Why Read the Greek NT

Just before COVID broke out in my province, I happened to find by chance a Greek copy of the New Testament. It was reasonably priced (which is often not the case with translated Bible texts simply because of the amount of scholarly work that goes into producing such a book) so I decided to pick it up. Although this is my first copy of a Greek New Testament, it is not the first time that I have fallen back to the Greek text to better understand the Bible and the Word of God. Thanks to the internet the text and translations are easily accessible, in fact with a tablet or smartphone you can actually load up a Koine Greek keyboard and translate on the fly.

But why read the Greek NT in the first place? Why bother slogging through a text that is literally Greek to one’s English mind?

When we study the Word of God something that we need to keep in mind is that the phrases and words used by the writers exist within a certain place and time and more often than not a full understanding of the texts rests on grappling writing norms and practices that were common to that time. It is really easy today to pick up an English translation of the Bible and read a word or phrase in the Bible in the context of how we use that word or phrase today and the danger is that the word or phrase actually means or is intended to mean something completely different than how we use it.

A great example of this, and something that I ended up writing a few comments on in All Along the Watchtower, is the opening verses of the Holy Gospel According to Saint John:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

John 1:1

When we read this verse it is tempting to assume that since the English translation says that “the Word” was with God that he must mean the Word of God (i.e. the Bible). And later, because John says that “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (in reference to the birth of Christ), that this Word of God must be Jesus. And from there we go off on a doctrinal tangent about the Word of God existing before the world, being equal with Jesus and thus God and thus being complete, infallible, perfect and unchanging. What a profound leap from a simple understanding of the phrase “the Word.”

But John doesn’t mean word like words or text. In fact, in Greek he writes λόγος which is Logos in English. It more accurately translates into logic, reason, wisdom and specifically through speech or human expression and communication. And with that in hand we can compare it to secular Greek writing and we see that λόγος is not an isolated concept, limited to John’s Gospel, but rather is a popular Greek idea that logic and reason are scattered throughout the world and are able to be “picked up” and learned by people. John is literally linking a secular idea popular in the then-known world to the Jewish concept of the Messiah and saying that Jesus is the physical embodiment of that reason and logic and knowledge that exists in the world. And furthermore, right in the opening verse, John says that the world was created through all of this reason and logic and knowledge which is why we have laws of physics and logic and mathematics in the first place which govern our physical existence in this world.

All things are created through Him, and He is the Logos, and the Logos became flesh and dwelt among us. And His authority is not limited to the prophesies and Holy Writings of the Jewish people but rather the entire world and all that exists within it because Christ, the Messiah is not just the King of the Jews but the Logos, the reason and logic and knowledge that the entire universe was made through and by. That is some large stuff from Saint John and we do not get there unless we understand the Greek words and phrases he is using.

So why read Greek? Because with one sentence in John’s Gospel read in Greek we come away with a completely different and much more illuminated idea of what the author is getting at and what how the meaning of the text really should be understood by the reader. That is why I slog through the Greek as much as possible and why I think you should give it try yourself…

Mass: A Protest of the World

It seems that the world has changed so much since February of this year. We’ve had a global outbreak of disease that is on the eve of killing one million people worldwide and has not shown any signs of stopping. In the US, and other Western countries, we’ve seen protesting and rallying around the Black Lives Matter movement which has brought to light in a seemingly finalized sense the brutality that black Americans face at the hands of often white police officers. Many of us who take solace in our weekly protest of the world through Mass and the Eucharist were prevented from attending because of crowd and distancing restrictions during the COVID outbreak. And this may have contributed to a spiritual dearth as we moved through the pandemic crisis and protests the world over. But the Mass and the Eucharist are the solution to the troubles and turbulence of the world and this holds true today just as much as any other age since Christ founded the Church.

Everything about Mass is an orientation away from the world and toward the Divine. From the moment we enter the narthex and cleanse ourselves with Holy Water, to when we are bold enough to approach near the Sanctuary and kneel at the altar rail to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, we are purposefully turning ourselves away from the world and toward God. This is most clearly evident in the Baptismal Rite, where traditionally candidates stood facing West, toward Death and the World and as they renounced Satan and worldly ways, they turned physically toward the East, toward the altar and the Risen Christ to embrace their new Christian life. Most church buildings themselves are designed to be places of refuge from great storms. Look way up at the ceilings of most traditional catholic churches and you’ll see ribbing and trussing that resembles the spine and supports of a boat, and you’ll be reminded of the protection and safety offered in this place away from the tumult and storms of the world. You may even have a moment similar to that of the Apostles in the boat during a dangerous storm, waking Christ in fear of being swamped. He reminded them then how powerful faith can be, and we need a little of that reminder again today no doubt. Mass is fundamentally a protest of the world, and that protest is a physical and spiritual turning away of the body and thus the soul and mind away from the world and to the things of God, to God Himself and His Son and Holy Spirit.

In order for the church to be a refuge in the world, the world must be in a state of storminess and destruction which is separated from God. There are many soft theologies that seek to unite the things of the world with the things of God, but Jesus was clear that we can only have one master. And if His Church is to be a redeeming Church (and that is how He founded it), than there must be a world and state to be redeemed from. A world that tells us that power and riches are most important, and that equality and fairness are to be determined by a measure of these things. That says it is best to make goats of all people– to attempt to raise all people to a false status of wealth and fame– than to remind them that they are sheep– all broken, all die and all take nothing from this world to the next. A world that is full of suffering and loss and that constantly reminds us of that same suffering and loss to keep us disconnected from God and each other. A world tainted by the stain of original sin which cannot be part of the Resurrection and life to come. And that is certainly where we find the world today. And because of COVID restrictions, we’ve found ourselves even more lost in not having our refuge, our protest of the world near us in Mass and the Eucharist.

Mass is the protest for the catholic. It is how we protest the world and all of the sin and suffering contained within it. We orient ourselves away from the world and toward God when we attend Mass and consume the Holy Eucharist.

As churches open up and services begin to be offered again, my hope and prayer for you today is that you find the Eucharist, and you take the time to protest this broken world and turn yourself to God.

May God the Father who made us bless us.
May God the Son send his healing among us.
May God the Holy Spirit move within us and
give us eyes to see with, ears to hear with,
and hands that your work might be done.
May we walk and preach the word of
God to all.
May the angel of peace watch over us and
lead us at last by God’s grace to the Kingdom. Amen.

Maundy Thursday

From the General Decree of 1955 which restored the liturgy of Holy Week (Maxima Redemptionis) in the Roman Catholic Church (emphasis added):

Let the faithful be taught about the love with which Christ our Lord ‘on the day before He suffered’ instituted the sacred and holy Eucharist, Sacrifice and Sacrament, the perpetual memorial of His Passion, to be offered day by day though the ministry of His priests. Let the faithful be invited to render due adoration after the end of the Mass to the most holy Sacrament. Finally, wherever to illustrate the Lord’s commandment of brotherly love the Washing of the Feet is carried out according to the restored rubrics, let the faithful be taught the deep significance of this holy rite, and let them spend this day in works of Christian charity.

The Mass today, which by order of Pope Pius XII should not begin before 5 p.m. or after 8 p.m. local time, is specifically focused on the commemoration of the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper and the Ordination of the Apostles and is therefore a Mass of joy and thanksgiving. It is for this reason that the church sets aside her penitential purple vestments and the priest wears festive white vestments. The Gloria is also sung during Mass which is a piercing difference from the last 40 days which has seen that part of the Mass shelved (often replaced by the Lenten Prose). In churches with bells, it is tradition for the bells to be run through-out the Gloria during this Mass and then they not rung again until Easter Sunday.

The derivation of the word Maundy reminds us of the ceremony of washing of feet, called Mandatum, from the first words of the Antiphon: Mandatum novum do vobis (John 13:34). The Mandatum takes place today because Jesus washed the feet of His Apostles before He instituted the Holy Eucharist. After the Mass, the Blessed Sacrament is processed to the Altar of Repose where it remains until the following day. All of these rites are meant to commemorate the institution of the Holy Eucharist.

Before the liturgy of Holy Week was codified by the Church, this day was the Feast of the Holy Eucharist– and was the only commemoration of its kind. Private Masses are forbidden on this day. In the early Middle Ages there were three separate Masses that were celebrated today. The first was in memory of the Institution of the Holy Eucharist, the second was the Blessing of Holy Oils and the third was for the reconciliation of public penitents. The second Mass was particularly interesting as it took place at the local cathedral by noon on this day and was presided over by the Bishop who was “surrounded by his priests” in like manner to Christ during the Last Supper. All that remains of the public re-welcoming of penitents in the third mass is the Deus a quo in the extraordinary form which is a very ancient piece. The Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday Mass that we celebrate today is what remains of the first celebration from the medieval church.

After the Sacrament is left at the Altar of Repose, all other altars within the church are stripped and washed. This is to provide a clear image of the Eucharist not being offered again until the conclusion of Holy Saturday. As the altars are stripped the priest recites Psalm 21(22):

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the one Israel praises.
In you our ancestors put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.
To you they cried out and were saved;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
“He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
“let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him.”

Yet you brought me out of the womb;
you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.
From birth I was cast on you;
from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.

Many bulls surround me;
strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
Roaring lions that tear their prey
open their mouths wide against me.
I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted within me.
My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death.

Dogs surround me,
a pack of villains encircles me;
they pierce my hands and my feet.
All my bones are on display;
people stare and gloat over me.
They divide my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.

But you, Lord, do not be far from me.
You are my strength; come quickly to help me.
Deliver me from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dogs.
Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;
save me from the horns of the wild oxen.

I will declare your name to my people;
in the assembly I will praise you.
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.

From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows.
The poor will eat and be satisfied;
those who seek the Lord will praise him—
may your hearts live forever!

All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,
for dominion belongs to the Lord
and he rules over the nations.

All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
those who cannot keep themselves alive.
Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.
They will proclaim his righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it!

Featured image by euroeana.eu on Pinterest.

LOTH: Why you might like to pray the Hours and setting up

This is the first instalment of a series that I have planned on the Liturgy of the Hours. Given that many of us are undoubtedly stuck within our homes and are unable to attend Sunday mass this weekend (and the many to come in the foreseeable future), this is a great opportunity for you to rekindle or discover a very powerful and important prayer of the church. It is in fact the official prayer of the church, next to the Eucharist of course, and together form the official liturgy of the Body of Christ– a literal breath of constant prayer and thanksgiving that rising before God and acknowledges the sanctification of time itself.

Be sure to check out:

The Hours themselves are not popular at all with laity unfortunately– especially in the modern church. Medieval Christians would have been much more familiar with the form of the Hours as they would have attended regular Morning and Evening services. The Hours were especially accessible to laity at the time because the psalms themselves could be easily memorized and the repetitive form of prayer lend itself to being learned very easily without the aid of books and the requiring the ability to read. Anglicans in particular have always had a particular association with their own form of the Hours present in the Book of Common Prayer. In many Anglican churches, even to this day, this form of worship overtakes a Eucharist by frequency during the liturgical year. And it is a tradition rich in the music of Evensong which has become a hallmark of Anglican worship for centuries.

Four-volume ‘Liturgy of the Hours’. (https://www.osvnews.com/)

The Second Vatican Council did not open up the Liturgy of the Hours to the laity because the Hours themselves had always been opened up but they re-emphasized their importance within the daily lives of faithful Catholics. Alongside the Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours forms the backbone of prayer within the church which is why all seven canonical hours are mandated for priests and religious. A burden which is carried by most pious men and women with tremendous joy and gratitude for the blessings that flow from the Hours themselves through dedicated and disciplined prayer. But while this is probably what has historically deterred laity from the prayers themselves, this should not be the case at all, because none of the Hours are required by laity and therefore any and all for that matter could be done. In fact, after some restructuring following Vatican II, their are only two major or hinge Hours. And the fact they are called Hours should not lead one to believe that they take hours to pray, the hinge Hours themselves (being the longest liturgically) take only about 20 minutes when done properly and earnestly. And with a slow of apps for your phone or tablet to help you out, there is no reason you cannot read or listen to the Hours during your commute or when you have a moment alone in the mornings and evenings.

But what I would really recommend (and what will help you for this series) is that you track down a Christian Prayer book or the four-volume Liturgy of the Hours set from the Catholic Book Publishing Company. And you can always check out all of the Hours for the day at Universalis.com. You can still use the apps and listen to the Hours, and they certainly help for learning, but I have found through years of prayer the Hours themselves that the most effective form of prayer and feeling of taking oneself out of the world to join the church militant and triumphant in prayer is through a physical book– especially as more and more of our lives move to our phones, tablets and computers.

In this series we are going to explore the history and structure of the Liturgy of the Hours and then we are going to dive into how to pray the Hours themselves in a simple and easy to understand way that will leave you with a firm grasp of the form of the prayers themselves. It is my hope that during these grey days of uncertainty and fear, you develop a stronger relationship with God through dedicated prayer and the Liturgy of the Hours can become a fantastic vehicle for doing so and for living liturgically.

Lord, open our hearts to your grace.
Restrain us from all human waywardness
and keep us faithful to your commandments.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Feature image by Samuel Martins on Unsplash.

COVID-19 and Mass

My church diocese has officially announced that masses indoors are cancelled until the Easter season (and even then, they were clear that more direction based on how things look at that time will be provided). Many people are already feeling the pinch, myself included. However, even with churches cancelling their services in light of strong science that indicates an increase risk of spreading the virus in group settings of 50 or more people, there is a pastoral need among the faithful, arguably more so during times of crisis such as these.

It falls to the leadership of churches, our ministers and pastors, to enact creative solutions to the challenges currently being presented in providing pastoral care to faithful. These solutions ought not to ignore the science before us, not only would that be irresponsible because it places individuals at risk for contracting the virus but it also becomes scandalous for the church (just see the responses from non-believers to what happened to the church in Korea when the spread was just starting). With due consideration for the science and a serious regard for one’s pastoral duties to tend to the flock, ministers and pastors can come up with creative solutions– and ought to.

One suggestion that is being considered by my Anglo-Catholic parish is celebrating mass outdoors at a local park. There is more than enough room for people to gather with enough space between them and mass can be slightly altered so that people remain in their places while a single minister distributes the Eucharist. Another option is to arrange for outdoor prayer services based on the Liturgy of the Hours. People can gather (again not too closely) and pray together knowing that they are praying prayers that are part of the whole church, the whole breath of the faithful rising before God. You can also consider learning and starting to pray the Hours yourself while you are stuck at home for long days.

I am considering putting together a video (perhaps with a live feed so people can join in) on how to organize and pray the Liturgy of the Hours. If this is something you’d be interested in helping out with or participating in to learn please let me know. You can find all of the Hours organized online here at Universalis.com and as always you can shoot me a message or email and I would be more than willing to help you out personally.

It is also Lent, we cannot lose sight of our own need for preparation, pentenance, prayer and almsgiving. You can do the Stations of the Cross without the icons that are present with the church around your own home. The prayers and reflections are easy to find online and you can move throughout your own home and conduct the stations. To add even more flavour to the prayer, find out where East is and face toward that direction while your pray.

All of this recalls photos of the past when Priests celebrated mass on whatever surface could be found around the battlefields of the World Wars. I’ll end with a few inspirational photos.

Feature photo by Diana Vargas on Unsplash.

The common cup: is it safe?

In light of the recent information being passed around about COVID-19 and our ability to stem the impact of the epidemic, I thought it would be helpful to touch on a topic that is certainly a popular question within my own church at the moment. Is it safe to take from the common communion cup, especially during seasons of sickness and flu?

The short answer is that it is somewhat complicated. It is true that statistically there has never been a reported case of any person contracting a serious illness from the communion cup. There were many rumours and claims, especially by modern historians looking back to the plagues of the middle ages. But when the data was drawn out, and the facts laid bare, it was obvious that these theories did not hold any weight. But it is important to note that just because something hasn’t happened yet does not mean that it could not happen, especially when dealing with novel viruses like COVID-19.

You might have heard your Priest or Deacon talking about how the alcohol content combined with the material used in the composition of the cup essentially sterilizes the surface and kills anything that comes into contact. That unfortunately is not entirely true. In a study published in 1988, no appreciable change was noted in the presence of micro-organisms on the surface of the cup as a result of the wine or mixture of metals of the cup itself. In fact, what was found to be the best method of ensuring a clean communion cup was the act of wiping the surface with a corporal cloth and turning the cup for the next communicant.

The solution to ensuring that the communion cup is safe is to enforce proper protocols around the wiping and turning of the cup for the next communicant and this requires that communion not be rushed. And the best way to do this in my opinion is to actually have communicants come and kneel at the altar rail to receive communion from the celebrant and only two more communion ministers. And with adequate training and a healthy dose of reverence toward the Sacrament and how it is communicated to the faithful, there is no issue with using the common cup during seasons of illness and flu.

Another important thing to note is that the act of indenture– or dipping the host into the wine and consuming both species at the same time– is actually the worst option when it comes to hygiene. Especially when it is done by communicants themselves. The problem is that the vast majority of micro-organisms that are transmitted to surfaces around us are through our hands, and there is always a risk (and I’ve witnessed it personally many times as a Eucharistic minister) that ones fingers dip in the wine throughout the process. It is extremely unhygienic and most parishes should have a policy of outright banning indenture or only permitting it to be conducted by a Eucharistic minister (with the understanding that they’ve at least washed their hands immediately prior to distributing communion).

The safest way to receive communion and share the common cup is to approach the Eucharist with the level of reverence that many would called traditional today. We ought to be taking time between communicants, purposely moving up and away for communion, and it ought not to be a rushed affair in the hope of finishing the service within an hour window. This is probably why historically the common cup has not been an issue throughout some of the worse epidemics of our human history. I fear that might not be the case in this age of rushed Eucharistic services.

And lastly, we ought not forget that we are talking about the Blood of Christ. Through the incarnation of Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity the gifts themselves still retain their earthly properties of bread and wine. This means it is entirely within the realm of acceptable dogma to expect the potential transmission of micro-organisms on these surfaces. But there is also a divine aspect to the bread and wine as well and there is certainly something to be said about the fact that since its institution the Body and Blood of Christ has not contributed to any significant health outbreak.

At the end of the day whether you decide to take from the common cup or not is a personal choice and in no way does it impact your consumption of the Body and Blood of Christ. The presence of the cup for laity is actually a relatively new practice within the history of the liturgy and the church has always maintained that when you consume one or the other species you are consuming the entire Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. So even with all of the facts that the communion cup is safe, you can decide not to consume the Blood of Christ during periods of sickness or outbreak and still get everything out of Mass that you require to go back into the world and bring the Light of Christ to all peoples.

O for a closer walk with You, Lord Jesus so that I may draw ever closer into Your arms of grace day by day. Thank You that I can commune with You Lord as I come before You in prayer and the reading of Your Word.

Help me to seek YOU more and more for Who You are and not just that which You provide. Lord that I may spend time in Your presence – not for what I can get from You but for what I can give to You. Lord that You would fill me with Your love so that my love may flow back to You as well as out to others. Lord, I pray that my life may be a life that glorifies You in thought word and deed and that with each passing day I draw ever closer into close communion with You, in Jesus name I pray. Amen.

Feature image by Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash.