Monday, February 20, 2012

Ash Wednesday

The celebration of Ash Wednesday signals the start of our 40 day journey towards the mountain of Paschal Triduum[1]. Holy Mother Church invites her children to enter the door of sacrifice and penance through prayer, fasting and abstinence, and almsgiving as a preparation for the days of making-present again the love of our Lord Jesus Christ which he has shown through his passion, death, and resurrection. Starting this day, the Gloria (unless it is a solemnity or feast) and the Alleluia will not be sung/said. Musical instruments will be silent (yet are allowed only to support the singing) and songs convey a more somber atmosphere.

Ash Wednesday is unknown in the Eastern Church, and developed only in the West. Ash Wednesday, as an official day of fast, dates back to at least the 8th century, since it appears in the Gregorian Sacramentary of that period. Originally, Ash Wednesday was the day when public penitents in Rome began their penance. Recall that in the early Church, penance was often public and protracted. It was only later that private confession and penance began, for pastoral reasons. When public penance gradually fell into disuse by the 8th century, Ash Wednesday became a day of penitence and fasting for all members of the Church. Today, Ash Wednesday is a universal Fast day in the Catholic Church.

"On the Wednesday before the First Sunday of Lent, the faithful receive the ashes, thus entering into the time established for the purification of their souls. This sign of penance, a traditionally biblical one, has been preserved among the Church's customs until the present day. It signifies the human condition of the sinner, who seeks to express his guilt before the Lord in an exterior manner, and by so doing express his interior conversion, led on by the confident hope that the Lord will be merciful. This same sign marks the beginning of the way of conversion, which is developed through the celebration of the sacrament of Penance during the days before Easter."[2]

The Mass starts with the sign of the cross and the priest may give an introduction to invite the faithful to enter the season with contrite heart. The Penitential Rite is omitted, because the imposition of the ashes will be its substitute. After the homily, the Rite of Imposition of Ashes follows. The blessing and imposition of ashes should take place either in the Mass or outside of the Mass. In the latter case it is to be part of a Liturgy of the Word and conclude with the prayer of the faithful.[3]

The question we need to deal with is on the requirement and manner of reception:

As what we have said before, the Season of Lent is a time of fasting and abstinence as a way of sacrifice. The law states clearly that the age for abstinence starts at 14 and fasting and abstinence are for those who are 18 years above. One reason why with this age is because of the full reception of a person in to Christian life - already completed and received the Sacraments of Initiation.

Who can receive ashes? Christians, baptized, confirmed, and partakers of the Body of Christ. But according to some, baptism is enough. Yes, it is true. But there must be a remedy for ignorance so that children, especially in toddler years, could receive ashes not because it is a “fashion-statement of the day” or simply for mere compliance. Catechesis is needed to let children, of catechetical age and parents may understand the significance of ashes in Christian life and spirituality of the season. A continuous Mystagogical Catechesis will surely be of help for such age, and even the elderly, to understand more the celebrations and spirit of the Lenten Season. Babies, who are baptized, may be exempted to avoid allergic reaction from the ashes.

The rubrics of the Sacramentary only say that the priest, after blessing the ashes, imposes it to the faithful. In some commentaries it is stated that the ashes are imposed in the forehead, putting some water in the ashes to make paste so that it could stay longer in one’s forehead.

In the Tridentine Missal, the rubrics gave its manner of imposition: First, for the priests and clerics, the ashes are given by putting it in their head (crown). The faithful follows and has an option to put also in the head or in their forehead (especially for those who are in tropical countries).[4] Observing what is being practiced in some countries especially in Rome, both the priest and the faithful receive ashes in their head either by sprinkling it or forming a cross in their head. In the Philippines, according to some, practice it by receiving it in their forehead (because it is part of the head, according to medical experts).

In my own opinion, following faithfully the Gospel, I think it will be nice to see, for those who would like to deepen their observance and make more meaning the celebration of Lent, to receive the ashes in their head (crown) without any distinction between priest and faithful. For in baptism, after we were reborn with the Water of Life, the priest anoints us with Chrism to show the dignity of our Christian life. As we grow older, that dignity is being stained by sin. I believe that the ashes, which have a rich penitential character, will be much more meaningful if it is imposed at the part of the head where we were anointed with the Chrism during Baptism: THE CROWN. The ashes will clean out the stain of sin and aid us in restoring our baptismal dignity. This also implies the words of the Lord that those who sacrifice in secret will be rewarded by our Father in heaven.[5]

Furthermore, the faithful are to be encouraged to participate in an ever more intense and fruitful way in the Lenten liturgy and in penitential celebrations.[6] It is through our active participation in the liturgy and other Lenten practices we can attain the graces which this season will confer to us especially the new life that Christ will bring in his resurrection.


[1] Cf. Paschales Solemnitatis, 6
[2] Ibid, 21.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Rubrics, Ash Wednesday. Saint Joseph Daily Missal.
[5] Matthew 6: 16-21.
[6] PS, 15.

February 22 Catechesis

Today is Ash Wednesday – Feria Quarta Cinerum, the start of our 40 days of preparation for the three-days of remembering and celebrating the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ also known as The Paschal Triduum.

Scriptural and Historical Basis
In this Mass, we will witness the blessing of the ashes, which came from the burned old palms which was blessed last year’s Palm Sunday.

The ashes that will be imposed to our head (crown) is a reminder that all of us came from dust and to dust we shall return (Genesis 3:19). As mortals, we are nothing. We became something because God gave us life and by making us his children by the waters of Baptism. But due to sin, all of us experience death as consequence. Nevertheless our God is merciful, slow to anger and rich and compassion (Ps 103:8). The ashes are reminders of our nothingness and to return to the very source of our life: God. We may be ashes, but we are still children of God.

The second symbolism of the ashes is repentance. During the early years of Christianity, those who were excommunicated or have gravely sinned underwent a season of penance and reconciliation. On this day, the penitents bathe themselves with ashes, vest themselves with sackcloth, fast and abstain, and they stay outside the church to beg God’s mercy and the prayers of the faithful. On Holy Thursday, these penitents, after showing the sincere repentance and renewal, are welcomed back into the Church and, with the faithful, celebrate with joy the Lord’s Paschal Mystery.

As we heard in the second symbolism of ashes, let us not only focus on our human mortality but trust in God’s mercy through repentance and belief in the Gospel.

The imposition of ashes in the head is not obligatory. Let us ask ourselves first: “Am I ready to repent? To change? To renew myself and return to God my Father?” Repentance and renewal leads to holiness and joy with Our Lord Jesus Christ, who will die for us, to save us from sin, and will rise from the dead to accompany us to the Father.

Like Hosea’s wife, the Prodigal Son, the Penitents in history, we are invited to return to the Father by manifesting our sincerity to receive these ashes.

Repentance and renewal start with our observance of the discipline of lent. Starting today, those who are ready to return sincerely to the Father are invited to do the following:
- Frequent Prayer, especially meditation on the Passion of Our Lord like the Stations of the Cross.
- Frequent Confession and attendance in the daily Eucharist.
- Today, Ash Wednesday, and all Fridays of Lent and Good Friday: those who are ready, or by virtue of Canon Law those who are 14 years old and above, must do abstinence. Meaning, abstaining from eating meat or another food, even our vices. And for 16 years old and above, to observe fasting, meaning eating one full meal in a day, while the other meal time are intake of small number of food like only  bread and water.
- To do Works of Mercy, or giving alms to the poor out of what is saved through fasting and abstinence.         

The Chair of Saint Peter
In the General Calendar, for outside Lent, February 22 marks the feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, not the literal chair, but the day of remembering Saint Peter’s primacy over the Church also known as the parentalia (for the Roman, it is a day of remembering their ancestors).

Today, as we start our observance of Lent, it is fitting that one way of renewal and repentance is to profess our fidelity and love to the Successor of Saint Peter, the Pope. In a special way, let us remember His Holiness Benedict XVI in our prayers, and to pray to Jesus, who chose Simon Peter and the Head of the Catholic Church, to help us be faithful to his Vicar here on earth.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Life in a Parish: Youth Mass

I was greatly inspired to write this reflection after I read this article and excerpt from the statement made recently by the Indian Catechetical Association:

“Many young people complain about dull liturgical practices and preaching, the concluding statement observed. Therefore, youth catechesis needs to help young people participate more fully in liturgical celebrations.” (Zenit News Agency, Rome, accessed 16 February 2012)

"The richness and uniqueness of the value of the liturgical celebrations are to be presented creatively and imaginatively, in line with the official teachings of the Church, to the vibrant minds of youth." (State of Indian Catechetical Association)

Here in the Philippines, if you want to see liturgical abuses, go to a Youth Mass. There you'll see instruments that are discouraged for use within the Church by the instruction Musicam Sacram, Liturgical Dances, Animations, etc. etc. etc. What do we get? Empowered Youth Ministers but shallow spirituality. Am I right?

"It's fun!" that's the evaluating statement that you must hear from the young people. If it is fun, it's ok! But does the word 'fun' measures the good formation and liturgical celebration that priests, youth ministries, and youth ministers prepare, celebrate, teach, and give?

When can I hear from them: "My life was changed, and, therefore, I want to serve more my Lord!" or "My life now is a life with Jesus!" or other similar words that assures the efficacy of formation programs and liturgical celebrations. Or how about young people going to Mass every Sunday with sincerity, not talking to their other co-members or making it an excuse to their parents to go elsewhere? Or youth and their ministers go to Confession at least once a month and meeting with their spiritual directors regularly? Or young people aware that if you have mortal sin you cannot receive Holy Communion? Even more, knowing their priority: If you are a student, study very well, get high grades, and graduate! How many youth in our ecclesial communities have stopped studying? Or not getting a job to help themselves and their family. What formation do we give to them? They may be physically strong, but morally and spiritually weak.

Youth Ministry here in the Philippines may have succeeded in the emotional, psychological, sociological, and physical formation of our young people. But for youth to be spirituality rooted in Christ and in the Liturgy and Sacraments... well, maybe not. Where there are numerous "add-ons" and/or "special effects" in every Youth Mass and Liturgies, the value of the Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi decreases. The Holy See is very clear that whatever is done outside liturgical norms and books are considered liturgical abuses. Therefore it is very dangerous to our faith (cf. Pope Benedict XVI’s Statement to the Neo-Catechumenal Way). Some Youth Ministers considered applying the way of prayer and spirituality of other movements such as Taize, Neo-Catechumenal Way, Focolare, etc. How about considering a return to the root of all spirituality-the Sacred Liturgy: the Fons et Culmens (SC 10)of all Christian life?

I believe that a good and solemn celebration, presided by the priest, and participated well by young people, without any additions or subtractions, and even multiplication, will produce a genuinely-enriched youth spirituality. Let the priest prepare his homily very well and explain briefly and straight-to-the-point the message of the liturgical prayers and readings of the day. For the young ones, participate actively by listening well, responding clearly in the acclamations, spending moments of silent prayer, focusing more on the Sacred Celebration, and attending seriously and sincerely spiritual formations!

On this coming Year of Faith (October 2012-November 2013), why not our Youth Ministries consider returning to the real formation: Basic Faith Formation? Why not teach or refresh our young people with the fundamentals of Catholic Doctrine, Morals, and Worship that could lead them to a more renewed and enriched spiritual life? However, make sure that everything we teach to our young people must, again I quote, "in line with the official teachings of the Church." The more they know their Christian faith well, they will, and we hope, live it through a dignified moral life, and treasure this Catholic and Apostolic faith through a more worthy and solemn celebration of the Sacred Liturgy - check out World Youth Day Masses with Pope Benedict XVI and see the difference!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Life in a Parish: A Reality

After some years of being out in a parish-based ministry many altar servers of our diocese and other dioceses, who are so in-love with the Church and the liturgy, are being halt by some people who do not like changes and doing what is right in accord with the liturgical norms.

“I know what is right because I’m older.” This scratched and non-sense statement is the favorite of those people who, as they feel it, know what they’re doing. They “know” because they are “old” or they already grew roots in the sacristy or in the parish. This kind of competency will not be honored especially for those who underwent formal formation or education. This statement is an escape to reality that some people (older or younger) who are more credible will take over their position in the parish, and that they will be set neglected.

"I came from this parish and I want to serve and to help." Help or escape from cases or the past? Love your own parish, love where you were born or planted. Some who love to help other parish will only add problems, which he is an expert, or make a new one and put an ad of “I know this because I came from...” In the book “The Death of the Liturgist,” this case is not helpful unless the one who presented help to the parish priest is an educated or well-formed liturgical minister.

Why does parish priests and other lay leaders are so in love with suspending or removing people who are righteous? It can be envy or pride or maybe, financial matters, I suppose? Firm principles in the liturgy and trust to competent people are essential for the growth of a parish.

If a parish community has a way to make funds for constructions and other projects, why not invest in formation or send someone to a formal education? It is not an expense, it is an investment. Never hinder someone who volunteers to study to help. Never support someone who says he knows something by reading only books. Education is the best solution, and the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy supports that, even other Church norms and the Pope.

For those who are so in-love with the Church and the liturgy: Study! Saint Josemaria said: “An hour of study, for a modern apostle, is an hour of prayer.” “If you are to serve God with your mind, to study is a grave obligation for you.” “Study in earnest. If you are to be salt and light, you need knowledge, ability.” Don’t only read books! You cannot assure its orthodoxy. “Books: don't buy them without advice from a Christian who is learned and prudent. It's so easy to buy something useless or harmful. How often a man thinks he is carrying a book under his arm, and it turns out to be a load of rubbish!” Much more, study (especially in formal and orthodox institutes or school) with pastoral experience and on-going study and formation is a must for those who wish to serve well Holy Mother Church.

To do what is right is a noble act. To believe someone who is right, because he knows it by study, that it is a holy act. To believe someone who do what is right according to the Church’s norms is an act of fidelity, and applying what is in the norms is orthodoxy.