Gold Book of Prayers
IN THE ANNALS OF DEEP HISTORY, FASCINATING FACTS ABOUT A CHURCH THAT HAS FACED AND SURVIVED ALL CHALLENGES
History is not always overly engaging but at certain key junctures becomes fascinating, such as right now, as cardinals convene to choose a Pontiff.
The world -- so quick to dismiss Catholicism (the Mother Church) -- also can't help watching.
Is the Church in disarray? Permanent decline?
Hardly -- not in the context of history.
In fact, while it certainly is battling crises (such as homosexuality, which warrants immediate, special, and urgent reform, and such as the young who have left, searching for more vigor) -- and while the secular culture around it is in precipitous, apocalyptic decline -- the Church, rocked though it is by the loudest internal problems in many years, has been in a stable period, if one looks at the longer reach of history.
Consider that when cardinals gathered to choose a new Pope in 1378, some of them were assaulted in the streets of Rome and warned by bullies to elect an Italian (back then, French dominated the College of Cardinals).
The cardinals quickly elected an Italian archbishop who was not even of their number.
That Pope became "unhinged" once he ascended to the throne (according to some contemporaries) and led to the Great Schism. Soon the papacy was an object of what one historian called "derision."
The very attention granted by the media to recent developments in Rome bears out a simple fact: no matter how many may hope that the Church is in final decline, the trials it currently faces are in simple keeping with the ups and downs recorded since the first century.
The gates of hell never prevail.
There were the intense persecutions in the first three centuries. There was then relative calm as the Church grew, as it flourished under Constantine, only to meet with whitewater and a series of waterfalls throughout the Middle Ages -- before a calm returned with sporadic persecution, exiles, and imprisonments, including in the 19th century. (This is what had many mystics prophesying a papal apocalypse.)
It wasn't until 1929 that an agreement was reached whereby the Pope could not be forced to stay inside the Vatican.
Times there have been!
The French Revolution. The Reformation. The Church is nearly used to being in crisis.
We have had periods when there were three pontiffs. We've had times when one Pope waged war -- military action -- on a second. We have had times when vandals relentlessly pillaged monasteries. The gates of hell do not win.
Back in the fifteenth century, when a highly questionable Pope named John summoned a council to meet in Rome and intoned the invocation, "Come, Holy Spirit!" a screech owl settled on his head. (He is supposed to have muttered, "a strange shape for the Holy Spirit!")
That council never got off the ground (for lack of participants), perhaps because John was accused of unscrupulous financial expedients and brazen nepotism.
It was a time of schism, as today there is a more subtle divide, between modernism and conservative Christianity (but far less of a split).
While Saint Peter was in effect the first Pontiff, and bishops have their apostolic authority going right back to the start, for the first several centuries of the Church there was no papal office as we know the papacy today. And later, when there was, it was often secular -- a layman who was ordained only after his election to the seat of Peter: more an administrator than a cleric.
For several centuries, there were no priests, as we know them today, but there were prayers of consecration by men who were the forerunners of our clergy. Originally, Mass was held in homes under the direction of lay "presidents." While we conservatives think of ourselves as traditional and orthodox (orthodox is defined as "like at the earliest times"), actually a better word would be "pious," for the move to bring Mass under the exclusive control of a priest who faced away from congregants -- separated from the people -- in a pious fashion, with more mystery, dates back "only" from the Middle Ages.
The one constant from the very start: the Eucharist.
And right from the very first century it was considered the actual Body and Blood -- not just a ritual.
Did you know that the Eucharistic prayer we still use at Mass dates all the way back to before A.D. 236? (This we can know because it is recorded in the Church Order of Hippolytus, who died that year.)
Despite claims that celibacy is a relatively recent thing, it too goes way back and was enforced by Popes beginning with Siricius --who died in A.D. 399.
On the grounds that sexual intercourse was incompatible with the sacred character of the clerical state.
Strictures against abortion also date that far back.
During many periods of the Church, bishops were elected by clergy, not chosen by the Pontiff. (Popes finally took control of the process in the 1300s.) And they were often laity ordained upon appointment to a "bishopric."
The "kiss of peace," we were surprised to see, goes back a very long way (we've always thought of this as an innovation, and nearly a distraction).
The Eucharist, of course -- founded at the Last Supper -- is the oldest part of the Mass!
It was after the great Christian emperor Constantine that Catholicism was standardized.
What we now know as "traditional" liturgy really came into being during the early Middle Ages when the role of community diminished during Mass and was gradually taken over by priests in special garb.
And so it wasn't always better "back then."
To read of the ruptures, of the schisms, of anti-popes, of scandals, of persecutions, of conciliar battles, of times when the papacy moved from Rome, of tragedies such as the Reformation causes us to know one thing:
Only a Church truly established by Jesus could possibly have navigated all that whitewater, standing as tall today, despite its problems -- despite very clear challenges -- as at any time in the past.
[resources: Lenten books; Medjugorje pilgrimage, Michael Brown: purification, future, self-illumination]
[Footnote from the mail: "I am a convert to Catholicism, my entire family is protestant, it is only by the grace of the Blessed Mother that I came into the faith. I can say it this way, Protestants reach up to Jesus, however Catholics MEET Jesus in Mass; it's totally different. I wanted a deeper more meaningful walk with Jesus, you'd think I would have had it, with all the Bible Studies, all the church I was attending, (I was in lots of different Bible-believing denominations from Assembly of God to Baptist to Nazarene to non-denominational, you name it), but I was being called by the Holy Spirit to learn of Jesus and I wanted to know Him. I wanted to pray, so I got the books that Protestants get, 'Prayers That Avail Much…' and the second edition; I prayed those prayers but still I was not satisfied. Now I see, the prayers of the Saints that the Catholic Church has, a treasure chest of prayers, I was just going over a little book about the 'Precious Blood.' MY GOODNESS, those prayers are powerful, if only Protestants knew of these prayers; they sing about the 'Blood of Jesus' but they never get into His Holy wounds, His Passion, the Precious Blood and all it's merits, like these prayers in this little book. I was just thinking, if only they really knew what kind of power there is in this Holy Catholic Church, it's amazing and there are SO many prayers like this, SO MANY.
"Now as for the Saints, goodness knows, we ALL need people to pray for us; Protestants always ask each other to pray; but what if they could ask the Holy Saints, they would run to them, begging them to pray for them, and WE have this in the Catholic Church, we can ask our Saints and they WILL pray. And how sad to be a Protestant and not be able to pray for their deceased as we can and not feel connected, as if they're just gone.
"I was just thinking today about how much safer I feel in the Catholic Church because of the sacraments, particularly the sacrament of confession. How it soothes the soul to confess and be absolved. If only Protestants could do this, they would see how wonderful they would feel. Then there's the Eurcharist, GOODNESS, Jesus is HERE in Mass, when you really wrap your mind around this (as a convert it took me a LONG time to understand and embrace this) well, I just want to fall to my knees, it's the LORD Himself!
"Then there's the structure, I was so happy when I entered the church, I love calling the priest, 'Father'; it's such an endearing name and I love having them there to help and guide me. Catholics are a humble people, and perhaps, too much so, indeed, they need to show and tell all what a wonderful faith they have, I know I pray and talk a lot to Catholics about this wonderful faith. I'm always telling them, what an incredible faith they have! This Holy Church is AMAZING and I LOVE it so much and am so graced and blessed to be converted to Catholicism, I am in the church ten years and feel like a baby! So much to learn!" -- Christine Calabrese
[resources: Devotion to the Precious Blood]
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