WDTPRS for Easter Sunday 2002: Crisis in Perspective
This offering was originally written as a What Does The Prayer Really Say? column for Easter Sunday of 2002
WDTPRS is a featured column in the Catholic English language weekly The Wanderer and a regular feature of the Catholic Online Forum.
What Does the Prayer Really Say? Easter Sunday - Station: St. Mary Major
Once again the great cycle of the Church's liturgical observance brings us through the forty day Lenten journey to the ultimate festal day of Easter, the feast of the Resurrection of the Lord. Hopefully we have all participated in the Sacred Triduum ceremonies. We saw the priesthood and Eucharist instituted at Holy Thursday. Christ in the Blessed Sacrament was reposed. The altar was stripped. The Passion was sung and the Cross kissed on Good Friday. Though we could receive Communion, we "fasted" from Mass. And since, technically, the Vigil Mass of Easter begins properly at midnight, the Church does not partake of Holy Communion for the entirety of Saturday: we thus arrive at the nadir, our final deprivation, in our preparation for Easter. With the Vigil, the flowers, instrumental music, white and gold vestments return. The Exsultet is intoned before the Paschal candle, burning bright in the shadowy church representing the Risen Lord. Alleluias ring out and the bells return from their silent exile. Baptismal water is blessed and Catechumens are received and baptized, some also being confirmed. For the first time they are given the Body and Blood of the Lord. On Easter during the day we hear the Sequence Victimae paschali laudes about Christ the Victor King's duel with Death.
SUPER OBLATA/PRAYER OVER THE GIFTS:
LATIN (1970 & 2002 Missale Romanum): Sacrificia, Domine, paschalibus gaudiis exsultantes offerimus, quibus Ecclesia tua mirabiliter renascitur et nutritur.
LITERAL TRANSLATION: Exultant in joys of Easter, O Lord, we are offering now the sacrifices by which Thy Church is wondrously reborn and nourished.
Perhaps because of the incessant drumbeat being raised against the Church and her clergy in the media these days, I am struck by the imagery of the prayer in a special way this year. Our prayer clearly harkens to the Lenten fast that the Church has endured some weeks. Remember how Christ went into the desert and fasted for forty days and nights. "And when those days were over, he was famished" (Luke 4:2; Matthew 3:2) Consider how the Lord was sorely reduced by His fast. Already lean from a life of labor and perfect control of appetites for food, after forty days of eating virtually nothing, He must has been little more than skin and bones, and very weak. And all that time "He was with the wild beasts" (Mark 1:13). Jesus' condition was grave enough from His fast that, after Satan had tempted Him, the Father sent His Holy angels to minister to Him (Mark 1:13; Matthew 4:11).
The Church is being forced into a new kind of fast through the scandals caused by wicked clergy. It is bad enough that the people of God have been cheated of their heritage for decades through a poor or even maliciously false implementation of the liturgical reforms mandated by the Second Vatican Council. It is bad enough that catechetics have been neglected or subverted. It is bad enough that seminaries were hijacked by ideologically driven dissenters. Now we are being brought as a Church to pay for the sins of bishops and priests who commit the abomination of sexual abuse of children and minors. While I loathe the way the media exaggerates the charges and inflates the numbers of men involved, I cannot help but be grateful in a reserved way. Jackals clean the land of rotting flesh, after all. They cull the sick of the herd. I think that we have at last now the chance to clean our house with a real spring cleaning. Just as Lent (which means "spring") is our spiritual preparation through penance and mortifications and Easter is our Resurrection, so too as a Church we must now go into the desert and fast and suffer and pray. The enemy of the soul will tear at us, tempting us to vainglory, pride, desire for material comfort. We must go out to be "with the wild beasts" and watch the secular media tear at our ankles and flanks. In Robert Graves' great historical novel of ancient Rome I, Claudius, the aging and moribund emperor, disgusted by the uncontrollable corruption around him finally croaks out, "Let all the poisons that lurk in the mud hatch out." And with the added incubation of the serpentine media they are indeed hatching out now like venomous cockatrices crawling from shells long guarded beneath episcopal feathers. Still, is it not ironic to the extreme that the liberal-leaning media pundits who scourge the Pope whenever he disciplines a bishop or theologian for straying into dissent or heteropraxis or whenever he clearly teaches Catholic doctrine without compromise now are yowling that he should hammer the cardinals and bishops who engaged in years of cover-ups of clerical misdeeds? Even most Catholic pundits, who invariably react negatively when the Pope acts like an old-fashioned Pope and teaches the hard messages of perennial truths of Catholic faith and morals, now mercilessly want John Paul II to be an old-fashioned Pope only long-enough to punish and castigate. Surely we are now among the wild beasts of the desert. I only wish people were more consistent. If one is going to yammer for the Pope to be a disciplinarian in the matter of clerics sexually abusing minors, to be consistent one ought also demand that the Pope swiftly and unswervingly discipline clergy who teach heresy and permit it to be taught in pulpits and universities. But for many, fickle people and pitiless press, the Pope may be Pope only when it serves their immediate tastes. We are truly among the beasts.
But Christ has Risen from the dead and His Bride, in Him, is spotless and pure. We sinners who are the members of this Church, who is Christ's Mystical Body, cast ourselves upon His mercy. The sin of the priest and the bishop does not negate or invalidate the sacrifices the Catholic people lay in hope upon the altar. As Catholics we have the collective experience of two millennia. We know that storms and quakes have rocked our Church. Each time we emerge from the flotsam and jetsam we emerge stronger and more in love with Christ and His promises. Yes, we mourn those lost to sin along the way. We pray for mercy for the sinner and forgive him. We continue to counsel the doubtful, console those who mourn and bear wrongs patiently. And after our long fast in the desert, among the beasts, we will be attended by angels and nourished with the Bread of Life just as we have always been. As we endure our present scandals and the virtual self-implosion of the Church today is it too much to hope that, once we reemerge on the other side, we will experience a rebirth and a nourishing of His Church the likes of which we have hitherto only dreamed? At the offertory of the Mass, we should all be raising up to the Father our own sacrifices. But a sacrifice needs to cost us something. It must be dear to us. Are we being asked, like Abraham, to lay at last the sharpened knife across the neck of what we love so dearly? It is hard, very hard indeed, to see our shameful troubles being gnawed on daily in the sight of the whole wide world. It is onerous to clean house. Maybe seminaries with long histories need to be closed until faculties worthy of the mandate can be found who will finally refuse to promote heresy and sodomy from within the ranks of feminized priests. Schools may need to be shut down until instructors will adhere to Catholic teaching and be humbly obedient in following the Church, who is Mater et Magistra. Were we to have a good, accurate, and beautiful translation of liturgical texts and careful attention to the rubrics, were we as a Church simply to do what the Church indicates in the sacred action, perhaps we might see the beginnings of authentic renewal at the grassroots. Lacking good priests, perhaps parishes will be reduced. Maybe assets and holdings will need to be liquidated and our outward splendor reduced for a time. Must our no-doubt precious chancery bureaucracies need to be cut down? Should bloated diocesan budgets be reduced so that they no longer require vast flock-soaking capital campaigns and annual appeals? Perhaps instead of throwing money at "evangelization programs" may we can simply preach and live what is good and right and true, without watering down our doctrine and practices so that the world will like us more. We need renewal and reform and it is going to hurt.
We are going to suffer a great deal before this period of purification is completed. We must steel ourselves for humiliations and shameful revelations. We must review and refresh our understanding of the true nature of the Church as "holy" and of her sacraments as the ordinary means of grace. We now need to return to the basics and stay close to Christ's feet, nailed to the Cross as they are. We must be nailed there with Him. And after this Cross and desert penance, the angels will put the beasts to flight and we will be reborn in anticipation of the Resurrection that Christ makes possible for us all. But we must put our trust in Him and act accordingly. Unlike the beasts we also must cling to Christ's command to forgive, if not forget. We must be merciful or we will be the beasts.
I pray that your participation in the Holy Week rites and the Holy Mass of the Lord's Resurrection will bring you all hope, consolation, and happiness in this necessary time of renewal and purification.
Fr. John T. Zuhlsdorf is the Moderator of the Catholic Online Forum (http://forum.catholic.org). A convert from Lutheranism Fr. Z was ordained by His Holiness Pope John Paul II in 1991 for the Suburbicarian Diocese of Velletri-Segni. He has a STB summa cum laude from the Pontifical Lateran University (Rome) and and STL from the Patristic Institute "Augustinianum" (Rome) together with secular degrees in Classics and Theater. He gave service to the Holy See's Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei". Fr. Z is a frequent speaker at Catholic conferences in the USA, has been on EWTN, and his articles have appeared in Sacred Music, Catholic World Report and The Wanderer.
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