Love Grows as we Love!

Jesus sets before the Church what He believes is the perfection of love. “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (Jn 15:13) When will we wake up on a morning and see this genuine love perfected in all persons? Because of grace this type of love is born in His body the Church. Though it is not fully perfected it needs to be nourished, so that it will not starve. The Holy Eucharist and God’s Word nourishes love. The love we want in the world is found within us. Trust God and open your heart to your neighbor. Your love for your neighbor becomes his love for another! Enjoy your day.

Holy Week: The Most Solemn Week of the Year!

baptism of catechumenThis year, March 29, 2015 begins the most solemn week of the year. We walk liturgically the last week of our Lord Jesus Christ’s earthly life.  We call this journey “Holy Week.”  We walk “liturgically” meaning sacramentally we are actually present to the suffering, dying and rising of Jesus Christ.  We participate in His “Paschal mystery.”  This divine mystery is the theological core of the Christian faith and the soul of the Church’s liturgical life.

The word “paschal” comes from “pascha” which itself means “the passing over.”  The Pascha is an early description for the Easter celebration of baptism and the holy Eucharist.  Lent developed as a season of preparation for baptism and first communion on Easter. St. Paul spoke to the newly baptized on Pascha, “We were buried with Christ through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).

The first service of Easter begins at 8:00 pm on Holy Saturday night (April 4, 2015) and is called “The Great Vigil of Easter.”  At this first Mass of Easter you will hear lots of scripture readings from the Old Testament and New Testaments. The great stories such as the Fall of man, the crossing of the Red Sea, and the prophecy of the Dry Bones, and God making in man a new heart, our baptism into the Christ’s dying and rising and the Empty Tomb. These readings are some of the most ancient Christian “paradigms” for sacramental baptism. The joy that illuminates this evening service is celebrated using the contrast of candlelight and darkness. The glorious announcement “Alleluia, Christ is Risen” originally was spoken by those who had just been baptized into Christ and become a new creation.

The early Christians understood how the act of baptizing was the very act of “passage” in which the Church fulfills herself as God’s new creation.  Using liturgy the Church transcends earthly dimensions of an institution and she becomes the living Body of Christ as she receives the Body and Blood of Christ.  At this moment in earthly time the Church is the manifestation and presence of the “new aeon” of the Kingdom of God.

The first known use of the term “Paschal mystery” as it applies to our Lord’s suffering, dying, and resurrection is found in a homily written by Melito, who was the bishop of Sardis near Smyrna.  The homily was written between 160 and 170 A.D.  A contemporary of Melito was Irenaeus, bishop of Antioch (130-202 A.D).  He was taught how the celebration of “Holy Week” (what he called “Great Week”) went back to the time of Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna. (d. 155 A.D)  

The origin of this solemn week lies buried in apostolic times. By the 4th century during the episcopate of the great bishop St. Cyril of Jerusalem it was an annual event.  Many of the earliest churches were being built on the sacred sites in the Holy Land by Constantine, and with the growing influx of pilgrims to Jerusalem for Easter Day the Church developed liturgies celebrated on the original sites and at the times indicated in the gospels.  The liturgies in the Book of Common Prayer for Holy Week are structured from these ancient services.

Holy Week brings to fruition the baptismal themes that has structured the season of Lent.  An example of this is how on the 5th Sunday in Lent (March 22, 2015) the Gospel addressed the role of baptism using the words of Jesus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”  (John 12:24)

Lent has prepared us to listen attentively to the Passion Gospels and Old and New Testament stories that narrate our salvation. We find on Maundy Thursday the origin and purpose of the Mass.  We discover on Good Friday how all graces flow from the sacrifice of Christ and how on this “Good and perfect day” our Lord’s suffering body made a new humanity that in baptism made us the Father’s “new creation.”  (Eph 2:14-22 and 2Cor 5:16-21)

At the Great Vigil of Easter the 40 days of Lent “fold into” the renewal of our baptismal vows where we once again renounce Satan and all his evil and we promise ourselves again to Christ and to the ministry of His Church. “Through the Paschal Mystery, dear friends, we are buried with Christ by Baptism into His death, and raised with Him to newness of life. I call upon you, therefore, now that our Lenten observance is ended, to renew the solemn promises and vows of Holy Baptism, by which we once renounced Satan and all his works, and promised to serve God faithfully in His holy Catholic Church.”  (BCP 292)

On Easter Day we pray, “Almighty God, who through Your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord’s resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by Your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.”  (BCP 222)

Join us for our services during Holy Week and complete your journey of Lent to Easter Morning.

  • March 29th – Palm Sunday, Sunday 8:00, 9:00 and 11:15 am.
  • April 1st – Wednesday in Holy Week, Mass at 7:00 am and 11:00 am in the Lady Chapel.
  • April 2nd – Maundy Thursday, Mass with choir, Foot Washing, Stripping of the Altar, and beginning of the Great Watch.  The Church remains open from the end of Mass around 8:00 pm until 12 midnight for prayer.
  • April 3rd – Good Friday Liturgy at 12:00 pm noon and with the choir at 7:00 pm.
  • April 4th – The Great Vigil of Easter with choir at 8:00 pm.  Includes the Service of Lights, the Blessing of the Easter Fire, procession with the Paschal Candle and chanting of the Exulted, and the service of Lessons recounting the history of salvation.
  • April 5th – Easter Day, 8:00, 9:00 and 11:15 am.  9:00 am is the Flowering of the Cross and Children’s sermon; 10:30 am Easter Egg Hunt with children.

The Holy Eucharist – Part Ten

The Communion of the people and completion of the service.

After the Prayer of Consecration is completed and the Great AMEN is proclaimed the faithful pray the Lord’s Prayer and prepare to come to the Altar rail for holy Communion.  The breaking of the consecrated bread takes place as the final prelude to the reception of holy Communion.

Our catechesis this morning will reflect on this precious moment between Christ and your soul when you partake of the mystery of Christ’s living Presence.  When you receive the Body and Blood of Christ you are made one with the saving acts of His dying and rising.  Initiated into the Paschal mystery at baptism we are united with this mystery at every Mass.

The Prayer of Humble Access (BCP: 337) is one of the most treasured prayers in our Anglican patrimony.  This prayer beautifully explains what has just happened upon the Altar and what we are about to receive.  It reads:  “We do not presume to come to this Thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in Thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under Thy Table. But Thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of Thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink His blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by His body, and our souls washed through His most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in Him, and He in us. Amen.”

The basis of this prayer is our Lord’s own words: “So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you; he who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in me, and I in him. (Joh 6:53-56)

As we come forward to receive the sacrament we come to give our self, our soul and body to Jesus that He may “dwell in us and we in Him.”  This is truly a sacred moment of “holy” communion.

The Holy Spirit cleanses and heals our soul in the precious blood of the Lamb poured out for us on the Cross. Our heavenly Father loves us and He desires to be united with us in the bonds of the Spirit where love knows only joy.

So I ask you now.  Do you thirst for God like He thirsts for you?  “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, “If any one thirst, let him come to Me and drink.  He who believes in Me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ ” (John 7:37-38)

On the Cross, as He was dying Jesus said, “I thirst.” (John 19:28)

God thirsts for us. Every time we go to the Altar rail we should be thirsting for Him. If so we shall be satisfied!  By thirsting for Jesus we are giving to Him what He really thirsts for… our life and our soul. We give Him our broken and frail humanity; He gives us His divinity. We give Him our nothingness; He gives us His all.  What more do we need!

Holy Eucharist – Part Four

God’s Word Proclaimed!

After the choir and ministers are in place we exchange the ancient greeting “The Lord be with you.” This is done with the whole congregation and begins the central portion of the liturgy of the Word of God and introduces the Collect of the day. The word “collect” comes from the Latin “collecta,” and it means the “gathering up” or the “collecting” of something. In the early Church, as the service began the members of the congregation would offer petitions of prayer. The priest would silently listen his people and from their needs would compose in his heart a short “summary” prayer. Over time many of these prayers were written down. The collection of collects in the Prayer Book cover the full 2000 years of the Church’s liturgical history.

Now the people sit for the readings from Holy Scripture. The Prayer Book as a Lectionary (BCP: 887-931) and follow a three-year cycle of A, B, and C.  Each cycle uses a specific Gospel: Matthew, Mark, and Luke, with John’s Gospel interspersed each year for certain days and feasts. The Lectionary for Sundays is composed of four readings.  They are the Old Testament, the Psalms, the New Testament and the Holy Gospel.

After the reading of God’s Word is complete the sermon follows. It should be said here that sermons are not meant to be inspirational talks or motivational talks but they are meant to break open the Word of God so people may be spiritually fed. Sermons are not interruptions of our worship but they are an integral part of it. St. Paul teaches that our faith grows as we hear and inwardly digest the Word of God. (Rom 10: 17)

At the close of the sermon the congregation stands for the corporate recitation of the Nicene Creed. This Creed is used at every celebration of the Holy Eucharist with a few exceptions when the Apostles’ Creed is used. The Nicene Creed is the summary of our biblical faith and was composed by the councils of Nicea and Constantinople in the 4th century. (BCP, p 852)

The Creed’s “theological progression” moves us from the Book of Genesis to the close of the Book of Revelation. At the heart of the Creed is our faith in the mystery of Jesus Christ as true God and true man and the truth of our redemption in Christ. Its liturgical use on Sunday and major feasts (BCP, p 358) is a sign of the unity of the Church and a renewal of our covenant with God.

Amen

The Holy Eucharist – Part Two

Those who visit St. John’s on a Sunday morning discover that our worship is provided from the Book of Common Prayer.  Much of the liturgies it contains can be traced back at least to the middle of the second century AD.  With regard to the Mass there are two interrelated parts that make up the Eucharistic liturgy:  (1) the liturgy of the Word of God (BCP, p. 355) and (2) the liturgy of the Altar of God or the Holy Communion. (BCP, p. 361)

(1)  The liturgy of the Word of God contains an introductory portion, extensive reading of holy Scripture, the sermon, the Nicene Creed, prayers, confession of sin and sacramental absolution, and the exchange of peace. Anglican worship is rooted in God’s Word proclaimed and taught. When it is time to read from the Holy Gospel we actually carry it out to the middle of the congregation to proclaim the words of Christ.

The choir sings a gradual hymn, our acolytes carry torches and the processional Cross all to lead the Holy Gospel into the midst of the people for the proclamation.  This is done to share our belief of the presence of the living Word of God, Jesus Christ, in the midst of His family gathered.

(2)  The second half of the service is the liturgy of the Altar, or Holy Communion.  This consists of the offertory, the Great Prayer of Consecration, the communion of the people of God, the post-Communion prayer, and the blessing and dismissal.  Through the ministry of the priest we gather with Jesus at the “Last Supper.” This liturgy of the Mass enshrines our Lord’s actions of taking bread and wine, blessing both, breaking the bread and pouring the wine to give His sacred Body and Blood to the Church.

During Holy week on “Maundy Thursday” night our Lord commanded the apostles to preserve these four sacred actions of taking, blessing, breaking and giving. What is preserved in the Church is our Lord’s holy death on the Cross and His resurrection to glorification.

But we must follow the details has He laid them out.  The Mass is not something that we can compose afresh on our own.  Why is this all so important?  Every soul depends on the Mass.  In this holy sacrament any person in any era can feed upon the divine mystery of our Lord’s Passion and glorification. Holy Communion is just that!  It’s intimate union with Jesus Christ who said, “He who eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood abides in Me, and I in him.” (Jn 6:56)  Our supernatural life in Christ has its foundation in the Eucharistic banquet: “As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me will live because of Me.”  (Jn 6:56)

The lasting value of Anglican worship using the Book of Common Prayer does not depend on the clergy or anyone present. It depends solely on Jesus Christ who is the true Priest and Victim. With Him we are united, in spite of our nothingness.  We offer Him our intellect and our will, our heart and our soul, our body and our blood, so we may be filled with grace and heavenly benediction, and made one body with Jesus, that He may dwell in us, and we in Him.

Our heavenly Father knows us not so much due to our imperfections, but rather He knows us in His beloved Son in whom He is well pleased.  At St. John’s our worship lifts high the Cross between Heaven and earth so Christ may bestow the fullness of forgiveness and the supernatural life.

Amen