In the Catholic world, January 6th, 2021 was primarily to be the celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 528, “The Epiphany is the manifestation of Jesus as Messiah of Israel, Son of God and Savior of the world.” God became man in a humble stable. He used the language of science to appeal to the Eastern wisemen. They noticed a brightness in the night sky (the crossing of Jupiter and Saturn) of a “star”.
The events at the United States Capitol plunged social media and news networks into a darkness. Chaos. Confusion. Hurt. Division. Strife. Call it what you want. It’s the result of humanity’s fallen nature.
Jesus Christ became man to save humanity from sins. The God-man acts as a bridge for the human race to reconcile with the Holy Trinity. Saint Pope John XXIII wrote, “It is impossible to be joined to God except through Jesus Christ; it is impossible to be united to Christ except in and through the Church which is His Mystical Body.” Last century, that claim certainly seemed commonplace and it was abnormal to reject. Unfortunately, we live in a time in history where the greatest threats to the Church come from within.
What is the truth?
It’s a question philosophers throughout history pondered. Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Descrates, Hume, Kant, Kierkegaard, and all in between. But it’s a question people ask on a daily basis.
Fake news has become a staple in Catholics’ everyday conversation. Cynicism, doubt, fear, worry, and anger result from the confusion. I’ve been silent far too long on the behavior I see by prominent Catholics on both sides of the political spectrum.
What is truth? That’s the wrong question to ask. Truth isn’t a what but a who.
Who is truth?
The Way, the Truth, and the Life
It shouldn’t be a surprise to know that the answer to the question is Jesus. Saint John the Apostle tells us in John 14:6, “I am theway and thetruthandthelife. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus ascended to God the Father forty days after his Resurrection so how exactly can we come to Jesus? It is through the sacraments. Christ gave his Apostles the authority to forgive sins and ability to be channels of grace for the other sacraments.
The Catholic Church is meant to be a light to the nations. One, holy, catholic (universal), and apostolic are the distinguishing marks of the Catholic Church. Navigating the rabbit holes that are social media comments section on political topics you won’t think of those qualities at all!
False claims on both sides and vitriol dominate many online Catholic conversations. Trump. Biden. Republican. Democrat. Those aren’t the four marks of the Catholic Church. Too many times American Catholics put country and politics above the Creator of the Universe. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for decades because of worshipping false gods.
People maybe aren’t worshipping golden statues. But they certainly give the impression that it’s okay to idolize “golden” personalities.
How Does the Church Get Back on Track
On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, my priest gave an amazing homily on the ark of the covenant. In the Old Testament, the ark was a sacred vessel that housed the Ten Commandments, Aaron’s staff, and the manna from the desert. The main point of the homily was the Israelites’ success in battle when carrying the Ark of the Covenant. Troubles came when they failed to travel with it.
The Ark of the Covenant carried the presence of God. His laws and food for the journey. Catholics refer to Mary was the New Ark of the Covenant. Why? Because she housed God during her pregnancy with Jesus. The Catholic Answers website has an informative and detailed article for more reasons why Mary is the New Ark of the Covenant.
Our Theological GPS
Mary is the perfect guide to Jesus.
Where Mary is present so too her Son is. How does the Church get back on track? The theological GPS back to Jesus is Mary. And the most effective prayer is the Most Holy Rosary. Anytime I fall away from the faith or lapse in my duty to love God and neighbor I ask the Blessed Virgin Mary for guidance. Saint Louis de Montfort said, ““For never will anyone who says his Rosary every day become a formal heretic or be led astray by the devil. This is a statement which I would sign with my blood.”
Wow! The French saint’s words may sound like hyperbole but they’re true. Mary is the connection to Christ. Mothers have an intimacy with their children. Why should it be any different for the Mother of God? Plus, through my direct experience I have learned about the efficacy of the Rosary. The goal of prayer is to get closer to God— Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Prayer isn’t simply a recitation of words. The amount of times you pray the Rosary doesn’t increase or decrease your holiness level. Vocal prayer is a starting basis and important. But it shouldn’t be the end destination. God desires us to draw us into deeper communion with him. Vocal prayer should be followed (eventually) with mental prayer. Allowing our thoughts, wishes, desires, worries, fear, anxieties, doubts, joys, and everything be an offering to God.
I have struggled with thinking I was holier than others because of how I followed certain Catholic traditions. This is rooted in my selfishness, pride, and lack of fully trusting in God.
Evidence for Spiritual Growth?
One of the things I learned growing up was the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit. But lately, that information remained merely a factoid in my memory bank. Inviting the Holy Spirit to dwell in your heart and soul increases your knowledge of God but more importantly your actions are transformed. Spiritual growth is determined by the fruits you notice. Here are a list of the fruits of the Holy Spirit:
Are you displaying these traits in your online (and offline) interactions? Does disagreements make you impatient or cause a rush to judgment? Do you currently lack self-control? Or faith in God’s Divine Plan?
These questions should be pondered often. Ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom, knowledge, understanding, reverence, awe/wonderment, courage, and counsel.
These times are confusing. Uncertainty appears to be the new standard. Don’t fear! Our Common Enemy wants us to be afraid because this leads to movement away from God. Know Jesus is Truth, look to Mary to help point you to Him, and ask the Holy Spirit for the gift to live intentional and follow the will of God. The Catholic Church in America is in trouble but if you seek personal holiness you will be a salt to renew the joy of the Gospel.
Living in the 4th century A.D., St. Ambrose was bishop of Milan during a tumultuous era of Church history. His road to ordination was an interesting journey. The sudden death of the current bishop of Milan in 374 A.D. left the bishop’s seat open amid the climate of the Arian heresy. Ambrose, an unbaptized believe in Christ and charismatic figure, appealed to all sides of the Arian debate.
Baptized as a Christian in his mid-thirties, Ambrose soon after received the Sacrament of Holy Orders and shepherded the peoples of Milan of the reminder of his life. Today I wish to highlight 3 reasons why I believe St. Ambrose is still relevant to Christians in the 21st century.
“You catch more flies with Honey than you do with vinegar”
There exists a legend within the hagiography of Ambrose which tells of a bizarre encounter with bees. As an infant, it is purported that several bees hovered over the head of the saint as an infant. The bees left Ambrose unharmed with honey atop his head. His parents interpreted this an a divine sign and foretelling of his ability to eloquently speak and unite differing factions. For this reason, Ambrose became known as the patron saint of beekeepers and bees.
According to Mike Aquilina in The Fathers of the Church: An Introduction to the First Christian Teachers, “He was unanimously elected bishop, winning the votes of both Arians and the Catholics…an intellectual, he could move the movers and shakers of Latin culture. It was he who finally persuaded the stubborn Augustine to proceed to Baptism [I will expand in this later on!] “ (p. 166). Sweetness and kindness of speech is equally important to proclaiming truth. Ambrose found a balance between charity and truth. As result he was an effective teacher and administrator of the Catholic Church.
Model of the Episcopate
Along with Ambrose’s ability to teach truth in a charitable manner, he remained steadfast as a guardian of the teaching of the Catholic Church—one of the most important functions of a bishop! Because of his sweetness of speech, Ambrose built up enough rapport with the secular leaders of his time that when the time came to stand his ground his words packed clout.
Ambrose graciously, but sternly, declined Emperor Valentinian’s invitation to a Church Council that bishop believed the secular leader had no authority convening. The sainted bishop stated,
And how, O Emperor, are we to settle a matter on which you have already declared your judgment, and have even promulgated laws, so that it is not open to anyone to judge otherwise?…if anything has to be discussed I have learned to discuss it in Church, as those before he did. If a conference is to be held concerning the faith, there ought to be a gathering of bishops, as was done under Constantine, the prince of august memory, who did not promulgate any laws beforehand, but left the decision to the bishops…
Master of the Master
According to R. Thornton in St. Ambrose: His Life, Times, and Teaching, St. Ambrose had a significant impact on arguably the most influential theologian in the history of the Catholic Church—St. Augustine of Hippo.
In fact, Augustine talks of Ambrose’s influence in Confessions Book VI Chapters 1-8. “The bishop of Milan was at least the guide of the guide of the theology of the West,” stated Thornton (St. Ambrose: His Life, Times, and Teaching p. 125). To put it in modern lingo, St. Ambrose was the Qui-Gon Jinn to Augustine’s Obi-Wan Kenobi!!
In the age of social media, our world needs holy men and women to demonstrate truth in a charitable way. Proclaiming truth without kindness will never convert unbelievers’ hearts. St. Ambrose is a reminder and role model for our society that charitable dialogue is possible.
For me personally, I need daily reminders to wed truth with charity. Remembering St. Ambrose’s life provides me with a guide on how to interact peacefully in a secular world. The sainted bishop’s ability to network with a myriad of people is another example of how he is still applicable to our society of marketing, social media, and age of internet. The next time I notice an buzzing bee on a summer’s day I will be reminded of the sweetness of truth exemplified by Ambrose!
Editor’s Note: Matthew Chicoine interviewed John Kraemer via phone call on December 3, 2020. Some of the questions have been rearranged and edited to provide the best reader experience without losing any of the integrity of the answers given.
How the Lego Project got started?
My first project begin in 2003 and featured at Christ the Good Shepherd Church. It wasn’t until I started displaying my churches during the Christmas season (in year 4) that the Project took off.-
How do you pick the specific Catholic Church to build each year?
It has been a church of my own design. I wanted to combine the elements of modern church while keeping to tradition. I try to show the happy medium between the modern and traditional.
I try to keep things as accurate as I can. I will blend some real world elements. For examples, I have included items from Rugged Rosary (Crucifixes and Statue of Mary).
What is your favorite Lego display?
The Christmas display is one of my favorite and most important displays.
I build the displays in mid-February. It takes around a couple months for about 2-5 hours a day. I usually take a break after Easter. I usually tear down the Church at the end of the year. I sometimes save the tabernacle and ambo for later use.
How do you find inspiration with creating the Lego Churches?
Until I sit down with the bricks, I’m not quite sure where the story takes me.
I’m always looking, studying, getting ideas for what’s around me. How are things set up? Placement is everything for me. I review my previous projects all the time.
Did you play with Legos a lot as a kid?
Yes, while my friends were building spaceships I found myself constructing buildings. Eventually it developed into me making churches.
How does your work inspire others?
One priest was building a Vatican City and he was looking at my work to get an idea.
The Project is a prayer because it is also a reflection of where we’ve been and where we should be. My thoughts for this Christmas is an end to the pandemic.
Tell me a bit about your devotion to Blessed Solanus Casey.
The qualities that attracted him to me was his learning difficulties. His faithfulness and obedience. I learned about him as he was from Detroit and my parents grew up in Detroit. Grandma grew up across the street from the monastery. One of her wishes before he died was to see Blessed Solanus canonized.
Why is the Mass is important to you?
When we participate in the Mass we are part of something else. No matter what storms or challenges we face when we make the Mass our priority he say Jesus is our savior.
John Kraemer is a Catholic out of Saginaw, Michigan and has been building his annual “Lego Church Project” for over twenty years. With a focus on disability awareness.
It was a joy interviewing John and his work about the Lego Church Project. To learn more about his ministry follow his Facebook page at The Lego Church Project
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on November 26, 2017.
G.K. Chesterton stated in Christmas and Salesmanship, “Gratitude, being nearly the greatest of human duties, is also nearly the most difficult.” As a father I know all too well how difficult it is sometimes for my children to express gratitude to me. On the other hand, as a husband I struggle to tell my wife how thankful for all that she does. Not only do I need to improve on my attitude of gratitude within my marriage, I need to focus on having a thankful mindset in my spiritual life and relationship with God. In celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday, I came on my top ten reasons for why I am thankful for Catholicism!
The Bread of Life Discourse in John 6 has Jesus preaching the most profound truth in the history of the universe. Jesus said, I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (John 6:51). The Catechism of the Catechism Church calls the Eucharist the “source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324). Every Sunday I experience the miracle of being able to receive the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ!
God is love. Love entails relationship. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is the Mystery that God is a Communion of Three Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I am grateful for the revelation of this truth. I am able to ponder the depth of its truth without it growing stale, it always remains fresh and profound!
The most solemn moment of the Nicene Creed occurs when we profess: “For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven; by the power of the Holy Spirit, he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.” At this point, we bow to recognize the amazing fact that God became a mere human. St. Athanasius had this to say about the Incarnation, “God became man that man might become God” (On the Incarnation). I am thankful that God sent his only Son-Jesus Christ—to become a bridge for humanity to access God.
I have experienced real, tangible, and concrete healing when I receive God’s healing grace’s in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Through frequent reception of Penance, I have been able to overcome sins that dominated me in my youth. I have also been able to recognize sins that hid in the background previously. As a result, Confession provides me with graces to root out sinful tendencies and to grow in holiness.
While I experience Divine Mercy in the Sacrament of Confession, I want to treat this topic as a separate point. I used to view God as a wrathful Judge. My scrupulosity leads to a judgmental mentality—that I struggle with still today. However, through the intercession of the Divine Mercy saints of the 20th century such as St. Maria Faustina, John Paul II, Maximilian Koble, and Mother Teresa my awareness that God is a Merciful and Just Judge has increased!
My relationship with our Blessed Mother has improved over this past year. In celebration of the centenary anniversary of the Apparitions at Fatima, my wife and I consecrated ourselves to Jesus through St. Louis de Montfort stated, “[Mary] is the safest, easiest, shortest and most perfect way of approaching Jesus and will surrender themselves to her, body and soul, without reserve in order to belong entirely to Jesus” (True Devotion to Mary). I learned that Mary is the greatest witness and advocate for God. Her desire is to lead ll her children to Jesus Christ.
Along with Mary, the saints in Heaven provide a model for me to follow to help me grow in holiness. Reading about the lives of my favorite saints [St. Athanasius, John Paul II, St. Amelia, St. Bernadette, St. Pius IX, St. Maria Faustina, and St. Maximilian Koble—to name a few] helps provide concrete examples of what holiness looks like and how I am able to emulate their trust in God in my own life.
I am thankful for the hope that the Catholic Church teaches and provides me daily. Attending Sunday Mass, going to Eucharistic Adoration, meeting with my monthly Catholic men’s group, and teaching Religious Education at my parish are ways that I receive [and pass on] hope. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1843, “By hope we desire, and with steadfast trust await from God, eternal life and the graces to merit it.”
I am a history buff. In fact, I earned my undergraduate degree in history. The Catholic Church is a storehouse and guardian of 2,000+ years of history and tradition. While lesser important traditions pass away and give way to more appropriate devotional practices that fits the needs of the faithful, Jesus Christ knew that stability and consistency of truth is essential in mankind’s relationship with God.
The Catechism tells us in paragraph number 96-97,
What Christ entrusted to the apostles, they in turn handed on by their preaching and writing, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to all generations, until Christ returns in glory. ‘Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God’ (DV 10) in which, as in a mirror, the pilgrim Church contemplates God, the source of all her riches.
I am thankful that Jesus instituted the priesthood and office of the papacy to have truth passed on through the ages.
The final fact about Catholicism in my top ten list that I am grateful for is the beauty I experience. Catholic cathedrals and basilicas are places where I have experienced beauty in an ineffable way. During the celebration of the Liturgy, I experience the beauty of God in both song and sight. The icons in my local church allow my prayers to be better united to God. I am pointed toward higher realities when I meditate with the aid of sacred song and holy images.
Lord, we thank you
for the goodness of our people
and for the spirit of justice
that fills this nation.
We thank you for the beauty and fullness of the
land and the challenge of the cities.
We thank you for our work and our rest,
for one another, and for our homes.
We thank you, Lord:
accept our thanksgiving on this day.
We pray and give thanks through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on November 4, 2019.
According to the ancient Greek philosopher Democritus, “Raising children is an uncertain thing; success is reached only after a life of battle and worry.” Written over 2,000 years ago, that advice remains ever relevant and new. Parenting feels like a daily battle. Frustrations brew, chaos ensues, and bedtime routine feels like WWIII.
More often than not, my anger gets the best of me. Fatherhood takes a lot of work. Some days I make excuses to not put in the work. Failure and faux pas have became habit. I desire a reset. A new beginning. I want to do better. Become something better. Become someone better for me kids.
Thankfully, I don’t have to look [or travel] that far for the remedy.
The Sacrament of Confession provides Catholics an opportunity to be forgiven and restore one’s relationship with God and their neighbor. St. Isidore of Seville wrote, “Confession heals, confession justifies, confession grants pardon of sin, all hope consists in confession; in confession there is a chance for mercy.”
This school year my oldest child receives his First Confession and Eucharist. Next week he will receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. My wife and I have been going through the religious education lessons to prepare him for an understanding and proper disposition to receive the sacrament of healing. In teaching him the basics about this sacrament, I too, actually learned something about Confession.
The Simpler Is Better
Albert Einstein famously quipped, “If you can’t explain it to a six–year–old, you don’t understand it yourself.” It definitely takes a talent to be able to articulate the complexities of the Catholic faith to young minds. This is something I struggle with a bit, but I am getting better.
Less is more. I never actually understand that phrase until after going through these lessons with my son. Sometimes discussion about the sacraments can get bogged down with technical jargon or bias. Essentially the main questions kids and new converts to the faith wonder include:
What are sacraments?
Why are sacraments important?
How do I receive the sacraments
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1131, “The sacraments are efficacious [effective] signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us.” To put it is more basic terms, a sacrament is a visible sign of God’s invisible grace. By receiving the sacraments we grow closer to God.
A Brief History of Sin and Salvation
Adam and Eve disobeyed God. This disobedience caused sin to enter into the world. Sin separates us from God. God sent His only Son Jesus to restore that relationship through his death on the Cross. Before Jesus’ Ascension he promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide the Apostles. On Pentecost the Holy Spirit met the Apostles and gave them the ability to preach the Gospel.
The Apostles, the first bishops, ordained their successors. This Apostolic succession continued throughout history. Jesus gave Peter and the rest of the Apostles the authority to forgive sins (see John 20:1-23) and consecrate the Eucharist. Through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, the successors of the Apostles (bishops) ordain men as priests. Jesus Christ works through those men in the Sacraments of Confession and Eucharist.
We explained to our son that Jesus is working through the priest. When he will confess his sins to our priest it will actually be Jesus that he will be talking to and it will be Jesus who forgives sins. The priest is an instrument by which God works through.
Another lesson I [re]learned in preparing my son for the Sacrament of Confession, is that everyone is in need of God’s mercy. “Even the pope goes to confession!” I told my eight-year-old. I went on to tell him about Saint Pope John XXII who received that sacrament daily.
Although the sacrament of Baptism cleanses us from original sin, humans still have the ability to freely choose to love or to not love God. Choosing to not love God or others results in sin or separation. As a father, I am definitely reminded of my need for forgiveness. Patience does not come naturally. This virtue gets tested daily, hourly, and sometimes every minute in the Chicoine household.
Being able to tell Jesus through the priest of my failures as a parent, husband, friend, worker, and neighbor is an incredible gift. Even more incredible is God’s mercy of absolving me from my past sins.
Reaping the Fruit of Our Sacramental Marriage
The third thing I learned about the Catholic faith while teaching my son about Confession is that the Holy Spirit delays certain gifts and gives them at key times in our life. My wife and I received the Sacrament of Matrimony in 2010. We took [and still take] our faith seriously. The primary purpose of marriage is to help the spouses grow in holiness.
According to the Catechism paragraph 1661,
The sacrament of Matrimony signifies the union of Christ and the Church. It gives spouses the grace to love each other with the love with which Christ has loved his Church; the grace of the sacrament thus perfects the human love of the spouses, strengthens their indissoluble unity, and sanctifies them on the way to eternal life (cf. Council of Trent: DS 1799).
In my post Toddlers: An Adorable Trace of the Trinity I wrote, “A fruit of the sacrament of marriage is children…I think of my children as the best gift that God has given me personally to grow in virtue daily.” Kids test your love. They give you opportunities to grow in understanding, patience, kindness, generosity, forgiveness, and gratitude to name just a few virtues. Educating our children about the faith provides my wife and I chances to rekindle our love for the Church and Christ.
If you are experiencing doubt, impatience, anger, resentment, worry, or other vices I strongly encourage you to examine your conscience and ask God for forgiveness in the Sacrament of Confession. Build up the Body of Christ and seek God’s mercy!
November 1st—the Celebration of the Feast of All Saints—among my favorite feasts in the Church’s liturgical calendar. Only the Feast of the Holy Trinity and the Most Precious Body and Blood eclipses All Saints Day in significance for me personally.
Who are the Saints?
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness. . . . They do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus . . . . So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped” (CCC 956).
In other words, the reason we honor the holy men and women in union in Heaven with God is because they draw of closer to unity with God. November 1st is not meant to be a Holy Oscars or a rolling out of a theological red carpet.
The Saints Point Us to God
Saints are witnesses to the faith and reflect the light Holy Trinity. I am reminded St. Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney when he said, “We are all like little mirrors, in which God contemplates Himself. How can you expect that God should recognize His likeness in an impure soul?” This likening of the human soul as a reflection, a mirror of God’s love can be found even earlier in Church tradition. St. Theophilus of Antioch [circa 2nd century A.D.] declared,
A person’s soul should be clean, like a mirror reflecting light. If there is rust on the mirror his face cannot be seen in it. In the same way, no one who has sin within him can see God.
Below I formed a list, a sort of personal litany of saints, and applicable holy writings that have helped me grow in holiness and polish my soul to better reflect the love of the Holy Trinity.
Along with the names of canonized saints who personally influenced me, I outlined several Christian writers who lived fairly recently or are currently alive and are not officially canonized. Nevertheless, the books from the suggested reading still helped me grow in my Catholic faith.
***Note: I added the book(s) that I have actually read that have impacted me and deepened my relationship with God through the saint. This is in no way an exhaustive list –it is merely a list of saints whose writings and/or witness influenced me positively***
November Nourishment for the Soul
Mary- The World’s First Love: Mary, Mother of God by Venerable Fulton Sheen
Athanansius: On the Incarnation; Life of St. Antony
Pope John Paul II: Fides Et Ratio; Redemptoris Misso; Veritatis Splendor
Maria Faustina: Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul
Francis de Sales: Introduction to the Devout Life
Louis de Montfort: True Devotion to Mary
Terersa of Avila: Interior Castle
John of the Cross: Dark Night of the Soul
Therese of Lisieux: The Autobiography of Saint Therese of Lisieux: The Story of a Soul
Luke: Acts of the Apostle; Gospel According to Luke
Josemaria Escriva: The Way
Pope Pius XII: Humani Generis
James: The Letter of St. James
Pope Pius IX
Pope Leo XIII
Francis of Assisi
Ignatius of Loyala
Ambrose: De Incarnationis Dominicæ Sacramento [on the Incarnation and Sacraments]
Thomas Aquinas: The Summa Theologica
G.K. Chesterton: Orthodoxy
S. Lewis: Mere Christianity; Screwtape Letters; Space Trilogy
Bishop Robert Barron: Catholicism
Peter Kreeft, P.H.D.: Socrates Meets Jesus: History’s Greatest Questioner Confronts the Claims of Christ; Prayer for Beginners; Between Heaven and Hell
J.R.R. Tolkien: The Hobbit; The Lord of the Rings
Now these readings aren’t replacement for the Mass. Hopefully you find this list helpful in your spiritual journey!
In the modern world “reform” is a frequently used word. During the 2008 presidential election, a major issue was the reform of the United States healthcare system. Currently, violent revolutions occurring in Libya and Egypt cause people to call for political reform. The modern world frequently criticizes the Church. Many people believe that the Church should update its doctrine by permitting gay marriage and contraceptive use.
The Church is Incarnational
Though being a human institution, the Church has a Divine aspect, and is guided by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, all of its doctrines are immutable and Her truths are eternal. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the “liturgy as the sacred action par excellence is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed and it is likewise the font from which all her powers flow.” So the Church desires liturgical worship focused on God rid of excesses that deter from that goal.
Papal authority throughout the centuries advocated liturgical reform when abuses crept in. A prime example of this can be found in the 6th century with Pope Gregory the Great. He made several changes to the Roman Rite in response to heretical groups which caused some bishops to become scrupulous with prayer texts.
Another instance of immense liturgical reform occurred in the 16th century when the Council of Trent, in response to the Protestant Reformation, sought to elucidate the Catholic doctrine, in particular the sacraments and reaffirming the Sacrificial nature of the Mass. While successful in clarifying the Church’s teaching, the rigidities of Trent led to decay in liturgical participation among the laity.
Context for Liturgical Reform
Within the 20th century, the 2nd Vatican Council provided the renewal needed for the liturgy of the Roman rite. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum concilium states, “The liturgy builds up those who are in the Church, making of them a holy temple of the Lord, a dwelling-place for God in the Spirit, to the mature measure of the fullness of Christ.”
Because of the importance of the liturgy, the Council required that reforms should be made and practical norms established. Yet, the reform decrees found in the conciliar document did not develop in isolation. Rather, liturgical reform was several years in the making. Starting as a pastoral movement, the Liturgical Movement of the twentieth century began in monastic centers and sought to return piety to the liturgy. It gained papal impetus through Pius XI’s Divini cultus in 1928 and Pius XII’s encyclical Mediator Dei in 1948.
Since the liturgy’s development is organic, many of the renewal efforts of the Liturgical Movement pushed for a return to earlier Christian liturgical elements such as: an increased focus on the centrality of Christ’s sacrifice, better use of Scripture reading, greater emphasis on Gregorian chant and promotion of active participation among the laity. Ultimately, these concerns were addressed and declared by the Church in the 2nd Vatican Council.
A brief liturgical history from the Reformation to the 20th century will help to put the Liturgical Movement into perspective. Protestant reformers rejected not only the abuses of the Church, but the medieval liturgy as well. Dustan Tucker viewed the Reformation as “essentially an anti-liturgical revolution”.
Council of Trent and the Liturgy
The Council of Trent responded by criticizing such departures from Tradition. Pope Paul V declared, in the papal bull Quo primum, a return to the rite of the Early Fathers. This included removing lengthy and unnecessary prayers, ornate elements, and superstitious piety from the Mass. Soon after Trent, the Church implemented this reform. From 1568-1570 the Tridentine Missal and Breviary took shape. Requirements to pray the office of the Blessed Virgin and of the dead were lifted. General rubrics at the beginning of the missal provided uniformity in worship.
For the next few centuries there was stability in liturgical reform. However, abuses in the liturgy still arose. For instance, the number of feast days increased from 182 to 300 between 1584 and 1903. Many started to take priority over Sunday. Several attempts at reform failed during the three centuries preceding the Liturgical Movement.
Influence of Prosper Gueranger
Liturgical study blossomed within monastic communities in France in the 19th century. The Benedictine Abbey of Solesmes, in France, housed one of the early promoters of the European liturgical movement, Prosper Gueranger. He advocated a return to Gregorian chant as the authorized liturgical music for the Church. By the 1870s, his fellow monks researched chant manuscripts and desired to purify the texts to their original content. Gueranger made liturgy the center of monastic life.
Despite his positive contributions, he never encouraged the essential liturgical principle full and active participation by the whole congregation. Despite this, reform in France soon found its way to Germany and later Belgium around the turn of the century.
Though Gueranger had an important part in the liturgical reform in Europe, many historians acknowledge the movement’s true founder as the Belgian Benedictine, Dom Lambert. Beauduin. A speech given by him at the Catholic Conference at Malines in 1909 marked the beginning of the Liturgical Movement.
Pius X and Spread of Liturgical Reform
Influenced by Pius X’s motu proprio, Beuduin called for complete and active participation of all Christians within the liturgy. He wanted to reach beyond the people of Belgium to all Catholics. To accomplish this, Beuduin wrote a missal for the laity. Later he organized his abbey to provide liturgical education and even published a journal, Les Questions liturgiques.
The Liturgical Movement soon spread beyond Germany, France, and Belgium. As the century continued, the liturgical reform came to the Netherlands in 1911 and Italy in 1914 and eventually throughout the rest of Europe.
The liturgical movement traveled across the Atlantic in 1926, under the efforts of Virgil Michel. As a student of Beuduin, he sought to promote liturgical piety in the United States. To endorse the movement, Michel founded the journal Orate Fratres and Liturgical Press at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota. He once said, “Should not every devoted Catholic try to the utmost of his power to participate actively in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, to follow the priest in mind and heart, to pray with him and act with him?”
Origin of 20th Century Liturgical Reform
While the liturgical movement originated and grew forth from the monastic centers in Europe, the Holy See was not detached from this development. At the beginning of the century, in 1903, Pius X held the liturgy in high esteem. In his motu proprio, Tra le sollecitudini, the pope referred to the liturgy as “the Church’s most important and indispensible source.” Papal support continued with Pius XI’s apostolic constitution Divini cultus in 1928. Released on the twenty-fifth anniversary of Pius X’s motu proprio, this document advocated an increased need for reform in liturgical music. The pope declared,
For the Liturgy is indeed a sacred thing, since by it we are raised to God and united to Him, thereby professing our faith and our deep obligation to Him for the benefits we have received and the help of which we stand in constant need. There is thus a close connection between dogma and the sacred Liturgy, and between Christian worship and the sanctification of the faithful.
Pius XI also states that task of the popes are to maintain the Liturgy like a custodian. In his 1924 bull Inter multiplices, he warned the Church of the dangers of modernism and upheld the notion of the liturgical growth as an organic development. Read in light of Divini cultus, the papal bull is not an ultramontane claim of papal power over the liturgy. Rather it is a warning to prevent liturgical reform from falling victim to antiquarianism.
Pius XII’s Mediator Dei
Papal impetus to the Liturgical Movement continued under Pius XII’s encyclical Mediator Dei. Written in November 1947, this document solidified the relationship between the movement and the Holy See. The encyclical gave the Liturgical Movement official papal approval, yet at the same time warned against liturgical abuses. Mediator Dei became the first encyclical dedicated solely to the liturgy.
In defining the Sacred Liturgy and affirming liturgical piety as the center of the Christian life, Pius XII’s encyclical is viewed as the Magna Carta that set up the general reform in Sacrosanctum concilium. The conciliar document’s theme of the presence of Christ in the liturgy is declared in Mediator Dei. “In obedience, therefore, to her Founder’s behest, the Church prolongs the priestly mission of Jesus Christ mainly by means of the Sacred Liturgy, states Pius XII. This displays a striking similarity to a passage in Sacrosanctum concilium regarding the presence of Christ in the liturgy. According to the conciliar text, “The liturgy, then, is rightly seen as an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ”.
Sacrifice of the Mass
Another major point given by Pius XII is the fact that the Liturgy should be seen as a sacrificial act. The salvific effects of Christ’s sacrifice are explained by the pope, “…it can be said that on Calvary Christ built a font of purification and salvation which He filled with the Blood He shed; but if men do not bathe in it and there wash away the stains of their iniquities, they can never be purified and saved.” By placing such stress on the sacrificial nature of the Mass, Pius hoped to prevent the faithful from error in viewing the liturgy exclusively as a memorial banquet.Sacrosanctum concilium reaffirmed the centrality of Christ’s sacrifice as well.
Practical Liturgical Reforms
Along with a deeper understanding in theology of the Mass, the Liturgical Movement also promoted pragmatic reform such as active participation for the laity. “The cooperation of the faithful is required so that sinners may be individually purified in the Blood of the Lamb,” stated Pius XII. Such cooperation could be facilitated by involving the laity. As previously mentioned, promotion of active participation started in the monasteries during the late 19th century. Publication of missals for the laity ensued at the turn of the century. This allowed them to follow along through prayer responses and singing along in the “dialogue Mass”.
A large majority within the Liturgical Movement agreed that the preferred understanding of the liturgy could not be reached until more vernacular was infused into the Mass. Many of the early pioneers of the movement such as Michel advocated for vernacular usage in the Mass. German bishops asked the Holy See, in 1949, to allow the epistle and gospel reading to be in the common language. By the 1950s more papal allowances permitted vernacular usage in the liturgy.Musicae sacrae disciplina, Pius XII’s encyclical on liturgical music granted hymns during Mass to be sung in the language of laity.
Issues with the Vernacular
Not all involved in the Liturgical Movement agreed on the amount of vernacular to be introduced into the liturgy. Many groups, like the English Liturgy Society in particular, welcomed the use of the vernacular and believed it should replace Latin in many rites including: baptism, anointing of the sick, and funerals.
An issue from usage of common language, raised by H.A. Reinhold, is faulty translations. He stated, “What I am personally afraid of …is a ‘commission’ of professors who know all about their fields but do not speak the language of the people…And that would be worse than what we have now, because it would falsify the spirit of our Roman Liturgy.”
Loss of meaning occurs when translating a biblical text into various languages. “The use of the Latin language, customary in a considerable portion of the Church, is a manifest and beautiful sign of unity, as well as an effective antidote for any corruption of doctrinal truth,” proclaimed Pius XII on the importance of keeping Latin in the liturgy.
Another aim of liturgical reform in the 20th century dealt with sacred music. The Liturgical Movement sought a restoration to an unadulterated Gregorian chant. In the previous century, a method for renewal in sacred music began in Abbey of Solesmes. Here monks researched liturgical music and undertook the reinstatement of Gregorian chant in the Mass. While support for this style of music lacked uniformity, the majority in the movement endorsed Gregorian chant. In his motu proprio, Pius X called it the “supreme model for sacred music.”
Participation in the Mass
Further promotion of this style occurred with Divini cultus by which Pius XI encouraged an end to “silent spectators” and urged an active participation among the laity. “In order that the faithful may more actively participate in divine worship, let them be made once more to sing the Gregorian chant, so far as it belongs to them to take part in it,” the pope stated. His predecessor’s encyclical Musicae sacrae disciplina reaffirmed Pius X’s motu proprio. At the same time, Pius XII’s document displayed openness to development in sacred music. Yet, music must not become profane for the sake of mere exhibition in the liturgy. Rather, sacred music is an integral part of liturgy and must be given a high honor.
Lay Involvement with the Liturgy
Besides the external elements of the liturgy, the Liturgical Movement encouraged inward participation of the laity during Mass. According to Romano Guardini, the chief goal of the liturgy is not concerned with individuals showing reverence towards God. He states,
The liturgy is the Church’s public and lawful act of worship. It is performed and conducted by the officials whom the Church herself has designated for the post— her priests. In the liturgy God is to be honored by the body of the faithful, and the latter is in its turn to derive sanctification from this act of worship. Here the Catholic conception of worship in common sharply differs from the predominately individualistic Protestant style of worship.
In Mediator Dei, the pope encouraged Christian participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice of the Mass. Such involvement takes place in laity’s offering of the bread and wine and of alms to the priest. Upon their behalf the priest offers the sacrifice. Through the liturgy and their sacrificial offerings the Christian becomes more attentive to the unity of the Mystical Body of Christ.
Second Vatican Council
The activities of the Liturgical Movement culminated in the 20th century with the Second Vatican Council. Here the nature of the Church became better clarified. The Constitution, Sacrosanctum concilium, expanded upon the advocated reforms by the previous council. The conciliar document’s stress on the presence of Christ in the liturgy also harked back to Pius XII’s Mediator Dei.
Regarding Holy Scripture, in the 1950s, the movement sought for greater emphasis placed on the Word in the liturgy. Pius XII granted limited sanctions by having the epistle and gospel read in the vernacular, but only after said in Latin first. This allowed for greater attentiveness in Mass. Sacrosanctum concilium continued such reform in permitting use of the common language in places like the readings and some prayers. But the document still maintained to keep the Latin language as the norm in the liturgy.
Mystical Body of Christ in the Liturgy
Another theme found in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy was the Nature of the Church as the Mystical Body. About twenty years prior to the council, the encyclical Mystici corporis christi examined the Pauline concept of the Church being the body of Christ. This provided great insight on the nature of the Church.
Like the monks from Solemes and the popes, especially Pius X, the Council held sacred music with high esteem. Sacrosanctum concilium decreed, “The Church recognizes Gregorian chant as being specially suited to the Roman liturgy. Therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride and place in liturgical services.” Furthermore, the document declares that the liturgy’s development must be organic. “Therefore no other person, not even a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority,” asserts Sacrosanctum concilium.
It is God who “wills that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” Through liturgical worship humans are sanctified and receive Christ in the Eucharist. Yet, because of the human aspect of the Church, abuses have entered into the liturgy. Because of this, reform is constantly needed. In the twentieth century, this renewal came in the form of the Liturgical Movement.
Established first in monastic hubs in Europe, the movement eventually gained papal momentum from the encyclicals Divini cultus and Mediator Dei. They promoted a return to early Christian liturgical practices and encouraged more usage of Scripture, Gregorian chant, and active participation of the laity during the Mass.
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 Ernest B. Koenker, “Objectives and Achievements of the Liturgical Movement in the Roman Catholic Church since World War II,” Church History 20, 2 (1951), 15.
 Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (1963), 2.
 Alcuin Reid, The Organic Development of the Liturgy: the Principles of liturgical Reform and their Relation to the Twentieth-century Liturgical Movement prior to the second Vatican Council 2nd Ed.( San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2005), 39.
The Veneration and Administration of the Eucharist: the Proceedings of the Second International Colloquium on the Roman Catholic Liturgy organised by the Centre International d’Etudes Liturgiques. (Southampton: Saint Austin Press, 1997), 123.
 RobertCabié and Aimé Georges Martimort, “The Celebration of the Eucharist in the West from the Council of Trent to Vatican Council II.” In The Church at prayer: an introduction to the liturgy, New ed. (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1988), 183