Wednesday, November 25, 2015



What is a problem? What is a mystery? What does the adjective “secular” mean? What does the adjective “sacral” mean? We all know what problems are. We have wrestled with mathematics, physics in our early school days. We probably have read our share of mysteries where murders have been solved. Not so with a mystery. God is a mystery. When we say that God is a mystery we’re saying that we are incapable of expressing who God really is, although we can make good progress, with thoughtful reflection, in saying what God is not. No matter what we know of God, in the end we must say that God is incomprehensible. The adjective sacral refers to something that pertains to God or the worship of God. The chalice at Mass is sacral. The twelve or so banks here in Wellesley are all quite secular. (If you visit Rome and walk down the Via del Corso you will se a huge building with the sign – Il Banco di Santo Spirito. Don’t be fooled by the name. The Holy Spirit is sacral; the bank of the Holy Spirit is purely secular.)

Obviously a column in a bulletin is not the place for a treatise on Incarnation. The purpose of this column is to make us feel more at home with the translation of the New Roman Missal which deals with the Incarnation in the second part of the Creed. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of Incarnation as follows: The fact that the Son of God assumed human nature and became man in order to accomplish our salvation in that same human nature. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is both true God and true man, not part God or part man. The Apostolic preaching spoke about Incarnation to Jewish hearers who were the first to hear the New Testament word of God. St. John the Evangelist opens his gospel with the words – “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Incarnation literally means “becoming flesh, taking on our humanity”. As the Catechism expresses it – belief in the true Incarnation of the Son of God is the distinctive sign of Christian faith: “By this you know the spirit of God: every spirit which professes that Jesus Christ comes in the flesh is of God.”

Preaching to the Gentiles was different that preaching to the Jews. The preachers to the Jews could cite the many passages in the Old Testament that spoke about the one who was to come, but the Gentiles had no experience with the Old Testament at all. What we profess about the Lord Jesus at Sunday Mass was the product of several early Ecumenical Councils. The first Ecumenical took place at Nicea, up near the Bosphorus near present day Istanbul. Wrong thinking about Jesus was called Arianism. Yes, the Arians would say, Jesus is rightly called Son of God but obviously, they said, he cannot be God the way God the Father is God. The question was raised at Nicea – “Was there ever a time when the Son of God was not?” What this question really meant from the Arian point of view was that Christ, though superior to us, could not be equal to the Father and thus came under the creative power of God the Father. The Church’s answers to all of this was loud and clear. Jesus in his humanity became like ourselves but never ceased to be his divine self. And as his divine self he was equal to the Father and the Spirit in divinity. That is where the adjective consubstantial comes in. The Council picked up an ordinary word in everyday Greek language to speak about a unique fact in human history, that is, what God the Father is in his divinity that is what the Lord Jesus is as born of the Father before all ages. Hence, dear reader, the two changes in the second section of the Nicene Creed instead of saying – “By the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary and became man”, we will be saying in the new translation “by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary.”

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