Tag Archives: Al Kresta

The parts of the Mass

The publication of  the new Roman Missal means it’s time to review the Mass . . .

Al Kresta

The Mass is a spiritual banquet, best appreciated as you read the menu ahead of time and anticipate the flow of the courses. The Mass splits into two balanced halves: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

In the Introductory Rites we prepare to meet God. They consist of the Entrance Song (Introit), the Greeting, the Penitential Rite and the Opening Prayer. Now we are prepared to enter into the heart of the Mass.

God speaks to us in the Liturgy of the Word. Only Scripture is read, and we find ourselves exhorted, rebuked, consoled, encouraged, challenged and instructed. The first reading is usually taken from the Old Testament or Acts. Then comes a Psalm response, followed by the second reading, usually taken from the epistles or the Book of Revelation. The Gospel has pride of place among the readings. The homily applies the Word to everyday life and the liturgical year.

Then follows the Profession of Faith (the Creed). If one cannot say the Creed with confidence, he is not ready to enter into full communion with Christ. After the General Intercessions (Prayers of the Faithful), the priest concludes the Liturgy of the Word with a prayer, making us ready for the greatest mystery: the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the Word made flesh.

Just as the Liturgy of the Word was preceded by a period of preparation, so too the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The preparation of the altar and the gifts and the presentation of and prayer over the gifts (the Offertory) precede the Eucharistic Prayer, which begins with the priest and people wishing that the Lord be with one another’s spirit. The Preface, the Sanctus and the Benedictus build anticipation of the Lord’s coming. Next the Holy Spirit is invoked (the Epiclesis) to transform the gifts into the Body and Blood of Christ. Christ’s Words of Institution (the Consecration) follow. The people then offer the Memorial Acclamation, followed by prayers for the Church and her leaders.

Next comes the Communion Rite, which includes the Lord’s Prayer, the Sign of Peace, the breaking of the bread, the Lamb of God (Agnus Dei), and Communion. The prayer after Communion and the cleansing of the sacred vessels conclude the Communion Rite and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. In the Concluding Rite, we are dismissed to go forth as God’s ambassadors, transforming the world into the kingdom of God.

This column is reprinted with permission from the book “Why Do Catholics Genuflect?” by Al Kresta, CEO of Ave Maria Communications and host of Kresta in the Afternoon on Ave Maria Radio.

Is Mary the ‘coredemptrix’?

Al Kresta explores some misconceptions about the possible fifth Marian dogma . . .

Al Kresta

While not her Son’s equal, Mary occupies a special place in salvation history, continuing to unite souls with the same Lord she agreed to bring into the world.

Let’s be clear. Jesus is the redeemer of humanity; Mary is not. Further, while “Mary, Coredemptrix” has been part of Catholic thought and devotion, it is not yet clear whether this title will receive dogmatic definition (Click here for a related story).

All admit, however, that this designation of Mary has long been part of the Church’s devotional life and was further developed during the pontificates of Popes Pius X, Pius XI and Blessed John Paul II. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, though no systematic theologian, wrote: “The papal definition of Mary as Coredemptrix, Mediatrix and Advocate will bring great graces to the Church.”

The first application of the word coredemptrix to Mary dates back to the 14th century. The concept, however, is already present in the writings of St. Irenaeus and St. Justin Martyr in the idea of the Second Eve. Just as Adam and Eve killed the life of God dwelling within them by disobedience, so too do the Last Adam and the New Eve restore that life by obedience to the will of God. Eve hands the instrument of death to Adam in the Garden; Mary hands Jesus the instrument, a body, that brings eternal life (Heb 10:10).

Unfortunately, in English coredemptrix sounds like cochair or cocaptain, implying that Jesus needed to split the office of Redeemer with someone else because the task of dying for the sins of the world was just a little too much for him. Rather, the “co” in coredemptrix refers to a “cooperator” or “collaborator” with the Redeemer. To say that Mary plays a singular role in salvation history is not to claim that she’s equal to the Redeemer. In the title “Coredemptrix,” we don’t claim that Mary is equal to Christ, but rather that she freely cooperates with Him in suffering for the sake of the gospel.

While a hot brick warms, it receives its warmth from something other than itself, some heat source like a furnace. While the furnace is the “warmer,” the brick mediates the furnace’s heat to others. In this sense the brick can be called a “co-warmer.”

Mary receives the title “Coredemptrix” because of her unique maternity. She holds the title for all of us since she is the mother of all Christians. Under her feet, the God of peace will crush Satan (Rom 16:20).

Al Kresta is CEO of Ave Maria Communications and host of Kresta in the Afternoon. This column is reprinted with permission from his book “Why Are Catholics So Concerned About Sin?” (St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2005).

Are we judged by our work?

We aren’t saved by works in themselves, we will be judged according to them . . .

Al Kresta

Al Kresta

Our salvation isn’t fixed by once “accepting Christ as our personal Savior.” It’s made certain by continuing to obey him lovingly as our Lord. “Faith apart from works is dead” (Jas 2:26).

The Catholic Church doesn’t teach salvation by works but rather, to use St. Paul’s phrase, salvation by grace through faith working in love (Gal 5:6). The faith that brings us into right relationship with God and makes us adopted sons and daughters of God is also a working faith.

Christians aren’t saved by works in themselves, they’ll be judged according to them. Jesus promised, “I am coming soon. I bring with me the recompense I will give to each according to his deeds” (Rev 22:12). Faith is made complete by expressing itself in action. Works are crystallized faith. As Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (Jn 14:15). And his commandments are not burdensome (1 Jn 5:3); we need only pray as St. Augustine prayed: “Command what you will, and give what you command.”

God created us in his image and likeness to rule as co-regents of his creation. We were created for good works (Gen 1:27-28; Eph 2:8-10). His purpose in redeeming us isn’t different from his purpose in creating us. Grace builds on nature. Consequently, it’s misleading to say that we are working to get to heaven. More accurately, we are given the gift of salvation so that we might fulfill our natures. Thus we are commanded to “not grow weary in well-doing” (Gal 6:9). People cannot absolutely deserve any rewards from God (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2007). But in God’s gracious plan of redemption, he invites us to receive his gift of eternal life and become his friends who love and labor with him freely. If we do anything good and virtuous it is because he, in his mercy, empowers us to perform such good works.

When we flourish in our efforts, He blesses us with eternal union with him. As the theologian and catechist Fr. Ronald Lawlor puts it: “We are said to merit eternal life, then, because we freely do the saving deeds that God makes it possible for us to do. But all this is in the context of grace. ‘When God crowns our merits,’ St. Augustine remarks, ‘is he not crowning precisely his own gifts?’”

This column is reprinted with permission from the book “Why Do Catholics Genuflect?” by Al Kresta, CEO of Ave Maria Communications and host of Kresta in the Afternoon on Ave Maria Radio.

Why can’t everyone go to heaven?

Neither God nor anyone else can compel someone’s agreement or love through force . . .

Al Kresta

Historic Christian “universalism” insists that all types of people will be saved. But not all people, without exception, will spend eternity with God.

Jesus knew that people have the freedom to reject God’s love and often do. He lamented, “O Jerusalem … how often I would have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” (Mt 23:37-39). Jesus’ desire to gather his people recalls the Old Testament image of God sheltering his people under his wings.

From the cross, Jesus’ arms are outstretched to gather up the entire race and reconstitute the universal human family in his embrace. Not everyone, however, will consent to this embrace. God cannot save all persons except by refusing to respect their will. When all opportunities for repentance have passed and all divine and human appeals are exhausted, we are still left with a person who must choose for himself or herself.

To believe that all human beings can be saved by a simple divine decree debases rather than elevates the human person. Think about your efforts to win people over to your love or your cause. Granted, compared to the deity and Dale Carnegie, we all fall short of winning friends and influencing people. But since a person’s will is a holy of holies, no one, not even God, can enter it by force without defiling it.

Neither God nor anyone else can compel someone’s agreement or love through overwhelming force. That would be rape not love, exploitation not cooperation. “Dehumanize the human so we can save him” deserves a place in Orwell’s 1984. It is simply doublespeak. “Hell is one of the eternal guarantees of human freedom, for it admits the right of a free man to cry out non-serviam throughout all eternity,” Archbishop Fulton Sheen once wrote. In Milton’s Paradise Lost, Lucifer would rather revolt against heaven than serve there; at least in Hell he can be king.

British evangelist John Wesley speaks for the vast majority of Christians when he writes that God’s goodness is displayed most clearly “in offering salvation to every creature, actually saving all that consent thereto, and doing for the rest all that infinite wisdom, almighty power and boundless love can do, without forcing them to be saved, which would be to destroy the very nature that he had given them.”

This column is reprinted with permission from “Why Are Catholics So Concerned About Sin?” by Al Kresta, CEO of Ave Maria Communications and host of Kresta in the Afternoon on Ave Maria Radio.

Why confess to a priest?

We confess to a priest because Christ gave his disciples the power to forgive sins . . .

Al Kresta

Catholics confess to a priest because they first went to Jesus, and he told them to go to a priest. Christ himself determined to forgive and retain sins through human intermediaries.

After his resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples. “He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained’” (Jn 20:22-23).

The apostles and their successors don’t merely proclaim forgiveness to those who repent; they can also “retain” — that is, refuse to confer absolution for sins. They have the discretionary power of “binding and loosing.” Jesus commissioned his community on earth to speak in his name not just metaphorically, but metaphysically. The sacrament of Penance as a mediation of Christ’s work is dictated by the logic of the Incarnation.

Catholics believe that Jesus is, quite literally, present on the earth today carrying out his ministry of the forgiveness of sins through the body, the Church, that acts in and bears his name. God was present to us in the flesh 2,000 ago; he continues to impart his grace in a fully personal way through those, beginning with the apostles, whom he has ordained to perpetuate his mission from the Father.

In Hebrew and the later Christian tradition, confession of sin was never just a private matter between me and God. God’s people have always commissioned particular individuals from among the people to speak forgiveness on behalf of God as well as the community.

For the ancient Israelites, confession of sin was much more complicated than for us. People offered up sin sacrifices and trespass offerings involving cattle, goats or sheep and required the ministry of the priest and the altar. Christ transformed the sacrificial system. His death put an end to animal sacrifices. He is now our sin offering, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn 1:29).

Catholics ultimately confess to God, who alone can forgive sins. The priest, for his part, visibly extends Christ’s priestly ministry, the same way the preacher extends Christ’s prophetic ministry. In creation, God fashioned humans to carry out his rule over the earth. In redemption, he resorts to those he has created in his image. When we confess to a priest we are confessing to Christ, the one High Priest who carries out his ministry through the ordained priesthood.

Al Kresta is CEO of Ave Maria Communications and host of Kresta in the Afternoon. This column is taken from his book “Why Do Catholics Genuflect?” © 2001. Used with permission of St. Anthony Messenger Press. To order copies, call 1-800-488-0488 or visit servantbooks.org

Why call priests ‘father’?

Al Kresta defends the Catholic & Orthodox practice of calling priests ‘father . . .

Al Kresta

Al Kresta

Jesus warned against the behavior of the scribes and Pharisees who exalt themselves and covet the seats of honor in public. They use their authority to bask in praise while oppressing the common believer.

“Call no man your father on earth,” Jesus told his followers, “for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ” (Mt 23:8).

In light of this passage, some Christians believe that the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Episcopalian custom of calling their priests “father” ignores Jesus’ words. But this interpretation of the passage ends up proving too much. If it forbids any honorific title, then what are we to make of common Protestant titles such as pastor, reverend, teacher, doctor and bishop?

When taken with wooden literalness, the passage even forbids calling our biological or adoptive male parent “father” — after all, we’re to call no one on earth “father” because our real “Father” is in heaven.

This strictly literal application of the passage mocks the practice of the very apostles we are called to emulate. The New Testament writers affectionately called Jewish or Christian leaders “father.” Paul called Abraham “the father of all who believe” (Rom 4:11). He also referred to himself this way: “Like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you” (1 Thess 2:11).

These aren’t odd or isolated references. At least nine times in his first letter John fondly called his disciples “children” or “little children.” Paul called the Galatians “my children” (Gal 4:19) and Timothy “my true child in the faith” (1 Tim 1:2).

How can this be, given Jesus’ apparent prohibition? It’s not difficult to fathom. A spiritual parent, like a physical parent, is accountable to God for the care and nurture of his children. That accountability to God was just what the scribes, Pharisees and rabbis neglected in the exercise of their office.

Why then does Jesus use such absolute language? Hebrew scholars remind us that the Jews employed the linguistic convention of using absolute contrasts to make comparative points. It’s a form of hyperbole.

Jesus’ warnings about calling men teachers, fathers, masters, leaders, and so on do not utterly prohibit the language of spiritual parentage, but the debasing of such language. Better not to use it at all than to mock God by corrupting it. Jesus uses extreme language to combat extreme abuse.

Al Kresta is CEO of Ave Maria Communications and host of Kresta in the Afternoon. This column is taken from his book “Why Do Catholics Genuflect?” © 2001. Used with permission of St. Anthony Messenger Press. To order copies, call 1-800-488-0488 or visit servantbooks.org

Why do Catholics use holy water?

From ancient times, water has always played an important symbolic role in biblical faith

Al Kresta

Al Kresta

Holy water is one of many sacramentals — aids to devotion — which include objects such as holy water, scapulars, statues, medals and rosaries. Sacramentals are also actions such as blessings, exorcisms and the sign of the cross.

While sacraments objectively confer grace, the value of a sacramental depends on the disposition and openness of the believer to receive grace from God. Sacramentals can be established or abolished by the pastoral judgment of the Church. The sacraments, on the other hand, were instituted by Christ and cannot be added to or taken from.

Now let’s dive into holy water in particular. Water has always played an important symbolic role in biblical faith. Ancient Israel used to purify people and places by sprinkling them with water (see Lev 14:49-52; Num 19:18). Israelite priests ritually washed their hands before and after offering sacrifice. The temple in Jerusalem had fonts for worshippers to cleanse themselves.

Today, Catholic priests wash their hands at the beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist. In the sacrament of Baptism, a sacramental (holy water) becomes the material substance used by God to effect the remission of sins.

Plain water becomes holy water through the blessing of a priest. For instance, water is blessed at the Easter Vigil for the baptism of those being received into the Church that night. This holy water used to be retained for the entire liturgical year. For hygienic (as well as theological) reasons, we now use fresh water for baptisms outside of the Easter season.

After being blessed, the holy water is placed in a receptacle accessible to worshippers. Some churches now have large baptismal fonts that sit in the vestibule. Worshippers can dip their fingers into the font and then make the sign of the cross as a preparation to enter the sacred mysteries.

With this sacramental we’re reminded of our baptism and union with Christ in his death and resurrection, and we pray to be cleansed and forgiven of any venial sins that have stained us on our journey through the world.

Al Kresta is CEO of Ave Maria Communications and host of Kresta in the Afternoon. This column is taken from his book “Why Do Catholics Genuflect?” © 2001. Used with permission of St. Anthony Messenger Press. To order copies, call 1-800-488-0488 or visit servantbooks.org

Why more books in the Catholic Bible?

Catholics and the Orthodox rely on a pre-Christian Jewish list of inspired books. . .

Al Kresta

Al Kresta

So, why are there more books in the Catholic Bible? Most simply: Catholics and Orthodox rely on a pre-Christian Jewish list of inspired books. Protestants rely on a post-Christian Jewish list of inspired books. This is unfamiliar territory for a lot of us.

When we pick up a Bible we want sure teaching about life and sturdy standards for living it. In short, we want a word from the living God. We accept the volume in our hands as the Bible. We don’t check to see if all the books are in there or if some are added. We are rightly assured that any responsible version of the Bible contains the written Word of God and can lead to salvation in Christ (2 Tm 3:16).

All Christian communities agree on the “canonical” 27 books of the New Testament. However, Christians disagree about the extent of the Old Testament. Protestant Bibles omit at least seven books from the collection of sacred writings that are hallowed by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

The omitted books are called the “deuterocanonicals,” meaning “second canon,” as opposed to “protocanonicals,” meaning “first canon.” The deuterocanonicals are considered “second” because they are, for the most part, written later than the protocanonicals. They include Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) and Baruch. Catholic Bibles also contain an additional six chapters (107 verses) in the Book of Esther and another three chapters (174 verses) in the Book of Daniel.

A debate over the number of books in the Old Testament heated up after the rise of Christianity in the late first century because neither the Hebrew nor Christian Bibles contained a “table of contents.” For most Christians and Jews, “The Book” wasn’t finished.

So how did the deuterocanonicals get excised? In the 16th century, Martin Luther became the first person to extract them from their traditional order in scripture and cluster them after the protocanonicals. He reasoned that since they supported prayers for the dead and Purgatory, they could not be inspired. The Council of Trent, however, reaffirmed the tradition of the early Church and taught that Christians should venerate, love and obey the deuterocanonicals for God had authored them.

Al Kresta is CEO of Ave Maria Communications and host of Kresta in the Afternoon. This column is taken from his book “Why Do Catholics Genuflect?” © 2001. Used with permission of St. Anthony Messenger Press. To order copies, call 1-800-488-0488 or visit servantbooks.org.

Is it a sin to eat meat on Friday?

Christ died on a Friday, so it carries a special sacred significance for Catholics . . .

Al Kresta

Certain preachers have tried to scare the hell out of folks — hoping to scare them out of Hell. However, the Church has no authority to send people to Hell. But Jesus did invest the leaders of his Church with his authority to “bind and loose” (Mt 16:19; 18:18).

This was a familiar formula in the first century. Rabbis had the power to make halakah, or rules of conduct, for the faith community — including setting aside days for fasting and repentance.

Because Friday is the day Christ died for the sin of the world, it carries a special sacred significance for Catholics. To set this day apart, the Church teaches us to perform works of penance. Canon Law declares: “Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the episcopal conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday” (1251).

Prior to Feb. 17, 1966, Catholics understood the Friday abstinence to mean abstaining from meat. But Pope Paul VI modified the discipline in his apostolic constitution Poenitemini. The basic purpose of the Friday abstinence is to establish a regular, rhythmic and corporate self-denial.

But as Paul VI reminded us, it’s not about avoiding filet mignon, but about “prayer-fasting-charity.” He urged Catholics to show solidarity with “their brothers who suffer in poverty and hunger, beyond all boundaries of nation and continent.”

After Poenitemini, each bishops’ conference could decide exactly what the culturally appropriate penitential practices should be. For example, in 1984 the French bishops reinstated the Friday abstinence from meat, but also included tobacco and alcohol. In America, other forms of penance can be substituted for abstinence from meat.

To consciously and maliciously refuse to participate in this communal discipline is a serious matter. It weakens the witness of the Church to Christ’s atoning work on Good Friday and ignores an invitation to the grace offered by Christ. So it’s sad that many Catholics have lost the sense of community that once bound us together in this discipline.

Al Kresta is CEO of Ave Maria Communications and host of Kresta in the Afternoon. This column is reprinted with permission from his book “Why Do Catholics Genuflect?” (Servant Publications/St. Anthony Messenger Press 2001).

Moments of Grace: Inspiring stories …

Ave Maria Radio’s Al Kresta and Nick Thomm share moving stories of faith . . .

moments-of-graceMoments of Grace: Inspiring stories from well-known Catholics
Servant Books, 2008. 195 pages paperback

God isn’t content to remain at a distance from us. As these stories reveal, God is on the street, at our side, ready to step in, hoping to be invited. Kresta conducted radio interviews with well-known Catholics, asking them to identify a particular event when God broke through to them.

Sometimes God showed up in surprising ways, sometimes slowly, but he always showed up. These moving, personal stories will encourage you to recognize that God will always be there for you as well.

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