Throughout history the Church has placed great emphasis on the importance of mystery in the celebration of the Eucharist. In the Jewish temple, from where many of our liturgical traditions come, we find the origins of this in the Holy of Holies—the hidden inner sanctuary of the Tabernacle into which the High Priest (and he alone) entered on the Day of Atonement. In the first centuries of Christianity it was usual that the altar would be covered by a canopy and surrounded by curtains, closed during the most solemn moments of the Mass. In the medieval period, the sanctuary of the church was divided from the nave by a screen adorned with images of the saints, something which is still found in the Eastern rites, where the great icon screen—the iconostasis—is a reminder of the sacred character of the action that takes place beyond. Even now, the Church instructs that the sanctuary “should be appropriately marked off from the body of the church either by its being somewhat elevated or by a particular structure and ornamentation” (GIRM 295). From her earliest days, then, the Church has consistently sought to assert that, in her public worship, there is always a sacred aspect which is unseen.
Beatified at the conclusion of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council in 1965, and canonised seven years later, Saint Charbel Makhluf represents an important figure in the life of the universal Church. Born to lowly stock in Lebanon in 1828, he became a Maronite monk and priest in his twenties, living a life of strict asceticism in the monastery. In 1875 he was permitted to become a solitary hermit and remained so for twenty-three years until his death on Christmas Eve 1898. For almost seventy-five years after his death, the monk’s body remained incorrupt, and many miracles are attributed to his intercession.
The fourteenth century saint, Bridget of Sweden, whose feast the Church celebrates today, lived amidst great privilege and wealth in the court of the King of Sweden. Although she was married with many children, after a pilgrimage together with her husband to the shrine of Saint James in Compostela, she experienced a profound desire to enter the cloister and went on to found her own double monastery, comprising men and women living alongside in separate monastic houses.
His heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd. (Mark 6: 34).
The Penny Catechism, which remains a sure means of learning about and passing on our faith, speaks about four defining marks of the Church in this way: “The Church of Christ has four marks by which we may know her: she is One – she is Holy – she is Catholic – she is Apostolic”. As Catholics we profess these four characteristics of the Church in the Nicene Creed when we say each Sunday: “And I believe one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.” The same catechism remarks that the Church is one “because all her members agree in one Faith, have all the same Sacrifice and Sacraments, and are all united under one Head”; she is holy “because she teaches a holy doctrine, offers to all the means of holiness and is distinguished by the eminent holiness of so many thousands of her children”; she is Catholic “because she subsists in all ages, teaches all nations, and is the one Ark of Salvation for all”; she is apostolic “because she holds the doctrines and traditions of the Apostles, and because, through the unbroken succession of her Pastors, she derives her Orders and her Mission from them.” Thus we can say that only when these four marks are present can we claim to find the Church of Christ.
What would you give to convert one soul to Christ? This weekend a young married couple I know are attending a retreat during which they will find out where they are to be sent for two weeks of missionary work somewhere here in the United States. They will go with just the clothes they have on—no food or money—and they will rely on the generosity (please God) of parishioners and others for their wellbeing as they go about the task of evangelization; of taking the good news of the Gospel to others.
What would you give to convert one soul to Christ? Yesterday I baptized a beautiful newly born baby girl. Her young parents are in the process of moving from the area to become teachers in a Catholic school on the other side of the country; one which has a vibrant life of faith, with the reverent celebration of the sacraments and good formation in the virtues for the students. They have not yet bought their first home, and yet in a few days they will nevertheless pack up their belongings and their daughter and head to their new lives; setting out to build a home and a family in which Christ is truly the head of the household, and to teach young people about the joy of knowing the Lord and living by his precepts.