Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Lost Tomb of Jesus?

A student told me she saw this documentary originally shown in 2007 replay on TV over the Easter holiday.  I thought it might be pertinent to revisit the topic.  Here are my comments written both before and shortly after I saw the documentary air in March 2007.

©2007 Matthew A. C. Newsome

As I write this, the Discovery Channel is set to premiere, on March 4, the latest documentary from Simcha Jacobovici (in conjunction with James Cameron), entitled The Lost Tomb of Jesus.  Controversy over this one is not only anticipated, but expected by the network.

Since I have not seen it, I cannot comment directly on the content of the program, but based on news reports prior to its airing, it promises to be a lot of hype without much substance.  Which is sad, really.  I have seen other programs that Jacobovici has been involved in and generally speaking, I like the man.  Or I should say, I like what I have seen of his work.

I first became aware of him when he (again, with director James Cameron) created a program for the Discovery Channel called Exodus Decoded.  In this exciting documentary, Jacobovici takes a new look at archaeological evidence to show how the Exodus could have happened exactly where and when the Biblical account says it did, despite the number of modern scholars who claim that archaeology supposedly “disproves” the Exodus story.  Jacobovici is even able to show, scientifically, how many of the miraculous events described in Exodus could have occurred.  Aha! I thought, this is where the other shoe is going to drop and the show is going to show its secular agenda.  But no, instead Jacobovici impressed me by pointing out that simply suggesting a natural, scientific explanation for how various miracles may have occurred does not negate the possibility of God using nature to suit His purposes and achieve His ends.

So Jacobovici impressed me, and I took the opportunity to see him in a regular show that he does for the History International channel, called The Naked Archaeologist (“naked” in terms of stripping the science down to its essentials – the host is clothed the entire time!).  In the few episodes I have had the chance to see, I gathered that Jacobovici was Jewish, and one who seems to take seriously his faith.  (Indeed, a recent Newsweek article calls him an “observant Jew.”)  I delighted in watching him converse with an archaeologist during a show he did on the Philistines.  While examining a Philistine temple, Jacobovici made a reference to Samson.  The archaeologist was quick to deny any suggestion that the Samson story may have actually happened historically, and Jacobovici called him to task on it, saying something like, “Hey, look.  Here we have in the Bible this great story about a Jew who is held prisoner in this Philistine temple, tied to two pillars.  And here we have this Philistine temple, from the same era, and it fits the description perfectly.”

I liked his style, I liked the way that he was unafraid to tackle the secular scientists in the field, and I liked that fact that he was interested in linking the Biblical accounts to historic events. I would not presume to assign him motives such as proving the the Bible through archaeology, but if this were the case, it would seem limited to the Old Testament. Which brings us to The Lost Tomb of Jesus.

Reportedly, the tomb in question is one of hundreds (if not thousands) that were discovered in Jerusalem in the 1980s.  Like many other tombs, it contained a number of ossuaries (bone boxes) some of which bore inscriptions such as “Jesus the son of Joseph,” and “Maria” and “Matthew” and “Judas son of Jesus.”  While the names on these boxes will strike a chord with anyone familiar with the Gospel accounts, in reality these were extremely common names in first century Palestine.  According to the same Newsweek article, 25% of women in Jerusalem were named some form of “Mary.”  A source from the Princeton Theological Seminary claims to have seen a first century letter written by someone named Jesus, to someone named Jesus, and witnessed by a third party named Jesus.  And there are at least two other well documented ossuaries from the same period that are inscribed "Jesus, son of Joseph." It is as common a combination as "William" and "Robert" might be today.

In fact, the whole case for this being the burial tomb of Jesus and his family seems to be built upon statistics.  Yes, these are all common names, but what is the likelihood that all of these names would occur together and in the proper context?  According to a statistician cited on the program, 1 in 600.  Ergo, according to Jacobovici, this is the final burial place of Jesus and his family.  And that family, according to Jacobovici, included his wife, Mary Magdalene, and their son, named Judas.  Shades of DaVinci Code indeed.

The “proof” for this lies in the fact that the bones in the ossuary labeled “Miriamene” (supposedly Mary Magdalene) and those in the ossuary labeled “Jesus son of Joseph” were not related, according to DNA tests, therefore they could have been married.  And the bones in the ossuary inscribed “Judas son of Jesus” would therefore be their son. 
I’m not a statistician, but I know enough about statistics to know how easily they can be manipulated.  Assuming for the moment that those used on the program are correct, we still need to weigh this “statistic” against the rest of the facts.  Things like the fact that the Holy Family was rather poor, and wouldn’t be able to afford a nice permanent family tomb like this one.  And if they had such a tomb, why would it be in Jerusalem and not Nazareth where they lived?  Or the fact that according to the New Testament and every other historic record, hundreds of people testified to witnessing the resurrected Christ and that no-one, not even the first century Jerusalem Jews, who were looking for any excuse to discredit the Christians (just read The Acts of the Apostles), claimed to know where Jesus’ body could be found.

It turns out that the only people who are taking Jacobivici’s claim seriously are Jacobivici himself and the Discovery Channel.  Other archaeologists view him as more of a talk-show host than a scientist.  A Washington Post piece published last Thursday said, “Leading archaeologists in Israel and the United States yesterday denounced the purported discovery of the tomb of Jesus as a publicity stunt.”  It went on to illustrate that scorn for the claims is coming “not just from Christian scholars but also from Jewish and secular experts who said their judgments were unaffected by any desire to uphold Christian orthodoxy.”

Indeed, the archaeologists who first discovered this tomb in the early 80’s thought absolutely nothing of it.  As I said before, all the names were very common and there was absolutely nothing to link the tomb directly to Jesus of Nazareth. And we are not even sure the names are what they seem to be. It is questionalbe whether "Miriamene" can actually be interpreted as "Mary Magdalene," and one archaeologist from the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem believes the name "Jesus" is actually "Hanun." But Jacobivici seems to specialize in making grand connections between pieces of evidence that mainstream scientists miss.  In this case, he came across these ossuaries in storage in Jerusalem while filming for a show he did on “Biblical hoaxes” which included a segment on the “James, brother of Jesus” ossuary which proved to be a forgery.  The question is, when Jacobivici saw them, did he truly believe he discovered the bones of Jesus Christ, or did he simply discover his next big Hollywood project?

And what a coincidence that this so-called “discovery” falls right on the heels of the DaVinci Code hype.  Of course the claims in that novel have been roundly ridiculed by all serious historians.  What are the odds, then, that the one thing Dan Brown got right is the fact that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married?  Less than 600 to 1, I bet.  If you want to talk statistics, figure that one out.

The Discovery Channel themselves are at least doing lip service to the millions of Christian viewers that they anticipate offending.  On their web site, they have a link to “theological considerations” that will be brought up by the program.  They make the startling claim that having Jesus’ bones does not contradict the Resurrection!  They make no claims that the Resurrection didn’t happen, they say – only that the Ascension was not a physical ascension, but a spiritual ascension.  This, they say, “is consistent with Christian theology.”  Really!  Now the Discovery Channel are touting themselves as theologians and telling us that this is all really, when you think about it, consistent with Christianity, and so why all the fuss?

The truth is that the physical Ascension of Jesus Christ is important, as is the bodily resurrection from the dead.  For we believe that Christ came to conquer death, and what is death but the separation of the body from the soul.  Christ’s body was resurrected, and He bodily ascended into heaven.  This, just as the Virgin Mary’s Assumption body and soul into heaven, gives us hope of our future destiny.  If the spirit of Christ only is in heaven, while His body decomposes here on earth… well then, you don’t have Christianity.  You have a twisted form of Gnosticism, believing that the soul is good and eternal, and the physical body is merely an evil prison for our souls, to be shed by those who are enlightened.

Good try, Discover Channel, but I’ll turn to my Catechism when I want theology.  I’ll turn to you when I need real scientific knowledge, like whether or not Mentos really makes Diet Coke explode.

Follow up review... The first hour
While I did not have the opportunity to watch The Lost Tomb of Jesus as it aired, I did record it to watch at a later date. I'm now half way through the program and I wanted to share my impression so far. To be honest, I am not exactly overwhelmed by the evidence presented in the first hour. It seems to me that while an ossuary with the inscription "Jesus, son of Joseph" is interesting, though not that rare, and an ossuary with the name "Maria" is also interesting, but not that rare, the whole case about this being the family tomb of Jesus of Nazareth is built upon the names on the other ossuaries in the same tomb. And here their case is weakest.

For instance, one ossuary bears the name Matthew. The problem is that there is no known Biblical figure named Matthew who was part of Jesus' immediate family. This problem is gotten around by pointing out that there are several men named Matthew in Mary's geneaology, therefore it was a "common family name" and it would not have been unlikely that someone in Jesus' family would have been given this name.

Even more of a stretch is their explanation of why the inscription "Miriamne" should be read as "Mary Magdalene." To get to this conclusion they rely exclusively on information from the fourth century Apocryphal Acts of Philip. What really made me laugh was the part where the film accused the second century Church of suppressing and destroying texts such as The Gospel of Mary and the Acts of Philip. They never did explain how the Church in the second century could burn copies (as they were shown doing) of a fourth century work. Speaking of the second century Church, it was apparantly around this time that they decided women could not be ordained. Prior to that, the film stated matter of factly, ordained women (such as Mary Magdalene) were not that uncommon. One "expert" interviewed even gave her enlightened opinion that Mary Magdalene was the "real founder of Christianity."
And this is where the film leaves us in the first half. I suspect that the latter half will be mostly about Mary Magdalane and her supposed marriage to Jesus. With each new step, each new "what if" that they present, the case for their claims grows weaker and weaker. But so far they have not even attempted to answer the two most presseing questions I have.

The first has to do with the inscription on the "Jesus" ossuary itself. The experts quoted indicated that the inscription was extremely casual. It is not really a formal inscription but a hastily carved "note" put there to indicate whose bones were in which box. One expert spoke of how poor the handwriting was. This really makes me wonder. If we assume for a moment that the Resurrection is a hoax, and that the bones in this ossuary really are those of Jesus Christ, I would have expected to see one of two things. If those who buried Jesus were already planning on spreading the Resurrection story, they certainly would not have put Jesus' name on an ossuary. They would have left it blank (as the majority of ossuaries are), or inscribed another name on it. If the Resurrection "myth" was a later development, then those who buried Jesus would still have regarded him as a great man, the founder of their religious movement, and worthy of certain honors. Therefore I would have expected his ossuary to be at least slightly decorative, and certainly for the inscription of his name to be carefully rendered in a place of honor. But neither of these scenarios is the case here. The film does not even address this problem.

The second question is simply this. If Jesus of Nazareth had a family tomb, why isn't it in Nazareth? That is where they lived, after all. Neither Jesus nor his family lived in Jerusalem. Why would we expect to find his tomb there? Again, the film never goes into this question (at least not in the first half).

Thus far, it seems that most of the "experts" that Jacobovici interviews for this film have absolutely no interest in verifying his ridiculous claims. The one exception is a professor from UNC Charlotte named Tabor who tells us, matter of factly, that only silly superstitous Christians believe that Jesus could have "magically" rose from the dead, and that those who look at the Gospels "historically" assume that Jesus must be buried somewhere and so no one should really be surprised to find that his tomb was discovered during a construction project in 1980. This particular "expert" seems to automatically reject anything the Church says as patently false and unhistoric -- including traditional Catholic teaching about "the brothers of Jesus." It is very easy to dismiss something taught by the Church out of hand simply because some hold these teachings as a matter of faith. However, it is telling that he never offers any facts to back up his own claims. In the end we are left with the mere opinion of a college professor against 2000 years of Christian tradition.

I'll post more of my thoughts after watching the second hour of the program. I also recorded a follow-up that Discover Channel has aired titled Lost Tomb of Jesus: A Critical Look, which may prove interesting.... more to come!

The second hour...
As predicted, hour two of The Lost Tomb of Jesus did indeed continue with the speculation that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married. This was determined by DNA testing. One hears "DNA testing" and the impression is one of scientific certainty. In reality all these DNA tests can show is that the people buried in these ossuaries were maternally unrelated. The assumption is that if two unrelated people are found in the same family tomb, they must be husband and wife. And an assumption is all that this is. It could be that they are paternally related, as the DNA tests did not rule that out. Or it could be that one of the people in question was married to one of the other eight people included in the same tomb. In any case, it proves nothing about whether any of these people can be identified with New Testament figures.

Further to the claim that Jesus and this "Miriamne" were married is the suggestion that they had a child, named Judah. One of the other ossuaries in the tomb bore the inscription "Judah, son of Jesus." Why have we never heard of this son before now? Well, because Jesus and Mary wanted to keep the fact that they had a son secret, so that the authorities would not come after the child and kill him, as the sucessor of Jesus' dynasty. Of course, one wonders, if the name "Judah, son of Jesus" appears on an ossuary in the Jesus family tomb, how secret could it have really been?

It is in the second hour of the program that Jacobovici reveals that he beleives that the controversial "James, brother of Jesus" ossuary found in 2002, actually came from this same tomb. This ossuary belonged to a collector named Oded Golan, who claims to have purchased it from an antiquities dealer sometime prior to 1976. The fact that the "Jesus Family Tomb" in question was not unearthed until 1980 was simply glossed over in the film. (Our UNCC professor Tabor shrugged and just said, "it was found around 1980..."). And, of course, the inscription on the James ossuary has also been declared a forgery by the Israeli Antiquities Authority.

The only value in suggesting that the James ossuary is authentic, and comes from the same tomb as the others, would be to increase the statistical liklihood that the family in this tomb is that of Jesus of Nazareth. And even though the numbers look impressive, I have to question the basis for the statistics. Early on in this "documentary" it is stated that the hundreds of ossuaries found during construction in Jerusalem in the 1980s give us the most complete catalog of first century names from the region. But it is also stated that the bulk of these ossuaries bear no inscription at all. So one has to wonder if we know enough about first century Jewish names to even be able to calculate meaningful percentages and statistics.

My question about why a family from Nazareth would have a family tomb in Jerusalem was never brought up on the program. And my question about why Jesus' ossuary would bear only a casual, poorly rendered inscription was also ignored. Jacobovici did attempt to draw meaning from the unusual symbol found over the entry of the tomb itself. It is a chevron (an upside down V) with a circle beneath it. What this means is anyone's guess -- it's not a symbol associated at all with Christianity. But they attempt to relate it to the early Christian community by showing us another ossuary, found in a tomb discovered on the site of a Franciscan monastery outside Jerusalem, with the inscription "Simon bar Jonah." This ossuary has the same chevron symbol on it, and they make the wild claim that this is the Simon Peter of the New Testament.

But wait, didn't Peter travel to Rome and wasn't he cricified there? And isn't his tomb under St. Peter's Bascillia in the Vatican? The answer is yes to all these questions, of course. But these claims are simply dismissed in the film as "uncredible." Pot, meet kettle.

This psuedo-documentary ends by admitting that this may not be the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth and his family. But if it is not, we are must then believe that there was another Jesus with a father named Joseph who lived at the same time, with close relatives named Matthew and Jose (Joseph), and women in his life named Mary and Miriamne, and a son named Judah. I, for one, find this latter scenario much more probable, as it fits better with the bulk of the historical data that we have.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Weekly update from CCM

Dear Students,

God is smiling down on us with this warm spring weather!  I hope you are all enjoying a beautiful day in Cullowhee.  I'd like to thank those of you who took the time this past Saturday to leave campus and head into the "big city" of Asheville to tour the historic Basilica of St. Lawrence.  Everyone who went had a great time, and it was especially nice to be able to enjoy that fellowship time with your fellow Catholic students.  Look for the pics on Facebook!

The semester is quickly wrapping up, so please don't miss these final opportunities to get together with one another before it's home for summer break.

This Wednesday for supper, Alex is cooking for us.  Please gather at the Center at 6:30pm for a home cooked meal.  (If the weather stays this nice, perhaps we'll eat outside!)  Afterwards, we'll be learning how to make our own tied knot rosaries.  If you've ever wanted to make your own rosary, here is your chance.  And if you have never wanted to make your own rosary, now's the time to change your mind!  Whether you make one for yourself, for a friend, or to give away to another ministry, such a a prison or hospital ministry, making your own rosary can be a great spiritual help.  We'll also talk about praying the rosary, and have information about groups you can donate your rosaries to.

Remember, Eucharistic Adoration from 4-5pm.  For the rest of the semester!

Join us for the Rosary at 7:00pm.  Mass at 7:30pm.  This will be the second-to-last Mass on campus before the end of the semester, so please come!

Are you staying on campus over the summer?
I'd like to compile a list of those of you who are taking summer courses or will otherwise be around over the summer break.  We'd like to be able to get together, perhaps for a summer Bible study, or just for fellowship (or at least car pool to Mass!).  But first we need to know who will be around.  So let me know, either by email, facebook, or in person.  Thanks!

God bless everyone, and have a wonderful week!

WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Gospel For Today


When the early 20th century British journalist G. K. Chesterton was asked why he converted to Catholicism, his answer was very pragmatic.  "To get my sins forgiven," he stated.  And truly, that is why we are all here, at the heart of it.  Your own personal reasons for being a Catholic may be different.  You may be a Catholic because that is how you were raised.  Perhaps you chose to become Catholic after being influenced by a faithful Catholic in your life.  Or maybe you attended a Mass one Sunday on a whim and were overwhelmed by the beauty of the liturgy.  However you arrived in the Catholic faith, there is one reason and one reason only for you to stay; that is to become holy.  To get your sins forgiven.

This is why I am not bothered when people point out some of the bad things that the more flawed members of the Church have done in the past.  These people think they can expose the Church as corrupt when they do so, but they fail to see the point.  For the Church is not some exclusive club, open only to saints.  Rather it is a hospital, meant to heal sinners.  We are all here because we are sinners.  We want to become saints.  And for that, we need forgiveness.  We need mercy.

The conduit of that Divine Mercy is the Church.  In today's gospel reading (Jn 20:19-31) we see the Apostles encountering the Risen Lord, appearing suddenly to them inside of a locked room.  After greeting them with His peace, Jesus tells them, "As the Father has sent me, so I send you."  And then we are witness to a very special moment.  He breathes on them, and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit.  Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained."  This is the moment when Christ establishes the Sacrament of Confession, or as it is also known, Reconciliation.  

There is an earlier episode in Matthew's Gospel (Mt 9:2-8) when Jesus forgives the sins of a paralytic man.  The Jewish scribes are scandalized by this, for only God has the authority to forgive sins.  They believed Jesus was blaspheming because they did not understand Him to be the Son of God.  Only God has the authority to forgive sins.  Jesus is the Divine Son of God, and so possesses that authority.  And here we witness Christ passing that authority on to the first leaders of the Church.

This is what St. Paul refers to as the "ministry of reconciliation" that Christ gave to them (2 Cor 5:18-20).  He says that the Apostles are "ambassadors of Christ, since God is making His appeal through us."  That appeal is one of mercy and forgiveness, so that we may be reconciled with God, our creator.  And that ministry first entrusted to the Apostles is carried on today by their successors, the bishops of the Church, and all those ministers in solidarity with them.  This is the ministry of the Church.

So that is the Church's job.  What is our job?  Our role here is to be recipients of that grace which God is offering.  We need only to be open to receiving His mercy.  One of the visions of Christ granted to St. Faustina, that humble Polish nun in the 1930's, related this message:  "He who does not enter through the door of my mercy must pass through the door of my judgment."  We are given that choice.  Well, I know which door I choose!  I fear to pass through the door of Christ's judgment because I know I am not worthy.  But I trust in His mercy, and am thankful for it.

And so we can all pray with the psalmist from today's psalm (Ps 118).
Let the house of Israel say,
"His mercy endures forever."
Let the house of Aaron say,
"His mercy endures forever."
Let those who fear the Lord say,
"His mercy endures forever."

I was hard pressed and was falling,
but the Lord helped me.
My strength and my courage is the Lord,
and he has been my savior.

St. Faustina recorded these words of Christ in her diary, to serve as a comfort for us all:
Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet. My mercy is so great that no mind, be it of man or of angel, will be able to fathom it throughout all eternity. Everything that exists has come forth from the very depths of My most tender mercy. Every soul in its relation to Me will contemplate My love and mercy throughout eternity. The Feast of Mercy emerged from My very depths of tenderness. It is My desire that it be solemnly celebrated on the first Sunday after Easter. Mankind will not have peace until it turns to the Fount of My Mercy.
--Diary of St. Faustina Kowalska, entry 699

Today, on this feast of Divine Mercy, renew your faith with this simple prayer:  "Jesus, I trust in You!"

WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Weekly update from CCM

Dear Students,

Happy Easter!  Alleluia, He is Risen!  Alleluia!

This week the Catholic Church celebrates the Octave of Easter.  What's an "octave," you ask?  Liturgically speaking, an octave is a celebration lasting eight days.  The Octave of Easter lasts from Easter Sunday through till the following Sunday.  These eight days are treated as one day, liturgically speaking (for example, if one is praying the Liturgy of the Hours, the psalms are taken from the same day in the psalter throughout the week).  An octave is a way of saying, in the liturgy, that this celebration is too important for just one day, we are going to celebrate all week long. 

Moreover, the Easter Season is celebrated in the Church until Pentecost (May 27), fifty days after Easter.  So, despite being back on campus from Spring Break, Easter isn't over yet!  Please continue to hold the Easter feast in your heart and don't hesitate to wish one another a "Happy Easter" for the remainder of the semester.

Wednesday:  We are back on our regular schedule this week, so we'll see you for supper with us at 6:30pm!  We've had a lot of wonderful guest speakers and talks lately, which we have all enjoyed, but for this week we thought we'd let our hair down and enjoy a Game Night together.  So after supper plan on some good ol' Catholic Pictionary or some other form of holy mayhem!  :-)

Thursday:  There is a student organization club fair at the UC Lawn from 11-2.  Catholic Campus Ministry will have an information table.  Come by and say hi, or better yet, stay and help us meet & greet your fellow students who may be interested in learning more about us.  Anyone who can help with set up, please meet me at the Student Center before 10:30am.

Friday:  Our Lenten Adoration hours on Fridays have proven to be popular, so we plan on continuing that practice for the remainder of the semester.  So please come pray with us from 4-5pm in our chapel.  You don't have to say the whole hour, even just a few minutes with the Lord can work wonders!

Saturday:  Join us for a visit to the historic St. Lawrence Basilica in Asheville!  Meet at the Student Center at 3:30pm to carpool to the Basilica.  We'll attend the Vigil Mass that afternoon, followed by a tour of the church.  Finally, we'll enjoy dinner together at the Olive Garden in Asheville before returning to campus.  (You are responsible for the cost of your meal).  We've set up a Facebook event for this, so please let us know if you plan on going.

Sunday:  This coming Sunday is the Second Sunday of Easter.  It's also Divine Mercy Sunday.  This is a special observance first instituted by the Church in the year 2000, based on the revelations of Christ to St. Faustina in the 1930's.  If you have never heard of Divine Mercy Sunday, there is a lot of great information online at (as well as other websites).  There is also information on the bulletin board outside our chapel.  

This Sunday at 3:00pm, St. Mary's will hold a Divine Mercy service consisting of Eucharistic Adoration, prayer, song and silence.  It will last approximately 1 hour.  Also, instead of our normal Rosary 30 minutes before Mass on campus, we will pray the Divine Mercy chaplet.  It is a simple prayer (much simpler than the rosary, in fact) that is also prayed on rosary beads.  If you have never prayed the Divine Mercy chaplet before, you can find information a the above web site, on our bulletin board, or on EWTN's web site.  And don't worry, we'll have "cheat sheets" on hand for any who are new to the prayer!

So, come pray the Divine Mercy chaplet with us at 7pm, and stay for Mass at 7:30pm.  

Everyone please have a blessed week, and continue to have a Happy Easter!

WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Alleluia! He is Risen!

Christians, praise the Pascal Victim!  
Offer thankful sacrifice!
Christ the Lamb has saved the sheep;
Christ the Just One paid the price,
Reconciling sinners to the Father.

Death and life fought bitterly
For this wondrous victory;
The Lord of life who died reigns glorified!

O Mary, come and say
What you saw at break of day.
"The empty tomb of my living Lord!
I saw Christ Jesus risen and adored!"

Bright angels testified,
Shroud and grave clothes side by side!
"Yes, Christ my hope rose gloriously.
He goes before you into Galilee."

Share the good news, sing joyfully:
His death is victory!
Lord Jesus, Victor King,
Show us mercy.

Happy Easter to one and all at WCU!  And a special congratulations and "welcome home" to students Joseph Coca and Chesnee Hibbard, whom along with several others, received the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and First Holy Eucharist) and were brought into full communion with the Catholic Church last night at the Easter Vigil Mass at St. Mary's.  

I hope as many of you who can are sharing this Easter morning with friends and family at home.  Just a reminder for those on campus today that there is no Sunday Mass on campus.  Easter Masses will be offered at St. Mary's at 9:00am and 11:00am today.  Check our Facebook group for carpool information, anyone who needs a ride from campus.

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad, alleluia!

WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Holy Week Update from CCM


Most college students at WCU are likely thinking of this week as "Spring Break."  It certainly is that, but it's also Holy Week, a time of very special celebration for Catholics all over the world.

So while we are taking a break from our regular schedule of activities at the Catholic Student Center this week, I'd like to let you know what all the Church has up her sleeve this Holy Week.  There is a bit more to it than simply being the week between Palm Sunday and Easter.

This past Sunday is called Palm Sunday, or Passion Sunday.  Many Catholics know it as "that Sunday with the really long Gospel reading."  (And if you don't know what I am talking about, shame on you for missing Mass last Sunday!)

So why the long reading?  The Gospel on Palm Sunday tells the story of our Lord's Passion, from the Last Supper until the stone is rolled over His tomb.  It encapsulates the story recounted in the Easter Triduum (more on that later).  It essentially "sets the stage" for the culmination of the story the next Sunday at Easter.

Why palms?  Palms traditionally are used as a symbol for two things: victory and martyrdom.  The secular world may see these things as being quite different, but Christians have a different view.  We know that Christ's great victory was His martyrdom.  It is in dying that He conquered death.  When Christ was welcomed triumphantly into Jerusalem, palms were used as symbolic of victory.  But their other meaning would very quickly become appropriate, as well.  (Note than in many images of the Church's early martyrs, they are shown holding palms).

Many parishes in our diocese will have their regular daily Mass cancelled today, April 3.  And that is because the pastors of these churches will be down in Charlotte, gathering around their bishop to celebrate the annual Chrism Mass.  "Chrism" refers to the holy oils that have many sacramental uses in the Church.

The annual Chrism Mass is an expression of unity and priestly brotherhood where priests renew their commitment to serve the faithful of the diocese.  Bishop Jugis will bless the holy oils used in the anointing of the sick, as well as the sacred chrism oils used in baptisms and confirmations, and the dedication of churches and altars throughout the coming year.

It is a special Mass celebrated only once per year.  And this year, for the first time ever, the Chrism Mass for the Diocese of Charlotte will be streamed live over the internet.  Starting at 10am today, you can watch it live by clicking here:

The Mass is expected to last about two hours, so tune in any time between 10am and noon to watch the online broadcast.

Holy Thursday begins what is called the great Easter Triduum.  The word "triduum" means "three days."  Those three days are Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.  Together they make up one single great liturgy, the highest liturgical celebration of the Church year.  

The Mass on Holy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper, which took place the day before our Lord's crucifixion.  Christ met with the Apostles in the Upper Room in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover feast with them.  Gathered together, this is when our Lord first took up the bread, blessed it, and spoke those words that will echo until the end of time.  "This is my body, which will be given up for you."  

It is on this day that the Sacrament of the Eucharist, what our Church calls "the source and summit of our faith" (Vatican II) was initiated by Christ.  This day is also the birthday of the priesthood.  

The Holy Thursday Mass has a strong Eucharistic theme, but the most remarkable thing about it is that it does not end.  The liturgical celebration ends not with the priest saying, "the Mass is ended, go in peace," as usual.  Rather, he processes out of the church with the Holy Eucharist to a garden of repose (usually a chapel, side altar, or some other room made to resemble the Garden of Gethsemane).  There, Eucharistic Adoration is observed into the night, where the faithful are invited to keep vigil with the Lord on the night before His Passion, as the Apostles did two thousand years ago.  

Meanwhile, inside the church, the altar and sanctuary are stripped bare.  All altar linens are removed.  The tabernacle door is left wide open, the candle extinguished.  The sanctuary becomes a bare, desolate place, in anticipation of what is to come the following day.

Friday is the day of our Lord's Passion, His suffering and death on the cross.  I saw a B.C. cartoon recently where two cavemen are sitting on a hillside.  One says, "I don't like the term 'Good Friday.'"  

"Why not?" the other asks.

"Because my Lord died that day," he said.

The other caveman said, "Well, if you were scheduled to die that day, and He offered to take your place, how would you feel?"

"Good," the first caveman said.  

Point taken.  This day is called "good" because it is this day on which our salvation was won, paid for by Christ's own blood.  There is no Mass celebrated this day.  It is common in many places to pray the stations of the cross (usually at 3pm, the hour of Christ's death).  The Triduum liturgy continues with the Commemoration of Our Lord's Passion.

Just as the Holy Thursday liturgy never officially ends, so the Good Friday liturgy never officially begins.  It starts with the priest and his servers walking into the bare, stripped church in silence.  There is no entrance song.  No opening prayer.  When they come before the altar, they prostrate themselves, lying flat on their faces on the floor for several minutes.  Once they arise, the liturgy continues.  It consists of the veneration of the cross, and a communion service, where Eucharist consecrated at the Holy Thursday Mass is distributed to the faithful.  

Like Holy Thursday, there is no "the Mass is ended" at end of this liturgy.  This is because the liturgy has not ended. It continues on into the following day.

NOTE:  Good Firday is a day of fast and abstinence.  This means no meat, and only one full meal may be taken this day.

And now we come to it - the summit of our Church's liturgical celebrations.  The Easter Vigil Mass is the culmination of the great Triduum.  It begins outside the church building, after dark.  A fire is lit (traditionally the palms from Palm Sunday are burned in this fire, and the ashes will be used on Ash Wednesday the following year).  

From this fire the great Paschal candle is lit.  It is this candle which will burn by the alter all through the Easter season, and which will be lit whenever baptisms are celebrated during the year.  This lit candle, symbolizing the "light of Christ," is then carried in procession into the church, which is darkened.  

The people fill into the pews of the church, lit now only by candle light.  Readings from the Scriptures are proclaimed - not one Old Testament reading, as is typical at Mass, but seven readings, with psalms, which recount the entire story of salvation, from Adam and Eve up to the great moment when the Resurrection of Christ from the tomb is proclaimed in the Gospel.  Light returns to the church, just as light has come again into the world.

Once again, the Gloria is sung.  Once again, we sing Alleluia.  He is risen!

On this night, at this Mass, thousands of people across the world will be baptized into Christ.  Thousands of people across the world will be Confirmed as adult Catholics.  Thousands of people across the world will receive the Holy Eucharist for the first time, as they are fully initiated into the Church.

This is the high point of the Liturgical Year.  Just as every Sunday is the high point of the week, Easter is the "Sunday" of the year.  This is the greatest of all commemorations of our Lord's dying and rising for us.  This is our moment when, as Catholics, we are asked to renew our baptismal promises, to stand up again and say, "Yes, this is the faith.  This is what I believe.  This is the story I am part of.  This is the faith."

Two of your fellow WCU students will be initiated into the Sacramental Mysteries of the Church this night.  Joseph Coca and Chesnee Hibbard will receive baptism, confirmation, and First Eucharist at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Sylva.  Even if you cannot be there that night to celebrate with them, please pray for them this week, and pray for all those being brought into the Church, by God's grace.

The Mass schedule for St. Mary's for the Triduum and Easter Sunday is as follows.
EASTER SUNDAY: 9:00am & 11:00am
There will be no Mass on campus Easter Sunday

Everyone enjoy your Spring Break, have a blessed Holy Week, and we'll see you back on campus next week!

God bless,

WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723