On the basis of this, the question Where is God? is not one that makes sense on Christian terms. The answer is, He is here, present in even the most distressing and horrible of circumstances. It is precisely here that the ancient martyrs instruct us. I think today of The Passion of Sts. Perpetua and Felicity
"But for the women the devil had made ready a most savage cow, prepared for this purpose against all custom; for even in this beast he would mock their sex. They were stripped therefore and made to put on nets; and so they were brought forth. The people shuddered, seeing one a tender girl, the other her breasts yet dropping from her late childbearing. So they were called back and clothed in loose robes. Perpetua was first thrown, and fell upon her loins. And when she had sat upright, her robe being rent at the side, she drew it over to cover her thigh, mindful rather of modesty than of pain. Next, looking for a pin, she likewise pinned up her dishevelled hair; for it was not meet that a martyr should suffer with hair dishevelled, lest she should seem to grieve in her glory. So she stood up; and when she saw Felicity smitten down, she went up and gave her her hand and raised her up. And both of them stood up together and the (hardness of the people being now subdued) were called back to the Gate of Life. There Perpetua being received by one named Rusticus, then a catechumen, who stood close at her side, and as now awakening from sleep (so much was she in the Spirit and in ecstasy) began first to look about her; and then (which amazed all there), When, forsooth, she asked, are we to be thrown to the cow? And when she heard that this had been done already, she would not believe till she perceived some marks of mauling on her body and on her dress. Thereupon she called her brother to her, and that catechumen, and spoke to them, saying: Stand fast in the faith, and love you all one another; and be not offended because of our passion" (par. 20).The account continues:
"And when the people besought that they should be brought forward, that when the sword pierced through their bodies their eyes might be joined thereto as witnesses to the slaughter, they rose of themselves and moved, whither the people willed them, first kissing one another, that they might accomplish their martyrdom with the rites of peace. The rest not moving and in silence received the sword; Saturus much earlier gave up the ghost; for he had gone up earlier also, and now he waited for Perpetua likewise. But Perpetua, that she might have some taste of pain, was pierced between the bones and shrieked out; and when the swordsman's hand wandered still (for he was a novice), herself set it upon her own neck. Perchance so great a woman could not else have been slain (being feared of the unclean spirit) had she not herself so willed it" (par. 21- underlining emphasis mine)Fred also takes up this idea in a post over on la nouvelle, a post that begins: "[Supernatural] Faith is anchored in what Jesus and the saints see..."
If this account of martyrdom does not give lie to insistence on the part of some that the sign of peace "is merely a ritual gesture," I do not know what does. First, in the eucharistic liturgy there are no "mere" gestures. Second, the exchange of the sign of peace is a vital part of the liturgy, as such it should be given adequate time between the invitation to "offer each other the sign of peace" and the singing of the Agnus Dei. One cannot appeal to the liturgy prior to Vatican II as the basis on which the sign of peace is set forth as a "mere gesture". Why? Because most people were busy with their devotions during Mass and the priest, in a hurry to rush through, probably just liturgically high-fived the altar server. In other words, the biggest retrieval of the reformed liturgy is that the assembly is not ancillary, but necessary for the Eucharist. In fact, Mass with a congregation is the normative Mass. This is why it is no longer a requirement for every priest to celebrate Mass everyday. Now, priests are certainly free to do so, but no longer required. The earliest Christians certainly knew and practiced this. Indeed, the priority of the assembly is an authentic ressourcement, a retrival of authentic Christian liturgical praxis. In the eucharistic liturgy "every prayer is said in the first person plural" (The Sacraments: The Word of God at the Mercy of the Body, pg. 32). Hence, "the agent of the celebration is the church as church understood in the primary meaning of assemby" (pgs. 32-33). This does not arise, as some think, from a democratic ideology, but from a genuine theological reason. Indeed, "it is insufficient to think that the community celebrates only by uniting itself to what the priest does" (pg. 33). The entire assembly, the ekklesia, as God's priestly people is the agent of celebration, an ordered celebration at which the priest presides. Why this today? Because we are close to the Triduum, the Christian high holy days, in which we commemorate and celebrate in a particularly intensive and powerful way the paschal mystery. Your presence is needed, not extraneous.
Please keep Bishop Wester in your prayers, pray specifically for his operation tomorrow to go well. Further, this Holy Week pray for all who suffer the scourge of various kinds of cancer.
I am very pleased that this is the 1,100th post on Καθολικός διάκονος.