Tag Archives: St Augustine

Love for the Blessed Trinity

We pray to the one God and we sometimes relate to each of the divine Persons individually but how often do we consider the great mystery of the three Persons in one God, the Blessed Trinity? In this meditation we consider:

  • An argument of Fray Luis of Granada on how God communicates his infinite goodness in the Blessed Trinity
  • The indwelling of the three Divine Persons in our soul
  • St Augustine’s search for God outside himself when God was present within him
  • St Elizabeth of the Trinity’s beautiful prayer to the Blessed Trinity
  • St Gregory of Nazianzus’ entrusting of the Profession of Faith to catechumens in Constantinople
  • Simple and practical ways we can be more aware of the Blessed Trinity in our lives

Christ our Light

Resurrection of Christ

Christ’s resurrection on the first Easter Sunday

At a time of much spiritual darkness and evil in the world, the light of the risen Christ at Easter brings light and hope to all. In this meditation we consider:

  • Christ’s resurrection and appearance to Mary Magdalene
  • The risen Christ has overcome the world
  • We have received the light at Baptism but can lose it through sin
  • We should return to the light through confession and help others to do so
  • We should keep our light burning and make it grow ever more brightly
  • We should share our light with many others

Meditation “Blessed the merciful”

The parable of the prodigal son is mercy perosnified.

A great example of mercy is the parable of the prodigal son.

Now that the Jubilee Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis has begun, it is good to meditate on this important virtue so that we can discover new and better ways to live it out in our daily lives. In this meditation we will consider:

  • How God is merciful to us
  • What the Scriptures say about mercy
  • The nature of mercy
  • Why it is so important that we live mercy ourselves
  • The seven corporal works of mercy
  • The seven spiritual works of mercy

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 origin of Lent

We are now in the great season of Lent and we all have a general idea of what it is about. But how many know the history of this season and how the practice has changed over the years? I post here one of my columns in the Catholic Weekly on the topic, taken from my book Question Time 1. 

143. The origin of Lent

I have always been curious to know the origin of Lent. For example, where does the name come from and for how long has the Church been celebrating it?

The name Lent comes from the Anglo-Saxon word Lencten, meaning springtime. The application of that name to our season of preparation for Easter is undoubtedly due to the fact that Lent is celebrated in Spring in the northern hemisphere. Nonetheless, it remains an appropriate name since, if Lent is lived well, it represents a true springtime, a new growth, in the spiritual life.

The celebration of Lent goes back to the very beginnings of the Church. In fact, St Leo the Great in the fifth century speaks of it having been instituted by the apostles. Traditionally, it has always been lived with a greater attention to the life of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. In the first three centuries the period of fasting was limited to one or two days, or a week at most. The first mention of 40 days was in the ecumenical Council of Nicaea (325), but by the end of the fourth century the custom was widespread in both East and West. The number of 40 days is obviously taken from Christ’s 40 days of fasting and prayer before beginning his public life.

As regards the symbolism, St Augustine writes that the season of Lent symbolises this present life on earth, with its trials and tribulations, and the season of Easter symbolises the joys of the life to come.

In the East, the period of fasting was spread over seven weeks, with both Saturday and Sunday exempt from fasting, whereas in the West the period was six weeks, with Sundays exempt, leaving only 36 days of fasting. It was in the seventh century in the West that Lent was begun four days earlier, on Ash Wednesday, so that there would be 40 days of fasting as there are today. Sundays are not included in the 40 days.

From the fifth century on, the fast was very strict. Only one meal was allowed, toward evening. Meat was not allowed, even on Sundays. Flesh meat and fish, and in most places eggs and dairy products were absolutely forbidden. This is still the case in the Eastern tradition, where no vertebrates or products of vertebrates may be eaten, ruling out meat, fish, eggs, cheese, milk, etc.

Over time the rules of fasting gradually evolved. Eventually, a smaller meal was allowed during the day to keep up one’s strength for manual labour. Eating fish was allowed, and later eating meat was also allowed through the week except on Ash Wednesday and Fridays. Dispensations were given for eating dairy products if a pious work was performed, and eventually this rule was relaxed altogether. However, the abstinence from even dairy products led to the practice of blessing Easter eggs and eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday.

Before the Second Vatican Council, adults fasted on all the 40 days of Lent, eating only one full meal and two smaller meals, and they abstained from meat on Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays of Lent. At present in Australia the required penance has been reduced to fasting and abstinence from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Meat may be eaten on the other Fridays of Lent.

Nonetheless, the faithful are encouraged to choose from the areas of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, so that they may unite themselves with Christ on all the 40 days of Lent in preparation for the celebration of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday.

The name Lent comes from the Anglo-Saxon word Lencten, meaning springtime. The application of that name to our season of preparation for Easter is undoubtedly due to the fact that Lent is celebrated in Spring in the northern hemisphere. Nonetheless, it remains an appropriate name since, if Lent is lived well, it represents a true springtime, a new growth, in the spiritual life.

The celebration of Lent goes back to the very beginnings of the Church. In fact, St Leo the Great in the fifth century speaks of it having been instituted by the apostles. Traditionally, it has always been lived with a greater attention to the life of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. In the first three centuries the period of fasting was limited to one or two days, or a week at most. The first mention of 40 days was in the ecumenical Council of Nicaea (325), but by the end of the fourth century the custom was widespread in both East and West. The number of 40 days is obviously taken from Christ’s 40 days of fasting and prayer before beginning his public life.

As regards the symbolism, St Augustine writes that the season of Lent symbolises this present life on earth, with its trials and tribulations, and the season of Easter symbolises the joys of the life to come.

In the East, the period of fasting was spread over seven weeks, with both Saturday and Sunday exempt from fasting, whereas in the West the period was six weeks, with Sundays exempt, leaving only 36 days of fasting. It was in the seventh century in the West that Lent was begun four days earlier, on Ash Wednesday, so that there would be 40 days of fasting as there are today. Sundays are not included in the 40 days.

From the fifth century on, the fast was very strict. Only one meal was allowed, toward evening. Meat was not allowed, even on Sundays. Flesh meat and fish, and in most places eggs and dairy products were absolutely forbidden. This is still the case in the Eastern tradition, where no vertebrates or products of vertebrates may be eaten, ruling out meat, fish, eggs, cheese, milk, etc.

Over time the rules of fasting gradually evolved. Eventually, a smaller meal was allowed during the day to keep up one’s strength for manual labour. Eating fish was allowed, and later eating meat was also allowed through the week except on Ash Wednesday and Fridays. Dispensations were given for eating dairy products if a pious work was performed, and eventually this rule was relaxed altogether. However, the abstinence from even dairy products led to the practice of blessing Easter eggs and eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday.

Before the Second Vatican Council, adults fasted on all the 40 days of Lent, eating only one full meal and two smaller meals, and they abstained from meat on Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays of Lent. At present in Australia the required penance has been reduced to fasting and abstinence from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Meat may be eaten on the other Fridays of Lent.

Nonetheless, the faithful are encouraged to choose from the areas of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, so that they may unite themselves with Christ on all the 40 days of Lent in preparation for the celebration of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday.