Monthly Archives: August 2011

Preparing for Holy Communion

I wonder if sometimes we don’t reflect sufficiently upon the holiness of the Eucharist and thus do not prepare properly to receive the Lord. We need to both repent of our sins and to become aware of the greatness of the Gift. The following is a series of short prayers from the Eastern Church which are meant as a preparation for Holy Communion. You’ll see that every now and then we also ask Our Lady to help prepare us. Perhaps you will find something here that you can use to help dispose yourself to receive more reverently and fruitfully this grace flowing from Christ’s all-holy and perfect sacrifice. We approach the Holy Mysteries of the Son of the living God. May we always do so in a manner pleasing to Him and beneficial for our souls!

O compassionate Lord, may Your holy Body and Your precious Blood become the Bread of everlasting life to me, and the healing of manifold diseases.

Defiled as I am, O Christ, by unbecoming deeds, I am not worthy of the communion of Your most pure Body and divine Blood. Nevertheless, make me worthy thereof.

O you most blessed Bride of God, the good soil which grew the untilled Wheat that saves the world, grant that partaking thereof I may be saved.

O Christ, Master, give me those tearful drops which cleanse my heart’s impurity, that with a pure conscience, I may approach with faith and reverence the communion of Your divine Gifts.

O Lover of Mankind, may Your most pure Body and divine Blood be for the remission of my sins, for the communion of the Holy Spirit, for life everlasting, and for estrangement from passions and afflictions.

O you most holy table of the Bread of Life, which for mercy’s sake came from above and gives new life to the world—grant that I may now, unworthy as I am, taste thereof in faith and live thereby.

O most merciful One, when You took flesh for our sake, You were willing to be slain as a lamb for the sins of men. Wherefore I beseech You, cleanse me also from my sins.

O Lord, heal the wounds of my soul and sanctify me wholly, and grant, O Master, that I, a wretched man, may partake of Your divine and Mystical Supper.

O Lady, propitiate in my behalf Him who was born of you, and preserve me, your supplicating servant, pure and undefiled, so that by receiving the spiritual Pearl I may be sanctified.

As You, O Christ, foretold, so let it be unto Your unprofitable servant, and abide in me, as You promised. For lo! I eat Your divine Body and drink Your precious Blood.

O God and Word of God, may the live coal of Your Body be to the enlightenment of my darkness, and Your Blood to the cleansing of my defiled soul.

O Mary, Mother of God, honorable tabernacle of Sweet Fragrance—make me, by your prayers, a chosen vessel, that I may receive the sanctification of your Son.

O Savior, sanctify my mind, my soul, my heart, and my body, and prepare me, O Lord, to approach uncondemned Your awe-inspiring Mysteries.

Grant that I may be rid of my passions, increase in Your grace, and be confirmed in my life by the communion of Your holy Mysteries, O Christ.

O God, O holy Word of God, wholly sanctify me now approaching Your divine Mysteries, through the supplications of Your holy Mother.

Turn not away from me, a wretched man, O Christ, Master, as I now receive Your awe-inspiring Mysteries, Your pure Body and Your precious Blood. Let not my partaking thereof be to my judgment, but to everlasting and immortal life.

O Christ, Fountain of blessings, may the communion of Your immortal Mysteries now be to me light and life, freedom from passions, and for my progress and increase in divine virtues, that I may glorify You who alone are good.

Grant that now approaching Your immortal and divine Mysteries in trembling, longing, and piety, I may be delivered, O Lover of Mankind, from passions and enemies, and from every affliction, distress, and sorrow, and grant that I may sing to You: Blessed are You, O Lord God of our Fathers.

O you God-favored one, who above comprehension bore the Savior Christ, I, your impure servant, desiring now to approach the most pure Mysteries, pray you, who are pure: cleanse me from all defilement of flesh and spirit.

O Christ God my Savior, grant that I Your despairing servant may become now a partaker of Your heavenly, awesome, and holy Mysteries, and of Your divine and Mystical Supper.

Seeking refuge in Your loving-kindness, O good Savior, I cry unto You with faith: abide in me, and let me also, as You promised, abide in You. For lo! trusting in Your mercy, I eat Your Body and drink Your Blood.

I tremble in taking this Fire, lest I should be consumed as wax and grass. O awesome Mystery! O the loving-kindness of God! How is it that I, an earthly creature, partake of the divine Body and Blood, and am made incorruptible?

O taste and see that the Lord is good, who for our sake was made like unto us of old, and once for all offered up Himself as an offering to His Father, and is now forever slain and risen, sanctifying the communicants.

O Master, let me be sanctified in body and soul; let me be enlightened and saved; and let me become Your dwelling through the communion of Your holy Mysteries, having You, O most merciful Benefactor, living in me, with the Father and the Spirit.

May Your Body and Your precious Blood, O Savior, be as fire and light to me, consuming the substance of sin and burning the tares of my passions, and wholly enlightening me, that I may fall down, worshiping Your Divinity.

O Lord who were born of the Virgin, turn away from my transgressions and purify my heart, making it a temple for Your most pure Body and precious Blood, and cast me not away from Your presence, O You who have mercy without measure.

(Adapted from Divine Prayers and Services of the Catholic Orthodox Church of Christ, Rev S. Nassar)

Mary = Heaven

The Mother of God not only dwells in Heaven, and she is not only the Queen of Heaven—in certain sense she is Heaven!  Not in the most literal sense, but the Church in her liturgical poetry sees her that way.  Heaven is simply where God dwells, and since God dwelled uniquely and bodily in the Virgin Mary, she herself has become—ever since her glorification in Heaven—a kind of sweet paradise for all who would enter into the light and glory of God through her Immaculate Heart.  In one of the texts below, she is called a “chamber full of light,” and this reminds me of one of the Fatima apparitions, at which she opened her hands to the children, and then from within her came the Light of God which penetrated their hearts and souls and took them into his presence.  She is the tabernacle, as it were, of that Divine Light, and entering therein we find—Heaven!

This picture of her is for me a kind of image of Heaven, even though it shows her in her earthly life with Jesus.  But look at Him!  This image of blissful repose in the arms of the Blessed Mother, under her tender and loving gaze, is Heaven, as far as I’m concerned.  She told Lucia at Fatima that her Heart would be her refuge and her way to God, and so that is how I want to be carried to Him!

The following are a number of excerpts from texts found in the Byzantine liturgical services that portray Mary as a living Heaven or Paradise.  We can have a foretaste of Heaven by allowing her to take us into her Heart in a spiritual or mystical way while still in this world, as we prepare to behold the full manifestation of her mystery and her glory in the next.  Heaven is a created reality where those who love God dwell, and we can say the same thing in a qualified sense about Our Lady.

“…the theme of the angels’ hymn, and the beauty of the faithful. She was seen as being heavenly and the tabernacle of the Divinity…

“Let us sing with faith to her who is the heavenly dwelling-place…

“Let us sing to the new Ark and the Gate of Heaven, the holy mountain and radiant cloud, the ladder reaching to Heaven, the deliverance of Eve, the mystical Paradise…

“In you, O full of grace, all creation rejoices: the orders of angels and the human race as well. O sanctified Temple, spiritual Paradise and glory of virgins…

“Ineffable is the mystery of the Virgin, for she is Heaven, a cherubic throne.  She is the chamber full of light for Christ our God, the all-powerful Lord.  We reverently magnify her, for she is the Mother of God.

“We magnify you, O holy Ark, heavenly Tabernacle in which Christ took up his dwelling among us in order to grant us grace and save us.

“You are the burning bush that Moses saw unconsumed, the living ladder that Jacob contemplated, and the heavenly gate through which Christ our God has passed: O Virgin Mother, in hymns we magnify you.

“As we stand within the nave of your glory, we feel as if we were in Heaven, O Mother of God…”

When we contemplate the mysteries of Heaven, let us not forget that Our Lady and Queen is at the heart of them, glorified by the infinite love and power of her divine Son.  Before Him, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and in the precious company our Heavenly Mother who will bring us there, we will worship with love and joy and thanksgiving forever and ever!

Heaven Couldn’t Wait

At the end of time, at the general resurrection, those who have been faithful to God will rise to heavenly and eternal glory, in both body and soul. But there’s someone who has been more faithful to God than anyone else, but she won’t rise at the end of time for the reunification and glorification of soul and body in Heaven. Why not? Because she’s already there!  The Mother of God is the first-fruit of the resurrection of mankind, the fulfillment of the promise of Christ to raise to glory all his disciples and friends. On the feast of Our Lady’s Holy Dormition (lit. “falling asleep”) we celebrate the feast of her integral glorification, that is, her passing from this life and bodily assumption into Heaven.

Heaven couldn’t wait for the entrance of Our Lady. It is wholly abhorrent to the Christian mind and spirit that the one who gave flesh to the eternal Son and Word of God would be allowed to corrupt in the grave like a common sinner. Her mission in this world was indisputably unique, and her sinless purity (for how could the absolutely holy God enter this world through a defiled vessel?) caught Heaven’s fancy, as it were, so she was snatched up from the grave of corruption to share the glory of her Son and God, as a living icon or sign of the destiny of all the faithful.

Christ Himself rose from the dead, making possible the resurrection of other human beings. But, being God and the Redeemer, we don’t see in his person the resurrection of the redeemed. Mary is the first of the redeemed, the first to experience the full truth of Christ’s promise, and of the words of St Paul: “He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also…” (Romans 8:11).

Even thinking on a human level, what son who loved his mother would allow her to rot in a grave if he had the power to raise her, body and soul, to glory? A fortiori, Jesus Christ, whose love for his Mother surpassed that of any other loving son, certainly came swiftly to receive her body and soul into his Kingdom as she departed from this life. Try to imagine, if you can (you can’t), what it must have been like for Mary—and what it meant for the whole universe—that God, the Creator and Lord of all things visible and invisible, by whom and for whom all things exist, entered into her body and soul, becoming man in order to save us. The God whom her people had worshiped for centuries, the awesomely magnificent, fiery, thundering God of the mountaintop theophanies, entered her womb, and she carried Him within her as a growing baby. How did she not instantly vaporize as the Almighty God permeated her entire being? The Fathers of the Church use an analogy (one among many): as the bush in which God manifested his presence on Mt Sinai burned without being consumed, so the Virgin Mary received the Fire of the Divinity without being consumed. She was chosen from all eternity to be the Mother of God, that is, the Mother of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity incarnate as man.

(No one says, by the way, that “Mother of God” means mother of the Holy Trinity, or mother of the Father or of the Spirit or of the divine nature as such. But a woman can only be a mother of a person, not a nature, which is an abstraction if it is not realized in a person. She was not therefore merely the mother of Jesus’ human nature, but the mother of a person. Jesus Christ is a Divine Person, i.e., God, who became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, thus uniting human nature to his eternal divine nature. Therefore Mary is the mother of a Divine Person, i.e., God, who took flesh in her womb and was born as the God-Man Jesus. Thus she is rightly called “Mother of God.” At least as early as the 5th century, the undivided Christian Church declared it heresy to speak otherwise.)

Let us rejoice, then, that the Mother of God and our Mother has been lifted up to the fullness of life and glory with her Son in Heaven. Heaven couldn’t wait for her, and I can’t wait to get to Heaven! May the Lord’s will be fulfilled to glorious perfection in each of us, as it has already been done in her who said: Let it be done to me according to your word.

Transfiguration and Eucharist

[The following are excerpts from various homilies on the feast, and some additional reflection on this topic.]

…We have to look to Luke’s version to get a couple other details of this revelation. What did Jesus have to do to fulfill the Father’s plan of salvation? Luke says that during the transfiguration Jesus was speaking to Moses and Elijah of the “exodus” that he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem. Of course that reminds us of the first exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. The Passover lamb was slain, and its blood protected the chosen people from destruction. That was the key event, the defining moment in the history of the people of God, and henceforth God would be known as “the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” After Jesus’ exodus in Jerusalem, the apostles would henceforth preach him to the nations as the Lord who was crucified and who rose from the dead, whose Blood saves us from sin and eternal death. The plan of the Father, which was dramatically initiated in the first exodus, was to be definitively fulfilled in Christ’s death and resurrection, and Moses and Elijah appeared to confirm it on Mt Tabor. This is part of what Jesus meant when he said He did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it.

There is another element associated with the exodus which helped reveal the mystery of Jesus’ divine sonship to the disciples. In chapter 24 of the Book of Exodus, God called Moses to come up Mt Sinai to meet Him and to receive his divine commandments. A cloud surrounded the mountain, and Moses entered into the cloud to meet God. On Mt Tabor a brilliant cloud overshadowed the mountain, and Luke tells us that the apostles, in fear and trembling, entered into the cloud.

There they heard the voice of the Father testifying to his divine Son. They received no commandments written in stone, for the living and eternal Word of God in the flesh was standing right before them, and the Father simply instructed them to listen to Him. Moses could only bring the words of God down from the mountain, but the disciples could hear the words of God continually from the lips of Jesus. A new revelation, a new covenant was being enacted by Christ, one that would be fulfilled at the Last Supper and on the Cross. Moses spilled the blood of sacrificed animals on the altar and proclaimed: “This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you.” At the Last Supper (or better, as Eastern Christians call it, the Mystical Supper), Jesus took a cup of wine and said: “This is the blood of the covenant; the new and everlasting covenant; this is my blood, which is shed for you…”

Transfiguration is also related to Eucharist in that it is a dramatic manifestation of the mystery of the Incarnation.  The Incarnation of the Eternal Son of God effected a hitherto impossible union: that of Creator with creation, of God with that which is not-God.  The very fact that the created, material, human flesh of Christ could be inseparably united with the uncreated divine nature and life means that henceforth matter has the potential to communicate divine grace.  Therefore water can be a means of incorporating one into the body of Christ and washing away sin in holy baptism, and oil can be a means of communicating “the Seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit” in holy chrismation (confirmation), and most profoundly, bread and wine can give us the very life and indwelling presence of Christ once it is transformed into his Body and Blood.  None of the sacraments would be possible were it not for the Incarnation.  The transfiguration of Christ illustrates this mystery in a brilliant way: the uncreated light and glory of the divinity is manifested and communicated through the created medium of the material body of Jesus.  The transfiguration therefore tells us: the Incarnation is true, the sacraments are real…

As we come to the Holy Eucharist, we come for an experience of transfiguration.  Christ Himself, the same Christ that we’re celebrating standing on Mt. Tabor shining with the glory of God, is going to enter into the darkness of our own body and soul and He’s going to shine from within us, too—if we let Him, if we humbly approach Him and let Him come to us, touch us, speak to us those words of consolation, and call us to a fuller, nobler life, where we can really give ourselves to this universal work of the transfiguration of the whole universe, which we’ll see accomplished in the end, and we’ll be amazed to see that we had something to do with that, through our faithfulness to God [OK, so I sometimes write 115-word sentences!].  Let us come to Him now, with joy and gratitude and awe, as if we were standing on that same holy mountain.  We should let Him take us into Himself, so we can hear the voice of the Father saying how much He loves us, how much He regards us and accepts us as his sons and daughters.  Then we too will walk in that mystery of crucifixion, yet of transfiguration, and ultimately of the glory of resurrection.