Category Archives: Catholic Weekly

Articles written by Father Flader

What is a Synod of Bishops?

With the Synod of Bishops now meeting in Rome from October 4-25, many people are asking what a Synod is and whether it can change Catholic teaching, for example on giving Communion to people who have been divorced and are now remarried outside the Church. Here is an answer to those questions, published recently in Australian Catholic newspapers.

Can a synod change Church doctrine?

Some of my friends have expressed the belief that the October synod of bishops in Rome will allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion. Is this possible? Also, what exactly is a synod?

 The short answer to your first question is no, it is not possible. The answer to your second question will explain why.

The synod of bishops is something relatively new in the Church, having been instituted by Pope Paul VI on 15 September 1965 in the Motu Proprio Apostolica Solicitudo. A month and a half later the Second Vatican Council’s Decree Christus Dominus on the Pastoral Office of Bishops spoke of synods and referred to Pope Paul’s document in a footnote (cf. CD, n. 5).

A series of subsequent documents gave norms for synods and finally the Code of Canon Law of 1983 summarised them in canons 342-348. Canon 342 tells us what a synod is: “The synod of bishops is a group of bishops selected from different parts of the world, who meet together at specified times to promote the close relationship between the Roman Pontiff and the bishops. These bishops, by their counsel, assist the Roman Pontiff in the defence and development of faith and morals and in the preservation and strengthening of ecclesiastical discipline.” As this canon says, the bishops in a synod assist the Pope “by their counsel” in his teaching role. They do not teach in their own right.

In the following canon we find a further answer to your question: “The function of the synod of Bishops is to discuss the matters proposed to it and set forth recommendations. It is not its function to settle matters or to draw up decrees, unless the Roman Pontiff has given it deliberative power in certain cases; in this event, it rests with the Roman Pontiff to ratify the decisions of the synod” (Can. 343). Again, the bishops’ role is to recommend, not to teach.

This gathering of bishops from all over the world is convened by the Pope to discuss the proposed topic. Some of the bishops are chosen by their respective bishops’ conferences, some attend because of the office they hold in the Church, and others are nominated by the Pope. Each bishop is given an opportunity to speak for a short, specified time on any aspect of the topic he chooses. The bishops also break up into small groups, normally according to their respective languages, to discuss the question. At the end of the synod they vote on a series of propositions which reflect their views, and these are given to the Holy Father for his consideration.

After the synod some of the bishops who took part are selected to prepare a draft of a document that the Pope might use in preparing his own document on the topic. This document, customarily in the form of an Apostolic Exhortation, is issued by the Pope himself and is a form of ordinary papal magisterium.

In recent times synods have been held approximately every three years. The last one, in 2012, was on the theme of the new evangelisation and was followed by Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium in 2013. The one before that on the Word of God was held in 2008 and was followed by Pope Benedict XVI’s Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini in 2010.

The present synod will be the fourteenth ordinary general assembly of the synod of bishops. There have also been extraordinary general assemblies, like the one on the family last year to prepare for the present synod, and also special general assemblies, like those of the bishops of the larger regions of the world to prepare for the Jubilee Year 2000.

It should be remembered that the present ordinary synod on the family is not the first one on this topic. The first one was held in 1980 and was followed by Pope St John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio. In that document Pope John Paul made clear that those who are divorced and remarried civilly are to be welcomed into the life of the Church but they may not be admitted to Eucharistic Communion (cf. n. 84). Pope Francis will not change that teaching.

What we should all do is pray very much for the fruits of this important synod, which affects all of us very directly.

Is heaven real?

In these times of widespread lack of faith in God, many people wonder whether there is really life after death. I post here two answers to the question from my recent columns in Catholic newspapers. The second one relates the life-changing near-death experiences of Dr Eben Alexander, a U.S. neurosurgeon, and Gloria Polo, a Colombian orthodontist who was struck by lightning and “saw” the reality of life after death.

Is heaven real?
I have a friend who is very sceptical about life after death and would like some sort of proof that heaven is real. He says no one has ever been in heaven and come back to earth to tell us about it. What can I tell him?

When it comes to “proof” we have to be very careful. What we can give is strong arguments for the existence of life after death, but these may or may not convince the other person. It is the same with the existence of God, where in one sense his existence is staring us in the face in his wonderful work of creation, but this may not convince a sceptic or an atheist. The most convincing “proof” for the existence of life after death is arriving there and seeing that it really exists. But then it may be too late!
Coming back to your question, the following considerations may prove helpful. The first is that there are people who have been in heaven and have come to earth to tell us about it. The most important is Jesus Christ himself, who spoke often of life after death, of judgment, heaven and hell. But why should a sceptic believe that Jesus is God who has come to earth? After all, he was the son of a carpenter from Nazareth and he died crucified in Jerusalem.
Well, we have multiple testimonies about Jesus in some very ancient writings, written only some twenty or thirty years after his death. They are, of course, the Gospels. They tell us that Jesus not only claimed to be God but showed it by such remarkable feats as raising three people from the dead, curing a man born blind and prophesying his own death and resurrection, which came to pass.
St Paul too had a vision of heaven (cf. 2 Cor 12:2-4) and came back to tell us about it. He found heaven indescribably beautiful and could only write: “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9).
If the sceptic wants more recent “proof” of heaven from someone who has been there, we can tell him about Our Lady, who died in the first century and has appeared on earth numerous times since then and has brought about miracles that admit of no human explanation. One thinks of the image she left at Guadalupe in Mexico in 1531 imprinted miraculously on a cactus fibre cloak, which has baffled scientists as to its origin and preservation, not to mention some of the details on it. Or Mary’s apparitions in Fatima in 1917, where she told the three children several months beforehand that on October 13 she would work a great miracle. In fact on that day the miracle of the sun was seen by some 70,000 people. If there is no life after death or heaven, how is it that someone who died two thousand years before can appear on earth and bring about such prodigious works?
One can also speak about the numerous miracles approved by the Church, which came about in answer to prayers to deceased people. Every beatification and canonisation , with few exceptions, requires two authenticated miracles and some of these are truly remarkable. If there is no life after death, how is it that prayers to a person who no longer exists can have any effect?
And then there are the numerous testimonies of people who have died, or almost died, who have experienced the judgment and have seen heaven and hell. One of the most remarkable and well-known is that of Gloria Polo, a Colombian dentist who in May, 1995, was struck by lightning, suffered a cardiac arrest and was badly burned inside and out. She saw her lifeless body on a stretcher in the operating room. She had died in mortal sin and was taken by demons to hell to see what she deserved for her sins. Then she saw the terrible suffering of the souls in purgatory and finally her own judgment, in which she was condemned to hell. The sins that condemned her most included aiding and participating in abortion, receiving holy communion in a state of mortal sin, fortune-telling, and speaking evil of priests. She was given a second chance and came back to life on condition that she share her experience with others. She has done this all over the world and on the internet, writing her account in the book Struck by Lightning: Death, Judgment and Conversion.
Yes, there is life after death. There is a judgment, hell, purgatory and heaven and we should do everything possible to prepare ourselves for it. Now, before it is too late.

Near-death experiences
We often read of people who have seemingly died and then come back to life, who relate what they saw before they recovered. Can we take these accounts as credible evidence of life after death?

Near-death experiences are very personal and can be considered something akin to private revelations in the sense that they need not be believed by others, and they should be judged carefully on the merits of each one. Some are clearly more credible than others. Some are clearly not consistent with what the Church teaches on life after death while others present no problems.
Since even canonised saints have had visions of heaven, hell and purgatory, and some have had near-death experiences, we certainly cannot reject them out of hand. One example is that of St Josemaría Escrivá. On 27 April 1954, after suffering from a severe case of diabetes for ten years, he suddenly collapsed and appeared to have died. After ten minutes he regained consciousness and was thereafter completely cured of the diabetes, something which is medically inexplicable. While he lay there he saw his whole life pass by very quickly, as if in a film, and he was able to ask God to forgive his failings.
There are literally thousands of people who have reported similar experiences, and there are dozens of books currently available which record them. Two of the most well-known are those of Dr Eben Alexander and Dr Gloria Polo.
Dr Alexander, a neurosurgeon who has taught at various universities including Harvard Medical School, is the author of the best-selling Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife, published in 2012. In it he relates how in 2008, while in an induced coma after suffering meningitis, he was taken into a state where he experienced what we would call heaven and he encountered God. Before that experience he could not reconcile his knowledge of neuroscience with belief in God, heaven or even the soul as something different from the brain. His experience completely transformed him, and today he believes that true health can only be achieved when we acknowledge that God and the soul are real and that death is not the end of our existence but only the passage into a different form of life.
Dr Gloria Polo is a Colombian orthodontist whose life was transformed radically when she was struck by lightning in May 1995 while walking on the campus of the National University of Bogota with her 23-year old cousin, who was killed instantly. She went into cardiac arrest and her body was badly burned, both inside and out. Although she had been attending Sunday Mass, she had not been to confession since she was thirteen, she was using an intrauterine device for contraception, she had had an abortion and had paid for others to have them, and she lived a very materialistic, self-centered and ungodly life. What is more, she had told others that devils do not exist and even that God did not exist.
While her body lay on the operating table, she began to see devils coming after her and she found herself falling down a tunnel into hell, with people young and old screaming in pain and grinding their teeth. She saw that the sins that condemned her most included aiding and participating in abortion, receiving holy communion in a state of mortal sin, fortune-telling, and speaking evil of priests.
In that state, she also saw the great suffering of the souls in purgatory. Then she passed through a beautiful tunnel of light to a place of great joy and peace where she was able to embrace her deceased relatives. She also experienced her own judgment, seeing her whole life played out as in a movie with all her actions, good and bad, and the consequences of them. She understood how God regards sexual immorality, abortion and methods of contraception that cause abortions, as well as how he looked on her materialism, her excessive concern for what she wore and how she looked, and her lack of faith.
She was given a second chance in order to amend her ways and to tell others what she had experienced. She has written her account in the book Struck by Lightning: Death, Judgement and Conversion. While we are not required by the Church to believe accounts such as these, common sense tells us that we would be very foolish to ignore them.

750th anniversary of the feast of Corpus Christi

The year 2014 marks the 750th anniversary of the institution of the feast of Corpus Christi, otherwise known as the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, with its processions, Eucharistic adoration and emphasis on the Real Presence of Christ in this truly Blessed Sacrament. On this significant occasion I publish answers to questions on the topic first posted last year, plus a new answer on the history of Corpus Christi processions. They are taken from my books Question Time 1 and Question Time 2.

150. The feast of Corpus Christi

In the celebration of the Year of the Eucharist much emphasis was placed on the feast of Corpus Christi. I don’t have any problem with that because I am among those attend Eucharistic Adoration whenever I can. I was just wondering why the Church has a second feast, in addition to Holy Thursday, in honour of the Holy Eucharist.

As you say, the first feast of the Holy Eucharist is Holy Thursday, when we commemorate the institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood in the Last Supper. But because that feast is celebrated in Holy Week, in the Easter Triduum, the principal focus is the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ rather than the Eucharist itself. In part for this reason, we have another feast wholly dedicated to the Eucharist, this time emphasising the Real Presence: the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, more commonly known as Corpus Christi.

This feast owes its origin to the development of devotion to the Eucharist in the thirteenth century, and was first established in Liege, Belgium, in 1246, by Bishop Robert of Turotte. A call for the feast had been made by St Juliana of Cornillon, who in 1208 reported a vision in which she understood Jesus to be lamenting the absence of a particular feast in the Church’s calendar focused on his sacramental presence on the altar.

A key figure in the establishment of the feast for the whole Church was the archdeacon of Liege, Jacques Pantaleon. In 1261 he became Pope Urban IV and three years later he instituted the feast. The procession associated with the feast became popular in the fourteenth century and is now a traditional aspect of the celebration.

The feast owes much to the Eucharistic miracle that took place in Bolsena, Italy, in 1263. In that year a German priest, Peter of Prague, stopped at Bolsena while on a pilgrimage to Rome. He is described as being a pious priest, but one who found it difficult to believe that Christ was actually present in the consecrated host. While celebrating Mass over the tomb of St Christina in the church named for this martyr, he had barely spoken the words of consecration when blood started to seep from the consecrated host and trickle over his hands onto the altar and the corporal.

The priest was immediately filled with consternation. At first he attempted to hide the blood, but then he interrupted the Mass and asked to be taken to the neighbouring city of Orvieto, where Pope Urban IV was then residing.

The Pope listened to the priest’s account and absolved him. He then sent emissaries to conduct an investigation. When all the facts had been determined, he ordered the bishop of the diocese to bring the host and the linen cloth with the stains of blood to Orvieto. The Pope met the procession and, amid great pomp, had the relics placed in the cathedral. The linen corporal bearing the spots of blood is still on display in the cathedral of Orvieto.

It is said that Pope Urban IV was prompted by this miracle to commission St Thomas Aquinas to compose the Proper for a Mass and an Office honouring the Holy Eucharist as the Body of Christ. In any case, one year after the miracle, in August of 1264, Pope Urban IV instituted the feast of Corpus Christi. It is St Thomas’ texts that are used today for the Mass and the Divine Office.

In August of 1964, on the 700th anniversary of the institution of the feast of Corpus Christi, Pope Paul VI celebrated Holy Mass at the altar where the holy corporal is kept in its golden shrine in the cathedral of Orvieto.

271. St Juliana and the feast of Corpus Christi

In your book Question Time you mention briefly that Juliana of Cornillon had something to do with the feast of Corpus Christi. Do we know anything more about her and her role in the feast?

As you say, when I wrote about Juliana in my book Question Time I ( q. 150), I mentioned that she had had a vision in which Jesus lamented the lack of a feast dedicated to the Blessed Sacrament. But there is much more, and the story of her life and her role in the institution of the feast is fascinating.

St Juliana of Liège, also known as St Juliana of Mt Cornillon, was born near Liège in Belgium in 1193. From her early childhood she had great devotion to the Blessed Eucharist. At the age of five, she and her sister Agnes were orphaned and entrusted to the care of the Augustinian nuns of the convent of Mont Cornillon, just outside Liège. There they worked for many years in the leprosarium run by the nuns.

When she was thirteen Juliana entered the Augustinians and went on to become the Superior of the convent. At the age of sixteen she had a vision of the Church under the full moon with a dark spot on it. She was given to understand that the spot signified the absence of a special feast in honour of the Blessed Sacrament. In a later vision Our Lord explained that he desired a separate feast in honour of the Eucharist, since at that time the only celebration was on Holy Thursday, when the Church considered especially his sufferings. He told her that he wanted the feast for three reasons: to confirm people’s faith in the Real Presence, to strengthen them in virtue by their love and adoration for the Eucharist, and to make reparation for the lack of respect shown to the Blessed Sacrament.

Jesus entrusted Juliana with the mission of promoting the new feast. Naturally, she felt frightened at the thought and kept the whole matter secret for many years, wanting to ensure that this was truly the will of God and not just her own imagination. The vision was repeated over the next twenty years and finally in 1230, when Juliana was elected Mother Superior, she confided the secret to her confessor, Canon John of Lausanne. He was Canon of St Martin’s basilica and had a great love for the Eucharist himself. He explained the idea to numerous theologians and bishops, many of whom received it warmly. Among them was Jacques Pantaleon, the Archdeacon of Liège, who later became Bishop of Verdun, then Patriarch of Jerusalem and finally in 1261 Pope, taking the name of Urban IV.

It was the Dominican Bishop of Liège, Robert Turotte, who, after some hesitation, accepted the proposal of St Juliana and in 1246 instituted the feast of the Blessed Sacrament in his diocese. It was to be celebrated on the Thursday after the feast of the Blessed Trinity. Other bishops later did the same in their own dioceses. When St Juliana died in 1258, the feast was not yet extended throughout the world, but a good friend of hers, St Eve, a nun at St Martin’s, took it upon herself to carry on where St Juliana left off. She persuaded the new Bishop of Liège to write to the Holy Father, Pope Urban IV, asking him to extend the feast to the whole Church. A few more years passed until the great Eucharistic miracle of Bolsena took place in 1263. The miracle was reported to Pope Urban who was residing in nearby Orvieto, and the following year he instituted the feast of Corpus Christi for the whole Church.

In his address on St Juliana on 17 November 2010, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the importance of Eucharistic devotion: “Joyfully I wish to affirm that there is a ‘Eucharistic springtime’ in the Church today. How many people remain in silence before the Tabernacle sustaining a dialogue of love with Jesus! It is consoling to know that many groups of young people have rediscovered the beauty of prayer and adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. I pray that this ‘Eucharistic springtime’ may become increasingly widespread in parishes, and especially in Belgium, homeland of St Juliana”.

270. Corpus Christi processions

Can you tell me something about the history of Corpus Christi processions? I am delighted that Sydney once again has an annual procession and I would like to know more about how they came into existence.

The processions have a long history, and it is very much related to the institution of the feast of Corpus Christi in the thirteenth century. As you may recall from one of my earlier columns, (cf. J. Flader, Question Time I, q. 150), the feast was instituted in 1264 by Pope Urban IV following the Eucharistic miracle the previous year in Bolsena, Italy.

A priest who had doubts about the Real Presence was saying Mass in Bolsena, and had just pronounced the words of Consecration when blood started to seep from the host and trickle down over his hands onto the altar and the corporal. The priest interrupted the Mass and went to the nearby city of Orvieto, where Pope Urban was then residing, and told him what had happened. The Pope sent representatives to Bolsena to conduct an investigation. When this was concluded, he asked the bishop of the diocese to bring the host and the blood-stained corporal in procession to Orvieto. The Pope met the procession with great pomp and ceremony, and had the relics placed in the cathedral, where they are still on display today. This is undoubtedly the origin of the tradition of holding Eucharistic processions on the feast of Corpus Christi.

In any case, some 50 years later in 1311 Pope Clement V made Corpus Christi a feast for the universal Church, to be celebrated on the Thursday following the feast of the Blessed Trinity, and he declared that the celebration of the feast was to include a procession with the Blessed Sacrament. The processions soon became popular all over Europe. There are abundant records of the processions in England, for example, from the fourteenth century on, with the earliest recorded procession taking place in 1318. The Blessed Sacrament was carried beneath a canopy, often with rose petals strewn on the ground as the procession passed.

Numerous artworks throughout the Middle Ages depict the Corpus Christi procession. Corpus Christi plays soon came to be a traditional part of the procession. At first presented as pageants without spoken words, they later came to have actors speaking their respective parts. They were an important means of instruction in the faith for a people who were largely illiterate. The plays were produced by the various craft and merchant guilds of the town under the auspices of the Church and they depicted events from the Old and New Testaments. The whole town was involved, either in the production itself or as spectators, and visitors came from far and wide to see the plays and the procession.

The plays were performed in different ways. A common way involved a pageant presented on a moving horse-drawn wagon, similar to the floats in modern parades. The spectators could then stay in one place and watch the Blessed Sacrament pass, accompanied by the various wagons with their pageants. Another way was for the plays to be presented in different places along the route, requiring the procession to halt for the duration of each play. Later, in order not to delay the procession unduly, the plays were presented after the procession had passed. The spectators then moved from one location to the next in order to see all the plays. The texts of four different cycles of English pageants still exist, the York cycle comprising 48 plays totalling some 13 hours, and the Wakefield cycle 32 plays.

In Spain the feast of Corpus Christi was celebrated as early as 1280 in Toledo, and 1282 in Seville. It came to include magnificent processions, with the Blessed Sacrament carried beneath a canopy, accompanied by garlands of flowers, flags, banners and tapestries, with gun and flag salutes and sometimes fireworks, music and dances. From Spain the celebrations were taken early on to the New World. So what is now regaining popularity all over the world as a way of celebrating the feast of Corpus Christi has a history of some seven centuries.

 

 

Mary, Help of Christians

The feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians, which we celebrate on May 24, has a very interesting history. Here is my answer to a question on it, from my book Question Time 1. 

129. Mary, Help of Christians

I am happy when we celebrate each year the feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians on May 24. But I have always wondered why we make so much of this feast, which does not celebrate a great event in the life as Mary as do, for example, the feasts of the Divine Maternity of Mary, the Annunciation, the Assumption or the Immaculate Conception. Could you please explain why this feast is so important?

You ask a very good question, and the answer goes back a long way. I shall endeavour to answer it succinctly.

The title “Help of Christians” is an old one that forms part of the Litany of Loreto, which is often said after the Rosary. The Litany has its origin in Marian litanies in the early Middle Ages. In 1558 it was published as “The Litany of Loreto” by St Peter Canisius, and it was approved by Pope Sixtus V in 1587.

In 1571, Pope St Pius V asked the Church to pray the Rosary to Our Lady, under the title Help of Christians, for success in the battle that the Christian navy, under the command of Don Juan of Austria, was waging in the Mediterranean against the Turkish navy. It should be remembered that Constantinople had fallen to the Turks in 1453 and, with control of the Mediterranean, the Turks were threatening Rome itself. Although heavily outnumbered, the Christian navy defeated the Turks in a hard-fought battle in the Gulf of Lepanto, off Greece, on October 7, 1571. The following year the Pope instituted a feast in honour of Our Lady on October 7, first called “Our Lady of Victories” and later “Our Lady of the Rosary”.

In 1683, when Vienna was besieged by the Ottoman Turks, Pope Innocent XI asked the Church to pray the Rosary to Our Lady, again under the title of Help of Christians. The battle against overwhelming odds began on September 8, when the Church celebrates Our Lady’s birthday, and it ended successfully four days later, on the feast of the Holy Name of Mary. Thereafter, the military might of the Turks was no longer a threat to Christendom.

In 1804 Napoleon Bonaparte was proclaimed Emperor of France and began to persecute the Church. Pope Pius VII excommunicated him, but in 1809 Napoleon entered the Vatican, arrested the Pope and carried him off in chains to Fontainebleau where he was held prisoner for five years. The Pope managed to communicate to the Church his request for everyone to pray to Our Lady, Help of Christians for his release, promising Our Lady that he would institute a feast in her honour if the prayers were answered. Once again, with the help of the Rosary, the Pope’s wishes were granted. On the 24th May 1814, Napoleon abdicated and on that very day the Pope returned to Rome. As his first official act he proclaimed the feast of Mary, Help of Christians, to be celebrated on the 24th May.

In 1844 the first Provincial Synod of the bishops of Australia, held in Sydney, proclaimed Mary, Help of Christians, the principal patroness of Australia. For that reason the feast has great prominence in this country, and is celebrated as a Solemnity, the highest category of feast.

Australia’s mother church, St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney, is dedicated to Mary the Immaculate, Help of Christians.

So there is much history behind the feast and every reason to thank Our Lady, Help of Christians, for her loving and powerful care for the Church, both the universal Church and the Church in Australia.

Alleluia

Now that we are in the Easter season and saying “Alleluia” very often, many people wonder what this word actually means. Here is an answer from one of my columns in Catholic newspapers. It is question 268 in my book Question Time 2. 

The word “Alleluia”, sometimes spelled “Halleluia” or “Halleluja”, means essentially “Praise the Lord” or “Hail the one who is”. It is made up of the Hebrew verb for praise (“Allelu”) and the proper name of God, “the One who is” (“ia”), as in the name Yahweh. The latter recalls the answer God gave when Moses asked him for his name: “I am who I am”, Yahweh (Ex 3:14). The word “ia” is thus not the generic name for God, but the specific name for the God who revealed himself to the Israelites as “I am”.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church comments on the name of God: “In revealing his mysterious name, YHWH (‘I AM HE WHO IS’, or ‘I AM WHO I AM’), God says who he is and by what name he is to be called. This divine name is mysterious just as God is mystery… God, who reveals his name as ‘I AM’, reveals himself as the God who is always there, present to his people in order to save them” (CCC 206-207).

The expression “Alleluia”, incorporating this specific divine name, is found in the Old Testament in several places. For example, in the Book of Tobias we read: “The gates of Jerusalem will sing hymns of joy, and all her houses will cry, ‘Hallelujah! Blessed be the God of Israel!’ and the blessed will bless the holy name forever and ever” (Tob 13:17). The English translation used here renders “ia” as “the God of Israel”. And it is clear that “Hallelujah” is a cry of praise, of great rejoicing, of blessing God’s holy name.

The expression appears again at the beginning and end of Psalm 113, or in other versions of the Bible such as the Vulgate or Septuagint, at the beginning of Psalm 114. At the end of that psalm we find: “He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the LORD!” (Ps 113:9) Again, the expression “Praise the Lord”, or “Halleluja”, comes at a time of particular rejoicing, when a barren woman has conceived a child. The expression “Praise the Lord” comes as the last verse of the so-called “Hallel” psalms, or psalms of praise: Psalms 113-118. It also occurs frequently in Psalms 146-150 at the end of the psalter.

In the New Testament, “Hallelujah” occurs only in the Book of Revelation, in the description of the praise given to God in the heavenly liturgy. For example, “After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, ‘Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power to our God, for his judgments are true and just…’” (Rev 19:1-2). The expression comes several more times in the same chapter, including: “Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunderpeals, crying out, ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready…’” (Rev 19:6-7).

As we see in these texts, “Alleluia” or “Hallelujah” is always used as a hymn of praise of almighty God in the context of worship and great rejoicing. It was used in the Hebrew liturgy and it was incorporated untranslated into the very earliest Christian liturgical texts. For Christians, especially at Easter time, the word takes on the added meaning of a hymn of praise to God for the glorious Resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ. “Alleluia” is thus our supreme expression of rejoicing, praise and thanksgiving. We should unite our hearts and minds with our lips when we pronounce this word, lifting up our hearts in exultant praise of God.

St Augustine sums it up: “So now, my brethren, I urge you to praise God: this is what we all say to one another when we say Alleluia. ‘Praise the Lord,’ you say to the one you are addressing, and he says the same to you; and by urging one another in this way, people do what they are urging the other to do. Praise God with the whole of yourselves; it is not only your tongue and your voice that should praise him, but your conscience your life, your deeds” (On Psalm 148, 1-2).

The “hour” of Christ

At the wedding feast of Cana Jesus told his mother that his hour had not yet come. As he approaches his death on the Cross he reveals that his hour has come. What exactly is this “hour”? I post here a recent column of mine in answer to this question.

 The “hour” of Jesus appears frequently in the Gospel of John, the first time in the passage you cite at the wedding feast of Cana. When Mary tells Jesus that the wine has run out he answers: “My hour has not yet come” (Jn 2:4). Clearly his “hour” does not refer to the manifestation of his divinity in general, since he will manifest it moments later when he works his first miracle, changing water into wine.

The Greek word used for hour in most of these passages is ora, which is properly translated as hour. Another word Jesus uses is kairos, meaning more exactly time. For example, Jesus tells his disciples “Go to the feast yourselves; I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come” (Jn 7:8). Even though he uses a different word, it is clear that his meaning is very similar to that when he spoke to his mother at Cana.

Later in that same chapter, St John himself says: “So they sought to arrest him; but no one laid hands on him, because his hour had not yet come” (Jn 7:30). The same idea of no one arresting him because his hour had not yet come appears again in the next chapter (cf. Jn 8:20).

As his final Passover approaches and after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, Jesus reveals something of the content of his hour when he tells his disciples: “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified” (Jn 12:23). A few lines later he clarifies it even further: “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name” (Jn 12:27-28). So his hour involves his own glorification but at the same time some element of suffering.

Pope John Paul II comments on this passage: “With these words Jesus reveals the inner drama that is oppressing his soul in view of his approaching sacrifice. He has the possibility of asking the Father that this terrible trial might pass. On the other hand, he does not wish to flee from this painful destiny: ‘For this purpose I have come’. He has come to offer the sacrifice that will bring salvation to humanity” (Address, 14 Jan. 1998).

The aspect of suffering is further borne out when Jesus compares his own hour to that of a woman in labour: “When a woman is in labour, she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she is delivered of the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a child is born into the world” (Jn 16:21). The hour of Jesus too involves pain but also new life. In his long priestly prayer in the Last Supper, Jesus repeats the idea of giving life. He says to the Father: “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him power over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him” (Jn 17:1).

What do we glean from all this? That Jesus’ hour involves his glorification brought about by his painful death on the cross and his Resurrection, through which he gives eternal life to all mankind. It is the culmination, the fulfilment of the whole purpose of his becoming man: to redeem us by his death and Resurrection. “For this purpose I have come to this hour.”

But, paradoxically, Jesus’ hour is also the hour of his enemies. He says to the chief priests and captains of the temple when they come to arrest him in the Garden of Gethsemane: “This is your hour, and the power of darkness” (Lk 22:53). In this hour, which is so crucial for mankind, the forces of darkness, of evil, of Satan rally together to do battle with God and somehow try to thwart his plan. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes it dramatically: “It is precisely in the Passion, when the mercy of Christ is about to vanquish it, that sin most clearly manifests its violence and its many forms: unbelief, murderous hatred, shunning and mockery by the leaders and the people, Pilate’s cowardice and the cruelty of the soldiers, Judas’ betrayal – so bitter to Jesus, Peter’s denial and the disciples’ flight. However, at the very hour of darkness, the hour of the prince of this world, the sacrifice of Christ secretly becomes the source from which the forgiveness of our sins will pour forth inexhaustibly” (CCC 1851).

We give thanks to Jesus for going through with his hour to free us from our sins.