TRANSCRIPTION: Questions & Answers about Opus Dei with Fr. Michael Barrett
1. What is Opus Dei?
Opus Dei is a Catholic organization for lay people. It is worldwide and it was founded in 1928 by St. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer who was a Diocesan priest in Madrid, Spain, at the time that he founded Opus Dei. Its purpose is to teach people how to seek holiness in their ordinary, every day activities of life, whatever they do, their professional work, their family life, their social activities. The words Opus Dei are Latin and they mean Work of God. Sometimes you'll hear people talk about "the Work" which is just shorthand for Work of God, and the idea of holiness is to be more united to God but not by doing anything particularly different from the other people around you, but finding God right in the place right where you are. And doing that is possible with some help, with some coaching, some training, and Opus Dei tries to provide that for people so that they can grow in holiness. They can develop a spiritual life, they can become prayerful, even in the midst of riding their elevators and answering telephones, and getting on and off buses and transportation, and in between phone calls at the office that they become people who really learn how to pray throughout the day.The current membership worldwide is 86,000 people, men and women of all walks of life, all ethnic backgrounds, it's just an amazing display of the power of the Holy Spirit within the church.
In the United States there are 3,000 members and in all cases most of these people are married, living in their own homes, carrying out their own lives, and doing the things that everybody else does that are, that pass unnoticed but they are living the spirit of Opus Del. Besides this group of people which is rather small in context of the overall church, there are thousands and thousands of people that have benefited by Opus Dei's spirituality, its activities, and those people are hard to keep track of there are so many. The place where I saw it most clearly was at the canonization of St. Josemaria in 2002 where there were 350, 400,000 people in attendance at St. Peter's Square, and perhaps ten percent of those people were members of Opus Dei, at the most, and the rest were people who had been touched by St. Josemaria Escriva's teachings, by the activities of the people who were the sons and daughters of St. Josemaria as members of Opus Dei, and had come to Rome to participate in this great moment of his canonization.Out of the 86,000 members around the world about half are men and about half are women, and that's the way it's been for most of the recent years. The women in Opus Dei are doctors, lawyers, professional people, homemakers, there are people who are working in hospitality in our centers of Opus Dei, there's a great deal of work to be done in the area of hospitality and that's their professional field, a number of women doing that. The women in Opus Dei are just like any other women in the world. The only difference you could say is, again, this idea of a consciousness that whatever they do they're trying to do for the glory of God, they're trying to bring God into everything and to bring people closer to God through the things that they're doing which is a very important part of, even of their womanhood.The women are governed the same way as the men which is to say that they govern their organization, their activities just like the men do. In both cases, the men and the women govern with the vicars of Opus Dei. That is to say, the priests who stand in the place of the prelate who really governs Opus Dei worldwide from Rome.
2. How is Opus Dei related to the Catholic Church?
Opus Dei is part of the Catholic Church. The members of Dei are all ordinary Catholics, just like everyone else in the Catholic Church, and our teachings are what the Catholic Church teaches, no more, no less. We don't have anything special to add or to differ from what the church has taught traditionally for these two thousand years.
It's a specifically designated organization that serves the universal church, so everywhere in the world, though the people remain in their own parishes and their own place. The organization is called a personal prelature. It's a canonical, a legal distinction that is made in the church... It's universal in scope and it allows people, wherever they are, to be able to be associated with this organization and receive the support and the benefits of the organization right where they are in their own parish, their own diocese, their own place of work.
...the prelate is a man named Bishop Javier Echevarría. He was designated prelate by Pope John Paul II in 1994, he's originally from Spain, he was a very close associate of the founder of Opus Dei as well as the successor of the founder of Opus Dei. So he's the third man who is the head of Opus Dei in the history of the organization. He lives in Rome which is where the headquarters of Opus Dei are, and as Bishop his basic responsibility is to take care of his flock, the members of Opus Dei and to report to the Holy Father like all the other Bishops in the Catholic Church report to the Holy Father about what they're doing in their own, in their own place.
Opus Dei, like many, many things in the Catholic Church started out small, it was something that St. Josemaria Escriva saw in a prayer that he was experiencing in 1928... The organization at that point was something that was just local. It was in the Diocese of Madrid and not beyond that but he recognized that God wanted Opus Dei to reach all the corners of the earth, and he had to find a way to make that happen. The Archbishop of Madrid in those years was a good friend of his, and understood that this was something supernatural, this was something from God, and so he helped him. In 1947 Opus Dei received the approval of the Vatican to be an organization that could go beyond just the diocese and the country of Spain, but throughout the world. At that time it still wasn't clear how Opus Dei would fit into the Church because it was so new, it was so radical, the idea of lay people being right where they are, becoming saints and contemplatives was something that was just not foreseen in anybody's ideas. So he had to work his way toward finding a place that Opus Dei would fit in the structure of the Catholic Church, like a diocese fits in the structure of the Catholic Church, or the religious communities fit in the Catholic Church, he had to find a place for Opus Dell to fit in the Catholic Church. It took a number of years. Finally in 1982, which in fact was seven years after his death, Opus Dei was approved as a personal prelature by Pope 3ohn Paul II after he polled thousands of Bishops around the world where Opus Dei held activities up until that time in those dioceses. So in 1982 it became clearly a part of the hierarchical structure of the church.
And members of Opus Dei are still members of their own parishes?
They continue to be members of their own parishes, their own dioceses and they receive all the benefits and the support that every Catholic receives from his or her parish, but they receive the additional benefit of being guided in how to develop a spiritual life that's stronger and deeper, as well as how to understand their faith better and put it into practice through the activities of Opus Del. It's supplementary. It's like many organizations in the Catholic Church that are available for people that want to know more about something that's Catholic, they go out and they join an organization that has to do with that so that they can pursue that. Well, we're one more part of the Catholic Church in that regard. Another organization that helps people get to where they want to be in their spiritual life and in their outreach, their evangelization.
3. How did St. Josemaria name Opus Dei?
He recounts how he got the name, is that he was one day talking with his confessor, who was a man that he always spoke to about these things that were going on in his soul to make sure that they really were from God and not just his own imaginings. And one day when he was talking to the confessor, a priest, the man asked him, he said how's that work of God coming along that you're doing? And, you know, because it's the work of God in a very general sense, and he thought, gee, that's what it is because up until then he almost did not even want to put a name on it because it was something that was so grass roots and so much a part of the Catholic faith that it was, to name it, was almost to separate it from what it meant to be in the universal sense. But when the man said, now is that work of God going? He thought, I like that. Opus Dei, operatio Dei, the two ways of talking about work of God in Latin, and then he settled on Opus Dei, the Work of God.
His definition, the one that strikes me the most is he used to say, it's a grand catechesis. Catechesis is a word in the Catholic Church that means teaching; teaching the faith, teaching the meaning of the faith, and he used to see Opus Dei as a grand catechesis, that the members of Opus Dei would go out, and by their lives and by their words, teach the faith to the people around them without doing anything strange or special but just being who they are in the middle of the world. So it's a grand catechesis. He used to talk about it as being a mobilization of Christians moving into all of the corners of society.
4. What are the different ways of being a member of Opus Dei?
The basic distinction of the members of Opus Dei is their availability, and that is some are celibate, and so they are fully available for the activities of Opus Dei, and most are married, so their first responsibility is to their own family and their own, their own lives. The members who remain celibate are called numeraries...
Associates are celibate members of Opus Dei, who unlike numeraries usually live outside of a center of Opus Dei. They are also as completely available as they can be to the activities to opus Dei though they may have obligations toward family that doesn't allow them to be entirely available as a numeraries but they are celibate members.
The supernumeraries, actually in Opus Dei, epitomize what the spirit of Opus Dei is all about because they're out there in the middle of the world doing everything like every other Catholic is doing. The celibate members are completely in the middle of the world, yet they have made themselves more available to help the organization, to support the supernumeraries in their prayer life, in learning about the faith, learning the spirit of Opus Dei, learning about their Catholic faith. So those are the two basic distinctions.
Numerary assistants are women members of Opus Dei who are celibate, they are numeraries but they are dedicated primarily to the tasks of hospitality in taking care of the centers of Opus Dei and the other programs and activities where it's required to have people who are experts, who have been educated, received their degrees in hospitality, hotel management and they take care of all of that aspect of the development of the activities of Opus Dei.
There are about 2,000 priests in Opus Dei. That is to say these are men who were ordained specifically for Opus Dei just like a priest is ordained for a particular diocese, priests are ordained for Opus Dei. In addition to the priests who are members of Opus Dei and who serve the other members of Opus Dei around the world, there are also diocesan priests who can discover that they have a vocation as well to pursue this way of life as a member of Opus Dei. Because they are priests they don't join as lay people do, but there is an organization called the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross, which is inseparably united to the prelature of Opus Dei, it's part of the organization but it's exclusively for priests, The members of that organization are the priests who are in the prelature of Opus Dei and other diocesan priests who join, remaining in their own dioceses, under their own Bishop, not changing anything of their situation within the church, but they come to Opus Dei, to the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross in order to receive the same benefits as the lay people.
A cooperator is a person who is not a member of Opus Dei, has not received a vocation to be in Opus Dei, but who is very interested in what Opus Dei is doing, and agrees to pray for the activities of Opus Dei, and to support them either financially or with their time, their work, somehow to help materially the activities. A person becomes a cooperator by asking if they can and they are appointed a cooperator and they agree then to undertake these responsibilities in return for that. Of course, the people in Opus Dei pray for the people who are cooperators and the church grants cooperators particular graces for the work that they're doing in collaborating with Opus Dei.
Anybody can be a cooperator. You don't have to be Catholic, you don't have to even be Christian, you could be Jewish, you could be Muslim, you could be Buddhist, you could be atheist. Now, in the cases of people who don't believe in God, they're not going to pray for Opus Dei, obviously, which is one of the things a cooperator ordinarily does, but they are in spirit supporting Opus Del, as well as materially.
5. How does one become a member of Opus Dei?
... a person becomes a member of Opus Dei because they've been in contact with activities of Opus Dei, members of Opus Dei for some time, they've attended different things, they are growing in the understanding of the spirit of Opus Dei and then at a certain moment they feel God is calling them to this way of life, and I've often said to people who are wondering, should I be in Opus Dei or not? Am I being called to this or not? That when the time comes you'll know it, clear as a bell for sure, and invariably that's the case. Now everybody has his own story but it's a very clear moment when the person senses God wants me to live this way of life and to join Opus Del. And at that point they write a letter and ask to join. Once they've begun the process of joining Opus Dei there are, a number of months go by where they learn more about what Opus Dei is all about. They are given talks, a series of talks that help them to make sure they know everything about Opus Dei there is to know because they're coming into this organization. At the end of six months, and receiving all of these talks, spending more time in spiritual direction with the priests of Opus Dei, really getting to grow in their spiritual life, learning more about how to pray, they ask if they want to continue, if they really feel still that this is what God is calling them to. At that point, they become members of Opus Dei.
6. What does Opus Dei provide for its members?
What Opus Dei gives is the means for the person to be who the person wants to be in terms of being close to God, being integrated with faith and work and social life, and so Opus Dei provides the coaching, and it does so in a Catholic context because the doctrine that's being given, the moral teachings are all Catholic teachings. The average person doesn't really have time to pursue those things all by himself, to go off to a library and learn these things or to study them. So Opus Dei is just providing a wonderful context where they can come and receive these teachings, and it helps them then to live their lives as Catholics in the middle of the world, being very clearly Catholic and at the same time, very much a professional in whatever field that they're doing. And so Opus Dei provides it through the activities of talks, classes, retreats, workshops, all kinds of ways that members of Opus Dei are receiving the doctrine, the teachings of the church, but also learning how to pray. And the people learn how to pray, both in these kinds of talks and activities, but also one on one. The only way you learn something really is somebody has to take you by the hand and show you how to do it, and in Opus Dei we do that. We're taking people by the hand and teaching them how to pray. Mostly it's lay people with lay people. It's the lay person who is a little bit older, you might say, more experienced, big brother, big sister, taking the other person along and saying here's how you get your prayer life going. You have to spend a certain amount of time every day in mental prayer if you really want to get close to Jesus and get to know him, meditating on his life, meditating on the things he said he did. You have to also get to Mass to be able to have the Eucharist as a strengthening force in your life to be able to maintain this love of God that's then going to spread out to the love of neighbor. Somebody has to explain this to you and show you step by step that it's good to pray the rosary, to pray it every day, because to be close to our Lady is a crucial way of being close to our Lord. Somebody has to show you to make an examination of conscience at the end of the day, to stop and spend a few minutes and think, how did my day go? Did I do what I was supposed to? Did I really pray today? What are the things I did that I regret doing that I have to ask God's pardon next time I go to the sacrament of reconciliation, which again, somebody has to help you learn how to make a good confession. How to take advantage of the sacrament of reconciliation. So these things come through the talks and the general activities but they also come through personal spiritual direction of a friend to a friend, a brother to a brother, a sister to a sister, that is complemented with the priests of Opus Dei also providing spiritual direction. In Opus Dei a member receives spiritual direction from both the lay person and the priest in his or her effort to grow in holiness, to establish a firm base of prayer life, we call it the plan of life, and the plan is the plan of prayer life, of what do we do on a daily basis, no matter what, in order to keep up our prayer life and then the rest of our life fits in around that plan of prayerfulness, of contemplation.
7. What are the "norms" that Opus Dei members try to live?
Specifically what we mean by the norms are a member of Opus Dei does a half hour of mental prayer in the morning, a half hour of mental prayer in the evening. A member goes to Mass every day, prays the rosary every day, every day finds time to do about fifteen minutes of spiritual reading, which includes a few minutes of reading scripture, as well as some spiritual book, every day making an examination of conscience at the end of the day for two or three minutes, every day trying to make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament. Apart from going to Mass, members of Opus Dei will try to stop by a church on their way to work or on their way home, somewhere along the line and pray for a few minutes in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Once a week the person tries to get to the sacrament of reconciliation. Every month the person in Opus Dei will make an evening of recollection which is a mini‑retreat that lasts about two hours, it's just a time to be quiet and pray and get to confession and think about things, and then once a year to make a retreat, as well as once a year to make a workshop that last several days, which is a kind of an opportunity for the members of Opus Dei to come together, live fraternity, pray together and renew their knowledge of the teachings of the church in a formal way through classes that are structured very much like a university or a college. And so those are the norms, that's the plan of life. That's sort of the backbone upon which then, the rest of the person's life, rests and is built...
8. Why does Opus Dei stress personal prayer?
Prayer is conversation with God about the things that are important to us because God is our father. So whatever is going on in our lives is of interest to him. We may think that a lot of the things fall outside of God's interest because they have to do with work or chores or tasks that we're undertaking, or contradictions that have nothing to do with the spiritual life, God is interested in everything. He wants to hear about everything in our lives. And so prayer is conversation with him about what we're wrestling with, what we're dealing with. We try and put it in the context of understanding God's position, trying to see the things through the eyes of God, how do we do that? By getting to know God better. By getting to know the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in our prayer, principally through the Son. When we know Jesus, and we can know him because we can read his life, we can meditate on the scriptures, we can see what he did, what he said, what he spoke about, and we can try and get into his heart and understand who he is because that reveals to us who we are. And then when we know Jesus he brings us to the Father, he brings us to the Holy Spirit, and of course, even the Holy Spirit is there helping us to know Jesus, prompting our hearts to want to know God better. So prayer is that conversation about almost anything you can think of. It doesn't have to be formal and throughout the day there can be countless little prayers where we turn to God, we ask for his help, we ask for his guidance, we just share with him our feelings in that particular moment, whether they're exhilaration, feelings of exhilaration or feelings of discouragement because of what we're going through, but God is our Father, God is our friend, he's there all the time, we want to deal with him all the time as we would any good friend who's in our life, we keep in touch. There's formal prayer and that's why things like the rosary or even attending Mass are more formal because they follow a form, they follow a pattern that's set and established, vocal prayers that we learn when we were children that we repeat, the Hail Mary, the Our Father, the Glory Be to the Father, but that's one part of prayer, and the other part is this, this more intimate, personal kind of dialogue with our Lord and it's not something that's magical, it's not something that's spectacular, but it's clear that God, at times, when we give him the chance to speak to us, does speak to us. If we can be quiet, if we can go into a place where we can be alone with our Lord, and give him a chance to talk to us, he will. Sometimes we may think that those inspirations are just our own ruminations, that we come up with some pretty good ideas because we took the time to sit and think. But I think honestly we often recognize that was something beyond what I could have just dreamed up myself. It's our Lord gently guiding me in a direction of how to conduct my affairs in this matter, how to handle this decision that I have to make, what to do in my professional career, what to do in my family life, the circumstances that I'm facing, God speaks to us through prayer to help us to make very good decisions but not to make them all alone, to make them with him in our lives helping us, coaching us in a sense.
9. What is Opus Dei's apostolic mission?
St. Josemaria liked to point out that our Lord told the Apostles, after he rose from the dead in the upper room, as the Father has sent me, so I also send you. And so Jesus sent the Apostles forth into the world to bring the good news, to bring the message that God has come among us, that he died and redeemed us, and that he's risen from the dead. And the most conceptual notion, that is apostolate, is that we have to be Apostles, we have to follow in the footsteps of the twelve, and go out into the world and spread the good news. We do it in the things that we're going to be doing anyway as people in the middle of the society in which we find ourselves. That apostolate may take on a more corporate nature because, again, people come together and collaborate in different activities that are of an apostolic nature, but it's still fundamentally a thing of one person reaching the heart of another person and telling him, this is what I've discovered about God, about Jesus, and this is what I want to share with you because it's a great thing and I want you to know about it. Take it or leave it, but I want you to know about it, and that the apostolate is really personal, it's on the level of individuals with individuals, that's the heart of it. And then from there it grows into all kinds of other activities that these people then decide that are appropriate to help spread the word even more and to get things out into a wider part of society.
Opus Dei is apostolic because St. Josemaria would point out that if your interior life is strong, it's going to overflow into the life around you, that our apostolate is the overflow of our interior life. And it's a crucial part of being who we are. If a person is in love but doesn't want to share that with anybody, you'd wonder how much in love the person really is. And in Opus Dei it's the same thing. If we say I'm really excited about the message that God has revealed to me in my prayer life and in my vocation, but I don't feel like I want to share with anybody else, you'd have to question whether, oh, well, maybe the message isn't really that strong after all in your heart. So apostolate is crucial to the way a person lives his life in Opus Dei, that he necessarily has to reach out to the people around himself or herself because of this overflow of the interior life
10. What are some of the key works of Opus Dei?
People come to Opus Dei, and like everybody else they have ideals, they have ideas, they have things they want to do to help the world be better. When Opus Dei comes into their life it’s a big part of strengthening them in those ideals and even being more committed. And so, really, the works of Opus Dei are individual people coming together, some of whom are members of Opus Dei, with their friends, their colleagues, recognizing that there’s a need in society for a university, a hospital, a clinic, a school, some social program for inner city kids, whatever the case may be, and they get together and they say, let’s do it. And they do it whit this added dimension of, to give Glory to God, not just to do a good thing, but in a way to give praise to God through doing this.
The works that Opus Dei are involved with, members of Opus Dei are involved with are all over the world and there are universities in a dozen countries where the members of Opus Dei have founded those universities and are the force behind making them succeed, sometimes in very poor countries where this is the only opportunity people will get a university education. Members of Opus Dei have started hospital and clinics in different parts of South America, Central America, Europe, and some of those clinics give the best medical care in that place and with very limited means at times. Some members of Opus Dei have gone into fostering programs to teach rural people how to do better farming, how to raise cattle in a better way, especially in Latin America and some of the rural countries where farming is still a very important part of the social life and the economic life of the people…
In the United States there are schools that have been founded and are organized and run by members of Opus Dei, along with other people. In Washington D.C. there’s a school called the Heights for boys, a school for girls called Oakcrest. In Chicago there’s a school called Northridge for boys, and Willows, another school for girls. Chicago also has a wonderful activity which is a program that is supplementary to the school’s activity, that the children attend schools and then come to Midtown or to Metro to learn more about reading and math skills, to be able to enter into high school and beyond, enter into college and beyond.
In New York City we have activities for children in the Bronx, Crotona, a program for boys and Rosedale, a program for girls, and again, it’s a program that supplements what they’re learning in their own schools but coming after school to be tutored by people who are volunteers, many of whom are not members of Opus Dei, but are young professionals who want to lend a hand and teach these children what they need to know so that they will finish high school and hopefully finish college and be able to go onto a productive life.
Each of these works operates independently as its own organization with its own board. It's usually a 501(c)(3) and it has, it's set up as a charitable organization, not‑for‑profit. So each activity raises the funds it needs in order to conduct the activities it's trying to carry out.
11. How is Opus Dei financially supported?
The money that supports Opus Dei comes from the members of Opus Dei who make contributions and they do so with great generosity, but at the same it's supported by other people, as the cooperators of Opus Dei who agree to pray and support financially the activities of the organization, and people of good will who just see what Opus Dei is doing and they make contributions to help Opus Dei conduct its affairs.
... Opus Dei, St. Josemaria used to say, is poor and always will be poor because we're always reaching beyond our means in order to be able to do more for more people. So however much money we have, and right now it's not really a great deal of money, we have more needs than we can meet in order to do the good that we're trying to do. So, in a sense Opus Dei is always on a tight budget, we're always poor, trying to do more with less.
12. How is penance and mortification practiced in Opus Dei?
Part of prayer life is that we pray not only our heart and our minds but we also pray with our bodies. We pray as persons, body and soul, so that mortification becomes a very important part of the prayer life of anybody who is striving for holiness. In the history of the church, the saints have always emphasized the importance of penance, sacrifice, self‑denial, mortification in order to grow closer to God. St. Josemaria, following on the footsteps of all those great saints and that spirituality, indicated that penance and mortification were crucial to our being able to grow closer to God.
The forms or mortification that are most common are doing your work well, finishing things on time, being punctual to start things on time, putting up with contradictions of everyday life with a cheerful attitude. If the car breaks down, you don't feel well, it's raining out, it's cold, you just take those things and be cheerful and joyful about them. Those are the ordinary mortifications. Smiling when you don't feel like it because you're dealing with a person who annoys you. These are things that St. Josemaria said make the heart of our life of penance.
What are the corporal mortifications practiced by some celibate members?
... in order to grow even closer for those people who are trying to go deeper in their spiritual understanding of the redemptive sufferings and to really grow in spirituality, he recommended traditional practices of corporal mortification that had been in the church for centuries, such as using a cilice...
These are corporal mortifications that were practiced throughout the centuries of the church. Mother Theresa used these things. Padre Pio, the earlier saints, St. Francis, St. Dominic, all used these kinds of practices of corporal mortification along with fasting, abstaining from meat, things that are probably more understood in the universal Church as ways that ‑‑ and even beyond the Church as ways that we grow in spirituality that we have to deny ourselves some of the comforts of this life in order to be open to the spiritual.
If you thought Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ was too gut-wrenchingly violent, his movie Apocolypto is not for you. Set among the Mayans in the 16th century, the film portrays their customs of human sacrifice with unsparing realism. Heads roll, blood spurts, victims scream as the cruel priests torture and kill thousands in a vain offering to their bloodthirsty gods.
Human sacrifice, often accompanied by cannibalism, was common amongst parts of virtually every primitive civilization around the world. Why did people believe that human sacrifice was necessary? The logic is pretty simple: according to primitive belief systems, the gods controlled all the factors that led to either peace and prosperity or death and destruction. To please them the gods were offered the very best thing possible: human life. The ancients believed that the life of the flesh was in the blood, so to offer the gods life, you had to shed blood so that the invisible life force could be released.
God revealed the true way of sacrifice through the religious history of the Jewish race. When Abraham took his son Isaac up the mountain to be sacrificed, he was only doing what most primitive people expected they would have to do to please the gods. However, the God of Mercy intervened and told Abraham to offer a goat instead. In the Passover, and continuing through their sacrificial system in the temple at Jerusalem, the Jews offered God the blood of animals rather than the lives of their own children.
This was a step forward, but it was still unsatisfactory. God himself says in the Old Testament, “Do you think I want the blood of goats and bulls?” The sacrificial system was only a pointer to the one, full, final sacrifice, in which God gives his own son in a bloody immolation for the whole world. Through the Mass that human sacrifice to end all human sacrifices is remembered and brought into the present moment and applied to the needs of each one of us here in our world today.
The idea that sacrifice should be central to Christian worship is a scandal to many modern people. Rightly horrified by human sacrifice and revolted by the ritual slaughter of animals, some Catholics wish to turn away from the idea that the Mass is a sacrifice. They wish to discard the religious concept of sacrifice because it seems primitive, superstitious and barbaric. Instead, they promote the idea that the Mass is essentially a fellowship meal. They bring forward the Biblical concept of the solemn meal that sealed a covenant between two contracting parties, and they see the Mass as a newer form of the regular ritual meals that the Jews celebrated. The fellowship covenant ritual meal, they believe, makes for a better and fuller understanding of the Mass.
Along with this de-emphasis of sacrifice, they also see the Mass more as a re-enactment of the Last Supper than a vivid remembering of the crucifixion of Christ. By focusing on the Mass as a ritual fellowship meal, they have inadvertently shifted the focus away from the cross of Christ.
This underlying theological shift of focus is the real reason why priests suddenly began celebrating Mass facing the people. From time immemorial the priest faced the altar, praying in the same direction as the people. He presented Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice with and for them to the Father. However, if the Mass is primarily a re-enactment of the Last Supper, and a kind of Jewish ritual fellowship meal, then it makes perfect sense for the priest to celebrate Mass facing the people as a father might preside at the table for family dinner.
The theological notion that the Mass was now primarily a fellowship meal rather than a sacrifice brought about a revolution not only in where the priest stood to celebrate Mass, but also in every aspect of Catholic worship. Church buildings became large round meeting houses for the family meal. There was no longer an introit hymn to start Mass, but a ‘gathering hymn.’ Liturgical music voiced emotions about unity, togetherness, the people of God and the fellowship. The focus shifted from worship of God to family togetherness.
As a result of these theological and liturgical innovations the idea of sacrifice in the Mass was largely forgotten. Does it matter? Are the critics right? Is the concept of sacrifice a primitive, barbaric and superstitious religious custom? Are we better off without it? Isn’t it nicer for Mass to be all about us and our needs and how we can make the world a better place?
I think not, and here’s why: First of all, we should understand what the fully Christian concept of sacrifice really is. Let’s be clear, we don’t offer an oblation to appease an angry God or bribe him to make it rain. The primitive pagan human sacrifices and the animal sacrifices of the Jews were only prophecies and precursors of the one, full, final sacrifice of Christ. That sacrifice is remembered and brought into the preset moment through the Mass. The sacrifice we offer now is the sacrifice of praise, and the offering we now make is the offering of ourselves, our souls and our bodies as a living sacrifice. (Rom. 12:1-2)
The concept of sacrifice must not be lost, because through the understanding of sacrifice we not only enter into the mystery of Christ’s death, but also into the spiritual heart of God himself. Sacrifice is a total offering of oneself, and this reveals to us what God is like. God is the One who is totally self-giving. That is his nature and his purpose. Sacrifice is, therefore, another way to enter into the mystery of who God is. God cannot help but sacrifice himself for us. That is his nature, and his nature is Love.
When we shift our understanding of the Mass from sacrifice to fellowship meal we lose the most profound and mysterious aspect of our Catholic worship. Only when we remember the true meaning of sacrifice will we remember the true meaning of the Mass, and only as we remember the true meaning of the Mass will we be able to renew our worship, renew our Church and renew the very heart of our spiritual existence.
Originally published @ http://aleteia.org/2016/05/26/the-sacrifice-of-the-mass-is-more-than-a-fellowship-meal/
St Agnes, Tenebrae Service: 6:00 PM (Solemn Evening Prayer with Schola Cantorum) Confessions: 7:30–8:30 AM, 12:40–1:40, 5:00–5:30 PM
Choral music for Tenebrae: Lamentations of Jeremiah – Timothy J. Kruger (b. 1964) O Saviour of the World – John Goss (1800–1880) O Jesus, Joy of Loving Hearts – Allen Orton Gibbs (1910-1996) Christus Factus Est – Felice Anerio (1560–1614)
I thought it may be nice to share some information about St. Agnes, the patron of where we meet.
St. Agnes of Rome was born in 291 AD and raised in a Christian family. Agnes was very beautiful and belonged to a wealthy family. Her hand in marriage was highly sought after, and she had many high ranking men chasing after her. However, Agnes made a promise to God never to stain her purity. Her love for the Lord was great and she hated sin even more than death!
Whenever a man wished to marry Agnes, she would always say, "Jesus Christ is my only Spouse."
According to legend, the young men she turned away became so angry and insulted by her devotion to God and purity that they began to submit her name to authorities as a Christian follower.
In one incident, Procop, the Governor's son, became very angry when she refused him. He tried to win her for his wife with rich gifts and promises, but the beautiful young girl kept saying, "I am already promised to the Lord of the Universe. He is more splendid than the sun and the stars, and He has said He will never leave me!"
In great anger, Procop accused her of being a Christian and brought her to his father, the Governor. The Governor promised Agnes wonderful gifts if she would only deny God, but Agnes refused. He tried to change her mind by putting her in chains, but her lovely face shone with joy.
Next he sent her to a place of sin, but an Angel protected her. At last, she was condemned to death. Even the pagans cried to see such a young and beautiful girl going to death. Yet, Agnes was as happy as a bride on her wedding day. She did not pay attention to those who begged her to save herself. "I would offend my Spouse," she said, "if I were to try to please you. He chose me first and He shall have me!" Then she prayed and bowed her head for the death-stroke of the sword.
Other accounts of Agnes' life hold the Prefect Sempronius responsible for her martyrdom. It is said he condemned the young girl to be dragged through the streets naked. Some versions of the legend state that Agnes' hair grew instantly to cover her entire body and all the men who attempted to rape the beautiful virgin were immediately struck blind.
The stories go on to explain that another man presided over Agnes' trial after Sempronius excused himself. The new man sentenced Agnes to death. At first, Agnes was tied to a stake, but either the wood would not burn or the flames parted away from her. This prompted an officer to draw his sword and behead the girl. It is believed that her blood, which poured out to the stadium, was soaked up with cloths by Christians.
She died a virgin-martyr at the age of 12 or 13 on 21 January 304.
Agnes was buried beside the Via Nomentana in Rome. Her bones are currently conserved beneath the high altar in the church of Sant'Angese fuori le mura in Rome, which was built over the catacomb that held her tomb. Her skull is preserved in the church of Sant'Agnese in Agone in Rome's Piazza Navona.
In 1858, Father Caspar Rehrl, an Austrian missionary founded the Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes.
St. Agnes is widely known as the patron saint of young girls. She is also the patron saint of chastity, rape survivors and the Children of Mary. She is often represented with a lamb, the symbol of her virgin innocence, and a palm branch, like other martyrs. She is shown as a young girl in robes holding a palm branch with the lamb either at her feet or in her arms.
Her feast day is celebrated on January 21. On her feast day, it is customary for two lambs to be brought in to be blessed by the pope. On Holy Thursday the lambs' wool is removed and woven into the pallium the pope gives to a newly consecrated archbishop as a sign of his power and union with the pope.