Questions Of The Week

Question 5: Can you explain the Gospel Antiphon in Night Prayer.  How can we “watch with Christ” while we are sleep? 

The Gospel Antiphon for Night Prayer goes as follows:

Protect us Lord as we stay awake; watch over us as we sleep, that awake, we may keep watch with Christand asleep, rest in his peace (emphasis mine).

In order to explain this antiphon, we must take it in its context (Night Prayer), then look at an Old Testament passage that will give light to the passage, and finally we will look at the words, “watch and rest” to tie the explanation together.    

First, we will put the antiphon in its context.   Night prayer generally has a two-fold purpose: to reflect on the day by giving thanksgiving for the day’s blessings/ask forgiveness for the day’s failures and unite ourselves to the Lord so we can meet Him when he comes.  Hence, there are specific Psalms and the (optional) Examination of Conscience for Night Prayer. 

Next, we can look at an Old Testament passage that gives light to the antiphon from Genesis involving Jacob and Laban:

Laban replied to Jacob: “Come, now, let us make a covenant, you and I; and it will be a treaty between you and me.” Laban said, “This mound will be a witness from now on between you and me.” That is why it was named Galeed—and also Mizpah, for he said: “May theLordkeep watch between you and me when we are out of each other’s sight.  If you mistreat my daughters, or take other wives besides my daughters, know that even though no one else is there, God will be a witness between you and me.”  He then offered a sacrifice on the mountain and invited his kinsmen to share in the meal. When they had eaten, they passed the night on the mountain (Gen. 26: 43-44, 48-50, 54).

We see that Laban and Jacob make a covenant, and through this Covenant, the Lord, Jacob, and Laban together keep watch in guarding their promise to one another (note: by making it a covenant, the promise now involves God as well).

With this context in mind we can look at two particular phrases in the Gospel Antiphon that you have a question about, “watch with Christ” and “rest.”   Let’s look at the word “watch.”   The letter to the Hebrews tells us, “Obey your leaders and defer to them, for they keep watch over you and will have to give an account, that they may fulfill their task with joy and not with sorrow, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Heb. 13:17). God tells us that the “watch” involves rendering an account of our actions, which again, is the purpose of Night Prayer.   Now let’s tie that to the word, “rest.”   Like many of the things in Scripture, it has a layered meaning.  Remember when Jesus was speaking to Nicodemus and He said, “you must be born of water and spirit” (see Jn. 3:5-21).  In the original Aramaic, the word is “Ruah” which has a natural meaning, “wind” but also a spiritual meaning, “Spirit.”  It is the same with the word “cielo” in Spanish.  It has a natural meaning, “sky” but a spiritual meaning, “Heaven.”   The word “rest” is used in Night Prayer with this double meaning.  Its natural meaning is “sleep” but its spiritual meaning is dwelling in God/Heaven.   How do we do this?  We actively listen to Christ’s words, “Come to me all you who are heavy burdened and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).  We rest in God by resting in Christ.   We give ourselves to God and God gives Himself to us.  In other words, we renew our covenant with both God and His people just like Jacob and Laban did in Genesis.   So we see spiritually “rest” is something we actively do towards God as individuals, but also with God towards His people (the Church), because this is how a covenant operates.  Covenants are collective (because they involve a community- union between people), while simultaneously personal because they have a personal claim on the participants within the Covenant.  

Hence, by “resting in God’s peace”, which is dwelling in His Covenant (which was made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ) we actively watch with Christ because this covenant extends to all of mankind.  And because “the watch” is both “active” as well as an account of our lives; when we give it to Jesus, we “restore all things in Christ” (Eph. 1:10) and “keep watch with Him” because we proclaim through our “rest” He is both Lord of our lives and Lord of all.  

For more on the Liturgy of the Hours, get a copy of my book on the Liturgy of the Hours click here! 

Question 4: If Only You Knew the Gift of God

Here’s a great talk for Advent.  Why do we have Advent?  It is to prepare for the Gift of God.  Enjoy this great talk here.

Question 3:  How can I explain how devotion to the Saints and Mary is not wrong?  

To understand intercessory prayer in Scripture, you must realize that we do not pray to Mary, the saints, or for one another to replace Christ as he is “the one sole mediator between God and man” (1Tim. 2:5).  But we can pray for each other preciselybecause we are in Christ.  In him, “we can do all things in him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13), including intercessory prayer. 

What’s at stake here is not just a misunderstanding of Catholic intercessory prayer but our eternal destiny itself.  Also it limits the power of God and empties the cross of its power.  If the sole reason we can intercede for one another is because we are in Christ; then if the people in heaven can’t pray or intercede for us, it could only be because they are separated from Christ.  

This would mean that we would automatically have to be seperated from Christ when we or our loved ones died.  Consequently, either nobody could be in heaven or heaven exist without Christ.   Both possibilities are horrific.  This is why St. Paul proclaims the Gospel in his letter to the Romans:

What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” -Rom 8:35, 39

Death doesn’t separate us from Christ and so we can still “do all things in Him who strengthens us,” particularly intercessory prayer.  Those who have died with Jesus, rise with Him as well, thus continue to be incorporated into Him (2Tim. 2:11-14).  Thus, they share in his mission to love both here “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).  

     Also, if we as Christians condemn help from the saints/”the cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1), we limit the love of God and the power of the cross.   If death separates us from our brothers and sisters in heaven it means that death is more powerful than the love of God.   St. Paul says the exact opposite in Romans as stated above. So to deny a link to God’s love beyond death is to deny the power of the God’s love and “empty the cross of its power” (1Cor. 1:17-18).

This is what intercessory prayer and devotion to Mary is really about.  It’s not about idolatry, or putting Mary and the saints above Jesus, but about proclaiming the power of God and not emptying the cross of its power; it is about the saints living in Jesus and living out the mandate of Jesus, “to proclaim the good news to all the world” (MK. 16:16). 

Question 2:  Which aspect of the Mass is more important-the horizontal (the people) or the Vertical (God-oriented)?

      There has been great debate with this question, but with that being said, there is a definitive answer.  The two aspects are both important.  The horizontal aspect (or that concerning the people) is important because the people are those who receive the blessings of the liturgy.  This aspect also allows us to see in a tangible way that we are not alone in our worship of God, in our struggle against sin, and in our journey towards holiness.  The vertical aspect (that which focuses on God), is important as well as it gives us our proper direction.  We are made for God, not simply for man.

So although both are important, the vertical aspect takes priority in order of importance.  There are several reasons for this, but I will focus on four.  First, we realize that the Mass is given for our salvation and to put us in union with God.  Only God can save us (hence the name Jesus which means, “God saves”), not man.   The teaching that man could save himself without God is a heresy known as Pelagianism.  Consequently, we can see throughout human history what happens when man tries to be his own savior (exhibit A-the entire Old Testament.  Exhibit B-modern day secular society).  If we were to emphasize man over God, we may have a good time, but it would not help us with our salvation.  Secondly, if we were to gather simply for others, for like-minded people, the Mass would be no more than an exalted club gathered in the name of God.  Mass is not a club, it is an act of worship.  Therefore it should be centered on God.  If we were to gather together to worship man, that would not be a holy activity, but idolatry.  That brings us to the third reason the vertical dimension is more important than the horizontal.  As one of my students once noted, “If the focus of the Mass is man and not God, then we are saying that we are more important than God…the ultimate act of arrogance.”  Sadly it is easy to fall into this mentality.  How many of us know someone who says, “I don’t go to Mass because I think it’s boring” or “I think the music is bad” or “I can’t get a good homily.”

Although these things may be true subjectively, that should not be the reason we go to Mass.  We go to Mass for one simple reason, one person alone…Jesus Christ!  He is not only, “the reason for the season,” but also the reason for the Mass.  We go to Mass as an act of agape love and this type of love is not given on the condition that it is entertaining.  Agape love is unconditional, totally other-centered, because this is God’s love.  God does not love us on the condition that we are fun to be with or because we can entertain Him.  We see this very clearly in His sacrifice on Calvary (which is made present sacramentally at every Mass).  God loves and died for us not because our relationship is entertaining, but because He wants us to be with Him for all eternity.  Perpetual presence is the only thing that can satisfy true love (you want to be with the person you love forever) and this is why God gave us the Mass; so He can be with us until the end of time and even beyond.    

So in conclusion, the horizontal/human aspect is important in the Mass, but the vertical aspect takes precedence for numerous reasons:  the criteria of salvation, Mass is not simply a club, but an act of worship, God is more important than man, but in the end, “the greatest of these is love” (1Cor. 13: 13).  This love is something all of are made for and gather to receive; something that is perpetual and eternal.  Since it is eternal, it cannot be given by man no matter how many gather and even if they come together for the most noble intentions.  Jesus gives us hope however.  He says, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26).  God becomes flesh and gives Himself to us as food in the Eucharist so that love itself can nourish us throughout our lives.  This nourishment not only connects us to our fellow man, but to God Himself, thus giving us the capacity to not only go out, but up to our heart’s deepest longing…a “love [that] never fails” (1Cor. 13: 8). 

Question 1: Ever had someone tell you that Christmas was built on pagan holidays and that Jesus really wasn’t born on Dec. 25th?

Check out this article that explains more about this topic.