Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Mary, Mother of God

January 1 is the Solemnity (Holy Day) of Mary, Mother of God.  To call Mary the “Mother of God” must not be understood as a claim for Mary’s motherhood of divinity itself, but in the sense that Mary was mother of Jesus, who is truly God.  The Council of Ephesus in 431—long before the schisms with the Eastern churches and the Protestants—proclaimed “Mother of God” a theologically correct title for Mary. 

So far from being a cause of division, the common confession of Mary as “Mother of God” should unite all Christians, and distinguish Christian orthodoxy from various confusions of it, such as Arianism (the denial that Jesus was God) or Nestorianism (in which Mary mothers only the human nature of Jesus but not his whole person).

Two themes are present in the Readings for this Solemnity: (1) the person of Mary, and (2) the name of Jesus.   Why the name of Jesus? Prior to the second Vatican Council, the octave day of Christmas was the Feast of the Holy Name, not Mary Mother of God.  The legacy of that tradition can be seen in the choice of Readings for this Solemnity.  (The Feast of the Holy Name was removed from the calendar after Vatican II; St. John Paul II restored it as an optional memorial on January 3.  This year it is not observed in the U.S., because Epiphany falls on January 3.)

1.  The First Reading is Numbers 6:22-27:

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Readings for the Feast of the Holy Family


The Sunday within the octave of Christmas is always dedicated to contemplation of the Holy Family, giving us the opportunity to meditate on the way in which the family structure, established by God and perfectly mirrored in the Holy Family, reflects His own familial nature (as Father, Son, and Spirit) and shows us the truth about ourselves and our deepest longings for love, acceptance, and communion with other persons.

The Readings for this beautiful feast provide the celebrant with many options.  I will have to limit myself to some remarks on the First Reading and Gospel proposed for Year C.  (For an overview of the options, see Fr. Felix Just’s excellent website dedicated to the Lectionary.  Click here.)

1.  The First Reading option for Year C is 1 Sam 1:20-22, 24-28, the preferred choice to complement this year’s gospel:

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Readings for Christmas (Vigil, Midn't, Dawn, Day)

The Christmas Solemnity has distinct readings for four separate masses:  Vigil, Midnight, Dawn, and Day.  There’s such a wealth of material here to meditate on, that not everything can be covered.  In fact, there is almost an entire biblical theology in the sequence of readings of these four masses.  In what follows, I am going to offer just a few brief comments on the more salient points.

Christmas Vigil Mass
1. Reading 1 Is 62:1-5

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The First Marian Veneration: 4th Sunday of Advent

The Fourth Sunday of Advent marks a switch in focus from John the Baptist (on the previous two Sundays) to the events immediately leading up to the birth of Christ.

The Readings for this Sunday focus on Jesus’ royalty: his descent from the line of Davidic kings.  As we will see, this royal status also accrued to his mother Mary, and this is the basis for the practice of Marian veneration in the Catholic Church.  In fact, the first instance of Marian veneration by another human being takes place in this Sunday’s Gospel.

1. Our First Reading is from the prophet Micah, 5:1-4a:

Thursday, December 10, 2015

My New Book! Jesus and the Last Supper

Ever since I published Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist in 2011, various readers have hit me with questions such as: Why didn't you discuss the Feeding of the Five Thousand, in which Jesus acts like a New Moses? What do you think Jesus' meant when he referred to the "daily bread" in the Lord's Prayer ? How can you treat Jesus' sermon in the synagogue at Capernaum in John 6 as historically plausible when scholars doubt that John's Gospel is historical? And, above all: How do you solve the problem of the date of the Last Supper? Did the Last Supper take place at the same time as the Jewish Passover meal (as in the Synoptic Gospels) or did it take place twenty-four hours before the Jewish Passover meal (as John's Gospel appears to describe). And what about the Essene hypothesis, that argues that the Last Supper took place on a Tuesday rather than a Thursday?

I answer these (and many other) questions in my new book Jesus and the Last Supper, which was just released a couple of weekends from Eerdmans. Although it's written for scholars, I tried to make it as clear and readable as possible. I'm really excited about it. It took me almost ten years to write. And boy is the cover sweet! (it looks even better in real life than on this Jpeg.)

If you're interested, below are what some scholarly readers have said about the book. My hope is that you'll pick up a copy and read it.

"This beautifully written work confirms Brant Pitre's eminence as a scholar of the very first rank. . . . Focusing on the Last Supper, Pitre develops such themes as the new bread of the presence, the new manna, the new Passover, the messianic banquet, and the kingdom of God in often surprising but utterly persuasive ways. Catholic participation in the Jesus quest has hereby finally borne its hoped-for fruit, with enormous implications for all Christians. Pitre should win the Ratzinger Prize for this book alone."
Matthew Levering— Mundelein Seminary

"Brant Pitre's contribution is provocative in the best sense of the word. At every turn readers will find new observations worth pondering and new arguments worth weighing. In particular, the numerous intertextual claims should generate much productive discussion, as should Pitre's challenging approach to dating the Last Supper. No one will come away from this volume without having learned much."
Dale C. Allison Jr. — Princeton Theological Seminary

"Now more than ever the field of historical Jesus studies is in a state of flux. The discipline is razing old foundations with the hope that more sophisticated methods will emerge. With Jesus and the Last Supper Brant Pitre constructs a bridge from the best scholarship of previous generations to the most promising possibilities of the present. This book is nothing less than a blueprint for resurrecting Jesus studies in the twenty-first century."
Anthony Le Donne— United Theological Seminary, Dayton

"This dramatic new rereading of the evidence for the Last Supper is a pivotally important work on the Last Supper and also an important contribution to historical Jesus research. Carefully researched and vigorously yet graciously argued, it offers a brilliant new synthesis of the data. Even readers not persuaded by every point will find much or even most of the argument persuasive."
Craig S. Keener— Asbury Theological Seminary

"This long-awaited book is a brilliant study about the sacred meal that Jesus instituted for his followers, including its background, its origins, and its meaning for us. Pitre artfully shows that the bread and wine of the meal commemorate and embody the hopes of Israel's restoration as achieved through their messianic deliverer. You'll never look at the Lord's Supper, Eucharist, or Mass the same way after reading this book. A sumptuous feast of exegesis and theology!"
Michael F. Bird — Ridley Melbourne Mission and Ministry College

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Gaudete Sunday!

This Sunday is “Gaudete” Sunday, from the Latin gaudete, “Rejoice!” which traditionally begins the introit for this Mass, taken from Phil. 4:4.  Many parishes will mark this Sunday with rose-colored vestments (not “pink”—“pink” is not a liturgical color!), and the theme of joy runs through the readings and the liturgy. 

Gaudete Sunday marks the half-way point of Advent, and the Church rejoices because Jesus’ coming is near.  This year, since Christmas falls late in the fourth week of Advent, Gaudete Sunday falls almost two weeks (twelve days, to be exact) before that holy day.

1.  Our First Reading is Zephaniah 3:14-18a:

Saturday, December 05, 2015

The Straight Road: Second Sunday of Advent


As we start the second week of Advent, the Church turns her attention from the second coming of Christ to his first coming, and in particular to the figure of John the Baptist, the forerunner or herald of Jesus Christ.

Usually the Church reads heavily from the prophet Isaiah during the Advent season, and indeed, Isaiah 40 would have made a good First Reading for this Sunday because it is quoted in the Gospel.  However, in Year C, the Church takes a little break from exclusive attention to Isaiah and reads some other Old Testament texts that are also important for understanding the significance of Christ’s coming. 

The readings for this Mass are heavily marked by what we may call a “New Exodus” theme.

We recall that the people of Israel became a nation when they were brought out of Egypt under Moses in the first Exodus.  Afterward, under Joshua, they entered and possessed their land. 

Centuries later, however, they sinned against God, and he permitted them to be conquered and exiled by the nations of Assyria and Babylon.  During these tumultuous years, Israelites became scattered to the four corners of the earth.

The great prophets of the Old Testament predicted that, at some future time, God would repeat the Exodus, only this time it would not be out of Egypt, but out of all the nations to which the people of Israel had been scattered.  Scholars call this the “New Exodus” theme in the prophets, and it can be found in many places (Isa 11:10-16; Jer 23:7-8; Ezek 37:21-22).

Our First Reading for this Sunday, a selection from the rarely-read Book of Baruch, has a heavy New Exodus emphasis: