REFECTIONS ON THE CATHOLIC FAITH
by Joachim Chukwudi
Joachim Chukwudi is a seminarian preparing for the Priesthood in Obowo, Imo State, Nigeria. He is a long-time friend of the apostolate, with a great devotion to Our Lady and the Holy Rosary. We have supported his ministry with rosaries and other sacramentals.
We invite you to enrich your spiritual journey by his Reflections on the Catholic Faith, made available here with his permission. Each article is also available below as a download.
See also Joachim's Lenten Reflections
Please remember Joachim and all the other seminarians in your prayers.
WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A CHRISTIAN
The Christian Vocation
Participation in the Son
Participation in the Mission of the Son
Participation in the formation of the whole Christ
THE SACRIFICE OF THE MASS
When Our Lord instituted the Holy Eucharist, He not only gave us a sacrament, but He also instituted a sacrifice- the Sacrifice of the Mass. The practice of offering sacrifice has always existed among men. A sacrifice is a religious rite, intended to give honour to God, whereby a victim is offered to the Almighty and in some manner destroyed or slain. There are many sacrifices in use among the Jewish people, in accordance with Gods own command, such as the offerings of animals. Even pagans have some form of sacrifice, which indicates that there is in human nature a conviction that a rite of this kind is most appropriate as an external expression of our internal worship of God.
The supreme sacrifice in the Christian dispensation was the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. There He offered Himself to His Father in atonement for the sins of the world, and was put to death. This was a sacrifice of infinite value. But our Lord wished that this sacrifice, being so important, should be renewed until the end of time; and hence He instituted the Mass. At the last supper, when He gave the apostles His body and blood, He told them that His body was then being shed for many unto remission of sins-expressions which indicated that a sacrificial act was then and there being performed in conjunction with His death on the following day. And He bade them to repeat this rite in commemoration of Him. This is what the Mass is- the repetition of the sacrificial offerings of the last supper, which will be continued in the Catholic Church until the end of time. We say that Mass is the same sacrifice as that of the cross, in as much as the victim is the same- the body and blood of Christ-the chief priest of the Mass is the same Christ, who offered Himself on the cross, and both produce the same four effects, adoration, thanksgiving, satisfaction and petition.
The essential part of the Mass is the consecration, when the priest, by virtue of the power communicated to the apostles and their successors by our Lord himself, changes bread and wine into our Lords body and blood, and offer them to God. Only a priest has this power; but the faithful can be said, in a sense, to offer the Mass also, in as much as they are members of the Church, in whose name the priest offers sacrifice.
THE MASS: A TRUE SACRIFICE
There have always been sacrifices in the religious worship of mankind. Abel, the son of Adam, offered a sacrifice that was pleasing to the Most High. In the Jewish religion there were scarifies laid down by God himself in great detail. These sacrifices derived their efficacy by anticipation from the sacrifice at the cross which the Redeemer was to offer in the future. They were sacrifices of animals, which were offered to God and were slain in the temple of Jerusalem.
When Our Lord instituted the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper, He established it, not only as a sacrament but also as a sacrifice. For, He said of His body, as it was present under the appearances of bread: This is my body which is being given for you| indicating that then and there His Body was being offered in a sacrificial act. Again, He said of the Blood present in the chalice under the appearances of wine that it was then being shed for you (Luke 22:19-20) (This is the wording of the original Greek text, although the Latin version translates it shall be shed) when Our Lord then added: Do this in remembrance of me He showed it was His will that this sacrificial act should be continued until the end of time. And accordingly, from the very beginning of Christianity the Church has recognized the Mass as a true sacrifice.
However, the Mass is not a sacrifice independent of our Lords sacrifice on the cross. On the contrary, the Mass derives its efficacy from the sacrifice of Calvary. We can say, with Christian tradition, that Mass is substantially the same sacrifice as the sacrifice of the cross. This means, not that the two are numerically one sacrifice, but that substantially they are the same sacrifice because in both the victim is the same-the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ-and also because Our Lord is the principal priest of the Mass, as He was the High-Priest of the sacrifice of Calvary. In the Mass our Lords Blood is only mystically, not really shed; and the separate consecration of the bread and wine represents the real separation of the Body and Blood that took place on Calvary.
THE EFFECTS OF THE MASS
Every Mass produces these four effects, no matter what may be the dispositions of the priests and of those who actively concur in the offering of the Holy sacrifice. As is evident, these additional effects are limited in their measure.
The Satisfactory fruits of the Mass can be offered for the dead as well as for the living. In other words, the souls in purgatory can be benefitted by the Holy sacrifice in as much as their period of suffering will be shortened and they will be admitted sooner to the joys of heaven through the application to them of this offering of Christs body and blood. However, we have not infallible certainty that a Mass offered for a particular soul will be accepted by God for that soul; and in this we see the answer to the objection that a rich man can buy his way out of purgatory by leaving a large amount of money as stipends for Masses. It may be that the Masses in this case will actually be applied for some friendless and forgotten soul yearning for the joy of heaven.
The other two effects, satisfaction and petition, are for human beings. However, they are not conferred in the same way that the sacraments confer their effects on the recipients. The sacraments give sanctifying grace directly to those who receive them with the proper dispositions. But the Mass gives sanctifying grace only indirectly. That is, by the sacrificial offering of his only-begotten Son, God is moved to grant actual graces to those for whom the Mass is offered, and if they make use of these graces they will receive sanctifying grace. Similarly, the Mass does not directly forgive sins, as does the sacrament of Penance ; but rather obtains for the sinners actual graces inspiring him to make an act of contrition or to go confession, and by these means he will obtain the pardon of this sins. The Mass will also obtain temporal favors at times, but these benefits will be granted only when they are helpful for the spiritual welfare of the recipients.
PARTICIPANTS IN THE OFFERING OF THE MASS
But the lay members of the Church also can participate in the offering of the Mass. This right is given them by the character of Baptism which is a sharing, in a limited measure, in the priesthood of Jesus Christ. However, it would be wrong to speak of the faithful offering Mass in the same sense that the priest offers this Holy Sacrifice. As Pope Pius XII explained this matter in his Encyclical Mediator Dei, treating of Liturgical subjects : The conclusion that people offer the sacrifice with the priest himself is not based on the fact that, being members of the church no less than the priest himself, they perform a visible liturgical rite; for this is the privilege only of the minister who has been divinely appointed to this office; rather it is based on the fact that the people unite their hearts in praise, impetration, expiation and thanksgiving with the prayers and intention of the priest, even of the High priest himself, so that in the one and same offering of the Victim and according to a visible sacerdotal rite, they may be presented to God the Father.
Lay persons can have a special participation in the offering of the Mass if they actively co-operate in the liturgical functions. Thus, the acolytes, or altar boys, have a very important part. In the early Church their function was performed by ordained members of the clergy. Those who sing in the choir, and also those who give stipends for the offering of Mass, are actively concurring toward the offering of the Holy Sacrifice. And, in the sense that every member of the Church has a share in the celebration of every Mass throughout the world.
BENEFICIARIES OF THE MASS
Those who actively participate in the offering of the Mass also receive special graces, such as the altar-boys, the members of the choir, the sacristan, and those who give stipends for Masses. In the early Church the members of the laity often brought to the priest bread and wine for the offering of Holy Sacrifice, and the Priest in return directed to them a special intention in his petition to the Almighty. In the course of time it became customary to substitute a financial offering in place of the bread and wine. This would seem to be the origin of the custom of giving a stipend for the Mass. It must not be regarded as price for the Mass.
The Mass may be applied for the living or for the dead. For the living the Mass can be obtain actual graces, whereby the recipients can increase in sanctifying grace or be inspired to make an act of contrition or to go to confession and thus obtain the pardon of their sins and of some of the debt of temporal punishment. For the souls in purgatory the Mass can procure the remission, in whole or in part, of the temporal punishment which detains them from entrance into heaven. Sometimes the Church adds to this from her spiritual treasury indulgences, especially what is called the indulgence of the privilege altar, which is a plenary indulgence for the particular soul for whom the Mass is offered. However, we have no infallible assurance that a Mass applied to a particular soul in purgatory will actually benefit that soul, since God may confer the benefit on some other soul in need.
Finally, the whole world, Catholic and non-Catholic, partakes in some measure of the benefits of every Mass. Doubtless, one reason why God does not inflict greater punishment on the world for the sins of mankind is the fact that so many Masses are being offered daily for the salvation of the whole world, as the priest says at the Offertory.
PUNCTUALITY AT MASS
Now, at least the same concern for punctuality should urge Catholic to be in the Church on time for Mass on Sundays and week days. For they are preparing to meet, not distinguished earthly dignity, but the Son of God, the Lord of the universe, Jesus Christ, renewing on the altar the sacrifice He once offered on Calvary. Hence, it is an insult to our Blessed Lord to come late for the beginning of the Holy Sacrifice.
Yet, truth compels us to admit that there are not a few Catholic who are most negligent in the matter of punctuality. They arrive five, ten, or even thirty minutes after the hour scheduled for Mass, and apparently are little concerned about it. Usually it is the same persons who are late, Sunday after Sunday, which shows that they are to blame, for when they realize that they are regularly coming several minutes too late, they should begin their preparation and leave their home correspondingly earlier.
In the Catholic Church religious services are not conducted merely on Sundays, as is the custom in many non-Catholic Churches. On the contrary, in those Churches that have at least one priest in regular attendance Mass is celebrated everyday - in some Churches several masses. Thus it happens that all times of the day and night, the Holy Sacrifice is being offered in some part of the world, in fulfillment of the prophecy of Malachias: from the rising of the sun even to the going down my name is great among the gentiles, and in every place there is sacrifice and there is offered to my name a clean oblation. (Malachias 1:11).
Now, the Mass is offered, in a sense, by the faithful who attend, not only by the priest; hence it is the desire of the Church that as many as possible of the parishioners be present at weekday masses.
At the same time, it must be admitted that many Catholics who could come to week day Mass without much difficulty fail to do so. They do not seem to realize that they could gain so many spiritual treasures and make their lives much more abundant in heavenly blessings if they adopted the practice of daily Mass. Certainly, most Catholics could attend Mass at least once a week besides Sunday. In a large family one of the members could come to Mass every morning and this brings the special blessing of Our Divine Saviour to the household each day.
Daily Mass and daily Holy Communion are intimately united. Most of those who go to Mass everyday could also receive Holy Communion every day. Our Lord invites all His followers to partake of the sacrament of His Body and Blood frequently; and the church lays down very easy conditions for the daily reception of Holy Communion the state of grace and right intention.
Make it an object of great concern to be present in time for Mass. In fact, it is better to be present a few minutes before hand. It is a bad sign when a Catholic comes late to Mass regularly, and is not concerned about it.
The altar must be consecrated before it is used for the celebration of Mass. This consecration must be performed by a bishop or by a priest having a special authorization to perform this solemn ceremony. If the altar is completely of stone, it is consecrated in its entirety. It may, however, be made of wood; but in that case a small slab of stone, known as the altar-stone is inserted in the middle of the table. In this case, it is actually the stone that is the altar; and this alone is consecrated. For this reason, a priest is sometimes allowed to carry around an altar-stone and place it on a table or stand, thus making it suitable for the celebration of Mass. Thus, our army chaplains sometimes said Mass in the battlefield, making an altar of a few boards, with the altar-stone placed thereon.
In the altar, or the altar-stone, there is a cavity, into which the relics of some saints have been inserted, and sealed in a small slab. The relics of at least one martyr must be included. This requirement dates back to the earliest days of the Church, when, in times of persecution, the Christians would gather in the catacombs and Mass would be offered on the tombs of those who had died for the faith. In the Oriental rite a thick linen cloth takes the place of the altar-stone, but it must have the relics of saints sewn into the corners.
The altar must be covered by three thicknesses of blessed linen cloths for the offering of the Holy Sacrifice. There must be a crucifix over the center, which the priest looks at reverently at certain portions of the sacred functions. On the altar, during Mass, are the Missal, and (in some)the altar cards, three in number, which are for the convenience of the priest, since they contain some of the prayers of the Mass, so that he does not have to turn the pages of the Missal too often.
In every Catholic Church one of the altars contains in the middle, a tabernacle for the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament. The Church prescribes that a light be kept, day and night, before the tabernacle, to indicate to the faithful the presence of our Divine Saviour.
THE DIGNITY OF THE PRIESTHOOD
The ministry of the priest accompanies the Catholic throughout his entire lifetime. The priest pours the water of Baptism on the head of the newborn infant, and a few years later instructs the little one in the truths of Christian doctrine and prepares him for the reception of the Holy Eucharist and Confirmation. He seeks out the sinful members of the flock and endeavors to lead them to the tribunal of Penance that they may receive the pardon of their sins. The young man and woman entering the sacred state of Matrimony kneel before the priest to receive his blessings. To the priest young and old come for advice and consolation. When the summons of death comes to the Catholic, the priest is at the bedside to give him the consoling rites of the Church. And so, from birth until death the Catholic receives the ministration of the priest in all his needs and difficulties.
Sometimes the priest is referred to as another Christ. The term is justified, for the power which the priest exercises he receives from our Lord, and he uses it as Christ employed His power during His life on earth-to bring light and strength and consolation to the souls of men, and to aid them in attaining their goal, eternal happiness with God.
The priest remains a moral man, subject to the imperfection and the temptations of human nature; yet, through the power of God, he has been elevated to the dignity of a co-operator with the son of God, in fulfilling the work of the Redemption. He knows that he can receive from Our Lord the graces he needs to be faithful to his vocation, and he is fully aware that Christ is with him as he goes about his priestly tasks. When he administers the Sacraments or preaches or gives instructions in Catholic doctrine, the priest knows that our Blessed Lord is beside him, helping his human efforts, supplying for his defects. No man recognizes more clearly than the priest himself how unworthy he really is of his divine vocation; yet since Christ has summoned him to that vocation. He must expend on it all his abilities, and trust that the Divine High Priest will finish what is required for the success of his ministry. With St. Paul the priest can exclaim: It is now no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me (Gal. 2:20)
Without the Priesthood there would be no Blessed Sacrament; and without the power to consecrate Our Lords Body and Blood, the priesthood would be little more than a minutes of preaching, such is exercised by non- Catholic clergymen. Reverence your priest. They are human beings, subject to human imperfections; but in dealing with them, keep before your mind their wonderful supernatural powers, and honor them as the representatives of Jesus Christ.
The miracle of the multiplication of food through the divine power of our Blessed Saviour is related only twice in the Gospel. But the miracle whereby his priest, in his name, changes bread and wine into Christs body and blood takes place thousands of times every day in all parts of the world. Those who benefitted by the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves were only a few thousand persons; but since the establishment of the Catholic Church millions of our Lords followers have received spiritual nourishment through Holy Communion.
It is a sad commentary on the faith and fervor of any Catholic life he allows months and even years to pass by without receiving Holy Communion. He would not deprive his body of the food he needs to maintain his strength; but he does not hesitate to deprive his soul of the spiritual nourishment it can receive so abundantly from partaking of the divine food of our Lords body and blood. He may go to Mass regularly, but he does not seem to realize that the full participation in the Holy Sacrifice calls for the faithful to join with the priest in partaking of the victim of the sacrifice.
If a Catholic does not receive Holy Communion at least once a year, in the Easter Season, he is living in mortal sin. Even if he fulfils this minimum requirements, he will find it very difficult to avoid grave sin when he approaches the altar railing only once a year. Every practical Catholic will receive Holy Communion at least once a week/month.
THE OBLIGATION TO RECEIVE HOLY COMMUNION
Furthermore, whenever a person is in danger of death, either from sickness or from some other course, such as a dangerous voyage at sea or an impending battle in time of war, he is bound to receive the Holy Eucharist. When received in these circumstances, Holy Communion is called the Viaticum-which means, food for a journey, in this instance the journey into eternity. It is well for all Catholic to know that in the case of a protracted danger of death, as in the case of one dying from cancer, the Viaticum can be repeated frequently, even daily. The fact that the Church recommends Holy Communion only once a year (apart from the Viaticum) does not mean that this represents the ideal Catholic life. Just as a person who would restrict himself to the smallest quantity of food would grow weak, and eventually would sicken and perhaps die, so a person who received Holy Communion only one a year necessarily becomes spiritually weak and may easily fall into mortal sin, the death of the soul. Every practical Catholic receives Holy Communion at least once a month.
Of course, in receiving Holy Communion a person must have the right intention. That means he would be doing wrong if his motive were vanity or mere routine. Our motive in approaching the Holy table should be to make progress in the love of God, to be protected against sin, to receive strength in the trials of life, etc. Anyone who has the state of sanctifying grace and the right intention, as just explain, can receive Holy Communion worthily. Venial sins do not render one unworthy of his sacrament, though one who retains the habit of deliberate venial sin undoubtedly receives a much smaller measure of grace than if he had the determination to overcome the habit. Nevertheless, one who receives Holy Communion frequently, with the proper intention, will almost inevitably rid himself of the habit of venial sin.
The requisite disposition of body is that one have abstained at least one hour from all food or drink, except water. Nowadays, however, under certain conditions, one may have medicine or liquids before Holy Communion. This law of the Eucharist fast is based on the reverence we owe the Blessed Sacrament.
DISPOSITION OF THE SOUL FOR A WORTHY COMMUNION
Venial sins are not an impediment to a worthy Holy Communion, though one who deliberately retains affection to venial sin, and makes no effort to rid himself of a habit of such sin, than one who tries to have complete purity of soul when he approaches the Holy table. On the other hand, one who has committed only venial sin since his last confession should not hesitate to receive Holy Communion, especially if he is now truly sorry for his venial transgressions. Some good Catholics are too anxious and timid in this matter. They feel that they must abstain from Holy Communion if they have been guilty of some slight transgression, such as a little manifestation of anger or an unkind word, until they go to confession. This represents a mistaken notion about the purity of soul required for a worthy holy communion.
However, is a person commits a mortal sin he must first go to confession before receiving Holy Communion. It is true, one can recover the state of grace by an act of perfect contrition, but apart from extra ordinary circumstances, this will not allow him to approach the Holy table. This is because there is a special law prohibiting Holy Communion to one who is conscious of mortal sin, until he has received sacramental absolution. This law is contained in the Churchs code of Canon Law (Can. 916: Anyone who is conscious of grave sin may not celebrate Mass or receive the Body of the Lord without previously having been to sacramental confession, unless there is a grave reason and there is no opportunity to confess; in this case the person is to remember the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition, which includes the resolve to go to confession as soon as possible), and it may be even a divine law. The exception would occur if a person who had committed a mortal sin had no opportunity of confession and there was an urgent need to receive Holy Communion. Such a case can very rarely arise. Remember that the most essential factor of a good Catholic life consists in always remaining in the state of grace. Thus you will always be worthy to receive Holy Communion.
CHILDRENS HOLY COMMUNION
For many years it was customary to defer the first communion of children to the age of 10 or 12; but in 1910 Pope St. Pius X issued a law commanding that children shall receive the Holy Eucharist when they come to the age of reason, which is about age 7. The saintly pontiff realized that in modern times, when there are so many dangers to faith and morals, children need special graces even from the dawn of reason. There is no better means for children to obtain these divine help than they reception of Holy Communion, in which they receive the living Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, to aid them in the temptations and the difficulties of life in the midst of a pagan civilization.
It is the duty of the Catholic parents to see to it that their children receive their first Communion when they come to the use of reason. In this matter parents have a grave responsibility than the Parish Priest, since the law of God imposes on them the first obligation to provide for the spiritual upbringing of these whom God has given to them to care for until they are able to make their own way in the world. All parents who really love their children will be very careful that they receive all the material requirement for their needs, such as food and clothing. But all Catholic Parents should regard it as even more important to provide their boys and girls with the reception of Holy Communion when they are capable of approaching the altar rail.
Parents should also see to it that their children receive Holy Communion regularly after they have made their first Communion. They should not exert any undue influence on their boys and girls to force them to receive this sacraments; but they should help them to realize that it is wonderful privilege to receive our Lords Body and Blood. Good example is the best way to attain this end.
REQUIREMENT S FOR FREQUENT COMMUNION
But then Pope St. Pius X sent a message to the entire Catholic world, urging Catholics to receive Holy Communion more frequently: every day, if possible. In this decree he stated that the requirements are within the abilities of every practical Catholic. The two necessary conditions are that a person be in the state of sanctifying grace and have a right intention. Even venial sins, the Pope said, do not prevent a person from receiving Holy Communion every day. Only deliberate mortal sin is an obstacle to the reception of the Holy Eucharist. By the right intention is meant that a person receives Holy Communion with the desire of deriving thereby spiritual profit, and does not come to the altar rail merely through routine or vanity.
Since this decree of the saintly pontiff, the world has witnessed much strife and sin. There have been disastrous wars and savage persecutions of the Church and of religious. Whole nations have been enslaved by tyrants, atheism and materialism have been flaunted yet, despite these handicaps the Catholic Church has flourished. Its numbers have increased; the spirit of fervor has grown; the enthusiasm of the lay members for active participation in Catholic life has been a source of encouragements and edification.
The chief course of this revival of Catholic life has been the fact that so many Catholics are accepting the invitation of Pope St. Pius X to receive Holy Communion frequently, and even daily. Men and women of all nationalities and states of life are united in faith and love at holy table. On entering their souls our Lord has spoken to them the words he said to his apostles, as he entered the chamber where they were gathered: Peace be with you.
Many Catholics in this country are taking advantage of the opportunity of daily Holy Communion. Are you among those who could receive our Lord every day, and yet are not doing so? Remember that all that is necessary for worthy daily Holy Communion is the state of grace and a right intention.
The Holy Eucharist is a Sacrament of the living, intended to increase grace in souls already in Gods friendship. Its special sacramental grace is the nourishment of the soul. Just as the food of the Holy Eucharist gives our soul supernatural power and energy towards the performance of good deeds, especially love of God. And just as a proper diet helps our body to resist disease and physical weakness, so the spiritual nourishment of the Blessed Sacrament assist our souls to avoid sins and imperfections.
The Holy Eucharist also gives the worthy communicant an assurance of eternal glory, for our Lord made the promise: he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has life everlasting, and I will raise him up on the last day (John 6:55). Finally, by frequent and devout communions we merit a close union with our Divine Saviour that enables us to triumph over lifes difficulties, for He said: he who eat my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him (John 6:57).
When you are about to receive Holy Communion it is a means to a devout preparation to realize the great benefit you can derive from the Blessed Sacrament. The better prepared you are, the more supernatural benefits you will receive.