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Slim volume can add to Catholics' understanding of new Mass responses Print E-mail
Written by Mitch Finley, Catholic News Service   
Friday, 17 June 2016 13:53

"It Is Right and Just: Responses of the Roman Missal" by John M. Cunningham, OP. Newman House Press (Pine Beach, New Jersey, 2016), 61 pp., $10.

Any Catholic who attends Mass regularly is by now familiar with the new English translation of the Mass prayers published in 2011. This doesn't mean, however, that familiarity led to understanding or appreciation.

Many Catholics may not grasp the connections between the responses now spoken by the eucharistic assembly and both Scripture and the writings of the early fathers of the church. In "It Is Right and Just," Father John Cunningham, an Irish Dominican and lecturer at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, takes up each response and discusses its biblical and patristic roots.

Dividing his discussion according to the parts of the Mass -- introductory rites, liturgy of the word, liturgy of the Eucharist, Communion rite, and blessing and dismissal -- Father Cunningham addresses each response spoken by the assembly and shares insights with the reader. One commentary many readers may be particularly interested in is the one on the response, "And with your spirit." Why did this response replace the one that had become so familiar, "And also with you." Father Cunningham writes, in part:

"Understanding the response 'And with your spirit' in the light of ... words of the fathers of the church (e.g. St. John Chrysostom and Theodore of Mopsuestia) should draw attention to the sacred ministry of priesthood rather than to the personality of any individual priest. It should also liberate the celebrant from the imagined need to attach a 'secular greeting' to the 'sacred greeting' as if the latter were an obstruction to communication between priest and people."

Father Cunningham draws on not only the writings of the early fathers of the church but also on the documents of the Second Vatican Council and on the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Commenting on the suggestion that the penitential act in the Mass is the same as the sacrament of penance, for example, he quotes from the catechism, "The Eucharist is not ordered to the forgiveness of mortal sins -- that is ordered to the sacrament of reconciliation." This is also an example of the author's tendency to let his source speak for itself without comment. For example, note that the catechism says nothing about the forgiveness of venial sins in the penitential act, only mortal sins. (The reader would do well, by the way, to note that the catechism makes clear the rarity of mortal sins and how difficult it actually is to commit a mortal sin.)

When commenting on longer responses, such as the "Glory to God in the Highest," Father Cunningham singles out particular parts for attention. He notes that "the Gloria may be conveniently divided into three sections: the song of the angels (Lk 2:14), the praise of God and the invocation of the Lord Jesus Christ."

He then comments on each of these three parts, and sometimes his remarks on even a single word will enrich the reader's appreciation for that one word in the context of the entire response. Regarding, for example, the Gloria's invocation of peace, he quotes from "The City of God" by St. Augustine of Hippo: "So great is the gift of peace that ... nothing more pleasant can be heard, nothing more desirable can be longed for, and nothing better can be found."

After reading this, speaking the single word "peace" when reciting the Gloria during Mass may become a more meaningful experience.

There are numerous similar commentaries in this slim volume that readers, both laity and clergy, will find enrich their experience of the Mass and, in particular, their speaking of the responses given by the Roman Missal to the eucharistic assembly. Not only will individual readers gain much from "It Is Right and Just," but it lends itself well to use by parish reading and study groups. This is a superior book that comes with this reviewer's highest recommendation.

Finley is the author of more than 30 books on Catholic themes, including "What Faith is Not" (Sheed & Ward) and a best-seller, "The Rosary Handbook: A Guide for Newcomers, Old-Timers and Those In Between" (Word Among Us Press).

Author's scholarly take on Peter brings Holy Land to life for readers Print E-mail
Written by David Gibson Catholic News Service   
Wednesday, 18 May 2016 14:23


"Saint Peter: Flawed, Forgiven and Faithful" by Stephen J. Binz. Loyola Press (Chicago, 2015). 193 pp., $14.95.

Travelers planning to visit the Holy Land may want to read Stephen Binz's "Saint Peter: Flawed, Forgiven and Faithful." In addition to his Scripture scholarship, Binz conducts study trips and pilgrimages to the places most closely linked with Jesus and his first disciples.

The author obviously loves bringing the Holy Land's geography to life for readers. They travel with Peter in these pages from Galilee to Rome.

It is enjoyable to hear Binz talk about the home where Peter hosted Jesus or the small church at the place on the Sea of Galilee's shores where Jesus cooked fish for his disciples after his resurrection.

The author seems particularly insightful in his advice about the right starting point for a Holy Land tour. Pilgrims "often begin their Holy Land tour with the cities of the Mediterranean coast," he points out. But he prefers "to visit these coastal sites at the end of the trip because they are the places from which the Gospel was launched westward throughout the Roman Empire."

He explains that "believers who left from this harbor to bring good news to the nations ... knew that (Jesus) called them to cross boundaries and overcome barriers."

This book is at its best in its attention to Peter's crucial role in the ancient church's decision to baptize gentiles - to welcome even those who were not Jews and did not follow Jewish dietary practices into the community of faith and, as a consequence, to begin to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

While "the apostolic mission to all parts of the world will soon be led by Paul," Peter's admission of the Roman centurion Cornelius to baptism in the Acts of the Apostles "makes it clear that Peter was the inaugurator of this mission," Binz says.

"Saint Peter" exhibits a religious educational intent at numerous points. By this I mean that the book is not meant only to highlight Holy Land events that occurred some 2,000 years ago but to clarify what these long-ago incidents imply now for the concrete lives of Christians.

Binz says the Gospel challenges Christians to become "open to what seems impossible" - like "walking on water, feeding thousands with a few loaves, rising from the dead, forgiving an enemy, giving precious time to prayer, giving away hard-earned money, standing alone for what is just."

He comments, too, that "the call of the risen Christ for us to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth convinces us that now every place can be a holy land."

"Saint Peter" is not a scholarly tome overloaded with footnotes or discussions of technical points. On the other hand, some other biblical scholars might quibble with a point or two here.

Binz does not appear to question the traditional view that the author of the Gospel of Mark is the John Mark who made an appearance in the Acts of the Apostles and went on to become a close associate of Peter. Thus, Gospel readers might well expect John Mark to introduce them in a highly significant way to Peter's teaching.

"Although Mark had many sources for the material of his Gospel, Peter seems to be his most important and consistent source of information," Binz writes. The New American Bible cautions, however, that "Petrine influence" in this Gospel should not "be exaggerated."

What I think readers will enjoy most is the book's description of Peter not as someone so perfect that they never could identify with him, but someone like them in important ways.

Binz explains that in the Gospels "we are shown the flaws in Peter's character -- the chips in the Rock." However, "we are also shown, through praise and criticism of Peter throughout the Gospels, how God is working through the life of this great disciple."

Jesus' passion becomes a "point of crisis for Peter," Binz comments. Peter insists to Jesus that "I will not deny you," but Peter then denies Jesus three times.

"Peter's bluster holds a lesson for all future disciples," says Binz. "If we do not recognize our vulnerability, then we have set ourselves up for failure." He suggests it is wise "to place our confidence in a power beyond our own."

Peter will become known later for preaching the good news and for his healing ministry. Binz underscores the resemblances between the healing acts of Jesus and those of Peter.

In light of this, Binz writes, "Peter's ministry demonstrates that Jesus is still powerfully at work in his church."

Gibson was the founding editor of Origins, Catholic News Service's documentary service. He retired in 2007 after holding that post for 36 years.



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