If you have ever been to a traditional Latin Mass, you no doubt noticed that the altar servers make a big ceremony out of carrying the big book to the left side of the altar before the priest reads the Gospel. Is there some kind of symbolism going on with left and right? Are we supposed to think of those who stand at our Lord’s left and right at the judgment?
It turns out that the ceremony has nothing to do with left and right.  According to the rubrics, the priest reads the Gospel toward the north. In fact, what we usually see at a Low Mass or High Mass is a compressed version of the full ceremony of a Solemn Mass, where the subdeacon chants the Epistle on the right side and the deacon, after a procession with candles, chants the Gospel on the left side of the Church, facing directly toward the north. We’re all aware that churches are traditionally oriented toward the east, and east is important because the rising sun symbolizes Christ coming. But in liturgical terms, north is also important because, by a long tradition, the north represents the dark realm where the light of the gospel has not yet shone. We read the Gospel toward the north to represent the Church’s mission to the unevangelized.
In fact, after the Council of Trent permission was given for churches to be oriented not just toward the east but in other directions, if needed for some reason—any direction, in fact, except to the north. No church shall point in the direction of evil.
On the Feast of the Annunciation, Kyle Washut, Kent Lasnoski, and I had a round-table talk about the most famous treatment of the Annuncation, namely Bernard of Clairvaux’s Missus Est. Although we mostly stayed with the themes Bernard raises, we went on some fruitful tangents as well. All in all, I thought it was a great way to celebrate the day!
Here’s the video:
You can download an audio-only file by clicking here, or you can listen via this embedded player:
As Wyoming Catholic College has shifted temporarily to online classes, a lot of us are recording conversations to share with the students. Happily, that makes it easier to share with you! Recently Kyle Washut and I discussed John Henry Newman’s Letter to Pusey, of the best treatments anywhere if Catholic doctrine and devotion concerning Mary. Wyoming Catholic College posted the video as well as an audio-only version, and I’ve snagged the links.
Here is the video:
You can download the audio-only from this link, or listen to it here:
Okay, Bible people, help me out. Explain Melchizedek to me please. Why did Abraham pay him tithes? What’s the connection to Jesus?
Great question! The strange thing is, I have never seen anyone really lay out the answer. Of course, the Letter to the Hebrews meditates on Melchizedek, and commentators repeat what Hebrews says, but to my knowledge no one has connected all the dots.
Really to answer the question, I need to connect exactly five dots. Let’s go!
Catholics debating the death penalty generally do a bad job with Scripture. One side of the debate cites isolated texts, leaving themselves open to the accusation that they cannot see the texts in relation to the whole thrust of Scripture. The other side of the debate refers vaguely to “the Gospel” as a way to avoid dealing with any particular text of Scripture at all. Neither side appears to have a living relationship with God’s word.
I can’t work through all the relevant texts on this blog, but I would like to offer an example of what’s possible by dealing with the big text everyone mentions: Genesis 9:6, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.” I have already dealt with the context of this verse at greater length elsewhere, but I was not talking about the death penalty then. Here I’ll condense the discussion to highlight what is most relevant to the death penalty issue. Continue reading “Bringing Scripture back into the death penalty debate”
Over the past year, I have made slow progress toward deepening my grasp of moral philosophy. As a philosopher, I am still not ready to join all the discussions that swirl around the Internet.
But when people began to wrangle about Pope Francis’s comments on the death penalty, I noticed a few points that I could contribute as a theologian. Here are some key lines from the Holy Father’s remarks:
It must be clearly stated that the death penalty is an inhumane measure that, regardless of how it is carried out, abases human dignity. It is per se contrary to the Gospel, because it entails the willful suppression of a human life that never ceases to be sacred in the eyes of its Creator and of which—ultimately—only God is the true judge and guarantor.
This past week, I took part in the continual feast that was the Wyoming School of Catholic Thought. All us profs were asked to bring a side, so my contribution was a lecture on “The Life of Moses.”
In just under an hour, I recounted the story of Moses in a way that not only pulls his “biography” together but also provides a key to the story of the Exodus. You can download the lecture here, or listen using this audio player (you can’t see the audio player while viewing this post in your e-mail):
Emotion colors perception wonderfully. The same aspen tree, with the same white bark and the same golden leaves fluttering in the same wind, is one tree to the moonstruck lover, another tree to the poet in search of joy, and still a third to the dismal soul doubting whether life has meaning. The same sensory input offers either a happy companion, or a wistful finger pointing to another realm, or a bleached-out bit of wood. Continue reading “The color of reading”
The first verse of Mark’s Gospel poses a question. “The beginning of the gospel,” it says, “of Jesus Christ the son of God.” Of course this is the beginning: it’s the first verse, after all. But Mark goes out of his way to insist that this right here, this thing he is about to say, is “the beginning of the gospel.” This is where the story starts.
What is even more curious, Mark then begins his gospel from a point no one else would choose. Matthew and Luke start with Jesus’ conception and infancy, and John takes us back to Jesus’ pre-existence with the Father before time began. I have asked groups of students to outline what they would put in their ideal gospel, and every group has shown the same inclination to seek out roots: they want a gospel that tells more about Jesus’ childhood, or more about Mary’s family, or more about Joseph, or more about the eternal life of the Trinity. Everyone thinks the gospel story should somehow introduce us to Jesus by explaining his background.
But Mark insists that “the beginning of the gospel” is Jesus’ baptism under John the Baptist. After introducing John the Baptist, Mark has Jesus simply show up, without explanation, and then the heavens are torn open, the Spirit descends, and the voice says, “This is my beloved son.”
By chance, a senior at WCC saw me in the office hallway yesterday and hailed me down. Would I be able to tell him anything about the book of Hosea?
A good teacher never just answers the question, but asks more questions to find out what was behind the question. As it turned out, this student was inspired by my recent lecture, by the earlier lecture by Tim Gray, and by a chance exchange with another professor—inspired, he said, to read the Bible as addressed personally to him. In other words, he had begun to practice lectio divina. Continue reading “Funny things happen when you try lectio divina”