for Anne Marie Johnson—in a Haitian hospital with pneumonia.
for Alfie Evans, 14 Months old ,
another hostage of socialized medicine in Britain.
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
Description of an
“Be of good
heart, son, they sins are forgiven thee.”
Without exception, each of the seven sacraments can be
conferred very quickly in times of urgent necessity. Although the Church
has embellished each of the Sacraments with additional prayers and
ceremonies, It tells us at the heart of each Sacrament there is an essential
“matter” and “form.” For example, anyone may baptize a person in danger of
death, simply by pouring a few drops of water on his head and saying, “I
baptize thee in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy
Ghost.” Likewise, a priest may absolve a thousand soldiers on a battlefield
with no more than the sign of the cross and a formula of a few dozen words.
Even the Mass, or Ordination to the Priesthood could be reduced to such
simplicity if true necessity required it—serious persecution, like that of
the concentration camp, for example.
But, under normal conditions, the ceremonies that
surround the Sacraments serve to place us in a holy frame of mind, so as to
receive fully the graces of the Sacrament, and to have an understanding of
what the Sacrament is doing for those who receive it. That is one of the
reasons why the Church urges Catholics to pray the prayers of the Missal
during Holy Mass—for they are the best vehicle possible for fruitful
assistance at the Holy Sacrifice and the reception of Holy Communion.
Perhaps the best example of the ceremonies added to a
Sacrament is that of Priestly Ordination. The ordination itself—its matter
and form—can theoretically be reduced to the bishop laying his hands on the
man's head and reciting thirty-one words; perhaps taking forty-five seconds
in all. Yet the Church embellishes this so that the new priest himself,
and all of the on-lookers will understand the great powers and
responsibilities he is receiving. The Priesthood is always conferred during
Mass, just before the Gospel. The people are consulted about the worthiness
of the candidate, and he is lectured about the significance of the office he
is about to assume. The Litany of the Saints is chanted with the candidate
prostrate in front of the altar. Then the bishop and all priests present
place their hands on the head of the candidate, followed by a series of
prayers including the Sacramental “form”:
beseech Thee, Almighty Father, invest this Thy servant with the dignity of
the Priesthood; do Thou renew in his heart the spirit of holiness, so that
he may persevere in this office, which is next to ours in dignity, since he
has received it from Thee, O God. May the example of his life lead others
to moral uprightness.
At the conclusion of the “form,” the candidate is a
priest, forever, possessing all of the powers possessed by other simple
But the ceremony goes on. The new priest is vested in
all of the vestments used for Mass—with one sight peculiarity: the back of
the chasuble is pinned up over the shoulders, so that perhaps a third or a
quarter is visible. The new priest's hands are anointed with holy oil, so
that they may become holy to handle the Sacred Mysteries of the Altar, and
so that they in turn may sanctify and consecrate. The new priest is handed
a chalice filled with wine and a paten holding an altar bread, and told to
“receive the power to offer sacrifice to God and to offer Mass for the
living and the dead.” Then, together with the bishop, from the Offertory to
the Communion, the new priest(s) exercises his power and concelebrates the
Finally, after reciting the Apostles Creed and before
promising his obedience, the bishop lays his hands on the head of the new
priest once again, saying the words of Christ: “Receive the Holy Ghost.
Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them....” The new priest's
chasuble is then unpinned at the shoulders, a sign of having received this
power of judgement and forgiveness.
But, once again, it should be understood that from the
moment that he received the “matter and form,” the new priest possessed the
radical power to offer Mass and to forgive sins. The additional ceremonies
that seem to confer those powers separately are performed so that everyone
concerned can recognize the realities that are conferred in the Sacrament.
Our Lord did precisely the same thing with the
Apostles. In today's Gospel we see Him forgiving the sins of a man with
palsy, and some of the scribes accusing Him of blasphemy (for only God can
forgive sins). He gave the Apostles this same example numerous times
before explicitly telling them that they could do the same: “Receive the
Holy Ghost. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; whose
sins you retain, they are retained.”
One could certainly argue the position that the
Apostles already possessed the power to forgive sins since three days
before, when, on Holy Thursday, our Lord ordained them to His Priesthood and
gave them power to offer the Holy Sacrifice in His place, as “other Christs.”
The forgiveness of the sins of an individual arises, ultimately, from that
Sacrifice. The Sacrament of Penance applies the general forgiveness of
repentant mankind to a specific man or woman.
The Church is explicit about the power to forgive sins,
just as our Lord was explicit about it, precisely because of its great
importance to all of us. Presumably, a new priest has studied enough to not
need being told of the powers he receives at ordination, but many of the
spectators may have not.
Particularly in modern times, the reality of personal
sin has “fallen into the background,” so to speak—at least, that is, where
it is not denied altogether. Universal salvation seems to be presumed;
Hell and Purgatory are no longer mentioned, and in some circles their
existence is positively denied.
What a change from the attitude of the Scribes in
today's Gospel!! They were simply ignorant of our Lord's identity—they
didn't know that He was the Son of God—otherwise they wouldn't have accused
Him of blasphemy. But at least they understood that sin was real, and that
only God could forgive it.
But we, on the other hand, should know all these
things: sin and Hell and Purgatory are real; Jesus Christ has overthrown
them for mankind by the Sacrifice of the Cross; He has overthrown them for
us as individuals by giving us Holy Mass and the Sacrament of Confession.
What was impossible to the Scribes in today's Gospel is available to us
every day of the week. Daily our Lord invites us to forgiveness and to the
banquet of eternal life—the only thing left is for us to respond.