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The Fifth Luminous Mystery: The Institution of the Eucharist

This post is by Juan Pablo Saju, Verbum’s Representative to the the Spanish-speaking world. He is based in Argentina.

In this luminous mystery, I invite you to meditate on Pope Saint John Paul II’s reflection about the relationship between the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Holy Eucharist. This contemplation will help us to prepare to receive Jesus in our hearts in the best way.

In his 2003 address, Ecclesia De Eucharistia, “On the Eucharist in its Relationship to the Church,” Pope John Paul II says:

“If we wish to rediscover in all its richness the profound relationship between the Church and the Eucharist, we cannot neglect Mary, Mother and model of the Church. In my Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, I pointed to the Blessed Virgin Mary as our teacher in contemplating Christ’s face, and among the mysteries of light [the luminous mysteries of hte rosary] I included the institution of the Eucharist. Mary can guide us towards this most holy sacrament, because she herself has a profound relationship with it.

At first glance, the Gospel is silent on this subject. The account of the institution of the Eucharist on the night of Holy Thursday makes no mention of Mary. Yet we know that she was present among the Apostles who prayed “with one accord” (cf. Acts 1:14) in the first community which gathered after the Ascension in expectation of Pentecost. Certainly Mary must have been present at the Eucharistic celebrations of the first generation of Christians, who were devoted to “the breaking of bread” (Acts 2:42).

But in addition to her sharing in the Eucharistic banquet, an indirect picture of Mary’s relationship with the Eucharist can be had, beginning with her interior disposition. Mary is a “woman of the Eucharist” in her whole life. The Church, which looks to Mary as a model, is also called to imitate her in her relationship with this most holy mystery.

Mysterium fidei! If the Eucharist is a mystery of faith which so greatly transcends our understanding as to call for sheer abandonment to the word of God, then there can be no one like Mary to act as our support and guide in acquiring this disposition. In repeating what Christ did at the Last Supper in obedience to his command: “Do this in memory of me!”, we also accept Mary’s invitation to obey him without hesitation: “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5). With the same maternal concern which she showed at the wedding feast of Cana, Mary seems to say to us: “Do not waver; trust in the words of my Son. If he was able to change water into wine, he can also turn bread and wine into his body and blood, and through this mystery bestow on believers the living memorial of his passover, thus becoming the ‘bread of life.’”

As a result, there is a profound analogy between the Fiat which Mary said in reply to the angel, and the Amen which every believer says when receiving the body of the Lord. Mary was asked to believe that the One whom she conceived “through the Holy Spirit” was “the Son of God” (Lk 1:30-35). In continuity with the Virgin’s faith, in the Eucharistic mystery we are asked to believe that the same Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Mary, becomes present in his full humanity and divinity under the signs of bread and wine.

Do this in remembrance of me” (Lk 22:19). [...] In the Eucharist the Church is completely united to Christ and his sacrifice, and makes her own the spirit of Mary. This truth can be understood more deeply by re-reading the Magnificat in a Eucharistic key. The Eucharist, like the Canticle of Mary, is first and foremost praise and thanksgiving. When Mary exclaims: “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour”, she already bears Jesus in her womb. She praises God “through” Jesus, but she also praises him “in” Jesus and “with” Jesus. This is itself the true “Eucharistic attitude”.

Institution of the Eucharist by Nicholas Poussin, 1640.

Institution of the Eucharist by Nicholas Poussin, 1640.

At the same time Mary recalls the wonders worked by God in salvation history in fulfilment of the promise once made to the fathers (cf. Lk 1:55), and proclaims the wonder that surpasses them all, the redemptive incarnation. Lastly, the Magnificat reflects the eschatological tension of the Eucharist. Every time the Son of God comes again to us in the “poverty” of the sacramental signs of bread and wine, the seeds of that new history wherein the mighty are “put down from their thrones” and “those of low degree are exalted” (cf. Lk 1:52), take root in the world. Mary sings of the “new heavens” and the “new earth” which find in the Eucharist their anticipation and in some sense their programme and plan. The Magnificat expresses Mary’s spirituality, and there is nothing greater than this spirituality for helping us to experience the mystery of the Eucharist. The Eucharist has been given to us so that our life, like that of Mary, may become completely a Magnificat!”

 

 

The Fourth Luminous Mystery: The Transfiguration

This guest post is by Robert Klesko, Catholic Educational Resources Product Manager at Verbum.

“They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God” (Is. 35:2).

The Transfiguration of our Lord on Mount Tabor is more than an event which shows forth the glory of God and the divinity of Christ. To simplify it to a mere miraculous occasion is to miss the meaning. For it was not merely done by Christ to demonstrate his power and glory as proof of his Godhead, it was an unveiling, a theophany, of what humanity is destined for.

Pope St. Leo the Great provides an insightful commentary:

And in this Transfiguration the foremost object was to remove the offence of the cross from the disciple’s heart, and to prevent their faith being disturbed by the humiliation of His voluntary Passion … But with no less foresight, the foundation was laid of the Holy Church’s hope, that the whole body of Christ might realize the character of the change which it would have to receive, and that the members might promise themselves a share in that honour which had already shone forth in their Head (Sermon 51).

In seeing God’s glory, Peter, James, and John were fortified and buffered from the profound grief and confusion of the Cross. Yet, more importantly, Christ bathes them in the light of Mount Tabor in order for them to realize their role as prophets and heralds of the eschaton, or Judgment Day. Surely this was on St. Peter’s mind when he wrote, “… through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature” (II Pet. 1:3-5).The Transfiguration concerns our deification and the deification of the entire cosmos and the final victory of God and his New Creation.

This gives hope to every person engaged in every holy endeavor and when compared to the various motivations of the “the corruption that is in the world because of passion” (II Pet. 1:4), we see we are bound for a much more glorious future. In this world so full of the misery or war, violence, despair, and just plain apathy, isn’t the message of the Transfiguration needed all the more?

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Mary: Star of the New Evangelization

There is a beautiful icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe entitled “Mary: Star of the New Evangelization” and in the background are beams of light radiating from the Blessed Mother. She is depicted in the uncreated light of Tabor, arms outstretched heavenward as if saying to her Son, “thy Kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven.” When meditating on this mystery during this month of the Holy Rosary let’s remember our vocation to be prophets and evangelists of the Kingdom, calling our friends and neighbors, young and old, rich and poor, marginalized and broken; in fact, calling all to the hope of New Creation in Christ.

Let us ponder like the theologian John, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (I Jn. 3:2-3). We have so much to hope for, so much to be joyful for, and so much work to do in spreading that joy to others! We work with the Blessed Mother and the entire communion of the saints in ushering in God’s kingdom!

The Third Luminous Mystery: The Proclamation of the Kingdom

This guest post was writtten by Brandon Rappuhn, Marketing Copywriter at Faithlife.

“This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel (St. Mark 1:15).

The proclamation of the Kingdom of God is a mystery broad and deep, inviting us to meditate on any of Jesus’ teachings, his mission, and/or the teachings of the Church. But for today’s meditation, I’d like to dwell on the fourth chapter of St. Mark and what Jesus has to say about his parables.

They May Not be Converted and Forgiven

Jesus says,

“The mystery of the kingdom of God has been granted to you [the disciples]. But to those outside everything comes in parables, so that

‘they may look and see but not perceive,

and hear and listen but not understand,

in order that they may not be converted and be forgiven’” (Mk 4:11-12).

This is a striking passage. Would Jesus intentionally muddy his teachings to confuse people? Would he do such a thing to keep people from being converted, and from being forgiven?

At first glance, Jesus’ statement might appear malicious and ruthless—not at all like the gentle and forgiving Jesus to whom we pray our Divine Mercy chaplets. But reading further invites conversation with the Word concerning this very difficult passage. Jesus then indicates that he knows the parables might confuse people:

Jesus said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand any of the parables?” (Mk 4:13).

Immediately, we can see that even the disciples misunderstand the parable of the sower, given a few verses earlier:

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The Sower, Icon from Biserica Ortodoxa din Deal, Cluj-Napoca, Romania

Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it had not much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil; 6 and when the sun rose it was scorched, and since it had no root it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among thorns and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. 8 And other seeds fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold” (Mk 4:3-8).

The Parable of the Sower Explained

Jesus’ explanation helps us understand his statement about those who “hear and listen but do not understand.” In the parable the sower sows seed on 4 different types of soil, but the seed only takes root in only one type of soil. The other soil types refused to support the plant the seed was meant to become

The sower sows the word—the Word of God, the Gospel, the proclamation of the Kingdom. This could possibly even extend to the Sacraments. Consider the reasons why the Word did not take root and survive as a plant. And the word sown on rich soil represents those who hear the word, accept it, and bear fruit 30, 60, even 100-fold.

Many who would read this passage might initially think that the state of the soil represents the state of a person’s heart and mind before deciding whether or not to become Catholic (or Christian). But we see all around us that the Word of God is being sown upon us all the time—through the daily Gospel readings, through daily Mass, through our fellow Catholics, even through this very blog post you are reading. The state of the soil in the parable, I believe, represents our daily receptivity to the Word of God being sown into us.

Whoever Has Ears to Hear Ought to Hear

Thus, this parable answers the paradox presented by Jesus’ statement that “some may hear and not understand.” If we have good soil, and are receptive to the Word of God, we might see and perceive the teachings of Christ, and thus be converted and forgiven. But what do we do to have our soil receptive to the Word?

We get out our spades, shovels, hoes, and till the soil. This is where our good Catholic disciplines come into practice. Fasting on Fridays, praying the rosary, and performing the penance we’re given after a good confession—these are the things that create a good soil for God’s Word to be sown upon. We can even assign ourselves little penances to prepare our hearts to receive God (St. Francis de Sales taught me this). Penance prepares us to receive Christ again in the future, and when Christ calls upon us once more, we’ll have to decide again whether we’ll refuse to let the seed take root and bear fruit—or listen and let it grow in us.

 

 

 

 

The Second Luminous Mystery: The Wedding at Cana

This guest post was written by Greg Hoerter, Manager of Strategic Partnerships for Verbum Catholic Products.

Meditating on the Wedding at Cana always gives me a better sense of Mary’s role as the Queen Mother of the Messiah. In John 2:1-11, we see a very unusual wedding story.

First, the Bride and Groom are never named. Many church fathers and theologians speculate that Jesus, who is called the Bridegroom in the next chapter (Jn 3:29) and elsewhere in scripture, is meant to be the Groom and Mary the Bride, as she is the New Eve.

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The Miracle at Cana by Vialy Makovsky, 1887.

Mary takes a very prominent role in the story as she is listed first among the guests: “1 On the third day there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; 2 Jesus also was invited to the marriage, with his disciples.” (John 2:1–2, RSVCE)

As the wine runs out, Mary immediately acts and intercedes for the hosts. As the Queen Mother, this is her role as the intercessor, as we see in the Old Testament.  In the Davidic Kingdom, the Queen was the Mother of the King since he often had more than one wife.  In 1 Kings we read: “So Bathsheba [Solomon’s mother] went to King Solomon, to speak to him on behalf of Adonijah. And the king rose to meet her, and bowed down to her; then he sat on his throne, and had a seat brought for the king’s mother; and she sat on his right. Then she said, “I have one small request to make of you; do not refuse me.” And the king said to her, “Make your request, my mother; for I will not refuse you.”” (1 Kings 2:19–20, RSVCE)

The role of the Queen Mother (Hebrew: Gebirah) is to hear the requests of the people and to take them to the King. Just as Bathsheba did in the Old Testament, Mary did at Cana in the New Testament and even still today for us. She intercedes and takes our prayers and requests to Her Son the King of Kings. And just as King Solomon said 3,000 years ago, Jesus says to his Mother today: “Make your request, my mother; for I will not refuse you”.

But our requests are not always answered. In the above example in 1 Kings, Adonijah, the half-brother of Solomon, requested something that would have cost Solomon his kingdom. Therefore, Solomon could not honor the request, as it was against his Father David’s will, and God’s will. In the same way, we cannot ask for something that goes against God’s will and our ultimate good and expect it to be granted. King Solomon had a double portion of Wisdom granted to him, but our Lord knows our minds and our hearts, and what’s best for us, even better than we do.

So after we make our petitions, Mary’s words to us are still: “Do whatever he tells you”.

 

The First Luminous Mystery: The Baptism of Jesus

This guest post is by David Walker, Verbum Business Development Team Lead.

As one studies the narrative of the Gospel of St. Mark, it quickly becomes clear that the author utilizes intense language throughout his writings. For instance, the Greek word εὐθύς (euthys), translated “immediately,”is utilized 8 times in just the first chapter. St. Mark utilizes this word to drive the reader along Mark’s narrative of the life of Christ.

Another example of this intense language, specifically within the first chapter, is the Greek word σχίζω(schizo), translated “torn” (from which we get the English word “schism”). However, this word is utilized more sparingly and to great effect by St. Mark. In fact, σχίζω (schizo) appears at only two key places within his entire Gospel. The first time is at the beginning of his gospel as Mark describes the Baptism of our Lord: “And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him” (Mk1:10).

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The Baptism of Christ by Giotto, 1305.

Mark returns to this word a second time to describe a specific moment of the Passion: “And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” (Mk 15:38).

When a unique word is utilized this way, Biblical scholars sometimes refer to it as an inclusio. An inclusio is a literary technique by which the author creates theological “book ends” at the beginning and end of the text for added significance and meaning.

One way of interpreting St. Mark’s purpose for utilizing this word σχίζω (schizo), at our Lord’s Baptism and again at His passion, might be to emphasize a powerful new dispensation of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit breaks into the fallen world at Christ’s baptism and is then made available to us all by Christ’s suffering on the Cross. The tearing of the veil might thus indicate the power of the Holy Spirit breaking through the veil in a way that was a foreshadowing was merely a shadow of what was to come (Col. 2:17), when the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost.

St. Matthew’s Gospel shows this reality in another way. To quote the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible:

Matthew assembles ten miracle stories. They portray Jesus bringing into the world a divine holiness that overpowers the causes of defilement: sin, disease, demons, and even death. The Jews, especially the Pharisees, considered those defiled by these things to be unclean and untouchable; Jesus, however, takes an offensive stance against evil and by his mighty words (8:13, 16, 26, 32; 9:6) and physical touch (8:3, 15; 9:21, 25, 29) heals the effects of sin. He was not only immune to uncleanness, but the superior power of his holiness went forth to purify others in his midst. These episodes also reveal Jesus’ favor with the crowds (8:1, 16, 18; 9:8, 31, 33) as well as mounting opposition by skeptical authorities (9:3, 34).

St. Matthew seems to point out a type of “reversed polarity” that has now taken place through the power of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit enables one to actually effect righteousness—rather than being made unclean, the power of the Holy Spirit makes these things clean.

For St. Mark, this dramatically begins at Jesus’ Baptism, as the Heavens are “torn” open and the Holy Spirit descends upon Christ.  His finished work on the Cross then opens the power of the Holy Spirit to His followers, which we Christians receive when we follow Jesus in the Sacrament of Baptism.  As the Catechism states: “Baptism not only purifies from all sins, but also makes the neophyte “a new creature,” an adopted son of God, who has become a “partaker of the divine nature,” member of Christ and co-heir with him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit” (1265).

 

The Fourth Glorious Mystery: The Assumption of Mary

  • This guest post was written by James Battle, Catholic Marketing Specialist here at Verbum.

Why does the Catholic Church hold each of the faithful to believe the Assumption of our Blessed Mother? What do we gain by meditating upon this mystery?

Like many converts, I had a lot of trouble with the Marian dogmas––but this one especially. I wondered, “What is the point of the Assumption?” The hymns and practice of the Church in celebrating this idea are recorded well back to the 6th century, so why was it only defined dogmatically barely more than 50 years ago? Of all of the Glorious Mysteries—Resurrection, Ascension, Descent of the Holy Spirit, Assumption .and Coronation of Mary—the last two are the least explicitly explained in Sacred Scripture (Revelation 12) and can be the most difficult to understand.

One reason that I can see why the Church took so long to declare the Assumption of Mary a dogma of the Church is that it cannot be well understood without first understanding and believing much of what the Church has said elsewhere about Christ. Let’s consider three signifcant aspectsof the Assumption:

  • Because Christ is fully man and fully God, Mary had to receive special grace to be able to carry the Word in her womb (Lk 1:39-56)
  • Like Elijah and Enoch, Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven – our bodies matter to God (1 Cor 6:20)
  • Mary’s Assumption foreshadows our own Resurrection, and gives us hope (1 Cor 15; Rev 11:9-12:7).

To learn more about how this doctrine developed, I recommend the Mariology Collection in Verbum.

As my own faith grew, I eventually discovered, and began to believe, that every dogma that the Catholic Church has defined about Mary has the sole purpose of bringing us closer to Christ Jesus.

Meditating upon this mystery, I find myself amazed at the love of our God: From all eternity He would choose one of His creation to become His mother. He would make Himself a helpless baby in her arms, and he would bless the rest of us through her.

I guess that’s why Mary says, “All generations will call me blessed” (Lk 1:48).

This is one of my favorite prayers from the Kontakion from the Feast of the Assumption:

 “Neither the tomb, nor death could hold the Theotokos,

Who is constant in prayer and our firm hope in her intercessions.

For being the Mother of Life,

She was translated to life by the One who dwelt in her virginal womb.”

Note: In the Orthodox tradition, Mary is known as “Theotokos,” or “God-bearer.”

 

The Fifth Glorious Mystery: The Coronation of Mary

This guest post is by Isaiah Hoogendyk, Biblical Languages Engineer at Faithlife Corporation.

The Salve, Regina, or “Hail, Holy Queen!” is typically used as a concluding prayer to the five decades of the Rosary. Why do we do address the Blessed Virgin Mary this way? Let us first take a look back at the mysteries we have already written about.

If the Joyous Mysteries tell of the beginning of our salvation, the joy of knowing that Christ is coming to dwell among us and show the way to everlasting life; and the Sorrowful Mysteries tell of how He suffered for our sake and for our sin, in order that we may have life eternal; then the Glorious Mysteries tell of Christ’s triumph and its promise for the Church, Christ’s Body, victorious upon earth and in heaven.

The Glorious Mysteries begin with Christ’s promised Resurrection from the dead and His glorious Ascension, which together look forward to what awaits those who fall asleep in God’s grace. The third mystery, the Descent of the Holy Spirit, recalls the birth of the Church, and is a fulfillment of Christ’s promise that the Paraclete, the Comforter, would be sent after He Himself went to be with the Father. The fourth mystery parallels the first mystery: Mary’s Assumption into heaven proves Christ’s promise for His faithful Church.

What, then, is the parallel to the second mystery and what is the triumphant end of this progression of gloriously fulfilled promises? It is what is celebrated on the Octave of the Assumption, a feast established in 1954 by Pope Pius XII in his encyclical Ad Caeli Reginam (“To the Queen of Heaven”): the Coronation of Mary, Queen of Heaven and Earth. If her Assumption marks the completion of her life on earth, then there must be something even greater awaiting her in the new creation. Indeed, it is the very same thing that awaits Christ’s chosen and faithful servants. For in the end, we too will receive our crown. Not only are we God’s handiwork and the pinnacle of His beautiful creation, but we are co-heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17) who will reign with Him in His everlasting kingdom (2 Tim. 2:12).

We can look to Ad Caeli Reginam for excellent support of Mary’s exalted status and title, wherein the Pope appeals to Holy Tradition and the Church Fathers:

So it is that St. Ephrem, burning with poetic inspiration, represents her as speaking in this way: “Let Heaven sustain me in its embrace, because I am honored above it. For heaven was not Thy mother, but Thou hast made it Thy throne. How much more honorable and venerable than the throne of a king is her mother.” … St. Gregory Nazianzen calls Mary “the Mother of the King of the universe,” and the “Virgin Mother who brought forth the King of the whole world,” while Prudentius asserts that the Mother marvels “that she has brought forth God as man, and even as Supreme King.” (Ad Caeli Reginam 10, 11)

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The Coronation of the Virgin by El Greco, 1591.

Who is mother of the King of the Universe but a mother of royal lineage herself? Therefore we can rightly call her Queen. We can also look to Holy Scripture to find prophecy of Mary’s role as Queen; namely, the final book of the New Testament, St. John’s Apocalypse. In one of the readings used for Mass at the Solemnity of the Assumption, we read:

Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple.

And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; she was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery.

And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.” (Rev. 11:19-12:2, 10 RSV2CE)

Mary, who is called the First Apostle, the Mother of God, and the Star of the Sea, is also the Queen. But as queen, should we fear her as we would a great and powerful leader or monarch? In fact, we can take consolation, writes Alphonsus Liguori, Saint and Doctor of the Church. In his excellent devotional writing The Glories of Mary, he writes an extensive commentary on the Salve, Regina. In regards to Mary’s queenship, he states that “she is a mild and merciful queen, desiring the good of us poor sinners. Hence the holy Church bids us salute her in this prayer, and name her the Queen of Mercy. The very name of queen signifies, as blessed Albertus Magnus remarks, compassion, and provision for the poor.” (The Glories of Mary, 27-28)

In view of her compassion, let us fly to her aid and her comfort. In recognition of our being “poor, banished children of Eve,” let us ask humbly that she turn her eyes of mercy toward us and show unto us her Son, Our Lord Jesus, when we meet in Heaven on that Glorious Day, after a fight well fought, and a race well run.

The Fourth Glorious Mystery: The Assumption of Mary

Excerpt from Scott Hahn’s Hail, Holy Queen.

Scientists formulate and test various theories, some of which are proven with enough certitude to be renamed laws, for instance, Newton’s law of gravity; others are discarded as unworkable hypotheses. Thus, laws become the markers of scientific progress. Similarly, the definition of dogma serves as the mark of theological progress.

Dogma is the perfection of doctrine, and doctrine is nothing other than the Church’s teaching and preaching the gospel truth, as Jesus commissioned and empowered her to do. When the pope chooses to define a Marian dogma, he does much more than teach the world a valuable lesson in theology. He uses his God-given charism to fulfill his apostolic mission to preach the gospel to all nations (see Mt 28:18–20).

Throughout the history of the Church, the definition of dogmas has stimulated the apostolic and theological energies of some of her best minds, especially when a definition became the occasion of controversy. In the 1940s, many Protestants, including the late Max Thurian of Taizé, France, objected strenuously after hearing rumors that Pope Pius XII was about to define the dogma of Mary’s assumption. “Where is that in the Bible?” they asked, as they made dire predictions about the death of Catholic ecumenism.

Yet the definition of the assumption coincided with the dawn of a golden age of Catholic ecumenism. Now, almost fifty years later, the Catholic Church can be described as the engine of the ecumenical movement, when many of the institutions of the old guard have lost their steam.

And incidentally, Max Thurian died a Catholic priest on the feast of the Assumption in 1996 (146).

 

The Third Glorious Mystery: The Descent of the Holy Spirit

This post is by Juan Pablo Saju, Verbum’s Representative to the the Spanish-speaking world. He is based in Argentina.

Saint John Paul II describes the descent of the Holy Spirit this way:

“The Holy Spirit descends as love and gift, in a certain sense, into the very heart of the sacrifice which is offered on the cross. Referring to the Biblical tradition we can say: He consumes this sacrifice by the fire of the love which unites the Son to the Father in the Trinitarian communion. And since the sacrifice of the Cross is an act proper to Christ, in this sacrifice too He “receives” the Holy Spirit. He receives the Spirit in such a way that He – and He alone with the Father – can give the Spirit to the Apostles, to the Church, to humanity” (“Dominum et Vivificantem).

It is Jesus who sends the Fire of Love to us. This Fire of Love is the Holy Spirit, and because He is sent by Jesus is also a Gift, the most excellent Gift. In the Holy Spirit there is equality between being Love and being Gift. St Thomas explains it well: “Love is the reason for a free gift which is given to a person out of love. The first gift, therefore, is love (amor habet rationem primi don:) . . . Thus, if the Holy Spirit proceeds as Love, He proceeds also as First Gift” (Summa Theologiae, I, q.38, a.2). All the other gifts are distributed among Christ’s Body through the Gift which is the Holy Spirit, concludes the Angelic Doctor in harmony with St Augustine (De Trinitate, XV, 1,9: PL 42, 1084).

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The Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles by Mikhail Vrubel, 1885.

In communicating this vital energy to the soul, the Holy Spirit makes it capable, in virtue of supernatural charity, of observing the twofold commandment of love, given by Jesus Christ: love for God and for one’s neighbor. The Holy Spirit enables the soul to share in Jesus’ filial love for the Father, so that, as St. Paul says: “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God” (Rom 8:14). He enables the Father to be loved as the Son has loved him, i.e, with a filial love which is shown in the cry of “Abba” (Gal 4:6; Rom 8:15).

The capacity to observe the other commandment, love of neighbor, comes from the Holy Spirit, too. “Love one another as I have loved you,” Jesus commands his apostles and all his followers. With these words: “As I have loved you,” the new value of supernatural love is present, which is a sharing in Christ’s love for human beings, and therefore, is a sharing in the eternal Charity . It is the Holy Spirit who thus makes us able to love not only God, but also our neighbor, as Jesus Christ loved him. Yes, even our neighbor because, given that the love of God has been poured into our hearts, with that love we can love other persons and even in some way,  as God loves them.

In another address, Saint John Paul II sums up the significance of the descent the Holy spirit came down, at the first moment of the Church:

“On the spiritual and ethical level, yet having profound repercussions on the psychological and social planes, the force which unites is most of all love which is shared and practiced according to Christ’s commandment: “Love one another, as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34; 15:12). According to St. Paul, this love is the supreme gift of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 13:13)” (General audience December 5, 1990).

The Second Glorious Mystery: The Ascension

This guest post is by Kathryn Heltsley, Product Marketing Copywriter for Verbum.

“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?” (Acts 1:11)

God’s plan. God’s timing. God’s perfect will. These phrases are repeated over and over in the Christian life. Why do we hear them so often? Because we need to. We can’t help it—we want to know what’s coming, what we’re signing up for. Instead, we get a lot of opportunities to scratch our heads as we think, “Well that wasn’t what I was expecting!” It’s easy to get stuck “looking into heaven,” rather than to keep walking in the direction that Christ has pointed us.

The disciples are always an accurate reflection of our own humanity. The gospel narratives are full of examples where they unconsciously demonstrate their preconceptions of who Jesus was and their expectations of what that would look like (see Mt 16:22, for example).

Father Vincent Nagel, author of Life Promises Life—and a dear friend to all who have met him for more than a minute—once described the scene of the Ascension with his characteristic humor: “So the disciples crowd around him, asking, ‘So are you gonna save us from the Romans now?’ Oh boy! I mean, you can just about hear Jesus slapping his palm to his forehead as he ascends in the cloud!”

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The Ascension by Gustave Dore.

We all do this. We are designed with expectations. The very fact of our design implies an answer. But the form our expectations take—and the reality of the answer—can be a constant challenge as we stumble along the path of faith. Here, Jesus tells the disciples “not to concern themselves with God’s timing in fulfilling His plan” (Acts 1:7 Faithlife Study Bible). Ouch.

It’s not as though the disciples had pulled this idea of rescue from Roman oppression out of a hat. They had good reason to hope for Jesus overturning Roman rule. But the actual event of Christ’s presence in the world revealed a different plan. The openness of the disciples to receive it, however confusedly, is the essential triumph of humanity. And what they received through their faith, God’s presence inside each of them in the person of the Holy Spirit, was truly above and beyond anything they could have thought to hope for. And so it is with us all.

 

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