"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

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Saturday, 18 November 2017


The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is the third largest Christian denomination in the world, but most Western Christians know very little about their ancient roots, their miraculous success against Islam, or their peculiar traditions. This article will focus on the formative events of the EOTC. Brief comments on their later history and customs are included with recommended readings for those who want to know more.


The EOTC traces its faith back to the Queen of Sheba in 1 Kings 10 and 2 Chronicles 9. The “Kebra Nagast” gives her name as Queen Makada. Ethiopians identify Sheba as the city of Saba,1 from which Queen Makada ruled Eastern Africa and Southern Arabia.2 According to the “Kebra Nagast,” Israel’s King Solomon married and impregnated Queen Makada during her visit to Israel recorded in the Bible. The “Kebra Nagast” also details how Solomon’s son by Makada, traveled to Israel as an adult to meet his father and returned to Ethiopia with the Ark of the Covenant.

Regardless of how one views the “Kebra Nagast,” Jewish migration to Ethiopia after the destruction of the first Jewish temple is well attested historically and genetically.3 In Acts 2:8-12, Luke listed visitors during Pentecost as coming from several African regions. He showed no surprise, much less a need for explanation, regarding the fact that Philip ministered to an Ethiopian near Jerusalem in Acts 8. 


The EOTC proudly celebrates the eunuch of Acts 8, listing his name as Barosh and stating that he was an effective evangelist upon his return to Ethiopia. After Barosh, some Christian traditions say that the apostle Nathaniel (also called Bartholomew) preached in Ethiopia. Ancient historians including Eusebius of Caesarea and Socrates of Constantinople agree that the Apostle Matthew preached in Ethiopia and was martyred there.

Whatever success Barosh, Nathaniel, and Matthew may have had in evangelizing Ethiopia, we have little historical record of Ethiopian Christianity between the death of Matthew and the national politicizing of Christianity there in the fourth century. The EOTC views the intervening years between the apostles and national conversion as enjoying Christianity, but without the added benefits of ecclesiastical structure and liturgy.4

In the early 300’s, a Christian a youth from Lebanon named Frumentius was sold as a slave to the Ethiopian Empire, the third largest empire in the world at the time after Rome and Persia. Frumentius earned the trust of the emperor and was granted freedom prior to the emperor’s death. Frumentius worked for the spread of Christianity in Ethiopia. He then traveled to Egypt, asking Archbishop Athanasius of Alexandria to send priests to Ethiopia. Instead, Athanasius appointed Frumentius in AD 328 and sent him back as a bishop. In AD 330, Ethiopian Emperor Ezana converted to Christianity and declared Ethiopia to be a Christian empire. 


After the Council of Nicea, the heretic Arius regained Roman Emperor Constantine’s approval, who then exiled Archbishop Athanasius, the same person who had appointed Frumentius. After Constantine’s death, his son Constantius appointed the Arian heretic Eusebius of Nicomedia as Archbishop of Constantinople. Constantius sent an Arian bishop to Ethiopia as well, asking for Frumentius to be removed from office. Ethiopia refused and was the sole orthodox Christian Empire at that time. Her loyalty to the Alexandrian archbishops continues to this day.

A century after Athanasius of Alexandria, the Council of Chalcedon deposed Archbishop Dioscorus of Alexandria just as the Council of Ephesus had done to Archbishop Nestorius of Constantinople 20 years before. The council revolved around how to define the union of Jesus’ divine nature with His human nature, in order to defend it against the “monophysite” heresy of Eutyches. Dioscorus maintained that the two natures were united as one nature “without separation, without confusion, and without change.”5 His view is called “miaphysite,” reflecting the words of Cyril of Alexandria concerning the incarnation of Jesus as: “mia physis.” The prevailing view at Chalcedon held instead, that the two natures were united as two natures (diaphysite).

Egyptian and Ethiopian Christians remained loyal to Dioscorus, despite the Council of Chalcedon. Along with Armenian Christians and many believers in Syria and the Persian Empire, all those who rejected the new line of Alexandrian archbishops imposed by Roman emperors became known as Oriental Orthodox churches, rejected by Chalcedonian Christians as heretics. The most familiar form of Oriental Orthodoxy to Westerners are the Coptic Christians of Egypt, 21 of whom were famously martyred by ISIS in 2015 on a Libyan beach.


Long before Americans invented “Messianic Judaism,” Ethiopian Orthodoxy wove Jewish traditions into their faith far more intensively than any other branch of the Christians. They baptize infant boys at 40 days and girls at 80 days according the Jewish purification schedule in Leviticus 12:1-5 and Luke 2:22. They observe Jewish dietary laws, and they regard Saturday as a Sabbath day of rest in addition to Sunday as the Lord’s Day. The Ethiopian Liturgy revolves around the Ark of the Covenant. Every church contains a “tabot,” a replica of the Ark; and their liturgy strictly demands the presence of a tabot.

The official list of Holy Scriptures varies slightly among different Christian traditions, but the EOTC has the widest canon of all. Their 81 books include 45 in the Old Testament and 36 in the New.6 The EOTC is the only pre-Reformation branch of Christianity which does not recognize Maccabees I and II as Scripture. Instead, they have three unique books under the similar title of “Meqabyan.” The most famous books of their Old Testament are Enoch and Jubilees, both of which have been translated into English. Their 9 additional New Testament books mostly consist of Church rules and orders. Their most intriguing New Testament books to outsiders might be the letter written by Peter to Clement of Rome, simply titled “Clement,” and “The Book of the Covenant.” The latter primarily presents church orders, but ends with a discourse by Jesus after His resurrection. Neither one of these has been translated into English to date.

While a full list of EOTC traditions would fill several books, we should at least note here how successfully the EOTC has co-opted the customs and holidays of other religions for the twin purposes of introducing outsiders to the faith and enriching the understanding of current adherents. In some Protestant circles, it has become popular to criticize the Roman church for synthesizing pagan customs into Christmas and Easter. Yet the EOTC takes great pride in assimilating the practices of others and overlaying them with Christian themes for the building up of the faithful. For example Meskel, one of the most important Ethiopian holidays, celebrates Saint Helena’s discovery of the cross of Calvary in Jerusalem in AD 330. Ethiopians celebrate both Meskel and the previous evening, known as Demera, with bonfires, holiday foods, special attire, and singing from door to door. Originally celebrated in March, Meskel was moved to September, conveniently replacing ancient pagan celebrations of the changing seasons and the coming harvests.


Thanks in part to our bias against non-Chalcedonians, we in the West know tragically little about the ancient Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. When Islam overran nearly the entire continent, Ethiopia did not fall. When European colonization controlled almost all of Africa, Ethiopia alone defeated a European invader (Italy). When our modern maps of Christian persecution reflect Ethiopia as a haven between brutal Somalia and Sudan, Western Christians fail to ask why. The EOTC does not define Jesus’ incarnation with exactly the terminology that many of us prefer, but they have been Africa’s city on a hill (the Ethiopian plateau) since the fourth century AD. Or perhaps they have been so since the days of the Apostle Matthew and the eunuch of Acts chapter 8, Barosh.


Matthew is a post-Protestant disciple of Jesus, an avid disciple-maker, a father of 2 grown men, and the delighted husband of Kristy. He holds a Bachelor of Science summa cum laude from the University of Memphis and has authored 3 books. A former church planter, Matthew now serves within the Restoration Movement. He enjoys reading the letters of Desiderius Erasmus, learning the history of empires, and encouraging believers to take up Biblical Greek for the twin purposes of clarity and unity.

Ethiopian Orthodox  Mass

Dom Colin Battell 

 Pope John-Paul II in his apostolic letter, Orientale Lumen (1995), speaks of the 
Eastern Churches as ‘an integral part of the heritage of Christ’s Church’. He goes on to say that the eastern contribution and especially its monasticism is necessary for ‘the full manifestation of the Church’s authority’. East and west should not be seen to be in opposition but to be complementary, the ‘two lungs’ necessary for a healthy body. 
In a famous phrase, Khomiakov could speak of ‘a new and unknown world’ with 
reference to Eastern Orthodoxy. That is perhaps less true now than when he wrote as a result of easy travel and encounters through the Orthodox diaspora. While at first sight such encounters might seem to be with a strange and exotic form of the 
Christian faith, close contact soon reveals a fundamental similarity with Catholic 
belief and experience. What we have in common is far greater than what separates and divides us. 
If Russian and Greek Orthodoxy, for example, might seem unfamiliar, for most people this is far more true of the Oriental (ie non-Chalcedonian churches) and in particular the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. According to recent figures from the Ethiopian Patriarchate, there are 40 million believers, including 40 Archbishops, 400,000 clergy, and  1000 monasteries. This makes it the largest of the Orthodox family of Churches after the Russian Church. 
To enter the world of Ethiopian Orthodoxy is to be confronted with what at first may seem an exotic and certainly unique form of Christianity. This is the result of its distinctive history and geographical isolation even from other Christian communities. Perhaps this should hardly be surprising. To the Biblical writers, Ethiopia stood for the back-of-beyond, the extreme limits of the imagination. Cf Are you not as the Ethiopians to me? Amos 9:14  and Psalm 87:4 . For them Ethiopia stood for anywhere beyond the fifth cataract of the Nile. Herodotus identifies it with the kingdoms of Nubia and Meroe. The much quoted verse from the Psalms: ‘Ethiopia will stretch out her hands to God’ originally had reference to the incredible universal extent of Yahweh’s sovereignty. 
Certainly, Ethiopia was thought of as remote. Homer’s Odyssey could refer to the ‘distant Ethiopians, the farthest outposts of mankind, half of whom live where the sun goes down and half where the sun rises’. The word Ethiopia come from the Greek ‘Aithiops’  meaning literally a burnt face . The description Abyssinian comes from the people known as the Habasha, but is not used by Ethiopians themselves. 
According to the Roman martyrology St Matthew was the apostle of Ethiopia and he died there. By the fourth century there were some Roman merchants there who were Christian. In the Emperor Haile-selassie’s  (his name means ‘might of the Trinity’) reign (1930-1974) tourist posters described the country as ‘the oldest Christian Empire in the world’ and certainly from about 332 the rulers were Christian almost without a break until the communist take-over in 1974. The  leader during the communist years Mengistu Haile-Mariam also clearly has a name that shows his Christian antecedents. 
Ethiopian tradition affirms that not all were converted from paganism but that some were Jews and some were animists. ‘Before the coming of Christianity, one half of the people was under the Mosaic Laws, the other half was worshipping the serpent’. In the Fetha Negast (the Book of the Law of the Kings) a work which contains secular and ecclesiastical material (insofar as the two can be separated in Ethiopia). The queen of Sheba from Ethiopia was converted to Judaism by her visit to King Solomon’s Court. ‘From this moment I will not worship the sun, but the Creator of the sun, the God of Israel’. Although the Fetha Negast is a 13th century work in its present form, it is acknowledged to contain material dating from a much earlier period. As we shall see there is a strong Hebraic influence in Ethiopian Christianity. 
The story of Rufinus

The story of the conversion of the first Ethiopian king, Ezana, is told by Rufinus of Aquileia. Two boys Aedesius and Frumentius were among a party who were shipwrecked and put in at the port of Adulis on the Red Sea. They were from Tyre in Syria. Their companions were slaughtered but being young the boys were taken to Axum, the capital of Ethiopia at that time, and attained positions of influence at the royal court. This was probably at the time that the Ge’ez language was replacing Greek as the language of the court. Aedesius who was less intellectual than his confrere was made chief steward to the king while Frumentius became his secretary and treasurer. Being foreign they were perhaps seen as independent of internal politics and intrigues and therefore trustworthy. On the death of the king, the Queen acting as regent for her son Ezana asked Aedesius and Frumentius to stay and assist her in ruling the country. Since they were Christian they promoted Christianity and encouraged the building of prayer houses for the Roman merchants who were present in the country. When Ezana became old enough to take over the reins of power, Aedesius returned to Tyre while Frumentius went to Alexandria and told the great St Athanasius that there were now Christians in Ethiopia but no bishop or clergy. Athanasius decided to consecrate Frumentius himself and send him back as the first bishop. ‘What other man shall we find in whom is the Spirit of God as in you, who can accomplish these things?’ St. Frumentius is known in Ethiopia as Abba Salama 

(Father of Peace) and Kesate Berhan (Revealer of light). The story of Rufinus is confirmed by inscriptions celebrating victory over the Nubians and by the letter of Constantius, the Arian successor of Constantine, encouraging Ezana not to follow Athanasius. Aksumite coinage also testifies to the conversion of the king to the Christian faith. 
Coptic Links 

From this we see the close links from the beginning between the Ethiopian and Coptic Churches. The tradition begun by St Athanasius continued until the late 50s of the 20th century with the Patriarch of Alexandria sending the Abuna to lead the Ethiopian Church. Obviously there were difficulties in having a foreigner who often did not speak the language as head of the Church on earth, but there were no Ethiopian bishops until the 20th century. The calendar of 12 months of 30 days and one of 5 or 6 with New Year’s day on September 11th is also Coptic.(It should be noted here however that Ethiopians are not Copts a word derived from the Greek for an Egyptian. However close the links may be Ethiopians are clearly not Egyptians.) 
The Ethiopian Church shared in the Alexandrine Christology and hence the rejection of the Council of Chalcedon which it saw as failing to safeguard against Nestorianism. Nowadays, it would probably be true to say that this is not seen as a fundamental theological difference. Indeed the rapprochement between the Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian Orthodox Churches should perhaps be seen as a major ecumenical break-through (western ecumenists please note!). It is also wrong to describe Ethiopian Christians as monophysites. Ethiopian Christology is 
essentially that of St Cyril. The official title of the Ethiopian Church is the Ethiopian Orthodox Twahido (ie united nature) Church. The key phrase in Cyril writings is ‘mia physis tou logou theou sesarkomene’ (one incarnate nature of the  Word of God) – ie ‘mia’ (one, not necessarily alone)  not ‘mone’ which would mean ‘only incarnate nature of the Word of God’. In this St Cyril thought he was quoting St Athanasius though in fact the phrase comes from Apollinaris. There have been fierce Christological disputes within the Orthodox Church down the ages but the Twahido doctrine is the official teaching of the Church. Correctly understood, this does not mean as is sometimes alleged that the humanity of Christ was dissolved or swallowed up in his divinity. The Christology of the Ethiopian church is that of  Severus of Antioch and St Cyril. As a modern writer, Peter Farrington, has put it, the Oriental Churches  ‘utterly repudiate any teaching in which the distinctions of the natures of divinity and humanity cease to exist in the incarnation or any teaching which damages the complete and perfect reality and divinity of which Christ is.( But equally) in the incarnation and for our salvation, the Word of God has deigned to unite, in a manner past our understanding, humanity with his divinity such that even as there is no confusion or separation equally there is no division or separation, but we see ‘One Christ’ and one Lord as the creed confesses’. 
So, from the 4th century apart from the odd aberration such as the Jewish, Queen Yodit (Judith) in the 10th century. Ethiopia was Christian ruled by a monarch who saw himself as vice-regent of God (the lion of the tribe of Judah) and head of a theocratic state. 
From the beginning Christianity was very closely identified with the social, political and cultural life of the people. Of course it took time for the faith to spread. Unlike the Roman Empire where Christianity took hold, broadly speaking, first among the lower echelons of society and gradually worked upwards to the conversion of Constantine, in Ethiopia the opposite was true. The court was the first to be Christianized and then the faith percolated downwards to the people. Certainly for 
centuries Orthodox Christianity has been an integral part of everyday life in a way that is scarcely conceivable to secularized westerners. 
Jewish influences 

Here is a form of Christianity strongly Hebraic in character that has experienced neither the Reformation nor the rationalism of Enlightenment thinking. Ge-ez is a Semitic language and other Jewish influences include circumcision on the eighth day. This does not mean that Ethiopians are unaware of Pauline teaching. In any case they do not believe they were converted from paganism but from Judaism. ‘We are not circumcised as the Jews because we know the words of St Paul who says circumcision avails not, but the circumcision that is practised among us is according to the customs of the country like tattooing on the face in Ethiopia and Nubia and the piercing of the ear among the Indians. And what we do, we do not in observance of the law of Moses but according to the customs of men’. Other Jewish influences include the following of the distinction between ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ foods as legislated for in Leviticus. The Sabbath is also observed as well as Sunday. There was a long and bitter controversy about this in the 14th century and for a time the supporters of Sabbath observance led by Eustatewos were outlawed but the issue was resolved in their favour at the Council of Metmaq in 1450 by the Emperor Zara Yacob. Moreover boys are usually baptized 40 days after birth and girls after eighty days cf Leviticus 12:1ff 
There is also a class of ecclesiastical professionals known as debteras who sing and perform a kind of liturgical dance to the accompaniment of drums, sistra and with prayer sticks (maqwamia) rather in the manner of the Old Testament Levites. 

The division of Churches into three sections also follows the pattern of the Jewish Temple. Every Church is divided into the Meqdes (the Holy of Holies where the altar is situated and which only the clergy may enter), the Qiddest or place of Communion and the Qene Mahlet where the singers perform. Men and women have their separate entrances and are accommodated separately too. The whole of the church compound is regarded as part of the Church. Some who are doing a penance given to them by their spiritual father (nefs abbat) for certain sins do not enter the building. Shoes are removed on entering the church. Currently a massive church building programme is being undertaken and even during the communist years (1974-91) two huge monastic parish churches were built in Addis Ababa. Churches can be round or octagonal especially in the south of the country reflecting the domestic architecture or basilica style as is common in the north and are often decorated with scenes from the Gospels and the lives of the saints in the very distinctive style of Ethiopian iconography. Large numbers of clergy are attached to each church as two priests and three deacons are normally needed to service the Liturgy .The Church is involved in aid and development work but this is usually done by the laity as liturgical functions are a full time job for the clergy. Careful preparation is needed for the reception of Holy Communion and the bread and wine are prepared by the deacons in a special building near the church known as the Bethlehem (house of bread). 
Another Jewish influence is in the veneration for the Ark of the Covenant (tabot). The original ark according to Ethiopian tradition was brought from  Jerusalem by Menelik I son of King Solomon and the queen of Sheba to Axum where it still remains in the Church of Debre Tsion Mariam closely guarded by a monk who after his appointment to the post of Guardian never leaves the compound. The manner of its transport to Ethiopia has been the subject of much speculation. (For a particularly fanciful account see Graham Hancock’s The Sign and the Seal cf Raiders of the Lost Ark etc.) A replica of the ark is found in every Church, indeed it is the sign of the building’s consecration and without it ceases to be a Church. Covered in richly embroidered cloths the arks are carried in procession on the heads of the priests on important festivals and are honoured with the greatest reverence.

Image result for ethiopian orthodox monasticism

The fifth century saw an important development with the arrival of the Nine Saints from Syria. They were perhaps among the refugees from the Byzantine Empire who refused to accept the Chalcedonian Christology. All of them were monks and all established monasteries which became very important centers of learning and evangelization. It would indeed be true to say that all evangelization and all education in Christian Ethiopia was in the hands of monks until modern times. Monks trained all the secular clergy and secular officials as well. (As in other Orthodox Churches, clergy may get married before ordination, but bishops are chosen only from the monks). 

Many of these monasteries are still flourishing eg that of Debre Damo near the Eritrean border, still only accessible by rope. Its founder Abba Aragawi was conveniently provided with a snake in order to ascend and make the foundation. Wisely he insisted that the snake’s head should be at the bottom! All Ethiopian monks trace their genealogy to one of the Nine Saints.

The Nine Saints translated the Bible into Ge’ez probably using the Septuagint for the Old Testament. They also translated some extra books as well as monastic writings so that the Ethiopian canon is much more extensive than any other church including works such as the Shepherd of Hermas, the Didascalia, Enoch, Jubilees, Synodos etc. As with some other Orthodox churches there is no definitive text of Scripture. It raises interesting questions about whether the canon of Scripture is closed or open, at least potentially, to further development. 
St Aragawi received his monastic habit from Theodore, a disciple of St Pachomius. There were Ethiopian monks in the Egyptian desert from early times eg St Moses the Black who was head of a band of robbers until his conversion. He was changed one day when he and his group attacked a monastery, intending to rob it. Moses was met by the abbot whose peaceful countenance and warm manner overwhelmed him. He immediately felt remorse for his past sins and joined the monastery. For years he was continually tormented by his past ways and especially by lust until the prayers of his abbot St Isidore the Great miraculously healed him. Near the end of his life he became a priest and formed a monastery of 75 monks, the same number as his robber band and was martyred in 405 at the age of 75. 
So there has been a continuous monastic tradition in Ethiopia from this time though there are some gaps in our historical knowledge.  Axum declined in the 9th century and later the Zagwe dynasty emerged which was responsible in the 12th century for the famous churches at Lalibella carved out of the solid rock and recognized as one of the architectural wonders of the world. This dynasty was replaced in 1270 by the Solomonic which traced its origins to the Queen of Sheba and her Son Menelik I whose father was King Solomon. 
The great monastic revival of the 14th century led to the establishment of the 
monastery now known as Debre Libanos whose founders were St Tekle Haimanot and St Ewstatewos two very great influential Christian leaders through whom the monks of today trace their origins. The monasteries provided a counter-balance to a heavily established and controlled Church. In their extremes of austerity the monks provide a prophetic and eschatological ministry in the Ethiopia Church. The bahtawi are an independent class of hermits who represent the anchoritic tradition – modern successors of St John the Baptist rebuking all including the emperor himself without fear or favour.  As Shimei reviled King David, so the bahtawi have been know to hurl abuse at all and sundry including the emperor. Some live completely separately from society, unseen by all, their bones occasionally discovered after their deaths in the remotest of places. Others lived in trees (dendrites) or small holes in the ground. Often they live on leaves and bitter roots and reduce sleep to an absolute minimum. (One who had found his way to New York was taken to a mental institution after being found praying half-naked in the snow!).Those living in wilderness zones on the edge of the empire had the effect of expanding the empire because they invariably attracted followers. Evangelization was not systematic but the effect was to extend the frontiers of Christianity by being so successful in converting the surrounding population. 
It would not be an exaggeration to say that the spirituality of the laity in Ethiopia is essentially a monastic spirituality. Some emperors even saw themselves as monkkings. ‘When Lalibella established the throne he submitted himself to a fast more severe that that of the monks because to him the kingship appeared as the monastic life’. This may have been the ideal but of course there was always a tension between this and the reality. Emperors may have been the vice-regent of God on earth and protectors defenders of the faith but they were not its exponent even though they may have assisted in the settling of disputes eg regarding Sabbath observance. Moreover their moral laxity often came in for monastic chastisement 


Monastic austerity is seen in the great emphasis on fasting. cf St Benedict’s somewhat unfashionable ‘love fasting’. The clergy fast 256 days a year, the laity 180. On these days no meat or animal products are eaten and one meal is taken after the Liturgy which takes place on those days at mid-day, finishing around three-o’clock. All Wednesdays and Fridays except in Eastertide are fast days (cf the Didache) and Lent lasts 56 days with an additional 16 days added in commemoration of the conquest of the city of Harar. There is also a major fast of 15 days before the feast of the Dormition of our Lady and Holy Week is observed very strictly indeed often with a complete fast from food and drink during the Triduum. The Fethe Negast says fasting is abstinence from food and is observed by man at certain times determined by law to obtain forgiveness of sins and much reward, obeying thus the One who fixed the Law. Fasting also serves to weaken the force of concupiscence so that the body may obey the rational soul’. 
Not to take part in fasting would still result in ostracism in many rural areas and many will fast strenuously who perhaps do not practice their faith much in other ways. The laxness of western Christians in this respect scandalizes the Ethiopian faithful. Ethiopia is not a secular society in the western sense. The cadres who went into the university to preach atheism during the communist years following the fall of Haile-Selassie were mostly laughed at. Cf Psalm 53:1 
Saints such as St Tekle Haimanot were renowned for their asceticism.  His life was seen as a sign of the angelic life to the extent that he is often pictured with wings. He surrounded himself with eight spears to prevent himself  from falling asleep while praying. The true ascetic we are told does not need to eat or drink or if he does then the natural waste will be miraculously disposed of. We are in the world of the Desert Fathers here. Such asceticism is greatly admired if not always emulated. It is seen as an ideal to which all should aspire and as a superior form of the spiritual life rather than as a special vocation. This finds an echo in Pope John Paul II’s words in Orientale Lumen: the monasteries are a reference point for all the baptized. 

But as well as fasts there are feasts too. Major saints have their feast day celebrated every month and the faithful flock to the church named after him or her on that day. On important festivals the tabots are brought out in procession on the heads of the priests.Other major feasts with a distinctive ritual and enormous popularity include Timqet (the Baptism of the Lord) when water is blessed and the faithful sprinkled or even bathe in it! And Mesqel which celebrates the finding of the True Cross by the Empress Helena in the 4th century. Bonfires are burnt in recognition that she was led to the correct place by a mysterious smoke rising from the ground.  
St Tekle Haimanot 

The founders of monasticism as known today are St Ewstatewos, the upholder of the Sabbath observance in the 14th century and St Tekle Haimanot. The life of St Tekle Haimanot may be given as an illustration of the world in which we are moving. St Tekle Haimanot was from a family of priests. Miracles attended his birth. His first recorded words were to object to receiving his mother’s milk on a fast day! He learned the psalms by heart and was ordained at 15. He traveled round the countryside demonstrating the power of Christ He met the devil occupying a tree which was worshipped by the local people. He ordered the tree to come to him and it was uprooted killing 21 people in the process. He raised these from death and such was the ‘dynamis’ that went out of him he also raised the dead of a neighbouring grave-yard. Since they were unbaptised, he baptized them then reburied them. He converted a pagan king and studied in three monasteries for many years under the great monastic saints Basalota Mikael, Iyesus Moa and Yohannes of Debre Damo. Stability as propagated by St Benedict is unknown in Ethiopia. A monk may attach himself to a teacher for many years then move on to another. After three pilgrimages to the Holy Land he founded the monastery of Debre Asbo in Shoa, today known as Debre Libanos. It was here he prayed for seven years on one leg until the other dropped off and was given wings. Many miracles are recorded as the result of his prayers. Such stories raise questions about our common pre-suppositions. As children of the Enlightenment we tend to ask: did it happen? cf the quest for the historical Jesus, and the careful research of the Societe des Bollandistes in their patient weeding out of legendary material to preserve the historical elements in the lives of the saints. We need to understand these stories on their own terms not from the perspective of a modern historian (cf Fr Raymond Brown’s tongue-in-cheek reply when asked if the New Testament was true: yes, everything except the facts!). 
A strong belief in the miraculous and its practice following the New Testament is seen a strong tool for evangelization. The Christian missionary has to carry conviction in a society where the exercise of magic is a normal source of power. Exorcisms and confrontations with evil spirits are seen as normal. The faith spreads by demonstrations of power as well as by catechesis. Animism is successfully challenged and the power of Christ is seen to be superior to all others. The conversion of King Matalome by St Tekle Haimanot is a symbol of the struggle with the monarchy. The monasteries were centers of influence sometimes opposed to the king and challenged the easy-going moral standards of the court. It has to be remembered that in Ethiopia for many centuries there were no city churches, bishops or councils – only monasteries.  
Monastic Rules

 The monastic  rules followed go back to St Pachomius and St Anthony with local adaptations and are set out in the Book of the Monks and the Fethe Negast. There are three professions symbolized by the girdle or belt (kedet), the skull cap (qob) and the scapular (askema) There are hundreds of monasteries mostly smallish but with some having as many as 500 monks. Usually monasteries started as a place of retreat for the founder who then attracted followers who came to ask for prayers and for education. A modern phenomenon resulting form the loss of land after the communist take-over in 1974 has been the emergence of an urban monasticism which has led to a Sunday School movement for adults as well as children. In the big cities there were no monks at first. Now many parish staff and administrators are monks. The emergence of this was also linked with the achievement of autocephalous status and the need for a patriarchal bureaucracy.  Inevitably there is a certain tension between the demands of urban life and monasticism – the word for monastery – goddam – literally means a place of solitude and quiet. As one monk put it the pure ‘tedj’ honey mead) of the rural areas is better than the watered down version available in the cities! The monks have introduced evening prayers in church which are well attended and promoted popular piety as well as being involved in catechetical teaching.  Those with preaching gifts are much appreciated and long sermons are preferred in a way that those used to the sound-bite may find difficult to appreciate. 

Ethiopia has the only ancient written culture in sub-Saharan Africa. Church schools are still active and there was no other education until the late 19th century. The educational system is highly complex. Clergy may seem often poorly or even shabbily dressed and may seem to be lacking in the most elementary principles of modern western education especially the sciences but that is not to say that they are uneducated. Many have spent  years in disciplined study and are immensely erudite in a tradition completely foreign to western models. The educational system is also largely based on a tradition of oral culture. In contrast to a system that promotes individual creativity and independence of mind Ethiopian Orthodox education comes from a traditional society where the purpose is to fully integrate pupils into society. That is not to say that lively theological debate and discussion is excluded – far from it – and there were long periods especially of Christological controversy before the Twahido doctrine emerged as normative in the 19th century. 
Education begins with the Reading School (nebab Bet) which teaches the syllabary and the reading of religious books in the Ge’ez language. Reading is aloud and the murmuring of the law of the Lord day and night that this produces would certainly win St Benedict’s approval. Then the first letter of St John is learnt by heart followed by the Psalms, the Gospels and the Miracles of Mary. The Psalms (Dawit) are most important in Ethiopian spirituality, monastic and lay. They are read  or chanted aloud and memorized  since few books are available even for the Liturgy. The Qidane Bet or Liturgy School teaches the deacons and priests and educates them in their liturgical functions – the Liturgy is steeped in Scripture. The aim is to produce a mind-set steeped in the Word of God. 
In the Higher Schools the debteras are often the teachers – they also have a ministry of healing linked with holy water and herbal remedies and are consulted to interpret dreams. 
Church music in Ethiopia goes back to St Yared in the 6th century who is said to have been influenced in his compositions by the song of the birds. It uses a pentatonic scale and while Middle Eastern in character it differs from Coptic music. There was no notation until the 16th century. It is mostly restrained and slow and in strophic and ametric form. It also includes the hymns performed by the debteras at the end of Mass and the use of drums, sistra and prayer-sticks Music is performed without any books 
The Qene Bet (poetry school) teaches a highly sophisticated poetry, the fruit of long pondering on the Scriptures (= Lectio Divina) It is highly creative and requires enormous skill. It generates lively discussion about the merits of a particular composition  It uses word-plays so that there is a surface meaning and a deeper hidden meaning (wax and Gold) in a way that is difficult to convey in translation. Because it requires great skill many of its practitioners attain to high positions in the Church. It takes many years to become a teacher in this field and a minimum of 12 years of full study is required for those who attend this school.  Finally, the Metsehaf  Bet or Literature School studies the literature of the Church and especially the  Amdemta Commentaries. These are collections of the comments of the Fathers of the church  mostly on the Scriptures. Again all is memorized. Only recently have these commentaries received any attention from western scholars  such as Roger Cowley. The teacher comments on the texts , not critically but to expound the text in a way that puts the student under the text. It is said to take 40 years to follow the complete course! 
From this it should be seen that many of the clergy are highly educated. This is a living tradition. The Coptic monastic revival in recent times has been attributed in part to an Ethiopian, Abd al -Masih el- Habashi , the teacher of the renowned Matthai el-Meskin of the monastery of St Macarius in the Wadi el-Natrun He lived in a cave there from 1935-1970  and is a modern successor of Moses the Black who was also Ethiopian. 
Concluding Remarks

As in Russia and Eastern Europe the Church underwent a testing time during the communist years but perhaps emerged stronger and purified as a result of the experience. Sometimes the Church could be compromised in its witness by its close relations with the state. The Church and especially the monasteries also lost their extensive land holdings though some urban property has been restored including the Theological College in Addis Ababa. The Church is popular in the best sense of the word and much loved by the ordinary people even though there may be criticism of the hierarchy. Here is an example of a truly inculturated Church with a rich monastic tradition. Whatever problems may be confronted as a result of western influence and the secularism that so often attends urbanisation, it is an Ethiopian article of faith that the psalmist’s prophecy will be fulfilled and ‘Ethiopia will continue to stretch out her hands to God’ (Psalm 68:31  ). 
Dom Colin Battell 
Ampleforth Abbey 
(Bamber Bridge)

Thursday, 16 November 2017


For many years, Pope Francis has
prayed every day before an icon of
Our Lady of Tenderness
my source: Dr Robert Moynihan November 13, 2017, Monday
“He taught me to open up to a different liturgy, which I always keep in my heart because of its beauty."—Pope Francis, in a November 9 talk (four days ago) to Ukrainian seminarians in Rome, four days ago.Francis recounted that, as a youngster of 12 and 13 years old in Buenos Aires, it had been his duty to serve as an altarboy twice a week for the Byzantine-rite Masses celebrated by a Ukrainian Eastern-rite Catholic priest named Father Stephan Chmil, who had fled Ukraine and found refuge in Argentina. (Fr. Chmil's cause of canonization has been opened.)Francis said that the experience of getting to know Father Chmil, and of serving at his Eastern-rite Masses, had profoundly and permanently affected him, "because of the beauty" of the Eastern-rite liturgy of St. John Chrysostom


Pope Francis and the Liturgy

I left off my last letter (Letter #62, Millstone, October 3) saying that there may be, in our "information age," a real need now for silence.

Since then, I have been silent. I have taken 40 days, from October 3 to November 13 (and yesterday passed a birthday, on the Feast of St. Josaphat), to try to reflect on what words may be useful, amid the floods of words -- "the Media! the Blogosphere!" — which inundate us.

My goal: if possible, not to add to the general confusion and chatter.

Not to add to the advancing spiritual-cultural "whateverness" (in Italy it is called "qualunquismo," a general attitude of indifference toward political parties).

A type of "whateverness" that seems to nourish many evils.

The great Jewish scholar Hanna Arendt (1906-1975) spoke of the "banality"  of evil of this type, writing that "the sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil."

Her words echo those of Christ in the Book of Revelation (Rev 3:16), where he faults the Laodiceans for being "neither cold nor hot" — morally ambiguous, lukewarm — for which reason he will "vomit them out of his mouth." Harsh words...

"I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.
"So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.
"Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:
"I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.
"As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent."

What is the specific thing Christ asks these people to repent of?

Of saying, of believing, that they "have need of nothing."

These people think they have organized their lives so as to have everything necessary, but, in fact, they lack everything. They are blind, naked, impoverished.

Mother Theresa used to speak in such terms about many of those she met in the affluent West. She said she had not met such poor souls even in the slums of the penniless in Calcutta.

But what is the "something" that is needed?

The Word.

"Man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word..."

Man does not live by money, thrills, power, knowledge (science)... but "by every word which proceeds from the mouth of God."

Because our life is hidden in the Word, in the Logos, in Reason, in Meaning -- the Logos of God...

This is our secret nature and destiny, and the message the Church bears and shares is this message.

There is more.

This "Word" is more than "a word" (though not without relations to words).

This "Word" goes beyond mind and meaning, to become reality itself, nourishment, food, divine presence, bread of angels.

That is, Eucharist.

And where may we encounter this "Word," font of life and reality?

In the Eucharist.

So what needs to be said in this time, when silence seems required, is that we must return to the liturgy, to the Eucharist, to encounter... the Logos, granting an immortality that no genetic manipulation can ever accomplish (because such manipulation will always remain within the fallen fabric of this space and time).

So the thought process is this:

—inundated with words, we nevertheless are starved for the true Word (the true, the good, the beautiful, the meaningful, the holy, the Logos);

—but if we seek Him with our reason, our minds, if we pursue him with our thought, we cannot arrive, our equipment is inadequate, we are inadequate;

—and yet we hunger for the Word, it is what we long to obtain, to reach, to encounter, to embrace, to be embraced by;

—so we choose the path of silence; better silence than the endless, silly chatter;

—but the quest is not finished; we can enter into the holy space, the sanctified, consecrated space, and there, in the liturgy, encounter the Logos we long for and be nourished in that part of our being which transcends both body and mind: the soul;

—and in that encounter and communion, we can enter into the peace beyond telling, even in this fallen space and time.

Now, does this have anything to do with Pope Francis? With the debate over Amoris laetitia and over whether the divorced and remarried should be admitted to communion? And the debate over the reform of the liturgy? And the debate over the relationship of Christians to one another and to the world?


Two examples.

The first: last Wednesday, November 8, Pope Francis began a new series of Wednesday catecheses.

His new topic: the Eucharist.

"Today," Francis said, "we begin a new series of catecheses, which will direct our gaze toward the 'heart' of the Church, namely, the Eucharist. It is fundamental that we Christians clearly understand the value and significance of the Holy Mass, in order to live ever more fully our relationship with God."

Clearly, the Liturgy at this moment is a subject of central importance to Francis.

How this came to pass is of a certain interest.

This summer, in a private meeting with Cardinal Robert Sarah (whose photo I have placed on the cover of the November issue of Inside the Vatican, just off the press), Cardinal Sarah — among other things — mentioned to me that, in a meeting with Pope Francis in late June 2017, he had suggested to the Pope that the Church today is in great need of a series of thoughtful, clear catecheses (teachings) on... the Eucharist.

So let's see: July, August September, October, half of November — four and a half months later — and Francis has announced a series of catecheses on the Eucharist and the Liturgy, precisely what Cardinal Sarah asked Pope Francis to consider in June.  

The second: the Pope's deep appreciation of the Eastern-rite liturgy.

A liturgy which is far longer, far more intricate, uses far more incense, and often has far more participation of the people, in their singing and responses, than the new liturgy that was produced in the years following the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

The Pope tells us of this appreciation himself in a talk he delivered in Rome on November 9 in the Vatican's Sala Clementina.

He was addressing the Ukrainian seminarians in the city, encouraging them, greeting them.

They reside in the College of St. Josaphat, whose feast day was yesterday, November 12. Josaphat labored mightily to overcome the divisions between the East and West in the Christian world and died a martyr.

(Here is a link to the Vatican website which contains the complete text of the Holy Father's talk to the Ukrainian seminarians: link).

This is what Francis said:
 "I keep and venerate a small Ukrainian icon of Our Lady of Tenderness, a gift from your Archbishop Major when we were together in Buenos Aires. And when I remained here [after the papal election in 2013], I asked that it be brought to me. I pray before it every day...  "And I would not end without recalling a person who was good to me when I was in the last year of elementary school in 1949 [when Jorge Bergoglio was 12 and 13 years old; he was born on December 17, 1936]. "Most of you were not born! It is Father Stefano Chmil, then consecrated bishop secretly here in Rome by then Archbishop Major. "He celebrated Mass there, there was no nearby Ukrainian community, and he had some who helped him. "I learned to serve the Ukrainian Mass from him. He taught me everything. Twice a week it fell to me to help him. "This was good for me, because that man talked to me about persecutions, sufferings, and ideologies that persecuted Christians. "Then he taught me to open up to a different liturgy, which I always keep in my heart because of its beauty. "Shevchuk [the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk], when I was in Buenos Aires, asked me for my witness to open the canonization process of this hidden bishop. "I wanted to remember him here today because it is right to thank him in front of you for the good that he did to me."

What does this tell us about Pope Francis?

Something important. (See also the interesting article from four years ago by a First Things editor, Tim Kelleher at this link.)

Francis as a boy served many Masses of the Byzantine liturgy, perhaps a hundred (twice a week for 50 weeks). He found it beautiful, so much so that he has never forgotten having been an altar boy for that year for that Ukrainian priest he still remembers with great respect.

Given the Pope's new series of catecheses on the Eucharist, given his great esthetic appreciation for the beauty of the Byzantine liturgy, and given his great interest in peace in Ukraine, as well as in the entire East, it would not be surprising if Pope Francis were to have significant initiatives in mind with regard to these matters that he will launch during the coming months and years of his pontificate.

Vatican City, Oct 29, 2017 / 07:14 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Sunday Pope Francis reflected on Jesus’ command to love God above all things, and your neighbor as yourself, saying that it is in the Eucharist that we receive the grace to carry this out.

“God, who is Love, has created us to make us part of his life, to be loved and to love Him, and to love all other people with Him. This is God’s ‘dream’ for man. And in order to accomplish it we need his grace, we need to receive in us the ability to love that comes from God himself.”

For this reason “Jesus offers himself to us in the Eucharist…” the Pope said Oct. 29. “In it we receive his Body and His Blood, that is, we receive Jesus in the best expression of his love, when He has offered himself to the Father for our salvation.”

Pope Francis reflected on Sunday’s “short, but very important” Gospel passage from St. Matthew in his brief message before leading the Angelus with around 30,000 people in St. Peter’s Square.

In the Gospel passage, a Pharisee asks Jesus what, among the more than 600 Jewish laws, is the greatest. And Jesus, not hesitating at all, answers: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.”

The Ten Commandments, which were communicated directly to Moses by God, are a covenant with the people. And in his answer, “Jesus wants to make it clear that without the love of God and neighbor there is no true fidelity to this covenant with the Lord,” the Pope pointed out.

In answering this question, Jesus is trying to help the Pharisees understand the proper order and importance of things, and how all other laws depend on these two.

“What Jesus proposes on this evangelical page is a wonderful ideal that corresponds to the most authentic desire of our heart,” he said. “In fact, that we have been created to love and to be loved.”

Francis emphasized that we can do many good things, follow all the laws, but if we do not have love it is useless. This is how Jesus lived his life: preaching and performing works always with what is “essential, that is, love.”

“Love gives momentum and fecundity to life and to the journey of faith: without love, both life and faith remain sterile.”

In fact, even if we have known the commandment to love from the time we were children, we must never stop trying to conform ourselves to this law, putting it into practice in whatever situation we find ourselves in, he concluded.

And as we try to live out this commandment to love, we can turn to the Blessed Virgin Mary for help, he said: The Holy Virgin helping us “to welcome into our lives the ‘great commandment’ of the love of God and of neighbor.”


“Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In this new series of catecheses on the Eucharist, we begin by reflecting on the fact that the Mass is first and foremost a prayer, indeed the prayer par excellence.

For at every Mass we encounter God in his word and in the body and blood of Christ. Made in God’s image and likeness, we were made to know him, to love and to serve him. In prayer, we experience God’s closeness and love; we speak to him, but we also learn to listen to his voice speaking in our hearts. Jesus himself teaches us, as he did his disciples, how to pray. From him, we learn to call God our Father, to trust in his love, and to be constantly surprised by the signs of that love. When Jesus speaks of our need to be “reborn” (cf. Jn 3:15), he is, in fact, inviting us to accept his gift of new life in the Spirit.

By his sacrifice on the cross, he has atoned for all our sins and enabled us to make a new beginning, to lead a truly spiritual life. In our encounter with him in prayer, and above all in the Eucharist, we experience the consolation of his presence, the grace of His forgiveness and the joy of his invitation to live fully our vocation as God’s beloved children.

“When we go to Mass, maybe we come five minutes before and we start talking with the person beside me... but it is not time to chit-chat, it is the moment of silence to prepare for dialogue. It's a time to recollect one's heart to prepare for encountering Jesus. But silence is so important. This, therefore, is the greatest grace: to be able to experience that the Mass and the Eucharist is a privileged moment to be with Jesus, and, through Him, with God and with his brothers.”

The pope said in the spiritual life, one should allow themselves to be surprised by God. One way is to realize that God loves each person, even with their weakness, which can be made perfect when receiving Holy Communion. 

“To enter the Kingdom of Heaven, you have to let yourself be surprised. In our relationship with the Lord, in prayer, are we marveled? Are we surprised? Or do we pray and speak to God like parrots do? No, it is trusting and opening your heart to leave you in awe. Let us be surprised by God, for God is always the God of surprises.”

More shall be added as the catechesis of Pope Francis continues.


Pope Francis celebrates Mass for the Canonization of St. John Paul II and St. John XXIII April 25, 2014. Credit: Stephan Driscoll/CNA.

Vatican City, Aug 16, 2015 / 05:59 am (CNA/EWTN News).
On Sunday Pope Francis said that the Eucharist is no mere symbol, but is, in fact, the true body and blood of Jesus Christ, which has the ability to transform our hearts and minds to be more like him.

“The Eucharist is Jesus who gives himself entirely to us. To nourish ourselves with him and abide in him through Holy Communion, if we do it with faith, transforms our life into a gift to God and to our brothers,” the Pope said Aug. 16.

To let ourselves be nourished by the “Bread of Life,” he said, “means to be in tune with the heart of Christ, to assimilate his choices, thoughts, behaviors.”

It also means that we enter into “a dynamism of sacrificial love and become persons of peace, forgiveness, reconciliation and sharing in solidarity,” he added.


Pope Francis on the Eucharist
my source: ADOREMUS
By THE EDITORS April 15, 2014
Online Edition
April 2014
Vol. XX, No. 2

Pope Francis on the Eucharist

The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Church’s Life

In his recent series of teachings on the Sacraments of the Church, Pope Francis dedicated two Wednesday audiences and a homily to exploring the nature the Eucharist, its centrality to the Church’s very identity, its application in our lives, and how the celebration of the Eucharist rediscovers and revitalizes the “sense of the sacred.”

“In the Eucharist, Christ is always renewing His gift of self, which He made on the Cross,” the pope said. “His whole life is an act of total sharing of self out of love.”
“It is so important to go to Mass on Sunday,” Pope Francis spontaneously added to the text of his February 5 audience, “not just to pray, but to receive Communion. It is a beautiful thing to do,” he said, for Sunday is “precisely the day of the resurrection of the Lord. That is why Sunday is so important to us.”

Following are the Wednesday audiences of February 5 and February 12, 2014, on the sacrament of the Eucharist; and excerpts from his homily on February 10, focusing on the Mass as a “theophany” — or visible manifestation of God — and how the celebration of Mass allows us to enter into the sacred mystery of God.

Eucharist I – The Summit of God’s Saving Action
General Audience 
Saint Peter’s Square
Wednesday, 5 February 2014 

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!

Today I will speak to you about the Eucharist. The Eucharist is at the heart of “Christian initiation,” together with Baptism and Confirmation, and it constitutes the source of the Church’s life itself. From this Sacrament of love, in fact, flows every authentic journey of faith, of communion, and of witness.

What we see when we gather to celebrate the Eucharist, the Mass, already gives us an intuition of what we are about to live. At the center of the space intended for the celebration there is an altar, which is a table covered with a tablecloth, and this makes us think of a banquet. On the table there is a cross to indicate that on this altar what is offered is the sacrifice of Christ: He is the spiritual food that we receive there, under the species of bread and wine. Beside the table is the ambo, the place from which the Word of God is proclaimed: and this indicates that there we gather to listen to the Lord who speaks through Sacred Scripture, and therefore the food that we receive is also His Word.

Word and Bread in the Mass become one, as at the Last Supper, when all the words of Jesus, all the signs that He had performed, were condensed into the gesture of breaking the bread and offering the chalice, in anticipation of the sacrifice of the cross, and in these words: “Take, eat; this is my body… Take, drink of it; for this is my blood.”

Jesus’ gesture at the Last Supper is the ultimate thanksgiving to the Father for His love, for His mercy. “Thanksgiving” in Greek is expressed as “Eucharist.” And that is why the Sacrament is called the Eucharist: it is the supreme thanksgiving to the Father, who so loved us that He gave us His Son out of love. This is why the term Eucharist includes the whole of that act, which is the act of God and man together, the act of Jesus Christ, true God and true Man.

Therefore the Eucharistic Celebration is much more than a simple banquet: it is exactly the memorial of Jesus’ Paschal Sacrifice, the mystery at the center of salvation. “Memorial” does not simply mean a remembrance, a mere memory; it means that every time we celebrate this Sacrament we participate in the mystery of the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ. The Eucharist is the summit of God’s saving action: the Lord Jesus, by becoming bread broken for us, pours upon us all of His mercy and His love, so as to renew our hearts, our lives, and our way of relating with Him and with the brethren. It is for this reason that commonly, when we approach this Sacrament, we speak of “receiving Communion,” of “taking Communion”: this means that by the power of the Holy Spirit, participation in Holy Communion conforms us in a singular and profound way to Christ, giving us a foretaste already now of the full communion with the Father that characterizes the heavenly banquet, where together with all the Saints we will have the joy of contemplating God face to face.

Dear friends, we don’t ever thank the Lord enough for the gift He has given us in the Eucharist! It is a very great gift and that is why it is so important to go to Mass on Sunday. Go to Mass, not just to pray, but to receive Communion, the bread that is the Body of Jesus Christ who saves us, forgives us, unites us to the Father. It is a beautiful thing to do! And we go to Mass every Sunday because that is the day of the resurrection of the Lord. That is why Sunday is so important to us. And in this Eucharist, we feel this belonging to the Church, to the People of God, to the Body of God, to Jesus Christ. We will never completely grasp the value and the richness of it.

Let us ask Him then that this Sacrament continue to keep His presence alive in the Church and to shape our community in charity and communion, according to the Father’s heart. This is done throughout life but is begun on the day of our First Communion. It is important that children be prepared well for their First Communion and that every child receives it because it is the first step of this intense belonging to Jesus Christ, after Baptism and Confirmation.

Eucharist II — The Identity of the Church Flows from the Eucharist
General Audience 
Wednesday, 12 February 2014 

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning.

In the last Catechesis I emphasized how the Eucharist introduces us into real communion with Jesus and His mystery. Now let us ask ourselves several questions that spring from the relationship between the Eucharist that we celebrate and our life, as a Church and as individual Christians.

How do we experience the Eucharist? 
When we go to Sunday Mass, how do we live it? Is it only a moment of celebration, an established tradition, an opportunity to find oneself or to feel justified, or is it something more?

There are very specific signals for understanding how we are living this, how we experience the Eucharist; signals that tell us if we are living the Eucharist in a good way or not very well.

The first indicator is our way of looking at or considering others. In the Eucharist, Christ is always renewing His gift of self, which He made on the Cross. His whole life is an act of total sharing of self out of love; thus, He loved to be with His disciples and with the people whom He had a chance to know. This meant for Him sharing their aspirations, their problems, what stirred their soul and their life. Now we, when participating in Holy Mass, we find ourselves with all sorts of men and women: young people, the elderly, children; poor and well-off; locals and strangers alike; people with their families and people who are alone —  But the Eucharist which I celebrate, does it lead me to truly feel they are all like brothers and sisters? Does it increase my capacity to rejoice with those who are rejoicing and cry with those who are crying? Does it urge me to go out to the poor, the sick, the marginalized? Does it help me to recognize in theirs the face of Jesus?

We all go to Mass because we love Jesus and we want to share, through the Eucharist, in His passion and His resurrection. But do we love, as Jesus wishes, those brothers and sisters who are the neediest?  For example, in Rome these days we have seen much social discomfort either due to the rain, which has caused so much damage to entire districts or because of the lack of work, a consequence of the global economic crisis.  I wonder, and each one of us should wonder: I who go to Mass, how do I live this?  Do I try to help, to approach and pray for those in difficulty?  Or am I a little indifferent? Or perhaps do I just want to talk: “did you see how this or that one is dressed?” Sometimes this happens after Mass and it should not! We must concern ourselves with our brothers and sisters who need us because of an illness, a problem. Today, it would do us such good to think of these brothers and sisters of ours who are beset by these problems here in Rome: problems that stem from the grave situation caused by the rain and social instability and unemployment. Let us ask Jesus, whom we receive in the Eucharist, to help us to help them.

A second indication, a very important one, is the grace of feeling forgiven and ready to forgive. At times someone may ask: “Why must one go to Church, given that those who regularly participate in Holy Mass are still sinners like the others?” We have heard it many times! In reality, the one celebrating the Eucharist doesn’t do so because he believes he is or wants to appear better than others, but precisely because he acknowledges that he is always in need of being accepted and reborn by the mercy of God, made flesh in Jesus Christ. If anyone of us does not feel in need of the mercy of God, does not see himself as a sinner, it is better for him not to go to Mass! We go to Mass because we are sinners and we want to receive God’s pardon, to participate in the redemption of Jesus, in His forgiveness. The “Confession” which we make at the beginning is not “pro forma,” it is a real act of repentance! I am a sinner and I confess it, this is how the Mass begins! We should never forget that the Last Supper of Jesus took place “on the night He was betrayed” (I Cor 11:23). In the bread and in the wine, which we offer and around which we gather, the gift of Christ’s body and blood is renewed every time for the remission of our sins. We must go to Mass humbly, like sinners, and the Lord reconciles us.

A last valuable indication comes to us from the relationship between the Eucharistic Celebration and the life of our Christian communities. We must always bear in mind that the Eucharist is not something we make; it is not our own commemoration of what Jesus said and did. No. It is precisely an act of Christ! It is Christ who acts there, who is on the altar. It is a gift of Christ, who makes Himself present and gathers us around Him, to nourish us with His Word and with His life. This means that the mission and the very identity of the Church flows from there — from the Eucharist — and from there always takes its shape. A celebration may be flawless on the exterior, very beautiful — but if it does not lead us to encounter Jesus Christ, it is unlikely to bear any kind of nourishment to our heart and our life. Through the Eucharist, however, Christ wishes to enter into our life and permeate it with His grace, so that in every Christian community there may be coherence between liturgy and life.

The heart fills with trust and hope by pondering on Jesus’ words recounted in the Gospel: “he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (Jn 6:54).

Let us live the Eucharist with the spirit of faith, of prayer, of forgiveness, of repentance, of communal joy, of concern for the needy and for the needs of so many brothers and sisters, in the certainty that the Lord will fulfill what He has promised us: eternal life. Amen. So be it!

Rediscover a “Sense of the Sacred” at Mass
February 10 Homily Excerpts

To rediscover the sense of the sacred — the mystery of the Real Presence of God in the Mass — was Pope Francis’s invitation in his homily during the Eucharistic celebration at Casa Santa Marta on February 10.

The first Reading of the day speaks of the “theophany” of God in the time of Solomon the king. The Lord came down like a cloud upon the temple, which was filled with the glory of God. The Lord, the pope said, speaks to His people in many ways: through the prophets, the priests, the Sacred Scriptures. But with the theophanies, He speaks in another way, “different from the Word: it is another presence, closer, without mediation, near. It is His presence.” This, he explained, happens in the liturgical celebration. The liturgical celebration is not a social act, a good social act; it is not a gathering of the faithful to pray together. It is something else. In the liturgy, God is present,” but it is a closer presence. In the Mass, in fact, “the presence of the Lord is real, truly real.”

“When we celebrate the Mass, we don’t accomplish a representation of the Last Supper: no, it is not a representation. It is something else: it is the Last Supper itself. It is to really live once more the Passion and the redeeming Death of the Lord. It is a theophany: the Lord is made present on the altar to be offered to the Father for the salvation of the world. We hear or we say, ‘But, I can’t now, I have to go to Mass, I have to go to hear Mass.’ The Mass is not ‘heard,’ it is participated in; and it is a participation in this theophany, in this mystery of the presence of the Lord among us.”

Nativity scenes, the Way of the Cross… these are representations. The Mass, on the other hand, “is a real commemoration, that is, it is a theophany: God approaches and is with us, and we participate in the mystery of the Redemption.”  Unfortunately, too often we look at the clock during Mass, “counting the minutes.” This, the pope said, is not the attitude the liturgy requires of us: the liturgy is God’s time, God’s space, and we must place ourselves there: in God’s time, in God’s space, and not look at the clock.”

“The liturgy is to really enter into the mystery of God, to allow ourselves to be brought to the mystery, and to be in the mystery,” he said. We are all “gathered here to enter into the mystery: this is the liturgy. It is God’s time, it is God’s space, it is the cloud of God that surrounds all of us. To celebrate the liturgy is to have this availability to enter into the mystery of God,” to enter into His space, His time, to entrust ourselves to this mystery. 

Pope Francis concluded, “We would do well today to ask the Lord to give to each of us this ‘sense of the sacred’ — this sense that makes us understand that it is one thing to pray at home, to pray in Church, to pray the Rosary, to pray so many beautiful prayers, to make the Way of the Cross, so many beautiful things, to read the Bible — [but] the Eucharistic celebration is something else. In the celebration we enter into the mystery of God, into that street that we cannot control: only He is the unique One — the glory, the power — He is everything.

“Let us ask for this grace: that the Lord would teach us to enter into the mystery of God.”


The spirit of the liturgy from Benedict to Francis

Moving Forward: From Benedict to Francis

Pope: With magisterial authority, I affirm that liturgical reform is irreversible

Pope Francis and the Roman Rite Liturgy

This is an excellent explanation of the background to Pope Francis' approach to liturgy.   He looks at it as a pastor, a typically Jesuit approach, and not as a historian, nor as a person very interested in rubrics, but as a pastor who may be present at celebrations that set his teeth on edge, but who has to weigh up the pro's and cons of intervening before letting his disagreement be known.  However, the speaker does not give enough importance to Pope Francis' love of the Byzantine Liturgy, nor his seeing the Mass as a theophany, nor his teaching that the Mass is the heart of the Church.
Cardinal Burke: Pope Benedict restored the ‘correct order and beauty’ to the liturgy.

Cardinal Burke's version of Pope Benedict's contribution to the western Latin rite's development since the Vatican Council is only partly accurate, and Sandro Magister's attempt to oppose Pope Francis' declaration that the changes to the liturgy are irreversible to the policy of Pope Benedict who restored the "old Latin Mass" is  quite simply, mistaken and a falsification of what actually occurred.

It must be remembered that Pope Benedict never said that the old Mass was to be preferred to the new, nor did he authorize the old as a replacement of the new.  Nor did he normally celebrate the old Mass at Papal functions.  In fact, he acted as though the new Mass is the norm and that the changes are irreversible, which is what Pope Francis has said.

His argument for allowing the Tridentine Mass was one dear to theologians of the ressourcement group who were behind the texts of the new Mass, if not of the final rubrics: if something was universally accepted as a legitimate expression of Tradition over a long period, it cannot become illegitimate later.  This is not only true in things liturgical.   If belief in the Vatican I dogmas on the papacy were held by many but not held by others in the first thousand years, without any threat to Christian unity, they cannot be an obstacle to Christian unity now.  They cannot be imposed on the Orthodox as binding dogma, nor condemned among Catholics as heresy. This is because the same Holy Spirit is at work throughout Christian history.  For this reason, both Catholic and Orthodox theologians make the first thousand years the key to agreement.

Pope Francis has used the same principle when discussing the pastoral policy toward divorced and remarried people.

At the time of his election, it was said that Pope Francis was elected with a certain agenda in mind, to carry on the process that Vatican II started.   He was an advocate of de-centralization which Joseph Ratzinger advocated at the Council, and of freeing the episcopate from attachment to a phony unity through Vatican censorship and control.  In this, Pope Francis is continuing with two of the main policies of the Council and made it what it was.  Again, Joseph Ratzinger was, as secretary to Cardinal Frings, was one of the chief instruments in this process.  Finally, it was to give more authority to the bishops, giving them back the right to make decisions, which had been gradually drained away over history.  

These processes were opposed by curial cardinals during the Council and of course, Pope Francis is opposed by curial cardinals as he continues with this conciliar process.  However, this can be exaggerated and can distort our understanding.  For instance, it was Pope Francis who appointed Cardinal Sarah to his present position, and there is no sign that he is about to sack him, even if they publicly disagree on certain liturgical matters and also, more basically, on the process of de-centralization.   Moreover, Pope Francis, in the homilies etc that we quote above, in his approval of silence, a sense of the sacred and awe in the celebration, and his emphasis on liturgy as a meeting with God, sounds more like Cardinal Sarah than anyone else.  As Dr Moynihan says, the present catechesis on the Eucharist by Pope Francis arose from a suggestion by Cardinal Sarah.  Talk of "public humiliation" is, I think, a little strong, even though it makes interesting reading. 

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