Saturday, November 05, 2011

'Consubstantial' (Homily 3 on the new Mass translation)

As we continue to prepare for our new Mass translation,
Let’s look at the Creed we profess every Sunday.
If you take out those red books,
we can look on page 5
and see what’s different.

The first thing you’ll notice is we’ll now say “I believe,”
not “we believe.”

The reason for that change
is that it emphasizes that not only is this Creed
something we say together,
it is also something personal for each one of us.

Then, scan down to where it says to bow.
Notice the wording changes to,
“was incarnate of the Virgin Mary”;
it used to say, “was born of the Virgin Mary.”

Why this change?
Well, because what we’ve been using was inaccurate;
The point the Creed makes is not about when Jesus was born,
but the fact that he became human through Mary—
which, obviously, happened before his birth:
in fact, when he was conceived, nine months before.

Now, let’s focus on a change that has gotten a lot of attention.
Scan up a four lines, and you’ll see the word, “consubstantial.”
That replaces “one in being.”

This change has raised some hackles.
Some object it’s a hard word to understand;
but that can’t be helped:
it’s describing a reality that’s just as hard to understand.

Now what I’m going to say here is kind of heavy.
Please bear with me.
This is one of the most profound mysteries of our Faith,
so it’s supposed to be hard stuff.

This Creed was adopted by the Council of Nicea in AD 325.
They had a particular thing they wanted to say
about God’s true nature.
They prayed and debated over key words—
and this was one of them.
The thing is, what they were trying to say
is just doggone hard to say.

So why isn’t “one in being” good enough?
The problem is not that it’s false, but that it’s not precise.

It’s not a stretch to imagine describing two ordinary human beings—
say, two spouses—as “being one” or “one in being.”

Consubstantial means something much more specific than that.
It’s describing a reality that only applies to God.
It means that what the Father is—as God—the Son is too.
But not two “substances”; but only one.

So, when two spouses become “one,”
they don’t cease to be separate human beings.
However close they are, they aren’t one
in the way that only God, himself, can be “one.”
The bishops at the Council—struggling for the right word—
were trying to say this: whatever God is, there’s only one;
and the Son is that one and same reality.

The issue, back then, was whether Jesus is God.

And even if you call Jesus “God,” what do you mean?
Is he “sort of” God? Is he a kind of a junior God?

Even to this day, a lot folks take “Son of God” to mean
that Jesus is somehow less than God the Father.

Notice how people will say, “God and Jesus.”

So the Creed was intended to make as clear as a bell
that Jesus truly, really and totally is God.

What the Father is, as God, the Son is too.
One and the same—to the nth degree.

OK, so what’s that mean to us?

It has to do with what our eternal hope is.
Paul told us in the second reading,
the goal of our Faith is to be with Jesus forever.

If Jesus is not God—why is he our hope?

If he is only near God—
that means “near” is as close as we’ll ever come.

But here’s the truth the Creed tells us:
When we become one with Christ through baptism,
and we stay with Christ through our life,
and we go to be with him in eternity,
our destination isn’t somewhere in the “neighborhood” of God.
We’re not going to be in the cheap seats!

Our future “home address” is the heart of the Son—
which is also the “consubstantial,” one and same
heart of the Father.

Another practical application:
for everyone who wonders why we Catholics
make such a huge deal about the Eucharist: here it is.

Our “communion”—union with—is with Jesus himself.
And this Creed tells us, that is also union with God the Father.
Every time we are at Mass, we are challenged to ask ourselves:
am I ready for this? Have I fasted?
Do I believe what the Church teaches me?
Do I live as a Catholic?
Have I confessed my sins?
Am I at peace with my neighbors?
Am I ready to say, “I believe?”


mamacantrix said...

I'm glad you posted this, since you were not the celebrant at either of the Masses I attended today. I hadn't heard the point made before about the word "consubstantial," nor had I heard the reason behind "incarnate of the Virgin Mary." Thank you!

Fr Martin Fox said...

Thanks Deb!

In working on this homily, I discovered why you never hear a homily on "consubstantial."

As always, I wanted it to be helpful, if it was, I'm very glad!

Gabby said...

How I wish I could use that in my parish. So far we haven't heard word one on the new translation which will go into effect in 3 weeks.

The choir is practicing the new setting, but they are the only ones who've seen the "Celebrate in Song" books which, along with the pew cards, are being guarded by the Liturgy Coordinator like gold is at Fort Knox -- they are being kept in a room to which only she has the key.

We are Pastorless at the moment and the priest who is celebrating Mass for us on Sundays is not interested in the topic because he's not affected by this as his own two parishes don't celebrate in English.

Anonymous said...

There's all kinds of interesting stuff going on at Pray Tell Blog where the liturgists gather. They're in a bit of a panic over the new translations it seems, and interesting things are coming out of the woodwork over there.

Hughie said...

"Of one being" could be likened to identical twins. Homozygotic or Monzygotic, take your pick, they originally were a single fertilised cell. At some point a day or so after fertilisation, the cell cluster split in two equal parts. From that point on, they are genetically identical but there is always some noticeable difference: the right side of one twin's mouth sags a little, the left side of the others sags; one has a habit of scratching his right earlobe, the other scratches the left; one smokes cigarettes, the other a pipe. This is from experience; my best friends at University were identical twins and it was only in time through wee observations like this I was ever able to tell them apart (God rest them both).

But what if none of any of the differences ever noted, in all of the identical twins ever born, ever developed in a particular pair of twins? Well, we might be getting near to consubstantial twins

Fr Martin Fox said...



This was one of the hardest homilies to prepare, and even know I'm not convinced I addressed the subject correctly. Going back and reading what I wrote, it seems someone could confuse what I'm trying to say with modalism--that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit aren't three "distinct" Persons. Of course I don't believe that.

In a crude way, you could take "consubstantial" to mean, "they're the same" -- thus, we say, the Son is "consubstantial" with the Father as to his divinity, and consubstantial with us as to his humanity.

All I can say is, we have to make allowances, with one another, in how hard it is to describe God's unity and tri-Personhood...

Which is why we need the Creed to be carefully and precisely stated in all languages!

Anonymous said...

One concept I have always used to help my understanding of Triune and Con-substantial is to realize we live "in time" created for us and marked for us on the fourth day (Genesis 1:14-19), while God (the Godhead) lives eternally outside of this "marked" time (in the beginning was the word and the word was made flesh). I am stating this reality imperfectly, but that is because I live in created time, whereas God interacts in created time, but is eternal.

I personally love the reality of "father, son, brother, uncle, teacher, husband, etc." of every individual as many roles but one 'being'. I know this is not a perfect analogy, but I always found it incredibly profound that Jesus said he had to leave so the "Counselor" can come to us:

"Now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, 'Where are you going?' Because I have said these thing, you are filled with grief. But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you." (John 16: 5-7)

I always felt this was a profound statement about the difference between 'created time' and 'everlasting' life. God comes to us in 'created time' sequentially, but is one being everlasting.