On that water as we enter the Church

September 25, 2010

We have talked about our gathering, how if only we can see from above, on every sunday, we gather like wheats are being gathered into one bread. And as we finish our Eucharistic celebration, we disperse into the world, just as a bread that is broken and shared to the world. We are that bread. And in this article, we want to reflect what we, catholic, usually do as we enter the Church. There is a place for holy water, and we usually dip our hands into that water and make the sign of the Cross, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. And what does that sigify?

That water as I enter the Church really reminds me of my water of baptism. And is it a coincidence that we “enter” into God’s Church through Baptism, just as we enter the Church building and blessed by that holy water? Indeed, the water at the entrance of the Church reminds us of our own baptism and our entrance into God’s Church.

Many people no longer understand the importance of baptism. Many people thought just believing and doing good is enough. But what do we really believe in? If we believe in Jesus, then we should also believe in what he says, and he says:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” -John 3:5

Unless we are born of water and the Spirit, we cannot “enter” the kingdom of God. Do we really believe that? But why? and what does it mean to enter the kingdom of God?

There are several instances that involves water in the Bible. And the Church liturgy has beautifully narrate them in the liturgy of Baptism in Easter Vigil.  This is what the priest says when he blessed the water before baptism ceremony begins:

Father, you give us grace through sacramental signs, which tell us of the wonders of your unseen power.

In baptism we use your gift of water, which you have made a rich symbol of the grace you give us in this sacrament.

At the down of creation your Spirit breathed on the waters, making them the wellspring of all holiness.

The waters of the great flood you made a sign of the waters of baptism, that make an end of sin and a new beginning of goodness.

Through the waters of the Red Sea you led Israel out of slavery, to be an image of God’s holy people, set free from sin by baptism.

In the waters of the Jordan your Son was baptised by John and anointed with the Spirit.

Your Son willed that water and blood should flow from his side as he hung upon the cross.

After his resurrection he told his disciples: ‘Go out and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’

Father, look now with love upon your Church, and unseal for her the fountain of baptism.

By the power of the Spirit give to the water of this font the grace of your Son.

You created man in your own likeness: cleanse him from sin in a new birth of innocence by water and the Spirit.

How beautiful it is. In that short prayer, the meaning of our baptism is unfolded from what is written in the Scriptures!

I do not want to make this article to long, and so maybe I will talk a little bit here and there in the upcoming articles on some of the points mentioned in that prayer: the wellspring of holiness, a new beginning, set free from sin, anointed by the Spirit, water and blood, and grace. And how it is relevant as ever on how we should live as a Christian.



September 15, 2010
Q: As in the English-speaking world, we will have to change the people’s answer from “And also with you” to “And with your spirit.” I have been looking for a good theological and historical-liturgical explanation for this change, in order to make it understandable for the faithful. Why this insistence on the spirit? And don’t the people have the spirit as well? Apart from one short paragraph I have found no treatment of this question in the liturgical books available to me. Could you provide me with some background?” — H.T., Kundiawa, Papua New Guinea
A: As is well-known, the Holy See has asked that the Latin “Et cum spiritu tuo” said in response to greetings such as “Dominus vobiscum” should always be translated literally as “And with your spirit.”
Most major world languages had already translated the expression literally, English and Brazilian Portuguese being notable exceptions.
The brief form of this dialogue (“The Lord be with you. And with your Spirit”) is taken from the Book of Ruth 2:4 and 2 Timothy 2:22. Christians probably took these formulas over directly from the synagogue. There is clear evidence, for example, in St. Justin Martyr (100-165) that Christians spoke these answers from the very beginning.
The fact that from the earliest times Christians conserved these phrases in their original form, in spite of their being foreign to both Greek and Latin mentalities, is a good argument to keep them intact in our current translations. In this way, we maintain a living connection with Christianity’s historical origins just as we do with the conservation of other Hebrew forms and expressions such as Amen, Alleluia and Hosanna.
The formula “be with you” is considered as a greeting, of benevolence and of recognition of a reality: The Lord is present. The Semitic response, “And with your spirit,” literally means “And also with you,” as “your spirit” literally means “your person.” Therefore the current English translation could be considered as an accurate rendering of the Hebrew background.
Historically speaking, however, the text was quickly separated from its Jewish context, and the patristic tradition has interpreted it in the sense of the spirit that the bishop or priest has received in ordination. For example, St. John Chrysostom in his homily on 2 Timothy (in II Tim. homily, 10,3. PG LXII 659 ff), refers to the “your spirit” to the indwelling Holy Spirit: “There can be no better prayer than this. Grieve not for my departure. The Lord will be with you. And he says, not with you, but with your spirit. Thus there is a twofold assistance, the grace of the Spirit, and God helping it. And otherwise God will not be with us, if we have not spiritual grace. For if we be deserted by grace, how shall He be with us?” In his first Pentecost homily (PG L. 458 ff) John Chrysostom sees in the word “spirit” of the reply an allusion to the fact that the bishop performs the sacrifice in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Such patristic reflections are one reason why from early times the greeting “Dominus vobiscum” was reserved to those who had received major orders: bishops, priests and deacons. This restriction of the liturgical greeting to the ordained is still in force today. A layperson who leads, for example, a celebration of the Word with distribution of Holy Communion, or an office of the Liturgy of the Hours, may not use the greeting “The Lord be with you” with its response.
This does not mean that the faithful are lacking the Spirit or that they are mere passive attendants at the liturgical action. Actually, through its response to the priest the congregation constitutes itself as a liturgical assembly presided over by the priest in the name of the Lord and responding in this way to his call. As the great Jesuit liturgist J.A. Jungmann wrote:
“We can best understand the ‘Et cum spiritu tuo’ as a popular consensus in the work of the priest, not that the congregation here gives the priest authority or power to act in its stead, but that the congregation once more acknowledges him as the speaker under whose leadership the united group will approach almighty God. Thus in the greeting and its response we have the same double note that reappears at the end of the oration [opening prayer]; the ‘Dominus vobiscum’ seems to anticipate the ‘per Christum’ of the close of the oration, and the ‘et cum spiritu tuo’ is a forerunner of the people’s agreement expressed in the Amen” (The Mass of the Roman Rite, Volume 1, Page 365).
Although the dynamism contained in this brief exchange is difficult for us to grasp today, the fact of the new translation could present an excellent teaching moment to underline the faithful’s active participation in the liturgy and the true theological sense of hierarchical communion.

Our Gathering every Sunday

September 11, 2010
On every Sunday Christians all over the world gather together to church. Isn’t it amazing? If only we can observe how it looks like from above, we see people start to move from every houses, different houses, and they all move to one place. They all converge to one destination at that one hour. At the call of the Church bell, they all came. Once the Eucharistic celebration ended, they all dispersed from that one place going to all directions, to all the world. If only we could see how it looks like from above, that must be fantastic. I imagine it would like seeing dots or grains moving from all over the place and they all move to one direction, to one center, the Church, and they all go inside that place. That really reminds me of a song.
As wheat upon the hills was gathered and was grown,
so may the church of God be gathered into one…………………
And the refrain says:
Seed, scattered and sown,
wheat, gathered and grown,
bread, broken and shared as one,
the living Bread of God.
Vine, fruit of the land,
wine, work of our hands,
one cup that is shared by all,
the living Cup, the living Bread of God.
Indeed it must have been like gathering wheat from all over the fields, and put into one place. And from that one place results indeed the fruit of the grains of wheat, which is bread, bread that gives life.
Have we ever reflected how our lives should be? As we gather together to church every Sunday, have we ever asked, what does this all mean?
If only we can see from “above”, then we will see our lives like that grains of wheat that are gathered from different places, but gathered into one. Not only one place, but into one bread, which is the fruit of the grains. And this is what Jesus said about that grains of wheat,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” John 12:24
This is what every Christian does every Sunday as we gather in the Church to celebrate the Eucharist.  We are being gathered into one, but in that gathering, what we really do is no other than dying. But what does this dying mean?
We can know the answer by looking at Jesus. He is that one grain of wheat that falls into the earth and dies. I know it sound quite literal. He “went” down from heaven to earth. And at the end of his 33 years here on earth, he dies. But because he dies, he bears much fruit. But what kind of death does Jesus die to?
Jesus died to sins. He does not live for sins. But in todays world where sins is not a common vocabulary, it helps to rephrase it in another words. Jesus died to himself. In Jesus, there is no self-centredness, no selfishness, no self-love. This is what Christians are called every Sunday as we gather into that one place. We are called to die to our self-centredness, to our selfishness, to our self-love. And that is why Jesus continues with this words after he talked about the grain of wheat that falls and bears fruit:
“He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. ” John 12:25
We know that the word “hate” in that Greek word means to “love less”. But this is the meaning of our Eucharistic gathering, we are dying to our self, we learn to love less our self, and to love more God. And not only to love more God, but also to love more others they way God loves.
Just as the grains are gathered and crushed, pressed, and at the end become bread that gives life, so too are Christians. We are gathered into that one place to become bread. But are we crushed and pressed in the church? It may sounds weird. But indeed we are crushed and pressed from Monday to Saturdays in our day-to-day activities. It is in our office, in our family, it is when we meet the people that irritates us, that we are crushed and pressed. It is when we are facing difficulties or problems, we are crushed and pressed. It is when relationships are broken and hearts are wounded, that we are crushed and pressed. But every Sunday, we gather together, to bring that crushed and pressed lives as an offering. An offering that God would not refuse. And that offering will be brought into the altar as a sacrifice. That is our tears and joys that lays on the altar, that is our lives. And the priest will lay over the offerings that it may become the bread of life. Indeed, as we went home from that one place and that one hour, we have become bread that gives life. Not because of our own merit, but because of what God is doing. And that is why we give thanks, we “eucharist”.