Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost--Holy Name of Mary

12 September AD 2010

Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English

    Had it not been for the calendar reform of Pope Saint Pius X, or if today were not Sunday, we would be celebrating the feast of the Holy Name of Mary, for “on September 12th 1683, after a forced march begun in Poland on the August 15th feast of the Assumption, John Sobieski turned back the 300,000 Moslem invaders besieging Vienna. The feast of the Holy Name of Mary was inscribed in the calendar of the Universal Church by Pope Innocent XI «as a perpetual memorial of the great blessing of that signal victory won at Vienna in Austria over the cruel Turkish tyrant who had been grinding down the Christian people.»”[1]

    Don’t anyone worry—I am not going to preach about burning the Koran.  But Catholics ought to be aware of the nature of Islam, and one way of becoming aware is to pay attention to the number of feasts in the Church calendar which celebrate the repulsion of Moslem invasions over roughly thirteen centuries.

Holy Name of Mary

Ave Maria!

“Every one that exalteth himself, shall be humbled;
and he that humbleth himself, shall be exalted.”[2]

    As Catholics, we are sometimes criticized by outsiders for having too many external things in our religion.  Holy water, palms, and ashes ... fish on Fridays, the Sign of the Cross, and genuflections ... rosaries and scapulars for the laity, fancy vestments and head gear for the clergy, incense, and an ancient language in the Mass.  What our critics fail to realize is that the Jews of the Old Testament, up until the time of Christ, had many similar external things.

    Perhaps more to the point, a fair amount of the Jewish externals were prescribed by God Himself.  Jewish men were to have fringes or tassels on their garments;[3]  men and women habitually covered their heads;  men wore phylacteries or tefillin (ןיליפת), which are leather boxes containing brief prayers, on their foreheads and arm while praying, as well as prayer shawls.  Oil lamps or candles were lit to welcome the Sabbath, and to memorialize the death anniversaries of loved ones.  The ancient liturgical language, Hebrew, was the language of Jewish prayer even though Palestinian Jews all spoke Aramaic in daily life.

    In the Temple, the priest “shall be vested with a linen tunick, he shall cover his nakedness with linen breeches: he shall be girded with a linen girdle, and he shall put a linen mitre upon his head.”[4]  Water was used for purification,[5] but more commonly things were sprinkled with blood, and occasionally with ashes.[6]  And just as in the Catholic church, the Temple had a tabernacle in which dwelt the true presence of the Living God, and sacrifice was offered daily before that tabernacle.

    In this morning’s Gospel we encounter one of the greatest external rituals of the Old Testament, the observance of the Sabbath.  On the seventh day of the week, the Jew was to do no work—not he, not his wife or children, not his servant, not even his animals.  He chopped no wood, gathered no sticks, built no fire, cooked no food, washed no dish—all of these things had to be done before or after the Sabbath.[7]  “A Jew was permitted to travel 2,000 cubits on the Sabbath (Exod. 16: 29 and Num. 35: 5), about 1.2 km. (3/4 mile), and the Mount of Olives was within this distance from Jerusalem (Acts 1: 12).”[8]  By God’s command, the  cities of the Levites were designed to fit within a Sabbath day’s journey.[9]  On the Sabbath, the Old Testament Jew went to the synagogue, or to the Temple if he lived in Jerusalem, where sacrifices would be offered.

    Breaking the Sabbath was a capital crime:  “Six days shall you do work: in the seventh day is the Sabbath, the rest holy to the Lord. Every one that shall do any work on this day, shall die.”[10]

Today’s Gospel finds our Lord in the house of a Pharisee, invited to dinner; that is, “to eat bread.”  One can be sure that the dinner was strictly according to the regulations of the Sabbath, prepared in advance so no work would be done—precisely because the Pharisees took great delight is showing off how well they kept the Jewish Law of Moses.  As our Lord condemned them elsewhere:  “All their works they do for to be seen of men.”  The Pharisee had to be larger than life.  “For they make their phylacteries broad, and enlarge their fringes. And they love the first places at feasts, and the first chairs in the synagogues, And salutations in the market place, and to be called by men, Rabbi.[11]

    It is likely that our Lord knew He was in no danger of being accused of Sabbath-breaking when He healed the man with dropsy—He knew for a fact that no one, not even a Pharisee, would abandon his animal fallen into a pit, much less a fellow man—but He also knew that their vainglorious pride would keep them from admitting such.  “They remained silent.”  Then He took them to task for their conceit in taking the best places—the “first seats”—at table.

    It is essential that we understand that our Lord was not telling anyone that they should stop keeping the customs of the Jewish people.  Many of these customs were praiseworthy;  indeed, commanded by God Himself;  they were in no way to be abandoned by the Jews.  Many of these customs were public actions—some were even prescribed by God as the public worship of the Temple—They could not be hidden.  Nor should they be hidden—for when the pious person performs the customs of God’s religion, he gives glory to God.  What our Lord condemned was the practice of religious custom with the intention of giving glory to one’s self, rather than to God.

    If you have been following the Scripture outline we publish in the Bulletin, last week your read the Book of Ecclesiasticus.  It described the proper Jewish conduct at dinner:  “If you are chosen to preside at dinner, be not puffed up, but with the guests be as one of themselves;  take care of the first before you sit down; when you have fulfilled your duty, then take your place to share in their joy and [you will] win praise for your hospitality ... you may talk ... but temper your wisdom, and do not disturb the singing.”[12]  The Jewish ideal was precisely what our Lord said:  If you humble yourself you will win praise.

    If we put this lesson into a modern day context, we will see that for us, just as for the Jews of our Lord’s time, it is praiseworthy to keep the customs of our holy Faith.  But we must keep them because they give glory to God, and not because they make us somehow noteworthy.

    One ought not to be afraid to be a Catholic and—apart from times of serious persecution—to be seen acting like a Catholic.  Your Rosary ought to be in your hand when you pray it, even walking about—not in your pocket, and certainly not at home in your drawer, behind the socks.  Wear your scapular, even at the beach.  If you know the responses at Mass, say them, even though there are others who do not.  If you can sing the hymns, do so—if you are off key, those on key will just have to sing a little louder.  Don’t be afraid to order fish on Friday, to make the Sign of the Cross, and to recite the blessing—whether you are alone, with family, at home, or in a restaurant.  There are many other Catholic customs, and we should keep them faithfully.   But, do all these things for the glory of God—not to achieve notoriety by standing out from the crowd—not to glorify yourself at God’s expense.

    Finally, realize that it is not always possible to know why other people do things or don’t do them.  None of us have the ability to read minds and to know what is in the hearts of others.  You have no way of knowing why someone is wearing a particularly large cross around his neck, nor do you have any way to know why he doesn’t sing the hymns in church.  One ought to assume the best about people until they demonstrate otherwise.  Worry about your own behavior—worry about your own vainglory—worry about your own lack zeal for the honor of God.

“Every one that exalteth himself, shall be humbled;
and he that humbleth himself, shall be exalted.”


[1]   Dom Guéranger, The Liturgical Year.

[6]   Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers

[7]   Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers

[9]   Numbers xxxv:1-5

[10]   Exodus xxxi: 15  Emphasis supplied.

[11]   Matthew xxiii: 5-7

[12]   Ecclesiasticus xxxii: 1-5  Confraternity translation.


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