Today we begin our celebration of Holy Week. Even though we are keeping it at home, through sharing in the Prayer of the Church, we are united with millions of Christians worldwide.
On Good Friday many of us will be saying evening prayer – this does not normally happen, since that office is not said by those who attend the afternoon liturgy. If we do pray the evening office on Friday, we might like to add to the intercessions a prayer Pope Francis has asked to be used at the liturgy,
Look with compassion on the sorrowful condition of your children who suffer because of this pandemic; relieve the pain of the sick; give strength to those who care for them; welcome into your peace those who have died; and, throughout this time of tribulation, grant that we may all find comfort in your merciful love.
The Catholic Church in England and Wales has suspended the public celebration of mass. You can read the bishops’ statement on this here.
Separation from the eucharistic life of the Church is painful, and we are encouraged during this time to associate ourselves with the ongoing celebration of mass. As Dominicans, with a particular focus on the Word of God, a particularly appropriate way to do this is by looking at the readings used at mass. We could do this every day, but especially on Sundays and over the Easter Triduum. You can find the mass readings for any given day on-line at Universalis.
As the Church continues, in a new way, its celebration in word and sacrament of the Lord’s triumph over death, we should also pray for one another and try to stay in touch. Community is a pillar of Dominican life. We’re going to have to find new ways to live it out in the coming weeks.
In the next formation session we’ll be looking at Aquinas’ account of God. Of course, there’s far more here than we could ever cover in a single session, and the best way to get acquainted with what Thomas thinks on this topic is to read the first part of the Summa Theologiae, which is available for free on-line. It can seem daunting, and the terminology unfamiliar: there is an excellent commentary by Brian Davies OP which can help with this.
One of the most important things Thomas does in the Summa is stress the mystery of God, how God – the creator of all that is – is in important ways unlike the things we encounter in our everyday life, and so our capacity to understand or describe God is severely limited. We ought not to try to bring God ‘down to size’, to make God manageable, or to fit him neatly into our ways of thinking. We are constantly tempted to do this, to make God into an idol or to project onto him our own hopes or fears: a good dose of Thomas’ theology is an excellent remedy!
Because of illness we were unable to start the mini-course on Aquinas this month. So this will start, for those in formation, in February.
If you want something to read to support this part of formation, Denys Turner’s book on Aquinas is excellent.
Our Master, Fr Gerard Timoner OP, has written a Christmas message. You can read it here.
In the Apostolic Letter Admirabile Signum, Pope Francis explains how ruins of ancient buildings became part of the nativity scene: “These ruins appear to be inspired by the thirteenth-century Golden Legend of the Dominican Jacobus de Voragine, which relates a pagan belief that the Temple of Peace in Rome would collapse when a Virgin gave birth. More than anything, the ruins are the visible sign of fallen humanity, of everything that inevitably falls into ruin, decays and disappoints. This scenic setting tells us that Jesus is newness in the midst of an aging world, that he has come to heal and rebuild, to restore the world and our lives to their original splendor”
Next Sunday is Advent Sunday, and the Church begins a new year.
This year is Year A in the Church’s three year cycle, and our Sunday gospel readings – particularly during Ordinary Time – will focus on Matthew’s gospel.
We will get more out of this year if we have some understanding of Matthew’s gospel. Of course, the best way to get this is by reading it. Reading the gospel in one go might be a challenge, but takes a few hours and is worth the effort.
We should also understand that Matthew is telling the story of Jesus for a particular group of people, probably Jewish Christians wrestling with issues around taking the good news to the Gentiles. The Instruction on the Historical Truth of the Gospels, issued under Pope Paul VI is a useful reminder of how the gospels came to be written. Themes that are important to Matthew include,
- Jesus as ‘Emmanuel’, the one in whom God is with us.
- Jesus and the events of his life fulfilling God’s promises to his ancient people.
- The importance of responding practically to the demands of the Kingdom of Heaven.
- The mission to the Gentiles – Jesus is for everyone!
It can be useful to read the gospel with a commentary. The Sacra Pagina commentary is good.
Finally, Pasolini’s film interpretation of the gospel – The Gospel According to Saint Matthew – is great.
St Catherine of Alexandria, martyr, whose feast is today, is a co-patron of the Order.
God of power and mercy, you gave St Catherine of Alexandria, your martyr,
victory over pain and suffering.
Strengthen us who celebrate this day of her triumph
and help us to be victorious over the evils that threaten us.
We make our prayer through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Next month is our Advent retreat, so there won’t be any formation. In the new year we will be starting a mini-course on St Thomas Aquinas, an important Dominican saint, theologian and philosopher. Through understanding how he thought about God and human beings we hope to be better able to serve the gospel in our own age.
There will be three sessions, running over three months, as we look together at different aspects of Thomas’ life and works:
- Aquinas : the man and his works
- Aquinas on God
- Aquinas on human beings
Formation material and reading will be provided as we go along. At this stage, however, here is some recommended reading for people who would like it before next year:
- Brian Davies OP’s Aquinas is an ideal short introduction, and very accessible.
- Denys Turner’s Thomas Aquinas : a Portrait is longer, but insightful and engaging.
- Herbert McCabe OP’s God Matters is a good example of what modern thinking in the tradition of Aquinas looks like (particularly the first three chapters).
As Dominicans we keep feast days additional to those in the usual (‘general’) calendar of the Church, celebrating people and events of particular significance to us in the Order of Preachers.
Today we recall all the saints of the Order, all those whose souls enjoy the vision of God’s glory as they await the resurrection, whether they have been officially canonised or not. We see in them people who have, by God’s grace, lived our way of passing on the fruits of prayer and study, people who have preached the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ.
One of the last actions of the previous master of the Order, Bruno, was to propose that the annual Dominican month for peace focus on India. You can read his letter about this here.
The European Lay Dominican website adds:
The Dominican Month for Peace will start on the First Sunday of Advent (1 December), run for the whole of December and culminate on the Church’s World Day of Peace on 1st January.
Our Dominican brothers and sisters in lndia are working a lot with the youth. Many forms of violence against young people are prevalent at so many levels of the huge and complex lndian society. Our focus in the 2019 Dominican Month for Peace will be on countering this violence, in the form of deprivation and abuse, against children, women and “tribals” (indigenous people).
In these struggles many Dominicans are present as in these two Dominican projects:
1. The Dominican Project Bloom for street children in Nagpur; and
2. The Dominican Family Safe Childhood Project to train trainers to address child sexual abuse.
You can find resources to help observe the month of peace here on the European website