Behold, The Lamb of God: Easter Vigil 2019

On April 20, 1986, I made my first Communion as a second-grader at my home parish in Parma, Ohio at St. Anthony of Padua.

Thirty-three years later, here at my new hometown of Plymouth, Michigan, at Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church I was blessed to attend our Easter Vigil and was honored to be a sponsor to an engaged couple. I also witnessed 31 other individuals (yes 33 people entered the Catholic Church at our parish; God is so good!) enter into full communion of the Catholic Church, after spending the past 8 months meeting every week for their RCIA classes.

This was only my second Easter Vigil and it was absolutely hands down, one of the most amazing experiences EVER. 

The choir, the music, the decor, the baptisms, the readings, the rituals, the prayers, the homily, the candles, the fire, the crowd, the incense. As one of our  teenage candidates said, “It didn’t feel like 4 hours.”

As soon as it was over I wanted to start it all over again! And as our pastor said to the newly initiated – They know more being Catholic than anyone else – because they made a point to learn, to ask questions, to seek the answers and it led them to the fullness of Truth.

33 years after making my first communion, I have a much deeper appreciation for our faith, due in large part to the friends I’ve made here who are converts, as well as taking the initiative to learn and study and ask questions. It’s been remarkable living here and attending this awesome parish for the past 21 months.

OLGC records everything so luckily, I’ve been able to re-live the entire Holy Week all over again. You can watch the Vigil in it’s entirety here, but before you click, allow me to share what I think, are some of the more moving and particularly special moments of the night:

Do you feel the world is broken? (We do)
Do you feel the shadows deepen? (We do)
But do you know that all the dark won’t stop the light from getting through? (We do)
Do you wish that you could see it all made new? (We do)
Is all creation groaning? (It is)
Is a new creation coming? (It is)
Is the glory of the Lord to be the light within our midst? (It is)
Is it good that we remind ourselves of this? (It is)
Is anyone worthy? Is anyone whole?
Is anyone able to break the seal and open the scroll?
The Lion of Judah who conquered the grave
He is David’s root and the Lamb who died to ransom the slave
Is He worthy? Is He worthy
Of all blessing and honor and glory?
Is He worthy of this?
He is

 

I’m still on a high from it all. I think when you witness such a grand event, when you truly start to “get it,” and understand what Jesus did on that cross, it brings you to tears.

As it should.

Happy Easter Season everyone!

All the Alleluia’s – Daily Mass Project Holy Week Edition

I may have set the bar a tad too high this past week. I had all the intentions of attending 5 different parishes during the week but it just. didn’t. happen. But instead of sitting here feeling pity for myself, I am REJOICING (see what I did there?) in the fact that I DID attend some beautiful services this past week. The message was clear: It’s about HIM, not a project. So I took the pressure off myself and tried my best to be in the moment of Holy Week as best as I could. Enjoy!

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St. Joan of Arc – Chagrin Falls – Monday April 10th 8am

Celebrant: Fr. Gary J. Malin, Pastor

Gospel: JN 12:1-11

Holy Moments: Heard a different Penitential Act than the usual “I confess…” In fact, this was the third or fourth time hearing this version and I finally understand what everyone is saying:

Priest: Have mercy on us, O Lord.

People: For we have sinned against you.

Priest: Show us, O Lord, your mercy.

People: And grant us your salvation.

I get the feeling this is an older version because I have been hearing it at more traditional parishes, although I could be wrong? I’m sure one of my super Catholic readers will comment and tell me for sure.

Homily Reflection: The Gospel was about Mary who anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive oil. Judas makes the comment that it could have been sold and given to the poor. Fr. Gary mentioned that anointing takes a special place in our Church. We anoint the sick, the newly baptised, the confirmed, and use the oil during ordination of holy orders. Our oils are called “chrism” which is named after Christ. This week begins Holy Week. It’s not called Holy just because we label it that way. It’s holy because it’s who we are called to be. More like Christ. We are reminded, especially because of the Coptic Christians recently martyred in Egypt, of this call to holiness. Their blood splattered on the walls reminds us of the one who’s blood was splattered for us.

Bonus Material: Upon leaving the Church, my eye caught this:

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Anything TOB catches my eye so I was pretty jazzed this morning to see this. (For information on how to subscribe to Catholic Update, visit their website: http://www.liguori.org/god-s-gift-to-us.html


Church of the Holy Angels – Good Friday and the Easter Vigil

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In case it’s not obvious from the forthcoming bragging, this is MY parish that I’ve belonged to since moving back to Cleveland in the fall of 2009.  I officially joined in the summer of 2010 and continue to tell everyone I know, that “Yes I do in fact belong to a parish 25 miles from my house. Why? Ummm….because it’s awesome!? That’s why.”

How about that Paschal Candle? Is that not beautiful? Our TEENS make that candle. TEENS! How awesome to attend mass and every time you see the candle you can say, “I helped MAKE that!”

Friday Morning Prayer – I couldn’t make it to the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Thursday night so after beating myself up for missing it, I made sure to attend Friday mornings prayer service. This was just Morning prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours but it was so nice to say the prayers of the Church in an actual group instead of by myself as I so often do. We sang a few verses of Were you there, when they crucified my Lord, which ALWAYS makes me tear up. How can you sing that and not get the least bit emotional?

Good Friday – Communion Service – The one day of the year when we don’t celebrate mass.

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What a service! The homily was beyond fantastic and I told my buddy Deacon (soon to be priest) Anthony that he knocked it out of the park. I will just share a few lines from it:

His Love for YOU is just as real & passionate today as it was at that moment of His Ultimate Final Sacrifice.

Know, there is NOTHING we can do that will sway Christ’s Love for us.

Jesus wants us to know that This Act of Love Was Personal

When we kiss and touch the cross in just a moment, we are venerating the place & time when Jesus took His final vows to lay down His life for us and love us until the end of time. Let’s take a moment together to gaze upon the cross. To see Love in it, and not stop looking UNTIL ALL we see is Love…then Keep Looking.

There was also stellar chanting by Dcn. Anthony as the cross was processed in. It was probably one of the best services I’ve ever attended at my parish. I just felt such respect and awe and wonder at what Jesus has done on the cross for all of us. I finally had that Holy moment of holy week that I think I was waiting for. Prior to it I think I was just so focused on tasks that needed to be done and appointments that needed to be kept and the overall business of life that somehow made me forget what I should have been focused on.

Easter Vigil

Speaking of awe and wonder, there’s nothing like the Mother of All Vigils, is there? I only recall attending a few Easter Vigil services as a kid. I’m sure our parents didn’t think we could handle such a long service without being bored or acting out. So I only vividly recall one where people were submerged in the baptismal font at my childhood parish. I don’t think I quite understood that an adult could be baptized. I remember thinking, “But aren’t all babies baptized? Did their parents just forget to take them?” I was clearly very naive to the real world.

The Holiest of Holy Moments: The entire liturgy is a holy moment! The music, the candlelight, the readings and the outstanding job by all the lectors. There’s so much I could write about but for me, personally, my favorite part was seeing someone I got to know become initiated in the Church.

I volunteered as a Catechist for our RCIC (Rite of Christian Initiation for Children) program where we had one lovely little girl named Aurora. She was an absolute delight to teach. I only had a few lessons with her but each time she was engaged and eager to learn and had quite the entertaining remarks to make which threw me for a loop at times. She made things interesting, as any 9 year old would. 🙂  It felt good to see someone enter into the Church and to know that in some very small way, I helped.

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Although I had high hopes of attending more than just two Churches during this past Holy Week, I know it’s not about how many places I get to. It’s pretty obvious that unless I clone myself, there’s not way I can possibly get to all of the churches by January. But that’s alright. I’m still amazed at the amount of comments and messages I get from all of you saying how much you enjoy following along. That’s motivating in itself for me to keep it going as long as I am able.

*A few folks have asked if they could donate money to the DMP to help me finish this, and while I am totally humbled and thankful for the requests, I don’t see how I can possibly accept money for doing this. If you’d like to make a donation, I would request you make it to The Prodigal Father. I love volunteering for Fr. Denk’s ministry and I’d feel better if any extra money you have could go towards his efforts. Simply put “Michelle from the Daily Mass Project sent me!” or something to that effect in the “Message” window so he knows who sent you. He has a lot to offer in return for your donation whereas I don’t have anything to offer except my thanks and prayers of gratitude. 🙂

Next blog post: Church of the Resurrection in Solon, St. Mathias in Broadview Heights and St. Albert the Great in North Royalton.

Matthew’s Mystery

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Today is Palm Sunday when we hear the Lord’s Passion from the Gospel of Matthew.

I can remember going to Palm Sunday Mass as a kid and getting a little antsy while listening to the priest and narrator recite the Gospel. I always followed along in the missal so I could chime in during the “Crowd” responses. It was always really awkward and pretty devastating to shout, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” as a middle schooler. I always had it in the back of my mind to ask, “Why didn’t they crucify that Barrabas guy instead?” I hadn’t quite grasped the meaning of the Passion.

More recently, I hear the passion and I think of the movie The Passion of the Christ. I read the one line, “and they had him scourged,” and quickly think back to that 30 minute scene in the movie. That gut-wrenching, violent, emotionally wrecking scene. And it’s just one sentence in the Gospel.

Another set of verses that startles me, and I don’t think I EVER noticed it until I was narrating it today at Mass:

And behold, the veil of the sanctuary
was torn in two from top to bottom.
The earth quaked, rocks were split, tombs were opened,
and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised.
And coming forth from their tombs after his resurrection,
they entered the holy city and appeared to many.

Ummm…WHAT???

After more than 30 Palm Sunday Masses and I just *now* decided to pay attention to these few verses??

I decided to go to a book called Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture: The Gospel of Matthew by Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri to see just what in the heck Matthew is talking about here. Because you would have to assume, if we are talking about people OTHER than Jesus being resurrected and walking around, I think I want to know about it.

Here is the commentary direct from the book, for people as curious, or as crazy, as me:

 The most mysterious apocalyptic occurrence is the opening of the tombs and many saints being raised, which for Matthew highlights how Jesus’ death makes the resurrection of others possible. The “many saints” refers to the righteous Jews who had fallen asleep, a metaphor for death. Matthew reports that they were raised from the dead and entered the holy city of Jerusalem, appearing to many. Matthew leaves many questions unanswered in his account of this extraordinary event: the identity of the saints, what kind of bodies they possessed, the duration of their stay in Jerusalem, what happened to them after their appearance. A few points of theological significance can be noted. First, Matthew notes they came out of their tombs after Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus, “the first born from the dead” and the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” is the basis for their resurrection as well as ours. Matthew, however, mentions this extraordinary event in the context of the crucifixion scene in order to make the theological point that Jesus’ death imparts life to others.

Some scholars think these details are merely fictional means by which Matthew indicates the significance of Jesus’ death. Yet however mysterious this account may be, it is not the kind of story one would have invented, since there is no record of anyone in first-century Judaism expecting the Old Testament prophecies about resurrection to be fulfilled quite like this. For the Jews, resurrection involved not the rising of one or many, but the general resurrection of all God’s faithful people. Matthew, therefore, would have had no reason to insert into his Gospel this surprising account about some faithful Jews being raised unless witnesses in Jerusalem actually reported the event.

And I suppose that’s as good of an answer as we’ll get.

It’s been suggested by many to watch The Passion of the Christ in preparation for Holy Week. After watching it the other day, I realized something that I haven’t thought about in years. Whenever I was asked as a teenager/younger adult that curious question of:

“If you could go back in time and witness a historical event, which one would you choose?” I always responded with “The crucifixion.”  At first I thought I gave this answer because I had doubt on my heart if this ever happened. But as I reflected on it more I came to the conclusion that I’ve always been attracted to the cross. I think I was naturally drawn to this event because I wanted to maybe join Him on there. Not for attention or to be the Savior. I think I just wanted to be near Him. Interesting that I didn’t answer that witness question with “That time Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead,” or “Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem.”  Nope. I chose the most violent event ever recorded in history to witness.  Another mystery…

Concluding this little post with some wise words from a sermon by St. Andrew of Crete:

“Let us go together to meet Christ on the Mount of Olives. Today he returns from Bethany and proceeds of his own free will towards his holy and blessed passion, to consummate the mystery of our salvation…Let us run to accompany him as he hastens toward Jerusalem, and imitate those who met him then, not by covering his path with garments, olive branches or palms, but by doing all we can to prostrate ourselves before him by being humble and by trying to live as he would wish. Then we shall be able to receive the Word at his coming, and God, whom no limits can contain, will be within us.”


The Daily Mass Project will be in full effect on the eastern suburbs of Cleveland, specifically St. Joan of Arc, St. Rita’s, my own parish of Holy Angels, Church of the Resurrection, and St. Anselm.

Christ-Centered Suffering

1 Peter 3:18-22

Beloved:
Christ suffered for sins once,
the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous,
that he might lead you to God.
Put to death in the flesh,
he was brought to life in the Spirit.
In it he also went to preach to the spirits in prison,
who had once been disobedient
while God patiently waited in the days of Noah
during the building of the ark,
in which a few persons, eight in all,
were saved through water.
This prefigured baptism, which saves you now.
It is not a removal of dirt from the body
but an appeal to God for a clear conscience,
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
who has gone into heaven
and is at the right hand of God,
with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him.

Fit in Your Faith Today: Focus on the words in bold and let them assure you of Christ’s love for you. Although we are unrighteous, we are saved through our baptism and the fact that Christ died for our sins. Our lives on earth are not easy; we suffer, we sin, we seek repentance and we ask for forgiveness constantly. It’s a process, but as long as we believe and worship our Savior, we can be assured our suffering is only temporary.

Hunger For God

Isaiah 58:6-9

This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
Your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer,
you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!

This reading from Isaiah was read during Friday (yesterday) mass. It’s a good reminder to all of us what true fasting is. And what God wanted and sees as hungering for Him. It’s not just fasting from food or our favorite snack. No, it’s also clothing the naked when you see them, sharing your food with those who are truly hungry and in need, fasting from unjust practices, and abstaining from a particular bad habit that you might have.

Fit In Your Faith This Lent: Get creative with your fasting this Lent. Maybe one day you fast from social media, another day you fast from keeping that extra change and giving it to the homeless man sitting outside the grocery store, and perhaps one day you fast from gossiping about others. There are many ways you can Hunger For God, and not just with your empty stomach.

 

The Best Quotes About Lent

The practice of Lent

Matthew 6:1 Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.”

Pope Benedict XVI: “Lent is like a long ‘retreat’ during which we can turn back into ourselves and listen to the voice of God, in order to defeat the temptations of the Evil One. It is a period of spiritual ‘combat’ which we must experience alongside Jesus, not with pride and presumption, but using the arms of faith: prayer, listening to the word of God and penance. In this way we will be able to celebrate Easter in truth, ready to renew the promises of our Baptism.”

Mother Teresa: “As Lent is the time for greater love, listen to Jesus’ thirst…’Repent and believe’ Jesus tells us. What are we to repent? Our indifference, our hardness of heart. What are we to believe? Jesus thirsts even now, in your heart and in the poor — He knows your weakness. He wants only your love, wants only the chance to love you.”

Pope Francis: “Live your Lent as if there is no Easter.”

“No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.” – John Chrysostom

Fr. Robert Barron: “Jesus, having resisted these temptations from the devil in the desert for 40 days, is now ready to make God the center of His life. This, too, is our purpose during Lent.”

Prayer:

Matthew: 6: 5-6 “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Martin Luther: “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.”

Paul E. Billheimer: “Satan does not care how many people read about prayer if only he can keep them from praying.

Various Priests and Deacons: “Pray in your car, it’s the perfect setting. You’re alone, you’re forced to slow down when you’re stuck in traffic. Begin a conversation with God right there.”

St John Damascene: “Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God.”

Fasting:

Matthew 6:16 “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Pope Francis suggests we fast from indifference to others:  “Indifference to our neighbor and to God also represents a real temptation for us Christians. Each year during Lent we need to hear once more the voice of the prophets who cry out and trouble our conscience.”

Fr. Robert Barron: “The pleasures of the body sometimes dominate and take over – so we fast from them purposely so as to allow the deeper hungers to arise and emerge.”

John Piper, Author of A Hunger For God: “Christian fasting, at its root, is the hunger of a homesickness for God.”

Almsgiving:

Matthew 6: 2-4 “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Father Robert Barron: We all have too many material things. Here are 3 ways you can express almsgiving:

  • When you receive something in the mail and it is requesting money, donate to that cause.
  • If you see a homeless person who asks you for money, give them something (does not have to be money).
  • When you want to buy something, take a look at what you would consider your first choice. Then buy the model or the version just beneath it/less expensive than your top choice. Use the money that’s the difference between those two and give it to the poor.

Mike Aquilina – Catholic Education Resource Center: Almsgiving is a form of prayer because it is “giving to God” — and not mere philanthropy. It is a form of fasting because it demands sacrificial giving — not just giving something, but giving up something, giving till it hurts.

Book of Tobit 12:8-9: “Prayer and fasting are good, but better than either is almsgiving accompanied by righteousness … It is better to give alms than to store up gold; for almsgiving saves one from death and expiates every sin. Those who regularly give alms shall enjoy a full life.”

Fit in Your Faith Today (and this Lenten Season): Practice the 3 aspects of Lent – Perhaps you take just one a day. Which one do you need the most help with? Do you find that you aren’t giving to the poor enough when it’s NOT Lent? Work on how you can give to those less fortunate, even if it’s not monetarily.

Do you go about your day skipping prayers and forgetting to give thanks to God? Arise every morning with a short prayer of thanksgiving.

What do you have too much of that you can fast from this Lent? It could be food, it could be social media, or it could be a certain bad behavior/habit you have been meaning to cease.

Is 46 days too much to ask to abstain and use that time/energy/money on something for your community of fellow Christians? Start your Lent off on the right foot and start a calendar or write down in a journal how and what you’re going to accomplish this Lent. At Easter, note how closer you have come to putting God first in your life.