Sunday, September 16, 2012

Excerpts from Ecclesia in Medio Oriente

Last September 14, 2012, in Beirut, Lebanon, His Holiness Benedict XVI signed the new (Post-Synodal) Apostolic Exhortation entitled: "Ecclesia in Medio Oriente,"  that draws together the conclusions from the 2010 synod of bishops on the Middle East, as well as his own reflections and exhortations for the region based on those several days of study and discussion held at the Vatican. (

Because the original file is in PDF Format, I just took some parts of the Apostolic Exhortation that deals with liturgy and catechesis, which I used for my Masteral Thesis.

“We proclaim ... a crucified Christ… the power and the wisdom of God”
(1 Cor 1:23-24)

66. Christian witness, the primary form of mission, is part of the Church’s deepest vocation, in fidelity to the mandate received from the Lord Jesus: “You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). When she proclaims Christ crucified and risen (cf. Acts 2:23-24), the Church becomes ever more fully what she is already by nature and vocation: the sacrament of communion and reconciliation with God and between men. Communion and witness to Christ are thus two aspects of a single reality: both draw from the same source, the Holy Trinity, and rest on the same foundations: the word of God and the sacraments.

67. The word of God and the sacraments nourish and give authenticity to other acts of divine worship and the devotional practices of popular piety. Progress in the spiritual life entails an increase in charity and leads naturally to witness.

Before all else, the Christian is a witness. To be a witness, however, calls not only for a Christian formation which imparts an understanding of the truths of faith, but also for a life in harmony with that faith, a life capable of responding to the expectations and needs of our contemporaries.

The word of God, soul and source of communion and witness

68. “They devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42). With these words Saint Luke makes the first community the prototype of the apostolic Church, that is to say, one that is founded on the Apostles chosen by Christ and on their teaching. The Church’s principal mission, which she has received from Christ himself, is to preserve intact the deposit of the apostolic faith (cf. 1 Tim 6:20), the foundation of her unity, while proclaiming this faith to the whole world. The Apostles’ teaching brought out the relationship of the Church to the Scriptures of the first Covenant, which find their fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ (cf. Lk 24:44-53).

69. Meditation on the mystery of the Church as communion and witness, in the light of the Scriptures, that great book of the Covenant between God and his people (cf. Ex 24:7), guides us to the knowledge of God; it is a “light for our path” (Ps 119 [118]: 105), “lest we stumble” (Ps 121: 3). May the Christian faithful, as heirs of this covenant, always seek truth in the whole of the divinely inspired Scriptures (cf. 2 Tim 3:16-17). The Bible is not a historical curio, but “the work of the Holy Spirit, through which we can hear the very voice of the Lord and know his presence in history” – our human history.

70. The exegetical schools of Alexandria, Antioch, Edessa and Nisibe contributed significantly to the Church’s understanding and dogmatic formulation of the Christian mystery in the fourth and fifth centuries.69 For this, the whole Church remains indebted to them. The representatives of the various schools of textual interpretation were agreed on the traditional principles of exegesis accepted by the Churches of both East and West. The most important of these principles is the conviction that Jesus Christ incarnates the intrinsic unity of the two Testaments and consequently the unity of God’s saving plan in history (cf. Mt 5:17). The disciples would only come to understand this unity after the resurrection, once Jesus had been glorified (cf. Jn 12:16). A second principle is fidelity to a typological reading of the Bible, whereby certain Old Testament events are seen as a prefiguration (a type and figure) of realities in the new Covenant in Jesus Christ, who is thus the hermeneutical key to the entire Bible (cf. 1 Cor 15:22, 45-47; Heb 8:6-7). The Church’s liturgical and spiritual writings bear witness to the continued validity of these two principles of interpretation, which shape the ecclesial celebration of the word of God and inspire Christian witness. The Second Vatican Council went on to explain that the correct meaning of the sacred texts is found by considering the content and unity of the whole of Scripture, in the light of the living Tradition of the whole Church and the analogy of faith. For a truly ecclesial approach to the Bible, it would be most helpful to read, both individually and in groups, the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini.

71. The Christian presence in the biblical countries of the Middle East is much more than a sociological factor or a mere cultural and economic success story. By rediscovering its original inspiration and following in the footsteps of those first disciples whom Jesus chose to be his companions and whom he sent out to preach (cf. Mk 3:14), the Christian presence will take on new vitality. If the word of God is to be the soul and foundation of the Christian life, the Bible should be readily available within families; this will favour daily reading and meditation on God’s word (lectio divina). Suitable means must be found to establish a genuine biblical apostolate.

72. Modern communications media can prove an excellent means for proclaiming the word of God and promoting reading and meditation on that word. Simple and accessible ways of explaining the Bible will help to dispel prejudices and mistaken ideas about the Bible, which become the source of needless and demeaning controversies. Here it would be wise to explain the necessary distinction between inspiration and revelation, inasmuch as a lack of clarity about these two concepts in the minds of many people leads to a false understanding of the sacred texts, with consequences for the future of interreligious dialogue. The media can also help to disseminate the teachings of the Church’s magisterium.

73. To achieve these goals, it is important to support the means of communication, which presently exist, and to work for the development of suitable new structures. The training of specialized personnel in this sector, so critical not only in the light of rapid technical advances but also because of its pedagogical and ethical implications, is an increasingly urgent task, especially in view of evangelization.

74. Nonetheless, for all the importance of a wise use of the communications media, the latter can never take the place of meditating on the word of God, personally appropriating its message, and drawing upon it in order to respond to the questions of the faithful. This will lead in turn to a greater familiarity with the Scriptures, a yearning for a deeper spirituality and a greater involvement in the apostolate and in mission. Depending on the particular pastoral conditions of each country in the region, a Year of the Bible could be celebrated and then followed, if appropriate, by an Annual
Bible Week.

The liturgy and sacramental life

75. Throughout history the liturgy has been an essential element in the spiritual unity and communion of the faithful in the Middle East. Indeed, the liturgy is an outstanding witness to the apostolic Tradition as preserved and developed in the particular traditions of the Churches of East and West. A renewal of liturgical texts and celebrations, where necessary, could enable the faithful to draw more deeply from the liturgical tradition and its biblical, patristic, theological and spiritual riches through their experience of the Mystery to which these give access. Such a renewal must of course be undertaken, to the extent possible, in cooperation with those Churches, which are not in full communion, yet are also heirs to the same liturgical traditions. The desired liturgical renewal must be based on the word of God, on the proper tradition of each Church, and upon the new insights of Christian theology and anthropology. It will bear fruit if Christians become convinced that the sacramental life introduces them deeply into the new life in Christ (cf. Rom 6:1-6; 2 Cor 5:17), which is the source of communion and witness.

76. There is a vital link between liturgy – the source and summit of the Church’s life, which grounds the unity of the episcopate and of the universal Church – and the ministry of Peter, which preserves this unity. The liturgy expresses this reality primarily in the Eucharist, which is celebrated in union not only with the Bishop, but primarily with the Pope, the order of Bishops, all the clergy and the entire people of God.

77. Through the sacrament of Baptism, administered in the name of the Holy Trinity, we enter into the communion of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and are configured to Christ in order that we may live a new life (cf. Rom 6:11-14; Col 2:12), a life of faith and conversion (cf. Mk 16:15-16; Acts 2:38). Baptism also incorporates us into Christ’s Body, the Church, the foretaste and first fruits of a humanity reconciled in Christ (cf. 2 Cor 5:19). In communion with God, the baptized are called to live here and now in fraternal communion among themselves, while also growing in genuine solidarity with other members of the human family, whatever their race or religion. In this context, efforts should be made to ensure that the sacramental preparation of young people and adults is of sufficient depth and duration.

78. The Catholic Church regards validly conferred Baptism as “a sacramental bond of unity among all who through it have been reborn.” May the day soon come when the Catholic Church and those Churches, which are her partners in theological dialogue, can reach an ecumenical agreement on the mutual recognition of Baptism, in view of the eventual restoration of full communion in the apostolic faith! To some extent the credibility of the Christian message and witness in the Middle East depends on this.

79. The Eucharist, in which the Church celebrates the great mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the salvation of many, is the basis of ecclesial communion and brings it to its fullness. Saint Paul strikingly made the Eucharist a principle of ecclesiology: “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor 10:17). Since Christ’s Church, in carrying out her mission, suffers from the tragedy of divisions and separations, and is concerned lest her members assemble for their own perdition (cf. 1 Cor 11:17-34), she fervently hopes that the day will soon come when all Christians will at last be able to receive communion together from one bread, in the unity of one body.

80. In celebrating the Eucharist, the Church also constantly experiences the communion of her members in their daily witness in society, which is an essential dimension of Christian hope. As she calls to mind the entire economy of salvation, from the incarnation to the parousia, the Church becomes ever more conscious of the intrinsic unity between eschatological hope and commitment in the world. This notion could be given greater consideration in an age like our own, when the eschatological dimension of the faith has been attenuated and the Christian sense of history moving towards fulfillment in God has yielded to earthbound perspectives and projects. As pilgrims journeying towards God, following in the footsteps of countless monks, nuns and hermits who devoted their lives to seeking the Absolute, the Christians of the Middle East will find in the Eucharist the strength and the light needed to bear witness to the Gospel, even when, as often happens, this involves going against the grain and encountering countless obstacles. They will draw strength from the intercession of the righteous, the saints, the martyrs and confessors, and all those who were pleasing to the Lord, as our liturgies in both East and West proclaim.

81. The sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation is an invitation to conversion of heart; together with the Synod Fathers, I express my hope for a renewed appreciation and practice of this sacrament among the faithful. Christ clearly tells us: “Before offering your gift at the altar ... go first to be reconciled with your brother” (Mt 5:23-24). Sacramental conversion is a gift, which demands to be more widely accepted and used. The sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation certainly remits sins, but it also grants healing. More frequent confession will surely help to form consciences and foster reconciliation, thus dispelling various forms of fear and combating violence. God alone is the source of authentic peace (cf. Jn 14:27). With this in mind, I urge Pastors and the faithful entrusted to their care to work constantly to purify individual and collective memories, dispelling prejudices through mutual acceptance and through cooperation with people of good will. I also urge them to promote every initiative of Peace.

Catechesis and Christian formation

92. In his First Letter Saint Peter writes: “Always be prepared to make a defence to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence” (3:15). The baptized have received the gift of faith. This inspires the whole of their lives and leads them to defend it with sensitivity and respect for persons, but also with frankness and courage (cf. Acts 4:29ff.). The faithful also need to receive an adequate formation in the celebration of the sacred mysteries, a basic knowledge of revealed doctrine and encouragement in their efforts to put their faith into practice in daily life and activity. This formation is ensured above all by a catechesis which, to the extent possible, should be carried out in a spirit of fraternal cooperation between the different Churches.

93. The liturgy, and above all the celebration of the Eucharist, is a school of faith which leads to witness. The word of God, proclaimed in a way suited to its hearers, should lead the faithful to discover its presence and power for their lives and for the lives of men and women today. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a necessary and fundamental resource. As I have already mentioned, the study and teaching of the Catechism is to be encouraged, together with a practical introduction to the Church’s social teaching as expressed particularly in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church and in the great documents of the papal magisterium. The reality of ecclesial life in the Middle East and mutual assistance in carrying out the diakonia of charity will enable this formation to take on an ecumenical dimension, depending on the nature of each place and in agreement with the respective ecclesiastical authorities.

94. Finally, the involvement of Christians in the life of the Church and in civic institutions must be reinforced by a solid spiritual formation. There appears to be a need to assist the faithful, especially those of the Eastern traditions and in the light of the history of their respective Churches, to have access to the treasures of the Fathers of the Church and the great masters of the spiritual life. I invite the various Synods and other episcopal bodies to reflect on how this goal can gradually be attained and how a contemporary presentation of patristic theology can complement and enrich the teaching of Scripture. This would enable priests, men and women religious, and seminarians or novices to draw from the treasures found in the writings of the Fathers and the spiritual masters to deepen their own life of faith, and then faithfully hand those treasures down to others. The teachings of the great spiritual masters of East and West, and of the saints – men and women alike – will assist all those who truly seek God.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Holy Name of Mary


Today, September 12, the Church honors Our Lady through a liturgical memorial of her holy name. This optional memorial is a new addition to and restored by the Missale Romanum, edition typica tertia of 2002.

This memorial was included in the calendar since the year 1684 by Pope Innocent XI to commemorate the victory at the Battle of Vienna in 1683 through Our Lady’s intercession.

In the Roman Martyrology, we read today: “The Holy Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a day on which the inexpressible love of the Mother of God for her Holy Child is recalled, and the eyes of the faithful are directed to the figure of the Mother of the Redeemer, for them to invoke with devotion.”

The Church honors Our Lady’s name in these ways:

First, in the liturgy, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal states:
"A bow of the head is made when the three Divine Persons are named together and at the names of Jesus, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of the Saint in whose honor Mass is being celebrated." (GIRM 275a)
A bow signifies reverence and honor shown to the persons themselves or to the signs that represent them. (Ibid)

Secondly, the Church gives a date to honor Our Lady’s name, which is today.

At the third, we honor with great devotion as a community the name of the Blessed Virgin Mary like what we pray in the Divine Praises: “Blessed be the name of Mary, Virgin and Mother.” This is prayed during the Exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, and can be acclaimed by anyone out of love for Our Lady anytime.

Lastly, individual faithful calls Our Lady’s name, as pious invocation, in times of temptation and despair, or as an act of love to her. The Church encourages the faithful to pray the Litany of the Most Holy Name of Mary and to pray for reparation for blasphemy against our Lady's name.

By honoring Our Lady’s name, we adore and glorify her Creator and The Almighty, whose Name is Holy (from the Magnificat). 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012