Seeking the Sacred

In every generation since time began, and in every part of the world, people have asked questions about the physical world and about themselves.

Asking these questions often makes us aware that deep within us there is a desire which reaches beyond ourselves, seeking a connection with the infinite that we may find difficult to express.

We have a capacity for the infinite which can be obscured by the details of our busy lives. An infinite God never ceases to call us to seek him, and we find there are surprising moments in our lives when we become aware of being drawn towards that infinity.

Our own human reason can make us aware of the existence of God. But there is another level of knowledge and understanding which God has made available to us and which enables us to respond to the infinite beyond our own natural capacity. God’s own revelation to us is an invitation to faith, to freely assent to the truth which God has revealed. Faith is a journey, embracing a lifetime of phases and stages.

The Mass

The Mass that Catholics celebrate all over the world today is that same act of sharing and self-sacrifice that Jesus modelled for his disciples. 

The words and the rituals used have changed much over the centuries but their significance has never wavered. Through the priest and ministers the words of the Bible are proclaimed and explained and those present give the assent of their hearts in word and music. In sharing in the bread of sacrifice and the cup of union Catholics join Jesus in moments of joy and intimacy that stand outside time, then go forth to proclaim his values and relive his sacrifice in the world today.

Spanning the Ages

On the eve of his death, Jesus invited his closest followers to share a parting meal with him. This meal looked both to the past and to the future. It recalled the escape of the Jewish slaves from Egypt when the doors of their homes had been smeared with the blood of a lamb that each family shared as food for their dangerous journey to freedom.

This meal would also prepare his followers for the next day when Jesus himself would become the lamb, his body broken on a cross. When he then rose from the dead they tasted great freedom. For they saw that death was not the end of Jesus’ life and mission – nor of theirs. They came to see that the refusal to retaliate, to take revenge, or to scapegoat also brought about deep inner freedom; it was sacrifice but likewise liberation.

At that last supper Jesus had invited them to share his life and mission by eating his body and drinking his blood in the form of bread and wine. Within a few years of his death small Christian groups throughout Israel and Asia Minor were doing just that.

The Sacraments and Rites

What are the Sacraments?

Origins

Jesus grew up in a very small rural village. His was a family of craftsmen. So naturally his teaching and healing were framed and full of stories and actions familiar to his listeners. His stories and parables revolve around weeds, crops, inheritance right, salt and light. When he healed he touched tongues and ears, sometimes using his own spittle. These simple acts and objects picked up shadows of the sacred. Some became so identified with his preaching that they were adopted by his followers and became anointed with his power and mission. The Church grew and reflected on these central symbols of Christ’s presence and power; gradually, by the early Middle Ages seven of these signs had been singled out. They were called sacraments. Each represents a phase of human growth and wisdom and deeper sharing in the life of the Church.

Baptism

Baptism is a sacrament of initiation welcoming a new Christian into its new family. This may be as an infant, adding the Church’s embrace and culture to that of the parents. Or it may be a joyful welcome to a new adult member. At the heart of the ceremony is washing with water, a symbol of reviving and cleansing. Every community and family carries its own dark and hidden history. Baptism begs for healing of such contagion and pledges the support of the Church community for the newly baptised.

Confirmation

Central to this sacrament are an anointing with blessed oil and the taking on of a new name. In many ancient cultures anointing with oil marked a man or woman off for a special role such as healer or prophet. It acknowledged wisdom and leadership often signalled by a new name. It called on the spirit of God to infuse new powers. So confirmation in Catholic thought is a turning away from personal focus to a deeper involvement in the community, marked by a spirit of loving relationship empowered by God’s own Spirit.

Reconciliation (penance or confession)

Humans learn by making mistakes. Admitting these and the damage they cause can be powerful. Often we need the ear and wisdom of another to help us uncover and address the root of our faults. Harming ourselves and others we call sin. In this sacrament the priest takes the place of Jesus. He helps the penitent to acknowledge their errors and to unmask the roots of such wrong doing. He assures them of God’s forgiveness, allowing the penitent to depart light of heart and clean of soul, more aware of how to battle their weaknesses.

Marriage

This sacrament is unique in that it is built on a human contract, seated in the need for love and sexual fulfilment. It is the couple who create the relationship and sacrament; the Church comes to witness and support it. From the dawn of humanity men and women have sought a mate for companionship and family. Christ blessed children and defended the enduring nature of the marriage bond. As our civilizations have grown more complex the need for romance, compatibility and unreserved acceptance by another have, if anything, become more central. In marriage the Church blesses and stands by such unions.

Holy Orders (priesthood)

This is the sacrament of servant leadership. After careful and long training and discernment, certain men are anointed and consecrated as priests. They are called to lead but not dominate, to teach but not control, and to provide strength for their people out of a sense of their own weakness and needs.

Eucharist

In many ways this is the foundation on which all the other sacraments are built. It exists in many dimensions. It is the consecrated bread and wine which Catholics believe is the very body and blood of Christ hidden under the forms of bread and wine. It is also the Mass in which this bread and wine are consecrated and transformed into the body and blood of Jesus. This sacrament is a multi-faceted jewel: it is the bringer of deep relationship with Jesus, a wedding feast for the Church, a sacrifice of personal egoism, and a foretaste of heaven, all at the same time.

Anointing

In time of serious illness or the approach of death Catholics can receive strength and comfort from the sacrament of anointing. It is a reminder of baptism but also a time of preparation for another passage. The prayers, anointing and support given in the rite assure the sick person of total forgiveness and strength for what is to follow, the passage into the unknown.

Conclusion

Each of these seven sacraments is an assured moment of Christ’s presence and action. Regardless of the merit or talent of the minister, Christ guarantees his all-powerful presence; those who receive will be blessed at the level of their faith and desire. Each of these sacraments is focused on the individual Catholic here and now yet each is also geared to the growth and commitment of the supporting Church community. Each uses symbols: oil, water, salt, to bring out the inner meaning of what is happening within. Each is a moment of revelation of God but also a reminder of that moment of total illumination when the faithful disciple will finally come face to face with their God.

Prayer

Prayer is at the heart of the Church. In its various forms it is at once praise and thanksgiving, an appeal for mercy and hope in time of need.

The Church has a range of resources to help people foster a habit of prayer that suits their lifestyle but which always leads to where the love of Jesus is most experienced. 

An inner music

Ancient philosophers believed that as the sun, moon and planets moved on their precise courses, each gave out a distinct melody – the music of the spheres. Though this was inaudible to human ears, it shaped what happened on earth. Christians believe that it is the Spirit of God that fills the universe with a song that touches all creatures beyond their understanding. Their instinctive response, often in song, is prayer. Prayer comes in many forms. It is the welling up of wonder at the beauty of the Starry Way; the lifting up of the heart at the sight of a mother carrying her newborn, or the plea for an old friend facing death. 

 

 

 

Playing in the orchestra

Even child prodigies have to learn to play the piano. So too does each human being learn to pray. Parents are often the first teachers, then simple formulas learned at school or church.

Prayer draws us outwards, from learning to see our own needs, to seeing the needs of others. We encounter numerous models of prayer in ancient formulas, liturgies and books of prayers. Prayer is an art; like any art it demands practice and discipline. Just as star athletes need 10,000 hours so as to become able to compete at the highest level, so too does prayer require long practice. There will be times of discouragement, boredom and dryness.

But for those who persist, anyone who prays can eventually become like Yehudi Menuhin on his violin or Jacqueline du Pre on her cello playing soaring melodies without the need for a score. So too Christians gradually absorb the stories told by Jesus, the teachings of the Bible and the lessons of the saints. After long reflection there is less and less need of words, and prayer can become just sitting in the presence of our best friend. In time even the need for outcomes and affirmation can cease and prayer becomes its own reward. We become part of the music of creation.

Daily Prayers

The bells of a monastery or convent were often the signal for the whole community to stop and pray. Short prayers at a particular time of the day have long been used by Catholics to centre their lives on Christ.

The Liturgy of the Hours or the Divine Office is prayed at particular hours of each day by priests and religious. Some lay people may also pray the Liturgy of the Hours, while others mark different times of the day with shorter prayers. The Morning Offering, the Angelus said at noon, and a prayer before sleep are simple ways in which anyone can make space for prayer in a busy day.

 

 

Prayer Card

Our fast-paced 21st century can make it difficult to find time for prayer. For centuries Catholics have been using simple prayers which mark different times of the day. We encourage you to make these prayers part of your day.

“… whether you pray alone or as part of a community, you should always expect your prayer to take you out of yourself and lead you to where the love of Jesus is most experienced. Prayer opens your heart to the Holy Spirit who will surprise you not only with the direction suggested for your travelling, but – and especially – the gifts you need to make the journey.”

Prayer in the Busyness of Life, published by New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference

The Morning Offering

“There used to be a form of devotion that included the idea of “offering up” the minor daily hardships that continually strike at us like irritating “jabs”, thereby giving them a meaning. What does it mean to offer something up? Those who did so were convinced that they could insert these little annoyances into Christ’s great “com-passion” so that they somehow became part of the treasury of compassion so greatly needed by the human race. In this way, even the small inconveniences of daily life could acquire meaning and contribute to the economy of good and human love.”

Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, para. 40

Greeting the day that lies ahead

  • Take a moment of thanksgiving for the gift of this day.
  • Look forward to the key moments of this day: family relationships, work, recreation.
  • Be aware of anything that may cause stress.
  • Place the day in God's hands.
  • Set out confident that all the people I meet, all I do and say, are God's gift to me this day.
Lord I give you today my prayers,
thoughts, works and actions,
that they may be for your glory
and for the good of the world.

E te Ariki, ka tuku atu ki ā koe, ngā īnoi,
ngā whakaaro, ngā mahi katoa o tēnei rā
hei whakakorōria I ā koe
ā, hei painga mō te ao tūroa nei.

From "Prayers in Common Use" Catholic Publications Centre

Midday Prayer

The Angelus

The Angelus Domini is the traditional form used by the faithful to commemorate the holy annunciation of the angel Gabriel to Mary. It is used three times daily: at dawn, midday, and dusk. It is a recollection of the salvific event in which the Word became Flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, through the power of the Holy Spirit in accordance with the salvific plan of the Father.

Directory of Popular Piety and the Liturgy, Principles and Guidelines, n.195

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The Angel of the Lord declared to Mary: And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen

Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it done to me according to your word.

Hail Mary....

And the Word was made Flesh; and dwelt among us.

Hail Mary....

Pray for us. O Holy Mother of God, that we be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray: Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord, your grace into our hearts; that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection, through the same Christ Our Lord.

Amen

Night Prayer

Giving thanks for the day:

  • Begin with being thankful to God for the gift of life this day.
  • Ask God for the gift to see myself as God sees me and loves me.
  • Go over the events of the day: when have I noticed God with me, God loving me?

 

 

  • Thank God for the good times. Ask pardon for the times I did not recognise God, and for help to change.
  • Look forward to tomorrow with hope. It will be another day to grow in love.

The Memorare

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession was left unaided.

Inspired by this confidence, I fly to you, O Virgin of virgins, my mother; to you do I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in your mercy hear and answer me. Amen.

Devotions

"The spiritual life is not limited solely to participation in the liturgy.” In order to build lives permeated with personal prayer, Christian people turn to scriptures, devotions and a rich patrimony of religious practices handed on through generations.   

Cf #59 Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy

Rosary

The Rosary is one of the most excellent prayers to the Mother of God. The Rosary is essentially a contemplative prayer on the salvific events of Christ's life and their association with the Virgin Mother. It requires "tranquility of rhythm or even a mental lingering which encourages the faithful to meditate on the mysteries of the Lord's life."

Divine Mercy

Divine Mercy, based on the writings of St Faustina Kowalska who was canonized 30 April 2000, concentrates on the mercy poured forth in Christ's death and resurrection, fount of the Holy Spirit who forgives sins and restores joy at having been redeemed. This devotion is particularly relevant in connection with the octave of Easter, specifically the Second Sunday of Easter, which is Divine Mercy Sunday.

Reflection

Reflection creates the space in which we are ready to receive the gift of prayer. To reflect is to provide the time and opportunity for an encounter with God, who teaches us to pray and who responds to our prayer.

The liturgy of the Catholic Church provides a framework for reflection which is used by Catholics throughout the world. Some people prefer to reflect upon the readings for each day; others reflect upon the gospel reading for Sunday during the week. Whatever method you choose, the readings are a great context for reflection.

Find Sunday Reflections in the related links box to the right.

Lectio Divina

Lectio Divina (Latin for "Divine Reading") is a traditional Benedictine practice of scriptural reading meditation and prayer intended to promote communion with God and to increase the knowledge of God's Word.

Find Lectio Divina leaflet in the related links box to the right.

Sacred Places

The designation of places for divine worship has always been central to the worship of God.

According to the Code of Canon Law, a place is said to be sacred if it is designated for divine worship. While we may benefit in many ways from being present at these places, their essential purpose is the glory of God.