Friday, April 25, 2014

RKIA Explains the Mass -- part 4

In this week’s installment, dear reader, I would like to let you know that you are wasting your time with this harangue. There is a wonderful app “The Mass Explained” by a fellow named Dan Gonzalez. It looks pretty good and Mike Aquilina is involved in it so it must be good, but it’s a bit pricey and, well this is free, so I guess you might as well keep reading. Still, if you really want to know about the Mass in depth, check out the “Mass Explained” app. (Aren’t you impressed that I can use trendy terms like “app”? Until just a few years ago I was still working with goose quill pens and carrier pigeons.)
I have already explained that the smells, bells, and strange clothing are borrowed from the temple and are a kind of souvenir of our entire history: Israelite, Greek, Roman, the whole schmeer. Much of our liturgical (fancy Greek word meaning “church service”) paraphernalia (fancy Greek word meaning “stuff”) is modeled on the temple in Jerusalem. “Why?” you ask. First, it’s in the Bible. And second, we claim to be legitimate, albeit adopted, children of Israel. Our Jewish friends have given up the temple liturgy since the destruction of the temple in 70 AD and the subsequent banishment of Israel from Jerusalem in 132 AD. The first Christians claimed that Jesus had established a new temple, one not made with stone, and that temple is us, the church! So it’s only natural that we have candles and incense and holy water and bread and wine and vestments and sacrifice and oil and chanting and psalms and altars. We are the temple, and in this temple the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world is eternally sacrificed once and for all. My friend Rabbi Yehudah ben Yiddishkeit once told me, “You Catholics! You’re more Jewish than we are! You have altars and sacrifices and temples! We don’t do that anymore!”
 I would agree with the Rabbi, save for one point. We are not more Jewish. We are more Israelite. Judaism is Israel without the temple. We claim to still have the temple. In fact, we claim to be the temple.
On Mount Sinai, Moses was commanded to build a portable dwelling for the Lord. The Hebrew word for dwelling is “Mishkan” and it is usually translated by the Latin word “Tabernacle”, which in Latin literally means little hut or tent. Though there is dispute about this, it seems that the structure was also called the Tent of Meeting, the place where God would meet His people. It consisted of a large roofless enclosing which had an altar and behind this altar was a smaller roofed tent in which was kept the Ark of the Covenant.
When King David conquered Jerusalem and made it his capital, he moved the Ark of the
Covenant to Jerusalem. His son Solomon built the temple which was really the Tabernacle/Tent of Meeting turned into a permanent stone structure. It was a set of courts each one smaller than the other. The largest court was open to all the Israelites, the next court to Israelite men, the next court, open only to priests and Levites, held the altar of sacrifice, and the innermost court, which held the Ark of the Covenant, was open only to the high priest, and then only once a year. It was there that God dwelt on the wings of the cherubs over the Ark of the Covenant, called the Aron in Hebrew.
Synagogues and traditional Catholic churches imitate this structure. The center piece of the synagogue is the Aron which holds the scrolls of the law. There is no altar, because in Judaism there can be no sacrifice since the destruction of the temple. The traditional Catholic church imitates the temple even more closely than does the synagogue. In a Catholic church, there is the nave or body of the church in which the congregation gathers, which is separated from the sanctuary by a communion rail just as the court of the priests was separated from the court of Israel. The Israelites would come to the edge of the court of priests carrying their offerings. In a Catholic church, the communion rail is the place where the faithful bring themselves, their offering, to the Lord and experience communion with the Lord. Beyond this place of encounter is the altar of sacrifice, and a small box, usually made of metal in which the consecrated communion wafers are kept. This box, or tabernacle, the same word that described the tent in the desert, is a focus for prayer; the sign of Christ’s abiding presence with His people.
So, in the traditional Catholic church you have hints of the structure of the temple in Jerusalem and the Tent of meeting in the desert, you have an outer court, a court for sacrifice and a small structure, and a tabernacle that serves as the dwelling place of God. This is the tradition. There was an aberrant period in the 20th century in which liturgists and architects decided that art was to be judged by its ability to shock and offend. Churches were built to look like spaceships from Planet Ugly. We are slowly recovering from that era and returning to the idea that symmetry is beautiful. In churches built in the era of ugly, you won’t find these elements that tie us to three thousand five hundred years of the Judeo-Christian heritage, but it is still there in a lot of older churches and even in some newer churches.

Next week: Finally, the Mass

Friday, April 18, 2014

RKIA explains the Mass -- part 3

Smells and Bells and Funny hats and much, much more!

Before we explain all those fascinating hats, just a little more about the vestments. You may have noticed that they come in different colors. This goes back to the Jerusalem Temple. The Bible is very clear about the way the priests of the Temple dressed. The Bible says, “…you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother (the first high priest), for dignity and for beauty” (Exodus 28:2). The priest’s clothes are described in Exodus 28, Exodus 39 and Leviticus 8. The high priest wore eight sacred vestments.

  1. Priestly undergarments “to cover their nakedness” Good idea. (Exodus 28:42) We wear street clothes under our vestment, but we do wear an amice mentioned above.
  2. Priestly tunic from the neck to the feet, with sleeves reaching to the wrists. (Exodus 28:39 and Exodus 28:40), just like our white alb.
  3. Priestly belt embroidered with blue, purple and scarlet (Exodus 28:39, 39:29) for the high priest plain white for the regular priest, just like the cincture we wear.
  4. The turban. The High Priest wore a broad, flat-topped turban. The ordinary priests wore cone-shaped turban. The modern bishop wears a miter. (More on this later)
  5. The High Priest wore two ephods, a sleeveless robe with blue, purple, and scarlet, 
  6. and another over it, a sort of vest. 
  7. A breastplate with twelve gems, each one carved with the name of one of the tribes of Israel, and finally 
  8. A golden plate fastened to the miter with an inscription, “Holiness unto the Lord.”

Essentially a Catholic bishop is wearing the same sort of garments — amice, tunic belt, miter, dalmatic and chasuble — no breastplate with gems and no gold plate, but the miter does have two small stoles attached to it as signs of office. The reason I mention all this stuff is to point out that it comes from the same instinct to worship the Lord in “holy attire.” 

We even have a special color scheme though it is not quite the same as the high priest’s. We wear green for the ordinary times, white or gold for feast days, red for the feasts of martyrs or of the Holy Spirit and purple for the penitential seasons of Lent and Advent. In addition rose vestments can be worn for the fourth Sunday of Lent and the third Sunday of Advent to remind us that the feast is coming and the penance will be over. Black is now rarely worn but may still be worn for the feast of All Souls Day. You can tell where we are in the liturgical year by the color the priest is wearing. Catholics are always either feasting or fasting, just like our Jewish neighbors. We get the concept of the religious calendar from the worship of ancient Israel. Every year is marked with feasts and fasts to remind us that we are journeying through time just as Israel journeyed in the desert. The celebrations of the liturgical year and the feasts of the saints are signposts on the way to heaven.

Now just for the fun of it. The Hats! Why do we wear all those strange hats? Have you ever been in a gothic cathedral in Europe during winter, or summer for that matter? It’s cold — sometimes very cold. The first and most probable reason that hats are worn for religious rituals is to keep the head warm. I have also heard the theory that God, looking down from heaven, finds it easier to tell who is who by the hats. This is ridiculous. I don’t even know why I mention it. You and I, however, can get an idea of who is who by the hats. We already know about the pointy hat that a bishop wears. It is an adaptation of the miter worn by the high priest in the Temple. 

There is also a kind of crown that was worn only by the pope that is not used these days, but you will see it represented in art, on the papal flag, the papal seal and in architecture. It is called the Papal Tiara. It was used in former times for a papal coronation. It is a single pointed version of the miter and around it are three crowns or bands. These mean that the bishop of Rome has authority over the three locations of the church: heaven, earth and purgatory.

Under the miter a bishop wears what is called a zucchetto. I am not making this up. Zucchetto means “a little pumpkin” referring to the head of the wearer. It resembles a Jewish kippah or yarmulka (skull cap). The pope's zucchetto is white. A cardinal’s is red, a bishop’s is violet. Priests and deacons may wear a black zucchetto, though almost no one ever does anymore outside the Vatican. Franciscans frequently wear a brown zucchetto. The zucchetto is never worn with modern clothes, only with vestments or the cassock, the long black tunic worn by priests, (again, red for cardinals and violet for bishops and white for the pope.) 

There is another hat worn by priests, that is pretty rare now. It is called the biretta, not to be confused with the small pistol of similar name, nor with the Italian word for a quick beer. It is an academic hat, just as the mortar board hat worn for graduations. It was worn in the middle ages by judges and the clergy and as such the priest wore it in confession and processions, taking it off at the beginning of Mass.

All the hats are doffed in the presence of someone of higher rank and in the Mass all the zucchettos, miters, tiaras and everything comes off for the part of the Mass when the Lord is present in the form of bread and wine.

Why do all this? Isn’t it a bit pompous? Maybe. But it is also a bit humble. We all used to get dressed up for special occasions. Now people wear flip- flops and cut-offs to their grandmother’s funeral, because the most important thing is that I, ME, MOI, should be comfortable. Who cares what my flip-flops and gym clothes say about my respect or lack of respect for those around me. After all no one is so important that I should be uncomfortable just to impress them. Keep thinking that and one day the Judge of all will ask you. “Where is your wedding garment for the great feast of heaven?” (Matthew 22:12) And you will say, “Lord, I thought flip flops and gym shorts would do.” We wear these things for the Lord, that He should be worshiped in the beauty of holiness. They remind us that we belong, not to the present age, but to a world that has always been and is yet to come. 

These things take us back to the Temple. In fact most of our liturgical customs remind us of the Temple. The bread, the wine, the oil, the palms, the holy water, the incense, even the bells take us back to the Temple. The high priest wore little bells on the hem of his garments when he entered the most holy precincts. We still use bells when we enter into the most holy parts of the Mass. Our traditional chants probably came from the style in which the ancient psalms were sung in the Temple in Jerusalem. All of these things remind us that we have the renewed, rebuilt Temple of which we are living stones. 

When the Temple of Herod was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, the Pharisees salvaged the moral and ethical content of the Torah but they no longer had a Temple. Those members of Israel who had accepted Jesus as the Messiah found a new Temple, the Church and we still offer sacrifice as we have done for four thousand years. The smells and bells and funny hats and all the other obscure and interesting things that inhabit Catholic worship are all about the symbolism of the Temple. They exist to remind us that this is not just about the everyday world. It is about eternity. It is the constant reminder that the Lord is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow! 

Next week: Church architecture. The houses of God, the foretaste of heaven or spaceships from Planet Ugly?

Friday, April 11, 2014

RKIA Explains the Mass -- part 2

Episode 2: Why do they wear all those strange clothes at Mass?
Short answer: they have to wear something. Long answer: the clothes, or as they are usually called, vestments, come from the long history of the Church. They are a visible sign of unity with all those who have gone before us and all those who will come after us. They are full of rich symbolism. Why not wear modern clothes instead of weird ancient clothes? For one reason, today’s modern clothes will become weird old-fashioned clothes in about ten years. For a second reason, it is a reminder that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)
Before the changes in the Mass in the 1960’s, the things that priests wore at Mass were all very strictly defined. Now, in the Latin Rite of the Church, some are required, some are optional and a lot of priests leave out even the ones that aren’t optional. In the Eastern rites of the Church, the vestments are still governed by very strict rules.  
A priest is supposed to begin with the washing of the hands, a custom that goes back to the Israelites in the temple and that the Jews still practice. As he washes his hands he says “Give virtue to my hands, O Lord, that being cleansed from all stain I might serve you with purity of mind and body.”
The first thing a priest puts on is called an amice. Not many priests wear it anymore, but it is not optional. Its purpose is to cover the modern collar and clothing a priest or deacon wears. When we say Mass, we are symbolically entering a different space and time, so we cover our regular clothes. Also, the amice keeps the alb and chasuble clean. We more enthusiastic preachers can get a little bit sweaty in the course of a hell fire and brimstone sermon. The amice protects the vestments. The amice is a large square of cloth with strings at two of the corners that tie the amice in place. The priest kisses it, places it over his head and then on his shoulders while he says a prayer, “Place upon me, O Lord, the helmet of salvation, that I may overcome the assaults of the devil.” The amice symbolizes the helmet of salvation (Ephesians 6:17). When the priest and the deacon go to the altar they are going to war with the forces of darkness. The amice reminds them of that.
Second, over this he puts on a long white robe, called an alb (Latin for, you guessed it, “white robe”). It was standard wear at the time of Christ and was the common outfit of the ancient world, a long tunic with loose sleeves. Jews often wear a similar alb at certain services.  It’s supposed to be worn only by the priests and deacons. It is white in order to symbolize the white robe that all of us received at baptism. It is a symbol of sanctifying grace and the purity of heart that the Christian strives for. According to the book of Revelation 7:14, the saints wear long white robes that were made white in the blood of the Lamb. The priest or deacon says a prayer while putting on the white robe. (Make me white, O Lord, and cleanse my heart; that being made white in the Blood of the Lamb I may deserve an eternal reward).
Third, a priest puts on an ancient Roman belt, which is nothing more than a rope. It’s called a cincture. The knot with which it is traditionally tied can be seen on ancient Roman statues. It represents self control, one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). A prayer from the first Letter of Peter (1:13) is said when a priest puts on the cincture (Gird me, O Lord, with the cincture of purity, and quench in my heart the fire of concupiscence, that the virtue of continence and chastity may abide in me). Good prayer. Good reminder.
Fourth and next is something called a maniple. It is not used much anymore, but it has a beautiful symbolism. It is thought to have derived from an ancient style of kerchief that the Romans wore on their left arm. It was used to wipe away tears or sweat and came to be a symbol of the pastoral work of the priesthood. I have also heard that it represented the ropes that are sometimes shown that bound the Lord to the cross in addition to the nails that sometimes sees in old pictures of the crucifixion. The maniple symbolizes that the priest is bound to Christ at Mass, just as Christ was bound. When a priest went to the pulpit to preach, he took off the maniple and left it on the altar. In the Mass the priest represents Christ. He takes off the maniple to show that the Mass is Christ. The sermon is the priest. Perhaps it would be a good thing to bring back a more common use of the maniple to remind us clergy that we are not individually infallible. The prayer said while putting on the maniple is “May I deserve, O Lord, to bear the maniple of weeping and sorrow in order that I may joyfully reap the reward of my labors.”
Then fifth, the priest and the deacon put on a stole over the amice alb and cincture while saying a prayer (Lord, restore the stole of immortality, which I lost through the collusion of our first parents, and, unworthy as I am to approach Thy sacred mysteries, may I yet gain eternal joy). The stole probably comes from scarf or sash of office worn by ancient Roman official. It was kind of ancient Roman sergeant stripes. It also may have ties to the ancient Israelite prayer shawl and the towel that Jesus wore to wash the feet of the disciples at the Last Supper. The priest wears it one way and the deacon another way to symbolize their different roles in the Church and the Liturgy. The priest stands in for Christ which is why his stole is thought to represent the towel with which Christ washed the disciples’ feet. The congregation is the Bride, the Body of Christ symbolically clothed in the white robe of baptism, and the deacon? Very interestingly, in the Eastern Church the deacon’s stole is worn outside his topmost garment, the dalmatic. It is rearranged just before Holy Communion to represent the wings of the angels, so at Mass you have the Lord, the Bride and the Angels represented by the priest the deacon and the congregation.
Sixth, over all this the deacon and the priest wear an outer garment in the Latin Church. The priest wears a chasuble; from the Latin word “casula” the word means the little house. It is in fact an ancient Roman overcoat. Originally it was a semicircular piece of cloth sewn up the front which reaches down almost to the feet on all sides. It makes it really hard to lift the arms or even to move. That’s part of the symbolism. Love covers a multitude. (1Peter4:8.) It represents the sacrificial love that a pastor should have for his flock. Over the years the sides have been trimmed back for the Latin Church and the front has been trimmed off for the Eastern Church. The priest or bishop says this prayer when putting on the chasuble: “O Lord, who has said, ‘My yoke is sweet and My burden light,’ grant that I may so carry it as to merit Thy grace.”
The deacon wears a dalmatic, which is fascinating garment. It is a tunic with wide sleeves. I was always taught that it freed up the arms so the deacon could lift things and so was symbolic of the deacon role of service, having sleeves already “rolled up for work”. There is more to it than that. The dalmatic was an upper class garment. The emperor wore one. The first to wear it were probably not deacons, but bishops, and bishops still wear a dalmatic for certain occasions. They wear it under the chasuble. This is an important symbol. The priest wears a chasuble, the garment of pastoral love; the deacon wears the dalmatic, the garment of pastoral service.
Everyone thinks of the Church as a kind of military chain of command. It isn’t. The Church is meant to be a family. The deacon doesn’t answer to the priest who in turn answers to the bishop. The deacon is the assistant to the bishop in his ministry of service and the priest is the assistant to the bishop in his ministry of sacrificial love. The bishop is thus the head deacon and, at the same time, the head elder (presbyter and priest mean the same thing.)  The dalmatic ties the ministry of the deacon to the bishop whose servant ministry is like that of the angels. Both the bishop and the deacon say this prayer when putting on the dalmatic “Lord, endow me with the garment of salvation, the vestment of joy, and with the dalmatic of justice ever encompass me.”
All this is going on just in getting ready for Mass. So why do we do it? Lots of reasons. For one thing the Bible tells us to, “Worship the Lord in holy attire.” (Psalm 96:2) This is also translated as “Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.” When we go to Mass, we leave time and space. The clothes the minister wears are not just a good show. They remind us that we are in a time that was long ago and a time that is yet to come. We are eternal.
But the hats? What about the hats?

Next week: Smells and Bells and Funny hats!

Friday, April 4, 2014

RKIA Explains the Mass - part 1

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,
I went to my first Catholic Mass last Sunday. I was clueless. All that kneeling and standing and the strange outfits. Could you please explain the Mass?
Yours sincerely, 
Churchill A “Churchy” Lafemme
 Dear Churchy,
You, like most of us Catholics, have no idea of the meaning, origin and rich symbolism of the Mass, so I will explain it in tedious detail:
The Mass. Mass is only one word for the fullest way we Catholics worship the Lord. The other words are the “Sacrifice of the Mass”, the “Holy Eucharist”, the “Liturgy” and, most interestingly, the Hebrew/Aramaic word “Korban” which is still used by Aramaic-speaking Christians.
“Mass” is an adaptation of the last words of this ancient ritual when it is said in Latin. The last words said by the priest are “Ite, missa est." “Ite, missa est” literally means “Go, it is the dismissal”, in effect, “You are free to go.”  Not a very glorious word for the name of something so important to us.  A lot of liturgical experts try make something more meaningful of the words, saying that it refers to our being sent on a mission, yadda yadda. Hogwash! It means, “You can go now.”  And those were the only words that some people paid attention to.  
The more proper word for the Mass is the Holy Eucharist. Eucharist is a Greek word that means “Thanksgiving”. The ancient Israelites offered a sacrifice called the Thanksgiving Sacrifice, “Korban Todah” in Hebrew. It was a communion sacrifice that involved 40 loaves of bread along with a pouring out of wine. It was offered when someone had been saved from death. The Hebrew sages believed that at the coming of the Anointed One (Messiah, in Hebrew, Christ, in Greek) all the sacrifices of the Law would cease, except for the Thanksgiving Sacrifice. The first Christians realized that Jesus had established this Messianic thanksgiving Sacrifice by giving us His own flesh and blood in the form of bread and wine. This is what He promised when He fed the multitude by multiplying a few loaves and fish. This is what He did at the Last Supper and this is what finished on the Cross. 
The Mass is a kind of time machine that takes us back to the Last Supper and to Calvary and even to the end of time where we celebrate the great wedding feast of Christ and church. Sometimes we call the Mass the “Liturgy” which is a Greek word. It literally meant the work of the people, but referred to the sacred dramas performed by the Greeks to retell the stories of the gods. These liturgies were very sacred and did not originally change the story. The actors wore masks so that you knew you were not looking at actors but at the faces of the gods. The first Christians who mostly spoke Greek adopted the word “Liturgy” to mean the unchanging ritual that made God present among us. A liturgy belongs to all the Christians ever born or whoever will be born. It is a work of the whole people of God, not just one congregation or community so it is a very structured ritual, not just an optional and changeable church service. 
The Aramaic word by which the very first Christians and their Middle Eastern descendants still call the Mass is Korban, the Sacrifice. Jesus died once and for all on Calvary, but St. Paul says, “I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions.” (Col, 1:24) Christ’s sacrifice is perfect. All that is lacking is the offering of myself along with Him for the salvation and redemption of the world. He is timeless. We are still in time. At a Mass, time and eternity meet. Heaven comes to us and we go to heaven. Mass is the un-bloody renewal of the one sacrifice of Christ on the Cross in which you and I have the privilege of participating.  
In the Thanksgiving Sacrifice in the temple, 40 loaves of bread, some leavened and some unleavened, were offered to God and then after some had been burned on the altar and wine had been poured out, the loaves were returned to the one making the sacrifice, which he then took home and shared with his neighbors. In the Mass, bread and wine are offered to the Lord and it is Christ himself, the Lamb of God who is returned to us to share with our family and friends. We believe that the bread and wine offered to God become Christ Himself, the Bread of Life, present in a physical way. Bread and wine don’t simply represent Christ. They become Christ. This is real. We call it the Real Presence. 
In 1996, in Buenos Aires, a communion wafer was found thrown away on a candle holder in the back of a church after Mass. Fr. Alejandro Pezet put it in water inside the tabernacle (the metal box in which the leftovers of communion are kept safely locked) when he next opened the tabernacle, he was amazed to find that the wafer which we call the host, (a Latin word for sacrificial victim), had changed into something that appeared to be bleeding. He contacted his bishop Don Jorge Bergoglio. The bloody Host was left in the tabernacle for years and continued to bleed and grow. After a few years the bishop decided to have it scientifically analyzed because a host normally dissolves when left in water. It doesn’t turn into a bloody piece of flesh that won’t decompose. 

In 1999, Cardinal Bergoglio asked Dr. Ricardo Castanon, an atheist, to examine the host. He sent a sample New York for testing without explaining what it originally had been. One of the examining scientists, Dr. Frederic Zugibe, a cardiologist and forensic pathologist, determined that it was a piece of heart muscle. A piece of unleavened bread had become a piece of heart muscle at a Mass. That’s what Catholics believe happens at every Mass. (By the way, Cardinal Bergoglio is now Pope Francis and Dr. Castanon is now a fervent Catholic.)  The same sort of thing seems to have happened in 2008 at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Sokolka, Poland and at the church of St. Longinus in Lanciano, Italy around the year 700. They too, having been forensically examined, turn out to be heart tissue.  
Mass is not just a nice religious ritual. It is the Last Supper continued; it is Calvary renewed; it is the Resurrection made present; it is heaven anticipated. 
“Well,” you may say, “You haven’t explained the strange clothes, the complicated rituals and all the standing and kneeling and sitting.” Don’t worry, the night is still young. 
Next week: Ancient Roman raincoats and other Catholic things.