Friday, July 31, 2015

Standing on Solid Ground

Unfurl the sails and let God steer us where he will. 

For, truly, if He is with me,
I care not where I go. --Francis de Sales

Lord, I am yours;
I do yield myself up entirely to you,
and I believe that you accept me.
I leave myself with you.
Work in me all the good pleasure of your will,
and I will only lie still in your hands and trust you.
--Hannah Whitall Smith

            The prophet Ezekiel visualized our God who is ever beckoning us into deeper waters where the only thing left to do is to allow God to steer us where He wills. 

As the man went eastward with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and then led me through water that was ankle-deep. He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep. He measured off another thousand and led me through water that was up to the waist. He measured off another thousand,
but now it was a river that I could not cross because the water had risen
 and was deep enough to swim in--a river that no one could cross.
Ezekiel 47:3-5

            We all arrive at a place in life where we fear that swimming toward an unknown shoreline means death of our Self, but the security of treading in the known currents around us surely means death of our spirit. Learning to lie back in the grace of God and lie still while he directs the tides of our lives takes a lifetime--a lifetime of learning to trust our Creator. We have allowed the waves of our own history to carry us to the shores of The Catholic Church.  Looking back from this shoreline we can see how the providence of God carried us through the rip-tides of spiritual and emotional maturing.  We are grateful now that we put our hope in God rather than flaying about in the currents that were slowly sapping the life from our spirits.   We are grateful for the voices that called us toward shore, the individuals that helped to inform our faith in God over our lifetimes are many. It is their influence that drew us into the depths of God. Now that we are here, standing on solid ground, the joy of the Lord has indeed returned.  We have come to peace and rest in the universal Church, the Catholic Church, the true and reliable source of our Faith.
            A family member recently asked us to sum up what drew our hearts and minds toward the Catholic Church.  There is no short answer for that and the answers we give may not satisfy a thoroughgoing Protestant mind.  The Sacred Authority and the Sacred Tradition present in the Catholic Church is seldom understood or appreciated by Protestants.  It is regretfully apparent that unless there is a yearning for a firm foundation built with the trowel and mortar, few seem interested in looking past the rebellions that propagated  the Protestant Movement. 
            Picking up a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and reading its entirety corrects the barriers of misunderstanding.  Within the pages of the Catechism the Sacred Authority, Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scriptures of the Church are described and defended with the eloquence and gravity of the Faith.  It is the authoritative exposition of the historical one, holy, catholic and apostolic Faith handed down from the very first apostles and developed over time through the councils we formally referred to. It is, in its antiquity, the surest and most authentic text on Christian doctrine. Citations of the extant writings of the early Church Fathers and the Apostolic Fathers along with the Doctors and saints of the Church are included in the body of the Catechism. In short the Catechism is four-part apologetic on the Christian Faith.
            The misinformed conclusions that non-Catholics adhere to about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist; Mary, the Mother of God; The Sacrament of Reconcilliation:Confession; veneration of the Saints; Purgatory; and the Celibacy of Holy Orders  are the heavy hitters of prejudice against Catholic Christians. During our last years of service to the Protestant ministry we found ourselves going through a mental checklist of what is wrong or right about The Catholic Church.  In the end, we found the Catholic Church less sullied, significantly so, than the Protestant Movement. In the end there was less wrong with the Catholic Church than what we had been led to believe.  In fact, there was so much right about the Catholic Church that we could not, would not, continue to swim against the tide of its 2,000 years of history.
            This blog includes some of our journey toward understanding of the Catholic Church in matters of the Faith that once caused us to trip on our journey home to the Catholic Church. Now they guide and console us as we rest on its sure foundation. The first step is understanding what the Catholic Church really teaches.  We are not apologists, we are travelers in the long obedience toward the Church Christ established through His apostles.  The purpose of this blog is not to debate or argue.  The purpose is to reflect the Light that has illuminated our lives.  Therefore, we will not banter over matters that are clearly stated in the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, early Church Fathers, the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  We will refer the reader toward the reliable sources of antiquity.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Eternal Truth or Fallacious Ideology?

"There are not more than 100 people in the world who truly hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they perceive to be the Catholic Church.  ....As a matter of fact, if we Catholics believed all of the untruths and lies which were said against the Church, we probably would hate the Church a thousand times more than they do." 
--Archbishop Fulton Sheen

You may be saying to yourself after reading through the order of the Mass what one of our family members said to us after attending Mass with us. "Why, there wasn't anything that happened today that seemed out of order! I've feel like I've been to church."  What he did not fully comprehend was how "in order" the Catholic Mass is. He was surprised by the worship, he was surprised by the grace. We think he was surprised that he had been duped by his own misguided conclusions about the Catholic Church. He may have realized for the first time that the Mass is where we witness and participate in an eternal Truth that was set before time began: There is no worship [communion] without sacrifice.

Worship of Almighty God was never meant to fit the mold of the society around it. The currents of history and society change yet it all flows in the same direction toward disorder, toward the worship of Self. But the worship of God is to remain ordered according to the biblical purpose of reordering humanity [Self], reshaping what was twisted in us through The Fall. Our part in worship of our God must not be altered if we are to be faithful to the covenant God made with humanity to restore and reorder what was severed at The Fall.

It was the transcendence of this worship of the Church in history that drew our minds and hearts further into the depths of the Sacred Authority and the Sacred Tradition. In spite of corruption within and outside the Church, through the rise and fall of empires, wars, persecutions, martyrdom, heresies, debauchery and imperialism, the Catholic Church has not lost her way in her course through history. The House of God has stood on solid ground. And in spite of the unfortunate division in the Church brought on by the protestors of the Reformation, she stands today because God has not abandoned His covenant with His Church. It is indeed the mystical union of Christ and His Bride. It is truly a mystery that a 2,000 year old institution remains unified and vibrant throughout the history of entropic civilization. What can explain it but the sovereignty of God?

Stand before the majesty of God. Let its splendor silence you.
But when the hush passes, so must your silence.
Then it is time for anthems and glad hallelujahs.
 --Calvin Miller

Let's now pick up each of the building materials of the Church: the trowel (Apostolic Authority), the mortar (Sacred Tradition) and the bricks (Sacred Scripture). As we hold them up to the light of history there are a couple of questions we want you to ponder in our examination. We've mentioned them in the writing of our journey because we had to answer it for ourselves as we made our way toward the Catholic tradition of the Faith. The questions should have a response from people of the Christian faith--Catholics and Protestants. What do you believe and why do you believe it? Why are or aren't you Catholic in your beliefs?

The Trowel of  Sacred Authority

During one of my (Jeff)  meetings in Joe's office, he spoke about the Catholic Church's position on Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and Sacred Authority.  Joe used the analogy of a three-legged stool to explain these tenets of the faith. This lesson blew my Protestant mind. Joe asked me: if the Protestant Church stands on Sacred Scripture alone, where do Protestants get the other two legs?  I didn't know how to answer.  He looked me in the eye and softly said, "The other two legs come from the Protestant pastor." Our experience in service to the movement had acquainted us with what it is like to try to stand on a one-legged stool. It doesn't work! One might be able to balance for awhile, but sooner or later things topple.

Each Protestant denomination has what they refer to as their "denominational distinctive(s)" gathered from their understanding of the Bible. They have to form these distinctive(s) or ideologies in order to justify their existence and differences from other Protestant denominations!  Throughout my pastoral ministry, I frequently had to try to stand on the one legged stool of Sola Scriptura and try to be persuasive enough so individuals would choose the denomination and local church I served. Sometimes people "opted in" often they didn't, because there are plenty of choices on the menu of the Protestant movement.  If they didn't like "the stool" of Christianity I represented, there were plenty of others from which to select.  And choose they do.  Makes one wonder how Protestants can accept Jesus' high priestly prayer in The Gospel of St. John chapter 17 when Jesus prays to The Heavenly Father asking, "that they all may be one..., so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (verse 21).  There is anything but unity in the Protestant Movement today. Is it any wonder that nonbelievers and critics of the Christian faith have a hard time believing in God when we are the supposed reflection of Him?! Lord have mercy; please forgive us.

The Reformers either minimized or removed Sacred Tradition and Sacred Authority when they posited Sola Scriptura. That move has cost the Protestant Movement dearly. This has caused Protestants to neglect or to forget the oral traditions and teachings of the Apostolic and early Church Fathers that were handed down from one generation to the next before scripture teachings were collected, canonized, and printed into the Bible. By neglecting Sacred Authority, any person can claim that they have an authoritative position and therefore "the right" to espouse positions, preferences or theologies. And by tossing the mortar of Sacred Tradition aside, the bricks tumble easily into piles of distortions of Sacred Scripture.  Take for example King Henry VIII whom we have already mentioned.  He didn't like the Catholic Church's position on divorce. So he began his own Protestant movement known today as The Anglican (Episcopal) Church. My denominational heritage harks back to this rebellion through the influential Anglican priest, John Wesley. 

Mother Church

Although the elements of this world constantly beat upon the Church with crashing sounds, the Church possesses the safest harbor of salvation for all in distress. 
--St. Ambrose of Milan

When you are edging closer and closer to a cliff [abyss],
 the most progressive direction is backwards.
--Peter Kreeft

The Catholic Church is the Protestant movement's mother Church. It is the doctrines of The Church that the Protestant movement borrowed from to formulate the multifarious denominations (innovations) in Protestantism's short history. And no matter what you feel or believe about the Catholic tradition of the Faith, you must acknowledge her role in history. It is because of the authoritative, genuine, systematic presentation of The Faith present in the Catholic Church since the establishment of the Church by Jesus Christ through his apostles, that the Christian faith abides. So why do Protestants generally dismiss the authority and traditions of  the Catholic Church?

In a movement that was formulated out of rebellion it is no surprise that the apostolic authority present in the role of the Pope with the Magisterium of the Catholic Church bristles beneath the saddle of a renegade movement. If one says the word "papacy" there are immediate reactions according to our understanding or lack of understanding of the word. Let's set the record straight.  With the advent of the Messiah, the commandments were fulfilled in the gospel ("good news") of his life, he was the fulfillment of the covenant and of the sacrifice required thereof. When Jesus founded the Church, he established a concrete, visible covenant institution that can be traced in an unbroken line down through the centuries. Just as the covenantal Jewish religion was a living organism and an organization around all that God is, so too, the Church completes the fulfillment of the  covenant by being both a living organism and an organization around all that God is. 

Many individuals and their movements over the centuries have attempted to diminish the faith to simply a spirituality, to do that is to remove it from its roots. Yes, it is spirituality, but it is spirituality that stands in organizational and practical terms as well. When Jesus ascended to heaven after the resurrection he didn't leave his disciples with an idea that he hoped would survive history.  He didn't say, Do the best you can to make sure every community has a  church.  He established an identifiable and authoritative Church--a visible organization and organism.  God made it possible to identify the Church, to know where it could be found, and to be sure of its foundation.

Peter, the most successful failure of all time, was fallible, weak, fickle, impulsive, and undependable BEFORE the resurrection of Christ and the indwelling of the Spirit of God. When Jesus declared that apostle Peter was the "rock" (Matthew 16:18) on which he would build his Church it certainly wasn't on what was visibly attractive about Peter's faith in Christ.  God's sense of humor and his consolation settles down on a man with a nature much like ours fulfilling a purpose much greater than himself.

St. Peter became the first bishop of Rome, and the bishops of Rome who succeeded him (pope: papa) have continued to fill his special office as the "Rock." The Catholic Church was established by Christ, built with the trowel, mortar and bricks of the Faith and it has indeed been immovable, it is built on the Rock of God's faithfulness. It is not without flaw, no informed Catholic would deny that. Yet, in spite of itself the Church has withstood the currents and storms of history on the sure foundation that Christ intended when he promised his apostles that the gates of hell would not prevail against it. It continues to stand in spite of its own prodigal people who take their inheritance for granted. It continues to stand even as some of the prodigal actions of the Reformation set into motion innovations that threaten to destroy the integrity of God's plan for the salvation of humanity.

A closer examination of the Catholic Church, the great House of the Faith, reveals that the central role of the Church in historic Christianity has been the decisive function of upholding Christian orthodoxy (literally "correct doctrine") since its inception. The Catholic (the word means "universal") Church has protected the scope of Jesus' saving mission: to redeem the whole world and restore humanity to its created order. Because of that the global Church embraces all peoples, calling us to "gospel" Christ to every nook and cranny that we populate.  In the words of one of our old Sunday School songs, Christ commands that we "brighten the corner where we are."  But here's the rub.  What exactly are we called to brighten the corner of our world with? The Light of the World is not fueled by our intentions and our ideas, we are to be fueled by His intentions. And this is where much of the Protestant movement debates, divides, crumbles.  Are we to bring a social gospel of good works to the world? Certainly! Are we to live devout and holy lives? Certainly! Are we to amend Truth and make it a sidebar to what is relevant in our generation? Are we to fashion attractive and entertaining styles of "worship" relevant to every age? Are we to formulate a Christian identity based on the culture or nation's influence?  There you go.  There's where we find ourselves. The golden calf still rearing its handsome head! How did we get here?

Some of Martin Luther's protest against some of the abuses in the Catholic Church hierarchy were founded on facts, no one can dispute that. But what Protestant history seems to ignore or acknowledge is that the Catholic Church underwent reformation during the same era that Luther broke with the Church.  Read history from a Catholic perspective and you will have to acknowledge that what you may perceive went wrong with the Catholic Church was corrected from within, under the Sacred Authority of the Church.

Since the Protestant Reformers tossed the bathwater (Sacred Authority) out, the baby (Sacred Tradition) went with it! Aren't we to stake our lives on the content of the Apostolic Tradition, Scripture, and the Magisterium where the heritage of the Doctors, Fathers, and saints of the Church remains intact? Aren't we to allow their ancient teachings to illuminate the light of The Faith in the present darkness of modernity? Aren't we to lead the way to the beauty, goodness, and truth of God through worship in the Liturgy of the Word and the Eucharist? Martin Luther would surely turn over in his grave if he could witness what his own rebellion against some of the Church's teaching set into motion! Luther's one step to reform the Church eventually, over the subsequent decades, led to the removal of Apostolic Authority all together. And with the denuding of the Sacred Authority (Magisterium) of the Church went the Sacred Tradition. Fast forward 500 years and you see a Protestant movement that is so thoroughly confused and fractured over what the identity of the Church is and what the purpose of Christian worship is that any sense of reform can only remain local and limited in its scope. There is no trowel or mortar; therefore, there is no unity. 

The Mortar of Sacred Tradition

Western theology, particularly since the Reformation,
has emphasized propositions,
a particular way of knowing truth,
that discounts imagination in favor of reason.
--Cheryl Forbes

We read in Christ's prayer recorded in John 17 God's purpose and plan for His one, holy catholic and apostolic Church:  "20I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,21 so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. 22 And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me."

The words Christ prayed for His apostles revealed the supreme intentions of the Triune God.  Christ spoke Truth for He is Truth.  The Church was not presented as an ethereal idea to be left to the whims of history. There is no wavering here, no floundering about for fear that the plan of the salvation of humanity would fall to pieces once He ascended to the right hand of the Father.  What Jesus said, who He was in the flesh, how He acted in His humanity would not be tossed aside in subservience to heresies, schisms and  protests that polluted the culture and sometimes the Church throughout history. Through the empowering of His Spirit, Jesus protected the Church to do what He commanded. His Church, His Bride, is to be complete, one, whole, holy and it was and is and continues to be present in the Catholic Church. It is so because the mortar of the Sacred Authority and the Sacred Tradition continues to hold fast the bricks of the Church, the redoubtable fortress to protect The Faith.

Philosophies that oppose the historical Christian faith have come and gone with the tides of history and along with them subsequent heresies that sometimes established themselves like a mutant cancer within the history of the Church. We referred earlier to the Arian perversion of the Christian faith that was propagandized for most of the first 300 years of the Church. Through the Apostolic Authority of the Catholic Church Councils, the Church eventually put the heresy down by declaring that "The Christian faith confesses that God is one in nature, substance and essence" (Roman Catechism I, 2, 2).  Declaring the creeds that were developed over those 300 years by the Church's Councils are a Sacred Tradition that most modern Christians accept as fact. We can only do that because the Apostle's and Nicene Creeds were established under the direction of the Holy Spirit through the authority of the Apostolic and early Church Fathers and Doctors. The creeds have been declared as evidence of Christians' belief in one God around the world for over 1,700 years. The blood payment from martyrs made it so; their blood watered the seed of what we sometimes flippantly read or recite.  Blood payment was shed for other beliefs and doctrines, but these beliefs many Protestant denominations choose to ignore. Why?

Arguments against the Catholic tradition of the Faith seem to settle on the infallibility of the Pope, the doctrine of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist and the Communion of the Saints, and the dogma on Mary, the Mother of God. We've referenced the Catechism of the Catholic Church, here now we sincerely recommend you access the articles of faith concerning these teachings. We understand how challenging it is to overcome the default thinking of modernity and Protestant belief, we have made (and are still making) the journey ourselves. The Holy Spirit's  guidance and wisdom enlightens the minds that are open to God, but the posture of the heart must be prepared to lay back in the waters of the Authority of the Church and allow the waves of Sacred Tradition to carry you toward the shores of The Church. Our own intrepid desire for the Fullness of the Faith had to overcome the surfeit arguments and propositions of the modern mind, which include the entrenched misconceptions and perversions of the Catholic Church by uninformed Protestants.

The materialism, utilitarianism, and relativism that have infested modern thinking since the so-called Enlightenment are so entrenched in cultural and Protestant beliefs that to decipher misunderstanding and assumptions requires a deconstruction of perceived reality. If we do not examine what lies behind the reality in the Protestant mindset we cannot comprehend how the Catholic Church has been able to maintain the biblical integrity present in the life of Faith and the life of the Church.

The force of the cultural  tide emphasizes reason and individualism thereby reducing individuals and societies to expediting every endeavor to meet the bottom line, the needs of Self. It is hedonism dressed up with our modern extremes. So much of the house of bricks of Protestantism has given way under the pressure of these tidewaters for so long that it accepts a reality that has seeped into belief and worship. The cultural current now determines how decisions are made and what is innovated to achieve that sense of pleasure or happiness that drives the appetites of society. Assuring that a house of bricks stands on these shifting sands demands reaction and so the Protestant Movement is always reacting to the culture with the sincere, and sometimes insincere, motivation to keep the house of bricks from tumbling.

The Sacred Authority of the Church and the Sacred Tradition that protects the purposes of God for His people have not varied from the early Church's mandate from Christ. Therefore the Brick House has stood firm against the extremes of history. And it still stands on the rock of authority in our most current tidal waves of Modernity caused by The Reformation and The Enlightenment. The Mystery of Faith will not be reduced or individualized to serve humanity. Surrender of the grip we use to define or understand The Faith is required, you have to let go. Worshipping Christ in the Liturgy of the Eucharist is a Sacred Mystery. The early Church did not relent on this doctrine established by God in the Old Covenant and fulfilled by Christ in the New Covenant. The real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is central to worship of Almighty God. It is a doctrine that is steadfast and immovable.  Martyrs abound for this doctrine. Why does someone give their life for that sacred doctrine if it is just ideology or an innovation? 

The Bricks of Sacred Scriptures

“History, with all her volumes vast, hath but one page”
--George Gordon Byron

“Disregard for the past will never do us any good.
Without it we cannot know truly who we are.”
--Syd Moore

“Prepare for the unknown by studying how others in the past have coped with
the unforeseeable and the unpredictable.”
--George S. Patton

What are our minds to understand when we read the Word of God? What is taught in the Sacred Scriptures for the sake of our salvation? Are the Sacred Scriptures to serve as leverage for our own theologies, interests or pursuits? Or are we to align our understanding to the Sacred Scriptures in the context of the Sacred Authority that Christ ordained in His Church? Can we comprehend or accept the Sacred Scriptures without the insight and wisdom from a Sacred Authority greater than ourselves?  Are we to reinterpret, reconstruct, or reduce the Truth of Sacred Scriptures as history unfolds? How much of Sacred Scripture is incomplete without the Sacred Tradition? Questions that are difficult to ponder, but questions that have been answered.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church  answers these questions with the Sacred Authority present in the heritage of the Doctors, Fathers, and saints of the Church.  It behooves any Christian to learn from history, and the most reliable and authoritative source for understanding the Sacred Scriptures is found in Catholic doctrine. The bricks of the Catholic Church are the genuine bricks. Protestantism has built their brick houses thanks to the integrity of the Sacred Scriptures protected by the Apostolic Authority of the Catholic Church.  So what do the Sacred Scriptures contain for the purpose of our salvation? And what is salvation according to the Sacred Scriptures?  We certainly can know we are going to heaven when we die if we accept Christ as our Savior, but there is so much more to salvation than reciting a 4-step declaration and saying a prayer. There is much more in us and in our world that needs saving. And that is accomplished when we pursue our salvation by living the covenantal relationship with our Creator that is defined for us in the Sacred Scriptures and the Sacred Tradition.

 I will not abandon you.

From an ancient perspective, the primary purpose of biblical history is to recount our familial history in light of God's covenant plan for his people. Everything points to the divine pedagogy of covenantal existence. Covenant was the coinage of ancient culture, so much so that you will come across the word "covenant" at least 332 times in the Sacred Scriptures. The ancient cultures were layered by ramifications and stipulations that are fascinating to decipher. The take away for our brief attention to them includes some details we want you to keep in mind as we move forward. All covenants included a sacred oath, a sacrifice, and a meal. Many included a mark. And covenants meant life or death to individuals and tribes. The pernicious eroding of all things sacred including sacred bonds or promises, diminishes our modern comprehension of the depth of a covenant's significance. It is our desire for you to grasp how deep the Father's covenantal love for us is and how in the Catholic Church we can restore the sacredness and authority of those bonds and rightly order our worship of Almighty God.

What we come to understand when we read the Sacred Scriptures and mine the Sacred Tradition is, God never wastes words or events. He does not abandon His Church to struggle against the tide of history.  His actions are never superfluous to history, they ARE history. Lord Byron was correct, there is but one page of history that is voluminous with God's grace and mercy. What we see on this side of our understanding of eternity disturbs us, dismays us, causes us doubt.  But God is never taken by surprise and he's never left without options.  Providence and humanity's free will pedal in tandem with the events of history. And most importantly these are subservient to the redemption and restoration of God's creation.

Therefore, the Old Testament isn't something to be left to history as nice Bible stories to tell our children. Present from the beginning of the narrative of humanity is the covenant of God with His creation. It is finally and substantially fulfilled in the Kingdom of God through Jesus Christ and His Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church walks the reader through God's redemptive plan for humanity by surveying the Sacred Scriptures and early Church writings. Once understood in the covenantal context, we can perceive how the Old and New Testaments are unified in the dynamic reordering of creation that is finally fulfilled through the Institution of the Bride of Christ, The Church. It is this integrity with the ancient covenantal relationship that has lead us toward the deep appreciation for and acceptance of the Sacred Tradition and Sacred Authority Christ established in His Church. 

"In the very act of giving right praise to God,   we achieve an inner harmony."
--Dietrich von Hildebrand

The eye cannot see, nor the tongue tell,
nor can the heart imagine how many paths
and methods I have, solely for love
to lead them back to grace so that
my truth may be realized in them.
--St. Catherine of Siena

            When we set out to write down the story of our reconciliation with the Catholic Church we were primarily concerned that our family and friends hear from us, and not someone else, about our journey.  The longer we journeyed the more we realized how uninformed non-Catholics are about our historical Faith. One acquaintance upon learning that we were reconciling with the Catholic Church asked us why we would want anything to do with that "dog and pony show."   She doesn't know what she doesn't know and so ignorance can be her defense.  It is our desire to help dispel the intolerance that is spread through ignorance by providing our learned perspective on the Catholic tradition of the Faith. When you have completed the reading we realize that you may disagree with or reject what is written and recorded by history or you may not be interested in changing your own position because you are content where you are at in your faith community.  But at least, after reading our examination and hopefully exploring for yourself, you will be disagreeing with what the Catholic Church actually teaches rather than what you think she teaches.  That in itself will go a long way to restoring the Christian Faith to the unity that Christ intended when he authorized his first disciples to spread the good news of God's redemption of humanity through His Church. 
            At the outset of our tour through worship in the Catholic Church we want to give proper credit to five men's writings, primarily (there have been others), who have helped us formulate the language of description in these paragraphs. Father Robert Barron, Michael Dubriel Dr. Thomas Howard, Father Dwight Longenecker, and Dr. Edward Sri have been the guides of our enculturation into understanding the ancient traditions of worship. Traditions and rituals (read patterns of behavior) that remain saturated  with rightful, biblically ordered worship of the Triune God.  

Let us Worship

            The conformity of worship in the Catholic Mass with the biblically ordained purpose for worship of God is unmistakable. The Old Testament reveals the long history of God's covenant with mankind through the Jewish nation.  They were set apart from all nations by their worship and their conduct. The Messiah, Jesus Christ, fulfilled that covenant through his incarnation, death and resurrection.  He incarnated God's ultimate desire for humanity--fidelity to and worship of our Creator.  The disciples and early Church already knew how to worship God, but now they understood why they worshipped God, and God alone in the sacred tradition of the Old Covenant now New Covenant.  The wholeness of their lives depended on their rightly ordered conduct.  Their holiness also depended on the value they placed on rightly ordered worship of Almighty God, worship that was ordained by God through Moses.
            What the Catholic Church adheres to in the Mass is the continuation of the covenantal form of worship established through Moses and fulfilled in Jesus Christ. It is really a communal prayer to God. An ancient Jewish or Gentile Christian could walk into any Mass on any day at any place in history and recognize the actions taking place are worship of the Triune God.  The Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist hold fast this Sacred Tradition of worship as they are offered up as prayer.
            The Liturgy of the Word is what we do utterly for its own sake, simply because it's good and beautiful to speak, read, and hear the Word of God to his Creation.  It is said that when we worship God through reading of His Word we become rightly ordered. The Mass is a place where the right order of things is preserved in the center of a sinful world.  As you will soon recognize, the Mass ("Go, it is sent," the "it" being the Church) is our participation and anticipation of the great heavenly liturgy, described by the prophets and St. John.  It is indeed, the right praise given to God by the saints and the angels just beyond the scrim of time.  In nearly every way, to the discerning eye, one senses the passing over of a sacred threshold when we enter into worship in the Mass.
            The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines the Mass this way, "The Eucharist is the heart and the summit of the Church's life, for in it Christ associates his Church and all her members with his sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving offered once for all on the cross to his Father; by this sacrifice he pours out the graces of salvation on his Body which is the Church" (No. 1407). 
            When you enter the nave of any cathedral, you are immediately aware of the reverent silence of the worshippers.  Notice the centrality of the sanctuary where the altar and tabernacle of the Lord draw the eye toward things eternal, you cannot help but sense that something sacred and awe-inspiring is about to happen in the sanctuary.  Something very different than what typically happens during worship in a Protestant church. 
            But before we celebrate the Mass let us quietly talk about the sacred item next to the entrance to the nave.  The font contains  holy (blessed) water  that is a miniature reminder of a baptismal font.  It is said that it is appropriate that this water of baptism is the first sacred matter we encounter as you pass through the doors into the church. Each time we enter and leave the nave we remind ourselves, by dipping our fingers into the water and making the sign of the Cross of Christ on our physical being, that we have died to sin and we live for Christ. This is our own private moment to reverently, thoughtfully, gratefully offer a doxology of praise to the Triune God. "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen"

"To speak of the cross is to reference the fact by which the Father
sent the Son into godforsakenness in order to gather us through the
Holy Spirit into the Divine life.  Because the Son went all the way
down he was able to bring even the most recalcitrant sinner back
into fellowship with God.  Thus when we invoke the cross at the
beginning of the Liturgy we signify the fact that we
are praying IN God and not merely to God."
--Father Robert Barron

            We are about to pray the greatest prayer any Christian can pray--the Mass, which is,  in effect, a prayer of confession, consecration, thanksgiving and praise gathered up into worship.  Therefore, after we bless ourselves with the waters of baptism, we genuflect and make the sign of the Cross facing toward the tabernacle at the front of the church before entering the pew where we will join in worship of the Triune God.  (Genuflecting is the humble lowering of ourselves onto our right knee until it touches the floor)  We are in the presence of the King of kings, what a fitting way to prepare our own souls for adoration and worship of his ultimate sacrifice.
            Other worshippers are reverently entering the church, young and old.  Families make their way to the pew like we just did.  Do you see that little family with small children?  Did you see their father lift each one up to the baptismal font so they could do exactly what their father and mother are doing?  Did you see the precocious 2-year old follow the lead of her mother by offering a wobbly little bow on her knee and clumsily crossing herself before entering the pew with her family?  Families worship together, parents imprint their children's lives with the actions of worship present in the Mass. 
            Our first action of worship to do in the pew is to kneel in prayer and meditation.  You may notice some fellow worshippers reading their prayers from a prayer book or praying while holding a rosary in their hand.  Others will be meditating on one of the many visual cues in the nave, giving thanks for a saint's life or silently releasing distraction from their minds while they focus on the Crucifix suspended from the chancel arch. 
            The visual schemes and elements present in a Catholic Church have been referred to as a Poor Man's Bible in that they illustrate the Life of Christ and other biblical narratives.  The ancient Church's worshippers were predominately illiterate; therefore,  the aim of every visual cue was to educate the worshipper in the faith.  A picture is, indeed, worth a thousand words!  Depictions of the Paschal suffering of Christ in the Stations of the Cross are found in every Catholic Church around the world, no matter how austere. Other figurative representations include statues, sculptures, or pictures of saints and prophets.  Magnificent stained glass windows in our cathedral are meant to illuminate the eyes of the body and the heart with representations of martyrs and saints, disciples and biblical accounts.  The testimony of their lives enlighten our faith and encourage us to live our lives as living sacrifices to the Lord God.
            When it is time for the Mass to formally begin a bell is rung.  This is nothing more than a non-verbal call for all to rise for worship, but it is a tradition that sometimes makes a non-Catholic wonder what's going on.  As we sing the opening hymn you will see a solemn procession make its way to the sanctuary.  It can feel like a wedding is about to begin, in actuality, it is!  Christ and His Church united through his Word and his Body and Blood.  A deacon or reader may lead the procession carrying the Book of the Gospels overhead.  Next comes the cross bearer holding high the sign of our salvation--our Lord's image on the cross.  The crucifix serves as a reflective illustration of John 3:16,  For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. Often there are two altar servers holding candles walking beside the cross bearer. Last is the celebrant, the priest, who will preside over our worship together.

"By the sign of the cross all magic ceases; all incantations are powerless;
every idol is abandoned and deserted;
all irrational voluptuousness is quelled;
and each one looks up from earth to heaven."
--Saint Athanasius

            We join our priest in making the sign of the cross to remind us of our Savior, Jesus Christ, and that he died for us on the wood of the cross.  We are reminded again that the cross is a sign of God's love for us, that while we were sinners, He sent His Son to save us from our sin. We remind ourselves that Jesus by His cross has overcome the powers of sin and death.  What we did privately as we entered the nave, we now do with everyone gathered in the church.  The very act of crossing ourselves together is to remind us we are no longer alone, we are a part of the Church universal!  Every part of the Mass is a reminder that we are not alone...God is with us, and so are the believers that surround us, those visible and those invisible.
            From this point forward in the Mass you are going to speak, hear, and read words formed out of the three building materials of the Catholic Church. The priest will often thank the congregation for praying the Mass with "us" today.  The "Us" being the visible and invisible Church offering up the offering of the entire Mass, which is prayer to the Triune God. Much of what you hear or say will be recognizable to you.  We begin by hearing our priest say a version of Saint Paul's words in I Corinthians 1:3, "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."  And we respond with hands lifted back to him, "And also with you."  It's a simple gesture, isn't it?  But, when you think of the state of mind we often come to worship in, what better way to remind ourselves that we bring peace and we are to offer peace. It is a moment to center our soul in Christ's promise to us. Consider the first hearers of Christ wonderful promise. The apostles were locked away, fearing for their lives when suddenly our risen Savior was greeting them, "Peace be with you." (John 20:26)  We, like the disciples dread, we fear, we doubt, we regret, we despair.  But our priest, Christ's representative to us, reminds us that Peace is among us. We are now ready to pray the Mass.

Confess your offenses in church and do not go up to your prayer
 with an evil conscience. This is the way of life.
--Didache (The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles), A.D. 110

"There are saints in my religion, but that just means men who know that they are sinners."
 G. K. Chesterton

            St. John of the Cross compared recognition of sin as the soul looking through a pane of glass.  When we face away from the Light we cannot or will not see all the smudges and imperfections that cloud the glass, they are barely noticeable, easily overlooked.  But when we direct our lives toward the Light, every mark, every imperfection becomes visible.  It is the rebellious spirit that ignores what the Light clarifies.       
            Sin is anything that "breaks my relationship with God."  Sin can be as heinous as murder, but the sins that we often do not recognize and confess, perhaps because of our turning away from the Light, are the venial sins of jealousy, murmuring, anger, lust, gossiping, resentment and bitterness, fear, pride. We delude ourselves when we believe we are truly worshipping God while harboring venial sin in our heart, the pane of our soul is clouded over by pride.  Therefore, our next action in the Mass is Confession that we say with every other sinner present including the priest.  A brief silence allows us to consider what we are about to say.  This is our time to look at those smudges of sinful nature and release the sinful thoughts that keep us in the habit of sin.  We open up to the presence of God by recognizing the resentful thoughts we have against our spouse or the fretting over our possessions or the hidden habit of envy, as sin. Anything that clouds the glass of our soul disorders our lives.

I confess to almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and what I have failed to do.  Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault; therefore, I ask blessed Mary, ever virgin, all the angels and saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.      

            When we confess our sins we participate in a tradition from the ancient world when we say the words, "through my fault." We can see its origins in the scriptures. We declare our sinfulness in imitating the tax collector who, "standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner'" (Luke 18:13).  Our confession ends with a prayer of absolution by the priest.  It is a general prayer of absolution; it does not have the power to forgive us of all our sins.  In a general way, it reminds us that God has given the Church the power to heal the rift that existed between creation and God before the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. What began to unravel of God's image in us at The Fall is restored through Christ's sacrifice for the entire human race. We, together, accept God's mercy by responding either by singing or saying, "Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy." This moment has become one of the most cherished moments for us as we worship.  After all that has transpired in our lives we are profoundly aware that our Lord's mercy has protected us and continues to provide for all our spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical needs.
            We rise together to sing the Gloria, which is referred to as the most magnificent prayers of the Tradition.

Glory to God in the highest,
and, peace to his people on earth.

Lord God, heavenly King,
almighty God and Father,
we worship you, we give you thanks,
we praise you for your glory.

Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father,
Lord God, Lamb of God,
you take away the sin of the world:
have mercy on us;
you are seated at the right hand of the Father:
receive our prayer.

For you alone are the Holy One,
you alone are the Lord,
you alone are the Most High,
Jesus Christ,
with the Holy Spirit,
 in the glory of God the Father. Amen.

            Father Robert E. Barron refers to the first line of the Gloria as a kind of formula for a happy life. When we give God the highest glory, when He is clearly the supreme value for us, then our lives become harmoniously ordered around that central love.  Peace, as it were, breaks out among us when God, and not pleasure, money, power, distraction or entertainment, is given glory in the highest.  He goes on to say that the old English word, worth-ship is where our word worship comes from.  Worth-ship designates  what we hold dear. And the Liturgy is the place where we act out our worship, where we demonstrate, by word and gesture, what is of greatest worth to us.  And this is why it is essential to peace. 
            If you know much about the Jewish traditions in worship you are beginning to realize how much of the movement of the Mass has its roots in the Old Testament patterns of worship.  The first believers in Christ were Jews, God's chosen people; therefore, God continued his fulfillment of the Old Testament in the New Testament's traditions of worship. These were not little "t" traditions that cultures embrace as they form, these are big "T" traditions in that they are the acceptable and ordained form of worship according to God's point of view. That is Sacred Tradition.
            At Mass we join the invisible Church (heavenly hosts, saints and martyrs, and the great multitude of the faithful) with our visible worship of the Triune God. In fact, when you anchor worship in biblical understanding you see through a different lens the purpose of the Book of Revelation.  The historical understanding (up until about 200 years ago, but that's another story for another time) has always maintained that the book is a vision of the eternal heavenly worship.  The veil of eternity is lifted as we join all of heaven in worship of God.  In other words, the Mass is heaven's reality on earth.  Consider a brief section from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

1136 Liturgy is an "action" of the whole Christ (Christus totus). Those who even now
celebrate it without signs are already in the heavenly liturgy, where celebration is wholly communion and feast.
1137 The book of Revelation of St. John, read in the Church's liturgy, first reveals to us, "A throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne": "the Lord God."[1] It then shows the Lamb, "standing, as though it had been slain": Christ crucified and risen, the one high priest of the true sanctuary, the same one "who offers and is offered, who gives and is given."[2] Finally it presents "the river of the water of life . .  flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb," one of most beautiful symbols of the Holy Spirit.[3]
1138 "Recapitulated in Christ," these are the ones who take part in the service of the
praise of God and the fulfillment of his plan: the heavenly powers, all creation (the four living beings), the servants of the Old and New Covenants (the twenty-four elders), the new People of God (the one hundred and forty-four thousand),[4] especially the martyrs "slain for the word of God," and the all-holy Mother of God (the Woman), the Bride of the Lamb,[5] and finally "a great multitude which no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes, and peoples and tongues."[6]
1139 It is in this eternal liturgy that the Spirit and the Church enable us to participate
whenever we celebrate the mystery of salvation in the sacraments.

            We, the earthbound worshippers, are a great multitude from every nations, every tribe, every tongue who sing a heaven-bound love song with all the saints and martyrs to the Lover of our soul. The Mass from this point forward fulfills  what was foreshadowed in the Old Testament and revealed in the New Testament, especially in St. John's Revelation: The Liturgy of the Word  and The Eucharist.  There is so much to learn about the ancient and authoritative understanding of worship and we cannot do it justice here.  Again, you may refer to our reading list if you desire to learn more.
            The Mass follows the same liturgical order the world over so if you were in Sudan or Indonesia or Sioux Falls, South Dakota on July 13, 2014 you worshipped in "Summer Ordinary Time" following the liturgical calendar.  The  liturgical calendar harkens back to the earliest traditions of using a calendar to mark the times of the year showing seasons, holidays, and special events.  Instead of marking the times of the year, the Catholic Church marks the major events in Christ’s life here on earth as He fulfilled God’s plan of salvation.  As we know, all events of the liturgical year that are recorded in the Gospels actually happened in history. The yearly cycle of reading Scripture from Salvation History perspective developed over time  in the first several centuries as the church defined the essentials of the faith. Here is the guide the Catholic Church follows every year in worship in the Mass:

ADVENT begins the start to the liturgical year and is the period of 4 weeks that looks forward to birth of Christ.
CHRISTMAS SEASON is 40 days long and celebrates the birth of Jesus and also includes Epiphany that commemorates the manifestation of Jesus to the whole world.
WINTER ORDINARY TIME is a period of many weeks where the church focuses on the life of Christ as he matures, ministers, and teaches up to the time of His death and Resurrection.
LENT starts with Ash Wednesday and lasts for 40 days where we reflect on what Christ did for us in His victory over sin. We enter into a season of repentance and reconciliation.
HOLY WEEK is the most solemn week in the church year that commemorates the events of Jesus’ life from the triumphal entry into Jerusalem until His Resurrection on Easter morning. It starts with Palm Sunday and ends on Easter Sunday.
FIFTY DAYS OF EASTER celebrates the Resurrection of Christ and is culminated on Pentecost when we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit given to the people and is called the birthday of the church.
SUMMER ORDINARY TIME is a period of many weeks where we learn of Jesus’ teachings and ministry where we celebrate his life among us.

Now let's go back to recalling the 13th day of July, 2014.  It was the fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time.  Therefore, the scripture readings, antiphons and homily follow a meditation that's theme is woven throughout the Word of God, they are as follows:

The Liturgy of the Word:

Reading I (read by appointed readers): Isaiah 55:10-11/103
Congregation responds, "Thanks be to God."

Responsorial Psalm (led by the cantor and sung as a congregation) Psalm 65: 10-14

            "The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest."

            You visit the earth, give it water;
you fill it with riches.
God's ever-flowing river brims over
to prepare the grain. (Response)

And thus you provide for the earth:
you drench its furrows;
you level it, soften it with showers;
you bless its growth. (Response)

You crown the year with your bounty.
Abundance flows in your pathways;
in pastures of the desert it flows.
The hills are girded with joy. (Response)

The meadows clothed with flocks.
The valleys are decked with wheat.
They shout for joy; yes, they sing! (Response)

Reading II (read by appointed readers):  Romans 8:18-23

Congregation responds, "Thanks be to God."

(The summit of the Liturgy of the Word has now been reached and we will now hear the Gospel proclaimed by the priest.  This is a very solemn moment in the Mass. We recognize and obey what the Apostolic Fathers mandated: 

And while the Gospel is read, let all the presbyters and deacons, and all the people, stand up in great silence; for it is written: "Be silent, and hear, O Israel." And again: "But do thou stand there, and hear."  --Apostolic Constitutions, A.D. 400)

Gospel Acclamation (led by cantor and sung by congregation)

            "Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia."

            The seed is the word of God, Christ is the sower.
            All who come to him will have life forever

Several actions will occur at once as the Gospel Acclamation is sung and the priest prepares to read the Gospel passage: Congregation stands as the priest moves toward the altar to take the Book of the Gospels, he will genuflect toward the altar in acknowledging his solemn vow to proclaim the Word to the people.
·         Sometimes the Gospel is read while an acolyte gently swings a censor that is filled with incense (frankincense).  The use of incense is an expression of prayer in Judeo-Christian tradition of worship. In the Scriptures, ritual incensing of objects, people and places was for their purification or for making the object or person holy and worthy of God.  

From the farthest east to the farthest west, my name is honored among the nations and everywhere a sacrifice of incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering too, since my name is honored among the nations. (Malachi 1:11)

                        Let my prayer rise before you like incense O Lord. (Psalm 141)

·         The Gospel Acclamation is sung.
·         The priest declares, "A reading from the Holy Gospel."  We respond by saying together, "Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ"  while we join the priest in making the sign of the cross over our foreheads, lips, and hearts before listening to the reading.  We are following the Judeo-Christian tradition that anchors the listening with an action.  We recognize that listening to and obeying the Word of God guards our mind, tongue, and heart.

The Gospel: Matthew 13:24-43 (The priest reads the Holy Scripture)
Congregation responds, "Thanks be to God."

The Homily:
            A homily brings the Scripture into the present moment of each Mass. The priest's function at this point in the Mass is quite, quite different than what a Protestant may think his pastor's function is in delivering a sermon. The priest's distinctive role is to whet our spiritual appetite for the feast of the Eucharist-- "the heart and the summit of the Church's worship." He doesn't pick and choose his way through Scriptures nor does he fret over the thematic, relevant, tantalizing hooks of culture, he follows the authority of the Church dictated in the Liturgical Calendar.  He acts as a presider, a charismas of worship, with the single purpose of drawing worshipping hearts and minds to our Lord present in the Eucharist.
            As you have probably noticed by now, all the scripture readings and even the singing of the Psalms lead the heart of the listener on a path of meditation that centers around soil, sowing, weeds, harvest. Singing the antiphon, "The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest," leads our mind and heart through the natural rhythms of creation that we can touch, see, and taste.  Catholic spirituality recognizes and emphasizes that all of life is sacred. When we begin to live our faith in God in the natural rhythm of sacramental life, we begin to live our lives vertically centered.
            It may be helpful for you to recall the conversation Jesus had with the disciples on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection from the dead (Luke 24)  The priest, like Christ, puts the events of our lives into the context of what has been revealed in Scripture.  He guides us, the worshippers, in Salvation History as revealed in the Word of God. He prepares us as Christ prepared the disciples for the fulfillment of the New Covenant that we celebrate in the Eucharist. Christ calls us to look beyond was is seen to recognize the unseen.

The Creed:
            At every Mass we join with everyone in reciting either the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed.  The words will be familiar to you, but what you may not know is the very act of reciting the Creed is a remembering of the Church's victory in a very ancient struggle. (Remember the trowel)  The struggle against the Arian heresy of  denial of the full divinity and humanity of Jesus culminated with  the Council at Nicaea in A.D. 325, it was a standing or falling point for Christianity. Lives were martyred for what the Creeds declare, but the Church stood and held its ground.  Now some 1,700 years later, Sunday after Sunday the Church rises to declare the victory over Arius and every other idolatry both ancient and contemporary!

I believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
Maker of all that is, seen and unseen.

I  believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial
of one Being with the Father.

Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.

I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
I acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
I look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Prayers of the Faithful:
            Prayers are offered up on behalf of the Body of Christ.  His Body extends across the world and it transcends time and space; therefore, we pray for the faithful, the living and the dead.  The members, invisible and visible, of the Christ's mystical body. We recognize that the Church is not a club that concerns itself with who's in and who's out or who's up and who's down.    The judgment of all people is left to God and how that all unfolds is a mystery to us here on earth.  We, Christ's Church, are an organism and we act out our mystical identity as we pray for one another.

The Offering:
            During the collection of gifts from the congregation, the altar is prepared.  The altar is the center of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, much in the same way that the ambo (pulpit) was the center of the Liturgy of the Word.  There are timeless details attended to in these moments and they are done with a hush of reverence that reflects the sacramental offering we are about to offer up in worship.
            A hymn is sung while the altar is being prepared and the gifts are being assembled.  In the early Church, gifts of bread and wine to be used at the sacrifice of the Mass were brought by members of the congregation and presented to the presider. They would also bring other food gifts to present to the priest for his own sustenance (these traditions reach back into the Old Testament, remember the mortar).  That gift giving is memorialized in the presentation of the bread and the wine to be used at the Mass.  Our financial contributions are presented at this time as well.  These monetary gifts are the modern equivalent of the earlier food gifts brought for the priests.
            Just as the procession at the very beginning of the Mass held the Book of the Gospels for the Liturgy of the Word.  The procession of the offerings signify the Eucharistic Liturgy. The gifts: the water and wine, the bread, the money, represent the congregations thanksgiving and so the "we" of the congregation (usually a family) proceed with the offerings to the front of the church where the priest waits to receive the offering to offer back to God in the blessing of the bread and wine.         
            Father Robert E. Barron eloquently states that "the ancients, including the Jewish nation, made animal sacrifice to offer praise to God.  A person would take one small aspect of God's creation and return it to its source in order to signal his gratitude for the gift of his own existence and, indeed, the existence of the world.  These small offerings of bread, water, wine are representative of the entirety of Creation.  Bread and wine implies wheat and vine. And to say wheat and vine is to imply earth, soil, water, wind and sunshine. And to say earth, soil, water, and wind is to imply the solar system and indeed, the cosmos itself. "

The Blessing, the Berakah prayer, is prayed by the priest:

“Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, Creator of the fruit of the earth.
The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.”

We know that God does not need anything we can offer, he has no need.  However,  we need sacrifice in order to reorder us and restore our communion with God.  Sacrifice produces communion, and it is this distinctive logic that is the trowel, mortar and brick of the Eucharist.  We now are prepared to receive the Mystery of Faith in the Eucharistic feast.  We sense you are beginning to have questions you want to ask about what is happening.  It may be  very hard for you to believe that we actually believe that Christ's body and blood are consumed when we receive the Eucharist.  For now, let's just continue to reverently observe what is happening around us.  We'll talk more about the union of Sacred Scriptures and Sacred Tradition in the Mass, but for now let us continue in our worship of Almighty God.  

This is the ultimate knowledge about God,
to know that we do not know.
--St. Thomas Aquinas

Liturgy of the Eucharist:
            The Mass is truly an encounter with the Triune God, distilled to the simplest terms it is a conversation and meal with our Host, the Lamb of God. In the Scripture readings, the Liturgy of the Word, we listened. In the responsorial Psalms we responded to God with our voices.  In the Liturgy of the Eucharist we will now eat together.  The Mystery of Faith is that Jesus Christ's sacrifice on the cross becomes truly present, re-presented in the Mass.  We now enter into a realm of other earthiness were the invisible is unveiled.  When we approach the Eucharist as the Old Testament foreshadowed in the Passover and the New Testament revealed in the Passion of the Lamb of God and in St. John's revelation of eternal worship,  the veil of eternity is lifted and the reality of the Mass becomes profoundly life-altering!

There is no communion with God without sacrifice.
This is true because sin has twisted us out of shape,
and therefore intimacy with God will involve a
twisting back into shape, a painful re-alignment, a sacrifice.
--Father Robert E.  Barron

It is Christ himself, the eternal high priest of the New Covenant who, acting through the ministry of the priests, offers the Eucharistic sacrifice. And it is the same Christ, really present under the species of bread and wine, who is the offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1410)

Not only do we say that it is the Church that celebrates the Eucharist, we believe that the celebration of the Eucharist also makes the Church. Although we are already one in Christ through Baptism, Eucharistic “Communion renews, strengthens, and deepens this incorporation into the Church, already achieved by Baptism. In Baptism we have been called to form but one body. The Eucharist fulfills this call” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1396).

The Eucharistic Prayer (This is the climactic prayer of the Mass.  We have chosen to include the words as they are prayed by the priest and said or sung by the congregation during this solemn climax of our worship):

Father, it is our duty and salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks through your beloved Son, Jesus Christ.

He is the Word through whom you made the universe, the Savior you sent to redeem us. By the power of the Holy Spirit he too flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary.

For our sake he opened his arms on the cross; he put an end to death and revealed the resurrection. In this he fulfilled your will and won for you a holy people.

And so we join the angels and saints in proclaiming your glory:
Holy, Holy (The "Sanctus", based on the praise of the seraphim in Isa 6:3):

All:  Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

Epiclesis (calling upon the Holy Spirit):

Lord, you are holy indeed, the fountain of all holiness. Let your Spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy, so that they may become for us the body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Before he was given up to death, a death he freely accepted, he took bread and gave you thanks, He broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said:

Take this, all of you, and eat it; this is my body which will be given up for you.

When the supper was ended, he took the cup. Again he gave you thanks and praise, gave the cup to his disciples, and said:

Take this, all of you, and drink from it; this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me.

Memorial Acclamation:

Priest:  Let us proclaim the mystery of faith:
All:  When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus, until you come in glory.

Anamnesis (recollection), Offering, and Intercessions:

In memory of his death and resurrection, we offer you, Father, this life-giving bread, this saving cup. We thank you for counting us worthy to stand in your presence and serve you. May all of us who share in the body and blood of Christ be brought together in unity by the Holy Spirit.

Lord, remember your Church throughout the world; make us grow in love, together with [Francis] our Pope, {name of local bishop}, our bishop, and all the clergy.

Remember our brothers and sisters who have gone to their rest in the hope of rising again; bring them and all the departed into the light of your presence. Have mercy on us all; make us worthy to share eternal life with Mary, the virgin Mother of God, with the apostles, and with all the saints who have done your will throughout the ages. May we praise you in union with them, and give you glory through your Son, Jesus Christ.

Doxology and Great Amen:

Priest:  Through him, with him, and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, almighty Father, forever and ever.
All:  Amen, Amen, Amen! (congregation sings together)

The Lord's Prayer (prayed together as a congregation)

The Sign of Peace:
"So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift."  --Matthew 5:23-24

The sign of peace that we make with fellow congregants differs according to where in the world we are worshipping.  A handshake, an embrace, a kiss, even a peace sign made with two fingers is acceptable.  The action serves as a reminder that we are to live at peace with our family and our neighbor, what better place to start than with the one you are standing next to as you worship the God of all peace.

Lamb of God
            One of the most worshipful moments in the Liturgy of the Eucharist is when we kneel  as a congregation of worshippers of the eternal Lamb of God and sing together with the angels, saints, martyrs, and the faithful who have proceeded us into our eternal worship of God:

            Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
            Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
            Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, grant us peace.

Priest: Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world.
            Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.
People: Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof,
            but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.

Receiving the Eucharist:
            We have observed two processions to the altar up to this point in the Mass: the first when the priest and altar servers entered the church at the beginning of the Mass, and the second when the congregation's representatives presented the gifts of our financial offerings, the bread, and the wine to the priest.  It is now our turn to leave our pew and process toward the altar to receive our Lord in the Eucharist.  You will notice how quietly and reverently the worshippers proceed.  This is a moment when we can reflect on our dignity as God's creation.  We proceed humbly, yet purposefully, knowing that our identity as children of God cost Him everything and He gave it willingly because He is LOVE.  Therefore, we do not take or grab Communion, we receive Jesus in this Communion, in this mystical union of the Bride of Christ. We bow as a sign of reverence toward the Eucharistic Lord of Love. We take in his body in the Divine Mystery of the Eucharist and it nourishes in us what cannot be nourished by anything else humanity offers up for consumption.

Concluding Rites:
            After Communion, what is referred to as the "concluding rites of the Mass" bring our corporate worship to an end.  Our priest invites us to pray.  We all stand and there is a brief moment of silence for us to direct our hearts to the prayer that the priest will say in our name.  These are no ad hoc prayers.  The Liturgy of the Mass for the 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time on 13th day of July, 2014 has been thoughtfully ordered by the Sacred Tradition to sum up what we have heard in the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  And what we continue to be amazed by is that the words of the prayers echo what our spirits have longed to pray in response to what we have heard and consumed.  The Word of God is indeed living and active, and sharper than a two-edged sword!
Blessed and sent: 
            We have gathered as a family, heard the Word, professed our faith, prayed for one another, offered sacrifice to the Father, and received the Body and Blood of Jesus, we are, at least in principle, more properly formed and hence, ready to go out to effect the transformation of the world. 

And let the deacon say: Bow down to God through His Christ, and
receive the blessing...And the deacon shall say, Depart in peace.
--Apostolic Constitutions, A.D. 400

            Now we receive a blessing from our priest. We bow our heads as we trace the sign of the cross while the priest asks God to pour out His blessing on us. This Sacred Tradition harkens back to blessings that are found throughout the Scriptures.  Usually the blessings occur when someone is taking leave of another.  We remember Christ's blessing of his disciples. "Then he [Jesus] led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven."  --Luke 24:50-51
            This is the intentional communication of this last action in our worship: The Lord has come into our lives, and in the same way that the Lord sent out His disciples, He is sending us out, too.  The Mass ends with the Latin phrase that literally means "Go, you are sent."  We are being sent on the mission of all the ages--we are sent in peace to bring peace into each of our corners of the world.