Friday, December 30, 2011

Was Mary Saved?

A Protestant friend of mine related his struggle with the Catholic view of Mary's sinlessless, because Mary herself expressed that she needed a Savior, in Luke 1:46-47, when she proclaimed at the start of the Magnificat, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.

I think that there's a simple response to this, which we find in Psalm 30:3, in which David proclaims, “You, LORD, brought me up from the realm of the dead; You spared me from going down to the pit.”  In that verse, David describes two different forms of salvation: God saves him from “the realm of the dead” by taking him out once he's already in there.  But He saved him from “the pit” by preventing him from going in the first place.

Think of sin as a mud puddle.  The usual way that we talk and think about God's salvation is the first way: He washes us free from the mud we're caked in.  But He can also save by keeping us from sinning in the first place. If He couldn't, we wouldn't pray, “lead us not into temptation” in the Our Father.

Of the two forms of salvation, which is more perfect?  The answer is obvious: it is more perfect to be saved from falling into sin then it is to be permitted to fall in, and repaired afterwards.  So, for example, in Psalm 22:21, when we hear the Psalmist cry, “Save me from the mouth of the lion,” there are two ways that God could answer this cry: by taking him out of the lion's mouth, or by preventing him from being ensnared at all.  Both forms are salvation, but the second is the more perfect salvation.  So yes, Mary is saved in the Catholic view.  And in fact, she's saved more perfectly than anyone else, because she's saved even from the temporary pain and self-damage of a life of sin.

To understand the majesty and the power of the Redemption, look at the lives of two people: Mary and St.  Paul.  In someone like Paul, we see the depth of the forgiveness of the Redemption: he killed Christians, but was brought out of his grave sins by the love of Christ, and forgiven a large debt (Luke 7:47).  This shows us that how low the Lord can reach to pull us out of sin.   In someone like Mary, we see the beauty of a life without any sin, venial or mortal, original or actual.  Remember, this is the way mankind was intended to live from the beginning, in God's Sovereign design.  This is how He originally made Adam and Eve.  And this is the life we'll live in Heaven.  So if Paul shows how low God can reach to save us, Mary shows how high He can elevate us.

Happy Feast of the Holy Family!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Massacre of the Innocents and the Historicity of the Gospels

The first few days after Christmas Day are a surprisingly bloody affair. On December 26, we celebrated the Feast Day of St. Stephen, sometimes called “the protomartyr,” since he is the first Christian after the Resurrection to be martyred for the faith. Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Innocents, which commemorates Herod's massacre of the children in the Bethlehem area.

Guido Reni, Massacre of the Innocents (1611)
The Biblical basis comes from Matthew 2:13-18, from sometime after the Magi visit Christ:
When the magi had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you.  Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him."  Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt. He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, Out of Egypt I called my son.  
When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi. Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet:  A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more.
The Infancy narratives found in Matthew and Luke's Gospels are some of the most often-attacked portions of the New Testament, on the basis of their alleged historical unreliability.  For example, James Martin, S.J., recently wrote:
The two Gospels that do mention what theologians call the "infancy narratives" differ on some significant details. Matthew seems to describe Mary and Joseph as living in Bethlehem, fleeing to Egypt and then moving to Nazareth. The Gospel of Luke, on the other hand, has the two originally living in Nazareth, traveling to Bethlehem in time for the birth and then returning home. Both Gospels, though, place Jesus' birthplace in Bethlehem.
It's true that Matthew and Luke both include details that the other omits, and that this can create problems in trying to construct an accurate timeline.  Of course, this is true throughout the Gospels.  After all, the whole point of having four different Gospel accounts is that each includes details the others omit (a Gospel that didn't do this would be merely repetitive).  But both Matthew and Luke's Infancy narratives include details that some scholars are calling foul about.

With Luke, the biggest problem raised is the timing of the Census mentioned in Luke 2:2 -- which I've addressed before.  With Matthew's Gospel, the biggest historical problem is the Massacre of the Holy Innocents.  Wouldn't something this horrendous warrant extensive attention from both Christian and pagan sources?   Shouldn't we expect to see a lot written about this?

No, actually.  This is a massacre of children in a tiny rural area on the periphery of the Roman Empire, a sadly frequent occurrence (even today).  The number of children killed may have been rather small in the scheme of things, perhaps a few dozen.  And from a Christian perspective, the Massacre of Holy Innocents was likely omitted by many accounts because it's tangential to the story of Who Jesus is, and why it's important to believe in Him.  At the least, this is why it doesn't come up often amongst Christians today, and there's little reason to think early Christians would be different on this count.

In any event, the question can be turned on its head.  St. Matthew's Gospel is written during the mid-first century, and it describes this massacre.  If such an event hadn't occurred, wouldn't we expect to hear an objection on that basis?  A man from Bethlehem of the right age would have been all that it would take to invalidate the historicity of the Gospel.

So even if the extra-Biblical testimony was totally silent, that wouldn't be particularly surprising.  But we actually do hear about the Massacre, and from a surprising source:  Macrobius Ambrosius Theodosius, a pagan Roman praetorian writing in the early 400s.  He mentioned in his Saturnalia that “On hearing that the son of Herod, king of the Jews, had been slain when Herod ordered that all boys in Syria under the age of two be killed, Augustus said, ‘It is better to be Herod’s pig than his son.’

Now, Macrobius gets certain historical details mixed up (Herod killed more than one son, but as far as we know, not during the Massacre; and the Massacre occurred in Judea, not Syria), but it's clear that the Massacre is something he's familiar with even as a pagan, and that it contributed to Herod's reputation as being particularly blood-thirsty.  And of course, the fact that Herod killed one of his wives and more than one son to avoid claimants to the throne makes it clear that he certainly was the type willing to murder some poor people's children to avoid the prophesied Messiah-King of the Jews.

With Macrobius' account, we find extra-Scriptural (and non-Christian) support for even the most seemingly-incredible detail: that Herod massacred a number of infants in an effort to find and kill the prophesied Messiah-King.  And as Matthew notes, this Massacre was foretold in the Book of Jeremiah.  It's also prefigured in the massacre of the innocents described in Exodus 1:15-17, occurring at the time of the birth of Moses.  All of this points to the fact that the Bible is both historical and prophetic.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Why Celebrate Christ's Birth, Instead of His Conception?

Since life begins at conception, why do we focus on celebrating the Birth of Christ, rather than His Conception?  After all, from a Catholic perspective, the Incarnation really occurs about nine months prior to Christmas.  Indeed, pro-life movements around the world have begun using March 25 as a day celebrating the life of the unborn, during the Feast of the Annunciation, nine months before Christmas.  And why do we pro-lifers throw birthday parties, instead of conception-day parties?  Why do we speak of being born again? Why measure our ages from the date of our birth, instead of conception?

I. The Conception and Birth of Christ

Agnolo Bronzino, Adoration of the Shepherds (c. 1538) (detail)
LifeSiteNews has a great article fittingly called, “If life begins at conception, why wouldn’t we celebrate the Incarnation instead of Christmas?”  That's a rather reasonable question, and LSN does a good job answering it:
To be sure, the Incarnation is celebrated in many churches, including the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern rites, on March 25th, quite appropriately nine months ahead of Christmas. But while the Incarnation (also known as the Annunciation) is observed in such cases as a great feast, it’s certainly not afforded the solemnity and pomp of Christmas.

And that’s the way it should be, I’d say.

Conception is hidden, private, intimate. When a couple realizes they have conceived a child, they are naturally filled with joy, but that joy is held between them.

As they reveal the happy news to family and friends, or the child makes herself known by the mother’s blossoming belly, the child’s presence is revealed more and more until she is ready to declare herself to the world.

While our joy at the conception of a child is often no less than at her birth, it is usually less conscious. It takes time for this amazing gift to strike us.

So, quite naturally, we reserve our greatest celebrations for the child’s birth.
Georges de la Tour, Adoration of the Shepherds (1644)
This is a very good answer, and one which finds plenty of support in early Christian writings.  For example, St. Fulgentius of Ruspe described Christmas as the day that “our King, clothed in His robe of flesh, left His place in the virgin’s womb and graciously visited the world.”  This description makes it clear that Christ was very much alive in the womb before Christmas, but that He wasn't really in the world yet.  

Likewise, Scripture puts a strong emphasis on the circumstances of the birth of Christ (Lk. 2:1-20), while we know basically nothing about the time and place of His conception (Gabriel prophesies it in Lk. 1:35, but we don't even know how quickly that prophesy came true).  Nevertheless, Scripture is quite clear that Christ is alive prior to His birth (as well as John the Baptist: see Lk. 1:39-45, and here).



II. Was Christ Eternally Begotten?

There's a great parallel to all of this in a dispute from the early Church.  The Arians denied that God the Son was eternally begotten of the Father.  Instead, they claimed that Christ became the Son at His Baptism, and pointed to passages like Psalm 2:7, Acts 13:33, Heb. 1:5, and Heb. 5:5 for support.  This heresy has had a resurgence amongst some Evangelicals; even John Armstrong used to teach it.

1st Council of Nicea - Arius is in brown
This heresy may seem like a minor quibble, but it's not.  If Jesus wasn't always the Son of God, then the core teaching of orthodox Christianity, the Trinity, is wrong.  But the Arians were wrong, and the First Council of Nicea (325 A.D.) condemned them for it.  The First Council of Constantinople (381 A.D.) built on Nicea by adding a phrase to the Nicene Creed explaining that Christ is eternally-begotten, or “begotten of the Father before all worlds.” (For good measure, jolly old St. Nicholas actually slapped Arius in the face for denying the Divinity of Christ).

The reason that we can say that the Arians were heretics is that well before His Baptism, Christ affirms His unique Sonship; this is clearest in Luke 2:49, in which a young Jesus speaks of going about His Father's business.  This is about two decades before His Baptism, yet He's already the Son of the Father in a unique way.  Indeed, throughout every statement He ever makes about the Father, Jesus calls the Father “My Father” or “your Father,” but never “Our Father,” to make clear to us that He's the Son of the Father in a way that we aren't (see, e.g., John 20:17).  We're adopted as sons and daughters of God (Romans 8:17), but Christ is the Only-Begotten (John 3:16)

And St. John begins His Gospel with this beautiful insight into the Trinity, and particularly of the relationship between the Father and the Son (John 1:1-3):
Andrea del Verrocchio, Baptism of Christ (1475)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 
So Jesus doesn't become the Son of God at His Baptism, or even at His Birth.  He's the Son of God for all eternity, from the beginning,” which is why God can speak of Himself in plural form clear back in Genesis 1:26.  

So what's going on with those passages which would seem to suggest He was begotten at His Baptism?  At His Baptism, what was hidden to the world (that the Son of God was among them) was made visible: that's the sense in which Hebrews and Acts say that Jesus is “begotten” at His Baptism.  But He was the Son of God before this, from all eternity.  Likewise, Christmas celebrates the point at which what was hidden to the world (that the Son of Mary was among us) was made visible.  But Jesus was the Son of Mary before this, from about nine months earlier.

So just as we might say that Jesus was twelve years old when He went up to the Temple (Luke 2:42), measured from His birth, without literally suggesting that He didn't exist prior to His birth, we see something similar in the way Scripture speaks of His Baptism.


Conclusion

The image that I think captures this well is of a gift under a Christmas tree.  The gift is already there, and if you receive it in the mail, you already own that gift prior to unwrapping it.  But the celebration is of the moment that you unwrap it, and encounter it in a certain way for the first time.

Certain things are totally private, and conception is one of them (even parents don't know the exact moment of conception -- there's something mysterious and beautiful about the fact that it's known to God alone).  We may get excited at seeing the wrapped presents placed under the tree, knowing what they herald.  But we quite reasonably celebrate the point at which the presents are unwrapped,  and we come face to face with the Gift.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Is This the End of the Christmas Season, or the Beginning?

Terry Mattingly of GetReligion has a great column about the “two Christmases.”  As he notes, for the Church, the Christmas season runs from Christmas Day (December 25) to Epiphany (January 6).  These are the famous Twelve Days of Christmas.  But in secular society, the Christmas season runs from around Thanksgiving until December 25.   So this Sunday marks either the end of the Christmas season (for secular culture), or the First Day of Christmas (for the Church).

It's an important difference, and one in which he notes many Christians tend to side with the world, rather than the Church:
Unfortunately, most Americans -- especially evangelical Protestants -- have so distanced themselves from any awareness of the Christian calendar that their decisions about that kind of question have been handed over to the culture,” said the Rev. Russell D. Moore, dean of the theology school at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

Many evangelicals fear the cold formalism” they associate with churches that follow the liturgical calendar, and the result, he said, is "no sense of what happens when in the Christian year, at all." Thus, instead of celebrating ancient feasts such as Epiphany, Pentecost and the Transfiguration, far too many American church calendars are limited to Christmas and Easter, along with cultural festivities such as Mother's Day, the Fourth of July, Halloween, Thanksgiving and the Super Bowl.
As the piece notes, this is particularly problematic for Evangelicals, but I think we Catholics can be guilty of this, too.

The Difference Between the Two Christmases

For the world, what we've just gone through was the Christmas season, and it's tied to (at best) being nice, and making time for family and friends, or (at worst) non-stop marketing, shopping, and fighting off loneliness and despair with a credit card.

It's fitting that this Sunday marks the end of the world's Christmas season, because this is the climax of their efforts.  This is the day when we come together and share all of those presents, and where we take some time off of work to be with our families.  Once the presents are opened, and our families have started to annoy us again, it's back to our ordinary routines.  Santa Claus, the central figure of this Christmas, is already gone by Christmas morning.

But for the Church, this Sunday should mark a beginning, not an end.  It marks Christ's Advent into the world where, for the first time, we could behold the Savior of the World in the Flesh, as the rich and the poor, the Magi and the shepherds alike, fall to their knees.  The period we just went through wasn't the Christmas season, because Christ hadn't come yet.  It was the Advent season, in which we've prepared for Christ's coming.

The Catechism explains that in Advent, the Church “makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior's first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming.200 By celebrating the precursor's birth and martyrdom, the Church unites herself to his desire: 'He must increase, but I must decrease.'”  Just as you tidy up for a party, and tidy up a lot for an important party, the birthday of Christ Himself, His Visit to each and every one of us, should motivate us to clean house.  And cleaning house involves throwing out our old sins, and making space for Christ to come in.

With this view, Christ is Our Guest, and we want Him to stay with us forever.  So Dec. 25 celebrates His arrival, and we savor this arrival in a special way for days, culminating on either January 6 (the traditional date of the Feast of the Epiphany), Epiphany Sunday (the nearest Sunday to January 6), or even Candlemas (February 2, for those cultures that really like Christmastime).

In a nutshell, here's what I'd say are the two most important differences between the liturgical calendar and the secular one:
  1. One makes Christmas something we do for Christ, while the other makes it something He does for us. The world's version focuses on our efforts (our shopping, caroling, and the like), while the Church's version focuses on Christ's entry.
  2. The world's view of the Christmas season is largely without Christ.  That is, all but the last day are a celebration of something we're calling “Christmas,” without the Nativity.  What exactly are we celebrating December 25 that's different than what we were celebrating, say, Dec. 20? By de-emphasizing the utter centrality of the Nativity to Christmas, the focus starts to come off of Christ.  Whether it's shifted towards family or shopping, that shift's still a disaster.
As Mattingly notes, this has hit Evangelicals the hardest.  With a cultural suspicion of Advent and the whole notion of “liturgical seasons, ” Evangelicals end up turning to the world for their seasons and holidays.  The most shocking example (at least to me) was my discovery that when Christmas falls on a Sunday (as it does this year), many Evangelical churches simply cancel church services.  David Gibson reports for the Wall Street Journal:
Nearly 10% of Protestant churches will be closed on Christmas Sunday this year, according to LifeWay Research, and most pastors who are opening up say they expect far fewer people than on other Sundays. Other reports suggest that churches across the board are scaling down their services in anticipation of fewer worshipers.

"We have to face the reality of families who don't want to struggle to get kids dressed and come to church," Brad Jernberg of Dallas's Cliff Temple Baptist Church told the Associated Baptist Press. Similarly, Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va., is planning a short service featuring bluegrass riffs on Christmas music. "I'll do a brief sermon, and then we're going home," said Pastor Mike Parnell.
I suppose that this avoids the risk that worshiping God would get in the way of the purpose of secular-Christmas... to be with your family.

The Real War on Christmas

The secular “Christmas” season is a time of strife, with the infamous “war on Christmas” specials that Fox runs annually.  But the real “war on Christmas” that we should be worried about is the one I just described, the internal destruction of Christmas by Christians

Let me give two examples of what I mean here.  The first one comes via Matt Archibold, and is about a dispute over whether or not two bus drivers were allowed to decorate their buses with Christmas decorations.  One of the bus drivers defended the decorations by saying, “This is totally not a religious thing. This is about Christmas.”  Yikes.  This should be a wake-up call for Christians who want Christmas to be, you know, about Christ.  We should be uncomfortable with both sides of the “war on Christmas”: those who want Christmas stamped out of public life, and those who want Christmas hollowed out into something harmless to secularist bigots. 

The second example is a more general one: the ongoing debate over whether we should say “Merry Christmas!” or “Happy Holidays!”  Reality check : the word “holiday” is just a shortened form of “holy day.”  Christmas is a holiday, Fourth of July is not (hopefully).  But “holiday” has come to mean simply “vacation,” because that's how we treat our holidays.  This is most obvious in the UK, where vacationing (anytime of year) is often described as “going on holiday.”  But we Americans are guilty of it as well. If we weren't, we wouldn't be so upset about the phrase “Happy Holidays,” because it'd be a religious phrase.  If “Happy Holidays” has been sterilized to the point that secularists have no trouble using it, well, that's partly our own fault.

Conclusion

So if this Sunday is to be an end, let it be an end to the secular celebration of “Christmastime” one and for all.  Take this Christmas as an opportunity to start fresh by welcoming Christ as your Guest both for the day, and for the Christmas season, and forever.  

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Occupy Occupy?

I don't understand why I haven't seen this suggested as a political movement yet:  why don't the people who dislike Occupy D.C. simply occupy the “occupation”?  That is, just go down to the protest, and occupy tents while their owners are out.  When they come back and demand their tent back, declare that property is theft! 

I'm not seriously advocating it, of course, I just think it'd be funny as something akin to performance art.  And I'm also genuinely curious about how the average Occupier would respond to their tent being infringed upon in this way.  Complain that you've illegally infringed upon their rights to private possession of property?  Notify the police that you're sleeping where you're not supposed to?  I can only imagine that the police would enjoy the irony of someone trying to evict a trespasser from their illegal encampment.

Then again, this is only funny if you expect the Occupiers to be consistent in any shape or form.  While I appreciate the economic grievances that the Occupiers are venting, one thing I've learned from walking past (or through) McPherson Square every weekday for the last few months, it's that there are a lot of views being represented there, many of which seem wildly inconsistent with one another.  For example, here's the anarchist flag they have flying over the camp:


And here's the sign proclaiming that “Islam is the Way” sign that was, for a long time, the only sign visible from the western edge of the encampment:


If you don't get why that's funny, there's an old Islamic proverb, “Better sixty years of tyranny than a single night of anarchy.”   So maybe intellectual consistency isn't the strong-suit of the Occupiers.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Catholic Connection to Hanukkah

Last night marked the first night of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah (or Chanukah).  What you may not know is the connection between Hanukkah and Catholicism.  Namely, the festival of lights celebrates the events of 1 and 2 Maccabees, which Catholics and Orthodox consider Scripture, but Protestants and Jews don't.  I'll let Professor Jon Levenson, professor of Jewish studies at Harvard Divinity School, do the explaining:
The Roman Catholic tradition honors these Jewish martyrs as saints, and the Eastern Orthodox Church still celebrates Aug. 1 as the Feast of the Holy Maccabees. By contrast, in the literature of the Rabbis of the first several centuries of the common era, the story lost its connection to the Maccabean uprising, instead becoming associated with later persecutions by the Romans, which the Rabbis experienced. If the change seems odd, recall that the compositions that first told of these events (the books of Maccabees) were not part of the scriptural canon of rabbinic Judaism. But they were canonical in the Church (and remain so in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox communions).


And so we encounter another oddity of Hanukkah: Jews know the fuller history of the holiday because Christians preserved the books that the Jews themselves lost. In a further twist, Jews in the Middle Ages encountered the story of the martyred mother and her seven sons anew in Christian literature and once again placed it in the time of the Maccabees.
Fascinating stuff.  Even more fascinating is the fact that Jesus celebrated Hanukkah (John 10:22).  As I've argued before, this is a good reason to view 1 and 2 Maccabees as Scripture, since it's the only potential Scriptural source for the festival.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Is the Shroud of Turin Authentic?

Italian researchers with the National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development are claiming that the Shroud of Turin couldn’t have been a Medieval forgery, because the available technology to forge it wasn’t existent. And what they’re suggesting produced the image (a flash of light) is incredible.  From a Telegraph article summarizing the researcher's claims:
"The double image (front and back) of a scourged and crucified man, barely visible on the linen cloth of the Shroud of Turin, has many physical and chemical characteristics that are so particular that the staining ... is impossible to obtain in a laboratory," concluded experts from Italy's National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Development. 
The scientists set out to "identify the physical and chemical processes capable of generating a colour similar to that of the image on the Shroud." They concluded that the exact shade, texture and depth of the imprints on the cloth could only be produced with the aid of ultraviolet lasers – technology that was clearly not available in medieval times. 
The scientists used extremely brief pulses of ultraviolet light to replicate the kind of marks found on the burial cloth. 
They concluded that the iconic image of the bearded man must therefore have been created by "some form of electromagnetic energy (such as a flash of light at short wavelength)." Although they stopped short of offering a non-scientific explanation for the phenomenon, their findings will be embraced by those who believe that the marks on the shroud were miraculously created at the moment of Christ's Resurrection. 
"We are not at the conclusion, we are composing pieces of a fascinating and complex scientific puzzle," the team wrote in their report. 
Prof Paolo Di Lazzaro, the head of the team, said: "When one talks about a flash of light being able to colour a piece of linen in the same way as the shroud, discussion inevitably touches on things like miracles and resurrection." "But as scientists, we were concerned only with verifiable scientific processes. We hope our results can open up a philosophical and theological debate but we will leave the conclusions to the experts, and ultimately to the conscience of individuals."

The article contains a good summary of earlier scholarship both for an against the Shroud's authenticity, and notes that the “Vatican has never said whether it believes the shroud to be authentic or not, although Pope Benedict XVI has said that the enigmatic image imprinted on the cloth "reminds us always" of Christ's suffering.

It would be amazing if the Shroud could be shown to be authentic, and it would be undeniably disappointing if it were shown to be a forgery.  But as the pope has suggested, whether this is what it seems to be or not, it's a great reminder of Christ and His Suffering regardless of authenticity.  In the Catholic Information Center, where I go for daily Mass, there's a picture of the Shroud, with the words “Your Face, O LORD, I will seek” (Psalm 27:8).  Amen.

Monday, December 19, 2011

How Mary Built the Temple that King David Couldn't

Yesterday's First Reading was about King David, and his plans to build a Temple for the Lord, to store the Ark. It begins (2 Samuel 7:1-3):
Now when the king dwelt in his house, and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies round about, the king said to Nathan the prophet, "See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent." And Nathan said to the king, "Go, do all that is in your heart; for the LORD is with you."
But that night, Nathan hears in a dream that David shouldn't go ahead.  God hasn't asked David to build him a Temple, and has something better in mind. Namely, God sends a message to David, via Nathan, saying (2 Sam. 7:11b-16):
Moreover the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.  He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever.


I will be his father, and he shall be my son. When he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men; but I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever.'"
This prophesy was of both David's son Solomon (1 Kings 6:1), and of Christ (Hebrews 1:5).  When it comes to Jesus, the Temple of Christ is His Body.

The Lord is With You

But here's what I missed, until Fr. Ruskamp pointed it out in his homily yesterday.  When David wanted to build a Temple for God, and create a glorious place, fitting of the Ark of the Covenant, Nathan initially approved by saying, “Go, do all that is in your heart; for the LORD is with you” (2 Samuel 7:3).  Compare this with the way the angel Gabriel greets Mary in Luke 1:26-33, from yesterday's Gospel reading:
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!" But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end."
It's just astonishingly clear. At the end, Gabriel explicitly references God's promise in 2 Sam. 7:11-16 that He'd establish David's throne forever.  But given this, how can we deny that his greeting, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” fulfills what had been promised but deferred to David?  Mary is going to build (in her womb) the Temple that David didn't get to build.  

A Worthy Builder

Nicolas Cordier, King David 
Don't overlook how beautifully all of this Ark imagery is tied in with the idea of the Temple.  We can see this in two different ways. First, as we've just seen, the passage being alluded to in Luke 1:26-33 is 2 Samuel 7:1-16.  But this part came almost directly after the next parallel we see, between Luke 1:39-56 and 2 Samuel 6:2-14.  Both the Old Testament passages and their New Testament fulfillments occur one right after another. That can hardly be ignored as a coincidence.

Second, David makes clear that the Temple is needed because of the Ark. Listen to how he justifies the need for a Temple: “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent” (2 Sam. 7:2).  He wanted a worthy dwelling for the Ark.

And God doesn't disagree with this rationale.  In fact, He blesses David for his good intentions.  But He forbids David from doing the building, because David was “a man of war, and has shed blood” (1 Chronicles 28:3). The builder of the Temple needed clean hands.  That God chose Mary, of all the women who have ever lived, to not only build the New Temple, but be the Gate of that Temple, and the New Ark, is an incredible testimony to her purity and sinlessness.

The Woman of Rev. 12, Revisited

Finally, this sheds more light on the identity of the glorified Woman from Revelation. It does this in two ways.  First, Luke 1 (read through the lens of 2 Samuel 6-7) once again ties the Temple, the Ark, and the Mother of God together, just as we see in Rev. 11:19-12:3,
Then God's temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, voices, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.

And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; she was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery.
The Woman gives birth to Jesus Christ (Rev. 12:5).

The objection to reading this passage as referring to Mary is that some of the details don't fit Mary very well: they fit the Church better.  This is true, but 2 Sam. 7:11b-16 contains the answer to this objection, as well.  Some of the details don't fit Christ well at all (for example: “When he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men”), and fit Solomon better.  Protestants have no trouble recognizing that the solution isn't that it's Solomon or Christ, but both:
Moreover, it is certain that God never anticipated that his beloved Christ would “commit iniquity,” and therefore possibly need “chastening” with the “rod of men” (2 Samuel 7:14). In a number of ways, for example, Isaiah 53 affirms the utter perfection of Jehovah’s servant, Jesus Christ. This portion of 2 Samuel 7:14-15, therefore, obviously applies to Solomon alone.
The prophecy plainly encompasses, however, a far grander scope than that of Solomon’s day, as is suggested by the “last words” of David himself (2 Samuel 23:1ff) and the comments of several inspired New Testament writers.
So 2 Samuel 7 is about Solomon and Jesus, but some details only apply to One or the other.  Why shouldn't Rev. 11:19-12:17 be understood the same way in understanding the Woman as Mary and the Church?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Has Mormonism Discarded Ex-Scripture?

Brent Stubbs (who has an amazing Catholic blog of his own) passed along this post to me. In it, Doug Gibson makes a pretty bold claim: that “decanonization” has occurred in the Mormon scriptures. That is, texts which were once declared to be inspired Scripture were later declared not Scripture and simply discarded.  I did a bit of research, and discovered that Gibson was right.  This has happened twice: with the Lectures on Faith, and with Doctrines & Covenants 101.

I. Lectures on Faith

The “Lectures on Faith” were a series of seven lectures once included in Doctrines and Covenants. They were included as the first part of the 1835 edition of Doctrines & Covenants, with this introduction:
Doctrines & Covenants, 1835 Edition
The first part of the book will be found to contain a series of Lectures as delivered before a Theological class in this place, and in consequence of their embracing the important doctrine of salvation, we have ar ranged them into the following work. 
The second part contains items or principles for the regulation of the church, as taken from the revelations which have been given since its organization, as well as from former ones.
But in 1921, the Lectures were removed. Now, some Mormons claim that the Lectures were never understood to be Scripture. Given the prominent role that they played in the 1835 edition of the D&C, and the fact that they weren't demarcated as non-canonical, I don't find this claim very compelling.

Joseph Smith
But in either case, there's a bigger problem. Whether understood as Scripture or not, Lecture 5 contains a view of the Mormon Godhead that's inconsistent with later Mormon views.  Richard S. Van Wagoner, Steven C. Walker and Allen D. Roberts have a fascinating article in a Mormon theological journal (Dialogue) about the Lectures, in which they note that Joseph Smith endorsed, and helped prepare them for inclusion in the D&C:
Whatever Joseph Smith’s original position, he noted his involvement in preparing the Lectures for publication: “During the month of January [1835],” his official journal records, “I was engaged in the school of the Elders, and in preparing the lectures on theology for publication in the book of Doctrines and Covenants” (HC 2:180). He underscored his personal support of the Lectures by noting the introduction to the 1835 edition that he accepted responsibility for “every principle advanced.”
Even the Mormon apologetics group FAIR concedes, “Recent authorship studies ascribe the wording of the lectures "mainly to Sidney Rigdon," with Joseph Smith substantially involved, and others perhaps having some influence.

So given this, and the prominent endorsement in the Introduction to the 1835 edition, consider what Lecture 5 says about the Godhead.  In the lecture itself, we're told:
There are two personages who constitute the great, matchless, governing, and supreme power over all things - by whom all things were created and made that are created and made, whether visible or invisible; whether in heaven, on earth, or in the earth, under the earth, or throughout the immensity of space. They are the Father and the Son: The Father being a personage of spirit, glory, and power, possessing all perfection and fullness. The Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, a personage of tabernacle, made or fashioned like unto man, or being in the form and likeness of man - or rather, man was formed after his likeness and in his image.
So the Godhead consists of two Persons: the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit isn't a separate Person, but is simply the common Mind of the Father and the Son. And while the Son is in the form of Man, the Father is a “personage of spirit.” This was reaffirmed with some questions and answers at the end of the lecture:
Q. How many personages are there in the Godhead?


A. Two: the Father and the Son (Lecture 5:1).


Q. How do you prove that there are two personages in the Godhead?


A. a. By the Scriptures: Gen. 1:27 (Inspired Version)†; (also Lecture 2:6); "And I, God, said unto mine Only Begotten, which was with me from the beginning, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and it was so."


b. Gen. 3:28 (Inspired Version)†, "And I, the Lord God, said unto mine Only Begotten, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil."


c. John 17:5, "And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was" (Lecture 5:2).
All of that is pretty clear. But contrast it with what Mormonism teaches today, from D&C 130:22,
The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not ddwell in us.
Three major changes:
  1. There are now Three Members of the Godhead, not Two;
  2. The Holy Spirit is no longer the common Mind of the Father and Son, but a Personage of Spirit;
  3. The Father is no longer a Personage of Spirit, but now has a Body, just like the Son.
So in other words, not only was the Lectures on the Faith section jettisoned from the Mormon Scriptures, but the central doctrines it taught about God were then rejected, and replaced with a new version of the Godhead.  Yet both of these contradictory views were endorsed by both Doctrines & Covenants and Joseph Smith, Jr., who Mormons regard as a prophet.

II. Doctrines & Covenants 101

There are two texts known as Doctrines & Covenants 101.  The first of these was promulgated in 1835, and is available here and here.  It contains an important statement denouncing polygamy:
Inasmuch as this church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication, and polygamy: we declare that we believe, that one man should have one wife; and one woman, but one husband, except in case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again.
Emma Smith
Unlike Lectures on the Faith, there's no question that this was removed from the canon, and disregard.  The reason is that the Mormon view on polygamy reversed (twice, actually). Doctrines & Covenants 132:4 declared “a  new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned.”  This new revelation called for (and in some cases commanded) polygamy, and included a threat against Joseph Smith's wife Emma if she didn't accept Joseph's other wives, she'd be destroyed (D&C 132:52).  In relevant part, it teaches (D&C 132:61-62):
And again, as pertaining to the law of the priesthood—if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified; he cannot commit adultery for they are given unto him; for he cannot commit adultery with that that belongeth unto him and to no one else.

And if he have ten virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery, for they belong to him, and they are given unto him; therefore is he justified.
This new and “everlasting ” covenant was more or less set aside in Official Declaration 1 in 1890, which falsely claimed:
We are not teaching polygamy or plural marriage, nor permitting any person to enter into its practice, and I deny that either forty or any other number of plural marriages have during that period been solemnized in our Temples or in any other place in the Territory.
This gets more interesting when you see the headnotes provided by the LDS Church, which say of D&C 132 (the revelation permitting polygamy):
Although the revelation was recorded in 1843, it is evident from the historical records that the doctrines and principles involved in this revelation had been known by the Prophet since 1831.
In other words, even though he didn't claim to receive a revelation that okayed polygamy until 1843, he'd been living like he'd received such a revelation since 1831. That strikes me as the most polite way I've ever heard of describing someone as an adulterer.  And indeed, the historical record is clear that Joseph Smith was marrying women besides Emma back in the early 1830s.

But hold on a second.  If “the Prophet” was living according to the not-yet-announced rules about plural marriage back in 1831, how can we account for the 1835 version of Doctrines & Covenants 101 declaring on behalf of this church of Christ” that “one man should have one wife; and one woman, but one husband, except in case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again,” and feigning disgust at being “reproached with the crime of fornication, and polygamy”?

Conclusion


It's strange enough that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has now twice de-canonized Scripture.  But stranger still is that official Church teachings on things like the nature of God, and on Christian marriage have gone in all different directions: that is, that in jettisoning Scriptures, they also jettisoned an old set of beliefs.  I'd pose the following questions to any Mormons reading this:
  1. Are there any other sections of LDS Scripture that are considered inspired today, that might be jettisoned to the ash heap of history tomorrow?  How can we know?
  2. Was Lectures on Faith the word of God?
  3. Was Doctrines & Covenants 101 the word of God?   
  4. Were Smith and the Church in error in promulgating Lectures on Faith and D&C 101?  
  5. Were Smith and the Church in error in rejecting Lectures on Faith and D&C 101?  
  6. Did the truth of the nature of the Godhead change between the 1830s and 1840s?
  7. Was plural marriage moral or immoral in 1835?

The O Antiphons


The last seven evenings of Advent, from tomorrow to Dec. 23,  are traditionally spent praying a set of ancient prayers called the “O Antiphons.”  Each night addresses Christ by a different title, based upon the Messianic prophesies in the Book of Isaiah.  Most people are familiar with these titles from the hymn, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, which is based upon the O Antiphons:
The first letter of each Messianic title, read from Dec. 23 backwards, spells “ero cras,” or “Tomorrow, I come,” which is fitting, since the next night is the Christmas Vigil.

This Advent, I plan to do a short post, each day from tomorrow to the 23rd, highlighting the O Antiphon of the day, because I think it's one of the best ways of prayerfully preparing for Christmas.

Christopher Hitchens, R.I.P.

The prominent atheist Christopher Hitchens has died, at age 62, from pneumonia, a complication from the cancer he'd been fighting for some time.  May God have mercy on his soul.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Early Church Fathers on Mary as the New Eve

Last week, I talked about how Mary is presented in Scripture as the New Eve, through a number of remarkable parallels.  In that post, I quoted St. Irenaeus, who wrote in 180 A.D. about what he called “the back-reference from Mary to Eve,” namely, that “the knot of Eve's disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.

But Irenaeus wasn't the only Father to point this out. Nor was he even the first.  Twenty years earlier, in about 160 A.D., St. Justin Martyr wrote:
St. Justin Martyr
For Eve, who was a virgin and undefiled, having conceived the word of the serpent, brought forth disobedience and death. But the Virgin Mary received faith and joy, when the angel Gabriel announced the good tidings to her that the Spirit of the Lord would come upon her, and the power of the Highest would overshadow her: wherefore also the Holy Thing begotten of her is the Son of God; and she replied, 'Be it unto me according to thy word.' And by her has He been born, to whom we have proved so many Scriptures refer, and by whom God destroys both the serpent and those angels and men who are like him; but works deliverance from death to those who repent of their wickedness and believe upon Him.
So add that to the list of parallels between the Fall and the Redemption. Eve was visited by a fallen angel who enticed her to disobedience from God. Mary was visited by an angel, and responded with total obedience. Note also the distinction Justin draws between “virgin and “undefiled.”  That is, Eve was both a virgin and freed from all sin, original and actual, prior to the Fall.

Tertullian (c. 160 - c. 220 A.D.) also picks up on this theme, a few decades after Irenaeus:
Tertullian
For it was while Eve was yet a virgin, that the ensnaring word had crept into her ear which was to build the edifice of death. Into a virgin's soul, in like manner, must be introduced that Word of God which was to raise the fabric of life; so that what had been reduced to ruin by this sex, might by the selfsame sex be recovered to salvation. As Eve had believed the serpent, so Mary believed the angel. The delinquency which the one occasioned by believing, the other by believing effaced. But (it will be said) Eve did not at the devil's word conceive in her womb. Well, she at all events conceived; for the devil's word afterwards became as seed to her that she should conceive as an outcast, and bring forth in sorrow. Indeed she gave birth to a fratricidal devil; while Mary, on the contrary, bare one who was one day to secure salvation to Israel, His own brother after the flesh, and the murderer of Himself. God therefore sent down into the virgin's womb His Word, as the good Brother, who should blot out the memory of the evil brother. Hence it was necessary that Christ should come forth for the salvation of man, in that condition of flesh into which man had entered ever since his condemnation.
So these parallels between the Virgin Mary and the virgin Eve weren't overlooked by the Church Fathers.  This isn't some sort of paganism creeping in, or somebody trying to force-fit their views on Mary into Scripture.  This was solid Scriptural exegesis, as some of the earliest Christians explained the truths of the faith.   Perhaps 60 or 80 years after the death of the Apostle John sounds like a long time. But compare it with the earliest records we have of virtually any other well formulated doctrine (like the Trinity), and you'll see that it's remarkably early.

What About the Church as the New Eve?

The objection has been raised that the Church could also be understood as the New Eve.  This is absolutely true, particularly since the Church is described as the sinless Bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:25-27),  and Christ is clearly the New Adam (1 Cor. 15:22, 45).  Plus, St. Paul explicitly compares the Church with Eve in 2 Corinthians 11:2-3.  So there's sense in which the Church is undeniably the New Eve.  But it's not either / or between Mary and the Church, either here or in the depiction of the Woman in Revelation 12.

There are two reasons.  First, we're dealing with symbolic, allegorical language: it frequently contains layers upon layers of meanings, and if we're not conscious of the meaning being expressed, we can deconstruct it into senselessness. For example, in the short passage I referenced above (Ephesians 5:21-33), St. Paul presents three images of the relationship between Christ and the Church: (a) Christ is the Head of the Church; (b) the entire Church is His Body; and (c) the Church is His Bride.  Those images seem exclusive of one another: is Christ the entire Body, or just the Head?  And in either case, nobody is married to their Head, or to their Body.  But each image is just that: an image, capturing a spiritual reality that Paul ultimately describes as a Mystery (Eph. 5:32).  So there's no reason that if Mary is the New Eve, the Church can't be the New Eve, or vice versa.

St. Ambrose of Milan
But there's an even better reason.  Mary is a living image of the Church, which is why we refer to both Mary and the Church as Mother.  St. Ambrose describes Mary in this way, in explaining Luke 1:27:
Well [does the Gospel say]: married but a virgin; because she is the type of the Church, which is also married but remains immaculate.  The Virgin [Church] conceived us by the Holy Spirit and, as a virgin, gave birth to us without pain.  And perhaps this is why holy Mary, married to one man [Joseph], is made fruitful by another [the Holy Spirit], to show that the individual churches are filled with the Spirit and with grace, even as they are united to the person of a temporal priest.
Lumen Gentium picks up on these themes, showing the New Eve imagery to be a both/and, not an either/or, between Mary and the Church:
63. By reason of the gift and role of divine maternity, by which she is united with her Son, the Redeemer, and with His singular graces and functions, the Blessed Virgin is also intimately united with the Church. As St. Ambrose taught, the Mother of God is a type of the Church in the order of faith, charity and perfect union with Christ.(18*) For in the mystery of the Church, which is itself rightly called mother and virgin, the Blessed Virgin stands out in eminent and singular fashion as exemplar both of virgin and mother. (19*) By her belief and obedience, not knowing man but overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, as the new Eve she brought forth on earth the very Son of the Father, showing an undefiled faith, not in the word of the ancient serpent, but in that of God's messenger. The Son whom she brought forth is He whom God placed as the first-born among many brethren,(299) namely the faithful, in whose birth and education she cooperates with a maternal love.
Michelangelo, Creation of Eve (1508-12)
Now, with that in mind, there are certain areas in which either Mary or the Church seems like a better fit.    The Church is the New Eve in the sense of being the Bride of Christ.  But certain other roles are quite clearly Marian.  For example, there are only two people ever described in Scripture as having a single parent; Eve, whose body is taken completely from Adam (Gen. 2:22-23); and Jesus, who takes on Flesh through the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:34-35). And just as Adam goes from referring to Eve as “Woman” to “Mother” at the moment of the Curse (Gen 3:20), Christ transitions from referring to Mary as “Woman” to “Mother” at the moment He lifts the Curse on the Cross (John 19:26-27).

This is all part of a much larger picture painted in Scripture of Jesus bringing about a New Genesis through His Death and Resurrection.  But to get the full picture, you need to understand the role played by the New Eve, which means understanding the role of Mary, icon of the Church.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Fr. Andrew Strobl, Vampire Hunter

Fr. Andrew Strobl, (alleged) Shameless Popery co-blogger, and Vampire Hunter extraordinaire:


That's him on the right.  The priest on the left is the Priest at the End of the World.  They're at some sort of gamers convention, and apparently, nobody believed that they were really priests, since a lot of other folks were wearing weird costumes, too.

Anyways, if this isn't the perfect nexus of orthodoxy, nerdiness, and sheer awesome, I'm not sure what is.

The New Translation: What's Changed and Why

So, we're most of the way through Advent* (I know, it's gone by incredibly fast -- if you want to slow it down, try fasting). It seems like a good time to pause and reflect on the new translation of the Mass that was rolled out on the first Sunday of Advent. What's changed, and why?

I. The Big Picture

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo,
Pope St. Clement Adoring the Trinity (c. 1738)
To understand this, you first need to recognize that we're part of something much bigger than ourselves. We too easily get caught up in the here and the now. The Church wisely resists this temptation. She strives to remind us in worship that we’re part of something much larger that ourselves, both global and timeless.  This is the model of New Testament worship laid out in Scripture, in which people join in praise of God “from the rising to the setting of the sun” (Malachi 1:11).

Part of the reason we're constantly reminded that we're part of something much bigger than ourselves is that it resists the temptation to make the Mass about us, rather than about God.  So in addition to being global and timeless, the Mass should also be transcendent.  It should raise our spirits.  But to do this, it must also be accessible.  The perfect prayer is no good if I have no idea what I'm saying, or what it means. The Church took this question very seriously at the Second Vatican Council.  How do we make the Mass accessible to individual believers throughout the world, while reminding us that we're part of something larger than ourselves?

Here's the solution She laid out in paragraph 36 of Sacrosanctum Concilium:
The Second Vatican Council
1. Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites. 
2. But since the use of the mother tongue, whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or other parts of the liturgy, frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended. This will apply in the first place to the readings and directives, and to some of the prayers and chants, according to the regulations on this matter to be laid down separately in subsequent chapters. 
3. These norms being observed, it is for the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned in Art. 22, 2, to decide whether, and to what extent, the vernacular language is to be used; their decrees are to be approved, that is, confirmed, by the Apostolic See. And, whenever it seems to be called for, this authority is to consult with bishops of neighboring regions which have the same language. 
4. Translations from the Latin text into the mother tongue intended for use in the liturgy must be approved by the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned above.
So that's what this is ultimately about: it's not about “undoing” Vatican II, as some critics of the new translation have suggested. It’s about actually listening to Vatican II: finding the balance between Latin and the mother tongue, and the proper interplay between transcendence and accessibility.  

II. The Details

So with that preface, let's talk about most of the individual changes in the “people’s parts” of the Mass (you can see a helpful comparison, with commentary, here -- it was helpful in preparing this list). The old versions are in red, the new are in green: 
  1. The most obvious change is that when the priest says, “The Lord be with you,” we now say “And with your spirit,” instead of “And also with you.”  This is (a) more faithful to the Latin (et cum spiritu tuo), (b) harmonious with what the rest of the Church is praying (for example any Masses celebrated in Spanish, (c) drawn from Scripture (Galatians 6:18; Philippians 4:23; 2 Timothy 4:22; Philemon 1:25), and (d) a recognition that the Holy Spirit is working through the priest.

  2. Paolo Veronese,
    Feast at the House of Simon (detail) (1570)
  3. In the Penitential Act (the Confiteor), we now say “I have greatly sinned,” instead of “I have sinned through my own fault.” That's because the Latin uses the adverb “nimis,” meaning “very much.”  We're also back to saying, “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault,” in the Penitential Act.  It's a direct translation of “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.”  The old translation just skipped these words -- it wasn't that they translated them badly: they just omitted them outright.  So the new version is objectively better as a translation.  But it also deliberately reminds us our sinfulness and our need for redemption.  Read Luke 7:41-47.  It's only when we realize the gravity of our sins that we realize the depth of God's mercy, and can fully appreciate the gift of salvation, and respond in love.

  4. In the Gloria, we used to proclaim, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to His people on earth.”  It now ends “and on earth peace to people of good will.” It's a minor change, intended to be more faithful to the angelic chorus in Luke 2:14.

  5. The second part of the Gloria is more radically changed, going from “Lord God, heavenly King, almighty God and Father, we worship you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory,” to “We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory, Lord God, heavenly King, O God, almighty Father.”  Remember that the Gloria is a hymn of praise. It's effusive: it sounds like we're singing a love poem to God, which is exactly what we're doing.  You'll notice this trend throughout: the new Mass translation will often say the same thing in more than one way, in an outpouring of praise, reaching something of a crescendo.  The new translation is also an accurate translation of the Latin, while the old omitted two of the five verbs, and switched the order around.

  6. The Gloria now refers to Jesus as the “Only Begotten Son,” instead of the “only Son of the Father.”  We become sons and daughters of the Father through Christ (Romans 8:15), but Jesus is the only begotten Son (John 3:16).  So the new translation is more theologically sound, and it's also more faithful to the Latin (Fili Unigenite).

  7. After calling Him Fili Unigenite (“Only Begotten Son”), the Gloria declares Jesus FĂ­lius Patris, or “Son of the Father.”  The old translation omitted this title completely (or perhaps merged the two title together).  The new translation restores it.

  8. One final point on the Gloria.  Here's what the new translation says (and what the Latin says):
    you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us;
    you take away the sins of the world, receive our prayer.
    you are seated at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us.

    We ask repeatedly for Christ's mercy.  Look at the tax collector Christ holds up as a model of prayer in Luke 18:13, or the man in Mark 10:47-48, or the men in Matthew 20:30-31: we've got something similar here.  The old translation was more of a rewrite than a translation.  It cut out the first half of line 2, cut out the second half of line 3, and then tacked the end of line 2 where the end of line 3 used to be (so that it read “you are seated at the right hand of the Father: receive our prayer,” a line appearing nowhere).  It also now reads the “sins” of the world, rather than the “sin”: both versions find textual support in John 1:29, since there are differences between manuscripts. The new translation also foreshadows the Agnus Dei (“Lamb of God”) prayer that comes later.

  9. At the Gospel, we now say, “Glory to you, O Lord.”  The “O” is new, and is an added touch of reverence.

  10. Giovanni di Paolo, St Ansanus Baptizing (c. 1440s)
  11. The Nicene Creed is now prayed in the singular: “I believe,” rather than “We believe.”  This was one of the changes I found most fascinating, because there are good arguments both way.  The Creed was originally in the plural, because it the was the Council of Nicea's statement of faith.  But it entered the Mass through the Rite of Baptism, in which the candidate to be baptized would recite the Creed (in the singular) as a confession of his or her faith.  We now pray the Creed in the singular to emphasize that these aren't just the beliefs of the Catholic Church, but are things that each of us actually believe in.  This is also how it is in the Latin (Credo), and throughout the rest of the world.

  12. We declare the Father Maker of  “all things visible and invisible,” rather than  “all that is seen and unseen.”  It's a reminder that God created both the material and the spiritual world.  “Unseen” was an inaccurate word choice: as the USCCB's commentary explains, “a child playing hide-and-seek may be unseen yet is still considered visible, whereas one’s guardian angel is indeed invisible by nature.”

  13. As with the Gloria, the Creed now refers to Jesus as the “Only Begotten Son of God,” instead of the “only Son of God.”  See the note on # 5.

  14. Jesus is referred to as “consubstantial” with the Father, rather than “One in being.”  This part of the Creed was included in the 4th century to explain that Jesus was of the same substance (homoousios), rather than a similar substance (homoiousios), as the Father.  That sounds like a needless technical debate, but it's the difference between Jesus being God, or being God-like.  So the difference is huge, even if the words are similar. “Consubstantial” is a technical term that helps preserve this important distinction.

  15. There are a lot of other minor tweaks to the language of the Creed.  Since this is our individual and collective declaration of Faith, it makes sense to have everyone saying the same thing (imagine if each member of Congress took a slightly different oath of office, for example).  The only other one I want to point out is that where it we used to say, “We look for the resurrection of the dead,” we now say, “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead.” Bring it on! St. Paul describes our belief in the resurrection of the dead as part of our “hope in God” as Christians (Acts 24:15). It's something we should look forward to eagerly: the promise of Heaven.  If we're living in dread fear of the Final Judgment, we're probably not living right.

  16. During the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayers, when the priest says, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God, we respond “it is right and just.”  That's exactly what the Latin says (dignum et iustum est”), and what other languages say.  We used to say “it is right to give Him thanks and praise.

  17. Govert Flinck, Angels Announcing the Birth of Christ to the Shepherds (1639)
  18. The Sanctus used to begin “Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might.” It's now “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts.”  The imagery there is of an angelic army, as Luke 2:13 describes, and the sort that Jesus refers to as at His disposal in Matthew 26:53.

  19. When the priest holds the Host up after the Agnus Dei, he now declares, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”  This is a bit different then the old translation, and incredibly theologically rich, weaving together Pilate's words from John 19:5, John the Baptist's words from John 1:29, and the angel's words from Revelation 19:9.  Our response echoes that of the centurion in Matthew 8:8, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.”   There are two changes.  First, it used to say “I am not worthy to receive you,” but the new translation restores the parallel to Mt.  8:8.  Second, it used to say, only say the word, and I shall be healed.” The new translation clarifies that we're seeking spiritual healing here, not bodily.
I know that's a lot to get through -- I really did try to keep it short.  There are a lot of little changes, but I think you'll see that these changes: (a) get back to the language of Scripture, (b) are better translations of the Latin texts, (c) are closer to what Roman Rite Catholics are praying all over the world, and (d) make the Mass a bit more beautiful.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, begins her beautiful Sonnet XLIII, by telling her husband, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”  So it is with the Bride of Christ.  The language of the new translation bubbles up and overflows, as we tell God we love Him in a number of different ways: “We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory, Lord God, heavenly King, O God, almighty Father.”  This Advent, as we prepare for Christ, pay close attention to what we're praying at Mass, and why.  There are incredible depths to be explored there, and a world of beauty to be uncovered.

*I initially wrote, “Today marks the halfway point of Advent,” having badly miscalculated.  Kudos to Tito Edwards for pointing this out in the comments (and rather politely, too!).