loved ones, nor the souls of any of the faithful departed, the benefit of our prayers.

Connected to the Saints through the Veneration of Relics

By Fr. Aaron Johanneck
(From a series found in The Prairie Catholic)

Whenever I give a tour of a church and explain the different items that are typically found in Catholic churches, one of the elements that most fascinates many are the relics that are placed in the altar and are sometimes also on display in another part of the church.  “That’s really a piece of him/her?” is a question I often hear.

     The Catholic practice of venerating relics often seems strange to non-Catholics.  It can seem strange to Catholics as well, especially in the United States where relics do not typically feature as prominently as they do in many churches in Europe, for example.  The relics with which we are likely acquainted are very small and difficult to identify.  They are typically a small piece of bone, a strand of hair, or, in the case of some more recently canonized saints like St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), a drop of blood.  In Europe, however, it is not uncommon to find whole bodies laid to rest beneath one of the altars of a church, or other large and more recognizable relics on obvious display in reliquaries.  In Padua, Italy you can view the tongue of St. Anthony—for example—who is not only very good at helping us find lost items but was also a very gifted preacher.  One of my favorite relics is the right forearm and hand of St. Francis Xavier in the Church of the Gesù in Rome.  It is with this arm that he is said to have baptized perhaps 700,000 people in India and other parts of Asia!  

     The practice of venerating relics is very ancient in the Church.  The first reference commonly cited dates to about the year 155 AD with the martyrdom of St. Polycarp (who was a disciple of St. John the Apostle).  The report of his martyrdom states that after Polycarp was burned at the stake his fellow Christians, “took up his bones, which are more valuable than precious stones and finer than refined gold, and laid them in a suitable place, where the Lord will permit us to gather ourselves together, as we are able, in gladness and joy and to celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom.”  The practice of praying and celebrating the holy Mass over the tombs of martyrs is very likely the origin of the practice of placing martyrs’ relics (it is now permitted to use the relics of saints who are not martyrs as well) in altars. 

     Relics are categorized according to three classes.  A first-class relic is some part of the saint’s body.  A second-class relic is a piece of the saint’s clothing or another item that was used by the saint.  A third-class relic is an object that has been touched to another relic.  Regardless of the class, relics help us to feel connected to the saints in a real, tangible way.  They also help us to understand that the stories of the saints are not legends (although some elements of their stories might be) but are the stories of real men and women throughout the ages who devoted their lives entirely to God.

     On Sunday, October 28 the Diocese of New Ulm is privileged to host both first- and second-class relics of St. Pio of Pietrelcina—better known as Padre Pio—at the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in New Ulm.  Be sure to make a pilgrimage to New Ulm that day to venerate the relics of this great saint.  See if you can find out anything about relics that might be in your own church as well.  Experience how venerating these relics helps you feel more tangibly connected to the saints throughout the ages.

Crossing the Threshold to Holy and Heavenly Realities

By Fr. Aaron Johanneck

(From a series found in The Prairie Catholic)

     In the last article we began to answer the question, “What exactly is a church?”  As was explained, a church is much more than an event hall in which any activity can take place.  It is even more than simply a place where Christians gather.  A church is a building dedicated and set aside for worship and prayer, and a building with great meaning.

     The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that when we enter a church we cross a threshold (cf. CCC 1186).  It should be clear that we are entering a place unlike any other.  Think about the beautiful churches that you yourself perhaps have visited; churches that truly struck you in some way as you entered, or even as you approached them.  There are some churches that evoke in us true wonder and awe.  We marvel at the craftsmanship, the artistry, the sacrifices made by the faithful for such a structure to be built and furnished, and at the overall effect the building has on us.  We note how these churches move us to prayer, how they lift our spirits, and how they give glory to God.  Many will comment on how they have felt “transported” as they entered a truly beautiful church.  They felt as if they had left the mundane and worldly, and entered a place that is truly holy and sacred in which holy and sacred activities take place.    

     This is an appropriate experience.  It is one that we should desire to evoke in the design of new churches or in the renovation of existing ones.  As the Catechism states, the threshold we cross as we enter a church “symbolizes passing from the world wounded by sin to the world of the new Life to which all men are called” (CCC 1186).  As we pass through the doors of a beautiful church we can have an experience of crossing the border from the fallen world affected by sin, evil, and disorder to the world redeemed by Christ and reconciled to the Father.

     As we enter a church we pass from earth to heaven.  As the Catechism explains, “Our visible churches, holy places, are images of the holy city, the heavenly Jerusalem, toward which we are making our way on pilgrimage” (CCC 1198).  The Book of Revelation describes the heavenly Jerusalem as built of jasper and pure gold.  The foundations of the city are adorned with every kind of jewel, and the gates are pearls (cf. Revelation 21:18-21).  Thus churches are adorned with precious materials, stained glass, beautiful furnishings, and decorative paint schemes to manifest the beauty of heaven.

     As mentioned in the previous article, a church building represents the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ.  This is why the same word is used for both realities.  The cleanliness, order, and beauty of a church images the purity, order, and beauty of the souls of those redeemed by the Blood of Christ and made holy through prayer and the sacraments.  It represents the state of soul that we must strive to attain as baptized Christians.  As St. Augustine writes, “The work we see complete in this building is physical; it should find its spiritual counterpart in your hearts.  We see here the finished product of stone and wood; so too your lives should reveal the handiwork of God’s grace” (alternate Second Reading, Office of Readings for the Dedication of a Church).

     In this way, a worthy and beautiful church issues a challenge to us to cross a threshold in our own lives, passing from the ugliness of sin and selfishness to the beauty of sacrificial, selfless love in a soul transformed by the grace of God. 

The Ritual Prayer of the Liturgy and Life in the Spirit

By Fr. Aaron Johanneck


(From a series found in The Prairie Catholic)

     Just a few weeks ago the Church celebrated the great Solemnity of Pentecost.  We recalled and celebrated that day when the Holy Spirit descended upon those gathered in the upper room and filled them with the power and grace to boldly proclaim Christ Jesus risen from the dead even in the face of great hardship and opposition.  It is by the Holy Spirit that Christians throughout the centuries have spread and defended the Catholic faith with perseverance and joy.

     When we think of the Holy Spirit we often think of creativity, freedom, and spontaneity.  As St. Paul says, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17).  The sacred liturgy of the Church is formal and ritual prayer that is governed by the Church’s approved liturgical books.  This might lead one to wonder whether the liturgy limits the Holy Spirit by stifling the life of the Spirit.  One might argue that celebrating the Church’s liturgy with more “flexibility” and “spontaneity” would better promote this life.  The truth is that reverently and faithfully celebrating the liturgy promotes and brings about the true life in the Spirit.

     The Holy Spirit is very much active in the Church’s liturgy.  It is the Holy Spirit who disposes the faithful to receive the graces available to them in the liturgy.  It is the Holy Spirit who recalls the mystery of Christ and all that He has done for us.  It is in the Holy Spirit that the mystery of Christ is actually made present, or re-presented, putting the faithful in real contact with the saving events of Christ’s life and applying their fruits to our lives today.  It is through the priest’s invocation of the Holy Spirit that the bread and wine become the Sacred Body and Blood of Christ.  It is also the Holy Spirit who, especially through the sacred liturgy, brings the faithful into communion with Christ, building us up as His Body.  (cf. CCC 1099-1109)

     The Holy Spirit guides the development and promulgation of the liturgy.  Before Jesus was handed over to death, He promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide the Church into all truth (cf. John 16:13).  The Holy Spirit has been active in the development of the sacred liturgy through the centuries.  This means that when we celebrate the liturgy in fidelity to what the Church authoritatively hands on to us, we can be sure that we are being faithful to the Spirit and that His life is being formed in us.  Our “spontaneous” decisions are not always from the Holy Spirit.  They can also be influenced by our own proud human spirit, or even by the Enemy.  An essential way that we discern the spirits is by looking to the Church.  The Holy Spirit does not work apart from the Church but from within. 

     The Holy Spirit leads us to humility and obedience.  It is through these virtues that we are led to the true life in the Spirit.  The Holy Spirit leads us to live our lives in imitation of Christ who was obedient to the Father in everything.  He surrendered Himself totally to the Father in love. 

     The ritual and formality of the liturgy invites us to that same humility, obedience, and surrender.  By reverently and faithfully celebrating the liturgy we die to ourselves and crucify our own desires so that Christ, through the Spirit, may live in us.  “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:19-20).   This is the true life in the Spirit that our faithful participation in the sacred liturgy produces in us and that will be a source of great renewal in the Church.

The Easter Vigil: Let the Light of Christ Fill the World!

By Fr. Aaron Johanneck


(From a series found in The Prairie Catholic)

     Some of you probably attended the celebration of the Easter Vigil in your parish or area faith community this year.  While this liturgy can be a bit late and long for some, it really is the most beautiful liturgy of the Church’s year.  The reason for both the lateness and the length is this liturgy’s character as a vigil.  Those who keep vigil stay up all late with great expectation.  Likewise those who participate in the Easter Vigil do so because they cannot wait for the Lord’s Resurrection.  They want to be the first ones to approach the empty tomb and to encounter the risen Lord!

     For many of the faithful the first of the four parts of this holy vigil is their favorite.  Who can resist a candlelight anything!  The church begins in darkness.  The Easter fire is blessed.  The Paschal Candle is also blessed and then lit from the fire.  The procession begins.  At first it is the Paschal Candle alone that provides light for the church.  Then the priest’s candle is lit from the Paschal Candle.  The candles of the faithful follow.  As the flame is passed from candle to candle the church is slowly illuminated more and more until the point when the Paschal Candle is placed in the stand and the lights throughout the church are turned on.  Now the whole building is filled with light.

     This ritual is beautiful in and of itself.  However, to understand its meaning only adds to the beauty.  The dark church represents the darkness of the world before the coming of Christ.  The Paschal Candle represents Him who is the Light of the World.  This is why we sing “The light of Christ” as the candle moves in procession through the church.  His light breaks the darkness.  The candles of the faithful are lit from the Paschal Candle just as our baptismal candles are.  This represents the light that we receive at Baptism when we are “plunged” or “immersed” into the Paschal Mystery: that is, the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Our candles are lit from His candle because whatever light we possess is from Him.  The more we are faithful to Him, the more we surrender ourselves to His will for our lives, the more we pray and fruitfully participate in the sacraments, the more we are drawn into deeper union with Him, and the more His light shines through us. 

     The gradual illuminating of the church from total darkness to fully lit offers an image of what happens when Christians—baptized men and women—submit their lives to Christ: the world is gradually set ablaze with the light and the glory of Christ.  This is a beautiful image.  It is also a challenge to each one of us.  Jesus has chosen to use us, the members of His Body which is the Church, as His instruments.  He calls us to be the light of the world:  “You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.  Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house.  Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:14-16).

     Our task is to give our lives to God and to pursue His will in all things.  It is to enter deeply into the Sacred Liturgy, offering our lives in union with the offering of Christ made present there.  In this way Christ transforms us into Himself, and His light shines forth through the Church to illuminate all the ends of the earth.

More than a Meeting Space, a Church Is a Holy Place

By Father Aaron Johanneck

(From a series found in The Prairie Catholic)

     Over the course of these articles up to this point we have explored the nature of the Sacred Liturgy, especially of the Holy Mass, and what it means to participate in it.  The questions we have been attempting to answer are, “What is the liturgy?” and “How do we enter in?”  In this article we will discuss a new topic and question with respect to the liturgy: “Where is the liturgy celebrated?”

     This question provides the heading of the section in which the Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks about the church building and some of the significant items found in churches.  It begins by acknowledging that in the New Covenant established by Christ worship is no longer bound to one place, but is carried out “in Spirit and in truth” (cf. John 4:24).  In the Old Covenant the Temple was the place where God dwelt and where worship was offered.  When Jesus cleanses the Temple He reveals that His Body is the true Temple, the place where God dwells (cf. John 2:21).  We who are members of Christ’s Body through Baptism can worship God anywhere.

     However, the Catechism goes on to say, “When the exercise of religious liberty is not thwarted, Christians construct buildings for divine worship” (CCC 1180).  The first Christians did not build churches because for about the first three hundred years of Christianity Christians faced on and off persecutions.  To build an identifiable building dedicated to the worship of the Christian God would have clearly marked the places where the they could be found to be arrested, tortured, and killed.  Once Christianity was accepted and legalized in the Roman Empire, the construction of church buildings and the “conversion” of Roman civil basilicas into Christian places of worship followed shortly thereafter.

     What exactly is a church building?  The church building is more than just the place where Christians gather.  The Catechism explains, “visible churches are not simply gathering places but signify and make visible the Church living in this place, the dwelling of God with men reconciled and united in Christ” (CCC 1180).  The word “church” is used to describe both the Mystical Body of Christ and the building in which Christians worship and pray because a church is meant to be an icon, image, and representation of the Church and of all that the Church is called to be.

     So what is a church?  Canon law defines a church simply as “a sacred building designated for divine worship” (CIC 1214).  The Catechism expands on this describing a church as “a house of prayer in which the Eucharist is celebrated and reserved, where the faithful assemble, and where is worshipped the presence of the Son of God our Savior, offered for us on the sacrificial altar for the help and consolation of the faithful” (CCC 1181).  It also instructs that “this house ought to be in good taste and a worthy place of prayer and sacred ceremonial” (1181), and that a church “must also be a space that invites us to the recollection and silent prayer that extend and internalize the great prayer of the Eucharist” (1185).

     A church building is not a multi-purpose space, or another busy and noisy place among many.  It is a building that has been built and set apart expressly for the purpose of sacred things: for the celebration of the sacred mysteries, for the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and of the Sacred Liturgy, for the worship and adoration of the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and for quiet prayer in His Presence.  In the busyness and craziness of our lives what a gift it is to have such a place.

Entering into the Liturgy through Silence

By: Father Aaron Johanneck

(From a series found in The Prairie Catholic)

As the Second Vatican Council explains, at the heart of the Sacred Liturgy is the Paschal Mystery—that is, the Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus Christ.  In the liturgy, not only are these saving events of the life of Christ remembered and celebrated; they are sacramentally—and really—made present.  Through His Paschal Mystery, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, offered Himself totally to the Father out of love for us to save us from sin and to restore us to relationship with God, the Most Holy Trinity.


In last month’s article, we discussed how the Sacred Liturgy, especially through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, is the sacrifice of Christ and also the sacrifice of the whole Church.  Through baptism we are united to Christ, grafted onto His Mystical Body, and so are able to be united to His sacrifice and to offer our own sacrifices in union with Him.  This is the core of full, conscious, and active participation.


Now, we might ask, how do we dispose ourselves to enter deeply into the liturgy in this way?  Essential to this is silence.


The Church speaks of the necessity of silence when it comes to the liturgy.  She teaches that at certain points silence is the appropriate way to participate (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium 30).  As Pope St. John Paul II put it in an Ad limina address to some of the bishops of United States in 1998, “Active participation certainly means that, in gesture, word, song and service, all the members of the community take part in an act of worship, which is anything but inert and passive.  Yet active participation does not preclude the active passivity of silence, stillness, and listening: indeed, it demands it.”


Silence is also necessary as we prepare to participate in the liturgy.  Pope Francis spoke of this in a recent Wednesday audience address.  He is currently in the midst of a catechesis on the Mass.  In his catechesis of November 15, he spoke about the Mass as prayer: the loftiest and most sublime prayer.  As with all prayer, silence is essential.  As the Holy Father explained,


“Praying, as every true dialogue, is also knowing how to be in silence — in dialogues there are moments of silence — in silence together with Jesus. When we go to Mass, perhaps we arrive five minutes early and begin to chat with the person next to us. But this is not the moment for small talk; it is the moment of silence to prepare ourselves for the dialogue. It is the moment for recollection within the heart, to prepare ourselves for the encounter with Jesus. Silence is so important! Remember what I said last week: we are not going to a spectacle, we are going to the encounter with the Lord, and silence prepares us and accompanies us. Pausing in silence with Jesus.”


If we want our participation in the liturgy to be more than “going through the motions,” then we need to take time for silence.  Silence allows us to become aware of God’s presence and allows the reality of what the Mass is and what happens at Mass to sink in more deeply.  Silence disposes us to receive all of the graces available to us in the liturgy and allows us to have a more profound encounter with Christ.  Silence allows us to enter into the sacrifice of the Mass more deeply and allows it to have real, transforming power in our lives. 


The liturgy takes on more meaning for us and touches us more powerfully and profoundly, ultimately deepening our relationship with Jesus Christ, as we learn the art of silence.

That My Sacrifice and Yours May Be Acceptable to God, the Almighty Father

By: Father Aaron Johanneck

(From a series found in The Prairie Catholic)

Last month we began to unpack the following statement from the Second Vatican Council’s, Sacrosanctum Concilium, on participation in the Sacred Liturgy, especially in the Holy Mass:

“[Christ’s faithful] should be instructed by God’s Word and be nourished at the table of the Lord’s Body; they should give thanks to God; by offering the Immaculate Victim, not only through the hands of the priest, but also with him, they should learn also to offer themselves; through Christ the Mediator, they should be drawn day by day into ever more perfect union with God and with each other, so that finally God may be all in all” (SC 48).

We discussed what it means for the faithful to be “instructed by God’s Word,” “nourished at the table of the Lord’s Body,” and to “give thanks to God.”  Now we will move to the next statement: “by offering the Immaculate Victim, not only through the hands of the priest, but also with him, [the faithful] should learn to offer themselves.” 

At the beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the priest invites the people to prayer saying, “Pray brethren (brothers and sisters) that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.”

We have discussed how the Mass is a sacrifice because it is the sacramental (and real) re-presentation (making present) and offering of the one-time sacrifice that Christ offered to the Father on the Cross for us.  The Mass is the sacrifice of the priest (my sacrifice…) since through his ordination he acts in persona Christi capitis, or in the person of Christ, Head of the Church.  The power given to him at his ordination makes the celebration of the Mass possible.  Through this power Christ’s sacrifice is made present and the bread and wine are transubstantiated into His Sacred Body and Blood.

The Sacrifice of the Mass is also the sacrifice of the entire Church.  Therefore, it is offered also by the faithful (…and yours) in the manner proper to them by virtue of the union with Christ and membership in His Mystical Body (the Church) brought about by Baptism.  They offer the sacrifice of Christ along with the priest, albeit in a different manner.

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “The Eucharist is also the sacrifice of the Church. The Church which is the Body of Christ participates in the offering of her Head. With Him, she herself is offered whole and entire. She unites herself to His intercession with the Father for all men. In the Eucharist the sacrifice of Christ becomes also the sacrifice of the members of His Body” (CCC 1368).

The Catechism continues, “The lives of the faithful, their praise, sufferings, prayer, and work, are united with those of Christ and with His total offering, and so acquire a new value. Christ's sacrifice present on the altar makes it possible for all generations of Christians to be united with His offering” (1368).

Through our union with Christ and with His Paschal Mystery brought about by Baptism, we are united to the sacrifice of Christ made present in the Mass.  We are able to enter in by uniting ourselves to His perfect offering of love to the Father and by offering every aspect of our lives, and our very selves, to the Father through Christ and in the Holy Spirit.  For this reason the priest can invite us into “my sacrifice and yours.” 

Now we have come to the heart of the true, conscious, and active participation of the faithful in the Church’s liturgy: when you come to Holy Mass, offer yourself with Jesus!

Still Going Deeper! Active Participation in the Sacred Liturgy, Part III

By: Fr. Aaron Johanneck
(From a series found in The Prairie Catholic)

How do we enter in?  How do we “go deep”?  These are the questions we continue to ponder as we strive to understand better what it means for us to truly, actively, and consciously participate in the Sacred Liturgy of the Church.

We have said that true participation is not a matter of making sure that everyone “does” something at Mass; it is not about “mere external activity”, as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI reminds us.  Anything that we do exteriorly should form and reveal what is happening interiorly; our exterior participation should form and reveal how we are engaged in our hearts and souls.

In the last article, we ended with a great quotation from Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium that gives a very helpful description of what our participation at Holy Mass should include.  The document states that when Christ’s faithful take part in the sacred action of the liturgy they, 

“should be instructed by God’s Word and be nourished at the table of the Lord’s Body; they should give thanks to God; by offering the Immaculate Victim, not only through the hands of the priest, but also with him, they should learn also to offer themselves; through Christ the Mediator, they should be drawn day by day into ever more perfect union with God and with each other, so that finally God may be all in all” (SC 48).

There is a lot to this statement.  First, the Council Fathers tell us that at Mass we should be “instructed by God’s Word.”  This happens especially during the first half of the Mass, the Liturgy of the Word.  Here we listen attentively to the Word that is proclaimed in the First and Second Readings, in the Responsorial Psalm, in the Gospel, and in the homily given by the priest, or on occasion, by the deacon.  This is God’s living Word to us today.  We should listen with open hearts, asking the Holy Spirit to show us what our loving Father desires to reveal to us in our lives here and now.  What is He asking of us?  How is He inviting us to a deeper relationship?

We are to be “nourished at table of the Lord’s Body.”  That is, we are to be open and disposed in such a way as to allow our reception of Christ’s Sacred Body and Blood in Holy Communion truly to form and to strengthen us.  We also need to be aware of what an intimate moment this is when we receive the Lord Jesus into our Bodies.  He is so close to us.  He shares Himself with us so completely.  When we receive Holy Communion we should adore God who dwells in the Sacred Host, give Him thanks for this great gift, and share ourselves with Him.  This is an especially appropriate time to “pour out our hearts before Him” as the psalms entreat us (cf. Ps. 62, for example).

Next, we are told that we should “give thanks to God.”  Indeed, we know that in Greek the word, Eucharist, means “thanksgiving.”  This serves as a reminder that we participate in the Mass not only for the great gifts that we receive, but to praise, worship, adore, and thank God for who He is and for all He has given us.  As we proclaim almost every Sunday in the Gloria, “we praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we give you thanks for your great glory!”

We have already run out of space for this month!  In the next article, we will continue to unpack this beautiful statement from Vatican II.  Until then!

Go deep! Active Participation in the Sacred Liturgy, part II

By: Fr. Aaron Johanneck
(From a series found in The Prairie Catholic)

Last month we began our discussion of what it means to fully, consciously, and actively participate in the sacred liturgy.  The question we began attempting to answer is, “How do I enter in?”

We said that this active participation was the primary aim of the restoration of the liturgy called for by the Second Vatican Council.  We noted that the Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, talks about participation in terms of the various roles that can be fulfilled in the liturgy, and that it mentions participation through acclamations, antiphons, songs, gestures, and bodily attitudes (cf. SC 30). 

Now we might ask the question, is this all there is to active participation?  Or is participation also, and perhaps especially, something more; something deeper?

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI takes up the question of active participation in the liturgy in his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis, or “The Sacrament of Charity.”  In writing about what the Fathers of the Synod on the Eucharist discussed in the fall of 2005, Pope Benedict affirms that in the decades since Vatican II “considerable progress” has been made towards the full and active participation of the faithful in the sacred liturgy (SaCa 52). 

However, Benedict also insists that “we must not overlook the fact that some misunderstanding has occasionally arisen concerning the precise meaning of this participation.”  He continues, “It should be made clear that the word ‘participation’ does not refer to mere external activity during the celebration.  In fact, the active participation called for by the Council must be understood in more substantial terms, on the basis of a greater awareness of the mystery being celebrated and its relationship to daily life” (SaCa 52; emphasis mine). 

Pope Benedict then makes reference to the document of Vatican II, which states that when the faithful are present at the sacred liturgy, the Church desires that they be there not as “strangers or silent spectators” (SC 48).  Rather, “through a good understanding of the rites and prayers they should take part in the sacred action conscious of what they are doing, with devotion and full collaboration” (SC 48; emphasis mine).

Just “doing something” at Mass is not necessarily real, active participation.  There must also be an interior dimension.  There must be an understanding of the nature of the liturgy and of what it is that we are participating in, so that we can enter in appropriately.  This is why the Council Fathers exhorted priests who have the care of souls to promote the active participation of the faithful in the liturgy “both internally and externally” (SC 19).  What is done exteriorly must foster and manifest a deep, interior entering into the reality being celebrated.

To conclude this article and to offer a good indication of what the interior (and most important aspect) of active participation might look like, we cite again the words of Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium.  The Council Fathers instruct that during the celebration of the sacred liturgy, especially the Holy Mass, the faithful,

“should be instructed by God’s word and be nourished at the table of the Lord’s Body; they should give thanks to God; by offering the Immaculate Victim, not only through the hands of the priest, but also with him, they should learn also to offer themselves; through Christ the Mediator, they should be drawn day by day into ever more perfect union with God and with each other, so that finally God may be all in all” (SC 48).

Now we are starting to get to the heart of full, active, and conscious participation!  More to come!

Go deep! Active Participation in the Sacred Liturgy

By: Fr. Aaron Johanneck
(From a series found in The Prairie Catholic)

In these articles we have spent the last several months exploring the nature of the sacred liturgy, attempting to answer the question, “What is it?”  We have discussed the liturgy as an exercise of the priestly office of Christ, as a participation and foretaste in the heavenly worship of the angels and saints, as the source and summit of our lives, and as the memorial and re-presentation of the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary.

Hopefully, having a better understanding of what the liturgy is, we can now turn to another important question: what does it mean to participate in the sacred liturgy?  Or we could phrase the question, “How do I enter in?”

The question of participation in the liturgy was an important one taken up by the Second Vatican Council in its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium.  In the document the Fathers of the Council state, “Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation by the Christian people as ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people’ (1 Pet. 2:9; cf. 2:4-5), is their right and duty by reason of their baptism” (SC 14). 

The Fathers go on to say, “In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else; for it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit” (SC 14).

While the term “active participation” is closely associated with Sacrosanctum Concilium and Vatican II, this term did not originate at the Council.  It was first used by Pope St. Pius X in a document he published in 1903.  The true, active participation of the faithful in the sacred liturgy is something that the Church has been working to promote for over a century.

What exactly does this “active participation” mean?  How do the faithful enter into that beautiful and mysterious reality upon which we have reflected these past months?

We often think of participation in terms of “doing something” at Mass.  Sacrosanctum Concilium does mention this when it talks about servers, lectors, commentators, and members of the choir, and their “genuine liturgical function” (cf. SC 29).  However, this certainly cannot be the only way in which the faithful participate.  If it were the case that in order to participate everyone had to be “doing” whatever it is that these roles require, then at any given Mass probably 98 to nearly100% of those present would not be participating!

In addition to carrying out ministries, the Council Fathers also write about the participation of the faithful by means of acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons, and songs.  They also mention actions, gestures, and bodily attitudes (SC 30).  Certainly, all of these are ways in which everyone present can take part.

However, it would be a mistake to say that the active participation of the faithful at holy Mass only refers to these external elements.  These must foster and manifest a deeper way of entering in.  In future articles we will explore and attempt to explain what this deeper, interior participation might involve.  Until next month!  

Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art

The Institution of the Eucharist  by Nicolas Poussin

The Institution of the Eucharist by Nicolas Poussin

By: Fr. Aaron Johanneck
(From a series found in The Prairie Catholic)

Over the past months, we have explored in these articles different aspects of the nature of the Sacred Liturgy.  As we have seen, the liturgy is a profound mystery.  It is the prayer of Christ.  It is our participation in the worship and adoration of heaven.  It is the memorial and re-presentation of the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary that actually makes that sacrifice present.  We could say that the reality of the liturgy can be summed up in the words prayer, praise, and presence.  Let us reflect a bit more now on the liturgy as presence and on what our response to that presence, the Real Presence, should be. 

Receiving the Eucharist means adoring him whom we receive.
— Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

The Eucharist: what an amazing gift from God.  God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ, love us so much, that Jesus remains with us always.  We all know what happens when the priest prays the words of consecration during the Eucharistic Prayer: the bread and wine are truly changed into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ.  The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass makes present his perfect offering to the Father.  It also, as we know, makes Christ himself present.
The Church calls the change that takes place at the consecration “transubstantiation.”  What it means is that while the appearance and characteristics of bread and wine remain – what are referred to as the accidents – the reality is no longer the same.  The bread looks and tastes like bread, but it is not; it has become the Precious Body of our Lord.  So with the wine: it looks and tastes like wine, but it is not; it is the Precious Blood of the Lord.  What has changed is the very reality of what these elements are – what is referred to as the substance.  Thus, tran-substance-tiation. 
The reality of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, which is brought about by the power of the Holy Spirit acting through an ordained priest, is not just something interesting for us to memorize for a religion test, or to ponder as an interesting fact.  It is a reality that (whom) we should receive in Holy Communion at Mass, if we are properly disposed to do so.  And it is a profound reality that (whom) we must adore.  It is Jesus, God himself.
St. Augustine wrote, “No one eats that flesh without first adoring it; we should sin were we not to adore it.”  Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI writes, “In the Eucharist, the Son of God comes to meet us and desires to become one with us…Receiving the Eucharist means adoring him whom we receive. Only in this way do we become one with him, and are given, as it were, a foretaste of the beauty of the heavenly liturgy” (Sacramentum Caritatis, 66).
Our adoration of Christ in the Eucharist deepens our disposition to be able to receive the grace that Jesus pours out upon us through receiving Holy Communion, the greatest of which is intimate union with himself.
Whenever we gaze upon the Sacred Host and the Precious Chalice as they are elevated by the priest after the consecration, or when we are in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle or in the monstrance, let us adore him!  Let us make the words of St. Thomas Aquinas (translated by priest and poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins) our own:

Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore
Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,
See, Lord, at thy service low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.


What does it mean to "Do this in memory of me"?

Last Supper  by Duccio di Buoninsegna

Last Supper by Duccio di Buoninsegna

By: Fr. Aaron Johanneck
(First of a series found in The Prairie Catholic)

At the Last Supper, Jesus took bread and wine, declared them to be his Body and Blood, shared them with his disciples, and instructed them to “do this in memory of me.”
When we think of a memorial, we normally think of remembering an event or a person in terms of “calling them to mind.” Memorial plaques, statues, or services call to mind significant events in history and those who were involved in them.
Pictures or other mementos of loved ones who have died or who live far away from us help us call them to mind. In this way, these activities are participated in or items are viewed “in memory” of the events or persons they commemorate.
The Holy Mass is a memorial. However, it is not a memorial in the same way as the examples just described. The Mass does more than call to mind the Paschal Mystery – the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ.
If the Mass were only a memorial in the common use of the term, some sort of dramatic reenactment of these saving events in the life of Christ would probably be more appropriate. Instead, the Church has passed down a ritualized liturgical celebration that has been organically developed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit through the centuries.
To understand what the Church means when she refers to the Holy Mass as a memorial of the sacrifice of Christ, we have to understand the scriptural understanding of this word. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this as follows:
“In the sense of Sacred Scripture the memorial is not merely the recollection of past events but the proclamation of the mighty works wrought by God for men. In the liturgical celebration of these events, they become in a certain way present and real. This is how Israel understands its liberation from Egypt: every time Passover is celebrated, the Exodus events are made present to the memory of believers so that they may conform their lives to them” (no. 1363; italics in the original).
In the New Testament, and in the time of the Church, the memorial takes on a new and deeper meaning. The Catechism explains, “When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, she commemorates Christ’s Passover, and it is made present: the sacrifice of Christ offered once for all on the Cross remains ever present” (no. 1364).
Here we connect again with the theme of last month’s article: the Holy Mass as a sacrifice because it is the re-presentation and the memorial of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross. The Catechism refers to the Eucharist as the “sacrificial memorial” of Christ and explains that the Mass is a sacrifice because it is the memorial of Christ’s Passover (cf. CCC, no. 1365).
It is the memorial of this not simply because it calls it to mind, but because the liturgical celebration of the Eucharist makes this event truly present.
Jesus says, “This is my Body and my Blood: Do this in remembrance of me,” affirming the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. He could also say to us, “This is my sacrifice … this is the making present of my offering to the Father for love of you: Do this in memory of me. Allow yourself to be united to my offering as you enter into the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Make your own offering in union with mine, so that I may take it for you to the Father.”

Prairie Catholic Series: At the foot of the Cross in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass

by Fr. Aaron Johanneck
What do we mean when we refer to “the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass”? How is the Mass a sacrifice?
This month we continue our reflections on the nature of the Sacred Liturgy, focusing on this central aspect of the reality of the liturgy, and of the Mass in particular. As we have in the previous months, we turn to the Second Vatican Council’s “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy” or “Sacrosanctum Concilium” as our guide.
In this document the Fathers of the Council state, “At the Last Supper, on the night when He was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of His Body and Blood. He did this in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the centuries until He should come again, and so to entrust to His beloved spouse, the Church, a memorial of His death and resurrection” (SC, no. 47).
Especially important here are the words, “to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the centuries until He should come again.” In the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross at Calvary, made out of love for us, is perpetuated.

At every Mass we go to Calvary; we are at the foot of the Cross where we behold and then receive the One who was pierced for our sins.

Or we could say it is continued or extended throughout the ages from the original Holy Thursday and Good Friday, up to today, all the way to the coming of Christ again in glory at the end of time. This is an incredible reality! It is a truly amazing sign of the love that God has for us.
Because Jesus is not only a man but also God, the events of his life are not “trapped” in the past as they are for us; nor are they bound to a particular place.
While it is true that events of my past can and often do have an impact on my present and future, and in this sense can “follow” me wherever I go, the event itself happened at a particular time in
a particular place. It’s over and done. It happened there and then.
As God, Jesus is eternal. Therefore the events of his life are not limited by time and place. It is true that Jesus’ offering of himself on the Cross happened over 2,000 years ago outside of the walls of Jerusalem at Golgotha.
However, through the liturgy instituted by Christ himself, this event is not limited to that specific time or place; it can be made present to all men and women no matter where and when they live.
In the celebration of the Holy Mass, we are made present to Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary, and it is made present to us. At Mass we do not repeat Christ’s sacrifice, nor do we “re-sacrifice” him.
His sacrifice made once and for all is mystically and sacramentally, really and truly made present and offered again through the priest who celebrates in persona Christi capitis (in the person of Christ the Head). By virtue of our Baptism and the union with Christ that it brings about in us, we are united to his sacrifice and made participants in it.
The same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the Cross is contained and offered in an unbloody manner on the altars of our churches at Mass. At every Mass we go to Calvary; we are at the foot of the Cross where we behold and then receive the One who was pierced for our sins.
This is how the Holy Mass is a sacrifice. What a great and holy mystery!

The source and summit of the life of the Church

Sleepy Eye-039.jpg
The liturgy increases the love of God within us and conforms us to Christ so that we can carry Him into the world.
— Fr. Aaron Johanneck

By Father Aaron Johanneck

We continue this month exploring the nature of the Sacred Liturgy, that is, the sacraments, the Liturgy of the Hours, and other prayers and blessings of the Church all centered on the Holy Eucharist.
In November we discussed the liturgy as the prayer, praise, sacrifice, and offering of Christ to the Father. Last month we looked at the liturgy as a foretaste of and real participation in the heavenly liturgy, which is the perfect and eternal worship of the angels and saints gathered around the throne of God. These two aspects of the liturgy are described in the Second Vatican Council’s “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy” or “Sacrosanctum Concilium.”
A third way in which the nature of the Sacred Liturgy is described in this document (and in a few of the other Council documents as well) is as the source and summit of the life of the Church. The Fathers of the Council put it this way: “The liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font [or source] from which all her power flows” (SC, no. 10).
In describing the liturgy as the summit, the peak, or the height toward which all of the activity of the Church is directed, “Sacrosanctum Concilium” continues, “For the aim and object of apostolic works is that all who are made sons of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of His Church, to take part in the sacrifice, and to eat the Lord’s supper” (no. 10).
This is the height toward which all of the work of the Church is directed: to lead all to the worship and adoration of God in a manner that is possible only in the Church’s liturgy, particularly in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, where we are brought as close to heavenly worship as is earthly possible.
The Fathers describe the liturgy as the source or font by stating,
“The liturgy in its turn moves the faithful, filled with ‘the paschal sacraments,’ to be ‘one in holiness’… the renewal in the Eucharist of the covenant between the Lord and man draws the faithful into the compelling love of Christ and sets them on fire” (no. 10, citing various prayers of the Mass).
The liturgy is the source of the grace and strength that allows all of us to carry out the work of the Church. This work includes not only formal ministry, but also the everyday evangelizing and witnessing which, by virtue of our Baptism, all Catholics are called to do in our families, at work, and in all of our spheres of influence. The liturgy increases the love of God within us and conforms us to Christ so that we can carry Him into the world.
Finally the Fathers state, “From the liturgy, therefore, and especially from the Eucharist, as from a font, grace is poured forth upon us; and the sanctification of men in Christ and the glorification of God, to which all other activities of the Church are directed as toward their end, is achieved in the most efficacious possible way” (no. 10).
So we see that there is a sort of “sacramental cycle.” Through our participation in the liturgy we receive the grace to go about our work as Christians, all of which is directed to the glory of God and to his worship and praise. These, of course, are best carried out in the Sacred Liturgy, the source and summit of the Christian life.

Raise the Roof: Worshipping God with myriads of angels and saints

By Fr. Aaron Johanneck
Director of Worship

This month we continue our reflections on the nature of the Church’s liturgy. Last month we discussed how the Sacred Liturgy is the prayer, praise, sacrifice, and offering of Jesus Christ himself. It is his perfect prayer to the Father to which we are united by virtue of our Baptism, which unites us to him and makes us members of his Mystical Body.

As we said, this is one of the aspects of the liturgy described in the Second Vatican Council’s “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy” (“Sacrosanctum Concilium”).

Another perspective from which this constitution discusses the liturgy is as a foretaste and participation in the heavenly liturgy. Here’s what the Fathers of the Council have to say in this regard: “In the earthly liturgy we share in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the Holy City of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle.”

They continue, “With all the warriors of the heavenly army we sing a hymn of glory to the Lord; venerating the memory of the saints, we hope for some part and fellowship with them; we eagerly await the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, until He, our life, shall appear and we too will appear with Him in glory” (SC, no. 8).

What this means is that we truly do “Sing with All the Saints in Glory,” as the hymn goes, every time that we participate in the Sacred Liturgy. Imagine that as the Holy Mass begins the roofs of our churches are torn away and we are lifted up into the perfect and eternal praise offered by the angels and saints, who fall down in worship and adoration before the Lamb who was slain in the heavenly Jerusalem as described in the Book of Revelation (cf., for example, 4:1-11).

Here the living creatures give to the One who is seated on the throne, glory and honor and thanks. The elders fall down before Him and worship Him singing, “Worthy are you, Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things; because of your will they came to be and were created” (Rev 4:11).

Here they offer incense, which represents the prayers of the holy ones. Gathered around the throne they sing, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Rev 4:8).

We, too, sing or recite this prayer at every Mass just after the priest invites and exhorts us with these or similar words: “And so, with Angels and Archangels, with Thrones and Dominions, and with all the hosts and Powers of heaven, we sing the hymn of your glory, as without end we acclaim … Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts!”

This prayer, the “Holy, Holy, Holy” or “Sanctus” is found not only in Revelation, but also in Isaiah. The prophet Isaiah is given a vision of heaven in which he sees the seraphim singing this hymn to one another as they glorify God (6:3). In the liturgy, it is this worship and praise of God that we are drawn into.

This is why traditionally churches have often had images of angels and saints, especially in and around the sanctuary. This is a reminder to worshippers of the reality that we enter into when we gather as Christ’s Body to take part in the Church’s prayer, especially in the Holy Mass. It is the wedding feast of the Lamb; the adoration of the myriads upon myriads in the heavenly Jerusalem.