Sunday, February 28, 2010

On the Transfiguration of the Lord

Transfiguration by Duccio

Last Sunday, we saw our Lord Jesus who was led by the Holy Spirit into the desert where he fasted and prayed. Weakened by hunger, Jesus was subjected by the devil to temptation. The devil must have thought that a Jesus weakened by hunger will succumb to his wiles and in the end, he found out that he was mistaken.

Today, Jesus, together with Peter, James, and John, ascend a mountain in order to pray. However, this time, Jesus is no longer shown as one who was weakened by hunger. Rather, he was transfigured before his disciples: his face became as radiant as the sun, his clothing dazzlingly white, Moses and Elijah conversed with him, a shining cloud covered him, and again, the voice of the Father attests to his disciples: “This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to him.” This prayer on the mountain became a moment of revelation for both the prophets and the apostles for they have seen Jesus in a way both groups have never seen before. The prophets saw Jesus in his humanity. The apostles saw Jesus in his divinity. The deacon St. Ephraem said: “The prophets were filled with joy, and the apostles likewise, in their ascent of the mountain. The prophets rejoiced because they have seen His humanity, which they had not known. And the apostles rejoiced because they had seen the glory of the Divinity, which they had not known. And when they heard the voice of the Father, giving testimony to the Son, they learnt through this that which till now had been obscure to them: that humanity had been assumed by Him. And together with the Father’s voice, the glory of His own body gave testimony to Him, shining resplendent because of That within Him which partakes of the Divinity.” The Father revealed Jesus to both prophets and apostles. And no one could have done it more fittingly because “No one knows the Son except the Father.” And what the Father revealed about his Son brought delight to both prophets and apostles. He delighted the prophets by fulfilling their prophecies. He fortified the apostles with a vision of His Divinity in preparation for the things that are to take place in Jerusalem. The devil took Jesus up on a mountain to show him the kingdoms which he pretended to own. Jesus took his apostles on the mountain “that he might show them His kingdom, before they witnessed His suffering and death; and His glory before His ignominy; so that when He was made a prisoner, and condemned by the Jews, they might understand that He was crucified by them not because of His own powerlessness, but because it had pleased Him of His goodness to suffer for the salvation of the world. He brought them up to the mountain that He might show them before His resurrection, the glory of His divinity, so that when He had risen from the dead they might then know that He had not received this glory as the reward of his labors, but that he had had it from all eternity, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit.”

What he revealed to both prophets and apostles, he reveals to us today. And what we have received should likewise delight our hearts for now, we have been given the assurance that we are not mistaken in abandoning our former ways in order to follow the Lord. We have done well to turn our backs on a path that led to destruction in order to follow a path that leads to salvation. In the 2nd reading, St. Paul reminds us of the futility of our former ways: “Many conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction. Their god is their stomach; their glory is their shame. Their minds are occupied with earthly things.” The transfiguration assures us that all will be well with us who have so decided to follow Christ on this difficult way of the Cross: “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself.” With this assurance, let us heed the command of the Father: “This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to him.” Inasmuch as in him is found the fullness of life, let us deny ourselves. Let us carry our cross. Let us follow him. “In this way, stand firm in the Lord.”

Friday, February 26, 2010

Transfiguration and the Priesthood

Blessed Ildefono Schuster wrote on the choice of the Transfiguration as reading for the Ember Saturday of Lent: "The solitary height on which Jesus clothes himself is typical of the sacerdotal state, which demands a complete detachment from earthly things, an intense interior life, and a sublime spirit of contemplation. As in heaven, God in his majesty is seated upon the Cherubim, so, on earth, their sublime office is filled by his priests." (I. Schuster, The Sacramentary: Historical and Liturgical Notes on the Roman Missal, 77.)

On the Priesthood on Ember Saturday of Lent

On Ember Saturday of Lent, priests are ordained after a long fast and vigil. It reminds me of our Lord who selected his Apostles after a long night of prayer. Blessed Ildefonso Schuster wrote: "In olden times, the faithful spent the whole of this night in prayer, singing psalms, and listening to the reading, both in Greek and in Latin, of twelve lessons from Holy Scripture." (I. Schuster, The Sacramentary: Historical and Liturgical Notes on the Roman Missal, 73.) Imagine how long the vigil must have lasted: twelve readings read twice! Within this vigil, priests were ordained.

Thus, today, my mind is raised towards the priesthood and its great dignity. By putting the ordinations in the context of a fast and a long vigil, the Church indeed attests to the great dignity that the Lord confers upon those he has chosen to be priests.

St. John Chrysostom has this to say: "If anyone consider how great a thing it is that a man wrapped in flesh and blood approach that pure and blessed nature, then he will see plainly what great honor the grace of the Spirit has bestowed upon priests. It is by their agency that these rites pertaining to our dignity and salvation are performed. They who inhabit the earth, they who make their abode among men, are entrusted with the dispensation of the things of heaven! Priests have received a power which God has given neither to angels nor to archangels. It was said to them: Whatsoever ye shall bind upon earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose, shall be loosed. Temporal rulers have indeed the power of binding; but they can bind only the body. Priests, however, can bind with a bond which pertains to the soul itself, and transcends the very heavens. Whatever priests do here on earth, God will confirm in heaven, just as the master ratifies the decisions of his servants. Did he not give them all the powers of heaven? 'Whose sins ye shall forgive,' he says, 'they are forgiven them: whose sins ye shall retain, they are retained.' What greater power is there than this? The Father hath given all the judgment to the Son. And now I see the Son placing all this power in the hands of men. They are raised to this dignity as if they were already gathered up to heaven, elevated above human nature, and freed of all limitations.

Were a king to bestow such power upon one of his subjects that he permitted him to imprison anyone whome he wished and free him likewise at his discretion, such a man would be envied and respected by all. He, however, who has received from God a power which is as much greater than this as heaven is more precious than earth and souls than bodies, seems to some to have received so inconsiderable an honor that they imagine he is able to despise it. Away with such madness! It is madness indeed to despise so great a ministry, without which we could neither obtain our salvation nor the good things promised. inasmuch as no man can enter the Kingdom of Heaven unless he is born again of water and the Spirit, and since unless he eats the flesh of the Lord and drinks his blood he is excluded from eternal life - since, I say, all things are administered only by those holy hands, the hands of priests, how could any man without these priests either escape the fire of hell or obtain the crown which is intended for him?" (St. John Chrysostom, De Sacerdotio, 181-187.)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

On the Temptation of Christ in the desert

As the 40 days of Lent commemorate the 40 day fast of Christ in the desert, the gospel of this 1st Sunday of Lent begins with the words: “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert for 40 days, to be tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days and when they were over, he was very hungry.” His physical weakness would have made the opportunity ripe for the devil to tempt the Lord for we have always presumed that an empty stomach would fall for anything. Isn’t this the basis of a present day pastoral strategy that we must first fill the stomach before we can fill the spirit? Thus, many pastoral programs today first concern themselves with the satisfaction of man’s material needs before we can even attempt to address the spiritual ones.

Actually, this is the strategy of the devil in tempting Jesus. First, he addresses the Lord’s immediate need, namely, his hunger: “Command this stone to become bread.” Then, he addresses human ambition: “I shall give you all this power and glory…if you worship me.” Then, he addresses our inclination towards vainglory: “Throw yourself down from (the parapet of the temple) for…He will command his angels …to guard you.” The presumption is that human need draws us away from God. To draw man closer to the Lord, we must first satisfy these needs.

But the Lord has responded to the temptation in an unexpected way: for his hunger may have weakened his body but it has strengthened his spirit. St. John Chrysostom says: “He fasts so that you may learn how efficacious fasting is, and what a weapon it is against the devil; and that after our baptism we should give ourselves, not to pleasures, not to drunkenness, not to the delights of the table, but to fasting. For this reason He fasted; not because He had need to fast, but to teach us. For before we were purified through baptism, the pleasures of the stomach led us to sin…For it was the intemperance of the stomach that drove Adam from paradise, and provoked the flood in the days of Noah, and sent thunderbolts against Sodom…Ezechias tells us: 'Behold this is the iniquity of Sodom thy sister, fullness of bread, and abundance, and they were lifted up, and committed abominations' (Ezechias xvi. 40). And the Jews also; it was when they were filled with the delights of food that they then fell into and committed their greatest sins.”

Isn’t this the movement of the modern world? Our inclination is to lower standards. Fasting is difficult? Then, reduce it to its barest minimum. Students have poor comprehension? Lower the passing average! We can’t keep people from gambling? Legalize it! Can’t keep people from being sexually promiscuous? Give them condoms! Giving too much credit to the overriding power of the human needs, we have reduced ourselves to the level of beasts who immediately subject themselves to instinct. St. John Chrysostom says, “There are those so foolish and dull that they long only for the things of the present; saying such senseless things as: ‘Let me enjoy now what I have, later I shall think about what is not certain. Let me indulge my appetite. I want to enjoy myself. Give me today, and you may keep tomorrow.’ What folly! They who say such things, in what way do they differ from goats and swine?”

We have forgotten that baptism has elevated our humanity for on account of it, we have become temples of the Holy Spirit. Though our Lord was weakened by hunger, he triumphed over the devil by the same Spirit who led Him to the desert to be tempted. We should not forget what our Lord told St. Paul who complained of the weakness of his flesh: “My grace is enough for you. It is in weakness that I am powerful.” That same Holy Spirit will help us in our temptations if we cooperate with him through the discipline of our bodies. “Christ fasts for 40 days,” says St. John Chrysostom, “pointing out to us the remedy for our salvation.”

Friday, February 19, 2010

St. Francis on the Priesthood

St. Francis in Prayer

"Kissing your feet, I implore you all my brothers, and with the utmost affection I beseech you to show the greatest possible reverence and honor to the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . Consider your dignity O Brothers who are priests, and be holy because He is holy . . . It is a great misfortune and a miserable fault to have Him thus near you, and to be thinking of anything else. Let the whole man be seized with dread; let the whole world tremble; let the heavens exult when Christ, the Son of the living God, is on the altar in the hands of the priest. O amazing splendor and astounding condescension! O sublime humility! O humble sublimity! The Master of the universe, God Himself and Son of God humbles Himself so far as to hide Himself for our salvation under the feeble appearance of bread! See brothers the humility of God . . . keep nothing of yourselves for yourselves, so that He may possess you entirely, who has given Himself wholly for you."

St. Francis of Assisi

(Thanks to

Thursday, February 18, 2010

On the absence of fasting in Lent

Christ in the desert
Moretto de Brescia

"...on that day, they will fast."

Lent is a season of fasting. Many today do not realize that fasting of essential to this season of penitence. However, the forty day preparation for Easter finds its origin with the desire of Christians to imitate Christ our Lord in his forty day fast in the desert. Thus, Lent has suffered much when the discipline of its fast has been relaxed and reduced to those of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. What is Lent without its fast? It is like a dog that barks but cannot bite. Ask around the impact of Lent on the lives of many ordinary Catholics. Sure, people came to church to receive ashes on their foreheads but that was all there was to it. Lent has simply become an occasion to sing "sad songs" in church, a time for priests to wear purple vestments and for us to engage in stations of the cross. But without the fast, would Lent truly be what it was intended to be: an imitation of Christ's forty day fast in the desert?

Let us return to the this revered discipline of the Lenten fast. Ramadan continues to be the holiest time of the Islamic year because of its fast. Modernity has not at all affected their fast but we have allowed it to affect ours. And this is unfortunate. For what we have done has not only taken the tooth out of Lent, it has also lessened our anticipation of Easter.

On Lent and Confession

"Behold, now is the appointed time, in which you must confess your sins to God, and to the priest, and by prayer and by fasting, by tears and almsgiving, wipe them away. Why should a sinner be ashamed to make known his sins, since they are already known and manifest to God, and to His angels, and even to the blessed in heaven? Confession delivers the soul from death. Confession opens the door to heaven. Confession brings us hope of salvation. Because of this the Scripture says: First tell thy iniquities, that you may be justified (Is. xliii, 26). Here we are shown that the man will not be saved who, during his life, does not confess his sins. Neither will that confession deliver you which is made without true repentance. For true repentance is grief of heart and sorrow of soul because of the evils a man has committed. True repentance causes us to grieve over our offenses, and to grieve over them with the firm intention of never committing them again."

St. Ambrose, Bishop and Doctor

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday

from Google images

Lent is once again upon us: this grave season that is marked by penance and prayer. The post-modern man might find this season repulsive on account of the discipline, the mortification which characterize its gravity. However, in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul gives us a refreshing perspective on the season of Lent. He calls it the acceptable time and the day of salvation: In an acceptable time I heard you, and on the day of salvation I helped you. Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold now is the day of salvation. Lent is called “the acceptable time” because, in the light of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection, God is most disposed to accept us sinners once again into his bosom. This is the most opportune time to be reconciled with God. St. John Marie Vianney said, “It is not the sinner who comes back to God in order to ask him forgiveness, but rather, it is God who runs after the sinner and helps him come back to him.” And because he is most disposed to accept us back, he is most disposed to pour upon us all his graces and blessings to help us come back to him. Thus, this is “the day of salvation.”

On account of the superfluous grace and mercy of God to us during this season, St. Paul admonishes us: “we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.” He invites us to take advantage of this season of grace, to do all we can to get as much grace as we can. Hence, the mortification, the fasting, the abstinence, the penance. It is like being in the middle of a long dry spell, at the sight of dark and heavy clouds in the horizon, we put out as many empty pails as we can so that we can catch as much rain water as we can. Of course, to get optimum results, the pails have to be empty and clean. If pails are filled with sand, or garbage, or murky water, we waste the opportunity to catch pure rain water. We cannot benefit from the graces which God intends to pour upon us during this season if we are so filled with ourselves. I remember once, I chanced upon this noontime variety show in which the contestant must gather as much coins as he can because the heavier the total weight of what he gathered, the higher the price money gets. The show had a heavily bosomed woman and on account of her massive breasts, the coins keep falling off into the ground. He gathered almost nothing. Fasting and other disciplines help empty us of our egoism so that we may be prepared to receive everything that comes from God. In his Lenten message this year, Pope Benedict writes: “With bitterness the Psalmist recognizes this: ‘Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me’ (Ps 51,7). Indeed, man is weakened by an intense influence, which wounds his capacity to enter into communion with the other…By nature, he is open to sharing freely, but he finds in his being a strange force of gravity that makes him turn in and affirm himself above and against others: this is egoism, the result of original sin… Conversion to Christ, believing in the Gospel, ultimately means this: to exit the illusion of self-sufficiency in order to discover and accept one’s own need – the need of others and God, the need of His forgiveness and His friendship. So we understand how faith is altogether different from a natural, good-feeling, obvious fact: humility is required to accept that I need Another to free me from ‘what is mine,’ to give me gratuitously ‘what is His.’" Fasting helps free me from “what is mine” so that I can receive in abundance “what is His.”

In a similar light, fasting also addresses the scandal of our times: the discrepancy of the abundance of our age and the widespread hunger of people. The scandal of hunger is so blaring that politicians jump into this issue with one candidate promising “masarap na pagkain sa bawa’t mesa” and another pledging “masustansyang pagkain sa bawat mesa.” The Church looks at fasting as the solution to the discrepancy of affluence and hunger. We empty our plates so that we may put food in the plates of the hungry. Receiving in abundance “what is God’s” I freely give up “what is mine” so that it may also be “theirs.” This charity does not only make up for a multitude of sins but also makes up to God the worship that I have failed to offer him. The Holy Father said: “giving to the poor (for the Israelite) is none other than restoring what is owed to God, who had pity on the misery of His people.”

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Dominus Vobiscum

I get upset whenever I hear a priest greet the people: "The Lord is with you!" I even heard some priests complain that "Dominus vobiscum" is so archaic a greeting that it no longer is relevant to our modern use. With the new translations returning to "and with your spirit", many liberals object that this response does not mean anything more than the formula we use today: "and also with you." I came across this very enlightening article which I think would make us appreciate the return to the more literal translation of "et cum spiritu tuo."

Check out this link: Psallite Sapienter: Dominus Vobiscum

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes

Our Lady of Lourdes,

Health of the sick, Refuge of sinners, Comforter of the afflicted,

pray for us!

The Sacred in Church Architecture

I would like to share something I have read about new liturgical architecture:

"The new style of church architecture, which is hardly new in fact, has also been influenced by the idea that what is sacred is produced by man and for man, and has lost all feeling for the sacred as such. The functionalism that is so characteristic of modern architecture, and that has become the first principle of all building, governs the design of churches as well; they are now conceived in a utilitarian spirit which, while keeping their religious use in view, does not exclude other uses either; hence, the so-called multi-purpose churches that are used as places for non-religious meetings, as concert halls, as shelters for those in strike, etc.

"The ideas of adoration, and of the sacred as something especially separated or set apart, are lost in all this. The new architecture treats the sacred as something diffused throughout the whole of reality; and hence any attempt to localize it in church buildings must be abandoned.

"...Whenever this expansion of the sacred beyond the sacred is attempted, the nature of things is violated, yet again, in a relativistic attempt to detect everything in every other thing, and so to equate everything with everything else.

"The desire to extend the sacred unlimitedly, as if there were no inherent contradiction in talking about something as sacred yet in no sense set apart from anything else, runs into particular difficulties in a Catholic context because of the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist. This states that there can be a uniquely special presence of God, over and above his universal presence throughout his creation. This is the sacramental presence of the God-Man, body and blood, soul and divinity, who enters the space and time of transient creatures only by means of his body, whether in its earthly or glorified state. . . The Eucharist is the thing that is sacred in its very being; from it, all sacred places, times, persons, and actions flow, and to it they all refer. It is only through the Eucharist that the Divine can be localized. Without belief in the Eucharist, a church must logically be regarded as nothing more than a place where people meet for worship and other ritual activities; it can no longer be regarded as the tabernacle of the Holy One whence all sanctification is derived.

"An over emphasis on the merely functional aspects of a church building diminishes one's sense of the sacred. A church is indeed a place where the faithful meet to pray and to take part in the liturgy, but it has a sacred character even when such functions are not being exercised within it; a sacred building, like every other artistic creation of a religious sort, exists in itself as distinct from the use which may subsequently be made of it. Si hi tacuerint, lapides clamabunt ("If these [people] kept silent, the stones would cry out" - Luke 19:40) is a saying applicable to sacred architecture; or as Ronault said, churches ought to me maisons priantes (Houses that pray), not merely places that people use for prayer, but places which themselves pray. This is true of those medieval churches in which an artist has hidden some beautiful carving or painting high up in a remote corner, away from the light, where nobody sees it, but where all by itself it still sings the glory of God for whom it was made; made by an artist content that his own name too should be similarly forgotten, that the name of God alone might be glorified."

R. Amerio, IOTA UNUM: A Study of Changes in the Catholic Church in the XXth Century, 647-650.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Liturgy as Expression of the Mystery of the Holy

To the advocates of "liturgical creativity", some words from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI):

"The liturgy is not a show, a spectacle, requiring brilliant producers and talented actors. The life of the liturgy does not consist in 'pleasant' surprises and in attractive 'ideas' but in solemn repetitions. It cannot be an expression of of what is current and transitory, for it expresses the mystery of the Holy. Many people have felt and said that liturgy must be 'made' by the whole community if it is really to belong to them. Such an attitude has led to the 'success' of the liturgy being measured by its effects at the level of spectacle and entertainment. It is to lose sight of what is distinctive to the liturgy, which does not come from what we do but from the fact that something is taking place here that all of us together cannot 'make'. In the liturgy there is a power, and energy at work which not even the Church as a whole can generate: what is manifests is the Wholly Other, coming to us through the community (which is hence not sovereign but servant, purely instrumental)."

J. Ratzinger, The Ratzinger Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church, 126

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Liturgy and the Culture of Life

In the Philippines, February is Pro-Life month. I chanced upon this article from the New Liturgical Movement and I agree with what the author said:

"Pro-life homilies, pro-life prayer intentions and social activism generally are all important let’s be clear, but they don't address the deeper, foundational problem that lay at the root of this issue; namely, the lack of a sense of God that exists not only within our culture, but even within our parishes. Before we can ever hope to bring about a conversion of the culture to a culture of life – and we are speaking, not merely of the changing of laws, but ultimately of the need for conversion -- we must first put our own house in order. If we understand and accept the teaching of the Church as regards the central importance of the liturgy and its relationship to doctrine, then surely we must neither ignore the fact that deficiencies there will lead to deficiencies elsewhere, nor that it is also an important place to begin to assert the solution.The Necessity of God-Centred Liturgies: Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vivendi (The law of prayer is the law of belief is the law of living.)In Evangelium Vitae, John Paul II taught that the root cause of the culture of death is a loss of the sense of God and, in the same vein, one will note that Pope Benedict XVI has been working quite intently to bring back the sense of transcendence and God-centredness within our liturgies; in short, to bring back a sense of God. So it is that a consistent theme emerges and also a consistent recognition of a problem within our churches today. The Holy Father knows well that if God is obscured within the sacred liturgy – the very place that is not only the source and summit of the Church, but also the heart, soul and primary point of contact for the faithful -- then it is likely to follow that God will be absent or obscured in the lives of the faithful as well. Consequently, this lack of sense of the Divine can lead to living a humanistic or self-centred existence which further leads to a lost sense of the sacredness of man; without a Creator, man becomes a mere organism in the vast universe of organisms that can be manipulated and used for any kind of fantasy by anyone who is stronger or more powerful.

It is well known that many parishes today have become more centred upon themselves as a community than being clearly centred upon God – what Ratzinger has called the “self-enclosed circle”. Many parishes are not following the authorized liturgical texts and rubrics -- often out of a misguided sense of "pastoral" creativity, or even simply out of ignorance. Nor do they sufficiently consider (let alone express) those elements which lend a sense of transcendence to the worship of God, particularly as expressed through the medium of beauty. To some these might seem rather unimportant surface considerations, but they are not. The sacred liturgy and doctrine are intertwined and the experiential dimension of the liturgy is a profound moment for catechesis and conversion. Accordingly, when there is problematic approach to the liturgy, and when unauthorized innovations are introduced, there can be a deficiency as well as a coinciding distortion of Catholic belief passed on to the faithful, and further a loss in the power of the liturgy to move the human heart and mind towards God.

By contrast, the sacred liturgy, when celebrated well and focused on God, is where the building of the culture of life begins for within the liturgy one experiences and encounters the perfection of the culture of life from the giver of life Himself, God our Creator. It is through this deep encounter with God in the liturgy that we witness and learn a perfect love that is self-giving and self-sacrificing; from that flows the possibility of conversion of heart and the reciprocal love for God in giving of our lives to Him and His Church just as Christ gave His life for us, a sacrificial reality which is perpetuated upon our altars at every Mass. From that love for God and desire to serve Him naturally flows an ability to better move outside of ourselves and love our neighbour, seeing their lives as inherently of value. Therefore, if we are to build a culture of life within our parishes and serve as
leaven for our culture, the sacred liturgy must be oriented to God in all things, both interiorly and exteriorly. The liturgy must be celebrated in accord with the authorized texts and rubrics so that we might avoid obscuring Catholic doctrine or falling into a subjectivist mentality. The ceremonies must be reverent and beautiful, speaking to the worship of the Lord and the sacredness of what occurs, moving and focusing us accordingly. Finally, there should be liturgical catechesis for the faithful to help them to understand the greater meaning, focus and sacrificial reality of the Mass, emphasizing its primary end as the worship of God through the sacrifice of the Cross, including through postures and gestures, signs and symbols."

Read the whole article: The Sacred Liturgy: The Neglected Foundation to Building the Culture of Life

Monday, February 1, 2010

On the Presentation of the Lord

The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord brings to an official end the Christmas-Epiphany cycle. See The Gospels of the Epiphany - Part 2.

In this light, it would be beneficial to us to look at our Lord's presentation in the light of the manifestations which make up the Epiphanies of our Lord. On Christmas midnight, the angels which appeared to the shepherds revealed to them the birth of one who is "the Christ and Lord." At the Epiphany, a star revealed to the magi the birth of "a great king." At the Baptism in the Jordan, the Father revealed Jesus as his only-begotten Son in whom he is well pleased. On the following Sunday, Christ revealed himself through the changing of water into wine at Cana. Today, it is the Holy Spirit's turn to reveal Jesus. Today's Gospel speaks of that prophet Simeon as a man "who was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him...He came in the Spirit into the temple." I find it significant that the Holy Spirit should have the final word in this series of epiphanies because it is the work of the Holy Spirit to give witness to Jesus in the final age.

What does the Holy Spirit say about Jesus in today's mystery? First, the Holy Spirit points to Jesus as God. The Presentation of the Lord in the temple fulfills the prophecy of Malachi who in the first reading said: "Suddenly, there will come into the temple the Lord whom you seek." The original temple was built by Solomon and on the day of the building's consecration, the Ark of the Covenant (which bears the throne of mercy) was enthroned in the Holy of holies. A thick cloud descended upon the temple. So thick was it that the priests were unable to perform their duties as they could not see through the cloud. This cloud is the cloud of God's presence (the Shekinah) which descended on Mount Sinai and also led the the people through the desert (the pillar of cloud and the column of fire). In the time of Ezekiel, as the enemies were at the gates of Jerusalem and the temple was to fall into ruin, the prophet saw the cloud of Divine Presence leaving the temple through the eastern gate and the Ark of the Covenant mysteriously disappeared. Today, the Holy Spirit pointed to Simeon the return of the Lord who was enthroned on the Ark of the Covenant: the Baby Jesus on the arms of our Lady. Indeed, God returns to his temple and his faithful few (Simeon and Annah) were there to meet him. Thus, in the Eastern churches, this feast is called "Hypapante" meaning "The Meeting or Encounter."

Secondly, the Holy Spirit reveals Jesus as the High Priest. The second reading, taken from the letter to the Hebrews, speaks of the Lord as High Priest: "He had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way; that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of his people." The ritual of the presentation has for its purpose the consecration of the first born son: "Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord." Our Lady brings her child to the temple to consecrate him to the Lord. This consecration marks God's ownership over Jesus. Jesus belongs to God as a priest is consecrated (or belongs) to God. In the Gospel of John, our Lord himself said, "for their sakes, I have consecrated myself to the truth. Your word is truth."

Lastly, the Holy Spirit reveals Jesus as the Victim of the Sacrifice. Two turtle doves were required of the poor in order to "redeem" the first born son. This redeeming of the first born comes from that story of the night of the Exodus when the angel of death descended on the land of Egypt in order to slay all the first born sons in the land. To spare the lives of their own first borns, the Israelites had to kill an unblemished lamb and used its blood to paint the lintel of their doors. Thus, the lives of the first born was spared at the expense of the life of the lamb. However, when our Lady brought her child to the temple, she was not able to "buy back" her Son at the price of the turtledoves because her Son was destined to be "the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted." Her Son will expiate the sins of men. Mary's brought into the temple the greatest offering which the temple has ever seen: the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!

Thus, today's feast, which crowns the Christmas-Epiphany mysteries, manifests Christ in his relationship with the temple: He is the Temple's God, its High Priest, and its unblemished Victim. This is the Christ that we meet in the temple today. Like wise virgins with lighted candles in our hands, we proceed in peace to meet Christ the Lord. Behold, by the power of the Holy Spirit, God descends upon the altar, upon the paten which is comparable to the throne of mercy. Through the person of the priest, Christ offers his sacrifice. And he is the Sacrifice itself for what is offered is not the body of the human priest but the Body and Blood of Jesus. Glory to You, O Jesus, who is the God we worship, the High Priest who intercedes and the Victim who expiates our sins. Glory to You for ever!