Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!

Last Sunday after Pentecost
25 November AD 2012

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

“When you shall see the abomination of desolation ... standing in the holy place:
he that readeth, let him understand....”[1]

    This is one of the few times in Sacred Scripture where our Lord calls us to study and understand a specific phrase He uses:  “he that readeth, let him understand.”  So, what is this “abomination of desolation”?  When will it take place?  And who will see it?

    Our Lord referred to the Book of Daniel, where the abomination is referred to three times.[2]  Daniel is an apocalyptic book of the Old Testament, and like the Apocalypse at the end of the New Testament, it is difficult or nearly impossible to pin down the exact time and location that an event is to take place.  In apocalyptic literature, the same name or description may be assigned to an event in the distant past, the far future, and anywhere in between.  Likewise, it is often difficult to place the event between heaven and hell.  It is often appropriate for people in different times and places to consider the same apocalyptic event as belonging to their times and places.  Our Lord seems to have intended to speak in this apocalyptic manner.  We can look to history and to Scripture and get some idea of what He was saying.

    In history we think we know that Daniel the Prophet was referring to the desecration of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Seleucid King Antiochus IV Epiphanes.  Antiochus set up a statue of Zeus in the Temple and sacrificed unclean animals in worship of it—un-kosher pigs.  The First Book of Machabees reports the same event in its first chapter:

    On the fifteenth day of the month Casleu, in the hundred and forty-fifth year, king Antiochus set up the abominable idol of desolation upon the altar of God, and they built altars throughout all the cities of Juda round about....   And they cut in pieces, and burnt with fire the books of the law of God:  And every one with whom the books of the testament of the Lord were found, and whosoever observed the law of the Lord, they put to death, according to the edict of the king.[3]

    Antiochus was more than a little “off”—claiming to be God, and issuing coins whose inscriptions referred to him as “Θεὸς Ἐπιφανής—Theos Epiphanes—manifest god.”  You can read about the overthrow of this “manifest ‘god’” in the Books of Machabees.

    Epiphanes was not alone in his attempt to usurp the Temple.  Around AD 40, the mad Roman Emperor, Caligula,  planned to have himself worshipped as the incarnation of Zeus, but this was foiled by his assassination.  Under Titus there was a sort of worship of the standards of the Roman government.  And, then in 140 AD the Emperor Hadrian planned to rebuild the Temple and have a statue of Jupiter worshipped there—Hadrian’s plans may well have caused the last Jewish rebellion against the Romans.  Around 690 AD the Moslems erected the Dome of the Rock on the site of the Temple, as a monument to the supposed “Night Journey to Heaven,” claimed to have been made by Mohammed.—this continues to be a source of irritation to the Jewish people in modern day Jerusalem.

    At least one Protestant scholar has suggested that our Lord was referring to His own rejection by the Jewish people and crucifixion by the Romans.[4]  Some Modernists might agree, but from the Catholic perspective this seems wrong, for the Sacrifice of the Cross, and the Sacrifice of the Mass (which re-presents the Cross in time and in place) is anything but desolation; being the font of all graces.  And, from the context of the Gospels, it is pretty clear that we are talking about the destruction of Jerusalem, or even the destruction of the world itself!

    Jerusalem was indeed destroyed in AD 70 by the Romans Vespasian and Titus.  Jesus’ prediction was fulfilled, nearly literally:  “the days will come in which there shall not be left a stone upon a stone that shall not be thrown down.”  The Romans were very thorough destroyers.  Many of the Christians of Jerusalem, aware of our Lord’s prophecy of its destruction were able to flee to safety before the Romans completely surrounded the city.  The Jewish historian Josephus describes an incredible slaughter of those that remained: men, women, children, pregnant women, babes in arms;  a terrible starvation, with some eating leather, hay, or manure;  and at least one case of a woman roasting and eating her baby child.

    The end of the world also will come some day.  People in every century thought it might come in their time.  I have always pictured a monk in a very cold monastery, watching the sands pour out of an hour glass as it neared midnight on December 31st A.D. 999.  Certainly, the invasion of the Huns, the Vikings, and the Moslem hordes, the great revolutions, and the world wars must have all seemed like the end to those who lived through them.  Perhaps the economic and political collapse of the twenty-first century will be our “end of the world.”

    Far more important, I would suggest, a true “abomination of desolation” is the loss of the Mass and the Sacraments;  the loss of Christian truth and morality.  Yes, I do mean “Masses” celebrated with clowns, and balloons, people in Halloween costumes, rock music, and flashing lights—I do mean “Masses” celebrated by “priests” who have lost belief in the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, and who do not understand the Mass to be one with the Sacrifice of the Cross, or to be anything more than a Protestant Communion service.

    The true “abomination of desolation” is to be found in the Modernist denial of objective truth, even in what was explicitly revealed by Christ.  The desolation is in the “dialogue” where every belief and lack of belief are treated as being equally valid—and in the Modernist “truth” that changes every time a new participant enters or leaves the “dialogue.”  The desolation is in the dialectic;  the inclination to socialism and Marxism found at the highest levels of the Modernist church.[5]

    And, along with the desolation of subjective “truth” there is the abomination of subjective morality.  Allegedly Catholic universities boast of having academic “dialogue” about abortion, contraception, divorce, and the perversion of marriage.  Priests appear in pornographic pictures.[6]  And superiors are rewarded for covering up the scandals under their authority.[7]

    In the year 70, the Christians of Jerusalem were able to flee the Romans before the City’s destruction.  It might seem that in our twenty-first century there is nowhere to flee.  A few people will move to Idaho and Montana, grow their own crops and homeschool their children—more power to them—but that is impractical for most people.

    Modern day Catholics must flee by remaining in place.  (“Bugging‑in” rather than “Bugging‑out.”)  Where we have the Mass and Sacraments, we must not tolerate any degree of innovation or irreverence.  Where there is no Mass, we will make do with the Rosary.  Baptism and Matrimony cannot be taken away.  The Catholic Church in Japan survived underground, persecuted, and with no priests for most of the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  When priests arrived in the 1850s they found practicing Catholics who wanted to see pictures of the Blessed Virgin, and to know who the current Pope was!  Needless to say, these surviving Japanese Catholics had not developed any theories of doctrinal “dialogue” or moral “relativism.”

    Yes, the end of the world will come some day.—perhaps in our own time, and perhaps not.  But it is reasonable to consider this apocalyptic phrase of our Lord as applying to us, here and now.  The “abomination of desolation” is real—the loss of the Catholic Faith comes to souls without regard to time or place.  Paradoxically, the Faith is often stronger when it is most difficult to sustain, when the helps and helpers we take for granted are taken away, when persecution drives it underground and out of site.  The Faith is often strongest when people must cling to It as they would to precious jewels hidden in a flower pot.

“When you shall see the abomination of desolation ... standing in the holy place: he that heareth, let him understand....”


[1]   Gospel:  Matthew xxiv: 15-35

[2]   Daniel 9:27, 11:31 and 12:11

[4]   Peter G. Bolt, The Cross from a Distance: Atonement in Mark’s Gospel, New Studies in Biblical Theology, 18. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2004.

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