Saturday, November 23, 2013

First Sunday in Advent

Year A
First Sunday in Advent


We are the Sign of Jesus’ Coming

Points to note

This is the start of a new Church Year, which we will need to explain this to the children.  If the children get confused over the idea of a new year's day that isn't on Jan 1, here are a few more new year's day that are also not on Jan 1:
·  Chinese New Year is on the day of the new moon between Jan 21 and Feb 20.
·  School year in many countries in the Northern Hemisphere starts in the end of summer.
·  Tax year in UK starts on Apr 6 (interesting story, that one) and other dates elsewhere.
The Gospel reading today is a little difficult to follow but you can lead in with the explanation of Advent being the season of preparation before the reading and discuss being a sign to others of the Coming of Jesus during the dialogue.


Acclamation before the Gospel
Alleluia, alleluia!
Let us see, O Lord, your mercy
and give us your saving help.

Discuss with the children about the new season of the Christian calendar that we are entering.  This is available in the end panel of this leaflet & for a more complete explanation, at

The Lord be with you.
All:   And also with your spirit.

A Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St Matthew
All:   Glory to you O Lord
(Mt 24:37-44)
Jesus said to his disciples, ‘As it was in Noah’s day, so will it be when the Son of Man comes. For in those days before the Flood people were eating, drinking, taking wives, taking husbands, right up to the day Noah went into the ark, and they suspected nothing till the Flood came and swept all away. It will be like this when the Son of Man comes. Then of two men in the fields one is taken, one left; of two women at the millstone grinding, one is taken, one left.

‘So stay awake, because you do not know the day when your master is coming. You may be quite sure of this that if the householder had known at what time of the night the burglar would come, he would have stayed awake and would not have allowed anyone to break through the wall of his house. Therefore, you too must stand ready because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.’

This is the Good News of the Lord


This discussion should be kept short as the bulk of the discussions takes place before the reading.

Can you come up with any event that gets a lot of alerts and warning before it happens?  A storm could have a storm warning beforehand.    The Olympics could have the torch runs.  Your school exams could have extra classes and teachers who keep giving advise.  A wedding could have the invitation cards going out.

Advent is the alert notice for which event?  Coming of Jesus at Christmas.  What do we do in Advent to show that we are alert for Jesus’ coming?  Prayers, advent wreath and advent calendar, setting up the crib.

Does Jesus only come at Christmas time?  No, other than the Second Coming, which Jesus has clearly stated will come without any warning, we encounter Jesus everyday at mass, in people we meet, in acts of kindness and mercy.

Sometimes, Jesus comes to people who never knew him, who are not yet his friends or, because of a problem they may have, is far away from him.  Sometimes, Jesus also sneds an alert notice to those people that he is coming.  What kind of alert notice do you think he will send?  It is Ok to let the children be confused and give many strange answers before you lead into your final point.

Do you think you could be the sign that Jesus wants to send out to tell people that he is coming?  Discuss the ways that children can be a sign of Jesus’ Coming to others.  Reaching out to someone who is hurt, physically or otherwise, is a precursor to Jesus’ healing.  Making friends with someone who is lonely opens up Jesus’ love.  Helping others could be Jesus’ way to helping them, using us as his hands and feet.

You should end with a resolve from the children on how they can be a sign of Jesus’ Coming.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Soundbites on other Christian churches

Some fifty years ago, Catholics were discouraged from mixing with other religions, including attending weddings and funerals in Protestant churches.  Today, after Vatican 2, we are encouraged to encounter other religions and we accept other Christians churches as separated brethren rather than heretics.  

We are now taught to acknowledge Protestants as validly baptised Christians.  In fact, Christians who wish to become Catholics are not required to be re-baptised since they are already baptised and only need to undergo a rite of acceptance into the Catholic Church.  Many dialogues with other Christian Churches in the last few decades have resulted in joint declarations that there are no significant differences between the churches on certain doctrines.

And yet, we remain separated.  We do not invite them to communion at our mass or do we allow Catholics to accept communion in other churches.  Differences in beliefs exists, foremost among them is, of course, the position of the Pope and his universal jurisdiction over all Christians.  Also, Western Catholics are unique in having a celibate clergy, as other denominations allow their priests or pastors to be married.

Many Catholics are still unaware of the beliefs of the other half of the 2.2 billion-strong worldwide Christian community, who make up one third of humanity. (For comparison, there are 1.1 billion Catholics).

In this post, I hope to share a summary of other Christian denominations and where we differ in faith.  Each denomination again differ from other denominations and I have listed them in the order of closeness to Catholicism, from those whose priesthood we recognise all the way to those who we do not recognise as Christians.  I will discuss other religions in a separate post.

Orthodox Christians are said to be in schism from Catholics since 1054, which is to say we recognise their bishops, priests and sacraments as valid but we do not share sacraments because we are not in communion with each other.


There are many Orthodox churches, numbering over 200 million adherents, organised along national lines, each with its own practice, calendar, list of saints, etc, but accepting that each other church has the same faith.

Where they are found
They are the national or main churches in Russia, Ukraine, Belorussia, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece, Cyprus, Armenia, Georgia, Ethiopia; small minorities in Albania, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Eritrea, Central Asia; descendants of immigrants from these countries in US, Canada and Britain.

Distinctive practice
Ornate liturgical practices, many of which have been largely unchanged for over a thousand years.  Sunday liturgies can run for hours (Easter midnight mass is at least 4-5 hours) and congregation stand throughout while the priests and choir chants and incense constantly.


There is also a strong monastic tradition with monks and nuns. Devotions centre around icons, religious paintings with a particularly flat perspective.

Where we differ
Only the position of the Pope, whom Orthodox Christians consider as the first among equals rather than having universal jurisdiction over all Christians. While Orthodox allow married men to be priests, their bishops are celibate; but then, this is the same practice among Eastern Catholics.

Orthodox Christians also have an aversion to defining the faith in words like Roman Catholics, with our encyclicals, cathecisms, etc, and prefer to leave it to the Holy Spirit to safeguard the faith and tradition among Christians.

Old & Traditionalist Catholics
There are a number of churches that broke away from the Catholic Church following the First and the Second Vatican Councils.  The Catholic Church considers them to be in schism, not heretical. They are rather few in number, numbering a few millions.

Those that broke away after Vatican 1 in 1869 did not accept the dogma of papal infallibility while those that broke away after Vatican 2 did not accept the mass in the vernacular.  The most well-known among the latter is the Society of St Pius X or SSPX.


Where they are found
US, Holland, Germany, France

Distinctive practice
Both groups retain the old Roman liturgy, except that Old Catholics mass is in the vernacular while Traditionalist Catholics mass is in Latin.  The latter tend to be very conservative and many of them see the Pope as no longer Catholic.  The faith is largely similar and for Traditionalist Catholics, identical to us, just more conservative.

Where we differ
Acceptance of Vatican Councils 1 (papal infallibility) for Old Catholics and 2 (masses in the vernacular) for Traditionalists.

The following are groups that emerged from the Reformation in the West in the 16th century.

They broke away in 1534 after the Pope refused Henry VIII of England his request to divorce his wife for failing to provide him a male heir.  Henry himself was very Catholic in his outlook, having been given the title Defender of the Faith, still seen on British coinage, by the Pope for his defense of Catholicism against Lutherans.  


As a result, much of Anglican practice and beliefs are similar to Catholicism though there are now many strands today that strain the unity of the very broad Anglican Church.   In fact, Anglicans generally don't consider themselves Protestants, but a bridge between Catholics and Protestants.

Where they are found
There are some 85 million Anglicans worldwide, largely in English speaking countries.

National church of England (where half the population are baptised Anglicans); significant minorities in former British colonies as in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Nigeria; small (but rich) minority in US known as Episcopalians.

Distinctive practice
Anglicans preserve a lot of the same practices as 16th century Catholics as such Vespers, etc.  There is however a broad range of practices with Anglo-Catholics at one end, who have masses like ours except with more incensing, etc, all the way to Evangelical Anglicans at the other extreme, with their Protestant-like services.  Other than Anglo-Catholics, who
use the Catholic Order of Mass (with prayers for the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury), Anglicans generally use the Book of Common Prayer, their form of missal.  

There are also Anglican religious orders and monastic communities like Catholic ones.

Where we differ
It is hard to define how an Anglican differ from us due to the broad range of beliefs they have: from African Anglicans on the conservative wing who do not accept women or homosexuals as priests to American Episcopalians who ordain women and homosexuals as bishops.

Low Church and Evangelical Anglicans, for instance, accept only baptism and Eucharist as sacraments and celebrate the other five as sacramental rites.  They also believe in a form of Real Presence.  High Church and Anglo-Catholics have beliefs almost identical to Catholics.

While Anglicans preserve their apostolic succession, it and consequently, their bishops, priests and sacraments are not recognised by the Catholic Church.  They do accept tradition as a source of authority in the Church but do not have a single authority to safeguard tradition like we do: the Archbishop of Canterbury is only the first among equals.

In 1517, a Catholic monk, Martin Luther put up his 95 Theses, listing practices of the Catholic Church which he found to be abuses, and sparked off the Reformation.  After attempts at reconciliation failed, many people, due to politics or frustration at excesses of some clergy, followed him, leading to religious wars.  Many were won back after a Catholic Counter Reformation and the Council of Trent, which reformed the Church.  Most Lutheran churches retain their bishops, but no apostolic succession, except the Swedes who do.


Where they are found
Over 80 million adherents worldwide.  National or main churches in Scandanavia; northern and eastern Germany; descendants of immigrants from these countries in US, Canada.  Many different churches organised in groups (called Synods in US) with differences in beliefs.

Distinctive practice
Strong belief that we gain salvation only through God's grace, who have predestined us for salvation.  Much of their liturgical practice is similar to 16th century Catholics.  They also have seven sacraments although only baptism and Eucharist are widely practiced.
Where we differ
The first Protestants to believe that the Bible is the sole source of authority, though there are differences how the Bible is to be interpreted.  We do not recognise their priests and sacraments as valid.  While they believe in the Real Presence in the Eucharist, there are differences in language, which may or may not be significant - dialogue is still continuing.
Founded in the 19th century by an Anglican preacher, John Wesley, famous for his wide travels by horseback.  They were first called Methodists in derision for their rules and methods way of life of weekly communion, fasting and service, in contrast with their more luxury-loving mockers.
Where they are found
About 80 million members worldwide.  Small minorities in Britain, US, Canada plus small groups in various former British colonies.

Distinctive practice
Well known for their singing and rich musical traditions & hymns as well as emphasis on social services for the poor.  Their liturgical is derived from the Anglicans with the addition of a renewal of their covenant with God in an annual Covenant Service.
Where we differ
While they do have bishops, these bishops only have a supervisory role, not sacramental.  There are only two sacraments: baptism and Eucharist.

Presbyterian and Reformed Churches
Founded on the writings of John Calvin during the Reformation, Reformed Churches were centered in Geneva (where Calvin lived), Holland (where it is the religion of the monarchy there) and Scotland (where followers are called Presbyterians, members of the Church of Scotland).

Where they are found
80 million members. National or main church in Scotland, Holland and Switzerland; Germany (where they are merged with Lutherans); Small minorities in US

Distinctive practice
Accepting the Bible as the sole authority, Calvinists believe one's redemption is solely due to God's grace, saving us from a utter depravity of the human condition (their words).
Where we differ
They only accept baptism and the Lord's Supper as sacraments but do not have priests (as all the above churches do) as they do not accept the Real Presence.  As with all the above churches, they accept the Nicene Creed, in a modified form.

Modern Baptists trace their origins to 17th century Christians who separated from the Church of England, which they did not feel have moved sufficiently in the Protestant direction.  Many migrated to America, from where the movement grew and eventually sent out many missions throughout the world.


Where they are found
Over 100 million worldwide.  Significant minority in US, particularly in the south; Britain; numerous missionary work throughout the world, including among native aboriginal peoples in Asia.

Distinctive practice
Baptists are called such as they only baptise adults by immersion (lowering a person fully into water), even though they do not believe baptism to be necessary for salvation.  Babies undergo a christening ceremony where they are given a Christian name.

Baptists do not accept any central authority to determine their faith, believing in an absolute liberty of conscience.
Where we differ
As each Baptist church is autonomous, there is no central authority to determine Baptist belief.  Generally, they accept only the Bible as the sole authority (though there are differences in how the Bible is to be interpreted and even which version to use), do not recognise sacraments or the Real Presence.

While they do not use the Nicene Creed, individual associations of Baptist churches may issue their own creeds.

Began as a renewal movement in 1900 Los Angeles, which see speaking in tongues as the Biblical proof of one's baptism by the Holy Spirit.  The movement succeeded in spreading all over America and later on, throughout the world.  In middle-class Asia and Latin America, many mega-churches accommodating tens of thousands of worshippers with a wide range of facilities were built and became very wealthy.  


In 1960s, many worshippers from mainstream Christian churches decided to stay in their respective churches instead of joining Pentecostal churches.  This led to the growth of Charismatic movements in many Catholic, Protestant and even Orthodox churches, which remain loyal to their respective traditions and church authorities.

Where they are found
World-wide missionary work led to some 300 million Pentecostals through the world, more than half are independent churches in Africa, Latin America and Asia.  While there are over 700 recognised denominations, many more are considered independent and not affiliated with any association and denomination.

A further 200 million probably worship in Charismatic movements in mainstream Christian churches, half of whom are Catholics.

Distinctive practice
Baptism in the Holy Spirit is the goal of every member of the church.  Once that is achieved, speaking in tongues and faith healing feature prominently in their service.  The service is largely spontaneous and highly unstructured.
Where we differ
Other than their belief in the inerrancy of Scripture and the use of spiritual gifts, there is a multitudes of beliefs as each church is fully autonomous.

The lack of supervision over each autonomous have, of late, led to controversies over financial governance in a small, but highly visible, number of cases.

It must be remembered though many Charismatic Catholics who adopt the Pentecostalist way of worship to complement the mass, are as fully Catholic as non-Charismatic Catholics with belief in the same faith and submission to church authority expected of Catholics.

A renewal movement in 19th century America, founded on a belief on the imminent Second Coming of Jesus.  Many followed predictions of dates for the Second Coming, which of course, did not come true.  Since then, there has been numerous reports of churches with firm predictions of dates of the Second Coming, leading to members selling everything they had to pray on a hill on that pre-ordained date - to great disappointment.


Where they are found
About 12 millions worldwide, largely American but with much missionary work worldwide.

Distinctive practice
Belief in the imminent Second Coming.  They are also known for their hospitals.
Where we differ
There are so many splinter groups, with differences of beliefs in many different issues.  Seventh-Day Adventist, probably the most well-known group, accept Saturday and not Sunday as the Sabbath Day.  Almost all their beliefs in the imminent Second Coming are not accepted by the Catholic Church.

Other Christian Groups
A few other Christian Churches that you may find interesting.


Officially called the Religious Society of Friends, they worship in very plain churches in very plain clothes, and disavowing violence, alcohol and swearing of oaths.  The most famous Quaker is of course the one on the oats box, which incidentally had nothing to do with the Quakers: the company just wanted to cash in on the Quakers' reputation for honesty.


Salvation Army
Organised along military lines, with military ranks and uniforms from cadets to generals, they are an outgrowth of Methodism, which its emphasis on social work among the poor.

Churches generally not recognised as Christians
There are a number of churches which call themselves Christians but seen by mainstream Christianity as marginal Christians as they do not subscribe to some central tenets of the faith.

Officially known as Church of Latter Day Saints ('LDS'), they are well known at one time for polygamy, a practice they renounced in exchange for Utah (where many Mormons settled as religious refugees) being allowed to join the United States.  Their strong missionary work now sees most Mormons as living outside the US, largely in Latin America.

The religion was founded by Joseph Smith, who was directed by an angel to discover buried golden plates (plates as in metal plating that eventually got bound into a book, not dinner plates) with writings in an 'reformed Egyptian language' that tells of an ancient people who, led by a man named Mormon, crossed the ocean to America.  These plates were translated into a Book of Mormons, which LDS accept as scripture on par with the Bible.

Mormons are known for their hard work, piety and observance of Sunday Sabbath, chastity & family life and abstain from alcohol, tobacco, tea and coffee.


Jehovah Witnesses
These are outgrowth of Adventism, which do not accept the Trinity, immortality of souls, hellfire or observe Christmas and Easter.  They believe that God's (named Jehovah) only direct creation was Jesus, who then goes on to create everything else.

They are well known for their door-to-door evangelism, normally in pairs as well as their refusal to accept blood transfusion, in accordance with Old Testament teachings that life subsist in the blood.

In the last century, the ecumenical movement grew, in which the Catholic church started to participate after Vatican 2.  Many churches held dialogues with each other to explore areas of similarities of faith and to understand each other's interpretation of scriptures and traditions.  These has led us to see each other as siblings in God's kingdom rather than caricatures of our own fears and prejudices.  It has also led to posts like this.

As a result of these dialogues, many Protestant Churches have merged, the more successful ones being the Lutheran-Reformed Church in Germany and the Churches of North India and South India (which brought together Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists and Baptists).

The Catholic Church has also set up joint study groups with individual denomination groups like Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, Reformed and Methodists.  Many of these study groups have reported back that there is little difference between most of the theological issues that led to the split among churches in the first place.  As a result for instance, the mutual excommunication between Catholics and Orthodox have been lifted.


The major formal impact of these talks is that all Christian churches have accepted the baptism of other churches as a valid sign of their Christianity and generally do not required a re-baptism to accept adherents of another denomination into their church, though exceptions remain.  

Informally from a Catholic point of view, we also see a revival in the last few decades of liturgical practices and vestments in worships of Protestant denominations, bringing their worship closer to ours.  There is also a greater appreciation of the role of saints and Mary, leading to a growing adoption of the rosary among Protestants.

I pray that this reconciliation may continue in love and humility among all of Christ's separated disciples.