Wednesday, November 30, 2011

30th November - St Andrew

Readings: Romans 10: 9-18; Psalm 18; Matthew 4: 18-22

On this feast of St Andrew, the Church presents to us St Matthew’s account of the calling of the first disciples, an account which by its very briefness emphasises the radical nature of that call and of the response of Jesus’ first followers. Jesus sees Peter and Andrew at their work as fishermen, tells them to follow him and become fishers of men instead, and, we are told, ‘immediately’ they drop everything and follow him (Mt 4: 20).

Is this response something we are all meant to imitate, though? Should everyone leave their jobs and devote themselves wholly to following Christ? Yes and no – because, really, the question gets it wrong: there isn’t a simple opposition between following Christ and living our ordinary lives. We are certainly all called to devote ourselves to following him, but that doesn’t in every case mean leaving behind our fishing nets or, as is more likely these days, desks and computers! As St Paul had to tell the Thessalonians, Christ’s coming into the world does not remove the need to work for the necessities of life (cf. 2 Thess 3: 6-13). The example this account of call of the first disciples presents for everyone, then, is the single-mindedness of their response to Christ’s call.

At the same time, though, this radical following of Jesus which we see in the actions of Peter, Andrew, James, and John in today’s Gospel does remind us that, in some cases, Jesus might be calling us to give our lives and our work more explicitly to his service: it is these very Apostles who first preached on the Good News of our salvation, and the question we heard in our first reading rings out in every age, ‘How are they to hear without a preacher?’ (Rom 10: 14). Today’s Gospel account shows us the power of God’s grace, which enabled St Andrew to respond so wholeheartedly to Jesus’ call; as we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ presence among us at Christmas, St Andrew shows us that, if we are open to that presence, he will give us the grace to do the same.


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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

First Week of Advent - Tuesday

The Gospel tells us that Jesus hides the divine mysteries from the wise and learned, but reveals them to little children. This made me think of two stories. The first one is a piece of graffiti written on a wall in a theological faculty:

And Jesus said unto the disciples, "And who do you say that I am?"
They replied, "You are the eschatological manifestation of the ground of our being, the ontological foundation of the context of our very selfhood revealed."
And Jesus replied, "What?"

There is, of course, nothing wrong in searching for meaning through an elaborate theology using philosophical language, as long as we don’t forget the very source of our beliefs. Our faith is not anchored in notions and ideas, but in the personal relationship between God and man. And this leads me to the second story, which focuses more on the childlike:

A couple of years ago, while I was studying in Lille in France, I signed up to lead the Children’s Liturgy during the Mass. It was the 23rd December, and the kids were very excited. They were sitting on the floor, and in the middle of the room there was a big object covered with black material wrapped with paper garlands. I talked to them about Jesus the great King who we were expecting, and since Jesus is King, he will probably come to us, well, if not wrapped in garlands, in, let us say, a festive way. So I asked the children: What do you think we will we find if we unwrap the big black present on the floor? I had the full attention of 20 children who couldn’t wait to see what was hiding so mysteriously. ‘Well’, I said, ‘Let’s see then...’

I started to lift off the material, with the children staring with big eyes, waiting for what that was about to come. In one big movement, I unveiled the object: Ta-da! But there was no
big surprise hiding behind. Instead, there was a smaller package of cardboard. Not so fancy, not so cool... So I continued: ‘Hm, let’s see here then: Ta-da...’ But no. Nothing! As I unwrapped layer after layer, and after many Ta-da’s, the children’s eyes stared more and more intensely. Where could the great King be?!!

The more I unwrapped, the smaller it got. Finally, I sat down and drew out a tiny little container, and shook it gently. By this moment, the children had fallen on their knees around me, and they had an expression on their faces, quite similar to some of the faces I see in front of me here now.
Finally, I opened the little capsule, and inside there was a tiny little figure of a man: Who might that be? A little girl raised her head and looked me straight in the eyes and said: ‘Joseph?’ Close! In a diplomatic manner, I agreed that he actually looked a little like Joseph, but in fact, I really think it is Jesus. And why is Jesus so small? So that he can enter into our hearts...

It might be that this story is first and foremost adapted for children. But it is really meant for all of us. Jesus makes himself small in order to enter into our lives. Now God calls us to be on the same level with him; not in his majesty or in his kingship, not in wisdom or elaborate thoughts; the Revelation doesn’t start there. No, it is revealed to the childlike, to those who accept him as he is.

If you have been able to follow the minds of these children, as they stared their way into the Mystery of the Incarnation in about 10 minutes, then you have opened up to your Christian calling, you have begun a meditation that started on the first Sunday of Advent and that will continue until we find the Son of Man in whom all dimensions of our lives culminate.

Today we remember the first anniversary of the death our brother, Austin, who was a very able and sophisticated theologian, but who also saw with the eyes of a child. Let us pray for the repose of his soul, that his mediation may go on for eternity, adoring the Christ Child, the Christ who is so small he can enter into every part of our being.


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Monday, November 28, 2011

First Week of Advent - Monday

Readings: Isaiah 2: 1-5; Psalm 122; Matthew 8: 5-11

One thing that is striking about both today’s readings is the image of peoples and nations coming together from around the world: the prophet Isaiah recounts his vision of God’s eternal reign, when all nations will stream to the mountain of the house of the Lord (Isaiah 2: 2), and in the Gospel Jesus praises the (pagan) centurion for his faith, commenting that ‘many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven’ (Mt 8: 11).

Clearly, this hasn’t yet happened: the nations have not beaten their swords into ploughshares, or their spears into pruning hooks (cf. Isaiah 2: 4). On the contrary, we continue to hear of strife and conflict in many parts of the world. Thus, today’s scripture readings, as we might expect in Advent, point our attention forward to Christ’s second coming, when these visions of universal peace will indeed be realised.

However, they also present us with a challenge: for the Church of which we are all members is called already now in this present world to be the sacramental presence of the kingdom which Christ will come again to establish openly. In the Church, through Christ’s death and resurrection, that kingdom has already come. Thus we, through faith in Jesus Christ like that of the centurion in today’s Gospel, are to bear witness in the world to the nature of that kingdom, where ‘nation shall not lift up sword against nation’ (Is 2: 4) and many from east and west will sit at table together, united by the friendship which Jesus, by his coming into the world, makes possible.


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Sunday, November 27, 2011

First Sunday of Advent: What Are You Going To Watch?

Br. Robert has provided this week's sermon for Torch, the English Dominicans’ site offering online sermons for Sundays and Holy Days. Just click here to read it.

With this sermon, we also begin Godzdogz’ series for Advent 2011: check back each day for a reflection on the daily readings for Mass with which the Church prepares us during this season of Advent for the celebration of the Lord’s Nativity.


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Saturday, November 26, 2011

It's New Year's Eve!

Daniel 7:15-27; Daniel 3:82-87; Luke 21:34-36

Today is New Year's Eve (well New Year's Eve of the liturgical year at any rate) and like any New Year's Eve celebration, this is a good occasion to take stock of what has happened in the past, to think about the present, and to look towards the future. Of course, when we do this, we have to be mindful of Jesus' warning about the dangers of getting drunk.

Now whilst getting drunk is a common enough feature of secular New Year's celebrations, things tend to be a bit more restrained when it comes to the liturgical New Year. So perhaps we should pay closer attention to the other warning Jesus gives – not to get weighed down by the cares of this life, concerns for things like honour, money or popularity. One of the few things the drunkard has going for him is this lack of concern for the cares of this life. This was something St Augustine observed in his confessions. He tells us about an occasion before his conversion when he met a destitute beggar in the street. He writes:

Already drunk, I think, he was joking and laughing. I groaned and spoke with the friends accompanying me about the many sufferings that result from our follies. In all our strivings such as those efforts that were then worrying me, the goads of ambition impelled me to drag the burden of my unhappiness with me …; yet we had no goal other than to reach a carefree cheerfulness. That beggar was already there before us, and perhaps we would never achieve it. ... True joy he had not. But my quest to fulfill my ambitions was much falser. There was no question that he was happy and I racked with anxiety.

Whilst St Augustine doesn't condone drunkenness, the example of the beggar made him think about the sources of joy. It wasn't good enough to say one person finds joy in drink and another in worldly honours. As Augustine put it, just as the drunkard's glory was not the real thing, his own glory wasn't the real thing either - but the glory of God is. The glory of God is where our true joy lies. This is what the apostles shared in at Pentecost when the people of Jerusalem mocked them for being filled with new wine. The glory of God is what we share in during the Eucharistic celebration.

The celebration of the Eucharist is particular fitting for New Year's Eve, because at a New Year's Eve celebration we consider the past, the present and the future; and in the Eucharist we also consider the past, the present and the future. In the Eucharist, we participate in the glory of God, who is and who was and who is to come. The Eucharist, with its past, present and future nature, is summed up in St Thomas' prayer:
O sacred banquet!
in which Christ is received,
the memory of his Passion is renewed,
the mind is filled with grace,
and a pledge of future glory is given us.


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Friars Passions

Some of my friends tell me that I am passionate about Facebook. That would be because I sometimes post more than 10 videos, comments and events every day. In addition to that I do update my photos and profile status often. Does not that sound as some kind of obsession? My interest in Facebook is a result of my great aspiration to become a reporter. One of the main activities of a reporter is to provide information on current news and to analyse situations. That is the same thing I do when I update my profile or post comments on Facebook. The more regularly I do it, the more I feel doing something similar to my aspirations. But why should being a reporter become a passion?

Different people would say why they become passionate about journalism. Personally, I like journalism because it is one of the most efficient ways to convey a particular message. It is true that the media can be used to convey hatred, exclusive ideologies and many other distorted messages broadcasted by people with hidden agendas. However, this should not imprison our minds in that false thinking that the media is evil. Personally I became interested in journalism because it is one of the ways through which I came to learn about war situations in the world and peace processes going on to end wars. They raised in me questions about human rights violations by governments, religious institutions and other bodies that sometimes do violate human rights. It trigged in me a strong desire to use media channels to preach. I was lucky enough to study in cities where I had easy access to personalities working in the media world, especially with radio stations and newspapers. In Burundi, from 2003 to 2005, after my novitiate, I had the chance to contribute to a broadcast entitled Les Amis (Friends). I was studying Philosophy and I contributed to the bioethical side of debates about the problems with which youth is facing today.

When I began my pastoral placement before Theology in 2006, I worked in the offices of a newspaper for children. My job was to write educational articles for children. I still send them articles from time to time. My interest was strengthened when I had the chance to be able to volunteer to work for a Catholic radio station in Johannesburg, Radio Veritas ( The director of that Radio station is a Dominican priest. I spent many hours editing speeches and other programs to be broadcasted with specialized software. I developed an intense love for music and mixing musical tracks from all over the world. Since then, music has become one of my great passions, almost an addiction!

What I like about radio-broadcasting is that radio stations are media channels, which, in addition to providing us with information we need, often without any lies or hateful ideologies, they also give us access to good music.

I am also passionate about basketball. From 2000 to 2001, after my high school, I became a coach of basketball at a school for girls. Since I never stopped practicing Basketball anytime I manage to find Basketball grounds.

Apart from journalism, music and basketball, I also developed a great interest in video games that I find very interesting, but could become addictive if you do not play in moderation. I also like to write poems in French. I currently have 50 poems written in French and one in English!

By Br. Gustave Ineza OP

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Prisons Week of Prayer

This week is Prisons Week: An ecumenical week of prayer in England and Wales for prisoners and prison ministry. It had its beginnings in 1975, as a Catholic initiative led by Bishop Victor Guazzelli, a beloved Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster and titular Bishop of Lindisfarne. Br. Robert Verrill OP offers a reflection based on his own experiences in prison ministry.

As a prison chaplain, often one of the first things a prisoner will ask is 'have you got any rosaries?' This is a great preaching opportunity. When giving out rosaries, prisoners are usually very interested in learning how to say this prayer. For some people, their time in prison is the first time they've every really thought deeply about their faith. The words 'forgive us our trespasses' and 'pray for us sinners now,' can be especially powerful to those who are trying to come to terms with what they've done. In some people, you can see a dramatic change in them once they start to believe that God really loves them and that they're not beyond the pale.

Still, one cannot help being concerned about the kind of life such people will go back to once they are released. They may leave prison full of hope, that with their new found faith, they really will manage to stay out of trouble. For some this genuinely will be the case, but for many others, the odds are stacked so highly against them, it's hard to see how they can possibly cope. If the only person who offers them a roof over their head is a drug dealer, they don't really stand much chance.

In the Gospels, Jesus is described as a friend of sinners, so as Christ's body the Church, it is not an option to ignore those who are in most need of God's forgiveness. It is hard to know how to help such people, but as the saying goes, charity begins at home. Our home is the Church, so it would be a good start if there were more structures in place to help our Catholic brothers and sisters who are trapped in the criminal underworld. This week is prisons week of prayer, so it is a good time to pray for guidance and inspiration on how to address these problems. Christ came to save sinners, and so as members of Christ's body, we should not only be mindful of our own salvation, but also of the salvation of others.

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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Christ the King

Br. Augustine J DeArmond OP offers a reflection for the Solemnity of Christ the King in the Podcast below

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Friday, November 18, 2011

Remembering ... fr Dominic Jude Sire (1906-1971)

Francis Sire was born in London in 1906, and educated at Stonyhurst by the Jesuits: while his brother went on to join the Jesuits, Francis entered the Dominican Order at Woodchester in 1926, being given the religious name of Dominic Jude. He was professed the following year, and ordained priest at Oxford in 1932.
His 44 years of profession in the Order show the range of things a friar can often be called on to do in the course of his Dominican life. As a young priest he spent fourteen years teaching mathematics at Laxton, the (now closed) school in Northamptonshire run by the Order, where, as a keen cellist, he also took an interest in the musical life of the school. This was followed by ten years as chaplain to the Royal Infirmary in Leicester, work to which he took with equal enthusiasm.

In 1958 he moved to Hawkesyard, where laybrothers did their novitiate, in order to become their novice master, a role which he undertook with his customary devotion. Finally, in 1966, he moved to Woodchester to work on the parish, becoming parish priest in 1970: there, besides his pastoral responsibilities, his musical interests led him to help start the Stroud Arts Festival.
He died suddenly on 21st November 1971, just after finishing Sunday Mass during which he had suffered a severe heart attack. He was 65 years old, with 44 years of profession and 39 of priesthood. As it so happened, his Jesuit brother Fr Henry Sire died at almost exactly the same time.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon him.

May he rest in peace.

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Monday, November 14, 2011


The Dismissal is “the concluding part of Mass when the congregation is sent out to the world.” (From Bertram, J & Edwards, R 2009, A Simple Glossary of Catholic Terms, London: Catholic Truth Society: It would be futile to explain the history of the formula rather than focusing on its meaning.
In the past, when the congregation was told to go out to the world, it might have been understood as being sent to those who were lost. The Christian community, the followers of the true way, would be sent out to look for the lost sheep and the sheep that had never belonged to the flock and bring them to the right shepherd. Even if this is a wrong way of understanding our mission in the world, it is a much better way of understanding “life after Mass” than going and holding jealously on the graces gained from our Eucharistic celebrations.
When one is sent out after Mass, it is in order to go and share the graces one has gained from that Eucharistic Celebration. In other words, it is to bring that Mass to others, not convincing them that our way is much better than theirs, but to make sure that if there is anything we learnt from our gatherings it may also serve them.
During our Eucharistic celebrations, we experience a heavenly moment where we enter full communion with God. Sometimes we are tempted to remain there and pitch tents for the Lord like in Mark 9:2-10. The dismissal reminds us that this heavenly experience should be brought to others. People who love, they usually enjoy sharing whatever they believe will bring happiness and joy to others. Christians are supposed to be loving people and be enthusiastic in sharing what they gain from their Eucharistic celebrations…
Sharing supposes giving and receiving: the dismissal, as well as it sends us out to give, it also invites us to be willing to accept the good others might offer to us. In other words, it reminds us that we are a much bigger family than the one gathered in our assemblies and that we need to go out and live peaceful and harmoniously with those who do not belong to our Church.
In a few words: the dismissal sends us out to the world to share the graces bestowed on us, at the same time inviting us to be willing to recognise their reflections outside our cycles.
So, let us go forth and bring the Gospel to the beautiful world created by God who sends us into it.

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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Deacons homily, Saturday 32nd week year 1

Mass with anointing of the sick

Readings: Wis 18:14-16; 19:6-9; Ps 105:2-3, 36-37, 42-43; Lk 18:1-8

As a newly ordained deacon, I have the privilege of experiencing many things for the first time. One of these new experiences took place last Sunday, when I got to baptise two young children of one and three years old. We began the liturgy at the back of the Church, by the entrance, with a prayer followed by the sign of the cross on the forehead of the children.

Then we moved up here into the choir of the Church, where they received the anointing before the baptism before moving up to the baptismal font placed closer to the altar. The once warm water had now turned cold, and the baptism itself became a rather lively affair. However, the young ones were correctly baptised, and then given the anointing with the Oil of Chrism. The liturgy ended in front of the altar, where we prayed the Our Father, and the celebration concluded with the final blessing.

We can see in this moving from the entrance to the sanctuary a movement that corresponds to way the lives of these children will go, both in sacrament and in their lives more generally. By prayer, baptism and anointing, they enter into the Church, and are brought ever closer to the altar. In a few years, they will hopefully receive their first communion from the Lord’s Table, and sometime later they will be prepared for their adult Christian lives, as they are strengthened by the anointing of the Holy Spirit in confirmation. Through this movement, every person entering the Church becomes one with Christ’s own nature, a nature that is of a new order, just as we heard in the reading from the book of wisdom:

The whole creation in its nature was fashioned anew, complying with your commands, that your children may be kept unharmed (Book of Wisdom 19,6)

In Christ, we have become God’s children, and as sons and daughters, we are taken under God’s wing. But it is our whole life, and not only a part of it, that is marked by the Cross and Resurrection. And it is the case that throughout our earthly pilgrimage, there may be moments when we are in special need of God’s fatherly protection and care. Our human existence is fragile, our body is confronted with illness and aging, or there may be mental struggles in our lives.

Through our initiation as Christians, we have been strengthened by the Holy Spirit through the anointing of baptism and confirmation. Today, some of us will receive another strengthening sacrament, the anointing of the sick. In prayer, we turn faithfully to our Lord. The Evangelist asks: Will not God vindicate his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? But we should remember that God himself reaches out to us first, and especially when we need it the most. Let us then rejoice in his presence as he comes to our help. Let us rest in this divine act of sacramental trust, as we put our lives in God’s hands.

How God may heal and strengthen us, we may not be able to predict. God’s ways cannot be fully penetrated. But we know that in life and in death, we are the Lord’s (Rom 14,8). Let us therefore trustfully keep in mind the words of the centurion, as we say:

Only say the word, and my soul shall be healed (Matthew 8,8)


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Domine, non sum dignus...

The Liturgy is a rich tapestry of Scriptural imagery and allusions, woven together by the Church’s venerable ritual tradition in such a way that the Scriptures ‘come to life’: during the liturgy we are, in a particular way, ‘praying the scriptures’. One place where the new translation of the Mass makes this intimate relationship between Scripture and Liturgy more explicit is in the exchange between the celebrant and congregation immediately before Holy Communion. The new translation makes clear that the priest’s words repeat John the Baptist’s acknowledgment of Christ as the promised Messiah (Jn 1:29), and the people’s response repeats the reverence shown to Jesus by the Centurion in Matthew’s gospel (Mt 8:8).

By placing these two scriptural phrases alongside each other we acknowledge Christ – uniquely present under the Eucharistic species - as the promised one of Israel, the redeemer of the world, who comes to us (unworthy as we are) in a most intimate way, as our friend: we recognise that Christ’s Eucharistic presence is of both cosmological and deeply personal significance.

The repetition of the Centurion’s words remind us that, although we do not live during the time of Christ’s earthly ministry, in the Eucharist we encounter the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ in a much more intimate way. The ‘roof’ under which we welcome Christ is not the roof of a building, but of our hearts. The Eucharistic Jesus is, in the words of the popular hymn, “our saving guest”.

It may be a little surprising that we ask for ‘our souls’ to be healed rather than simply affirming that 'I shall be healed' as we used to. After all, human beings are a union of body and soul (as St Thomas said, “My Soul is not I”), and it seems entirely appropriate that we, like the centurion, ask God to heal physical ailments. There is, of course, no limit to the miracles God could work through the Eucharist (see Luke 5:23, for example) and I am sure many people have been healed and cured of physical ailments by devout reception of Holy Communion. Properly, however, the Sacrament of Holy Communion is one of ‘spiritual feeding’ – through the spiritual food of Christ’s Body and Blood, our spiritual lives are animated, our venial sins forgiven, our moral fortitude strengthened, and our union with Christ perfected. As the Council of Florence remarked,
“Every effect which bodily food and bodily drink produce in our corporeal life, by preserving this life, increasing this life, healing this life, and satisfying this life - is also produced by [Holy Communion] in the spiritual life.”


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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Institution Narrative

Two of the most obvious and controversial changes in the new translation relate to the consecration of the precious blood. To begin the translation of Pro Multis is now rendered as "for many", whilst before it was translated "for all". This is closer to the synoptic institution narratives, which use the Greek πολλῶν (pollōn), which is is the genitive plural of πολύς (polus). This word can be translated as 'many', 'much' or 'most'. It does not mean 'all'. The Eastern Churches retain the use of this term in their liturgies. St. Jerome translated the Markan and Matthean use of the word as pro multis-'for many' or 'for the many'; and St. Ambrose, writing in the fourth century, says that pro multis was used during the consecration. This term has proved problematic for many as it seems the deny that Jesus' blood was shed for all of humanity. This is not a new dispute: In his Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, St. Thomas states that, " it is to be said that the Blood of Christ was poured out for all as regards sufficiency, but for the elect only as regards efficacy." He comments in the Summa:

The Catechism of Trent also addresses the issue: "If we look to its value, we must confess that the Redeemer shed his blood for the salvation of all; but if we look to the fruit which mankind have received from it, we shall easily find that it pertains not unto all, but to many of the human race. Pope Innocent X again reaffirmed the orthodox teaching that Christ shed his blood for all of humanity in the Apostolic Constitution Cum occasione in 1653.

Why therefore did the English translation use 'for all'. Much rests on the work of Joachim Jermias'. The Lutheran theologian and scripture scholar wrote an article on πολλῶν for the German Theological Dictionary of the New Testament in 1959. He argued that whilst the Greek of the New Testament should be translated as 'many', this was not the intention of Christ. He bases his theory on a speculative rendering of the Aramaic that Jesus would have used at the Last Supper. This theory and ecumenical zeal amongst ICEL and the CDW led to the translation 'for all'. Now whilst this fact is true by having a more literal rendering we are brought closer to the Sacred Scriptures and Sacred Tradition of the Church.

Rather uncomfortably, we then turn to the use of the term 'chalice' rather than cup. All three synoptic writers and St. Paul, use the term ποτήριον (potērion), a word which translates as 'cup'. In Latin this was translated as calicem. A word which can be translated as either cup or chalice. One might argue that in using the translation 'chalice' , we are moving away from Sacred
Scripture. However the term reminds us that the Eucharist is not only a shared meal. It is also a liturgical meal. The last supper was not an informal gathering but the institution of the Eucharist. By using the term 'chalice', we are reminded that the Cup of the altar is no ordinary receptacle but a vessel that contains the Blood of Christ. This notion that a Chalice is for the finest liquids has recently been seen in Stella Artois' advertisig campaign for their new Cidre. (H/T to The Hermeneutic of Continuity). The Precious Blood of our Lord is the finest and most honoured of all drinks, but using a special term we emphasise that this is no ordinary cup.


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Wednesday, November 09, 2011 Richard Dominic Anderson (1910-1981)

Br. Richard Dominic was born on 26th August 1910 in Sunderland and upon leaving school went to work as a groundsman at the city's cricket club. This came to an end in the early 1930s and, unemployed, he offered himself to St. Dominic's Newcastle as a laybrother. He was clothed in the habit in 1933 and professed a year later.

His life in the Order was focused mainly on the day to day tasks necessary to keep religious houses running. He cooked, cleaned, and acted as sacristan in Woodchester, London, Leicester, and Oxford before returning to Newcastle in 1950 where he remained for the rest of his life.

Br. Richard Dominic was a simple but dignified man who was much loved and commanded great respect. He died on the 11 July 1981, aged 70, after 47 years of profession.

Eternal Rest Grant Unto Him, O Lord
and Let Perpetual Light Shine Upon Him
May He Rest in Peace


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Tuesday, November 08, 2011


The Sanctus, which concludes the Preface of the Eucharistic Prayer, comes directly from the Sacred Scriptures. In addition to the Latin Rite, it appears as The Hymn of Victory in many Eastern liturgies.

The new translation of the Sanctus features a subtle, yet meaningful change. Translators have expressed Dominus Deus Sabaoth as “Lord God of Hosts” instead of the less precise “Lord God of power and might.” This is an important revision.

To state that the Lord is “God of power and might” sounds not unlike any mythic hero. Even pagan gods and cult heroes can be addressed in terms of power and might. However, the terms “hosts” and, more to the point, “heavenly hosts” refer to the armies of angels and, in some references, the armies of God’s chosen people who stand against the powers of Satan. Not only do we invoke the Lord our God when we chant the Sanctus, we also acknowledge God’s great dominion and majesty. His power and might are so vast that they encompass even the most powerful of heavenly and earthly beings.

This revised translation restores unity between the message of the Sanctus and its meaning for all who proclaim these words. The first half comes from a vision of the prophet Isaiah, wherein he sees Seraphim flying about the throne of God crying, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Is 6:3, NRSV).

The second half comes from Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem before his passion. “The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Mt 21:9, NRSV).

These two proclamations, one of the Old Testament and one of the New, come together in the Sanctus. And just as this hymn brings two ages together, it also unites all who sing it, man and angel alike: angels praising God in heavenly glory and man praising the Incarnate Word of God.

Finally, the Sanctus’ place in the liturgy sets our hearts and mind on the reality of our actions. It culminates the message of thanksgiving to God found in the Preface. It reminds us of the transcendence of the Holy Mass. We do not celebrate a one-time event, isolated to a single moment or place. Each celebration of the Mass is our union with the sacrifice of Christ, with those holy angels in Heaven, and with all the faithful saints who have gone before us.
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Monday, November 07, 2011

Preface Dialogue

The Liturgy of the Eucharist has begun. The gifts of bread and wine have been brought up, prepared and then blessed upon the altar. The people are standing and all is set for the central act of the Mass: the Eucharistic Prayer. It is time for the priest and people to place themselves entirely in the presence of God.
The Lord be with you.
And with your spirit.

Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right and just.

This dialogue between priest and people opens the Preface, the first part of the Eucharistic Prayer. It is an invitation to prayer, a call-and-response that invokes God’s presence in our hearts.

The first exchange has already occurred twice before, at the Greeting and at the Gospel, and will return twice afterwards, at the Peace and the Final Blessing. So, this middle occurrence is a dramatic pivot in the Mass, signalling the transition from the Liturgy of the Word to the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The new translation, ‘And with your spirit’, has been explained in a previous post.

The second exchange is no different from the old translation, which was already a good rendering of the Latin. Note that ‘hearts’ here is rich with significance: it denotes all our cares, our hopes and fears, our thoughts and beliefs. So, for St. Thérèse of Lisieux, prayer is essentially ‘a surge of the heart’. At the altar of God, we offer up all that we are.

In the third exchange the theme of Eucharist – thanksgiving – is now explicitly introduced. We are about to join ourselves to Christ’s sacrifice of thanksgiving, when we receive his Body and Blood. Here we see another improvement in the translation. The response ‘It is right to give Him thanks and praise’ has been replaced with ‘It is right and just’, which is simply a direct translation of Dignum et justum est. This new version has restored the reference to justice. Christ, the Paschal Lamb, executed divine justice when he offered himself as a pure and willing victim for our redemption, ‘while we were yet sinners’ (Rom. 5:8). Instead of condemning us, God’s judgment entails our rescue from sin (Jn. 3:17): thus is God’s justice revealed in His love – and what better reason to give Him thanks?

There is one further advantage to the phrase, ‘It is right and just’. Like a musical counterpoint, which is clear in the Latin and has been restored to our English version, the priest immediately develops the same theme as he continues with the Preface:

It is truly right and just, our duty and salvation,
always and everywhere to give You thanks.’


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Sunday, November 06, 2011

Thirty-Second Sunday of the Year: Don't Just Hang Around!
Br. Haavar has provided this weeks Torch sermon. Just click here

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Saturday, November 05, 2011

Preparation of the Gifts

At this part of the Mass, the gifts of bread and wine (along with any financial collection) are presented. We are to present ourselves with them to the Lord, renewing the gift of ourselves to God, mindful all we are and have is from God. We want all this to be caught up into the mystery of the Sacrifice and Sacrament of the Eucharist, which enables us, in Christ, to be living sacrifices, offered to the God of holiness.

The prayers over the gifts have been changed slightly: the words ‘bread (or wine) to offer’ have been changed to ‘the bread (wine) we offer you’. It highlights the action that is taking place: we offer ourselves with the bread and wine and in the Mass this in actively being offered to God. We are each to actively take part in the Mass in this way.

This important feature in which each of us exercises the common priesthood we have received in baptism is brought out in a further change. After the priest has washed his hands he invites us all to pray. During this invitation he used to say ‘Pray brothers and sisters that our sacrifice will be acceptable to God …’. Now it is ‘ … that my sacrifice and yours …’. ‘Yours’ here carries the sense of ‘of each of you’ highlighted by the priest making clear that he too, as well as speaking and acting in the Name of Christ our High Priest, is also offering himself as everyone else does.

The end of this dialogue of self-offering and sacrifice ends with the addition of the word ‘holy’. Thus: ‘May the Lord, accept the sacrifice at your hands / for the praise and glory of his name, for our good / and the good of all his holy Church.’ It reminds us that we are here because God has made the Church holy by his presence and thus we, as baptised people are, a the First Letter of Peter puts it: ‘ a chosen race, a kingdom of priests, as holy nation, a people to be a personal possession to sing the praises of God who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light (1Pet 2:9).’

This part of the Mass finishes with the priest’s ‘Prayer over the offerings’: these have all been retranslated to bring out more fully their meaning. It is good to really listen and so pray and so mean the ‘Amen’ with which we respond.


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Friday, November 04, 2011

Quodlibet 35-How Can Anything Exist Apart From an Infinite Being?

The laws of identity and non-contradiction say that a being, at any given moment, is either X or Y, not X and Y (if X and Y are opposites). Now, it is of the very identity of infinity to be limitless; thus, how can anything exist apart from an infinite Being, who "fills" existence up totally by being infinite? The Divine Substance is infinite, so how can there be any other substance than the Divine Substance, consisting in and of those Three blessed Persons? Does the existence of beings other than the infinite Being not contradict the law of identity for the infinite Being? If one Being is of infinite immensity, there can be no other beings... infinite or finite!

Let me start by trying to summarise your position: First, you asked, “how can anything exist apart from an infinite Being?” Secondly, you argued that the laws of logic and the nature of existence suggest that it is not possible for anything else to exist if an infinite being exists. Thirdly, you concluded that such a position was both counter-intuitive and incompatible with the Catholic religion. Clearly, it’s the second point that’s crucial. It’s your application of the laws of logic and your reflection on the nature of existence that lead to the conclusion that if an infinite being exists nothing else can exist. Let’s look at your second point then.

In effect, there are two strands to your argument- one logical and the other metaphysical. I’ll take the logic first. Aristotle proposed three fundamental logical laws- the law of identity, the law of non-contradiction and the law of the excluded middle. What do these laws mean? Well the law of identity means anything is the same as itself. Therefore, if A is a thing, then A is the same as itself. What about the law of non-contradiction? Well, just as you put it, nothing can possess contradictory characteristics. Accordingly, the same thing cannot be both A and not A. A cat for example cannot be white and not white. What about the law of the excluded middle? It means either A is true or not A is true. For example, either ‘it is raining’ is true or ‘it is not raining’ is true. There is no middle ground between the two.
Now let’s assume that (i) there is an infinite being and that (ii) being infinite and being finite are contradictory. With these assumptions in mind, let’s apply these logical laws to your question “how can anything exist apart from an infinite Being?” Well firstly, by the law of identity, an infinite being will be identical to itself. Secondly, by the law of non-contradiction and our assumption that being infinite and being finite are contradictory, an infinite being cannot also be a finite being. Thirdly, by the law of the excluded middle, there are no beings that are neither infinite nor finite. None of this, however, excludes finite being existing alongside infinite being. I conclude then that there is nothing in the laws of logic to justify the claim that the existence of an infinite being excludes the existence of finite being.

What about your metaphysical point though? Here you argue that “an infinite Being… "fills" existence up totally by being infinite.” The implication is that there is no ‘room’ for anything else to exist! How could this be though? Existence isn’t a space or a place that can be filled and if it isn’t such a space, then there’s no issue with filling it.

To sum up; I cannot see any logical or metaphysical grounds for maintaining that the existence of an infinite being entails that no finite beings exist. We could go on to argue that given finite beings exist, there must be an infinite being. That’s actually St Thomas’ procedure but it’s a story for another day. In the meantime, I hope I have been of some help.

Fr. Dominic Ryan OP. -Guest contributor , St. Dominic's Priory, London


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Thursday, November 03, 2011

William Lane Craig in Oxford

Last week, on Tuesday 25 October, William Lane Craig had hoped to debate Richard Dawkins at the Sheldonian Theatre. But our most public atheist didn't show up, exactly as he'd promised. Instead, the American Christian philosopher gave us a lecture criticising Dawkins' book, The God Delusion, as he pursued the basic objective of his Reasonable Faith tour of the UK: to persuade us that (Christian) theistic belief is intellectually respectable.

Professor Craig gave a lively presentation of the classical arguments for God's existence – Cosmological, Moral, Teleological and Ontological. These arguments have seen a renaissance in recent decades, strengthened by current scientific theories about the origin of the cosmos and by new philosophical arguments, such as Alvin Plantinga’s ‘possible worlds’.

So it is odd, said Craig, that so many people believe The God Delusion has actually won the argument against God. The problem is, Dawkins’ aim is explicitly polemical– he wants to convert the reader to atheism – so he shies away from certain philosophical conundrums: for instance, he surprisingly fails even to mention the ‘argument from contingency’, the most common form of the cosmological argument.

Craig triumphantly remarked that Dawkins does not fully dispute the philosophical argument (that a personal First Cause might exist); indeed, on the atheist scale Dawkins puts himself at 6 out of 7. Craig, convinced that Christianity is rationally defensible, even plausible, can hardly be surprised by this. Perhaps stronger arguments against God could be found, he admitted cautiously, but Dawkins certainly does not provide them.

Next came the responses from the panel – all Oxford academics. Daniel Came, the atheist philosopher who had challenged Dawkins to debate against Craig, discussed actual and potential infinities and defended the qualitative parsimony of the ‘multiverse’ theory, remaining at least a ‘sceptical agnostic’.

Stephen Priest (of Blackfriars Hall) stunned the audience with his provocative declaration that philosophy stalled in the 18th century and that none of its deepest questions (Time, Being, Selfhood) can be answered without the aid of theology and spirituality. Spiritual knowledge (the best sort) is about personal acquaintance, not propositions.

John Parrington, an atheist pharmacologist, was also illuminating, if not as strictly philosophical. He suggested that all the talk about cosmological arguments might be indicating a retreat of religion towards deism: we talk about the origin of the universe because we’ve stopped talking about the hand of God in everyday life all around us. In Parrington’s field, he said, biological mechanisms don’t need a divine Designer or Sustainer; at most they may allow a distant Deist God.

Indeed, it is the ‘central argument’ of The God Delusion that postulating God as an ‘intelligent designer’ of the universe is less plausible than having no designer. As Dawkins says, ‘Who designed the Designer?’ This, however, was rebutted by Dr Came: by its nature an explanation doesn’t need further explanation. If the Designer provides any explanation at all, that is enough.

I think a biographical note may shed some light here. Dawkins’ boyhood Christianity, by his own account, was entirely based on the idea of God as the designer of nature, like a celestial gardener. As he progressed in biology, the young Dawkins saw that nature contains in itself the mechanisms for its own operation, rendering God an unnecessary ‘hypothesis’, as Laplace once said to Napoleon. All the doctrines and daily practices of Christianity – the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, the Trinity, petitionary prayer, the value of the Bible, raising children as Christians, and so on – became in Dawkins’ view an unjustifiable charade, requiring no further disproof.

But here’s the rub: orthodox Christianity rejects the ‘celestial gardener’ too. The Judaeo-Christian tradition has handed down the basic insight that God is One and perfectly transcendent. He is not a being, on the same scale as objects and persons in the universe, but perfect Being itself. Since Dawkins’ Christian faith did not mature into adulthood, his idea of ‘God’ has not developed either. Unless Dawkins takes theology seriously, to engage a fully Christian account of God, his is necessarily a weak atheism.

The irony is that Craig, like Dawkins, did not attribute full perfection to God. In his response to Priest, two serious problems emerged in Craig’s position: he claimed that God is a being (though not ‘a chap’ like the celestial gardener); and that God changes in time, in his activities and knowledge, once the universe is created. It is strange that Craig, after eloquently defending divine simplicity, omniscience and timelessness, should then contradict himself with this imperfect idea of God as changeable in time like any other being. This is impossible if we follow the classic Christian account of God as self-identical, self-subsisting existence (ipsum esse per se subsistens), as St Thomas Aquinas puts it. God’s existence and essence are identical: “I Am That I Am” (Ex. 3:14).

One questioner asked about Craig’s defence of God’s command to slaughter the Canaanites (Deut. 20:13-18), or at least dispossess them of their land. This apology for ‘genocide’ is the putative reason why Dawkins refuses to meet Craig in debate. This is a grave matter, and it is not enough to point out, as Craig did, that Dawkins himself holds incoherent views on morality (Dawkins claims there are no objective moral values, ‘nothing but blind pitiless indifference’, yet simultaneously expresses moral outrage at the religious ‘indoctrination’ of children (for instance) and stands by a set of 10 New Commandments).

Craig’s answer on the night summarised his earlier articles; see the links above. Suffice to say, this was another weak point. He suggests it is our ‘Christianized, Western standpoint’ that makes us morally squeamish about the ‘brutal’ life of ancient peoples. But a Christian perspective is exactly what we need here. The direct slaughter of innocents is always and everywhere wrong; so the killing of Canaanite children (if it happened) is repugnant. A more constructive question, then, is not ‘Was it justified?’ but ‘How can these disturbing episodes be understood in the context of God’s universal plan for the salvation of mankind?’ – that is, in the light of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the definitive self-revelation of God.

Perhaps a less sympathetic audience or panel would have pressed these matters further. The final question asked for a show of hands: who believes in a Creator God, who disbelieves, who is unsure, and who does not care? The vast majority, over 90% by my estimate, were believers. If Professor Craig was speaking largely to the converted, hosted as we were by the Christian Union and Premier Christian Radio, the challenge is now to convince other people, by the same rational argument and faithful witness, that Christianity is reasonable faith.


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The Creed

When we speak about God, it is important to remember that the tools at our disposal are inadequate. Finite human language and finite human concepts can never fully comprehend or incapsulate the infinite God. This must be born in mind when we think about Creeds, or indeed any doctrinal definitions. We know when we recite the Creed that what we mean is true, because the doctrines of the Creed are revealed to us by God; we do not, however, know what we mean. The truth of God is always bigger than we can comprehend. Augustine put it like this:

'We are talking about God. What wonder is it that you do not understand? If you do understand, then it is not God.'

It is hard, then, not to have some sympathy for those translators tasked with amending the Creed for the new translation of the Mass. Any English translation will be an inadequete rendering of an inadequate Latin translation of a Creed written in inadequate Greek. We get some idea of the difficulty of what is being attempted when we reflect on one of the most significant alterations, the translation of the Latin consubstantialem Patri.

In the previous translation this was rendered: 'of one being with the Father'. Here the translators seem to have been looking back to the original Greek text of the Nicene Creed, particuarly to the word homoousion - literally 'of the same being'. The Council of Nicaea wanted to emphasize, in opposition to the Arians who denied the Divinity of Christ, that Jesus was indeed true God; at the same time they wanted to insist that God was indeed one. Homoousion was the word they eventualy chose to express this faith, and not without some controversy. Homoousion is not a scriptural word and many of the fathers objected to such 'philosophical' language being used to define the Christian faith. In the end, however, it was decided that the potential for confusion and misunderstanding was such that a technical term was needed to communicate what has been revealed in Jesus Christ. We know from revelation that Jesus is of the same 'substance', or the same 'being' as God. Yet we do not know what this 'substance' is, because it is beyond the powers of our understanding and unlike any other 'substance' in the created world.

Homoousion was translated into the Latin west as consubstantialem. Traditionally this has been rendered into English as 'consubstantial', literally: 'of the same substance'. The translators of the new missal have chosen to follow this older English tradition and stay closer to the Latin text so the new translation now reads: 'consubstantial with the Father'. This technical term does jar somewhat in the midst of a Creed expressed mostly in more or less every day language, but nevertheless does reflect the deliberate choice of specialist vocabulary on the part of the Council Fathers at Nicaea. Neither the previous nor the new translation are adequate in the fullest sense, because neither can capture the mystery that is the Holy Trinity. Both, however, are able to communicate the idea that the Father and the Son are distinct persons and yet, with the Holy Spirit, one God. The new translation, then, is appropriate given the overall policy of the translators to produce a missal that is closer to the Latin.

This policy of preserving the range of meanings expressed in the Latin also appears to be behind the decision to move from the first person plural (we believe) to the first person singular (I believe). Again, the original Greek from Nicaea begins: 'we believe' (pisteuomen), as does the previous translation of the English missal. However, since the sixth century both Byzantine and Latin liturgies have used the first person singular: 'I believe' (Credo, in the Latin, pisteuo in Greek). The new English translation has returned to this more traditional position.


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