Author Archive for Tom Schenk

Immaculate Conception

This Solemnity of the Church and Holy Day of Obligation calls our attention to an important doctrine.  To define what the Immaculate Conception is helps Catholics to understand what they are called to believe as a faith tradition.

The Immaculate Conception means that Mary, whose conception was brought about the normal way, was conceived without original sin or its stain—that’s what “immaculate” means: without stain.

The essence of original sin consists in the deprivation of sanctifying grace, and its stain is a corrupt nature.  Mary was preserved from these defects by God’s grace; from the first instant of her existence she was in the state of sanctifying grace and was free from the corrupt nature original sin brings.

This implicit reference may be found in the angel’s greeting to Mary.  The angel Gabriel said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28).  The phrase “full of grace” is a translation of the Greek which expresses a characteristic quality of Mary.

This characteristic quality is much more than an identity of “highly favored daughter” found with some New Testament translations.  The Greek implies the grace given to Mary is at once permanent and of a unique kind.  There is a sense in its meaning “to fill or endow with grace.”  This sense further indicates that Mary was graced in the past but with continuing effects in the present.

The grace Mary enjoyed was not a result of the angel’s visit.  The state of sanctifying grace extended over the whole of her life, from her immaculate conception onward.

Because this feast day falls on Sunday this year, the Solemnity is transferred to Monday, December 9, but the Holyday of Obligation is not.  (9:2)


The word Advent derives from the Latin advenio, meaning “to come to,” and refers to the coming of Christ.  Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of Christ.

Advent is also the start of the liturgical year in the Catholic Church.  Advent is a period beginning with the Sunday nearest to the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle (30 November) and embracing four Sundays.  That means that the First Sunday of Advent can fall as early as November 27 or as late as December 3.

This season refers, first of all, to our celebration of Christ’s birth at Christmas; but second, to the coming of Christ in our lives through grace and the Eucharist; and finally, to His Second Coming at the end of time.  Our preparations, therefore, should have all three comings in mind.  We need to prepare our souls to receive Christ worthily.

It is also at the start of the Advent season the parish assembly affirms those seeking acceptance into the Order of Catechumens, through the Rite of Acceptance, which takes place on the First Sunday of Advent.  During this Rite, the Inquirer stands amidst the parish community and states that he or she wants to become a baptized member of the Catholic Church.

The Rite of Acceptance is but one step in the process for a Catechumen or Candidate to come into full communion with the Catholic Church.  (9:1)


Stewards of God’s gifts are not passive beneficiaries.  We cooperate with God in our own redemption and in the redemption of others.  We are also obliged to be stewards of the Church—collaborators and cooperators in continuing the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, which is the Church’s essential mission.

This mission—proclaiming and teaching, serving and sanctifying—is our task.  It is the personal responsibility of each one of us as stewards of the Church.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops state that all members of the Church have their own roles to play in carrying out its mission.  That is, parents nurture their children in the light of faith; parishioners work in concrete ways to make their parishes true communities of faith and vibrant sources of service to the larger community; and that all Catholics give generous support—time, money, prayers, and personal service according to their circumstances—to parish and diocesan programs, and to the universal Church.

The USCCB says that at times, we can find it far too easy to ignore spiritual realities and to deny religion a role in shaping human and social values.

As Catholics who have entered into the mainstream of American society and experienced its advantages, many of us also have been adversely influenced by this secular culture.  We know what it is to struggle against selfishness and greed, and we realize that it is harder for many today to accept the challenge of being a Christian steward.  It is essential, therefore, that we make a special effort to understand the true meaning of stewardship and live accordingly.  (8:52)


The Bible contains a profound message about the stewardship of material creation: God created the world, but entrusts it to human beings.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops says that caring for and cultivating the world involves the joyful appreciation for the God-given beauty and wonder of nature; the protection and preservation of the environment, which would be the stewardship of ecological concern; the respect for human life—shielding life from threat and assault, doing everything that can be done to enhance this gift and make life flourish; and the development of this world through noble human effort—physical labor, the trades and professions, the arts and sciences.

We call such effort “work.”  Work is a fulfilling human vocation.  The Second Vatican Council points out that, through work, we build up not only our world but the Kingdom of God, already present among us.  Work is a partnership with God—our share in a divine human collaboration in creation.  It occupies a central place in our lives as Christian stewards.

The USCCB goes on to say that Jesus calls us, as his disciples, to a new way of life—the Christian way of life—of which stewardship is part.  But Jesus does not call us as nameless people in a faceless crowd.  He calls us individually, by name.

Each one of us—clergy, religious, lay person; married, single; adult, child—has a personal vocation.  God intends each one of us to play a unique role in carrying out the divine plan.  The challenge, then, is to understand our role—our vocation—and to respond generously to this call from God.  Christian vocation entails the practice of stewardship.  In addition, Christ calls each of us to be stewards of our personal vocations, which we receive from God. (8:51)


“As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Pt 4:10).

What is stewardship and what identifies a steward?  The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops say that safeguarding material and human resources and using them responsibly are one answer; so is generous giving of time, talent, and treasure.  But being a Christian steward means more.

As Christian stewards, we receive God’s gifts gratefully, cultivate them responsibly, share them lovingly in justice with others, and return them with increase to the Lord.

The USCCB goes on to say that as members of the Church, Jesus calls us to be disciples.  This has astonishing implications because mature disciples make a conscious decision to follow Jesus, no matter what the cost.

As such, Christian disciples experience conversion which are life-shaping changes of mind and heart and a commitment of their very selves to the Lord.  Christian stewards also respond in a particular way to the call to be a disciple.

Stewardship has the power to shape and mold our understanding of our lives and the way in which we live.  Jesus’ disciples and Christian stewards recognize God as the origin of life, giver of freedom, and source of all things.

We are grateful for the gifts we have received and are eager to use them to show our love for God and for one another.  We look to the life and teaching of Jesus for guidance in living as Christian stewards. (8:50)


In the simplest terms, vocation means a call.  So, in general terms, a vocation is what God calls us to do with our life.

Everybody is called by God to know, love and serve him.  The difference is how each one does this.  Individual vocations vary between being single, married, consecrated, religious or holy orders, such as priest or deacon.  However, we usually use vocation to mean a call to the consecrated, religious or holy orders.

In the one life God gives us to live, we have one overriding purpose, to fulfill the will of God, because this is the key to our true destiny, eternal happiness.  God gives each one of us a particular mission in life.  As we grow and life progresses, he makes it known to us, usually in indirect ways, more as an invitation than an imposition.

Discovering and ultimately following our vocation gives the greatest glory and praise to our Creator.  It is what we were meant to do.  “Take up your cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).  Remember, God does not call the qualified, but rather qualifies the called. (8:49)

Items Used At Mass

Book of the Gospel—contains only the Gospel readings; used on solemn occasions and is carried by the deacon, or in his absence, the reader.

Chalice (CHAL-is)—the large cup used to hold the wine that becomes the Blood of Christ.

Ciborium (si-BORE-ee-um) —a vessel used to hold the Hosts which will be used for communion; some are cup-like and others are bowl- or plate like; they are also used to reserve the Sacrament in the tabernacle.

Communion Cups—chalice-like vessels used at communion when the people receive from the cup; they are kept on the Credence Table and brought to the Altar at communion time.

Decanter or Flagon (FLAG-un) —the bottle- or pitcher-like vessel used to hold the wine which will be consecrated at Mass for the communion; it is brought forth with the gifts.

Hymnal/Missalette—contains all parts of the Mass for a specific season in the liturgical year, including instructions on when to stand, sit, or kneel.

Lectionary—contains the scripture readings for Mass.

Paten (PAT-en) —a saucer-like disk that holds the bread that becomes the Body of Christ.

Purificator—a white cloth used to cleanse the chalice.

Roman Missal—contains the opening prayer, prayer over the gifts, prayer after communion, and solemn blessings, Eucharistic prayers and prefaces for all of the Masses, including special occasions.  (8:48)


Concupiscence is the human inclination to prefer that which is sinful to that which is holy.  We have this defect because of the fall of Adam and Eve.

The impulse to sin is not a sin in itself, and when we resist the impulse to sin, we build up the virtues.

Etymologically, “concupiscence” can refer to any intense form of human desire.  Christian theology has given it a particular meaning: the movement of the sensitive appetite contrary to the operation of the human reason.

The apostle St. Paul identifies it with the rebellion of the “flesh” against the “spirit.”  Concupiscence stems from the disobedience of the first sin.  It unsettles human moral faculties and, without being in itself an offense, inclines individuals to commit sins.

Certain temporal consequences of sin remain in the baptized, such as suffering, illness, death, and such frailties inherent in life as weaknesses of character, and so on, as well as, an inclination to sin that Tradition calls concupiscence … since concupiscence is left for us to wrestle with, it cannot harm those who do not consent but heroically resist it by the grace of Jesus Christ.  (8:47)

Parish Mission

The word “mission” has a variety of meanings as used by the Church, all of which stem from the apostolic commission given to the Apostles by Christ, and are concerned with the teaching role of the Church in its mission to all people.

The parish mission, a so-called popular mission at the parish level, is a series of instructions, sermons, and devotions conducted in a parish for the spiritual welfare of the people.  They usually last for several days and may be conducted annually.

For a parish mission, the parish leadership will typically invite a guest speaker from outside the parish to lead or facilitate sessions to inspire, renew, transform and awaken one’s faith in Jesus Christ. (8:46)


This is God’s attribute of knowing all things simply and absolutely.

The doctrine of Providence implies omniscience, for God, in ruling and directing all things to His own glory, must know all things, even the most secret, and He must know them now rather than as a sequence.

According to the Scriptures, the scope of God’s knowledge is unlimited.  It is in the first place a creative and redemptive wisdom.  In wisdom, He brings all things into existence and orders the universe according to an intelligent and intelligible plan.  In wisdom, He restores all things through Christ, Who reveals and accomplishes the divine plan of salvation.

It follows that God’s knowledge embraces everything in the world and penetrates into every human heart.  What in the universe could escape the knowledge of the One Who creates, sustains and restores it?  For God’s knowledge of all things is not an addition to His knowledge of Himself.  He knows all thing as their creator and conserver, and thus He knows them in Himself.

While creaturely knowledge is acquired and sequential, God’s knowledge is simultaneous and absolute.  God timelessly knows what has happened, what is happening now and what will happen in the future.

But He knows these events for what they are, in their very causes.  For this reason, His knowledge of future free actions of human beings does not destroy their freedom.

His eternal knowledge does not impose necessity or determination on all future contingent events.  He knows these future actions for what they are, precisely as freely performed actions. (8:45)