Br. Thomas Aquinas Pickett, O.P.'s picture

Truth and Love

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Truth and Love

Would you rather have truth or love?

It's a rather interesting question, but take a moment to think it over...would you rather have truth or love?

On the surface this seems like the age-old debate between the head and the heart, between the nobility of reason and the power of human affection. But, if we take our cues from Saint Thomas Aquinas, we see that truth and love need not be regarded as opposite from one another. Truth involves the knower being conformed and joined to what is known. Love involves the lover being united and joined to the beloved. Truth resides in the intellect, and love resides in the appetite of the intellect (i.e., the will). When we say heart, then, we really mean, not the organ in our torso, but the power of our intellect to seek what we perceive to be good, and true, and beautiful. In both cases, of love and truth, there is a sense of union and relationship. When our ideas are not related and united to what is real, then there is no truth. When our love does not unite us to another through the relation of the other's mutual love, then there is no true love. And what is true love but a love that unites us to the reality and truth of another? If we want true love, we must know an other, because you can't love what you don't know. With this understanding of truth and love, a whole new dimension of life opens to us, especially with regards to God. Jesus' commandments of loving God and loving our neighbor are connected with His revelation, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." We are called to a union with God that begins with our minds being opened to His truth by faith, and is completed by a love that lasts through all eternity in Paradise. Truth and love, for the Christian, are the sine qua non of eternal life, and true, lasting, perfect happiness.

But what does "the world" offer us with regards to truth and love? "The world" (i.e., not the physical earth, but the existence and reign of sin among humanity) tells us that love is a feeling, and that truth is an opinion. Love is what makes you feel good and is what is useful to your own desires. Truth is an antiquated word used by fools which must be replaced by utility, popularity, sensitivty, or opinion. Whereas the truth and love of a Christian requires change on our own part, and a relationship with an other person or reality, the truth and love of "the world" requires that others change for us, and that reality fit our prejudices and ambitions. Hence, "the world" offers us an existece where we become more and more isolated, as we progressively regard others as mere objects, and reality becomes a continual eruption of inconvenience to our plots and sensitivites. To these concepts of truth and love, Jesus stands as a monolithic paradox. Jesus' love was expressed, not with pleasure, but with blood and nails. Jesus' truth wasn't expressed by blind tolerance, but by hard sayings that provoked both fury and outrage, joy and praise, sorrow and conversion. Jesus presented His truth with love, so that those open to listening, may find His true love. In a like manner, we today who speak Christ's unalterable truth must do so with the strength of love so as to lead others to conversion.

At a time when so many people long for relationships that are deeper than facebook, and so many people want to find the truth that underlies the fabric of matter and time, perhaps a good place to begin is by asking ourselves if we really have love in our lives, and if we really want to to know the truth. Are we willing to love in the way that Jesus loved? Are we willing to know the truth that Jesus lived?

Br. Chris Brannan, O.P.'s picture

Penance and Happiness

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I once heard a priest ask his congregation, "What are you doing this Lent to make your self miserable?" He was half-joking, but I think that he said this because he really did dread Lent. And certainly I can identify somewhat with his sentiment. After all, the penitential aspect of Lent is not entirely "fun." On the other hand, is it really supposed to make us feel "miserable"? Should we measure the value of a penance by how much we hate it, by how terrible it makes us feel? Is that what Lent is truly about?

Hardly. Rather, Lent is—in the end—really all about happiness, not misery and sadness. But—you may be wondering—how can this be? Isn't penance, which we are especially supposed to focus on during Lent, all about self-denial, giving up things we enjoy, and doing those good things—like giving to the poor—that can feel so unnatural and are just down-right difficult to do? How can this be all about happiness?

Well, it all depends upon what we mean by "happiness," and, consequently, how we are supposed to attain it. Thus, the million-dollar question is....what is happiness anyway? And how can we become happy? Of course, these are not new questions, and certainly not trivial ones. In fact, our whole life depends upon them, precisely because happiness is the one thing that we all seek, in every single thing that we do, in every choice and act that we make. We all want to be happy.

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle recognized this when he posed the same questions in his well-known work, Nichomachean Ethics, in the 4th century B.C. He reasoned that the one thing sought in every human act is happiness. He first describes happiness rather generally as that ultimate goal "for the sake of which" all things are done. It is the ultimate "telos" (τέλος), the end, the goal, the purpose of human life and activity. And, in fact, he goes on to define happiness as a type of activity itself: "happiness is an activity of the soul in accordance with perfect virtue" (Nich. Eth. I, 13). Contrary to many modern notions of happiness, he dismissed the idea that happiness could be merely a feeling; nor did he think that happiness is simply a passive state or condition of the human being. Instead, it is the perfection of the human being, a perfection fulfilled in the excellent activity of the highest powers of man. To be happy, then, we must act virtuously, we must live well: for that is what happiness is.

Now, it may seem odd, at first glance, to dwell much on what a pagan Greek philosopher had to say long before Christianity even existed, when discussing the true meaning of the Christian season of Lent. However, I point out Aristotle because I think he was onto something in his view of happiness which is relevant not only to the season of Lent, but also to the whole gamut of moral questions and problems that are discussed today. But not only for this reason is Aristotle worth noting here. He is also noteworthy because what sacred Scripture and Christian tradition have to say about happiness elevates what he had already discovered about it using the natural light of human reason. Faith and reason are in harmony here, and point in the same direction, although faith surpasses and transcends what reason can only begin to discover on its own.

For Aristotle, happiness consisted in an activity of the soul in accord with perfect virtue; and the perfect, or highest virtue, was that of contemplation (Greek "theoria", θεωρία), to know deeply and penetratively the highest, most divine truths about reality. Aristotle, of course, did not believe in the Christian God, nor did he have any concept of a personal God at all. But Aristotle's idea takes on new dimensions when seen in light of the Christian faith, such as Jesus' prayer to the Father in John 17: "This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent." The goal of human life, for Jesus, was knowing God. This "knowing" of God doesn't simply mean having God as an acquaintance, much less a mere understanding of great truths about God. Rather, it is a "knowing" which consists in intimate union with God; what Scripture often describes as "seeing" the "face" of God (1 Jn 3:2; Rev 22:4; cf. Ex. 33:11-23).1 The Catholic Tradition has called this the "Beatific Vision", or simply "Beatitude": the direct vision of God-in-Himself, knowing Him as he truly is, a union made possible by love or charity.

"That's great," you may be thinking, "but what does all of this have to do with Lenten penance?" The answer is: everything. Lenten penance is about happiness because it is all about preparing us to engage in that highest activity of the human soul which alone can make us happy: seeing God. How? By removing obstacles that obscure our spiritual vision, and by exercising the "ocular muscles" of our soul. Of course, this process is not always fun, much like going on a diet or exercising are not always fun. But we do penance and physical exercising for analogous reasons: because we know that the outcome will lead us to spiritual or physical health, respectively.

That physical exercise leads to physical health is obvious. But how does penance lead to spiritual health, namely, the vision of God? In three ways: (1) Almsgiving helps us see God in our neighbor, by loving those in need who are created in His image and likeness. (2) Fasting helps us to pay attention to our spiritual vision and hunger rather than their mere physical counterparts. By giving up certain attractive foods or other goods, we admit that there are even greater goods that we ought to seek, and train our souls to put the first things first. And (3) prayer puts us into direct communication with God Himself, the knowledge of whom is our happiness. Put another way, each of the traditional forms of penance attempts to respond to God's grace and overcome sin by restoring harmony in three different relations—with our neighbor, within ourselves, and with God.

So if Aristotle was indeed onto something when he thought of happiness as a perfect and perfecting activity of the human being—and if the Christian Tradition goes even further and says that the greatest "activity" is that of knowing God face-to-face, then Christian penance is all about training us to respond to God's grace, restore harmony within ourselves, with others, and with God, all of which prepare us to see God. It may, indeed, make us feel "miserable" for a short while; but that's not the point, nor should we measure the value of our penance by how awful we feel. Rather, we should endeavor to pursue those forms of penance which help us attune our spiritual vision toward God, rather than the fleeting pleasures of this life. For our happiness, our eternal life, is in knowing Him, and his Son, Jesus Christ, by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. This Lent, then, may we keep our "eyes" on this goal, this purpose, this "telos" of our works of penance, that we might do them with genuine love and devotion, fueled by that divine hope that one day, indeed, we may see God face-to-face, and know Him as he truly is.


  1. It should be noted that both the Hebrew and Greek words meaning "to know", yada (יָדַע) and oida (οἰδα), have as their most basic and primitive meaning, "to see." The greek term οἰδα, in fact, is technically the perfect form of εἰδον (I saw) and thus literally meant, "I have seen," but came to used for the present form, "I know," since to have seen something is to know it. Thus "seeing" and "knowing", even in the Bible, are almost interchangeable. To "know" God is to have "seen" Him as he is, "face-to-face," which of course does not happen for us until heaven.
Br. Cody Jorgensen, O.P.'s picture

A Day In The Life: Compline

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Historically Dominicans are all about processions. In fact, there's an entire tome devoted to them: the Processionarium (you can find a pdf for the 1913 version down on the left). Here at St. Albert's we do a procession once a week during Compline, to mark the solemnity of Sundays. After the final prayer at Compline, two brothers leave their choir stalls to take up the candles and lead the brothers out of the chapel. While chanting the Dominican version of the Salve Regina (Hail, Holy Queen), we process out to the statue of Mary in our cloister. After the Salve, the O Lumen (O Light) chant is intoned, a special antiphon/hymn to St. Dominic, and the procession leads out into the center of our cloister garden where the brothers assemble around the statue of St. Dominic.  

Compline (Night Prayer) is our last liturgical office of the day, the last time we assemble in choir and praise God in the Psalms. Br. Brad recently compiled a video on the Divine Office featuring some Dominican chants, along with the brothers explaining what the Divine Office is, along with some of their own personal reflections. Our day hinges upon the Divine Office, (also known as the Liturgy of the Hours), wherein the entire day is sanctified through the raising of our voices in prayer to God.  

If you live in the area, or are ever traveling through, you can join us for any of our daily prayers. Compline on Sunday nights with the procession begins at 9pm. I hope you enjoy Br. Brad's video, and if you are interested, I encourage you to join us or to learn more about the Liturgy of the Hours, a prayer of the entire Church, for all her members. Magnificat is a very popular monthly publication that contains a modified version of Morning and Evening Prayer, along with the readings for Mass. Entering into the prayer of the Church is an incredibly rich way to deepen your prayer life this Lent!

Br. Andrew Dominic Yang, O.P.'s picture

Filet O'Fish

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Let me kick things off by being the first to admit that I’ve always been terrible at Lenten penances; as in, the whole process. My idea of a Lenten Friday usually consisted of drowning myself in Starbucks and McDonald’s Filet O’Fish Sandwiches for dinner. (Yes, I realize these sandwiches are mashed-up mystery fish parts from who-knows-where, but they're tasty!)

I mean, will God really love me any less just because I ate an extra sandwich, and a fish one at that? (“Hey no meat right?” and “They’re so small!”)

Filet O'Fish

Thankfully, the answer is "No, he won’t." Actually, He can't. It’s impossible for God to love us any less because He loves us infinitely. It is possible, however, for us not to love God. But I never really “got” that. But through God’s merciful providence and no real merit of my own, the virtues of religious life have forced me to see Lent in a whole new way.

Penance has seemingly been abolished from the everyday Catholic’s vocabulary, having been reduced often times to three Hail Mary’s after Confession. Similarly, I find that many Catholics now treat Lenten penances as some sort of Church-sanctioned New Year’s Resolutions event. Lent is now simply a time to lose weight, quit smoking, or eat Filet O’Fish sandwiches for cheap. Where is God supposed to be in all this?

Because our thoughts tend to dwell on the surface, we often fail to see the deeper spiritual journey that God has willed us to live through the Church. The Book of Exodus tells us how the Ancient Israelites went through this same process in the Desert as they departed Egypt for Sinai. The reality is that God was not simply bringing them out of a physical slavery in Egypt; rather, the Israelites were being brought out of slavery to sin and death and into a true freedom as a people consecrated to the Lord. As we know, this is never an easy process for us.

What is easy for me is to have little sympathy for the Israelites in the Book of Exodus. Many people today often claim that they would have faith if only they could see some proof of God’s existence. Now that’s a completely different problem altogether, but not only did the Israelites in the desert actually possess this luxury, they possessed it in a fantastic way. For “the Lord preceded them, in the daytime by means of a column of cloud to show them the way, and at night by means of a column of fire to give them light…Neither the column of cloud by day nor the column of fire by night ever left its place in front of the people” (Ex 14:21-22). And if that wasn’t good enough for them, there’s that whole tidbit about the Lord dividing the Red Sea in two. Now, the Israelites must have trained in the art of complaining during their time of slavery in Egypt, because in spite of the glory of God practically hitting them in the face, they were like you and me, Certified Professional Whiners®. “Were there no burial places in Egypt that you had to bring us out here to die in the desert? Why did you bring us out of Egypt? Did we not tell you this in Egypt, when we said, ‘Leave us alone. Let us serve the Egyptians?.’” (Ex 14:12) Talk about ungrateful. But isn’t this the chronic human condition? Left to our own devices, we always prefer slavery to freedom, darkness to light, earthly things to heavenly gifts. We would rather live as miserable squatters on this planet than in our true, eternal home in Heaven. And even after we experience firsthand the glory of God in our lives, as the Israelites did when Lord crushed the Egyptians in the Red Sea, we still continue to hand God our Certified Professional Whiners® business card. Behold Exhibits A, B, and C:

“The people grumbled against Moses saying, ‘What are we to drink?’” (Ex 15:24)

“Would that we had died at the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread! But you had to lead us into this desert to make the whole community die of famine!” (Ex 16:1)

“Why did you ever make us leave Egypt? Was it just to have us die here of thirst with our children and our livestock?” (Ex 17:2)

Of course, God never abandoned them, as He never abandons us, and He provided the Israelites with quail, manna from Heaven, and water from the rock. But we’ve heard the rest of this story, and we know that, slowly but surely, Certified Professional Whiners® are always promoted to Certified Professional Idolaters.® We end up worshipping the very things (____ ß your sins here) that we are supposed to sacrifice on the altar of God. The Israelites actually did this literally. God had commanded them to sacrifice a bullock on the altar, but as soon as Moses is gone, what do they do? Out of all the things they could have selected, they choose to fashion a golden calf to worship as the image of God. “Come, make us a god who will be our leader; as for the man Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has happened to him” (Ex 32:1).

Given our horrible track record as humans, I guess we could always sit here in despair, clutching our now worn-out Certified Professional Whiners® business card. But God loves us too much to allow that, for He “proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). So what are we to do? St. Paul instructs us to “put on the armor of light… the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh” (Rom 13:12-14). In putting on Jesus, we are to imitate the life of our Lord in order to become alter Christus, other Christs, to the world. But if we are to do that – if we are to reverse our course of slavery to sin during this Lenten season – we must closely examine the actions of Jesus as He was tempted in the desert. Contemplation on Christ in the desert must be an essential part of our own journey of faith. Christ teaches us how to put aside our idols that keep us in slavery – the pursuit of physical pleasures, power, and glory – that prevent us from living in true freedom. Penance – prayer, fasting, and almsgiving – serves as our weapon against these idols, reminding us that God alone is the path to happiness and meaning in our life.

Unlike Christ, we know that we will inevitably stumble in our Lenten journeys. We may forget that we gave up red meat, or that we shouldn’t have beer on Friday. We may pull out that old business card of ours, and make something other than God the center of our lives. The purification process will surely be difficult. But as we nervously venture into the desert, we should have immense hope: for we will surely find that God, just as He led the Israelites from Egypt, has already preceded us there through his Son Jesus Christ. So as we journey together through Lent, it is my prayer that we put our trust firmly in Christ, and walk boldly with our eyes fixed on Him who enlightens the way before us. 

Br. Peter Junipero Hannah, O.P.'s picture

God's Test

St. PaulSt. Paul's discourse on love in 1 Corinthians 13 is rightly famous.  His soaring and forthright description of the qualities of Christian love is simultaneously profound and practical, pointing to the surpassing glory of heaven while concretely describing what love looks like in everyday life.  My vespers preaching for the 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time, therefore, had a simple message.  Love alone is what counts with God.  Love alone is how our lives will be judged at the end of time.  Love alone has the power to convert the world.  This Lent, therefore, we seek to deepen our love both of God and our neighbor down to the gritty details of life.  St. Paul, pray for us.

Br. Bradley Thomas Elliott, O.P.'s picture

The Divine Office

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As Dominicans, sanctifying each moment of the day by praying the Divine Office--the official prayer of the Church--is essential to our spirituality and the fulcrum of our common life. This short video, produced by the student brothers of the Western Dominican Province, is an attempt to expound upon the central roll that the Divine Office plays in our lives and express the profound joy of praying with the Chruch, for the Church, and in the heart of the Church. 

Br. Peter Junipero Hannah, O.P.'s picture

True Grit

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Latin CrossDuring my two-week home visit following Christmas this year, I had occasion to witness the Body of Christ active in a very gritty, grubby, and difficult way. As a celibate religious, I have undertaken a path of discipline in prayer, study, and common life which is built to aid the Christian in being “perfect” (Matthew 5:48). It involves many trials and difficulties, from the often toilsome nature of study, to the unpredictable itinerancy of new pastoral assignments, from the daily perseverance required to seek out silence and contemplation, to the head-spinning and body-draining activity of parish work. But the week following Christmas, I visited my sister and her husband, proud parents of two little ones, an adorable two-year old girl and a goggle-eyed (and boisterous) six-month-old boy. Difficult, grinding, and gritty work is parenting. And holy.

One of the great beauties of the Catholic faith is the way it honors difference, diversity, and complementarity.  And one place I have seen this most vividly is in the complementarity of the celibate and married vocations. As a celibate I live a life not many people do, and which is also easy to idealize: those white-robed holy men who spend all their days in the perfect peace of contemplative prayer, dipping down now and then to bring Christ to the world. There is truth in the fact of the alternating rhythms of prayer and activity in a Dominican’s life; it is a rhythm I love, exult in, and live out day-by-day. But illusions of “perfect peace”-perpetually-maintained vanish quickly upon entry as a novice. Numerous and eccentric personalities in close quarters for extended periods do not for perfect peace make. The friar has to learn constantly to readjust his personality to the eccentricities (sometimes delightful, often unnerving) of those around him. It is partially for this reason that religious life is called a “school of charity.” Prayer, too, has its vicissitudes of sensible consolation and peace, alternating with stale and flat periods where the Lord withdraws from the soul to teach perseverance amidst feelings of desolation and abandonment. The ideal of religious life remains an ideal; but perfect charity is only acquired by constant effort in cooperation and made possible with God's grace, self-abnegation, patience, and conformity to the Lord’s Cross. The free gift of God in Christ Jesus is anything but a lawn chair with a Dos Equis on the beach; it is rough, untidy, exacting, toilsome, dramatic. It is God’s sanctifying action upon hearts gone astray and needing purification to see God face-to-face in eternity.

So too parenting.  It is easy, on the one hand, to idealize “domestic tranquility” (especially if one is familiar with 19th century British literature or, for that matter, 1950s sitcoms).  It is refreshing, soothing, and sometimes even inspiring to picture home life as a congenial and happy arrangement where father and mother love each other and their children, have only minor disagreements swept away with a quick resolution and a smile, and are adept at managing children who are—if not angels—kindly, docile, and amiable souls.  At its best moments perhaps something like this shines forth.  But day-to-day reality is messier.  As my sister and brother-in-law demonstrated to me over this Christmas break, parenting involves constant attention to needy creatures who are simultaneously adorable and attention-consuming, endearing and unnerving, too cute to imagine and exasperating to the point of exhaustion.  Sleepless nights.  Medical anxieties.  Endless demands.  Non-stop needs arising from an infinity of unpredictable situations.  My sister has told me two things which capture the essence of her situation: as a stay-at-home mom (for now when they are very young), she has never been happier or more fulfilled in her life; at the same time, she has never experienced this degree of mental and physical exhaustion, combined even with periods of certain loneliness, her husband being a hard-working and dedicated father, but whose schedule as a physician’s assistant can be so demanding that meals and time at home become irregular.

St. Paul tells us that marriage is a holy vocation which images the relationship of Christ to his Church (Eph 5.32).  Both are beautiful.  And both are messy.  The Church as mother gives her children new spiritual life in baptism, nourishes them with spiritual food in the Eucharist, and continually calls new members into her fold, making the earth a home of God’s true peace.  But she does this by her union with Christ the Head, who for love of his Bride, the Church, underwent torture, the shedding of blood, and death.  As Christ lays down his life for the Church, so a husband lays down his own life, all he is, for love of his wife and the provision, protection, and nourishing of his family.  The wife in union with her husband then becomes, as the Church, a “home” for the wonderful, inspiring, difficult, and exasperating task of having and raising new little human creatures.

I rejoice in the gift of my vocation, though at points it has led to exhaustion, loneliness, and an attention to external demands so unrelenting that one wonders where new fuel comes from. But I know, too, that this sacrificial kind of love is both more real to the demands of life, and more closely approximates the way our Lord loved his Church even through trial. Real and lasting joy can only come at such a price. For this reason I marvel all the more at the beauty of God’s design for the human family. I have found myself frequently in a position of bringing to married couples a certain witness to the primacy of spiritual values in life. The time I devote to prayer and “things spiritual” puts me in a good position to share with married couples the beauty, challenge, and importance of our relationship with God; both its joys and its trials. On the other hand, I am constantly blessed to see up close in marriages a living picture of the marvelous gift of family, married life, and new children—full of joy and its trial.

My sister and brother-in-law are living out their vocation to marriage in a way that, to me, is beautiful and inspiring, witnessing as it does to the very way Christ relates to his Church. Its beauty shines forth all the more when I see my brother-in-law exhausted from work, yet coming home to treat his wife with kindness and dignity; my sister stretched to the point of exhaustion, yet still giving herself to her husband and children; and of course my niece and nephew--too cute to imagine, yet growing by fits and starts through the travails and joys of childhood. Love that proves itself in the midst of suffering is more authentic. For this reason I am thankful every time I witness to the beauty and drama of married life. The love demanded is inspiring because it is real, because it is gritty, and because it requires real courage. In other words, it is like Christ’s.

Br. Thomas Aquinas Pickett, O.P.'s picture

Companions on the Journey: Ad Orientem

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A recurring theme in the documents and discourse pertaining to the New Evangelization is the call to “encounter Christ.” The Instrumentum Laboris of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization states: “The Christian faith is a true encounter and relationship with Jesus Christ” (18). As Catholic Christians this encounter and relationship of faith occurs not only on a personal level in private prayer and study, but, most importantly, it requires a community that worships together: “the best place to transmit the faith is a community nourished and transformed by the liturgical life and prayer” (97). This liturgical theme is also echoed in the USCCB’s Disciples Called to Witness: The New Evangelization, which states, “The active participation and practice of the liturgy…provide[s] a powerful witness to the faith” (Part IV). The community of the faithful gathering together as one, combats the idea of the individualist that lies at the heart of secularism: “To respond to religious needs, persons revert to individualistic forms of spirituality or forms of neo-paganism to the point of forcibly spreading a general climate of relativism.” (Instrumentum Laboris, 53). It is as a community, a whole, as a single worshiping body of the faithful that Christians encounter Christ and are nourished so as to share their faith with one another. As Pope Benedict writes, “The more lively the Eucharistic faith of the People of God, the deeper is its sharing in ecclesial life in steadfast commitment to the mission entrusted by Christ to his disciples” (Sacramentum Caritatis, 6).

There is, however, an issue that has been addressed by Pope Benedict XVI and numerous theologians and liturgists regarding how people encounter Christ during the liturgy. A common idea circulating after the Second Vatican Council was that, by having the priest turn and face the people, a more communal, less clerical liturgy would take shape. But if we take a closer look at this idea, we find that, typically, when large bodies of people face a single person, looking over a raised surface, it implies a power differential: a teacher over a desk; a politician over a podium; a judge over the bar. These individuals have power and authority over the mass of people they face. They control the order of events, they give instruction, and all eyes are to follow them while they perform their duties. What matters in a classroom, a political speech, or a trial, is the opinion, movement, speech, and personality of the teacher, politician, or judge.

A similar power differential may be seen in a mass with a priest looking over the altar at the people. Although the intention may be to be inclusive, there may exist a subconscious awareness of a stark distinction between “priest” and “people” in this form of mass. What, then, are some of the potential dangers that this differential poses? There is the danger of the priest and his personality becoming the focus of the Mass. This danger may even pose consequences for the peoples’ ability to encounter Christ, and, therefore, to be sent out as disciples to share their faith with the world. During the Mass, Christ is really and truly present in the community, the Scriptures, the Sacrament, and the priest who acts in His place. When we come together at Mass, we should come ready and open to experience and encounter Christ. Pope Benedict writes in The Spirit of the Liturgy, about the unintended consequences of the priest facing the people: “What happened was that an unprecedented clericalization came on the scene. Now the priest… becomes the real point of reference for the whole liturgy. Everything depends on him. We have to see him, to respond to him, to be involved in what he is doing. His creativity sustains the whole thing” (Part 2, Chapter 3). There becomes the danger that we encounter the personality of the cleric, to the detriment of our encounter with Christ. As a result, the Pope thinks, “The turning of the priest toward the people has turned the community into a self-enclosed circle. In its outward form, it no longer opens out to what lies ahead and above, but is closed in on itself.” This is significant since, in our incarnational tradition of worship, the outward bodily form of people in prayer ought to be a visible manifestation of their inward spirit. If the community forms an enclosed circle facing the cleric, what can this imply about its relationship to mission?

On the other hand, when a group of people sends forth an individual to speak on their behalf, it is implied that the single emissary represents and speaks for the people who have selected him. The individual is not above the group, but a part of it. We see, for example, the story of queen Esther. Stepping before the king she represents all of her people, and she gives voice to their universal cry for life and freedom. This representational identity is essential to the Catholic priesthood:  “Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness” (Heb. 5:1-2). To serve at the altar is to be a humble representative of the holy people of God. The priest and the people together form a single Body, worshipping Jesus their Divine Head.

We are able to visibly see this communal dimension of the liturgy explicitly when the people and the priest together face the same direction, in what is known as ad orientem (to the East). This is not only the norm for the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, but is perfectly licit for the Ordinary Form in the vernacular, and is even implied by the rubrics of the Missal. The priest, in this more visibly communal form of Mass, does not have his “back to the people”; rather, the priest, praying the Mass ad orientem and acting as the representative of the people before God, simply faces the same direction as the people who have called him to this sacred office. He knows the humility required for his office, and he knows that he prays the Mass to God for and with the people, and not to the people for God. During Mass he almost becomes anonymous, thinking as John the Baptist did, “He must increase, and I must decrease.”

When the community, instead of forming an enclosed circle, physically faces the same direction, they clearly symbolize with their bodies their spiritual reality as fellow pilgrims on the journey to Christ. They journey together, priest and lay person, as companions to the Last Supper and to the Cross. By physically manifesting the common direction of their spiritual lives towards Christ, they visibly manifest their commitment to mission, justice, and evangelization. Their full participation in this journey is not one of “mere external activity,” but a “greater awareness of the mystery being celebrated and its relationship to daily life” (Sacramentum Caritatis, 52). As we embrace the New Evangelization and the call to witness Christ in the world, perhaps we should prayerfully discern and explore the celebration of mass ad orientem. How we pray says much about how we live our faith; if the lay faithful and the priests pray together as fellow pilgrims on the path of faith, how much greater will the Christian life be lived and shared in world! 

Fr. Gabriel Mosher, O.P.'s picture


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I want to begin with a disclaimer. I've been trying to figure out how to articulate an experience I had on Christmas. I'm not sure words can do justice to the experience. But, I figured that I should try.

Over a decade ago, while I was a diocesean semenarian, I was taught by some great guys how to properly serve the Holy Mass. I had, of course, learned the rubrics at my home parish. However, the guys at the seminary taught me how to internalize those rubrics. I was taught how the order of worship and the physical actions are an intrinsic part of Liturgy. They taught me the significance of each action. But, more importantly, they taught me how to make each step, each gesture, an act of prayer. 

I've always treasured this gift. It's always served me in my Catholic life. After all, does not the Church affirm that the Sacramental Life, i.e., the liturgical life, is the constitutive character of Christianity? Everything is ordered to worship and everything flows from worship. The physical movements in the Liturgy, regardless of one's mode of participation, serve as the vehicle for offering a spiritual sacrifice to the Lord. This is why fidelity to the rubrics of the Liturgy, especially the Mass, is so important. It's only through the fixed structures in the Liturgy that the authentic spontaneity of the spirit becomes fully manifest. It is a fundamental mistake to think that the reverse is true. Regularity is a necessary condition for contemplation.

As a Dominican friar the gift that those men gave me has grown, developed, and flowered in various ways. Yesterday, however, that gift reached a level of intensity that heretofore I'd never experienced nor anticipated. 

There's a new monastery of Carmelite Nuns here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Some of us friars have been offering Mass for them at their chapel when we are able. These nuns exclusively use the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. So, when we come to their Monestary we celebrate our own Dominican Rite of Mass. Usually it is a Low Mass or a Missa Cantata (High Mass). However, on Christmas we were able to celebrate a Solemn Mass for them. I served as the Subdeacon for the Mass.

[For those unfamiliar with the Dominican Rite, or other more ancient forms of Mass as celebrated in the Latin Church, it is similar to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.]

The order of Mass according to the Dominican Rite is complex. There's a lot to remember –– especially for the Subdeacon. You'd think that, as a result, it wouldn't be conducive to contemplation. My experience, however, was remarkable. I've served as an acolyte for both the Low Mass and the Missa Cantata regularly. However, serving as a Major Minister in our Rite had a different feel to it. It was intense.

God has granted me, over the years, a few opportunities where I've found myself in a spiritually enraptured state while serving Mass. It can be embarrassing when it interferes with liturgical duties, but my experience on Christmas was different. It was as if I was given an opportunity to experience the truth about liturgical time. We say: in the Divine Liturgy of the Church our human time enters into eternity. This is how the Mass is a re-presentation of Christ's Paschal Mystery. It's not a repetition of it, simulation of it, or some new sacrifice. Each time Mass is offered we access the one Sacrifice that Christ made for us all. We stand at Calvary with the Blessed Mother and all the faithful. I believe it! The Mass lasted about one and a half hours; yet, it felt like five or ten minutes. But again, it wasn't like getting sucked into the online world, or video games, or some task of interest. Indeed, a similar phenomenon can occur in those sorts of activities. Instead, it was ... well ... different. The experience had a different character, a different feel. The intensity I experienced was radically peaceful. Saint Theresa of Avila's "sober innebriation" is the only phrase that seems to fit.

My mind is still swimming as a result of this experience. I'm still trying to fit together and articulate its profundity. Each detail of the experience held deep significance. For instance, wearing a dalmatic for the first time was really akward at first. Yet, on the other hand, it was a tremendous confirmation of my vocation to be a priest. Holding the paten before my eyes while covered with the humeral veil brought to mind the descriptions of those holy angels who veil themselves before the presence of the Lord. The symbols used in the rite are amazing. They help the human mind realize that in the Liturgy we are joined with heavenly realities. We become true participants in a Cosmic Liturgy. For that brief time I was deeply aware that we were in the midst of the angels and saints worshiping God in both spirit and truth. 

[Modified from its original:]

Br. Bradley Thomas Elliott, O.P.'s picture

The Lord is Coming

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As we celebrated the first day of Advent, I was called to reflect on the meaning of the Lord's coming. The readings for the Holy Mass were not what one might expect; they were not geared towards our Lord's coming as an infant. Instead, they were directed towards the final coming of Jesus at the end of time. The readings were marked by a gloom and doom that some might even find troubling as we begin this season of Hope and Joy. What is the reason for this?

It is indeed true that this season ought to be marked by hope and joyful anticipation of the Incarnation of the Son of God. But this is a joy totally unlike the earthly joy that often accompanies our temporal festivities. Our Christian Hope is not the hope of this present age -- this present world which will one day be passing away. No. Our hope, being the theological virtue that has God as its object, is focused like a laser beam on the world to come; the awesome promise we have in Jesus Christ -- that we will one day see God as He is in Himself, and, in that one perfect vision, be completely fulfilled. This is not a promise that can ever be realized in this life; it can never be achieved by a natural process or the exercise of our natural powers. This requires the grace of God given to us as a pure gift. This is the promise we hold by faith and it is only attainable by Grace.

This is the great meaning of the apocalyptic readings of today's liturgy. The meaning of Christ's coming as an infant in Bethlehem is only understood in the full light of that final coming at the end of time, when all will be complete, all will be subject to Christ, and Christ will be all-in-all. This is not yet a reality. But it is coming. We must stay vigilant. We must watch. We must keep ourselves prepared for the Lord who might come at any time. 

We do not know for sure when the Lord will come; no one knows the day or the hour. But one thing we do know for sure: THERE WILL BE A DAY AND AN HOUR OF HIS COMING! This is the truth that we must constantly keep before our eyes. As we progress through this awesome season of Advent, I pray that this reality will be realized in all of our lives.

Let us keep waiting!

Let us keep watching!

Stay vigilant!

The Lord is coming!