Saturday, December 31, 2011

Welcome The Prince of Peace

The Presentation in the Temple by Brother Max Schmalz, CSsR

Mass Readings for Today
1 John 2:18-21
Psalm 95:1-2, 11-13
John 1:1-18

The first reading in the Liturgy of the Word today speaks of the end times. The celebrant, Fr. Thomas Deely, CSsR, asked us to consider this in terms of the end of one year and the beginning of another. He suggested we meditate upon how we might fill in the blanks in the following: "Today is the end of ___________. Tomorrow, the start of the New Year is the beginning of ________."

What would we like to see ended this day? And what would we like to begin with the first day of 2012? I immediately thought that this should be the last day of war and all its horrors. Perhaps I am being sent in this direction by news of our troops returning from Iraq while so many are still deployed and losing their lives elsewhere. Perhaps it is the books I am reading about the 1930s in Germany and the relentless build up in the will of a megalomaniac infusing a whole nation with a spirit of revenge and hatred preparing them to do the unspeakable. It may be the most recent constant conjecturing in the media about possibility of war with Iran.

Earlier this morning, at the Office of Readings which we combine with Morning Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours, we were offered a selection from the writings of St. Pope Leo the Great. He proposes that we too are born with Jesus and born into his peace. Here are some exerpts to ponder...

In adoring the birth of our Saviour, we find that we are celebrating the commencement of our own life, for the birth of Christ is the source of life for Christian folk, and the birthday of the Head is the birthday of the body.

The enitre body of the faithful is born in the font of baptism, crucified with Christ in his passion, raised again in his resurrection, and placed at the Father's right hand in his ascension,so with Him are they born in this nativity.

But in the treasures of the Lord's bounty what can we find so suitable to the honour of the present feast as the peace which at the Lord's nativity was first proclaimed by the angel choir.

...[We] must offer to the Father the unanimity of peace loving sond and daughters.

...The Father in his gracious favour has adopted as his heirs...those that are one with him in feeling and affection. Those who are re-modelled after one pattern must have a spirit like the model.

The birthday of the Lord is the birthday of peace.


Christ came and preached the Good News of peace to all..for he himself is the peace between us.

May January 1, 2012
be the birthday of
throughout the world.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Finding a New Home

by Matthew Pleva
pencil 3-1/2' x 5"
"HOME!" What a loaded word that is! It is the place where we grew up; the place we raised a family; the place in which we feel safe and loved and comfortable. It conjures images, sensations, aromas and memories. The memories will run from the sublime to the unspeakable - always so powerful by virtue of that loaded word, "home".

This community of contemplative nuns has called the Monastery of Our Mother of Perpetual Help on the grounds of Mount St. Alphonsus their home since 1957. Talk about a place loaded with memories! As the Mount changes hands at the close of this year we continue to walk the path away from this beloved place toward a new home. It has been a varied path to many places and many disappointments. But now we think we have found a place in which we can establish our contemplative monastic household of God, provide comfort and safety for our sisters, provide space to continue our business making ceremonial capes for the Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulchre and allow us to be a praying presence in the local Church. It may surprise you to learn that it is an urban location. But that is where we have been led by God.

At this moment we are exploring how we might obtain this building and carry out a few adaptations for our older sisters. You can well imagine that money plays a part here.

Since networking is so important we have just created a Facebook Page for our monastery. the link is:

Do consider signing up to "follow" our page to keep on top of breaking news from here.

is still up and running. But we are developing a new one which will have the address

In the meantime we depend on your prayers for the success of our new adventure. We hope to be able to move by the end of April. We have community elections in January and two of our sisters will attend the General Assembly of our Order in May. Much lies ahead of us.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Memories of Christmas

Chapel Infant Jesus 2011
Hummel Bisque

Since the days of our foundress, Venerable Maria Celeste Crostarosa, there has been a Christmas tradition in our Order of displaying a large baby Jesus figure in a cradle. Her monastery in Foggia, Italy has an infant Jesus figure dressed in clothes that are said to have been made by her own hands.  We continue that tradition and have this Infant Jesus under our tree. This Bambino is larger than most baby dolls, at least two feet in length. But the infant above is much smaller and brings it own story. This year it rests on a small round-topped table placed in front of the ambo in our chapel.

The little baby Jesus figurine is about five inches in length. It has been in my possession for fifty years and followed me to the monastery. It was a gift from a Sister of St. Joseph of Brentwood, NY, Sr. Mary Corita Hawthorn, CSJ. I was a public school girl who attended her 8th grade Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (aka CCD) class on Wednesday afternoons during 'released time' from public school. Yes, we were permitted to leave school at 2pm Wednesday afternoons to walk to the local Catholic school, if our parents wished it, for religious instuction. Sister and I struck up a frienship that lasted until 2010 when she passed on to her great reward. I think I was a real curiosity to her because even though the product of public education and non-church-going parents, I passed the exams for admission into the finest of Brooklyn Catholic high schools for girls, a flagship high school of her congregation. Some time during my high school years she presented me with this baby Jesus as a Christmas gift.

Being half German I fully appreciated the artistry and value of this Hummel figurine. On the back of the figure the Hummel name has been molded into the bisque. There is the familiar Hummel logo of the "vee" with the bumble bee above it and the word "Germany" stamped in ink on the back also. Unlike most other Hummel figures this one is not multi-colored but very subdued in light brown and biege. The back also has two holes which would allow for the figure to be hung on a wall.

I remember that it took me a few years of prowling around the post-Christmas sales in New York City department stores to find a cradle to fit this babe. This little one, just perfect in its construction of twigs delicately nailed together, has been carefully re-glued a number of times. But it survives.

These last few days I have searched the internet to find the market value of this piece. None of the Hummel price lists I have found included this exact piece. Maybe someone out there will know more about this. No matter what monetary value may be revealed, this Bambino is priceless to me. It speaks of Jesus in such a sweet voice and speaks of an old and dear friend who reached out to a student to encourage, to reassure and to teach the faith.  

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Our Community Christmas Letter

From Your Redemptoristine

Advent 2011

We come to you this Advent in the posture of Naomi and Ruth, Mary and Joseph: standing together at the crossroads journeying to a new home: Bethlehem.

Both couples were living in a time of mystery.  Naomi, a widow, decided to return to her native land, Bethlehem, and her daughter-in-law Ruth joins her saying, “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.”  And it can be imagined that as Mary and Joseph journeyed together in a time of expectant wonder to be registered in Bethlehem they said similar words to each other.    And we, Redemptoristines in Esopus, echo that sentiment.  

We began the New Year with a visit from the new Redemptorist Provincial of the Baltimore Province, Rev. Kevin Moley and his Council. They came to inform us about the decision made by their Chapter to end Redemptorist ministries at Mount St. Alphonsus in Esopus come January of 2012.  This startling news held ramifications for us as we were told the whole property would be leased out and we would have to move to a new location next Spring.    Thus our search began.

Along the way we have been helped by many generous people with advice and leads to houses and convents in the Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts area.  We even looked into a place in West Virginia!  Most of the places we visited, either on the Internet or in person, were not suitable for a monastery.  Most old convents sit on small plots of land overshadowed by other buildings.  They tend to be in disrepair and in need of renovation to permit our sisters to age gracefully within the monastery and for all of us to live fully our contemplative life. And even the luxury houses we investigated did not have the right configuration for a chapel, bedrooms, workspace, library, community room and offices, not to mention that they were outside our financial resources.  

We do have hope and faith, expectant wonder, trusting that God is journeying with us in some mysterious way to our new home; a monastery where we can continue to live together our life of adoration, praise and intercession. 

This has been a bittersweet year of last times: the last time for the celebration of our Triduum in honor of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in this monastery; the last barbeque on the patio, the last beautiful autumn colors on the trees of this magnificent property, the last stroll down to the Hudson River, the last celebrations of Thanksgiving and Christmas…  

Other news:

We were blessed to be able to care for our Sr. Peg at home, with the help of the wonderful people of Hospice, during her final months.  Sister died peacefully on February 21, 2011, with the community surrounding her with love and prayers.  

We participated in three programs of the Metropolitan Association of Contemplative Communities this year: The Effects of Modern Technology on Contemplative Religious Life with Sr. Lynn Levo, CSJ; The Implementation of the Third Typical Edition of the Roman Missal: A Moment of Recognitio! with Sr. Sandra DeMasi, SSJ and Msgr. Richard Groncki; and Women Working for Peace with United Nations NGO Sr. Margaret Mayce, OP.

Our fifteen lay Associates met regularly on the second Sunday of the month for input concerning our charism, to deepen their prayer life and support one another in order to follow the way of Jesus, making the redeeming love of God present in their daily lives.

We were blessed to have Fr. Ronald McAinsh, CSsR Provincial from the London Province, as our Retreat Director. His timely reflections were on “Transitions: Physical, Generational, Emotional and Spiritual.” 

We mourn the loss this year of Redemptorist Fr. Joseph Opptiz who made our foundress known throughout the world with his book, The Mystic Who Remembered: The Life and Message of Sister Maria Celeste Crostarosa OSsR.  We published this popular book a number of years ago and next year we plan to publish a third run.  

On December 7, 1957 six Redemptoristines came from Canada to begin the first foundation of the Order of the Most Holy Redeemer in the United States in Esopus.  This December 7th, to celebrate our 54th year we invite the local religious and lay Associates for a Vigil Service for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, as a way of thanking them for their friendship and prayerful support throughout the years. 

As we journey through this time of Advent, and as our Christmas gift, you and your loved ones will have a special remembrance in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass December 16th to 24th during our Novena before Christmas.   On those evenings after Vespers we extinguish all the lights and pray by the glow of the Advent wreath for your intentions with these words:

‘Adore, oh my soul, in the bosom of Mary,
the only begotten Son of God,
who became man for love of you.’

In the coming months, when we have made our definitive plans, we will let you know our new address and contact information.  In the meantime, if you wish to make a donation to help us in the moving process and making our new monastery handicapped accessible, we would greatly appreciate your gift.

May the Prince of Peace be your companion on the journey of life,
and grant you joy and blessings now and always,  
Love and prayers, Your Redemptoristine Sisters

Redemptoristine Nuns of New York
P.O. Box 220
Esopus, New York 12429-0220


Sisters Moira, Mary Anne, Maria Linda, Mary Jane,
Paula, Mary, Maria Paz, Lydia, Hildegard

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Our Immaculate Conception Vigil Office - A Love Fest

Last night's celebration of the Vigil Office for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception was a lovely and very moving affair. So many of our friends gathered with us to honor our Mother Mary. So many came to express solidarity with us as we walk our current path toward a new location. Before calling us to prayer Sr. Paula, our Prioress shared these words of remembrance and gratitude.

Good evening everyone!  And thank you for joining us.  This evening marks a special anniversary for us—54 years ago six weary young Sisters arrived from Canada to begin this monastery in Esopus. The big bells of Mount Saint Alphonsus rang out as the two cars carrying the foundresses began the long drive in.  We came to call those bells the “happy bells”.  Whenever we heard them over the years we knew something special was happening.  The bells were still sounding as the Sisters climbed the front steps of the Mount to attend solemn Benediction in the Mount’s chapel.  At that time the chapel was filled with handsome young seminarians, eager to welcome their Sisters, the Steens. 
So much has happened since that auspicious day.  So many precious memories for which we are grateful.  Three of those ‘young Sisters’ have gone home to God, after a good long life:  Sr. Mary Bridget who died at our monastery in New South Wales, Australia; Sr. Mary Catherine and Sr. Peg, in our cemetery here—all awaiting the final Resurrection.  Two of those Sisters are still with us, continuing to “age in place”.  We leave it to you to guess who they are!
Tonight we remember too the many women, true God-seekers, who shared life with us for longer or shorter periods in those 54 years. We cherish our alumnae.
And we cherish you, our friends with us tonight, and all those who could not come, who have supported and enriched our lives over the years.  The Redemptorists, the Marists, the Benedictines, monks of Holy Cross, Sisters of St. Ursula, Dominicans, Franciscans, Christian Brothers, Presentation Sisters, Sisters of Christian Charity.  And all our Associates and friends.  This is a time for memories, a time for gratitude.  A very special time too, as it will be the last time we will celebrate this special day in Esopus. 

Tonight as we honor Mary our Mother we celebrate our union in the mystery of the Communion of Saints, and we invoke a special blessing on each one here, and on ourselves as we move into the future.  God bless us all! And thank you!

After prayer we enjoyed the company of our quests and they seemed to relish being with each other, particularly the religious whose ministerial paths have criscrossed through the years. They were also delighted to see a display of photos reflecting the history of the community.
Today we pray to our Mother Mary for the needs of Our Church and our needy world. We ask that her maternal love will be poured out upon the hungry and home, the jobless and the under-employed, the refugees and the undocumented immigrants. May she embrace us all.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception - The First "Good-bye"

The Redemptoristine Nuns of Mother of Perpetual Help Monastery celebrate today the 54th anniversary of their arrival at Mount St. Alphonsus in Esopus, New York.  Six sisters came from Canada (three US citizens) at the invitation of the Baltimore Province of the Redemptorist Congregation of priests and brothers to establish the first American monastery of their contemplative order on property surrounding the major seminary of the congregation. It was December 7, 1957, a time when these sisters were still accustomed to complete enclosure and therefore quite overcome by their entrance into the seminary chapel where they were greeted by all the gathered students and faculty and ushered to the front row to participate in Solemn Benediction. Two sisters still speak of the bishop they saw standing behind the students in the entry foyer. Later, in questioning the Redemptorists about this bishop they learned that no bishop was present. Could it have been the spirit of Bishop John Nepomucene Neumann (1811-1860), Redemptorist Bishop of Philadelphia? They will not know until they reach the other side. On this auspicious note began the long story of close relationship between the Redemptorists and our community of Redemptoristines sharing this park-like environment of 400 acres on the banks of the Hudson River.

Tonight we will celebrate the Vigil Office of Readings for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Mother in the chapel of our monastery. We have invited the clergy and religious of our area, our lay associates and a few other friends to the first of our efforts to bid farewell to this home and to the people we have come to know so well in this place. Although the location of our new home remains a question we do know that we will be relocating some time in the spring.  

In 2001 we moved into this new building and saw the old monastery go down. We salvaged its cornerstone but made no attempt to open the stone in which, it was said, a box of memorabilia had been placed. A few months ago we thought it about time to do the deed. While quite spoiled by moisture the collection we found reflected the community and the piety of its members. Evidence indicated that individual sisters had placed particular items into the metal box. The collection included a relic of our foundress Maria Celeste Crostarosa, a framed picture of Mother of Perpetual Help, holy cards, scapulars, a crucifix, ten different medals honoring Jesus, Mary and the saints. There were also the remains of a 1958 issue of Perpetual Help Magazine published in Canada and featuring photographs taken inside the enclosure of the Canadian Redemptoristine monastery. Most interesting was a copy of the leaflet given to guests who came to the open-house of the then new monastery from June 19-26, 1960. The sisters say they were exhausted by those days of meeting and greeting and escorting people through the building - a last opportunity for lay people to see the inside of the monastery before the enclosure was officially established.

You will note the strong emphasis on separation and enclosure. Today, as we will do so with joy this evening, we freely mingle with our guests praying with us in chapel, learning our charism as associates, seeking spiritual direction or just entiring into the quite of contemplation in this holy place. 

Tonight we will pray with our friends honoring Mary, a source of strength. We will deepen our collective journey into Advent time. We will enjoy some refreshments afterward in our large gathering space just outside chapel. It will be our pleasure to thank those gathered for their friendship and support. Time marches on and history too with the hand of God beckoning, calling us into the unknown with the promise of divine companionship.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Prepare the Way of the Lord

Jesse Tree
Frater Max Schmalzl, CSsR
1850 - 1930
Second Sunday of Advent

A voice cries out in the wilderness,
"Prepare the way of the Lord." In what direction do our preparations move forward? Do they keep us on the surface, just floating on a choppy sea pushing us from one chore after another, from item to another on an ever growing list of 'to dos'? Here is a prayer from Henri Nouwen which may add a couple of stabilizing pontoons to your  fragile vessel bobbing its way through the season.

Lord Jesus,
     Master of both the light and the darkness,
       send your Holy Spirit upon our preaprations
       for Christmas.
We who have so much to do
      seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day.
We who are anxious over many things
      look forward to your coming among us.
We who are blessed in so many ways
      long for the complete joy of your kingsdom.
We whose hearts are heavy
      seek the joy of your presence.
We are your people, walking in darkness,
      yet seeking the light.
To you we say, "Come, Lord Jesus!"
                Henri J.M. Nouwen 1932-1996

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Advent Season Begins

Feast of St. Andrew
Start of a Christmas Novena

Now that we are well into tripping our way through Mass with the Roman Missal, Third Edition, we can move on. But before we do, why don't yopu take a bit of time to post a comment about how the adjustment to the New Roman Missal is going in your parish or how it feels to you. Just click on the word "comments" below and go for it.

We can now look toward orienting ourselves to the Advent journey. This is the mystery of Mary's "Yes" to the angel Gabriel and Jesus' "Yes" to the desire of the Father that the second person of the Blessed Trinity should become incarnate in human flesh, should enter into our human condition.

Today is the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle and the tradition day to start a Christmas prayer practice. I weas introduced to this as a high school student be the good sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood, NY at Fontbonne Hall Academy. A little card I have saved through the years bears the 1897 imprimatur of Michael Augustine, Archbishop  of New York.

Hail and blessed be the hour and the moment
in which the Son of God was born
of the most pure Virgin Mary,
at midnight, in Bethlehem, in piercing cold.
In that hour vouchsafe, O my God, to hear my prayer
and grant my petition
through the merits of Our Saviour Jesus Christ,
and of His Blessed Mother.

This prayer is to be said 15 times a day beginning today and ending on Christmas day. Perfect for the intention dearest to your heart at this time.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Time for a Book Review

The Paper Garden
by Molly Peacock

Pancratium Maritinum

No, this is not a painting. No, it was not recently done. No, it is not the work of some agile, bright-eyed student of the fine arts or avid botanist. This is an exact botanical reproduction entirely constructed of cut paper. It was made in the late 1770s or early 1780s. The artist, Mary Granville Pendarves Delany (1700-1788) began creating such works in the 72nd year of her remarkable life. After the death of her second husband, a much older man with whom she had a most affectionate marriage (very unlike her first), she distractedly picked up paper and small scissors in an attempt to create an exact replica of a geranium blossom. With this creative act and she became the originator of the art of paper or mix-media collage. She produced 985 of these works in an eight year span. These breath-taking botanically correct cut-paper flowers are housed in the British Museum. In 2010 a large exhibit featuring some of her works was mounted at the Yale Museum of British Art. 

Molly Peacock's book, The Paper Garden: An Artist {Begins Her Life's Work} at 72, NY: Bloomsbury, 2010, is an unusual combination of biography of the subject with a smattering of the author's autobiographical material. Although her family had good connections they were forever concerned with having enough money. However, the good connections served Mary Delany well so the book is sprinkled with great historic figures such as the composer Handel whom she met as a young girl and in adulthood was invited to sit-in on his rehearsals!

Her story appeals to the artist in me. Her pursuit of beauty and art throughout her life, her ingenuity and application and skill in her seventh decade sets her up as quite a heroine. Even more encouraging is that a lifetime of fine work in the needle arts seems to have prepared her for this tour de force. Twelve of her works appear in the book, some with additional detail images. It is worth looking for the book at your public library (where I found it by pure chance) just to examine and mediate on the blossoms.

Friday, November 04, 2011

The New Rite - A Mass for Mission

"Go and preach
  Jesus Christ
  and, if you must,
  use words."

Sixth and Last Article of a Series

The fifth essay in this series marking the arrival of the New Roman Missal on the first Sunday of Advent came to a close with the theme of transformation in Christ. The point being made was that the Liturgy of the Eucharist is not a mere memorial, a mere re-enactment of Jesus’ actions and words at his last supper. It is an act in which remembering calls into present time the saving action, the redemptive action, of that event which took place over two thousand years ago. And in that present moment at any Mass not only are the elements of bread and wine transformed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ but we too, along with those gifts or offerings, are subject to transformation. We arrive with a desire for God. We make ourselves available at the liturgy. We open our hearts to receive, however troubled, however skeptical, however distracted, and the transforming Jesus enters in. Yes, it is all very mystical. Karl Rahner, the great theologian said, “The Christian of the future will be a mystic, or not at all.

Anyone as old as I am will remember the Baltimore Catechism definition of a sacrament: an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace. What was just described here is the action of that grace. And we take it with us when we walk out the door of the church back into our lives, all a complicated mix of joys and sorrows, pain and ecstacy, disappointment and fulfillment. It is the power of our Trinitarian, relational, energetic God working in us.

The language of the New Roman Missal translation of the Latin Mass often emphasizes the sacrificial nature of the Mass, the fact that the Mass is designed to call to mind the entire Paschal Mystery, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ last supper is thought to have been a Passover meal, itself a remembering into the present of the preservation of the Hebrews by blood of slaughtered lambs splashed onto the door posts. Jesus knew he was going to die, that he would be sacrificed like the Passover lamb. To remember him fully is to remember his passion and death on the cross. Yet, at that last meal the gestures or actions he expressly asked his disciples to imitate were neither violent nor bloody. Before breaking the bread at table, he rose, put on an apron and washed the feet of those present, friends and enemies. Afterward he asked them, “Do you realize what I have done for you? This is what you too must do.” Knowing this would be a huge challenge, especially after experiencing his gruesome death, he left them his consolation. “Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my body, which will be given up for you…for this is the chalice of my blood…poured out for you…for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me.”

The Eucharist shared at the memorial meal, our Mass, is to spiritually empower us for the hard work of washing each others feet, of being other Christs, of preaching the love of Jesus Christ without using words. William C. Spohn has written, “If the disciples had taken Jesus literally, Christians would be washing feet every Sunday.” (Go and Do Likewise, 4) Jesus was not asking for literal imitation. He was asking them to love each other whoever "the other" happens to be. This was his last plea to them; an instruction so radical that only washing their feet as if he was a slave could adequately make his point.

We bring everything we are with us when we participate in a Mass. Perhaps we sit in the back because we know only too well all that we bring. We also carry a sack of emotions full of our joys, challenges and trials. In the hearing of the Word and the breaking of the bread we transcend time and space. We enter as mystics into the life of the Trinity. We trust in the transformative power of that life and carry away with us the effect of its rays, a heart burning once again, renewed by grace. And this is just the beginning.

May all of us find it in us to respond to the invitation of this occasion, the challenge of liturgical renovation. It is an invitation to go beyond words, to go deeper, to return to the Source. And it is an invitation to a level of participation in grace that is fully aware, fully conscious and ready for interior transformation. May this be a blessing for our Advent season.

Note: For another riff on the challenge of translation see "Making Sense of It", NYTimes Book Review, Sunday, October 30, 2011, p. 22.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Holy Eucharist

Jesus is Made Present

by Our Remembering

Fifth Article of a Series

Stay with us, Lord! (Luke 24:29) With these words, the disciples on the road to Emmaus invited the mysterious Wayfarer to stay with them, as the sun was setting on that first day of the week when the incredible had occurred. According to his promise, Christ had risen; but they did not yet know this. Nevertheless, the words spoken by the Wayfarer along the road made their hearts burn within them. So they said to him, “Stay with us”. Seated around the supper table, they recognized him in the “breaking of bread” – and suddenly he vanished. There remained in front of them the broken bread. There echoed in their hearts the gentle sound of his words.
                        From the Urbi et Orbi Message of John Paul II, 2005

The previous article of this series marking the inauguration of the New Roman Missal offered an account of the Emmaus story. Here the words of Pope John Paul give a reprise of that vignette. With the travelers John Paul says, “Stay with us, Lord”, because Jesus has been recognized “in the breaking of the bread”.

We come to Mass with a burning, a yearning right on the surface or buried deep within, a yearning to meet God, to experience God in an Emmaus-like moment. This is the place, the event, that which is deeper than the words.

During the Mass we remember the life, the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Paschal Mystery. We remember in such a way that what we remember is made present in the gathered community. This kind of remembering is as old as the Hebrews. It is the kind of remembering engaged in at every Passover Seder when the saving acts of God in the Exodus of the Jewish slaves from Egypt is so remembered as to become a felt presence at the Passover table. And notice that this is done at a shared meal. This productive sort of remembering is called ANAMNESIS – your new word for today. In the days before the Nicene Creed to be Christians meant to be faithful to Jesus’ command to celebrate memorial. “Do this in Memory of me.” Luke 33:24-25. For their memorial they joined scripture and readings to the blessing of God for creation and redemption. “However named it has always been part of the church’s grasp of memorial that the mystery remembered becomes a living reality in the lives of those who celebrated it liturgically. For the early writers this was implied in the very idea of symbolic or sacramental representation.” (David N. Power, The Eucharistic Mystery: Revitalizing the Tradition, NY: Crossroad:1994, 488-49).

Celebrations of the Eucharist in which we share today are the occasions in which we call to mind the person and events of our salvation – Jesus Christ and his Paschal Mystery – in such a way that “we” render them living and active in our own time. The “we”, plural pronoun, is operative here. The priest, although in persona Christi, is not acting alone. The gathered community is not merely present or participating by observation. The community gathered for the memorial meal is integral to anamnesis, to recalling and thereby making actively present the person and saving action of the Redeemer. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) of the Second Vatican Council declared that God’s people gathered for Eucharist “offer the immaculate victim through the hands of the priest but also together with him”. (48)

The Eucharistic prayer emphasizes this integral function by repeated use of the pronoun “we”. We thank you for counting us worthy to stand in your presence and serve you (EPII). We offer you in thanksgiving this holy and living sacrifice (EPIII). We, your people and your ministers, recall his passion, his resurrection from the dead and his ascension into glory (EPI). Indeed, the level of participation penetrates more deeply if the community offers itself along with the gifts of bread and wine and unites itself with the words of Eucharistic Prayer III, “Father we bring you these gifts. We ask you to make them holy by the power of your Spirit, that they may become the body and the blood of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. By this collective effort and offering and in light of the concept of Eucharistic anamnesis Jesus becomes uniquely present in the consecrated bread and wine but also actively present in our time and within and among those gathered. And this answers the question; in what way is Jesus Christ made actively present at each Eucharistic celebration? At least in part, Jesus the Redeeming Christ, is made present within those who are united with Him in this memorial.  Each of the four principal Eucharistic prayers includes a prayer of epiclesis invoking the power of the Holy Spirit as the agent of consecration; “let your Spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy”. (EP II) Whether we speak of “gifts” in the translation we will no longer us, or “offerings” as the new Roman Missal translation renders it, we acknowledge that it is by the power of the Holy Spirit that the gifts/offerings are transformed. To the extent that we present ourselves, all that we are – good, bad and indifferent – as gifts/offerings available for transformation by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are asking to be made holy and transformed into the mystery that we celebrate, the mystery of the sacrament of remembrance which is making Jesus present in us and among us.

Incredible, isn’t it. But St. Athanasius said in the 4th century, “God became man that man might become God.” This is the incredible mystery of the Incarnation which qualifies us to stand in the presence of God and serve God. This is what the lofty words, the unusual vocabulary, the smells and bells, the vestments, gestures, posture, art and stained glass windows, speaking and singing are intended to communicate. Jesus asked us to break the bread as he did in memory of his life, death and resurrection and assured us that he would be there in the bread and the wine, in and among us in the pews and within us working our transformation into other Christs.

The last piece in this series will speak about the implication of the final words of dismissal at Mass. In the new Roman Missal there are three options for this line: “Go forth, the Mass is ended.” “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.” Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.” And what could all of that mean?

(For a fuller treatment concerning Eucharistic Anamnesis just type the word 'anamnesis' in the search box to the right.)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Technology and Contemplative Nuns

Nuns Using the Internet
for Contemplative Outreach

Here's a link to a great article in the Irish Times of Dublin about how contemplatives there are using the Internet as a means of reaching out to the world and attracting vocations.

Among the communities featured in the very well done and informative piece are our own sisters in the Monastery of St. Alphonsus in the Drumcondra section of Dublin. This is the community with which I spent three weeks last May. It was such a joy to be with them. Check out the article and get to know more about them.

Note: More to come on the New Roman Missal.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Disciples on the Road to Emmaus

A Lens
Through Which
We Can Enter
the Holy Mass

Fourth Article of a Series

Writing a series of articles on the topic of the New Roman Missal which will be inaugurated throughout the world on the first Sunday of Advent is an exercise in ‘readiness’. I am preparing myself for the transition in an attempt to move to a deeper place; to unite myself more completely with Holy Mass, often described as the ”source and summit” of our faith. These thoughts are being shared here as a means of assisting others to do the same. We need assistance because change is rarely fun and there has been a great deal of rhetoric in circulation about this very significant event. The call is to go beyond the rhetoric and re-enter the Mystery.

Our understanding of the Mass, consisting mainly of a Liturgy of the Word and a Liturgy of the Eucharist, can be expanded by using the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-34) as a metaphorical lens providing greater clarity. What happens at Mass can be described as an ‘Emmaus process’.

In that very human story we find two disciples (two men or perhaps a man and a woman) walking away from Jerusalem, away from the great suffering and tragedy of the death of their Master. In their conversation they are trying to make sense of it all – the pain, the futility, the disappointment, the confusion and fear for their very lives. Along comes an eavesdropping stranger who, joining them in stride, enters their conversation and proceeds to cite scripture, illustrating to them how the death of the Messiah had been foretold by the Prophets and had now been fulfilled in their sight. His presentation must have been mesmerizing because we are told they had no desire to end the conversation and invited the stranger to eat with them. And Luke records: “…He took the bread, pronounced a blessing, then broke the bread and began to distribute it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him…”

The story has two movements that mirror the movements of the Mass; first, the Mystery is unveiled; it is revealed through the words of Scripture. And second, the person who is the very Mystery is recognized as being present their company. In the Liturgy of the Word, the readings from Scripture that we hear at the beginning of Mass, the mysteries of our faith and their meaning are revealed and expanded upon. They speak to our heads and hearts and can be further magnified by a well-prepared and delivered homily. Then we move into the Liturgy of the Eucharist in which the mysteries of our faith as embodied in the person of Jesus Christ are made present on the altar under the appearance of bread and wine. And we know Him in the breaking of the breaking of the bread.

Not unlike the troubled travelers on the way to Emmaus, we arrive at church for our Sunday worship awhirl in a myriad of emotions, pressures and concerns. We come, consciously or unconsciously, looking for clarity, solace, affirmation. We may also come with a heart full of joy and thanksgiving looking for an opportunity to offer praise to our benevolent God. At the end of Luke’s story the disciples ask each other, “Were not our hearts burning inside us as he talked to us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” Our desire must carry us beyond the issues of the language of Mass, the quality of the presider, the babies who may or may not be crying around us or the annoyance of last minute arrivals. At the end of Mass, inspite of whatever tries to get in the way, we all want to leave with burning hearts, our faith fanned into flame once more for the love of God, our constant companion on the way.