People look east

Father Aaron Williams

By Father Aaron Williams
The Advent season is one of my favorite seasons of the year — mainly because of the texts used in the liturgy during this time of expectation and hope. One of my favorite lines in the breviary during this season comes on the Second Sunday of Advent. “The Lord will surely come and will not be late; if he seems to delay, wait for him.” Another ancient text for Advent speaks of looking to Christ coming on the last day. “I look from afar: and lo, I see the power of God coming and a cloud covering the whole earth.”
Advent has always been a time of double-expectation. On one hand, we are expectant of the birth of Christ on Christmas day. But, on the other we are hopeful for the final return of our Lord in the end. Of that day, Christ says, “Just as lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” Christian tradition has always associated the East with the coming of Christ. We can even make a simile of it: Christ the Rising Son will come as the rising of the sun.
For this reason, Christian worship from ancient times was even oriented physically towards the east. Many of our Churches are built so that the faithful face East in their pews. Old Catholic cemeteries were often designed so that the grave plots faced East — giving a sign that even the dead remain hopeful for the return of Christ. For the majority of liturgical history, Catholic worship was always totally oriented towards the East with even the priest facing towards the rear wall of the Church where there was an image of Christ displayed — both priest and faithful looking hopefully towards Christ.
In the reformed liturgy, room was given in the new missal to allow priests to begin celebrating the Mass facing the people. This became popular throughout the world, and with the exception of some chapels and churches without free-standing altars, has nearly become the entirely universal practice in the Roman Church today. It is worth mentioning, however, that even in the modern form of the Mass where such a face-to-face orientation is allowed (and common), Eastward celebration by the celebrant was never outlawed. On the contrary, even the modern Roman Missal assumes this orientation and gives directions to the priest as to when he should momentarily turn around at various points in the Mass in order to address the faithful behind him.
In fact, in recent years, some high-ranking officials in the Church, including Robert Cardinal Sarah — the head of the Vatican’s own liturgy office — have encouraged priests to reconsider this ancient posture. Even the former chairman of the U.S. Bishop’s office of Divine Worship, Bishop Arthur Serratelli, wrote a letter to all the bishops of the United States last year where he underscored that this was a legitimate option even in today’s liturgy, though adding that such a decision should take into account the spirit of the parish and the vision of the bishop in his own diocese. In other Christian liturgical rites (such as the Eastern/Greek liturgy), Eastward orientation is still the assumed and required posture.
So, while I would certainly underscore Bishop Serratelli’s comment regarding the pastoral considerations such a decision should require, it is helpful to look upon this ancient custom with a true understanding of its meaning. Regrettably, most people associate this posture with a sort of “clerical” understanding of the Church, where priests are disinterested with he faithful and thus approach the Mass with their “backs facing them.” But, this is not a helpful perspective on our own rich liturgical history, which is far more rooted in theological ideas than such base considerations.
For our own purposes, perhaps during this Advent season we can encourage a spirit of “Eastward worship” in our own homes by making sure there is a dedicated focus for prayer — a crucifix or a holy image. Families can gather and pray together before these images, and remain hopeful for the coming of Christ the Lord in all his glory.

(Father Aaron Williams is the parochial vicar at Greenville St. Joseph Parish and serves as the liaison to seminarians for the Office of Vocations.)

Scripture’s place in liturgy

Spirit and truth

Father Aaron Williams

By Father Aaron Williams
Fifty-five years ago, when the Second Vatican Council promulgated the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium), there was a great move in the Church for an increased emphasis on the role of Sacred Scripture in the lives of Catholics. The Council, at that time, called for a reworking of the lectionary readings in order to allow for a wider selection of scripture to be read in the Mass. In order to meet this demand, a three-year cycle of readings was developed and a third reading was added to the Mass on Sundays and Feast days — thus allowing for a much wider exposure of Sacred Scripture to the faithful at weekend Masses.
But, I am not sure if many Catholics understand the structure of the modern lectionary. Besides simply giving us more varied readings, the new lectionary also gives a sort of systematic approach to reading the Bible, by demonstrating both the way that the New Testament is a fulfillment of the Old, and also by providing a community with a more continuous reading of various passages. So, I thought it would be helpful to give insight into this structure, as well as provide a few comments on other ways the Scriptures may be opened to us in all our liturgical gatherings.
Generally speaking, the Gospel readings of the lectionary during the three-year cycle are taken from the Gospel of Matthew (in year A), Mark (in year B), and Luke (in year C). The Gospel of John, as is tradition in the Church, is reserved to major feasts of the Church — except during the summer of year B when six weeks are devoted to the reading of the ‘Bread of Life’ discourse from John’s Gospel (as we just completed a few weeks ago).
During Ordinary Time, these passages from the Gospel are read semi-continuously. In other words, they generally flow one story to the next as laid out in the Gospels, so that if we are paying attention we will hear the full story over the thirty-four weeks of Ordinary time in the Church’s liturgical year. During this time as well, the first reading at Sunday Masses is selected to as to comment on the Gospel. In this way, the Gospel demonstrates the fulfillment of the passage chosen as the first reading. The psalm of this Mass is chosen to comment on the first reading. For this reason, when I prepare my homilies, I always read the Gospel first, then the first reading, and then the psalm.
The second reading is always a passage from an Epistle (a New Testament letter). During Ordinary Time, these passages are also read semi-continuously. That means that the second reading is selected not to comment on any other reading that day, but to simply be read from start to finish as its own separate text. This essentially means that a priest could choose for three years to focus just on the Gospel and first reading, and then for the next three years to focus on the epistles — providing a six year rotation of readings. (That’s one term as a pastor!)
In the other seasons of the year, all the readings are selected thematically in order to represent a unified expression of the mystery of that particular feast or season.
Another area where Sacred Scripture is used in the liturgy, which is less-commonly seen in parishes today, are the texts chosen as antiphons. An antiphon is a short passage of scripture which is traditionally sung at various moments of the Mass. The Roman Missal gives antiphons for each Mass at the Entrance and at Communion. The chant editions published by the Church also give antiphons at the offertory. Some parishes may read these texts at daily Mass, but they are intended to be sung — and many settings of these texts are available today from various publishers (even for free).
The benefit of these texts is that often they are chosen to comment on the particular mystery being celebrated, or to reflect the readings. In this way, they are sort of an extension of the lectionary. During Ordinary time, for example, the Communion Antiphons on Sunday are selected to comment on the Gospel passage read that day. Sometimes they are even direct excerpts in order to remind us that the presence of Christ and his works which we heard in scripture is now made manifest to us in the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist.
The Entrance Antiphons are beautiful passages given to introduce the feast. Thus, on Christmas morning we hear: “A child is born for us, and a son is given to us” (Is., 9:5). Or, on Easter Sunday: “I have risen, and I am with you still, alleluia. You have laid your hand upon me, alleluia, too wonderful for me, this knowledge, alleluia, alleluia.” (cf. Ps. 139:18, 5-6).

(Father Aaron Williams is the parochial vicar at Greenville St. Joseph Parish.)

Unwrapping God’s supreme gift: Eucharist

Father Aaron Williams

Spirit and truth
By Father Aaron Williams
The Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist is our Lord’s supreme gift to us. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council rightly called it the “source and summit of the Christian life.” Pope Francis calls the Eucharist the “Living Memorial of [God’s] love.” It is both the promise and the means of friendship with the Lord.
It is the most precious treasure of the Church — even martyrdom pales in comparison to its glory. And, therefore, it is rightly the heart and center of our lives. Our Lord himself declares that, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.” In the Holy Eucharist, our Lord unites us to Himself in a spiritual and physical manner, such that it is a true communion: He in us, and we in Him.
It is truly regrettable that so many people — indeed, so many Catholics — do not have faith in this supreme Sacrament of our Lord. God has chosen to communicate His love for humanity in such a simple and human sign, but just as His Son was rejected and spurned, so too the Sacrament of His Son’s Body is not accepted by some Catholics. Of course, this is not often a vicious act. There are not a good number of Christians who would willingly and viciously reject something that is an apparent gift from God. They doubt this sign most often because they simply do not understand it.
And, in some small way, this is unsurprising. Surely, we might ask, if our Lord truly willed that all people be united to Him in this Sacrament, He would have given us something more conspicuous — something akin to the few extraordinary Eucharistic miracles in the Church’s long history. Surely, then all would come to believe — would they not? Why does the Lord desire to reveal Himself to us in signs? Why not with extraordinary displays?
In the words of Saint Josemaria, “Jesus hides in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar because He wants us to dare to approach Him.” God tells Moses, “You cannot see My Face; for no man shall see me and live.” And, Moses too, after approaching the Lord in the Tent of Meeting, hid his face, for the glory of the Lord upon him was too radiant for others to see. Even our Lord’s human Body is a veil of the radiant glory of God. The one moment when His human Body is visibly glorified — the Transfiguration — the Apostles fall down in terror and hide their faces.
But, in this Sacrament of our Lord’s Body, Christ desires not that we cower, but that we gaze upon Him in wonder — that we should look upon Him, and He upon us. Our Lord yearns that we should approach Him, receive Him into our very bodies, and become one with Him, just as He and the Father are One. And, therefore, Saint Thomas declares in the sequence he composed for the feast of Corpus Christi:
Here beneath these signs are hidden
priceless things, to sense forbidden;
signs, not things, are all we see.
Flesh from bread, and Blood from wine,
yet is Christ in either sin,
all entire confessed to be.
The Sacrament we experience in the Mass is truly a veil. Our own frailty might desire that Christ should make Himself known in perhaps a grander sign, or with a vivid display; but, what we may not grasp is the sheer love of God present for us in this sign.
And so, perhaps not totally comprehending this great Sacrament, but out of love for God, we approach the altar. We gaze upon the Lord with bended knee. We quietly contemplate His love for us as we see Him held aloft. And, we receive Him fully and truly into our bodies in this Sacrament, so that we may become one with Him. Christ hides behind this simple bread, not so that we may have trouble finding Him there, but that we should not be afraid to look for Him.
That is how great God’s love is for all of us. God has so humbled Himself to appear to us to be simple — to appear to us to be something we can hold, something we can receive into our mouth. The God who created the universe, contains Himself in this tiny Host, just so that we can contain Him. Receive Him like a child — like you received your own first Holy Communion. Receive this gift with awe and in wonder. Prepare yourself by confession and penance. And, never fail to give thanks to Almighty God. (Adapted from a homily given on June 3.)
(Father Aaron Williams is the parochial vicar at St. Joseph in Greenville.)

Q&A: Father Aaron Williams

Top left, Father Aaron Williams waits to be called by name at his ordination Mass. At right, Father Williams with his neices, Hadley and Eva Williams. At bottom left, Father Williams celebrates his first Mass at the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle. (Photos by Maureen Smith and Tereza Ma)

Father Aaron Williams is a Jackson native who knew from his earliest memories that he wanted to be a priest. Chancellor Mary Woodward, who watched Father Williams grow up, allowed him to serve at a very young age. His family jokes that this was a way to make him sit still during Mass. He has one older brother, Matthew, and sister-in-law Marie, who have two girls, Ava and Hadley.
In addition to loving the liturgy, Father Williams is a life-long learner. “I attended St. Therese Catholic School for a few years and finished at St. Richard Catholic School. I did middle and high school at St. Joseph in Madison. After graduating from high school, I entered St. Joseph Seminary College in St. Benedict, Louisiana, where I earned a B.A. in Philosophy. From there I entered Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, where I earned an Masters in Divinity. I will complete the course requirements this summer to also earn a M.A. in Liturgical Studies from the Liturgical Institute in Mundelein, Illinois,” he said.
Father Williams will share his love of learning with the students at Greenville St. Joseph School, where he will teach fifth and sixth grade this fall as well as serving as parochial vicar at St. Joseph Parish.
Father Williams’ mother, Julia is a long-time employee of the diocese, having worked at Madison St. Joseph School, the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle and now as the Human Resources coordinator for the Diocese of Jackson.

Home parish: The Cathedral of Saint Peter the Apostle
Favorite Saints and why?
Saint Philip Neri. He is a model of priestly zeal and joy. He was known both for his deep devotion to the Lord, but also the levity by which he handled himself. He was fiercely devoted to his friends, and sought to grow in love with the Lord by forming communities of other devoted persons around him who could work together in fraternity to spread the gospel message and offer fitting worship to God.
Do you have a favorite devotion, religious image or prayer and why?
I have a great love for the Divine Office. There are certain texts which pop up each year that I look forward to hearing again and again. My favorite prayer is the Suscipe of Saint Ignatius of Loyola — it entrusts the whole will to the Lord, confident that He will take care of us, and requests His grace as our only benefit. 

Who vested you at ordination and why?
Father Jeffrey Waldrep. He was my pastor when I entered seminary and provided me great help and encouragement in making that step.

Do you have any hobbies?
I am an organist and composer. I also enjoy reading theology and research, though I occasionally read or listen to a fictional book. Apart from that, I am a cyclist when time permits it and enjoy going out to see new movies.
In what parishes have you served?
St. Francis in Brookhaven, St. Mary’s in Yazoo and All Saints in Belzoni, St. Jude in Pearl, and St. Patrick and St. Joseph in Meridian.
Can you tell me a little about your vocation story ?
I’ve always wanted to be a priest. I began serving at the Cathedral when I was very young and began to love the Mass. This love was encouraged by my parents, pastors, members of the Cathedral, and my school teachers. Eventually I applied to the seminary in my senior year of high school.
Can you share something about yourself people may not know?
My first year at Notre Dame Seminary I published a volume containing English adaptations of the Gregorian Chants used for Vespers (Evening Prayer) on Sundays and Feasts during the academic year. It is the only book of it’s kind currently in existence. I have received multiple requests from religious communities and houses to finish the text to include the full liturgical year, but I have been unable to make time to respond to these requests.
What advice do you have for those discerning a vocation?
My generation has a tendency to see discernment (or all life decisions) as a sort of all-or-nothing consideration—one choice necessitates the closing of all other pathways. But, a true discernment is not a negative choice. We choose a certain path out of love for that life, and ultimately out of love for the Lord. Certainly there will be difficulties along the way, but love is powerful enough to drive us on despite the apparent sacrifices which will need to be made. But, we need not immediately consider all those sacrifices—they will come in time. Discernment in the present moment means to follow the movements of the heart, which is the temple of the Holy Spirit. He will guide us into all truth, and we have no need to fear following Him wherever He leads.

Is there one part of priesthood in particular you are looking forward to?
I am looking forward to celebrating the Sacraments, particularly the Eucharist and hearing confessions.
What are you looking forward to about your first parish assignment?
I have a great love of teaching and sharing the faith. My assignment in Greenville will have me directly teaching in the elementary school and continually present in the high school.