Tag Archives: Mike Aquilina

How Christianity Saved Civilizations… and Must Do So Again

Mike Aquilina and Jim Papandrea
Sophia Institute Press, 270 pages


“The Church can learn from the Church of the past,” declares the title of the first chapter of this marvelous work. Using a keen lens to examine the Church’s role in shaping history, the authors identify seven “revolutions” that took place as Christianity, once targeted for elimination through persecution, transformed and civilized the brutal Roman Empire. It was the Church that introduced the pagan world to such concepts as respect for life, the dignity of women, the need to protect the weak and vulnerable, and the servant role of those who govern us. From this history lesson, Christians can draw inspiration for transforming our increasingly hostile culture today.

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The Healing Imperative: The Early Church and the Invention of Medicine as We Know It

Mike Aquilina
Emmaus Road Publishing,
168 pages

“The hospital arose as a Christian institution utterly dependent on Christian principles,” writes Mike Aquilina in this engaging history. Some ancient cultures had rudimentary health care facilities where healers would beseech to the pagan gods and perform crude surgery and treatments. Sickness often was seen as divine punishment, and the poor and sometimes slaves were deemed unworthy of care. It took the Church, modeling Christ’s example of charity, hospitality, and compassion, to develop hospitals as true centers for healing that extended to all persons. If only modern health care models, which stand on the shoulders of countless monks, nuns, and saints of long-ago centuries, would remain faithful to that foundation.

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Medicine’s ‘hospitality’ birthed in Christianity

The hospital, as an institution, burst suddenly onto the scene in the fourth century. It came as if out of nowhere, and in a half-century it was everywhere.

Pagan antiquity had had all the material ingredients for such an institution. The Greeks and Romans had doctors. There was ample demand for medical treatment. And yet neither Greeks nor Romans — nor Chaldeans, nor Egyptians, nor Persians — had ever produced a hospital.

The foremost expert on the early history of hospitals, Dr. Gary Ferngren of Oregon State University, states this emphatically: “The hospital was, in conception, a distinctively Christian institution, rooted in concepts of charity and philanthropy. There were no pre-Christian institutions in the ancient world that served the purpose that Christian hospitals were created to serve.”

In classical antiquity, there were many professionals in the healing arts. The medical field was a riot of different types of practitioner: herbalists, soothsayers, magicians, folk healers, as well as those who practiced Hippocratic or “empirical” medicine. There were no certification boards. There were no medical schools to grant diplomas. Healers usually underwent an apprenticeship with someone more experienced.

Many practitioners in antiquity made their living wandering from town to town, perhaps outrunning the public response to their latest failures. Some crossed continents in the course of their careers. Their clientele consisted of those who could pay.

These wandering doctors had no roots, no local loyalties, no lasting accountability. There was no institutional form available to them. Yet there was great demand for medical care. Pain, sickness, and discomfort are characteristic of the human condition since the Fall of Adam. And those who suffered went looking, sometimes desperately, for relief.

We see something interesting happen in the early Christian centuries. We know, from documentary and archeological evidence, that doctors made up an unusually large portion of the early Church. In fact, they are represented more than any other professional group. Christianity was soon known as a source of healing in the world.

Christian doctors were different from their pagan colleagues. They would take no part in abortion, assisted suicide, cosmetic castration, or infanticide — all of which were common in ancient times. Nor would they prescribe contraceptive drugs.

But that’s not all they refused to do. They also refused to turn patients away.

When a smallpox plague hit the empire in 250 A.D., many doctors fled the cities. In its deadliest phase, the disease killed thousands of people per day in Rome alone — and raged intermittently for at least 20 years.

Christian doctors didn’t flee. They stayed and tended the sick. St. Cyprian exhorted his congregation in Africa to care not only for fellow Christians, but for their pagan persecutors as well.

It was probably then that the idea of the hospital first emerged — when house churches were offered in “hospitality” to the sick who had been abandoned.

When another plague struck, 70 years later, Christians everywhere knew how to respond. The churches became refuges, where the sick could find food and care. It was the only care available to them.

Shortly afterward, Christianity was legalized, and hospitals appeared everywhere. No city could be without one. Some cities had a halfdozen. Soon, most cities also had forms of ambulance service.

Once established, Christian hospitals became de facto research institutions — where professionals could observe the way illnesses progressed in multiple patients.

The hospital could not have happened without Christianity. Pagan societies had the material resources to invent it. But they lacked the spiritual resources. They lacked a belief in charity — self-giving love — as a share in the life of God. They lacked the belief in human dignity and universal brotherhood. They were unaware of the divine command to heal and show hospitality to friends and strangers alike, and even to enemies.

The hospital did not arise in a pre-Christian world. We should wonder, then, whether it can survive long in a post-Christian world.

MIKE AQUILINA is the author of The Healing Imperative: The Early Church and the Invention of Medicine as We Know It. He has written more than 50 books on Catholic history, doctrine, and devotion. He has hosted 10 series on EWTN Television, and appears weekly on Sirius Radio’s “Sonrise Morning Show.”

Why do Catholics offer Masses for the dead?

Christians know that death is not the end of life but the real beginning. Freed from the imperfections of earthly existence, the dead are more alive than we are. They are with us, and we still live with them in love.

Mike Aquilina

St. John tells us about the heavenly Jerusalem in Revelation. It’s more beautiful, more glorious, than we can imagine. “But nothing unclean shall enter it,” he adds (Rev 21:27). So the Catholic Church tells us that there is a purification after death. St. Paul hints at it when he writes to the Corinthians about building on the foundation of Christ:

“For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw — each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Cor 3:11-15).

In metalworking, fire burns off the impurities, leaving only pure metal. Paul sees the same sort of thing happening on the Day of the Lord. Whoever has built on the foundation of Jesus Christ will be saved, but first “fire” will purify us. This purification is what we call purgatory. There all our impurities are cleaned away and we are made ready to enter heaven. We offer Masses for the dead as a way of speeding that purification for them.

Offering sacrifices for someone else is certainly no new idea. It was common practice in Old Testament times. “Job’s sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each on his day; and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, ‘It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.’ Thus Job did continually. (Job 1:4-5)

Job, who was “blameless and upright,” offered sacrifices for his sons just in case. Offering sacrifice for another is something a good person was expected to do.

If indeed the dead are still with us, and even more alive than we are, then it would be shameful neglect not to pray and make offerings for them as much as for the living. The second book of Maccabees tells us how Judas Maccabeus offered prayers and sacrifices for his dead soldiers when he discovered that they had sinned.

We Catholics pray and offer Masses both for the dead and for the living — and for exactly the same reasons.

MIKE AQUILINA is the author or editor of more than 40 books on Catholic history, doctrine and devotion. This column is reprinted with permission from his book Understanding the Mass: 100 Questions, 100 Answers (Servant Books, 2011).

Catechism 101

From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them — above all the Eucharistic sacrifice — so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead.

Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1032

Why does the priest mix water and wine?

Mike Aquilina

Mike Aquilina

There are two answers to this question. The first answer is that that’s how people served wine at the time of the Last Supper and for a long time afterward.

Vintners made wine very strong, like juices that we buy today in concentrated form. Wine was diluted with water at a civilized table (see Prov 9:5); only barbarians drank unmixed wine.

The second answer is that this custom of humble and ordinary beginnings has acquired a rich symbolic meaning. Some of the earliest Christian writers — as early as St. Justin Martyr in 150 AD — mentioned the “mixed cup.” For some, the wine and water represent the blood and water that poured from Jesus’ side on the cross (see John 19:31-34). As the priest pours the two elements, a devout Christian can’t help but remember this scene from the Scriptures.

Other interpreters saw the mixture as a symbol of God’s communion with us. Saint Clement of Alexandria, writing around 200 AD, emphasized the effects of Communion upon the individual who receives: “As wine is blended with water, so is the Spirit with man.” A few years later, in North Africa, St. Cyprian spoke of the mixed cup but emphasized Christ’s communion with the whole Church:

“The water is understood as the people while the wine shows forth the blood of Christ. When the water is mingled in the cup with wine, the people are united with Christ…. Once the water and wine are mingled in the Lord’s cup, the mixture cannot anymore be separated.”

There is something exact about the symbol: Christ is the wine; we are the bit of water. The main part of the sacrament is Christ really present, but communion does not happen without our willing participation.

The mixed chalice can also be seen as a sign of Christ’s two natures, divine and human, united in one person. The wine represents his divinity, the water his humanity. The two natures come to us together in the Eucharist, as they did in the Incarnation.

Thus from the earliest times the mixed chalice at Mass was emblematic of the mystery it held: the mystery of Christ and of salvation by his blood.

The Church has insisted on this mixing of the water with the wine for two millennia. In the 16th century, the Council of Trent even excommunicated priests who neglected to mix the elements. The Church has good reasons to be faithful here. Some are perhaps historical: a fidelity to a custom dating back to the time of Jesus. Others, however, are doctrinal, dealing with the mystery at the heart of the faith — the marvelous exchange spelled out in the prayer at the Offertory: “By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”

MIKE AQUILINA is the author or editor of more than 40 books on Catholic history, doctrine and devotion. This column is reprinted with permission from his book “Understanding the Mass: 100 Questions, 100 Answers” (Servant Books, Cincinnati, 2011)

Catechism 101

The miracles of the multiplication of the loaves, when the Lord says the blessing, breaks and distributes the loaves through his disciples to feed the multitude, prefigures the superabundance of this unique bread of his Eucharist.

The sign of water turned into wine at Cana already announces the hour of Jesus’ glorification. It makes manifest the fulfillment of the wedding feast in the Father’s kingdom, where the faithful will drink the new wine that has become the Blood of Christ.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1335

Did Jesus really want us to celebrate the Mass?

Mike Aquilina

Mike Aquilina

How do we know that Jesus intended the Church to continue offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass?

His instructions are simple and specific: “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). The people who knew him best — his apostles — followed those instructions. Right after Pentecost, Acts tells us that 3,000 new Christians were baptized. “And they held steadfastly to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42).

“The breaking of the bread” was the characteristic celebration that set the Christians apart from other Jews. While the temple still existed, the Christians worshiped there along with everyone else, but they had Mass in private homes: “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people” (Acts 2:46-47).

So we have the witness of Scripture to tell us what Jesus’ instructions were and to tell us that his apostles were following those instructions mere days after Jesus ascended into heaven. The tradition of the Mass is unbroken from the time of Christ to our own day.

The Mass has been the center of Christian worship since the beginning, so the early Christians found ways to celebrate it even during the most intense persecutions. The celebration seems to have been very much like our current liturgy, although it’s hard to establish some of the details of the very earliest celebrations.

Often the Christians met secretly at the tombs of the martyrs for morning prayers. They may have celebrated what we call the Liturgy of the Word there and then celebrated the Eucharist at someone’s house later on, or they may have just prayed at the tombs and then celebrated the whole Mass later in the day.

Saint Justin Martyr, who was writing in about the year 150, describes the Eucharist in terms we easily recognize: “Then the president of the brethren is brought bread and a cup of wine mixed with water. Taking them, he gives praise to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the peoples present express their assent by saying Amen, which means ‘so be it’ in Hebrew.

“And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, the ones we call deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced [or more literally, that has been eucharisted], and they take some of it away to those who are absent. We call this food the Eucharist.”

MIKE AQUILINA is the author or editor of more than 40 books on Catholic history, doctrine and devotion. This column is reprinted with permission from his book “Understanding the Mass: 100 Questions, 100 Answers” (Servant Books, Cincinnati, 2011)

Catechism 101

Christ is always present in his Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations. He is present in the Sacrifice of the Mass not only in the person of his minister … but especially in the Eucharistic species. By his power he is present in the sacraments so that when anybody baptizes, it is really Christ himself who baptizes.

He is present in his word since it is he himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church. Lastly, he is present when the Church prays and sings, for he has promised “where two or three are gathered together in my name there am I in the midst of them.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1088

Eucharist: In the hand or on the tongue?

MIKE AQUILINA distills the difference between the two ways of receiving the Eucharist . . .

Mike Aquilina

Mike Aquilina

The Body of Christ is the most precious thing in the world. It’s very important that none of it be lost or disrespected in any way.

In times past, it was the rule that people receive the Host on the tongue. There were several good reasons. First of all, the hands of priests are consecrated expressly for consecrating the Eucharist. Over time, it seemed fitting that such contact should be reserved to consecrated hands. But there were other reasons, too. Superstitious people sometimes hid the consecrated Host for use as a sort of magic talisman, which is a sacrilege. This was less likely to happen if people in the congregation never had an opportunity to hold the Host.

And then there were practical reasons: In the days before indoor plumbing, workmen might come to Church with very grubby hands. And there are fewer opportunities for accidents when the Host is placed on the tongue.

Although these reasons are still valid, U.S. bishops decided that it’s safe and respectful to offer Communion in the hand to people who wish to receive it that way. Those who receive in the hand should take special care to ensure that no small particles of the Host remain on their hands or fall to the ground.

Many people prefer to receive on the tongue because they find it more fitting and reverent, or because they grew up with the custom, or because they’d rather not take the chance of accidentally mishandling the Sacrament. The general rule is that the person receiving, rather than the person distributing, should decide whether to receive on the tongue or in the hand.

If you wish to receive on the tongue, keep your hands down and folded, and allow the person distributing the Host to place it on your tongue.

Because Christ is fully present in both the consecrated bread and the consecrated wine, you don’t get any more grace if you receive both species than if you receive only one. Communion under both species, or only one, is equally valid. You’re not getting just half of Christ if you receive only the Host or, for that matter, only the Blood of Christ, as people with wheat allergies sometimes do.

MIKE AQUILINA is the author or editor of more than 40 books on Catholic history, doctrine and devotion. This column is reprinted with permission from his book “Understanding the Mass: 100 Questions, 100 Answers“ (Servant Books, 2011).

Catechism 101

Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us, is present in many ways to his Church: in his word, in his Church’s prayer, “where two or three are gathered in my name,” in the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned, in the sacraments of which He is the author,  in the sacrifice of the Mass, and in the person of the minister.  But “he is present . . . most especially in the Eucharistic species.”

Since Christ is sacramentally present under each of the species, communion under the species of bread alone makes it possible to receive all the fruit of Eucharistic grace. For pastoral reasons, this manner of receiving communion has been legitimately established as the most common form in the Latin rite. But the sign of communion is more complete when given under both kinds, since in that form the sign of the Eucharistic meal appears more clearly. This is the usual form of receiving communion in the Eastern rites.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1373-1390

Good Pope, Bad Pope

Mike Aquilina writes that bad popes prove that Jesus has been looking after his Church . . .

AquilinaGood Pope, Bad Pope
Mike Aquilina
Servant Books, 2013
140 pages, $14.99 paperback

Why would Mike Aquilina pick some of history’s worst popes for his book? Every pope is by definition a remarkable man. But he chose these men because they reveal how the papacy developed. They show how Christ kept his promise to his bride, the Church, not only in her health, but also in her sickness.

The great popes advanced our understanding of Christian doctrine, but even more remarkable, the worst popes could do nothing to damage Church teaching. That’s why, even in its darkest moments, the story of the papacy is a story of triumph.

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Holy Communion: To receive or not to receive?

Mike Aquilina shows both sides of a very complex issue that many bishops face . . .

Mike Aquilina

Mike Aquilina

Sometimes we see public figures taking Communion when they seem to be violating the rules: politicians, for example, who actively support abortion or who make public statements that disagree with Church teaching.

One of the principles of canon law is that penalties are a last resort. If a Catholic is straying from the true path, the Church has the duty to use every means in her power to bring the lost sheep back to the fold.

In the case of a public figure, bishops must also consider the public effect of their own actions. What message will they be sending about the Church by how they react to such provocations? Should they make a statement correcting the public figure’s error but let him continue to take Communion, to show that the Church values mercy and forgiveness? Should they excommunicate him, to show how seriously the Church takes her teachings? It’s not an easy decision.

To some bishops, erring on the side of mercy seems like the more Christian thing to do, as well as the course most likely to convey to the world what Christian love is like. Others, however, say that the greater concern should be for the sinner’s scandalous effect on the public, who may grow confused or cynical about Catholic doctrine, devotion and discipline. Sometimes, if a bishop has met privately with public figures and failed to persuade them to change, the bishop must refuse to admit them to Communion.

In August, the bishops’ conference in Bolivia opted for the latter approach. The adjunct secretary of that body, Monsignor José Fuentes, said that government officials and others who support abortion should not receive Holy Communion.

“If as a legislator, a judge, or whatever, I support an abortion law, I am separating myself from the Church. I cannot receive Communion unless I show my repentance,” he said, according to Catholic News Agency.

As St. Paul says, we should examine ourselves before we take Communion, because we’re in a better position than anyone else on earth to know what’s lurking in our souls.

“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself” (1 Cor 11:27-29).

The priest has a duty to make sure Communion is not offered to anyone who is not allowed to receive it. If he knows of an obstacle to your receiving Communion, he will usually speak with you about it, explaining what the problem is and what you can do to overcome it.

MIKE AQUILINA is the author or editor of more than 40 books on Catholic history, doctrine and devotion. This column is reprinted with permission from his book “Understanding the Mass: 100 Questions, 100 Answers” (Servant Books, Cincinnati, 2011). Information on the Bolivian bishops’ conference is from the Catholic News Agency.

Catechism 101

Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty — and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin — are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.

Code of Canon Law, 915

Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person — among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 270

Mass brings heaven’s glory and joy to earth

Mike Aquilina writes that Mass is a participation in the worship going on in heaven . . .

When we’re at Mass, we are participating in the joyous worship that goes on eternally in heaven. Obviously we can’t know precisely what heaven is like — it’s too wonderful, too glorious for our limited mortal comprehension.

Scripture, however, gives us images to help us get some idea of what heaven is, especially in the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament book of Revelation. What we see in those images is our Christian liturgy, eternally celebrated in the heavenly court of the Father.

Many of the words of our liturgy come straight from those Scripture passages. The Sanctus, or “Holy, Holy, Holy,” is the hymn the seraphim sing at the throne of God. We also recognize just before Communion these words of the angel: “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the lamb” (Rev 19:9). In the Mass we participate for the moment in that marriage supper of the Lamb that goes on eternally in heaven.

But the most important way the Mass is like heaven is not in the details of the liturgy. To be in heaven is to be with Christ, dwelling constantly in the presence of the living God. In Holy Communion we are truly with Christ. When that happens we’re in heaven, and no matter how unheavenly the rest of our earthly lives may be, we carry heaven with us into the world if we have the faith to see what we’ve just experienced.

Although Mass is required every Sunday, thinking of Mass as an obligation is really a backward way of looking at it. Going to Mass is an extraordinary privilege. Instead of trying to decide when you have to go, why not go as often as you can?

Yet, our Sunday obligation satisfies the commandment to keep holy the Sabbath. The Catechism strikingly calls the Sabbath “a day of protest against the servitude of labor and the worship of money” (CCC #2172). It liberates us, if only for one day out of seven, from slavery to mundane concerns and frees us to look upward toward God.

Part of that rest is the spiritual refreshment of the Mass. Our Sunday obligation gives us two things we desperately need and that we tend not to leave time for if we’re left to ourselves: It gives us rest, and it gives us close contact with the divine.

Especially in modern society, the temptation is to work without ceasing — or to cause others to work constantly for us. But we are more than machines for performing work. We are God’s children with not only a right but an obligation to make ourselves better and to help others around us become better. The obligation to go to Mass on Sunday takes us out of the cycle of endless labor. It forces us to make room in our lives for joy, whether we like it or not!

This column is reprinted with permission from “Understanding the Mass: 100 Questions, 100 Answers” by Mike Aquilina (Servant Books, Cincinnati, 2011).

Catechism 101

Having passed from this world to the Father, Christ gives us in the Eucharist the pledge of glory with him. Participation in the Holy Sacrifice identifies us with his Heart, sustains our strength along the pilgrimage of this life, makes us long for eternal life, and unites us even now to the Church in heaven, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and all the saints.

The Eucharistic sacrifice is also offered for the faithful departed who have died in Christ but are not yet wholly purified, so that they may be able to enter into the light and peace of Christ.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 1419, 1371