Thursday, June 17, 2010

Messengers & Bodyguards

Hey ya'll, last week we were talking about what? Mass. Yes, what part? When the bread & wine change to body & blood. Yes, when Jesus is offered up to heaven...who takes the offering up? An angel!  That's right! During Mass angels stay pretty busy, that's one of them. Actually there are six other angels in the church all the time...can somebody tell me where they are? There are two at the front! Yes, where? Up on the sides. Yes, what are they doing? Umm, just standing and praying? Yes, but remember that Mass happens on Earth and where else? In Heaven. Yes. So maybe in heaven they're up to something...who sits under those two angels? Huh? At Mass, who sits under the angels on the sides...the priest? No he sits over in the chair. The deacon? No, he's by the priest. Ok, so? Oh, two altarboys sit by the angels!  And are there altarboys in heaven? Ha, no! So who helps out with the heavenly part of Mass if there're no altarboys? Angels? Yes. What do altarboys do? Pray?  Yeah, well we all pray. What else? Hold stuff?  Such as? Water & a towel. Yes, and? Umm, they hold the book?  Yes, and? No more guesses? OK, listen to what an angel does in the Heavenly Liturgy, see if anyone does that part on Earth:

"And an[other] angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer"...well, what's a censer? No guesses, keep listening: "..and he was given much incense to...incense! The angel's burning incense!  Yes, where? In Heaven!  Good, keep listening: "he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God."

So. Who burns incense at Mass on Earth? The altarboys!  Yes. And in Heaven? The angel.  Yes. The altarboys and the angels all assist at Mass. And at Mass we see the altarboys, but all the heaven stuff is invisible. Why do we have those wooden angels if it's all invisible? Umm, to remind us that they are helping in Heaven? Yes...are they real angels? No they're just statues. Right, just reminders, like the other statues in church.

Back to the incense for a second: "the angel was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God." So the incense rises up along with the prayers of the people in Heaven, who are called....saints!  Yes. And on Earth why does the altarboy burn incense? 'Cause it goes up with our prayers? Yes, genius! Our prayers go up with the incense just like the saints' prayers do in heaven.

And remind me please, when St. Paul said we're surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, who is he describing? The incense? No, not what; who. Y'all know this...who are the cloud of witnesses...who lives up in the clouds...sinners? No, saints! They're saints!  Yes, so on Sunday when the incense goes up in a cloud, think about the cloud of witnesses, the saints, praying along with you... everybody in Heaven and Earth praying together.

By the way, what book of the Bible am I reading from...the one with all the Heavenly Liturgy in it...and the Second Coming? Oh...the last book! Yes, named...? Come on, you know this, it's the book where stuff is reveal...Revelations! Yes, Revelations.

So that's one pair of angels; there are two more, who can tell us about another pair? I know, there are two in the back! Oh, are there? Where? Up in the balcony!  How would you know? I'm in the children's choir, I see them all the time. Uh-huh...what are they doing...praying like the two in front? No, they blow big horns. Yes...why would they do that? 'cause they're in the balcony with the choir and the organ and all. Yes, that makes sense. There's another reason, ya'll listen and tell me when you hear it. And I am still reading from...? Revelations. That's it: "When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them." Those are the angels in the balcony, they have their trumpets!  Yes. In Revelations, the angels blow the seven trumpets one at a time, and they announce the world is coming to an end. When I see them up in the balcony they remind me that Jesus will come again one last time. If y'all want to see them you have to look up at the balcony when you leave church, you can't miss those golden angels if you look for them.

Are we done now? Done?  Yeah, how many angels have y'all found? Four. And how many did I say there were? Six!  So where are the other two? Don't feel bad, they are hard to see.

Tell me about the Tabernacle, please. It's where Jesus is. Yes, his!  Yes. And it's like a box that God told Moses to build to keep some manna and the Ten Commandments in, which is called...the Ark!  Yes, and what would you find on either side of the Ark? The handles, the poles!  Yes, good, and something else...listen again. What book in the Bible has to do with Moses...and the Hebrews...making their exit from Egypt...? Oh, Exodus!  Yes it's called 'Exodus' because the Hebrews...exited! we go: "...make an ark of acacia wood...and you shall overlay it with pure gold. And you shall make two cherubim of gold...Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end. The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, their faces one to another. There I will meet with you,  between the two cherubim that are upon the ark."  So? Umm...cherubs are angels aren't they?  Sort of: cherubs and angels both are heavenly creatures with wings. Remind me, what's angel (άγγελος, aggelos ) mean in Greek? Messenger!  Yes. But Cherub's not's not Latin...who'd Moses lead out of Egypt? Hebrews! So 'cherub' (כְּרוּב kĕruwb) must be...Hebrew?  Yes. It's Hebrew for "to be near." Why would they be called that? 'Cause they are near to God?  Yes, cherubim are God's closest servants, like bodyguards. Nowadays we see cherubs on Valentine's Day cards drawn as chubby little winged babies. Real cherubs are very serious, not cute or silly. A cherub guarded Eden with a fiery sword after Adam & Eve were thrown out. So where were the cherubim on the Ark? On both sides. Yes, they faced each other across the Ark. And where does God meet with Moses? Listen again: "There I will meet with you, between the two cherubim that are upon the ark." Between the cherubs?  Yes, God's presence was between the cherubim, his bodyguards.

Now tell me again what's in church that's like the Ark? The Tabernacle!  Yes. So if the winged cherubim were above and on either side of the Ark, where would we look for cherubim in church? On both sides of the Tabernacle?  Yes, genius! Since we're not in church, look at this picture (and the photo at the top):

See them? They aren't statues, they're just carved into the wood panels, but they're above and on both sides of the new Ark, the Tabernacle. And where was God's presence in Moses' day? Umm...between the cherubs?  Yes, but say 'cherubim', not 'cherubs'. And where is God's presence today? Between the cherubim! Yes, God's most powerful presence on Earth is still between the cherubim.
Y'all be sure to keep an eye out for the angels and cherubim next time you're at Mass. Show them to your parents; I bet they don't know about them all.

Class over!
This post is also available at the Amazing Catechists website.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Bedroom Rain

We live in the city, in a 50-year-old residential area.
This is the view out of our bedroom window:

The city's name is.....

wait for it....


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Christ the Victim

I was recently swapping Body & Blood comments with a cordial non-Catholic Christian. One of the Catholic concepts he took exception to was the presentation of Christ at Mass as a victim rather than triumphing over Death and Sin. One might express the difference as the Crucified Christ vs. the empty cross of the Risen Christ. Or note that Jesus died once as a victim 2,000 years ago, but now "is seated at the right hand of the Father," as the Creed says, borrowing from Ephesians, "he raised him from the dead and made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places..."

So as usual, I'm in debt to to my Separated Brethren for prompting me to examine more closely an aspect of Catholicism, that I, the posterchild of Cradle Catholics, had not reflected on before. I'm determined not to discuss the Eucharist in general, but stick to the victim business.

First let's look at the Big Picture:

1. In Eden there was no sin; Man, body and soul, lived in perfect friendship with God.

2. Due to sin, Man was thrown out of Eden. Body and soul became separable; death was the inevitable consequence. Perfect friendship with God was no longer possible.

3. Jesus, uniquely Man and God,  atoned for all Man's sins, thus allowing Man's Soul, but not his Body, to once again enjoy perfect friendship with God.

4. After the Second Coming, when Jesus returns, Man will once again, body and soul, live in perfect friendship with God in the New Jerusalem. I expect this to be better than Eden, because in Eden God had no body. God had some kind of physical presence it seems, "Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day"; but not like Jesus, who could be seen, touched, heard, smelled, kissed, flogged, spat on and crucified.

So now we're in Phase 3, a good place to be, but not the best place. We know from Revelations that in Phase 3 Heavenly Worship, the "Lamb which has been slain" continually stands before the Throne. Jesus, the Lamb of God, as John proclaimed him to be, is going to stand there before the Throne as the slain Victim as long as we are in Phase 3. Why? Because we are all still sinning in Phase least, I still sin. So continual sin on Earth in space-time means the atoning Victim is continually presenting himself before the Father in heaven, in the eternal present where God exists outside of his creation. "But," you may say, "Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father." So which is it? Favored Son, or Slain Lamb? Well, being Catholic, I can say: both, and neither cancels out the other. OK...but just because this Victim business is going on beyond our senses in heaven doesn't mean we have to dwell on it here, right? Umm, no. When Jesus "ascended to the Father" 40 days after Easter, did he go up spiritually...or physically? And you say, "both."  Right. So Jesus is somewhere right now, both Body and Divine Spirit. And in Revelation's description of the Heavenly Worship, he's not triumphant, but the slain victim. So if we're going to worship together on Sunday, the Sabbath of the New Covenant, it would behoove us to be in harmony with the worship everyone in heaven is participating in, which features Christ as Victim.

Now, recall that after Jesus died and rose again on Sunday, Thomas wasn't persuaded until a week later that it was true by sticking his fingers into Him (and the 6th grade girls say: eww!). This reminds us that the Risen Jesus still bore the marks of his Victimhood. Odd that Jesus wasn't restored to a pre-Eden sort of body freed from every consequence of sin, but nooo, after eight days He's still bearing all those wounds, which apparently haven't even closed up, much less disappeared. So it's safe to assume that 32 days later (8 + 32 = 40) Jesus ascended, Body and Soul, to heaven with all those gashes still unhealed. This dovetails with John seeing Him in heaven as a slain Lamb: still doing the living Victim thing there, too.

But didn't Jesus triumph over Death & Sin on Easter? Yes, but Jesus' resurrection was pretty modest: he comes out of the tomb, scares some sleeping soldiers, and keeps a very low profile for the next 40 days, then poofs off to heaven at the drop of a hat (see Transition & Ascension). Compared to his entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, or the Transfiguration, there's a huge difference. The Resurrected Jesus made a very unassuming return to the land of the living.

As we know, Jesus is continually offering atonement for our sins in Phase 3: he may be spiritually free from the consequences of Sin, but not physically, based on his open-wound encounter with Thomas, and his slain-Lamb appearance in Heaven.   Until Jesus returns in triumph there's no complete restoration of his, or anyone's, Body & Soul to an Eden-like, preternatural, 'perfect' state. But why not?

Because Jesus is in the transitional Phase 3 just as we are, including those of us whose souls are in heaven. Sin still keeps the saints' bodies (well, most of them) in the ground, 'eaten of worms'. But haven't the saints triumphed over Death & Sin? Yes...but not completely. The saints won't be completely, perfectly triumphant until their souls are reunited with their bodies. And because Jesus is one of us, he retains his wounded, sin-consequenced body as long as the saints do. He gets his perfected body when we get ours. I think that's because he loves us, and in solidarity with the cloud of witnesses waits with them for that body'n'soul reunification. And when will that be?

That's in Phase 4, the Second Coming, when Jesus will return to Earth in triumph. Jesus himself describes it by quoting Daniel: "And then shall they see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory."
Why triumph at that point in the future, and not at Easter? Because after Easter we kept right on sinning; but there will be no more sin after the Second Coming: the triumph will be complete. With no sin, there's no need for the atoning presentation of a Slain Lamb. And there'll be no reason for any saved soul not to be reunited with its formerly sin-flawed, but now perfected, body. And when the saved get their sin-free bodies, I expect Jesus' body will then, and not sooner, shed all its sin-marks as well. That will be the best time to worship a triumphant Jesus: when His victory over sin is complete, body and soul.

And in the meantime, like the heavenly hosts, we give our attention each Sunday to the Victim.

BTW, I'm not completely settled on this line of thinking, so I'm looking for reactions.