Fr. Bloomfield's Blog

I am a Roman Catholic Priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit, currently assigned to Divine Child Parish in Dearborn, Michigan. When I manage to keep the page updated, hopefully something interesting can be found here!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Faith Seeking Understanding for January 28, 2007

Last week, we began to explore the Apostolic Constitutions, a fourth-century work that gives us a depiction of the life of the early Church. Knowing our heritage and ancestors in the Faith gives us courage and hope that our own growth in holiness is not only possible, but it is what God desires. The third book of the Constitutions describes different roles in the Church, beginning with widows.

“Choose your ‘widows not under sixty years of age,’ that in some measure the suspicion of a second marriage may be prevented by their age” (Bk. 3, n. 1). Continuing, we read, “the true widows are those which have had only one husband, having a good report among the generality for good works; widows indeed, sober, chaste, faithful, pious, who have brought up their children well, and have entertained strangers unblameably, which are to be supported as devoted to God” (Bk. 3, n. 3).

The unique association of widows in the early Church provided a marvelous network of prayer and charity, as well as example and support for the entire Church. Reading further, we also see that these widows who dedicate themselves to prayer and good works provide an example of holiness; they are not distracted by idleness or gossip as well.

The Constitutions then turn to the distinction between the laity and the priesthood: “Neither do we permit the laity to perform any of the offices of the priesthood; as, for instance, neither the sacrifice, nor baptism, nor the laying on of hands, nor the blessing, whether the smaller or the greater…. For such sacred offices are conferred by the laying on of the hands of the bishop” (Bk. 3, n. 10). This illustrates a clear understanding of the Sacraments as received, and even the handing down of ordination only by a bishop connects the entire Church to the apostles in a very concrete manner.

The document also speaks of a “deaconess,” who was to assist at the baptisms of women; when immersion baptism was still celebrated, and those being baptized wore no clothes when they were immersed, “let a deacon receive the man and a deaconess the woman, so that the conferring of this inviolable seal may take place with a becoming decency” (Bk. 3, n. 16).

After this practical instruction follows a beautiful description of the meaning of baptism: “This baptism, therefore, is given into the death of Jesus: the water is instead of the burial, and the oil instead of the Holy Spirit; the seal instead of the cross; the ointment is the confirmation of the confession; the mention of the Father as of the Author and Sender; the join mention of the Holy Spirit as of the witness; the descent into the water the dying together with Christ; the ascent out of the water the rising again with Him. The Father is the god over all; Christ is the only-begotten God, the beloved Son, the Lord of glory; the Holy Ghost is the Comforter, who is sent by Christ, and taught by Him, and proclaims Him” (Bk. 3, n. 17).

Reflecting on our baptismal call, we can see the great dignity that is conferred by sharing in the death and resurrection of Christ; indeed, it is a sacrament that we could reflect upon daily as a reminder of our true home in heaven, and our new life in the Blessed Trinity.

Finally, we read about deacons, and their responsibility in the Church: “Let the deacons be in all things unspotted, as the bishop himself is to be, only more active; in number according to the largeness of the Church, that they may minister to the infirm as workmen that are not ashamed” (Bk. 3, n. 19). The deacons are further exhorted to “not scruple it, if they should be obliged to lay down their life for a brother” (ibid.). During days of persecution, such a visible witness to the love of Christ must have been a powerful example; many deacon-martyrs grace the list of saints: St. Stephen, St. Lawrence, and St. Vincent, are the most prominent.

Book Three concludes with the requirement on the ordinations of bishops and priests: “We command that a bishop be ordained by three bishops…. But a presbyter and a deacon are to be ordained by one bishop and the rest of the clergy” (Bk. 3, n. 20). This requirement still exists in the Church today.

We will continue with the Apostolic Constitutions next week. God bless you!