When we kneel before the tabernacle

October 31, 2010

Catholics often speaks a different language all together. They have these not-so-common words such as transubstantiation, Eucharist, canonization, etc.  One of them is tabernacle. It’s a little box that is usually placed on the altar with a little lamp besides it to host the Eucharistic bread, the real presence of our Lord Jesus Christ. When catholics enter the Church, and before they sit on the pew, they will kneel before the tabernacle. And that they did for a good reason.

The Mystery of God’s Solidarity

Tabernacle comes from a Hebrew word which means dwelling place. The first thing that came to my mind when I heard this word tabernacle, or when I kneel before the tabernacle, is a scripture verse from John.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. (John 1:14)

In John’s Gospel the Word refers to Jesus, who is God. In that verse we read, God became flesh, and  tabernacled (dwelt) among us. Whenever I look at the tabernacle, as I kneel down, I am amazed at this beautiful mystery. It’s a mystery of God who became flesh, became human, and chose to dwell among us.

In our society today, many people trying to tell us to associate with the higher class, because that can benefit us. How different it is with God! God chose to associate with the lowly. God even chose to become one of these lowly. The Creator chose to be a creation. The mystery of the Incarnation (God who became man) is shown in all its humility in that tabernacle. We kneel and worship the God who became one of us, and dwelt among us.

What should worry us then to face troubles in this life. If God is with us, who can be against us? If God now dwells among us, what should we fear of? The presence of God in the tabernacle reminds us of His ever faithful love. He never leaves us alone. He is faithful to his word,

I am with you always to the end of times. (Matthew 28:20)

When I am in the midst of turmoil, difficulties, and problems, I always run to him who is always with me. I love to sit before the tabernacled. I remember when I was in high school, my school bus will arrive pretty early, and I went to the school chapel, to sit in one of the corner, just being in the presence of God. Looking at the tabernacle reminds me of God ever faithful love and presence in my love.

To be a Tabernacle

There is another part that we need to consider when we look at the tabernacle. We are called to be one! Yes, we are called to be a tabernacle. Isn’t the scripture says, we are God’s Holy Dwelling (tabernacle)? Whenever I look at the tabernacle, as I kneel, I am reminded of my vocation as a Christian. And that is to be God’s dwelling place.

Who can be the best example of God’s tabernacle besides Mary, Mother of Jesus? God literally dwells inside her womb for nine months! She carried the Word who became flesh in her own flesh. We too are called to be that kind of tabernacle, where the Word of God became flesh in our flesh, and so we can bring God in our bodies.

I find no surprise when people venerate the saints. They carry God in their bodies. It is not the saints that amaze us,  it is the Divine. We cannot be attracted with anything but God. But we are called to be saints also.

How can we carry God? How can we be God’s dwelling place? Just as Mary who said yes to God to take control of her lives, so too we need surrender our lives to God. In our Baptism, we say yes to God just as Mary said yes to God. And just as the power of the Most High overshadowed her, so too in our Baptism, the Holy Spirit overshadowed us. God dwells among us, we are God’s Holy Temple, we are His tabernacle.

But Mary didn’t stop there. She carried the Word of God, pondered it, and cherished it in her heart. In her, the Word of God became flesh. We too are called to ponder and cherish the Word of God in our heart. Too often the treasure of the Word of God is left neglected in our lives. Too often the Word did not became flesh in our flesh. But we need to imitate Mary. We need to treasure the Word of God and live it! The early Christians did not have the privileges of reading the Word of God every day. They only heard the Word of God on Sundays. And yet they cherish it throughout the week and try to live the Word of God. We too need to rediscover the Word of God today! We spent too much time on tv, handphones, computer and games! How have we neglected the duty to cherish, ponder and live the Word of God today.

The Word of God must became flesh again in our bodies. And in that way, we truly become God bearers just as Mary was. We truly become the tabernacle. Just as two thousand years ago, people are longing and waiting for God to come to them, today, many people also need God to dwell among them. And he has chosen a dwelling place none other than you and me. That is why we kneel before the tabernacle, we venerate the mystery of our calling as God’s dwelling place. Yes, God is still with us, until the end of time.



Order of the Eucharistic Celebration, a participation in the life of Jesus

October 22, 2010

Once in a lifetime, you might be wondering why we celebrate the Eucharist the way it is. I never asked the question why we do what we always do in the Eucharist. But one day I started to question, why? And one of the “why” question that came to my mind is why the Eucharistic celebration has that order: we begin with the liturgy of the Word, and then liturgy of the Eucharist.

At first it does not seem to be intuitive for me, in many prayers, such as the liturgy of the hours (the official prayer of the church), we begin with Thanksgiving and praise (through the psalm), and then we have the Word of God. In many prayer groups, we sang praise and thanksgiving also, and then we have the preaching of the Word. But why in the Eucharistic Celebration, all those seems to be reversed? We begin with the Word, and then the Eucharist (the greek word for Thanksgiving).

I remember one day I read a book, which now I can’t remember the title. And it explains the “why” of  my question. It turns out to be simple, and the more I reflect on it, the more I understood how true it is.

The reason is that in the Eucharistic Celebration, the order of the liturgy follows that of the life of Jesus himself. In fact, our participation in the Eucharistic celebration becomes a participation in the life of Jesus! Isn’t amazing?

Just as Jesus began his public ministry by preaching, so it is in our liturgy as we enter the Eucharistic celebration: we have the liturgy of the Word! Just as Jesus preach 2000 years ago, he still preaches now. Just as the Word of God is being proclaimed, so it is today in the liturgy of the Word. It is the same Jesus that speaks and preaches. That is why we stand up when the Gospel is going to be proclaimed, and we cried “Alleluia!!”, praise the Lord! God is going to speak again in our midst. And we all fell into silence as the Word is spoken and being broken for us to eat.

And just as Jesus finish his public ministry by going to Jerusalem for His passion, death and resurrection, so too we enter the liturgy of the Eucharist. In this liturgy of the Eucharist, we enter the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We experience the sacrifice of Jesus as it was happen then. The same person, the same body is being sacrificed out of love for you and for me.

And should we wonder now that the Eucharistic celebration ends with the word, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord”, just as 2000 years ago Jesus told his disciples before he ascended into heaven, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15). The same command is given to us all by Jesus himself, “Go into the world”.

There is one interesting point that we often overlook, and that is the main person in this whole celebration is Jesus. Jesus is the one who preaches, and ministers to us, Jesus is the one who sacrifices himself for us. Jesus is the one that make the offering of Love.

Many people complained that our Eucharistic celebration is not really engaging. If only we understand what is happening, we would not choose otherwise. Our celebration is the time when Jesus ministers to us just as he was 2000 years ago. We don’t need to be envy with those people who were living at the time of Jesus, because Jesus still lives today! Jesus still ministers today! What we need to do then, is to open our selves to receive what Jesus wants to do in our lives.

It’s about being like Mary instead of Martha. Our Eucharistic celebration is like Mary who listens to the Word of Jesus and allow ourselves to be nourished. It is also like Mother Mary who stood at the foot of the Cross and open herself for the grace and salvation from the pierced heart of Jesus. It is like peter who allowed Jesus to wash his feet so that he may have fellowship with Jesus. Our Eucharistic celebration is not about what we want it, but it is about allowing God to do what He wants to do. This is humility. And we can participate, by allowing God to speak to us, to cherish his word, and live it.We can also participate by uniting ourselves with Jesus and his sacrifice, by accepting His love on the Cross, and His healing power to save us.

This is our celebration, it’s not about what we do, but about what God is doing. The centre of that celebration is Jesus who offers himself to the Father, and somehow we are caught in that love exchange between Jesus and the Father. This exchange of love is God’s divine life, and by participating in this Eucharist and uniting ourselves with Jesus, we have participated in that divine life.

Sign of the Cross, a call to communion

October 21, 2010

Catholics make the sign of the Cross as we begin the Eucharistic celebration. But what does that signify? We make the sign of the Cross “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”. First of all, of course it reminds us of our own baptism, since we are baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. We have discussed about water and baptism in the previous posts, and so now we would like to take a look from another angle, and that is we are baptized “in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”.

To be baptized means to immerse oneself, and the Hebrew understanding of “name” simply signifies the person. So when we are baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, it means that we “immerse” ourselves in the “person” of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Now what is interesting here is that we are being immersed not into a single person, but into a communion of persons.

Christianity is a call to communion. Some people thought that what matters most is that our soul is saved and that’s it. Hence for these people they thought going to church is not essential, what matters is doing good only. What a crippled understanding of Christianity! Christianity is a call for communion. Because in Christianity we are united with God and with our fellow men.

The basis of this is shown in God himself. Though he is one, yet he is a communion of three persons. God is a communion of love, an exchange of love between the Father and the Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit. And love cannot exist for its own, because love must be given to the Other. And hence, we as Christians are called into that life that exchanges love. This is the life of God, the life of the Father who loves the Son so much, and of the Son who loves the Father so much. We as Christians are called into this kind of life. Love prompts us to reach God as much as it prompts us to reach our neighbor.  That is why we go to Church and celebrate the Eucharist. We are called into a communion. And isn’t surprising that we receive Holy Communion during that celebration?

This is what we do as we begin the Eucharistic celebration: we are reminded that we are baptized, immersed, into a communion of love. And this is what our calling in life is, to love as much as God has loved us. The model of this love is God himself who has shown us a human face, and speaks a human language. Jesus is our model to live this love. And his ultimate love is shown on the Cross. That is how much he loves the Father, and… you.

In todays world where self-indulgent is exalted, Jesus shows a different kind of love. It is not a love that seeks personal pleasure, it is not a love that is self-centred or self-seeking, it is not a love that is conditional. The world’s idea of love has been turned upside down when Jesus hang on that Cross. Jesus shows us a love that is unconditional, a love that continues to give in the midst of sufferings and insults, a love that heals and outpoured, a love that is fully given without reserve.

This is the love that we are called to be. As we begin the Eucharistic celebration and make the sign of the Cross, let us remember that we are called into a life that gives Love.  We are called to participate in that exchange of Love between the Father and the Son.  This is what fullness of life is.  We too can have this fullness of life if we “imitate” Jesus. Through the sign of the Cross, we are reminded that we are not made for ourselves, but for the Other. We are made to love and to give, and it is only in that communion of love, we will find our true happiness.

“20 In that day you shall know that I am in my Father: and you in me, and I in you. 21 He that has my commandments and keeps them; he it is that loves me. And he that loves me shall be loved of my Father: and I will love him and will manifest myself to him.” John 14

Water and a new heart

October 16, 2010

We know that human body is composed of about 60% of water. How significant it is. If water plays a significant part in our physical body, could it be that it also plays a significant part in our spiritual life? If this physical world is meant to point us to something deeper, could it be that there is something deeper also about water in the spiritual realm?

In the previous post, we have mentioned how the water that is used to bless ourselves as we enter the church reminds us of our water of baptism. That water of baptism brings us into the Church of God, which is Christ Body. We have also mentioned the prayer during the Baptism ceremony and how God plans to use water to signify something deeper, his beautiful plan for us. Now we will talk about water and a new heart: the effect of that water of baptism.

Long time before Christ, there was this prophet with the name of Ezekiel. In one of his prophecies, he spoke about water and a new heart.

“25 I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26* A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27* And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. 28 You shall dwell in the land which I gave to your fathers; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.” Ezekiel 36

This verse really reminds me of the liturgy in the Church. And maybe the liturgy of the Church is meant to speak to us about this verse. There was this part in the beginning of the Eucharistic celebration when the priest will go around the people and sprinkle water. Isn’t it amazing? We don’t simply read the Word of God, we experience it! God says he will sprinkle clean water upon us, and we shall be cleansed.  We will be cleansed from all idols and uncleannesses.

Most people do not appreciate this good news because we don’t feel we have idols and uncleannesses. We thought we are ok. But what we feel or we think does not necessarily reveal what truly is. Just as someone who never bath for months will not realize the smell on his body so are we with our “sins” if we never cleanse it or even examen it. We adapted, and get used to it, and we rationalize it, that at the end of the day, we no longer realize the bad in it. I have met some people who say that this kind of retreat or that kind of retreat is for people who are new in the faith. They need conversion, these people say. But don’t we all need that ongoing conversion? The biggest lies that the evil can put in our mind is that, “you are ok”. And because when we think we are ok, we just do our religious rituals without “needing” God. We do it out of trying to be righteous. But blessed are those who are poor in spirit, who always in the need of God.

Many of us also no longer feel we have idols. We don’t keep charm or those devil statues. But Idols have come in many different ways today. They have different names. We can mention a few, like money, career, or maybe even boyfriend. We can also include in this list our dream or even our own ego. And Pride can be an idol as well. These are things that people worship these days, and most of us do not realize that we worship them. Only when we lose it, we start to realize how much we are attached to it. The list can go on and on when we try to examen our lives daily.

But this is the heart of stone that the prophet Ezekiel speaks. It is a heart that is not capable of loving. It is a heart that is not alive but dead. Because of money, we see people fight or even lie. Because of careers, we see how families are falling into ruin. Because of pursuing our dreams, we are willing to sacrifice others. Our mouth and our words also sometimes creates hurt and divisions. And we never realize a little bit, that our heart becomes a heart of stone, a heart that is not capable of loving . We see that in all of us, even with those who are in ministry in the Church. Ego and personal dreams strive rather than charity.

Maybe that is why every time we begin the Eucharistic Celebration, we also start with some penitential act. We admit our sins and weaknesses before God, and ask for His Mercy. If the Church does that regularly, aren’t we too suppose to have our conversion ongoing and not just once?

Interestingly if you notice, this penitential rite in the beginning of the Eucharistic celebration sometimes are substituted with another rite. And I hope you can guess what rite it is. It is the rite of sprinkling of water 🙂 Yes it is the moment when we remember of our heart of stone, and we ask God for a new heart, a heart of flesh that is capable of loving. A heart that is filled with the spirit of God so that we can love as God loves.

The prophecy says, “And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.” Some people have that honesty to realize that it is impossible to live as a Christian in Today’s world, with its ethical demand and call for holiness. And they are rightly so. It is impossible! But this is what God promises us in Christianity, that he will give us His Spirit within us. And that Spirit is the one that will “cause” us to live holy Today. I know it sounds like a cliche and some Christians even no longer believe in this Good News. But maybe it is also the very reason why “faith” has a such an  important place in the Christian religion. It is by believing in God’s power to save us, that we will never lose hope in that promise, and we will continue to accept that grace that can save us. Rather than following those who no longer believe in the Good News, let us follow Mary in her faith, in that way, we too will hear the message that Elizabeth spoke to her, “Blessed is she who believes that the promise made her by the Lord will be fulfilled”- Luke 1:45.

So now, every time we bless ourselves with water or when we participate in the sprinkling of water rite at the beginning of the Eucharistic celebration and in the renewal of Baptismal promise, let us remember this beautiful promise. Let us remember our weaknesses, and how God has the power to change our heart from a heart of stone, to a heart of flesh. Let us believe in God! During the renewal of our baptismal promise in the Easter Vigil celebration we cry out together with the whole Church “I believe in God!” Let us live what we proclaim. And as we believe, the Spirit will continue to change our heart bit by bit into a heart of Jesus, a heart of God.   This is the heart that is beating and alive, a heart that is giving life to others. Just as a human heart pumps out blood that gives life to our whole body, so too our lives should be. Our life should not be self-seeking but rather life-giving to others. If only Christians live what they celebrate in their Baptism and Eucharist, the world will be a different place. This is our hope, a new heaven and a new earth, a place where righteousness is at home (2 Pet 3:13). This is what our Baptismal water give us, the Spirit of God that make us holy. We are called to be holy, and that holiness should give life to the world around us starting from our family.

“25 I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26* A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27* And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. 28 You shall dwell in the land which I gave to your fathers; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.” Ezekiel 36

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.