Corpus Christi – The Eucharist as source and summit

While it is celebrated in the Netherlands next Sunday, today is the actual day of the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Corpus Christi, the feast day devoted to one of the most mysterious truths of our faith: the Real Presence of Our Lord in the consecrated bread and wine.

My parish priest asked my to translate his homily for the feast day for use in the English-language Mass on Saturday, and I was given his permission to share it here in my blog (in a slightly edited form).

eucharist“”What is the Holy Mass, the celebration of the Eucharist?”, was the question asked in a Catholic group. Silence. “We come together to pray”, someone eventually mumbled. “To honour God”, someone added, “and to ask for His assistance”.

That is all true, but we always do that when we pray, in Vespers or Adoration or whatever communal prayer we have. But what is the unique element of a Mass? Why is Holy Mass the central and most characteristic celebration of the Catholic Church and, by the way, also of the Orthodox Churches of the East? Because in it we remember the Easter of Jesus – His death and resurrection – and make it present in the signs of bread and wine. It is the celebration of the heart of our faith.

Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter, they come together in the Eucharist. The one sacrifice on the Cross of Good Friday remains present among us in the signs of bread and wine, as at the Last Supper Jesus said about the bread: “Take this, all of you, and eat of it: for this is my body which will be given up for you”, and about the chalice of wine: “Take this, all of you, and drink from it: for this is the chalice of my blood, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins”.  And so, the next day He gave up His Body and Blood for us on the Cross. And at the Last Supper, Jesus added: “Do this in memory of me.”

He wanted the one sacrifice on the Cross – literally the crucial moment in the history of God with people – to remain among us in this way, sacramentally, which means in signs but also real, as each sacrament achieves in signs (for example, the water at Baptism) what it indicates.

All sacraments, the entire sacramental life of the Church, is contained in the Lord’s sacrifice on the Cross, in the Eucharistic sacrifice that our Saviour established in the night that He was betrayed, to let the sacrifice continue through all the ages, until He comes again.

That is why the Eucharist is source and summit of all the sacraments, of all of Christian life. Everything flows from it and everything leads back to it. It is supper and  sacrifice. Bread and wine are at the heart of creation. They contain what the earth has to offer. Bread gives life and existence to man, wine gives him joy. Gifts of creation, work of our hands and from them we offer to God – a sacrifice, but the true sacrifice is the gift of self.

At the multiplication of loaves it already became clear how Jesus saves all from distress and gives in abundance. At the wedding at Cana it was the same: abundance and the best – the new, second creation already shows itself. All lines come together at the Last Supper: the lines of bread and wine, of supper and sacrifice, of gift and gift of self, of creation and salvation, of past, present and future – until He comes again.

Christ is truly present in the Eucharist, through the power of His word and the Holy Spirit, as the Spirit is continuously implored, and especially through the laying on of hands to bring to life, in the Eucharist, and at ordinations. Of course Christ is present in the Church in many ways: in His word, in her prayer (“where two or three are gathered in My name…”), also in the poor, the sick and prisoners (“what you have done for the least of Mine…”), in the sacraments, in the person of the priest.  But nowhere in that intense way as in bread and wine. In bread and wine Christ himself is completely present. That is why we kneel at the Eucharistic prayer, and the priest kneels after the words of consecration: not for bread and wine, but for Christ in the signs of bread and wine – through Christ’s own words.

When we have received Him like this in Holy Communion, we abide with Him in a silent and intimate conversation. Yes, we believe in the continuing presence of Jesus in the Blessed Hosts that remain and which have traditionally been given to the sick and which are again given at the next Mass. Since the 13th century that was expanded into the adoration of the Eucharistic Lord in the monstrance. We will conclude this Eucharist with a short time of silent adoration and a blessing with the Blessed Sacrament.


Father Rolf Wagenaar is parish priest of St. Martin’s parish in Groningen and cathedral administrator of the Cathedral of Saints Joseph and Martin, Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden.

“A shock”- The local angle

In Dutch, for a change: comments on Pope Benedict’s abdication from Father Rolf Wagenaar, administrator of the cathedral of St. Joseph, Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, and parish priest of yours truly:

“The Pope’s retiring? That’s impossible. It hasn’t let go of me since then, of course. A shock, not only for me, but for everyone, I think, and certainly for all the Catholics in the world.”

In gratitude – Brother Hugo makes his perpetual vows

Congratulations, prayers, best wishes, but above all gratitude to Brother Hugo, who yesterday made his perpetual vows as a hermit to our bishop, Msgr. Gerard de Korte.

A very well-attended Mass at the cathedral of St. Joseph in Groningen was the setting for this very unique occasion. Unique, since Brother Hugo is the sole contemplative religious within the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden. Invited guests – priests, religious and laity – from both the north and the south of the country, both areas being places where major parts of Brother Hugo’s recent history took place, filled the pews, while the diocesan curia (Bishop de Korte, vicar general Msgr. Peter Wellen, diocesan vicar Fr. Arjen Bultsma and cathedral administrator F. Rolf Wagenaar concelebrated, with many priests attending in choir.

Brother Hugo resides as a hermit in the tiny countryside hamlet of Warfhuizen, where he lives in and maintains the shrine of Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed, housed in the village church. He has done so for the past 11 years.

In Canon 603 of the Code of Canon Law we read the following about hermits:

§1 Besides institutes of consecrated life, the Church recognises the life of hermits or anchorites, in which Christ’s faithful withdraw further from the world and devote their lives to the praise of God and the salvation of the world through the silence of solitude and through constant prayer and penance.

§2 Hermits are recognised by law as dedicated to God in consecrated life if, in the hands of the diocesan Bishop, they publicly profess, by a vow or some other sacred bond, the three evangelical counsels, and then lead their particular form of life under the guidance of the diocesan Bishop .

What’s described in Paragraph 2 is what the Church, through the diocesan bishop, has now done. In essence, Brother Hugo is now fully a part of the assets of the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, not only because he lives his life of prayer and penance under the direction of the diocesan bishop, but also because his prayer and life as a hermit is specifically geared towards the benefit of the diocese and the Church in the entire Netherlands.

And as such, we can be nothing but grateful. Grateful that Brother Hugo has been willing and able to answer God’s call so radically, and for us as members of the Church in the north of the Netherlands.

Under the gaze of Bishop de Korte, Brother Hugo signs his vows on the altar of the cathedral

Photo credit: [1] O.L.V. van de Besloten Tuin, [2] Jan Willem van Vliet/DVHN

The bishop and the blogger

“I am known as the ecumenical bishop, although some bloggers are none too happy about that. So be it.”

Words from Bishop Gerard de Korte in his homily on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. The festive Mass, offered by the bishop in concelebration with the diocesan vicars and the cathedral administrator, and attended by the majority of the diocesan clergy and the bishops Punt, Van den Hende and Woorts, as well as Cardinal Simonis, took place on Saturday morning. Bishop de Korte looked back on the past 25 years, but also ahead to the years that are coming.

Ecumenism is  major theme for the bishop; it is, one could say, a defining characteristic. As an illustration, among the guests at the Mass were representatives of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands and the Old Catholic Church, whom the bishop regards as “friends in the faith”. But this ecumenical focus has also caused some to look with wary eyes at his activities. And among these, there are some very vocal bloggers and users of other social media.

Bishop de Korte, quite possibly because of these wary – and often rather aggressive and personal – comments, has been rather critical about Catholic bloggers in the Netherlands. In the past he has written about the need for bloggers to remain charitable and be careful for what they commit to the screen, which, sadly, led to a renewed round of criticism and attacks, not only aimed at Bishop de Korte, but also at those who dared to express support, like yours truly. Accusations of slander were even leveled at me at one point. Just an illustration.

Regarding the above, Bishop de Korte’s apparent opinion of bloggers and users of social media, illustrated by the quote I shared above, can be explained. But it is sad that he has been given this impression. For not all bloggers are hostile to priests and bishops, even if they can, at times, be quite critical of their words and actions.

Should we then reply with a similar “so be it”? I don’t think so. Bloggers have things to say. Not to blow my own trumpet here, but let’s face it: you don’t  start a blog and devote time to it, sometimes for many years, without having a thing or two to say. We should then look at how we communicate. If our way of communication causes people to ignore the message and even consider bloggers to be peripheral, we are doing something wrong.

Of course we should not simply be quiet when we disagree, but neither should we resort to personal attacks and name-calling. Any possibility of a quick resolution will go straight out the window in that case. I may personally regret that my bishop chooses to focus so much on ecumenism instead of a clear Catholic teaching in our secular society, but that does not mean I’ll denounce him as a heretic or worse, as some do.

Photo credit: Marlies Bosch/Bisdom Groningen-Leeuwarden

Celebrating the cathedral

“Instead of a vaccine that numbs, we must be a medicine that heals.”

Words from Archbishop André Dupuy, Apostolic Nuncio to the Netherlands, at the Mass he concelebrated at our cathedral on Pentecost Sunday. The nuncio made the closing remarks in rather decent Dutch, considering that he has only been here since December. I imagine it’s  due to his being part of the Holy See’s  diplomatic mission here before.

The Mass itself was the main closing event of the week which marked the 125th anniversary of the consecration of the cathedral church of the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden. As such, the nuncio, concelebrated not only with our current bishop, Msgr. Gerard de Korte, who also gave the homily, but also with cathedral administrator, Father Rolf Wagenaar and Father Marius Kuipers, who works in the parish as emeritus priest.

In his homoiy, Bishop de Korte looked back on the events of the week, ads ahead to the future. He outlined some of his wishes for the church to be a learning and teaching community, where the faith is lived and communicated, not only in the liturgy (for which he explicitly noted Fr. Wagenaar’s contributions over the past thirteen years), but also in our service to the world beyond the cathedral walls.

After the Mass, the bishop and the cathedral administrator returned to the sanctuary to receive the first copies of the memorial book about the cathedral. Titled Van Volkskerk tot Kathedraal, de St.-Jozefkerk in Groningen (From people’s church to cathedral, the St. Joseph’s church in Groningen), the book looks chiefly at the building and everything in it. As Fr. Wagenaar writes in his foreword:

“Several studies have already appeared about this church, but never a true monograph, and this church does deserve one, because she provides such a  complete program of what a Catholic church wants to be. A church is a meeting place […] but a Catholic church means so much more. “Awe-inspiring is this place, abode of God, the gate of heaven,” the introit of the Holy Mass of dedication of a church says, taken from the book of Genesis 28:17.”

The book, the end product of two years of work by a team of historians, looks in detail at several aspects of the Gothic Revival church: history, construction, architecture, furnishings, symbolism, vestments and liturgical vessels, organs, clocks and the liturgical disposition. For me as a parishioner it offers a new look at things I’ve often looked at – providing a sense of history and context beyond the building and into the larger community of faithful that is the Church.

The cathedral has known its ups and downs, as the book makes clear. From the threat of closure and demolition in the early 80s, it is now the home of a faith community with members of all ages, with an adequate liturgy and catechesis, and a large team of volunteers. With the bishop, I sincerely hope that the future is one of growth and development and these and other aspects.

Mother’s Day with Mary

Looking back at last Saturday’s pilgrimage to Warfhuizen – a visit to our heavenly Mother before visiting our biological mothers for Mother’s Day – I can safely affirm that it was once more a day of unexpected moments. Aside from the personal element which I will keep to myself, there was the wind preventing the use of banners in the procession, for example. First time that happened.

Before we processed to the hermitage and shrine of Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed, cathedral administrator Father Rolf Wagenaar offered Mass in concelebration with Father Maurits Damsté at the church of St. Boniface in Wehe-den Hoorn, some two kilometers away. The procession had, as always, a very physical element: the distance is not long, but the wind made us put in some effort indeed. Personally, I find it a welcome element, although the prayers were all blown away from my ears. As we came closer to the hermitage, the church bells were victorious over the wind and welcomed us as we entered the village of Warfhuizen.

We spent about half an hour in Adoration and communal prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Many candles were lit for all kinds of intentions. The afternoon’s devotions will, I expect, have its long-term effects over the coming days and weeks. I welcome those effects…

A few photos I snapped:

The Extraordinary Form comes north

In the latest parish bulletin, Father Rolf Wagenaar announces that Mass according to the missal of Blessed Pope John XXIII, what is now commonly known as the Extraordinary Form or the Tridentine Mass, will be celebrated once a month in the cathedral of St. Joseph, starting on 10 April.

Father Wagenaar writes:

“The diocese received the request [for Mass in the Extraordinary Form] and the bishop has asked me if I would be willing to offer this Mass at certain specific times, or permit that another priest would offer Mass according to the aforementioned missal in the cathedral of St. Joseph.
“After some deliberations and consultations I agreed to give a priest the opportunity to do so.
“For the time being this will happen once a month. The first time will be the second Sunday of April, 10 April, at 18:00 hours at the cathedral of St. Joseph. We will see how much interest there is.”

Fr. Gero P. Weishaupt

Other sources inform us that the celebrating priest will be Father Dr. Gero P. Weishaupt, German-born priest of the Diocese of Roermond, Church lawyer and one-time private secretary to now-Cardinal Mauro Piacenza when the latter was President of the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church.

This is the current high point of a development that goes back more than three years. The discussions have been acknowledged by the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden last year, when the vicar-general, Msgr. Leo van Ulden, called for people who desired a Mass in the Extraordinary Form to contact him. He then also said that Bishop Gerard de Korte had pointed out two churches that he deemed suitable for this Mass, among them the cathedral.

The altar in the cathedral of St. Joseph