Saturday, March 22, 2014

No Sympathy for the Devil: The Scrutinies and Sin

My best guess is that the people in the pews this weekend who witness the First Scrutiny - a purification rite for those preparing for baptism - have no idea they are actually witnessing a liturgical exorcism.  The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults states the scrutinies are intended to
....uncover then heal all that is weak, defective or sinful in the hearts of the elect; to bring out, then strengthen all that is upright, strong and good. For the scrutinies are celebrated in order to deliver the elect from the power of sin and Satan, to protect them against temptation, and to give them strength in Christ, who is the way, the truth and the life. These rites therefore, should complete the conversion of the elect and deepen their resolve to hold fast to Christ and to carry out their decision to love God above all. (RCIA 141)
If their preparation has been what the Church desires, the elect have already been "instructed gradually about the mystery of sin." (143).   The explanatory material before the rite continues, mentioning that the elect "have already learned from the Church as their mother the mystery of deliverance from sin by Christ" (144)

Most already-baptized adults in the pews received this kind of instruction on sin in 2nd grade, and perhaps again in 8th grade or high school. At best, the last time they thought about it was when they talked about it again in the context of the preparation for baptism of their children.

Do we really understand what is meant by "the mystery of deliverance of sin by Christ?" "Mystery" is not a word we hear often in relation to sin. Just what does this mean for the catechumens, and for us, the baptized, as we watch the ritual casting out of the demons of sin over the next three weekends?

Remember that those over whom the priest or deacon will pray the Prayer of Exorcism over the next three weeks are not yet baptized, and are therefore subject to the full effects of Original Sin and seduction by the Devil.  At baptism, they will put on Christ and receive the blessing of eternal life and the strength to resist temptation. In the meantime, the exorcism and our prayers will strengthen them in their last days as unbaptized people moving toward baptism. It has been said that the closer a person gets to the font, the more the Devil tries to keep him or her away. The prayers of the scrutinies are designed to combat that.

We are talking about "sin" here - with no "s", not "sins" - which, of course, still are committed after baptism by even the best of us.  "Sin" - the consequence of the Fall of Adam and Eve, condemned us to eternal death. Christ's coming reversed that. And THAT is the mystery. The fullness of this mystery will be revealed at the Easter Vigil, when, during the Exsultet, we sing:
O wonder of your humble care for us!
O love, O charity beyond all telling,
to ransom a slave you gave away your Son!
O truly necessary sin of Adam,
destroyed completely by the death of Christ!
O happy fault
that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer.
This is the mystery - that God could bring something wonderful - eternal life - out of the darkness of sin and death. That Christ's rising from the dead conquered Satan, sin and death for all time.

So, this weekend, as the elect come forward to have their demons exorcised, we the baptized should rejoice that we have been saved in Christ by our own baptism and are no longer subject to the full effect of Original Sin. For us, this is part of preparation for our renewal of baptismal promises at Easter, when we will once again reject Satan and his empty promises.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

First Sunday in Lent: What We Pray is What We Believe

This Sunday we hear in the Roman Missal how Christ set the pattern for Lent and how we today are to take it to heart. When we really listen to what the presider prays we can learn much about the attitudes and expectations of the season. This is not surprising. Lex orandi, lex credendi is an ancient saying, meaning literally "the law of prayer is the law of belief" - or what we pray (in the liturgy) is what we believe (see CCC 1124.)  Let's take a look at what the texts of the First Sunday in Lent say.

In the Collect, we hear:
Grant, almighty God,
through the yearly observances of holy Lent,
that we may grow in understanding
of the riches hidden in Christ,
and by worthy conduct pursue their effects...
In the Prayer over the Offerings:
Give us the right dispositions, O Lord, we pray,
to make these offerings,
for with them we celebrate the beginning
of this venerable and sacred time.... 
 In the Preface:
...By abstaining forty long days from earthly food,
he [Christ] consecrated through his fast
the pattern of our Lenten observance
and, by overturning all the snares of the ancient serpent,
taught us to cast out the leaven of malice,
so that celebrating worthily the Paschal Mystery,
we might pass over at last to the eternal paschal feast. 
In the Prayer after Communion:
Renewed now with heavenly bread,
by which faith is nourished, hope is increased,
and charity strengthened,
we pray, O Lord,
that we may learn to hunger for Christ,
the true and living Bread,
and strive to live by every word
which proceeds from your mouth... 
Finally, in the Prayer over the People:
May bountiful blessing, O Lord, we pray,
come down upon your people,
that hope my grow in tribulation,
virtue may be strengthened in temptation,
and eternal redemption be assured.
What do we learn? That Lent is about not only right actions, but right attitudes (dispositions). That Christ himself, in his 40 days in the desert, is the model for Lent. That all of Lent is focused toward our celebration of the Easter Triduum (the Paschal Mystery) and that the Eucharist we receive at Mass strengthens and nourishes our ability to live the Cardinal Virtues - faith, hope and charity - as well as our ability to resist temptation. All of this, of course, is with reference to our eternal salvation and the eternal banquet in heaven.

So, convoluted though they may be, the prayers at Mass have a lot of catechesis about Lent in them. Listen this weekend, and take them to heart. How will you allow Jesus in the Eucharist to help you with your Lenten journey?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ashes - The Sacramental that Points to the Sacraments

Holy Mother Church has, moreover, instituted sacramentals. These are sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments: they signify effects, particularly of a spiritual kind, which are obtained through the Church's intercession. By them men are disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy.  (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 60)
We begin Lent with ashes, a sacramental made from the burning of the blest palms from the previous year's Palm Sunday.  By the definition above, the ashes should resemble the sacraments, but which ones?

The cross of ashes on our forehead is placed exactly where the cross of oil was placed on our heads during Baptism and Confirmation. Yet, made from ashes instead of holy oil, this mark is clearly visible - a public statement that we belong to Christ.

When an adult preparing for the Sacraments of Initiation is first signed with the cross, at the Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechism, it is an invisible sign, traced on their forehead by their sponsor or catechist: a foreshadowing of the cross of oil they will later receive at Easter. These are the words spoken:
Receive the cross on your forehead.
It is Christ himself who now strengthens you
with this sign of his love.
Learn to know and follow him.  
Words to remember today. The cross of Ashes is a renewed call to follow Christ, who first called us at our baptism and calls us every day of our lives to keep learning to follow him. It is the visible connection to the baptismal character of Lent that that Constitution laid out:
The season of Lent has a twofold character: primarily by recalling or preparing for baptism and by penance, it disposes the faithful, who more diligently hear the word of God and devote themselves to prayer, to celebrate the paschal mystery. This twofold character is to be brought into greater prominence both in the liturgy and by liturgical catechesis. Hence:
a) More use is to be made of the baptismal features proper to the Lenten liturgy; some of them, which used to flourish in bygone days, are to be restored as may seem good.
b) The same is to apply to the penitential elements...   (SC 109)
So today, consider how your Ashes recall your baptismal invitation to follow Christ in everything. It began when oil was used to make that cross on your forehead...