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Incorporation into the Sacred Mysteries

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles ) | Mar 30, 2007

The Episcopal Diocese of Albany has just announced that Bishop Daniel Herzog entered the Catholic Church shortly after his retirement at the end of January. One can only imagine how much Holy Week will mean to Bishop Herzog this year. For the first time, the sacred mysteries in which he participates will be real. It is very unlikely he will take them for granted. What about us?

The Problem of Orders

Pope Leo XIII determined once and for all that Anglican Orders were invalid. He issued that judgment in an apostolic letter entitled Apostolicae Curae in 1896. The chief impediment was the break in the apostolic succession occasioned by a new and invalid rite of ordination in the time of Edward VI. Leo’s letter simply confirmed the long understanding and practice of the Church. What this means is that priests and bishops ordained and consecrated in the Anglican and Episcopalian churches since that time have not, in fact, had the power to administer the sacraments, including the power to confect the Eucharist.

Throughout a long life of active ministry, then, Bishop Herzog exercised his sacramental power under an unfortunate illusion. During the last few years before his retirement, he began to suspect as much, and began also to seriously consider entering the Catholic Church. As he explains it, he did not want to “walk away from my office and leave vulnerable this diocese which I love” but the election of his successor “has given me the liberty to follow my conscience.” So he resigned from the Episcopal hierarchy and became a Catholic.

The Intensity of Holy Week

It is the supreme privilege of the Catholic priest to enter into a realm at once within and outside of time, in which the saving action of the high priest Jesus Christ becomes present to us again at Mass. At no time is the intensity of this experience greater than in Holy Week, when Mass is celebrated in the liturgical context of the culmination of Our Lord’s mission: The Last Supper on Holy Thursday, His crucifixion on Good Friday, His glorious Resurrection on Easter Sunday.

While the Incarnation of the Word of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, might be a greater mystery (and clearly it is the mystery from which all else flows), Holy Week is the high point of the year for every priest and bishop. Here we have the richest possible manifestation of the events by which we are saved. And here the Catholic faithful receive the greatest possible opportunity to enter this priestly world by becoming incorporated into the Paschal mystery. Given his circumstances, Bishop Herzog will hardly take this lightly. But, again, what about ourselves?

Capitalizing on Lent

We are now entering the time of year in which we are finally able, if you’ll pardon the phrase, to capitalize on Lent. The long slog of prayerful self-denial (minor though it may be) is nearly behind us, and we can deepen the spiritual impact of our Lenten sacrifices by taking Holy Week seriously, especially the Sacred Triduum—the three days leading up to Easter. To rise with Christ, we must die with Him; this opportunity to die is the whole purpose of Lent. Now we must bring it into focus by increasing our devotion to the way of the cross in these final days of darkness before the dawn.

Even if we have kept Lent badly (and which of us has not?), it is not too late. If worse comes to worst, we can unite our hearts with Our Lord’s Passion in the last split-second before Easter Mass. But it is precisely this week before Easter which presents the best opportunity. Hearing the Gospel of the Passion on Palm Sunday will heighten our awareness of the task before us. Then we will have a few days—a sort of new mini-Lent—to prepare for the Last Supper. Finally, we can participate liturgically in the key events, allowing the commemorations of the Triduum to draw us further up and further in. It is, of course, the Eucharist itself that incorporates us into Christ and all His saving work. But in the context of Holy Week, by focusing all our faculties in a special way, we can participate more deeply, and be sanctified anew.

Steps Ordered by the Lord

Proverbs 20:24 reminds us that “a man’s steps are ordered by the Lord; how then can man understand his way?” The answer, of course, is by incorporation into Christ. This is the whole reason God made us. It is both our purpose and our destiny. We were made to glorify God in both time and eternity by coming into union with Him, and so to enjoy an indescribable happiness. If we are to capitalize on Lent, then we must recognize the quintessential business of Catholicism. Holy Week is a microcosm of this Catholic business. It is both the paradigm and the reality of how Catholic business gets done.

One wonders, knowing all this, if any of us will dare to let another Holy Week slip by with…little or nothing. There are two ways to do this. One is to be unable to participate fully in these sacred mysteries through no fault of our own. The other is to suffer the same lack of participation through our own fault. I refer here to our own lack of preparation, our own preoccupation, our own laziness, our own carelessness, our own sin.

Holy Week is an inestimable gift. By God's mercy, Bishop Herzog will experience this gift eagerly this year, as if for the first time. At the risk of repeating the question: What about us?

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