Ignatian Spirituality at Old St. Joseph’s: God’s Creation Shines


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Image of Iganatius Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits.

Ignatius Loyola created a vision on the way to approach spirituality, a “way of proceeding.” These innovative ideas are showcased here in Ignatius life and his classic text, Spiritual Exercises, that today drive Jesuits, laymen and Pope Francis. Old St. Joseph’s Church guides us in our spiritual understanding of Ignatius of Loyola.

David Fleming, in his book What is Ignatian Spirituality, begins by noting in the Preface that in founding the Society of Jesus, St. Ignatius was “more interested in a whole-person approach than in rules”. As a result, Ignatian spirituality may be understood as “a spiritual ‘way of proceeding’ that offers a vision of life, an understanding of God, a reflective approach to living, a contemplative form of praying, a reverential attitude to our world, and an expectation of finding God daily”. In other words, Ignatian spirituality entails a worldview and a way of life. – From Fr. Dan Ruff S.J. former pastor at Old St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church, Philadelphia Pennsylvania.

I. A Vision of Life, Work and Love

road and sunlight
Sunlight Around the Bend.

Ignatius compares the gifts of God as light from sun and water from a spring source. We share with God everything we have.

“God’s love shines down upon me like the light rays from the sun” says Ignatius.

Ignatius comments that life is about God in our daily lives…all the gifts to us to know God more easily and return love more readily. As good stewards and loving persons we care for God’s world. – David Flemming S.J. author of What is Ignatian Spirituality?

nature 5 oerwout God is the light of the world. Photo by Oer-Wont.

Light is beautiful and mysterious, just like God.

God as a giver of gifts speaks to us through his giving. This is a central theme of Ignatian Spirituality, love shows itself in deeds over words. We are asked to share and give what one has.

streams source of lifeThree Waterfalls.  Ignatius vision directs us to the source of life.

Our one desire: to want and choose what better leads to God’s deepening life in me. –  David Fleming S.J.

Adoration_of_the_Shepherds_1482_85Domenico_Ghirlandaio Santa Trinita FlorenceAdoration by the Shepherds by Domenico Ghirlandaio 1485. Ignatius says, “Look at how God loves.”

The real source of life is the Eucharist.

Christ is in the trenches doing the evangelizing. We are asked or called to work with him. David Fleming S.J. author of What is Ignatian Spirituality says it’s the Call of the King . . . we should think of Jesus as a king, we owe reverence and obedience. This expands to reverence for all the gifts of God’s creation that are given to us.

II. God is Love Loving

Ignatius recovers from his wounds at Loyola by Carlos Saenz de Tejada.

Ignatius says God’s gift is himself in Jesus in the Eucharist. God created Jesus.

By receiving God, we become his hands, feet and voice in our world.

All the things in this world, says Ignatius, are ways to become closer to God.

Old St. Joes altar
Old St. Joseph’s Church and National Shrine in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Founded by the Jesuits in 1733, Old St. Joseph’s is the oldest catholic community in Philadelphia. It is a national shrine from a historical standpoint. The current church is the third church on the site, built in 1839. St. Joseph’s University and St. Joseph’s Preparatory School were founded at Old St. Joseph’s.

III. Spirituality of the Heart

heart with old stained glass window
The Heart mosaic stained glass window at Old St. Joseph’s Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The Mosaic windows were for church’s that couldn’t afford figured stained glass windows, which at several points over the centuries, Old St. Joe’s was in this category, a poor parish.  The heart referenced by Ignatius is the inner orientation of a person. Ignatius stressed the vision of God is from our hearts not our minds.

organ at Old St. Joesph'sOrgan at Old St. Joseph’s Church, Philadelphia PA. Ignatius had a vision of organs playing.

While praying outside a monastery, Ignatius had a mystical vision, hearing three organs playing at the same time. This was a response from God on the question of whether four prayers should be said: to the Father, Son, Holy Spirit and the One God, or three prayers: to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The three organ response was the answer from God to Ignatius.

2-ignatius-writes-the-spiritual-exercises-in-the-cave-at Manresa.jpg!HD Ignatius writes the Spiritual Exercises in the cave at Manresa. – Carlos Saenz de Tejada

Ignatius wrote the Spiritual Exercises, his landmark spiritual guide, in a Manresa cave after experiencing a vision of the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus at the shrine of Our Lady of Montserrat in March 1522. This was well before Ignatius took up religious vows.

The Call of the King is a section of the Spiritual Exercises in which the goal is a response from the heart. Ignatius says, listen to the language of the heart. This is a cornerstone to the Spiritual Exercises.

IV. A Reflective Spirituality

nature 3 oer woutBench Inviting Reflection. Photo by Oer Wout.

The Examen is a method for detecting God’s presence during the day. The Jesuits believe reflective prayer at mid-day and before retiring to sleep is a core to the Spiritual Exercises.

Examen points by Ignatius:
1. be grateful for God’s Blessings
2. ask for the help of the Holy Spirit
3. review the day and determine where God is present and where God is left out.
4. express sorrow for sin
5. pray for grace

Author’s personal note – I practiced the examen technique after reading the Fleming book. It really is an effective mechanism to review the day and where God played a role. Many things quietly surface that go unnoticed without using the examen. David Fleming S.J. says if we get any one thing out of the Spiritual Exercises it should be the examen.

V. Sin – A Lack of Gratitude

washing Christ at the Home of the Pharisee by Artus Wolffort (b 1581; d 1641)
Washing Christ’s feet at the home of the Pharisee. By Artus Wolffort d 1641.

In his book What is Ignatian Spirituality, David Fleming S.J. says one of the greatest gospel stories about sin and forgiveness is Jesus’ meal at the home of Simon the Pharisee. When the woman of ill repute anoints Jesus feet with tears and fine oil, Jesus explained she had much to be thankful for: “her many sins have been forgiven, hence she has shown great love” (Luke 7:47)

Sin is a failure of gratitude. Sin is also a lack of reverence for God. We sin because we don’t fully grasp what God has done for us.

Even though we reject God, he still blesses us.

We enjoy the bounty of God’s creation, heavens, moon, sun, stars, fruits, birds, fishes and animals. – David Fleming S.J.
bird 2
Watchful Eyes in Nature.

Ignatius says, “If people but knew you, they would never offend you”.

As we mature as followers of Christ, we grow in our sensitivity to sin, yet even sinners can respond to God’s invitation to join him. – David Fleming S.J.

VI. Spiritual Life is a Pilgrimage

wanderer by oer woutPilgrims are people on “a way”.   Photo by Oer Wout.

Ignatius used the third person to describe himself in his autobiography, using the term, “the pilgrim”. Pilgrimage is all about following Jesus. To be a pilgrim, David Fleming S.J. says is “to let ourselves be led by the Lord.”

sailboatboats booth bay meSailboat in motion.

Stay alert for the Holy Spirit. Some are on a spiritual pilgrimage, others stationary. Ignatius in his Spiritual Exercises outlined a “way of proceeding.”

VII. God Calls, We Respond

RESSURECTION 1Risen Christ by Tony Visco. Station of the Cross at Old St. Joseph’s Church, Philadelphia PA.

Ignatius pictures the risen Christ calling every person to follow him. God takes the initiative. We respond.

The Calling of St. Matthew - Hendrick Terbrugghen, 1621.jpg!BlogThe Calling of St. Matthew by Hendrick Terbrugghen, 1621

Ignatius used the call of Matthew the tax collector as an example of Jesus inviting people to follow him. Jesus said, “Follow me” and Matthew then got up and followed him.

Active passivity captures the characteristic tone of Ignatian Spirituality. The question we seek is “What more does God want of me”? – David Fleming S.J.

Magis loosely means “the greater thing” or “the better thing”. Magis comes from within the Latin phrase Ad majorem Dei gloriam (AMDG) translated means “For the greater glory of God”. St. Ignatius asked himself and those around him, “What have I done for God? What am I doing for God? and, “What more can I do for Him?” – Fr. Dan Ruff S.J.

“More” is the magis of Ignatian Spirituality.

sailboat at sunset2The Light of God. Booth Bay Harbor, Maine

Ignatius says the purpose of Spiritual Exercises is to facilitate the movement of God’s grace within us “so the light and love of God inflame all possible decisions and resolutions about life situations.”

VIII. God Communicates in Many Ways

Our God is a “media God”. Ignatius liked the theater and was media savy for his day, having put in the first printing press. God is media savy as well.

God’s voice is usually quiet, like Elijah said, “a tiny whispering sound”.

journey-of-the-magi james tissot 1894Journey of the Magis by James Tissot 1894.

God talked to the Magis and they followed.

adoration-of-the-magi-1619 peter paul rubensIncarnation. Adoration of the Magis by Peter Paul Rubens 1619

The Incarnation is the “media event” for Ignatius where God became human in Jesus Christ, according to David Fleming S.J.

Ignatius used this to show that God is present in his creation and uses all aspects of creation to speak to us.

IX. Prayer is a Conversation

our father imageFinding God in all things.

By “finding” God, means engaging God, meeting him and conversing with him.

According to Ignatius, prayer is a conversation with God, like talking to a good friend. He included conversations with other friends in ministries. To converse is one of the ways of loving.

Prayer takes many forms; mystical, devotional, liturgical and sacred reading. All are included in Ignatius “conversar” meaning to “talk with” or ” to converse” according to David Fleming S.J.

the-lord-s-prayer-1896 james tissot
The Lord’s Prayer by James Tissot 1896.

“Lord teach us to pray”.

prayer-in-the-garden-1459.Andrea MantegnaPrayer in the Garden by Andrea Mantegna 1459

Ignatius developed the Spiritual Exercises including prayer as a conversation after years of study before he was ordained to priesthood.

X. Prayer with Imagination

san-ignatius-1961 XUL SOLAR.jpg!Blog
San Ignatius de Loyola by Xul Solar (Argentinian painter) 1961.

While recovery from a battle injury, a cannonball to the leg, Ignatius read the Life of Christ by Ludolph of Saxony. Here he saw God as the God of Love. The book as Ignatius would have seen it is shown below.

Nativity vita christi ludolph of saxony
Nativity by Ludolph of Saxony from Vita Christi (Life of Christ) read by Ignatius.

Vita Christi (Life of Christ) by Ludolph of Saxony also called Ludolph the Carthusian influenced Ignatius greatly. Ludolph proposes a method of prayer which asks the reader to visualize the events of Christ’s life. A version of this was put into the Spiritual Exercises.

MaryWeaving vita christi ludolph of saxony
Mary weaving with Jesus by Ludolph of Saxony from the book Vita Christi (Life of Christ) which Ignatius studied.

Epiphany Vita Christi Ludolph of Saxony 15th cent
Epiphany by Ludolph of Saxony from Vita Christi (Life of Christ).

They Came and Sat

While meditating on the Mystery
a mild breeze seeps through
the locked front door
as Mary, Jesus and Joseph,
came in and sat.

I dreamed of this encounter,
affirming your image
to ancient paintings
with long brilliant white robes,
yet no human can capture
your supernatural mystique
I see now.

As quickly as you entered,
you left . . .

But the transfer occurred
and I know what you said,
“Stay the course and visit Me.
I will see you every day,
every minute, every second,
for I am always with you.”
– Poem by Shrinetower

Get to know Jesus through our imagination, says Ignatius.

XI. Knowing the Jesus who is Poor.

The Jesuits associate being poor with humility.

John Millais_Christ_in_the_House_of_His_Parents_1849Christ in the House of His Parents (The Carpenter’s Shop), by John Everett Millais 1849

Jesus was a common carpenter, a relatively poor and humble man.

Ignatius joins the poor in begging for alms Peter Paul Rubens (1577 - 1640)Ignatius joins the poor in begging for alms by Peter Paul Rubens (1640)

presentation Our Lady of CzestohowaThe Presentation. Our Lady of Czestochowa National Shrine, Philadelphia PA

Ignatius felt we should experience the gospel stories especially those with travel and human interactions, like The Presentation seen here in life like stone figures from Our Lady of Czestochowa National Shrine.

I Have Nothing
In memory of Irene Gage (d 2011)

Nothing to call her own
she had a knack for asking
for the small conveniences of life
like a coat, slippers,
a grocery shopping bag,
a friend to talk to.

Her heart was open, unpretentious
her suffering visible in her face
she knew her situation;
married to a wheelchair
with a broken hip and the riddled life
of a retirement home – road show.

“I have nothing,” she reiterated daily
among her distant acquaintances.
Visible was her grace with God,
an inner family of two,
then a stray comment to put God first.
Like a squirrel she stored grace acorns
for the trip across the abyss,
where nothing was needed after all.
– Poem by Shrinetower

XII. Sharing in the Mission of Christ

unknownSculpture at Old St. Joesph’s Church.

Jesus takes the initiative. We work alongside Jesus.

Ignatius of Loyola FaceIgnatius of Loyola. Picture resides next to Francis Xavier icon at Old St. Joseph’s Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

“Everything we have received is a gift from God. We respond to his love by giving it away, by showing it in a way of serving”. – David Fleming S.J. interpretation of Ignatius Spirituality.

XIII. A Way to Clarify Your Values

nature 6 Behind every tree oerwoutBattle of the Light by Oer Wout.

David Fleming S.J. says it’s the Lucifer Flag vs the Christ Flag, although the lines are not well pronounced. Ignatius talks about good and evil and the battle ensues. Our work vision is to overcome all evil in the world.

taking of christ caravaggio WSJ2Taking of Christ by Amerighi Caravaggio 1602. You are there.

Ignatius suggests we imagine we are in the Passion of Christ. In the Taking of Christ painting, Caravaggio painted himself as a witness, in the far right side with hand raised. Ignatius asks us to place ourselves in the Gospels, as witnesses of the sacred saga.

Delivering Victory

The Spirit of Darkness
despises us in victory,
deliver me
from the hands of our enemy, (1)
deliver me
from the demon Lucifer,
the fallen angel
who attacks relentlessly.
Let’s put up a shield
in the battlefield
so the Evil One doesn’t
get the victory.
(1)  Psalm 35:15
-Poem by ShrineTower

 XIV. Greatest Mark of God’s Love

Peter Paul Rubens, c.1632 The Last Supper by Peter Paul Rubens, c.1632

Everything is a gift from God. In the spiritual exercises of the third week Ignatius wants us to pray around two Gospel passages: the last supper (Matthew 26) and Christ washing the apostles’ feet (John 13), says David Fleming S.J.

The Last Supper, when Jesus gave us his body and blood, is the greatest mark of God’s love, according to David Fleming S.J.

christ-washing-the-feet-of-the-disciples Palo VeroneseChrist washing the feet of the disciples by Palo Veronese 1580s.

Jesus is willing to do whatever it takes.

Francis Xavier and the Cross 2Francis Xavier and The Cross, Old St. Joseph’s Church, Philadelphia PA.

The cross is called Christ’s glory, it is saluted as his triumph. – St. Andrew of Crete

Ignatius asks us to imaginatively come into the presence of Jesus on the Cross. We are with the disciples at the foot of the cross, seeing the face of Christ and what he did in response to sin. We are to consider what Christ did in response to sin.

at manresa vision of Jesus at Mass eter Paul Rubens (1577 - 1640)Ignatius Vision at Mass in Manresa Monastery by Peter Paul Rubens (1577 – 1640).

At Manresa, Ignatius has a vision of seeing Jesus at Mass. In his autobiography (recited in the 3rd person) Ignatius says, “at the elevation of the body of Christ our Lord he beheld, with the eyes of his soul, white rays descended from above … The manner in which our Lord Jesus Christ is present in the Blessed Sacrament was clearly and visibly stamped upon his mind”.

station Jesus taken down from the crossJesus falls by Anthony Visco. Old St. Joesph’s Church, Station of the Cross Sculpture, Philadelphia Pennsylvania.

We experience the pain and agony.

feast at simons
Sinner washing Jesus feet at the home of Simon the Pharisee
by Paolo Veronese 1570

Before Jesus gave the disciples the Eucharist, he washed their feet. We are called to be people who serve. – David Fleming S.J.

Eucharist stained glass window behind altarThe Eucharist. Stained glass window behind altar, Old St. Joseph’s Church, Philadelphia PA.

The Eucharist brings us to the most intimate possible relationship with Christ. The Ignatian way is the way of the heart. The Eucharist shows God to be all heart. – David Fleming S.J.

XV. Seeking the Grace of Compassion

Jesus falls -Stations of the CrossJesus Falls by Anthony Visco. Old St. Joesph’s Church, Station of the Cross Sculpture, Philadelphia Pennsylvania.

Per Ignatius, our graced response to pain is called compassion. We experience the pain and agony.

Ask for the grace “to grieve, be sad and weep” over Jesus suffering. Ignatius wants us to experience it as something fresh and immediate. – David Fleming S.J.

XVI. A Way to Discern God’s Will

Bartolome Esteban Murillo Pauls SanctificationPaul’s Sanctification by Bartolome Esteban Murillo 1665.

Ignatius sites two examples of “first time” decisions, or decisions guided by our heart: the Conversion of the apostle Paul and the call of the tax collector Matthew.

MICHELANGELO conversion of st. paul 2The Conversion of St. Paul by Michelangelo 1545.

As Fr. David Fleming says in the little book we are using this year for our One Book One Parish program, Ignatius “underwent a profound conversion while recuperating from his wounds, but it was not a conversion of the intellect or will… His conversion involved his deepest desires and commitments, that essential center of the personality in which [the human person] stands before God. [Ignatius’] religious practice and intellectual understanding deepened over time, but it was his heart that was transformed.” – From the Pastor series by Fr. Dan Ruff, Old St. Joseph’s Church, Philadelphia PA.

MICHELANGELO conversion of st. paul detailConversion of St. Paul by Michelangelo 1545 – detail

“The heart has it’s reasons of which the mind knows nothing”. – Blaise Pascal 1650’s

Ignatius always envisioned Jesuits and their partners as being “contemplatives in action.” He asked his first companions to reflect and pray in order to detect the presence of God in their lives. Then, through discerning Christ’s call, to carry out His mission through action. – NJN Editor

XVII. Working With Others

Ignatius chooses companions at Paris 1528 - 1535Ignatius Chooses Companions in Paris 1528 by Peter Paul Rubens (1640)

Francis Xavier Friend of Ignatius
Francis Xavier friend of Ignatius
. Old St. Joesph’s Church, Philadelphia Pennsylvania.

Francis Xavier is known as the Apostle of the Indies and patron saint of missionaries. He has been called the greatest missionary since St. Paul.

The first seven Companions pronounce vows at Montmartre 15th August 1534 rubens jesuit instituteThe first seven companions pronounce vows at Montmartre, August 1534 by Peter Paul Rubens (d.1640)

XVIII. Being Helpful

a-storta-romersk-maleri-fra-fc3b8r-1611La Storta Vision by Romersk Maleri 1611.

The dialogue of the Ignatius vision at La Storta outside Rome:

Ignatius sees God the Father and Jesus carrying a cross. “Place me with your son”, pleads Ignatius.

“We will be propitious (favorable) to you in Rome”, replies God the Father.

Then God the Father tells Jesus, “I want you to take this man to serve us”.

The Jesus says to Ignatius, “We want you to serve us”.

As prophetized, when Ignatius went to Rome, the Pope approved the Society of Jesus religious order also known as the Jesuits.

Parable of the Workers in theParable of the workers in the vineyard.Vineyard Cesare Roberti  ca. 1590Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard by Cesare Roberti  1590.

We are partners in Jesus in His work. Ignatius guide to Jesuit service is the image of laborers in the vineyard (Matthew 20) where the vineyard is a symbol of God’s world. He said the work of Jesuits is to “help souls”.

laboreres in the vineyard red-vineyards-at-arles-1888 vincent van goghLaborers in the Vineyard by Vincent van Gogh 1888

jesus carrying cross?Jesus Carrying the Cross by Anthony Visco. Located behind the palms at Old St. Joseph’s Church, Philadelphia PA.

XIX. Jesus is All Heart

Sacred Heart at Old St. Joe'sSacred Heart Mosaic Window. Old St. Joseph’s Church – Detail

Jesus is all heart.

The great Suscipe prayer by St. Ignatius of Loyola:

Take Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding, and my entire will –
all that I have and call my own.
You have given all to me. To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours, do with it what you will
Give me only your love and your grace. That is enough for me.

Christ's Charge to St. Peter feed m lambs (from the Sistine Chapel) - RaphaelChrist’s charge to St. Peter: Feed my Lambs by Rapael from Cistine Chapel.

Show reverence for all the gifts of God’s creation. These gifts allow us to know God more easily, so we can return that love. We are asked to collaborate with God and care for God’s world. – David Fleming S.J.

Calling_of_the_Apostles_1481 Domenico_GhirlandaioCalling of St. Peter by Domenico Ghirlandaio, Cistine Chapel 1481.

On the left are scenes from the life of Moses, and on the right scenes from the life of Christ. Also with halo is St. Andrew. There is a good chance Ignatius saw this painting on his pilgrimage to Rome.

It’s Jesus work, we just help.

XX. Conclusion – Old St. Joseph’s and Pope Francis

Old St. Joseph’s Church, Philadelphia Pennsylvania – Oldest Catholic Community in US.

The Jesuits founded Old St. Joseph’s Church in 1733 making it the oldest Catholic Church in the nation. Yet, the storied Jesuit missionaries were forced to leave Philadelphia in 1799 due to the suppression of the Society. Philadelphia became a diocese in 1808 and the center of all clergy life was at Old St. Joseph’s. In 1833, after the restoration of the Society of Jesus by the Vatican, the resilient Jesuits took back the patronage of Old St. Joseph’s.

francis drexel closeup
Francis A. Drexel, Patron of Old St. Joseph’s Church.

Francis Drexel, the father of St. Katharine Drexel, was baptized and married at Old St. Joseph’s. He supplied funding to remodel the Church in 1886.

st. Joseph looking up
Apotheosis of St. Joseph. Nave ceiling Old St. Joseph’s, Philadelphia PA.

The present Church is third church built on site. It was only church on east coast where a public Mass could be held legally from 1733 until after American revolution.

“Thus at least two-thirds of the Spiritual Exercises is given over to what I call the Godspell grace – spending time in leisurely contemplation of Jesus’ life in the Gospels, seeking to see him more clearly, love him more dearly, and follow him more nearly, day by day.” – Fr. Dan Ruff S.J. From the Pastor series, Old St. Joesph’s Church.

Pope Francis smiling
Pope Francis  On God In All Things

“Finding God in all things is not an ‘empirical eureka.’ When we desire to encounter God, we would like to verify him immediately by an empirical method. But you cannot meet God this way. God is found in the gentle breeze perceived by Elijah. The senses that find God are the ones St. Ignatius called spiritual senses. Ignatius asks us to open our spiritual sensitivity to encounter God beyond a purely empirical approach.” – Pope Francis on Ignatian Spirituality

Pope Francis Coat of Arms. Much of the symbology reverts back to Ignatius.

The dark blue shield includes the official seal of the Society of Jesus with the blazing yellow sun and the red letters, IHS, the sign for the name of Jesus. A red cross rises up from the letter H and three black nails rest below. The bottom part of the blue shield is an eight point gold star and a gold flower, which represents Mary and St. Joseph.

The shield is surrounded a papal emblem using a gold key to represent the power in heaven and a silver key to indicate the spiritual authority of the papacy on earth united by a red cord.

Pope Francis’ motto at the bottom of the COA is the Latin phrase “Miserando atque eligendo,” which means “having mercy, he called him” (from St Bede the Venerable). The motto is based on the Gospel account of The Call of St. Matthew, the tax collector.

saile at sunsetWitness to God’s creation.

Anima Christi  by St. Ignatius of Loyola

Soul of Christ, sanctify me
Body of Christ, save me
Blood of Christ, inebriate me
Water from the side of Christ, wash me
Passion of Christ, strengthen me
Good Jesus, hear me
Within the wounds, shelter me
from turning away, keep me
From the evil one, protect me
At the hour of my death, call me
Into your presence lead me
to praise you with all your saints
Forever and ever

image of Jesuits
The Jesuit worldwide symbol.

Credits: The Jesuit pastor at Old St. Joseph’s Church, Fr. Dan Ruff, suggested the book What is Ignatian Spirituality? by David L. Fleming, S.J. (Loyola Press 2008) as part of a One Book, One Parish Program for 2014. Much of this post is attributed to the Fleming book. The Old St. Joseph’s From the Pastor series were used as guides. I am a visitor at Old St. Joseph’s. Selected photos by Oer Wout. For a FREE on-line copy of What is Ignatian Spirituality? by David Fleming S.J. go here.

Drawn to the Altar: The Extraordinary Form Mass – Observations (Guest Post)


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Recently, we had the Extraordinary Form Mass, the traditional Latin Mass, celebrated here at Most Blessed Sacrament parish where I am the pastor. While both forms of the Mass are the same in what essentially happens, therefore one is not greater than the other, there is a difference in how it happens.

outside blessed sacrament

Most Blessed Sacrament Church, Bally, Pennsylvania. Founded 1741

Delving into the Mass

From the traditional Latin Mass we can learn much about the nature of the Mass that can help us appreciate what the Mass is when offered in the Ordinary Form. Here are some of the things I observed during the Latin Mass. The first is that the priest leads the people as both face east in prayer.  Our parish plans to look at that in future reflections.


Extraordinary Form Mass or Latin Mass. Photo: Church of St-Michel, Fribourg CH

Another thing I noticed is there are more moments of silence. The priest says many of the prayers in a low voice or even inaudibly. The faithful’s participation is more interior than exterior. To participate the faithful need to know what is happening during the Mass. We can certainly apply this to the Ordinary Form Mass as well. Even though most of the prayers are spoken out loud, how much the better will be the faithful’s participation if aware of the meaning of all the signs and gestures and of the words that are spoken.

Drawn to the Altar

I also observed a greater closeness of the priest with the altar in the Latin Mass. The altar is a symbol of the Lord Himself. As I celebrate the Mass I feel a special closeness with the Altar and this has continued to grow over time. It is hard to express in words, but as a priest I feel drawn to the altar. You may notice that at the Mass in the Ordinary Form, the priest reverences the altar by kissing it at the beginning and end of Mass and also we bow to the altar during the Mass. We may also incense the altar. In the Extraordinary Form, the priest also leans on the altar while saying the words of consecration. It is reminiscent of St. John leaning on the chest of Our Lord during the Last Supper. It is a beautiful symbol of the closeness with the Lord in that moment.

mass blessed sacrement ceiling

“The Last Supper” ceiling painting at Most Blessed Sacrament Church

There is also something beautiful about ascending the three steps up to the altar. In the Scriptures God is so often met on a mountain. The crucifixion was on the Hill of Calvary. The priest going up to the altar of God, reminds us he is going to meet God and offer sacrifice for us.

Communion: The High Point of the Mass

One of the most notable differences between the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms is the rite of Communion. Communion is the high point of the Mass and the Extraordinary Form really emphasizes the sacredness of this moment. Each communicant comes forward and kneels (if physically able) and the priest and assisting server comes to each one. The server places the patten under the communicant’s chin and the priest makes the sign of the cross over the communicant with the Sacred Host and says, in Latin,

May the Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ preserve your soul for life everlasting. Amen.

The priest then places the Sacred Host on the communicant’s tongue. How beautiful and truly moving is this manner of receiving Holy Communion! Sadly, I believe, the Ordinary Form, with its communion line, quick prayer, and option to receive in the hand fails to help the faithful grow in devotion to and belief in the real presence of Christ and also fails to express that this is the high point of the Mass. While I believe someday we will return to the Communion Rite of the Extraordinary Form, there are a few things we can do in the Ordinary Form right now to help make this better. We can slow down and take our time receiving Holy Communion. We can make a good and deliberate act of reverence to the Blessed Sacrament. We can make an act of faith before receiving and pray after Mass a prayer of thanksgiving. We’ll look more closely at this in future reflections as well.


The Lamb of God insignia in front of Altar, Most Blessed Sacrament Church

Overall I hope the experience of the Extraordinary Form Mass in our parish will help us to understand and appreciate the Mass more and lead to a deeper love for this, the Lord’s greatest gift to us and our most fitting act of worship. – Peace, Father Adam


Altar, Most Blessed Sacrament Church

Guest Post: This is a guest post by Father Adam Sedar, pastor at Most Blessed Sacrament Church in Bally, Pennsylvania. The text is from a recent bulletin article Father Adam created for his parishioners and agreed to share on this blog. Father Adam’s insights into the Mass are timely especially with increased interest in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.

Photo Credits: Most Blessed Sacrament Church photos by ShrineTower
Extraordinary Form Mass at Church of St. – Michel photo; by Saint – Michel College, Fribourg, Switzerland



Guest Post: The Ascension of Our Lord in Catholic Art


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Enluminure: The Sacramentary of Drogo (800-900 AD), one of the gospel illustrated manuscripts from the Carolingian Revival.

The Ascension is one of the most central elements of the Catholic faith, referenced in the Apostles’ Creed. The Resurrection of Jesus and his path to Heaven is intrinsic to His role as Son of God. Jesus ascended 40 days after the Resurrection, and it is one of the most important dates in the Church calendar after Holy Week and Christmas. This year Ascension Thursday is May 25th, a holy day.

Since the teachings of the Church revolve around particular aspects of Jesus’ life and teachings (as well as broader concepts in Catholic theology), especially His eternal life, His dying for our sins, life after death and the victory of good over evil, the Ascension has gained a principal place in the minds of the faithful down throughout the centuries.

In times of hardship, Catholics have looked to the Ascension as an example of the promise of eternal salvation. This has rung true since the early days of the Church, through the Middle Ages to the modern era, when many Catholic communities faced persecution and hardship.

As a result, there is a particularly rich body of Catholic art celebrating the Ascension. The relevance of the Ascension, along with the artistic history of the Church and its followers, makes the Ascension one of the most common themes seen in the corpus of Catholic art. Several of the most famous Catholic artists, especially during the Renaissance period, created inspiring works enjoyed not only by those interested in art but by any of the faithful, especially around the joyous period following Easter.

Other Mediums

Interestingly, other persons in the history of the Church have been depicted in their Ascension, such as Saint John and, of course, the Assumption of Mary. Also, several mediums aside from paintings have been used, notably sculpture, engravings and icons. The types of scenes depicted also vary, and all schools of art have produced works on the topic since about 300 A.D.

Giotto Scrovegni 38 Ascension

Giotto di Bondone “The Ascension” c.1305 located at Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Italy

Types of Works

The two main types of works produced can typically be classed as relating to either the earthly perspective of the Ascension or the arrival of Jesus in heaven itself. From the earthly perspective, it is interesting that most scenes depict a broad range of figures in the Church, even those that would not have been there to witness it (such as Paul, who was not a Christian at the time of the Ascension, and Mary, who was not believed to have been present). Artists did this to emphasize the importance of Jesus’ ascension applied to all of Christ’s followers, not just those who were present.

In many works, there are symbolic depictions of Jesus common in other portrayed scenes of his life. However, these characteristics became particularly relevant and widespread in Ascension portrayals.

This level of standardization across Ascension scenes is notable for those with an interest in comparative art, since the small differences but many similarities between works can inform us about details of the period when they were produced or the opinions of the artists. As an extreme example, if you compare the Ascension in Catholic versus Eastern Orthodox art, you will note the Eastern tradition always has Mary present, which reflects their belief that Mary was there when Jesus ascended.

There are small details of the Ascension that vary from work to work that can provide interesting comparisons. For example, after the Renaissance, the angels are often not part of the image in most cases, whereas earlier, including angels was considered mandatory.

In the post-Renaissance era, Christ is alternatively shown with a banner in his right hand, or using it to make a blessing. In his left hand, he might have a parchment, scroll or Gospel. The action of the right hand is commonly interpreted to mean that he is blessing the entire community of believers, while the book or scroll he holds in his left represents the need to spread the word of the Lord.

Other details of the Ascension scene have changed significantly over the centuries. It was only starting around the 4th century that the Ascension becomes popular in Christian art. Until then, Jesus’ miracles were much more common material for artistic representation.

The same can be said for the Crucifixion, which was even less commonly depicted than the Ascension. Scholars believe that it may have been due to the many theological conferences and debates between 300 AD and 450 AD that caused the change in art. The turmoil regarding the difference among the various churches throughout the then known world brought Ascension scenes to the forefront as a means to help unify the Church.

Whatever the reason, after this time, it became one of the most popular scenes. In many cases, the artist includes a mountain with the Hand of God aiding Jesus in His ascent.

His feet visible through the clouds is a common element, along with His footprints in rocks along the mountains. The Ascension is commonly held to have taken place on the Mount of Olives near present-day Bethany.

The Ascension has been depicted in many manuscripts, especially in the period of 700-1500, in many reliefs commonly up until around 800 (including the first known depiction of the scene), and of course, the many paintings included painted scenes on church domes.


Andrea Mantegna “The Ascension” 1461 Florence, Italy

Northern Europe

Works by Giotto, Mantegna and Garofalo are among the most famous Ascension works. Given that Northern Europe was mainly Protestant after the 15th century and the Reformation, there are fewer works from artists in those countries.

However, in earlier times, there was a common theme in Northern Europe of depicting the feet of Jesus, extending from the clouds while he is on his way to heaven.

Final Thoughts

The Ascension, along with the events of Holy Week, is a good time for reflection for Catholics. This is not only because of the amount of art that exists that can help the faithful gain a better sense of the significance of the event, but also because it contains many components that are central to the faith and comes at the end of the most important time of year for Catholics: the challenges of Lent and the contemplative events of Holy Week.

Catholics understand that the Ascension is a crucial part of our faith. We are fortunate there is such a rich body of art celebrating the event. Ascension art strikes a good balance with the more somber scenes of crucifixion and Via Dolorosa (the road Jesus walked through Jerusalem to on His way to the crucifixion).

The works of some of the greatest artists in history are dedicated to helping us celebrate the important role of the Ascension in Catholic belief. This offers an excellent opportunity to learn more about our faith, in addition to gaining a deeper appreciation of Church art.

Guest Post:
Megan Dahle is a Catholic blogger and internet retailer at DiscountCatholicProducts.com. Her writing emphasizes prayer life, traditions and forms of worship. This is Megan’s second post on the ShrineTower blog.

Enamored with The Holy Mass – My Favorite Parts


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The Last Supper by Bouveret 1896

The Lord has done great things, and leaving us with the Holy Mass ranks up there with creating the universe, creating life and writing the scriptures. In each Mass offered in the world, Jesus comes down from Heaven to be present in us. As mere mortals we partake in the Mass, knowing a mystery is occurring but our soul probably sees what our minds cannot.

There is a lot going on in the Mass. If you look at the source of who’s talking, the direction or target of the communication, it covers a large number of people and heavenly spirits. There’s thanksgiving, offerings, prayers, statements of purpose and addresses. My focus is on the parts of the Mass that standout for me personally, not trying to set one part of the liturgy above the others. It’s actually quite complex when analyzed.

Of course with 2,000 years of edits, clarification and tender loving inputs, it truly is Gods gift to mankind. With the thrones of angels and saints present and God speaking through the bible readings, the Mass is a celebration of epic spiritual proportions.

1. The Seen and Partly Seen are Present

holy mass cover best 1

We enter the Mass in the company of others all around us; saints, souls, God and of course . . . people.  Maybe the non visible participants are tougher to acknowledge, but over time you can tell they are there, we are told they are there and if we listen, we know God is there, for he said “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I” (Matthew 18:20). And the people you see face to face with the newly design churches, they are our neighbors and friends.

Entering the Mass with an open mind and heart, you sense there is something special going on here, there is an order involved and there is a story being told and a certain spiritual presence felt. By acknowledging those participating in the Mass, seen and unseen, we are in essence communicating and praying with them to God.

2. Sacred Art Abounds: God Speaks, Artist Listens, We Benefit and Engage

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Most Blessed Sacrament Church, Bally PA, founded in 1741. Photo: @shrinetower

When entering the Church, I’d be remiss not to acknowledge those beings represented in the icons, stained glass windows and sculptures of the physical space.  Acknowledging and praying with the patrons of the church is the courteous thing to do. We are in their spiritual space. So we can acknowledge the saints we see in the art; and the saints we don’t see, but want to invite to participate. Asking these heavenly bodies to bring our offering requests to the front of the altar personalizes and maximizes the benefits we receive from the Holy Mass.

Basil the Great Mass

St. Basil the Great Chapel, Kimberton PA. Built circa 2005. Nothing but love here.

The Holy Mass at a small country chapel is where we begin. Shown are two Guardian Angels (St. Raphael and St. Michael) guarding the Tabernacle; above is a YHVH window “I Am” in Byzantine style based on a 4th century icon. Saint Basil and Saint Macrina, the patrons, are on each side.

St. Basil the Great Church and Chapel, Fr. Gary Pacitti; presider and pastor; Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, ninth Archbishop of Philadelphia. Wall icons in the chapel by Russian iconographer Niko Chocheli .

Sacred art in a sacred place; Santa Rosa Catholic Church, San Fernando CA. Top: This is my body… this is my blood by Lalo Garcia.

3. The Bible Embedded in the Mass: God Talking to Us


Saint John’s Bible. Calligrapher Donald Jackson produced a hand-written, hand-illuminated Bible using parchment and quill. I have a copy that I treasure.

The Mass does not change in structure yet the content of the readings changes by religious calendar, including Holy Days, saint feast days and memorials. At each Mass, the Old Testament and the associated New Testament is read aloud, or in Eastern Catholic rite’s Divine Liturgy sung aloud, making the Mass invigorating, slipstream new and one of God’s ways of talking to us.

The variety of teachings we get from the Liturgy of the Word readings makes us think, meditate, ponder and witness the Last Supper. Mass readings can be found at USCCB and/or the free app Laudate.



Scott Hahn, in his book, Reasons to Believe, says that the Mass is the Church’s fulfillment of an explicit command of Jesus, recorded in the Gospel and in St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (11:23-25):

“For I received from the Lord what I handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in memory of me.’

In the same way, he took the cup saying, ‘this cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

4. Ringing the Bells: Signal to the Faithful (a miracle is taking place)

padre pio at Mass 2

Mystic St. Padre Pio; Elevation of the Host at the Holy Mass. I’m sure bells were ringing!

The ringing of the bells at consecration is steeped in centuries of tradition. The bell ringing is optional today, yet in the middle ages when one could not hear or see parts of the Mass, the bells signified the consecration, the raising of the host and the raising of the chalice to the congregation. In a large cathedral, the bell ringing would have been a functional necessity. Also, the bells signified the larger tower bells be rung, signifying to the world, a miracle is taking place!


Crepuscular rays Saint Peter’s Basilica, built 1596-1625 Vatican City. Bells were ringing here.

In today’s world, the ringing of the bells shows reverence to that part of the Mass.  It’s a special feeling with the gifts raised and a good place to shift to an adulation prayer, like the Jesus Prayer.

holy spirit

Holy Spirit

The first ringing of the bells is during the The Eucharistic Prayer with the Epiclesis, an invocation calling upon the Holy Spirit to bless the offerings of bread and wine.  This section was modified in 2011 and the new updated Roman Missal, and now packs a powerhouse prayer with “send down your spirit like the dewfall”. Sacred poetry at it’s best. The full verse the priest says at consecration with hands extended over the chalice and paten are:

Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall, so that they may become for us the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

open my lips

Illustration by Martin Erspamer OSB

The process of the Mass is such that water and wine are turned into the body and blood of Christ, or consecrated, so he is truly present in the Eucharist. This substance change process is key and is called transubstantiation.

typical cathedral phila

Immaculate Conception Cathedral, Eastern Catholic Church 2016

The bible reference: “truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink “(John 6:53-55).

With the elevation of the host is the second ringing of the bells:

Take this all of you and eat of it, for this is my Body, which will be given up for you.

I like this prayer since the priest starts in the third person, “At the time he was betrayed and entered willingly into his passion…”, and then the priest switches into the first person, “take this all of you and eat of it…” representing Jesus Christ.

chalice and host

As Ray Takacs of St. Agnes Church in Irwin PA says, “When I first realized this shift in speaking from third to first person, I was utterly amazed to realize that Jesus is speaking to us through the priest, just as he spoke to the Apostles at the Last Supper over 2000 years ago!”

Walking with them  Jesus explained the Scriptures; sitting with them at table “he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.” Christ is present in each Mass.

The third ringing of the bells is the raising of the chalice:

Take this all of you and eat of it, for this is my Blood, the blood of the new and everlasting convent, which will be given up for you.

Padre Pio at Mass

St. Padre Pio, presider Holy Mass

St. John Chrysostom declares:

It is not man that causes the things offered to become the Body and Blood of Christ, but he who was crucified for us, Christ himself. The priest, in the role of Christ, pronounces these words, but their power and grace are God’s. This is my body, he says. This word transforms the things offered.

A side note: an opportunity exists to be an adult alter server in the mass, especially when no school is involved and it’s a daily Mass. I remember being asked to serve one morning, after an initial hesitation, I accepted. It was a day of significant realization of the power and glory of the Mass, and the day I became an altar server. It does take some getting used to, but being close to the altar and ringing the bells is enlightening. As the Eastern Catholics say in the Mass, “be attentive”, you never know when you will be asked to serve.

5. Sacred Poetry in the Oration Prayers

The Oration Prayers are some my favorite prayers in the Mass and include: The Collect, The Prayer over Offerings, The Prayer after Communion.

The Collect

An oration prayer is said by the priest alone. The collect or opening prayer is part of the Introductory rite.  Here is a collect from St. Mark’s feast day:

“O God, who raised up Saint Mark, your Evangelist,
and endowed him with the grace to preach the Gospel,
grant, we pray,
that we may so profit from his teaching
as to follow faithfully in the footsteps of Christ.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.”

The collect is a unique short prayer, referencing the first reading and the Saint of the Day or an event. It is found in the Roman Missal, which is the sacred book used by the priest during The Holy Mass at the altar. Some of the nicest prayers in the world are there.

The Oration Prayers in the Roman Missal.

During a seminar, the monks at our local Abbey showed us how the collect is created based on the first reading, typically from the Old Testament. We then created our own collect and shared with the classmates! What a great experience to delve into how the Mass verbiage is created. So much depth and so beautiful. Here is a short collect I created in this class:

O Most High,
Dwell in our hearts so that we
May answer “yes” to
Your Call to Holiness.

An entire blog of collects was created by BlueStone blogger. For each day of the year she created a collect. She shares her method,  “the verses are arranged in trios, all in harmony with an image of Christ, followed by a prayer consisting of five elements found in church liturgy known as “collects”:  the address, the doctrine, the petition, the aspiration and the pleading.” What a site by this collect writer!

Prayer Over the Offerings

Lamb of god 2 medieveal

“Adoration of the Lamb” by Jan Van Eyck 1432 Ghent Alterpiece. Detail: The red altar where the lamb stands reads, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world” and “Jesus the way, the truth, and the life”, both quotes from Gospel of John. In this image and in the book of Revelation the Lamb is Jesus. Directly around the Lamb on the altar are angels who are carrying the instruments in the Passion scenes, like the cross and crown of thorns. More detail here.

The Prayer over the Offerings from the Liturgy of the Eucharist changes daily and is intoned by the priest over the offerings of bread and wine usually brought to the altar by the people. The prayer is sung (or read) by the priest after the people say “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands, for our good and the good of all His Holy Church”. Here is the unique Prayer over Offerings from the May 11th Mass taken from the Roman Missal. (Sample)

May our prayers rise up to you, O Lord,
together with your sacrificial offerings,
so that purified by your graciousness,
we may be conformed by the mysteries of your mighty love.
Through Christ our Lord.

At the Offertory, our petitions for families and friends, living and passed, and offerings for peace in the world are carried by angels to the Altar of the Lord. (Catalina Rivas)

Prayer After Communion

mass with people

The Prayer after Communion is from the Communion rite of the Mass after the people have received Holy Communion. The priest starts, saying “Let us pray”, and then says the Prayer after Communion.

An example of the Prayer after Communion from the Roman Missal for May 11th (Sample):

Almighty ever-living God
who restore us to eternal life
in the Resurrection of Christ,
increase in us, we pray, the fruits of this paschal Sacrament
and pour into our hearts the strength of this saving food.
Through Christ our Lord.

6. The Power Statement

three lights upper pantocrator

“For the kingdom, power and glory are yours now and forever.” (MT6:13)

My favorite statement, “kingdom, power and glory…” said by the congregation after the Our Father in the Communion Rite is so powerful it resonates in each Mass as a way to praise God. By the power of the Holy Spirit and by the power of the words of Christ, the bread and wine have become the body and blood of Christ. Christ is really and mysteriously made present.

lincoln cathedral majestic

Medieval Lincoln Cathedral England, from 1088. Was the tallest building in the world for 238 years (1311–1549). A sign of power.

Rituals and symbols abound in the Mass, and in the Church. Try to look for an icon, or stained glass window and sing praise to the meaning behind the image.

The angels surround and help the priest when he is celebrating Mass. ~ St. Augustine

7. The Invitation to Communion
The Eucharist Source and Summit LTP by Lalo Garcia

The Eucharist Source and Summit LTP by Lalo Garcia

The Invitation to Communion prayer became part of the Mass dogma very recently, in 2011 when the Roman Missal was revised. In Church history timeline it’s brand new! It is the last prayer before receiving communion.

The priest says, “…Blessed are those that are called to the supper of the Lamb”. We are lucky, we are being called by God.

The next words are spoken by the congregation in preparation for the Divine encounter and are stunning, filled with meaning.

Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.

This Invitation to Communion prayer is actually a scriptural response spoken by a Roman centurion when he asked Jesus to heal his sick servant in Matthew 8:8. The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.”

Bread of Life

“Bread of Life Image” by artist Carol Pascale. Twitter @TheBread_OfLife

Mystic Saint Theresa of Jesus (Avila) in her book Interior Castle talks about the different kinds of  rooms inside our souls. “Under my roof” is where the soul resides with God, within our soul and being.

When we receive Holy Communion, Heaven is opened to us and we are in the presence of God in all His magnificence. And because God is present, all of Heaven – Mary, the angels and all the saints – are present as well. I like to think that for a brief moment, a window has opened up to heaven and all present at Mass are united with each other and with everyone in heaven.
from Unraveling the Mysteries of Holy Mass: Part 6 – St. Agnes Church

What miracles of miracles! If the angels could be jealous of men, they would be so for one reason – Holy Communion!

– Quote from St. Maximillian Kolbe

catalina rivas

Catalina Rivas of Mexico, apparently received messages from Jesus and Mary related to the Mass. Imprimatur from local Bishop.

At the time to receive Communion, Jesus spoke to Catalina, “The Last Supper was the moment of the greatest intimacy with my own. In establishing the Eucharist, I made myself a prisoner of love, to remain with you until the end of the world and not leave you as orphans.” As the priest prayed the Prayer after Communion, Jesus continued, “I have died for love and I am risen. For love, I await each of you, and for love I remain with you.”

8. What the Angels Say

There are many references to Angels and what they have said, and one of their renowned statements is captured in the Mass known as the Sanctus:

Holy Holy Holy Lord God of Hosts,
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

We find this Angelic song in the bible:

“Holy, holy, holy Lord God of hosts.” Isaiah 6:3

8And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and inside. Day and night without ceasing they sing, “Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” Revelation 4:8

9The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” Matthew 21:9

“The Sanctus reminds us that all creatures in Heaven and on earth owe thanksgiving to God.” – Ray Takacs, St Agnes Catholic Church, N. Huntingdon, PA

The Ascension by Giotto Scrovegni Chapel

Ascension (with angels) by Giotto 13031305 Scrovegni Chapel in Padua

Thousands of Angels are present at the Mass. Inviting favorite saints and angels to participate in the Mass may sound uncommon, but is a polite and forward gesture.

As St. John Chrysostom says, “the sanctuary is filled with countless angels who adore the divine victim immolated on the altar.”

Per Catalina Rivas vision: At the preface as the assembly sang “Holy, Holy, Holy”, everything behind the priest disappeared. Then, at the moment of the Consecration, thousands of angels appeared to the priest’s right, dressed in brilliant white robes. On his left, a multitude of the people appeared dressed in multicolored robes. All were singing together with the people. Mary said, “These are the saints of Heaven, among them are the souls of your relatives who already enjoy the presence of God.” Then, Mary appeared to the right and slightly behind the priest. She was suspended above the floor, kneeling with hands folded in prayer. She said, “It surprises you to see me behind the priest. This is how it should be. I have not been given the gift of the priests to be able to perform the Miracle of bringing my Son to the world.”

Catalina said of her vision, “As the priest prayed the words of the Consecration, he grew in stature and became enveloped in brilliant light. Then as he raised the large host the priest took on the features of Jesus, Himself. At that moment, the host began to grow and upon it was the face of Jesus, smiling at all present”. The Virgin Mary said, “This is the miracles of miracles. At the moment of the Consecration, all here are taken to Calvary, at the instant of the Crucifixion.”

teresa ecstasy

St. Teresa Ecstasy

Once, St. Teresa was overwhelmed with God’s goodness and asked Our Lord “How can I thank you?” Our Lord replied, “Attend one Mass.”

overview of immaculate conception cathedral


The power of the Mass is that a group of people are praising God, giving thanks and asking for favors and spiritual gifts. The Gospel passage, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” really stands out here. Matthew 18:20

They say the Mass doesn’t change but people change in their spirituality over the course of a lifetime. I happen to believe this. In the coming years, my favorite sections may be different, as well as yours. Many come back to the Mass. They see the value. They are influenced by the Holy Spirit.

As mentioned, this post is not meant to be all inclusive of the sections of the Mass, and has no relation to importance of each part. It’s only my favorite parts where I get extra feeling and happiness out of the Mass in singing the praises to God. I am sure if you go to Mass or plan on going, or have gone in the past, you may have favorite parts as well.

Quite possibly, when our time is done, we will be rewarded by witnessing every Mass we attended and actually seeing the Angels and Saints around the priest giving praise to God!


Give Us This Day – Daily Prayer Guide specific to the Mass
Most Blessed Sacrament Roman Catholic Church, Bally PA
St Basil the Great Parish, Kimberton PA
Catalina Rivas, of Merida, Mexico. Although she has an imprimatur of the local Bishop, there is no ruling from the Vatican.  Her writings are summarized in her book, “Live…The Holy Mass”.

Saint John Paul II Canonization Day


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Saint John paul II

Saint John Paul II, The National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa, Philadelphia Pennsylvania.

Yes, April 27 is the day St. Pope John Paul II was canonized. He attended the Second Vatican Council initiated by Pope John XXIII, who also was canonized on this day.

Born Karl Wojtyla, Pope John Paul was an actor, poet, athlete, playwrite, priest and philosopher.

As Charles Chaput, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia stated: He proved by his life the words of St. Irenaeus that “the glory of God is man fully alive.”

outside with JP2

St. John Paul II visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa on two occasions while a cardinal. Karol Cardinal Wojtyla first visit was in 1969 and again in 1976 while attending the Eucharistic Congress held in Philadelphia. He became the 264th Pope of the Catholic Church two years later in 1978. John Paul II was the first non Italian pope since Pope Adrian VI who died in 1523.

Coat of Arms of Pope John Paul II with the Marian Cross. The Letter M is for Mary, the mother of Jesus, to whom he held strong devotion.

john paul at the door full view

John Paul II created Divine Mercy Sunday which is celebrated on the first Sunday after Easter. It is originally based on the devotion to the Divine Mercy that Saint Faustina Kowalska reported as part of her encounter with Jesus.

St. Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun reported visions and visitations from Jesus and conversations with Him. She could read souls!


John Paul II beatified Sr. Maria Faustina Kowalska on April 18, 1993 and canonized her on April 30, 2000.


St. Paul the Hermit, a strong influence at the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa.

The Pauline Fathers, like John Paul II, have a strong devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Their main monastery is in Czestochowa, Poland, where they continue to reside. The Pauline Order received permission from the Holy See to establish a monastery in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and subsequently built Our Lady of Czestochowa Shrine.

upper church 2

In the main church is the Miraculous Icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa, which was blessed by Pope John XXIII on February 10, 1962, who also became a saint. The Icon of Our Lady hangs behind the altar in the main nave and depicts the Holy Trinity. God the Father, with His arms stretched out like the wings of a large bird, enfolds Jesus Christ and all God’s people. Above them is shown a dove, the symbol of the Holy Spirit. Below them, a choir of angels, with their golden horns, extol the glory of God.

chapel of divine mercy
The Chapel of Divine Mercy, within The National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa, Philadelphia Pennsylvania. John Paul II died on the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday, April 2, 2005.

Entrance to the shrine complex.

john paul at the door
Saint John Paul II
Feast day is October 22nd, the anniversary of his inauguration to Pope in 1978.

Byzantine Catholic Devotion: Mystical Energy


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Mystical Energy from God: “Be Attentive”


The Eucharist host of the eastern rite is shown above the chalice. The host is square compared to a round host in the Latin Roman Catholic rite.

Mystical energy starts with the Eucharist. The Eastern Church believes the mystical life is all around us, and asks us to “be attentive” to God’s word. During Divine Liturgy the religious and faithful say “Be Attentive”a prayer phrase repeated many times cumulating with the Eucharist.

IC XC NIKA Original

On each Holy Eucharist the prosphoron or loaf of altar bread, has “IC XC NIKA” is stamped.

The IC XC means “Jesus Christ”. The abbreviation is from both Greek and Slavonic languages.

NIKA means “conquers”. It is a Greek verb, closely related to “is victorious”.




The Eucharist According to Saints and Monks

“As we receive the Holy Eucharist, we are invited to share in his victory, we receive the victory into our bodies and souls, and we become victors, conquerors, insofar as we do the will of Him who loved us and gave Himself for us.”

“Do you not believe that you too are a conqueror? St Paul takes us even further: We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37). – Abbot Joseph, Mt. Tabor Monastery

The victory that we celebrate is that of Jesus Christ over the world, the flesh, and the devil, over sin and death. For Him to conquer evil was essential to his mission, so much so that St John could even say: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1John 3:8). – Abbot Joseph, Mt. Tabor Monastery

gregory of nyssa HTC

St. Gregory of Nyssa, Holy Trinity Chapel


Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton were among the Roman Catholics who loved the Eastern Byzantine liturgy.

St. Gregory of Nyssa is one of the great contributors to the mystical tradition in Christian spirituality and monasticism. The word became incarnate “so that by becoming as we are, he might make us as he is”, said Gregory of Nyssa.

St. John Chrysostom prayer, “Receive me today, Son of God, as a partaker of your mystical Supper.”

“It is Gods body that deifies and nourishes me; it deifies the spirit & nourishes the mind mystically.” – St. John Chrysostom

Irene Chrysovalantou

St. Irene Chrysovalantou was granted the gift of clairvoyance. She knew thoughts of all she saw. St. Irene kept the feast of St. Basil especially holy because they both came from Cappadocia.

On one particular Divine Liturgy, Irene had a vision of countless radiant angelic beings entering the church: some with stringed instruments, singing beautiful hymns to God. Among these beings was a particularly majestic man, a face radiant like the sun, who was treated with devotion. He approached the altar and, taking the shroud offered to him by the other beings, covered the fragrant smelling altar.

The angel who stood by the altar, with great sadness, cried out to the majestic one, “Until when, O Lord?” to which a voice replied, “Until the second Solomon, when the heights will be united with the depths and all will be one. Then the Lord will be exalted and the memory of Irene will be glorified.” Irene took this as confirmation of her teaching that no one, whether herself or another of the sisters, could be glorified until they achieved the Kingdom in death.

To define God’s love is to limit it. It must remain unlimited, boundless, indefinable, unexplainable. The explainable has only limited value and transient interest.

Prayer is the elevation of the intelligence to God, not in order to learn about God but to discover God; not to know about Him but to know Him, to experience God in one’s own life.”

– From Introduction to the Byzantine Rite by Archbishop Joseph Raya.

World Day of the Sick and Our Lady of Lourdes


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World Day of the Sick feast day on February 11 coincides with Our Lady of Lourdes from the many healings reported at the shrine.

shrine-at-lourdes-2Shrine at Lourdes in France.

There were eighteen apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary to St. Bernadette Soubiroux between February and July 1858.


A young Bernadette as a French peasant girl. (actual photo)


There was a spring flowing near the grotto where the 9th apparition, where the Lady suggested that Bernadette take a drink. There have been many cures of ailments here, even though Bernadette said there was nothing special in the water, only that it allowed pilgrims to have faith through prayer.

Grotto with small stream at Lourdes France.

During the 13th apparition, Bernadette was told to build a chapel at the grotto.
Current chapel built up over the years is now a major pilgrimage destination for Catholics.

On left, actual photo of St. Bernadette at passing. On right incorruptible body and her incorruptible face.


Pope Bendedict XVI resigned on this date due (February 11) to poor health. Here is Pope Benedicts homily at Lourdes in 2008. Below his prayer at Lourdes ending the homily:

“Because you are the smile of God, the reflection of the light of Christ, the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit,

Because you chose Bernadette in her lowliness, because you are the morning star, the gate of heaven and the first creature to experience the resurrection,

Our Lady of Lourdes, with our brothers and sisters whose hearts and bodies are in pain, we pray to you!” – Pope Benedict

Byzantine Catholic Devotion: Theosis Means Becoming Like God


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Theosis: Becoming Like God


The Resurrection: Beating Death on the Cross. Holy Trinity Chapel.

We glorify You and fall down before You, for You arose from the tomb, our only God. I will recount Your wonders.

The teaching of deification or theosis in Eastern Orthodoxy and much of Eastern Catholicism refers to the attainment of likeness of God, union with God or reconciliation with God.

“Theosis is a goal of Eastern Orthodox Christians, for according to the Bible, we are ‘made in the image and likeness of God.’ It is possible for man to become like God, to become deified, to become god by grace.” – Millet and Reynolds


Ladder of Divine Ascent icon St. Catherine’s Monastery Egypt, 12th century. Monks ascending the ladder to Jesus, led by S. John Climacus.

Theosis is the mystery where He makes divinity our own. It is the movement toward communion with the divine.

St. Irenaeus, in his famous phrase, “if the Word has been made man, it is so that men may be made gods.”

“As it [the Holy Spirit] regenerates you, it changes you from corruptible to incorruptible, from mortal to immortal, from sons of men into sons of God and gods by adoption and grace.” – Symeon the New Theologian (10th century)

John Paul II B

St. John Paul II said Catholics should be familiar with “the venerable and ancient tradition of the Eastern Churches”.


Pope St. John Paul II

St. John Paul II also said,

“…the teaching of the Cappadocian Fathers on divinization (which) passed into the tradition of all the Eastern Churches and is part of their common heritage.

This can be summarized in the thought already expressed by Saint Irenaeus at the end of the second century: God passed into man so that man might pass over to God.

This theology of divinization remains one of the achievements particularly dear to Eastern Christian thought.” (St. John Paul II)

“The fundamental vocation and goal of each and every person is to share in the life of God. We have been created by God to live in fellowship with Him. The descent of God in the Person of Jesus Christ has made possible the human ascent to the Father through the work of the Holy Spirit. Orthodoxy believes that each Christian is involved in a movement toward God which is known as theosis or deification.”

– Source: Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Rev. Thomas Fitzgerald

Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi means “the way you pray determines what you believe.” It was first used by Prosper of Aquitaine.


“Theosis describes the spiritual pilgrimage in which each person becomes ever more perfect, ever more holy, ever more united with God. It is not a static relationship, nor does it take place only after death. On the contrary, theosis is a movement of love toward God which begins for each Christian with the rites of Baptism and which continues throughout this life, as well as the life which is to come.”

– Source: Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Rev. Thomas Fitzgerald

Through Christ, we “become partakers of the divine nature.” (2 Peter 1:4)

Also, St. Basil the Great described man as the creature who has received the order to become a god.

Jesus at the Garden of Gethsemane

Jesus frequently went to Gethsemane with His disciples to pray (John 18:2).

“The Orthodox Church understands theosis as a union with the energies of God and not with the essence of God which always remains hidden and unknown. However, the experience of the Church testifies that this is a true union with God.

It is also one which is not pantheistic, because in this union the divine and the human retain their unique characteristics. In this sense, Orthodoxy believes that human life reaches its fulfillment only when it becomes divine.”

–  The Orthodox Church: An Introduction by Rev. Thomas Fitzgerald

Tree of Life. This Orthodox icon first appeared in the 15th century.
The twelve shoots of branches are the Apostles.


Theosis, therefore, is our union with the energies of God. To you be glory forever!

Eastern-Rite Veneration: Mother of God


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Special Veneration to Our Mother of God

mary at Immaculate concept large He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

Mary with the prophets and Christ Enthroned over the last Supper at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of Immaculate Conception in Philadelphia PA. Photo credit: Cathedral of Immaculate Conception.

The Mother of God has an exalted place of honor in Byzantine devotion. She participates in the very life of God as the human medium, by which God is communicated to man through the Incarnation.

Apocryphal writings of the second century relate that the icon of the Blessed Mother painted by St. Luke was the first icon.Byzantine Catholic Archaparchy of Pittsburgh.

theotokos basil center
Theotokos or “God bearer” Mary, Mother of God with Jesus. Basil Center, Jenkintown PA.

Icons becomes a “manifestation of divine life” among men, a “transfigured vision” of divine mysteries, and a ”vision of the invisible” (Hebr. 11 :1)

O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee!

theotokos holy trinity chapel“Theotokos with child. We see the Holy Virgin as a lamp of living light, shining upon those living in darkness” from Mother of God by C. Douchwat. Holy Trinity Chapel.

Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with You. Blessed are You among women and blessed is the fruit of Your womb, Jesus. (13th century)

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen. (St. Bernardine of Siena added this in 1427)

mary theotokos best htc

Virgin Hodegetria, Mother of God. We magnify you, the true Theotokos, your incorruptibly gave birth to God the Word. Holy Trinity Chapel.

We fly to your patronage, O Holy Mother of God;
despise not our petitions in our necessities,
but deliver us from all dangers, O glorious and blessed Virgin. (3rd century)

Virgin Pammakaristos

Virgin Pammakaristos pointing to Christ Child; mosaic mid 11th century. Patriarchal Church of St. George, Istanbul.

The Virgin is portrayed in the  iconographic type of the Hodegetria and is one of the surviving examples of traditional Byzantine art.

nativity 1

Dormition of the Theotokos, Holy Trinity Chapel.

In the Dormition of the Theotokos,  Jesus is standing in center with a small child representing the Soul of Mary. Holy Trinity Chapel, Basil Center, Jenkintown PA.

When leaving an Eastern Catholic Church, the Dormition of Mary is usually the last icon viewed.

The Feast of the Dormition (falling asleep) is a major feast in the Byzantine Tradition that commemorates the falling asleep ( natural death) of Mary,  Mother of God.

Soul of MARY

Above, a closeup of Dormition of Mary icon, with Jesus holding the Soul of Mary. From Holy Trinity Chapel.

Theotokos, in your death you did not forsake the world. You are the Mother of Life. Pray for us, Mary.

Mother of God Theotokos of Pochayiv
Mother of God Icon at Our Lady of Pochayiv Grotto, Basil Center, Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. Highly venerated icon in the Orthodox Church. Original in Pochayiv Lavra monastery, Ukraine since 1597.


Original Our Lady of Pochaev icon in Ukraine (1597)

Miracles abound with this icon.

Many of these miracles are the result of the veneration of the icon of Our Lady of Pochaev. It first arrived in the region as a gift of Metropolitan Neophit to Anna Hoyska, an important patron of the Church, in 1559. The icon shows our Lady, wearing a crown, and holding the infant Jesus. In her other hand “she holds the end of her veil.” This being a ‘tenderness’ icon, Jesus and Mary’s face touch, while Jesus gives a blessing with his hand. To Mary’s right are the prophet Elijah and Saint Myrna, while to her left are St. Stephen and the Reverend Abraymey. Mary’s face is described as being “beautiful but sad.” The icon itself is 29 x 23 cm, and made out of red pitched cypress. The origin of the icon remains a mystery. – International Marian Research Institute at University of Dayton


Our Lady of Pochaev by William Hart McNichols, recently rewritten from original. Given as a gift to the Russian Orthodox Monastery of Saint Sergius of Rodonezh Lavra in Magadan, Far East, Russia.

Special prayer of the Blessed Mother of Pochaev in a home:

Rejoice, O Glory of the universe.
Rejoice, O Temple of the Lord.
Rejoice, O Mountain overshadowed by the Holy Ghost.
Rejoice, O Refuge of all.
Rejoice, O Golden Candelabrum.
Rejoice, O Honorable Glory of all Christians.
Rejoice, O Mary, Mother of Christ God.
Rejoice, O Paradise.
Rejoice, O Divine Altar.
Rejoice, O Cloud.
Rejoice, O Golden Urn.
Rejoice, O Hope of All.

Byzantine Catholic Devotion: Three Holy Hierarchs


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Meet the Three Holy Hierarchs


The Three Holy Hierarchs. Author unknown.

The Three Holy Hierarchs; St. Basil the Great,  St. John Chrysostom, St. Gregory the Theologian, are giants in Eastern Christianity. St. Gregory the Theologian is known for purity and profundity of his language, St. Basil for his understanding of the Holy Spirit and St. John Chrysostom for his elegant homilies. They all lived in the east, near Cappadocia (Turkey) at the same time in the 4th century.

Folklore has it that each of the three holy Hierarchs appeared in a vision to Saint John Mauropus, the Metropolitan of Euchaïta. “As you see, the three of us are with God and no discord or rivalry divides us…If they (people) honor us thus as being with and in God, we give them our word that we will intercede for their salvation in our common prayer.”

All three Eastern Church Fathers have their feast day in January. In the Roman Catholic west, they are Doctors of the Church. January 30 is feast of the Three Holy Hierarchs.

St. Basil the Great

basil the great HTC

St. Basil the Great, Holy Trinity Chapel, Jenkintown Pennsylvania

St. Basil the Great is a powerhouse in Eastern Christianity. In Basil’s family of ten siblings, five became saints as well as his grandmother, St. Macrina and his mother, St. Emellia.

“Examine the actions of each day, advance in virtue, that you may become a companion of the angels.” – St. Basil the Great (adapted)

Basil went to Egypt and learned from ascetic hermits, who lived in caves, in the monastic way of life.  Basil returned to his home in Cappadocia living as a monk in a small community, dividing his time between prayer, meditation on the bible and manual labor. Basil believed that when one is living with others in a monastery, the grace bestowed on each individual becomes the common possession of the group.

One bit of advice by St. Basil on monasticism that can apply to religious and secular:

Prayers are recited early in morning so your first movements are for God. “I remembered God and was delighted.” Psalm 77

Basil Family basil-mary-macrina-mother-gregory1The Basilian Family (l-r) Basil; Macrina the Younger; Mother of God; Macrina the Elder; Gregory of Nyssa. From St. Basil’s “Pillar of Fire” Faith, The Sisters of the Order of St. Basil the Great. Jesus, Lover of Humanity Province, Love of Knowledge and Wisdom. Basilian Spirituality Center. @basilcenter

An academia priest from Temple University told our congregation that St. Basil created the Glory Be to The Father prayer, one of the most widely said prayers in history. Many people are unaware that Basil created this prayer. More here.

Pope Francis has always identified with Basil’s teachings. St. Basil the Great was quoted by Pope Francis in the LaudatoSi encyclical,“If the world has a beginning … we must inquire who gave it this beginning, who was its Creator”.

basil #LaudatoSi- If the world has a beginning..we must inquire who gave it this beginning, who was its Creator."“Silence is the beginning of purifying the soul.” This Saint Basil the Great icon is an original, written by the famous Georgian iconographer Niko Chocheli from the former Soviet Union, in St. Basil the Great Church Chapel, Kimberton PA.

Basil wrote On The Holy Spirit, defining the Holy Trinity as One God in Three Persons, a complex theology topic even today. #StBasiltheGreat

“It is impossible to recognize Christ, image of the invisible God, unless the Spirit enlightens you.” – St. Basil

Well after his death, the Council of Chalcedon described Basil as “the great Basil, minister of grace who has expounded the truth to the whole earth”, thereby giving him the name Basil the Great!

ephram the poet

St. Ephraim the Syrian was a clairvoyant who actually met St. Basil. In a vision he saw a pillar of flame to heaven and a voice, “Such is the Great Basil!” Ephraim is also “The greatest poet of the patristic age and perhaps the only theologian/poet to rank beside Dante” – per Murray.

“Do nothing at all unless you begin with prayer.”

Here is what St. Basil had to say:

“To you will I pray, O Lord: In the morning you will hear my voice, I will stand before you and will see”

“Intimacy with the Lord is achieved by cheerful readiness to do the will of God.”

“With the words of Scripture we feed our faith, we lift up our hope, we confirm our confidence.”

St. John Chrysostom

St.-John-Chrystostom Haggia Sophia

St. John Chrysostom, from Hagia Sophia Turkey

haggue sopia ?

Hagia Sophia

St. John Chrysostom prayers are used extensively in the Eastern Byzantine Catholic and Orthodox churches liturgy, showing the respect he garners. Also, St. Basil’s words are used in the Divine Liturgy ten times throughout the year, but most of the year it is St. John’s.

“I am not worthy Lord, for you to come under my roof, yet you wish to dwell in me” – St. John Chrysostom

St. John took Matthew 8:8 “But the centurion replied to Him, “Lord, I am not worthy to have You come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed” and added his own beautiful prayer, “Lord my God, I know that I am not worthy, nor sufficient, that you should come under the roof of the house of my soul, for it is entirely desolate and in ruins, and you do not have a worthy place in me to lay your head. But as you humbled yourself from on high for our sake, do likewise also for my unworthiness.”

East meets West:


His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, meeting with Pope Francis in Rome.

In addition to one of the Three Holy Hierarchs in the east, in the west, St. John Chrysostom is among the 33 “Doctors of the Church,” and remembered especially for his extensive and profound teachings on the subject of the Holy Eucharist. Along with St. Joseph, he was named co-patron of the Second Vatican Council by Pope Saint John XXIII a major event.

“Prayer is a place of refuge for every worry, a foundation for cheerfulness, a source of happiness.” St. John

St. Gregory the Theologian

St. Gregory the Theologian

St. Gregory the Theologian

“Let us become like Christ, since Christ became like us. He assumed the worse that He might give us the better; He became poor that we might be rich” – Gregory the Theologian

St. Gregory of Nazianzus, who is called the Theologian, was born in Nazianzus in Cappodocia in 325 A D. He was the Archbishop of Constantinople.

Becoming or imitating Christ is the basis for theosis, an Eastern Christian theology concept.  Saint Peter wrote in the bible that we are called “to become partakers of the Divine nature.” St Basil also described man as the creature who has received the order to become a god.

After his baptism at age 30, Gregory the Theologian joined his friend Basil in a newly founded monastery. He and Basil fought Aryanism, which denied the divine nature of Jesus Christ. They also defined the Trinity in their great sermons. #StGregorytheTheologian

The Three Holy Hierarchs are the great intercessors for us in Heaven.

“Let us become as Christ is, since Christ became as we are; let us become gods for his sake, since he became man for our sake.” – St. Gregory the Theologian


Eastern-Rite Veneration: “Channels of Divine Grace”


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Icons: “Channel of Divine Grace”

our lady of the sign

Our Lady of the Sign. “The Lord will give you a sign. The virgin will be with child and give birth to a son. Is 7:14.  Holy Trinity Chapel.

“What the Gospels explains by means of words, the iconographer shows by means of his works.” Saint Basil the Great

Iconography has been used for centuries as a means of communicating theology with the use of images. Especially in the early days of the church, when many could not read, this was extremely beneficial.

Veneration of icons is a common Byzantine practice, respect being paid not to the painting itself but to the person it represents. Some icons are believed to be the means of obtaining miracles, and people pray in front of them for healing or other assistance.

Icons are considered ‘windows into heaven.’

jesus at HTC

Christ the Teacher icon. O God, we pray that the whole creation will in all things be restored to your Son, the King of the Universe. Holy Trinity Chapel.

An image, says St. Thomas Aquinas, connotes three simultaneous qualities: likeness to prototype, derivation from it, and similarity of species with it. Likeness alone is not enough … The underlying idea of the icon is the manifestation of the hidden.

Metropolitan Seraphim explains the role of the icon in prayer this way:

“If you stand before the Redeemer’s icon or that of the Mother of God, stand as if you were before the Lord Jesus Christ Himself or before the Blessed Virgin Mary. Keep your intelligence without any representation, for there is a great difference between standing before the Lord in His very presence and representing Him to the imagination.

In the latter case, attention is not given to prayer directly, but is held by traditional impressions which only skim the surface of our consciousness.”

eucharist st paul and JesusThe Eucharist icon. Jesus with St. Paul. Holy Trinity Chapel.

st. peter and jesus HTCEucharist icon. Jesus with St. Peter. Holy Trinity Chapel.

with Jesus; “But who do you say that I am?” Peter said “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Pantocrator HTC

The Pantocrator, Christ blessing his people with New Testament in left hand. Holy Trinity Chapel.

original Old Trinity

The original Holy Trinity icon written by Russian iconographer Andrei Rublev (b.1360), also called The Hospitality of Abraham and Sarah. One of the most recognizable icons in the world.

The three angels portrayed are sharing together at the table. When a circle is superimposed over the icon, Rublev portrays each figure as equal, no one is more important than the other.

rublev Holy Trinity immaculate conception

The Holy Trinity” mosaic icon.  Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of Immaculate Conception in Philadelphia PA. Photo credit: Cathedral of Immaculate Conception

The persons of the Holy Trinity: the Holy Spirit is on the right, the Son in the middle, and the Father on the left.

Macrina the Younger sister of St. Basil. Holy Trinity Chapel.

In the Life of Macrina, by  St. Gregory of Nyssa, Macrina says “Lord, from your sacrifice, true life begins when present life finishes.” –

The icon, then, is not only an aesthetical entity. It is the result of the faith and prayer of the Church. It is the life of the Church lived in Christ.

A saving truth is not communicated by the word alone but by the fact of awakening vital forces of life, through the presentation of beauty. Because God loved us, He turned to us a visible face, a human face, in Christ. He turned to us the face of the absolute beauty which is not different from the fullness of God and the fullness of being. The icon carries with it the love of this beauty, and the beauty of this love.

– from Byzantine Daily Worship by Archbishop Joseph Raya & Baron José de Vinck, Alleluia Press, Allendale, NJ. Adapted for use by Father J. Michael Venditti. Eparchy of Passaic NJ.

pantocrator 1

Pantocrator, “Ruler of All” Christ blessing his people located on ceiling of the Holy Trinity Chapel in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania.

“Christ,” says St. Paul, “is the icon of the invisible God” (Col. 2:7).

The icon, therefore, is not a picture. The icon is not a painted representation meant to teach. The icon is a grace and a life. It is a life that penetrates and purifies and elevates. From the icon emanates a virtue that inspires the faithful with hope and gives him consolation.

St. John of Damascus calls it a “channel of divine grace”. In another sense, one can say the icon’s relationship to the faithful is similar, though certainly not equal to, that of Holy Scripture. It may be for this reason that, in the vocabulary of the Byzantine Tradition, an icon is not “painted” but “written.”

– Eparchy of Passaic (NJ)

“Old Testament Trinity” Three angels with Abraham and Sarah. Holy Trinity Chapel.

“Old Testament Trinity” icon is based on Genesis 18:1-15. The story is commonly known as the hospitality of Abraham. When Abraham talks to them, they respond as one (“they said”), the one God in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.






Cappadocian Fathers: Basil “the man of action”, Gregory of Nazianzus “the orator” and Gregory of Nyssa “the thinker”.

top of dome pantocrator

The Pantocrator icon written on ceiling of the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception.

The Transfiguration of our Lord, celebrated August 6

Transfiguration Icon. Here You were transfigured in glory on Mount Tabor, O Christ; You showed Your disciples Your glory.

Icons are “channel of divine grace,”as  St. John of Damascus calls it, next to the scripture, an almost sacramental character.


The Branches of Eastern Christianity


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Eastern Christianity consists of four main church families:

(a) the Eastern Orthodox Church, which recognize the Patriarch of Constantinople;

(b) the Oriental Orthodox churches;

(c) the Assyrian Church of the East;  and

(d) the Eastern Catholic churches also called Byzantine Catholic, which are in communion with the Church of Rome and the Pope.

branches of christianity

1. The Eastern Orthodox Church also called Orthodox Church has 300 million members.

The churches in Rome and Constantinople separated in an event known as the East–West Schism of 1054. In Rome, the church became the Roman Catholic Church (red line) and in Constantinople the church became the Eastern Orthodox Church (blue line).

Christians of the Eastern Churches call themselves Orthodox, examples are the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in America, the Russian Orthodox Church and the Greek Orthodox Church of Constatinople. They are not in communion with Rome.

greek orthodox church wtc.jpg

Rendering of Greek Orthodox Church National Shrine, currently under construction, at site of World Trade Center in NYC. Original church was destroyed by 911.

While Eastern Orthodox Christians have much in common with Eastern Catholics, they’re still in schism, split off from the Pope and therefore not Catholic.

Each Orthodox Church has a bishop, with a territory over which he governs. There is no central command like a pope in the Roman Catholic rite.

2. Oriental Orthodox Churches – 86 million members

The Assyrians and Orientals left the Orthodox Church in the years following the Council of Ephesus (431) and the Council of Chalcedon (451), in their refusal to accept those councils’ Christological definitions, which were based on St. Basil’s methodology and writings.


The Standing Conference of Oriental Orthodox Churches Annual Concelebrated Liturgy led by H.H. Mor Ignatius Aphrem


Oriental Orthodox icon.

3. Assyrian Church of the East – .6 million members
Headquarters in Erbil in Northern Iraq.


Coat of Arms of Assyrian Church of the East.

4. The Eastern Catholic Churches – 19 million members

Within Eastern Christianity are the Eastern Catholics that have their roots in the Orthodox East, with twenty three Eastern Churches in communion with Rome. They are autonomous self governing Eastern Catholic Churches. As an example, the Byzantine Catholic tradition is one of these and includes the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia.

Mt Tabor Mount_of_transfiguration

Aerial view of the Church of Transfiguration at the summit of Mount Tabor, which is divided into Eastern Orthodox (northeast) and Roman Catholic (southeast) areas.

Byzantine Catholic Churches include Ukrainian, Ruthenians, Melkites, Coptics and others.


Byzantine Ukrainian Church: Iconostasis of Uspenski Cathedral in Helsinki, Finland


Saint Mary’s Ukrainian Catholic Church, Alberta, Canada

The Byzantine Ukrainian rite, the largest of the eastern catholic churches has 4.5 million members or 26% of all Eastern Catholics.

The Pantocrator, “Ruler of All”, Christ blessing his people with New Testament in left hand

The Pantocrator “Ruler of All” Christ blessing his people with New Testament in left hand, seated on a holy chair in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Philadelphia. The Pantocrator is central to Eastern Byzantine Catholics.