Archive of December 11, 2011

Leadership of Pope St. Damasus I remembered Dec. 11

Denver, Colo., Dec 11, 2011 (CNA) - On Dec. 11, both Roman Catholics and Eastern Catholics commemorate Pope St. Damasus I, who led the Church through a critical part of the fourth-century Arian controversy over Jesus' divinity.

While not necessarily a figure of popular devotion today, Pope Damasus I made decisions that shaped the future of Western Catholicism and the universal Church. During his pontificate, Latin became the official liturgical language of the Roman Church, which had used Greek extensively in the past.

The same Pope authorized St. Jerome to revise the Latin translation of the Bible into what became the widely-used “Vulgate” edition. Pope Damasus also authorized the decrees of the Second Ecumenical Council, which expanded the Nicene Creed's profession of faith in the Holy Spirit and added portions on the Church, baptism, and the resurrection of the dead.

Pope Damasus' letters testify to the origin of the papacy as a office instituted by Christ. The need to articulate this doctrine grew during the fourth century, after the Emperor Constantine and his successors increased the profile of Constantinople as a center of political and religious affairs.

“The holy Roman Church has been placed at the forefront,” Damasus I wrote in 382, “not by the conciliar decisions of other churches, but has received the primacy by the evangelic voice of our Lord and Savior, who says: ‘You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church' … The first see, therefore, is that of Peter the apostle, that of the Roman Church,” he affirmed.

The author of these words was born around 304, shortly before the Church gained legal status throughout the Roman Empire. History records little about Damasus' life and service to the Church, until his ordination as a deacon during the pontificate of Pope Liberius (352-366).

Liberius suffered persecution at the hands of the Arians, who believed that Christ was a created being and not God. Elected Pope after Liberius died in 366, Damasus took the reigns of a Church still suffering from widespread confusion four decades after its first ecumenical council.

After Damasus' election, a deacon named Ursinus attempted to set himself up as a rival pope – resulting in riots in which more than 130 people died, and a schism that persisted for some time during his papacy. The Pope prayed for the reconciliation of these separated clergy, and lived to see some of them return.

During Damasus' era, the Church's increased power and prestige tempted many clergy to lead corrupt lives. Damasus took pains to enforce the decree of the Western Emperor Valentinian, who urged the Pope to prevent scandalous behavior among the clergy and those in religious life.

While Valentinian, who reigned from 364 to 375, generally fulfilled his duties as a Catholic statesman of his day, the Eastern Emperor Valens promoted Arianism and persecuted Eastern Catholics who upheld orthodoxy. Damasus held two local councils reaffirming the Roman Church's opposition to Arianism, and condemning bishops who taught it.

Damasus also played a role in condemning a very different heresy, Apollinarianism. Its author, the bishop Apollinaris of Laodicea, taught that Jesus had taken on a human body and soul, but not a rational mind, in his incarnation. The Pope oversaw or authorized four condemnations of this error, the strongest of which came from the Second Ecumenical Council at Constantinople in 381.

One telling witness to Pope Damasus I's virtues comes from the letters of St. Jerome, the monk and scholar sometimes known for his brutal frankness and sarcasm. This saint, who did not hesitate to speak his mind, addressed Damasus with admiration and reverence in letters still read and cited today.

A saint in his own right, Pope Damasus I is also one of history's great devotees of the saints. Chroniclers of his life record not only his commitment to the intercession of the martyrs, but also his care for the tombs of the saints buried in Rome, which he renovated into shrines. Damasus composed Latin poetry in honor of these saints, some of which has survived.

Pope St. Damasus I died on Dec. 11, 384. Since the eighth century, his relics have been venerated both in Rome's Church of St. Lawrence in Damaso (first built by St. Damasus himself, though rebuilt in later centuries), and in St. Peter's Basilica.

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Alaska Catholics called to embrace additional changes at Mass

Anchorage, Alaska, Dec 11, 2011 (CNA) - On Sunday, Nov. 27, Roman Catholic parishes across the United States and much of the English-speaking world officially began using the newest translation of the Roman Missal — the sacred text for the Mass. In Alaska, those linguistic modifications were coupled with several posture changes for the faithful and other instructions regarding the celebration of Mass.

Most noticeable is that parishioners are now asked to kneel or sit immediately following the Lamb of God prayer and again after receiving Holy Communion.

The changes are two of several guidelines instituted in the Anchorage Archdiocese by Archbishop Roger Schwietz. Similar changes are being implemented in the Dioceses of Fairbanks and Juneau.

A Nov. 17 document sent to pastors and parish leaders across the Anchorage Archdiocese details many of the instructions.

The decision to ask the faithful to kneel or sit after receiving Holy Communion reverses a 2005 instruction by Archbishop Schwietz in which he asked the faithful to stand after Communion.

At that time, the decision was met with mixed reception and some confusion. A number of parishioners preferred to kneel in prayer after Communion and many visitors to Alaska were confused about the standing posture, which is not the norm in most of the rest of the United States.

Archbishop Schwietz said the decision to return to kneeling after Communion is an effort to bring Alaska into greater conformity with how the liturgy is celebrated across most of the United States.

“The other problem is that we have so many visitors to Alaska, especially in the summer,” Archbishop Schwietz told the Catholic Anchor. “It is confusing for the visitors also. The three bishops from Alaska have been looking at the most common practices around the country to help reduce the confusion.”

Another reason for the changes is to respect the elderly and others who find it difficult to stand for long periods, Archbishop Schwietz said.

It has been decided that each of the three dioceses within Alaska will have its own guidelines but that they will all be similar.

In addition to kneeling after the Lamb of God prayer and after receiving Communion, the faithful are also being asked to respect the simplicity and reverence of the Mass.

“For example, during the sign of peace, we are asking people to simply wish peace to one another in their vicinity so that it does not become a sort of timeout for the Mass with people wandering around,” Archbishop Schwietz affirmed. “We want to retain the dignity of the Mass at that time.”

In particular the instruction notes that the sign of peace should “be shared in a solemn manner” including a handshake, embrace, a slight bow or in the words, “Peace be with you.”

“We also are asking that there not be additional rites added to the Mass,”  Archbishop Schwietz added.

He noted, for instance, that in some places there has been a desire to add some of the older prayers from the pre-Vatican II form of the Mass into the ordinary form of the Mass.

“The problem is that there is a specific exclusion of mixing the rites from the directives of the church,” Archbishop Schwietz explained. “We are trying to remind people of that also.”

“Basically, we are trying to put into practice three main principles of our tradition in the Latin rite,” he said, “dignity, simplicity and unity. We want to have unity in which we can worship together without confusion, simplicity which the Roman rite is noted for without adding a lot of additions, and we want to preserve the dignity that is due the sacred moment of the church’s worship.”

Other elements in the recent instructions address items such as appropriate attire for Mass, noting that clothing is “an outward sign of reverence for this sacred gathering.”

The instructions also urge parishes to provide instruction on the eucharistic fast, which the faithful should observe one hour before receiving Communion.

For the reception of the Holy Eucharist, the guidelines explain that those receiving the consecrated host on the tongue should do so with “mouth open, tongue outstretched and head still: not with the lips.”

For those receiving Communion in the hand, the document states that the “dominant hand should be placed under the receiving hand with the palm open wide facing upwards.” It also states that after receiving the Eucharist, the communicant should “consume it immediately” to avoid the risk of “dropping the host.”

The document also explains the duties and preparations for deacons, lay liturgical ministers, lectors, altar servers, greeters and musicians during Mass.

In a section on the appropriate postures and actions while in the church building, the document states, “As the faithful enter or leave their pews, they should genuflect in the direction of the tabernacle (if the tabernacle is located in the sanctuary).”

Additionally, the document explains that before Mass, the faithful should “recollect themselves in preparation for the celebration and not disturb those already in prayer.”

It further notes, “If the tabernacle is not in the sanctuary but in a separate chapel, the faithful, upon entering or leaving the sanctuary should bow towards the altar as a gesture of reverence to Christ.”

Among other items addressed are the construction, treatment and care of the altar, and sacred vessels.

Printed with permission from the Catholic Anchor, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska.

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US religious freedom commission prepares to shut down

Washington D.C., Dec 11, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The chairman of a federal commission that promotes religious freedom warned that if Congress does not reauthorize the group by next week, international results could be “catastrophic.”

Chairman Leonard Leo called it “absolutely shameful” that the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has still not been reauthorized after months of discussion.

Leo told CNA on Dec. 9 that a failure to reauthorize the commission would send the message that the U.S. has “downgraded the importance of religious freedom in our foreign policy.”

Funding for the commission was initially set to expire at the end of September but received multiple brief extensions—including one that was part of a “minibus” spending bill signed into law on Nov. 18—that have allowed it to continue its work.

However, the commission’s latest extension will expire on Dec. 16, which will cause it to shut down completely if Congress does not renew its funding and reauthorize its mission.

Although the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in favor of a bill that would extend the commission’s funding for two more years, the process has been tied up in the Senate since September.

It was initially reported that a single anonymous senator had placed a “hold” on the bill, preventing it from coming to a vote, for undisclosed reasons.

That senator has now been identified as Richard Durbin (D-Ill.). An individual involved in the situation said that Senator Durbin has put a hold on the funding until federal money is approved to buy a state prison in Illinois, which he claims will bring money and jobs to the area.

As the Senate majority whip, Senator Durbin is the second most powerful Democrat in the Senate.

The Obama administration told Fox News on Dec. 8 that it is working with Congress to reauthorize the commission, but with just a week before the Dec. 16 deadline, commission staff members are beginning to wrap up their operations.

Leo acknowledged the possibility that another temporary extension for the commission could be passed as part of an omnibus budget resolution.

But ultimately, he explained, the commission needs to be reauthorized since it cannot operate effectively with the threat of being shut down constantly lingering.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is the “only commission of its kind in the world,” Leo said. He explained that by identifying problems, reporting on them and serving as a watchdog, the commission has both directly and indirectly had a positive impact on countries around the world since it was created in 1998.

The commission advises the president, secretary of state and congress on how to bolster religious freedom overseas.

It presents an annual report on religious freedom across the globe and recommends that certain countries which tolerate “particularly severe” violations of religious liberty be designated as “countries of particular concern.”

If the commission is forced to close its doors, said Leo, other countries that have been considering forming similar commissions may be dissuaded.

It would send a dangerous message to countries that abuse human rights, he added, showing them that religious freedom is “not a priority” for the United States any longer.

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Pope says focus on Jesus, not pre-Christmas distractions

Vatican City, Dec 11, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -

Pope Benedict XVI reminded Christians not to be dazzled by the shopping lights of the season but to keep focused on the coming on Jesus Christ, the “true light of the world.”

“The external environment offers the usual commercial messages, even if in a lower-key way because of the economic crisis,” said the Pope during his Sunday Angelus address in a rain-soaked St. Peter’s Square Dec. 11. The Christian, by contrast, is “called to live Advent without being distracted by the lights.”

Christians should keep their eyes fixed on Christ so that “if, in fact, we persevere ‘vigilant in prayer and rejoicing in praise,’ our eyes will be able to recognize in him the true light of the world that comes to enlighten our darkness.”

Tens of thousands of pilgrims were at St. Peter’s Square for the third Sunday of Advent, known as Gaudete Sunday. The title is taken from St. Paul’s encouragement in the day’s reading: “gaudete in Domino semper,” meaning “rejoice always in the Lord.” The day marks a change in the Church’s liturgical colors from the somber purple of Advent to a more hopeful shade of rose.

Pope Benedict acknowledged the importance of time for rest and relaxation. However, he added that true joy is “not the result of fun,” but is “something more profound” that is “tied to the relationship with God.”

Those who have encountered Christ in their lives “experience in the heart a serenity and joy that no one and no situation can remove.”

The Pope paraphrased the famous words of the fourth and fifth century bishop St. Augustine of Hippo. He noted that St. Augustine searched elsewhere in vain for truth, peace and joy before concluding that “the heart of man is restless, (and) cannot find peace and serenity until it rests in God.”

Therefore, true joy is not a “passing mood” nor “something that can be reached through its own efforts.” Instead, it is a gift “born from the encounter with the living person of Jesus.”

“In this season of Advent,” the Pope continued, “we strengthen our certainty that the Lord came among us and continually renews his consoling presence of love and joy.”

God is “closer to us than we are to ourselves,” he added, citing St. Augustine’s description of God as “more inward than my innermost and higher than my uppermost.”

After praying the Angelus with pilgrims, the Pope turned his thoughts and words to the thousands of families who had gathered in St. Peters Square for the traditional blessing of the “bambinelli,” the little statues of the baby Jesus that will take pride of place in family cribs.

“Dear children,” said the Pope, “when you pray in front of your nativity scene, remember me as well, as I remember you. Thank you and Merry Christmas!”

In response, the children cheered and released balloons and paper lanterns into the air in celebration.

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