The Christian Heritage Centre

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The Jubilee of Saint Thomas Aquinas

7 March 2024

The Jubilee of Saint Thomas Aquinas

By Joey Belleza

On 7 March 1274, Saint Thomas Aquinas passed from this world to the Father. Only fifty years old, the legacy of his writings and his personal holiness continues to inspire the Church in our time. Today, on the 750th anniversary of his passing, we at the Christian Heritage Centre would like to remind you about the ongoing Jubilee of Thomas Aquinas proclaimed by Pope Francis, during which the faithful may obtain special plenary indulgences.

Although the Feast of Thomas Aquinas was moved to 28 January in the new calendar by Pope Paul VI to ensure acelebration unencumbered by Lenten penance, many Dominican institutions and Thomistic scholars (like the undersigned), continue to observe 7 March as a day of special remembrance. And in this Jubilee of Thomas Aquinas, running from 28 January 2023 to 28 January 2025, today is an especially fitting day to remember the Angelic Doctor and perhaps to visit a Dominican priory, shrine, or other holy place connected with the Dominicans in order to obtain a plenary indulgence, that is, the remission of all temporal punishment due to sin, which can be applied for oneself or for the souls in purgatory.

Besides the usual conditions for a plenary indulgence (sacramental confession, reception of Holy Communion, and prayer for the intentions of the Holy Father), the special indulgence for the Aquinas Jubilee requires that one should devoutly take part in the jubilee ceremonies, or at least devote a suitable time to pious recollection, concluding with the Lord’s Prayer, the symbol of faith and invocations of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of Saint Thomas Aquinas.

Saint Thomas was a man unshakably devoted to the Church. Even though he was in poor health, he died while making an arduous journey from Naples to France, responding to Pope Gregory X’s call for him to attend the Second Council of Lyon. Thomas struck his head on a tree branch near Terracina, not far from Naples, and was eventually sent to convalesce at the Cistercian monastery of Fossanova. When it was clear that he would not recover, he piously received anointing of the sick and the Holy Eucharist from the monks. His last recorded words are a wonderful profession of faith which we might do well to make our own, please God, at the hour of our own death.

I receive Thee, O price of my soul’s redemption.
I receive Thee, O viaticum of my pilgrimage,
for love of whom I have studied, kept watch, and laboured.
Thee have I preached, Thee have I taught.
Nothing against Thee have I said,
but if I have spoken ill, I did so in ignorance.
Neither am I stubborn in my own understanding,
but if I have spoken ill of this Sacrament or the others,
I leave it all to the judgment of the Holy Roman Church,
in whose obedience I now pass from this life.

Sumo te, pretium redemptionis animae meae,
sumo te, viaticum peregrinationis meae,
pro cuius amore studui, vigilavi et laboravi.
Te praedicavi, te docui.
Nihil unquam contra te dixi;
sed si quid male dixi, ignorans dixi.
Nec sum pertinax in sensu meo;
sed si quid male dixi de hoc sacramento et aliis,
totum relinquo correctioni Sancte Romanae Ecclesiae,
in cuius obedientia nunc transeo ex hac vita.

Saint Thomas Aquinas, pray for us!

Relief Altarpiece in the Chapel of Thomas's Passing, Fossanova Abbey
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Saint Thomas Aquinas on “Intercession”

08 February 2024

Saint Thomas Aquinas on "Intercession" - Year of Prayer 2024

By Joey Belleza, PhD (Cantab.)

The fourth part of prayer according to Saint Thomas Aquinas is intercession. This first of all acknowledges that prayer cannot be a singular conversation between me and God, rooted in a mere “personal relationship” with the Lord and divorced from the community of believers. Rather, intercession acknowledges the shared fraternity of the entire people of God. Christ’s command to the disciples to love one another is to be taken seriously, and this mandate is fulfilled every time we pray with and for one another. Thus the petitions which we mentioned in the previous reflection cannot only express personal desires; they must be ultimately be directed to the good of our family, our friends, and the whole Christian community at large.

Moreover, this notion of community extends beyond the Church here on earth; it also extends to the Holy Souls in purgatory, as well as to the angels and saints in heaven. Thus we are called to pray for the faithful departed, that their temporary purgation might soon end; then, with the saints and angels, they will be able to go directly before the Lord’s presence and intercede for us here on earth. This is why the Church has always promoted the veneration of saints, knowing that their prayers rise with great efficacy before the throne of God, because their merits—which are the merits of Christ—redound to our benefit here on earth. Prayer cannot be merely personal, but must participate in the unified cry of praise to the God who made all things.

This is illustrated concretely through the chanting of the Litany of the Saints in the Church’s most solemn occasions. At baptisms, at ordinations, at the Easter Vigil, at the transfer of a deceased pope’s body to Saint Peter’s Basilica, at his funeral, and at the Installation Mass of his successor, the Litany of the Saints summons the entire host of heaven to the Church’s aid. In moments of joy and in moments of morning, we beg the saints for their prayers, knowing that they who now live in perfect communion with Christ are heard by him. Thus, as we say in every Mass, with the angels, saints, and our brothers and sisters in Christ, “we join in their unending hymn of praise,” “for the praise and glory of God’s name, for our good and the good of all his holy Church.”

In the next reflection, we consider the Lord’s Prayer.

Click here to return to the Year of Prayer page.

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Saint Thomas Aquinas on “Petition”

08 February 2024

Saint Thomas Aquinas on "Petition" - Year of Prayer 2024

By Joey Belleza, PhD (Cantab.)

The second part of the Catechism’s definition of prayer, “the requesting of good things from God,” is exactly what petition means. Indeed, for Saint Thomas Aquinas, petition is the very essence of prayer. While all four parts of prayer make our address to God whole and complete, petition takes the former two parts (oration and thanksgiving) and makes our cry truly unique and particular by placing a concrete request before God. For Saint Thomas, a true prayer “implores a superior” and is directed toward “determinate things,” such as “earthly benefits” for oneself and for others. More than just calling out to God and giving thanks for past deeds, a true prayer from the heart looks ahead, confidently trusting that the Lord who provided in the past will continue to provide for present and future needs.

Thus, prayer does not only involve a general reaching out to God, nor a mere commemoration of past events, but must be embodied in the present moment by asking something of the Lord. Thus, the contingency of our very existence, which is more implicit in oration, is made clear and exact when we formulate a petition. It grounds and radicalizes the humility expressed in our first cry to God, for through our petitions, we acknowledge our specific needs in the here and now.

One of the most notable aspects of the liturgical reform after the Second Vatican Council is the reintroduction of collective petitions in the Mass. Such petitions had always been part of Mass, but in the course of history their usage came to be confined to the liturgy of Good Friday. Now, at each Mass, we bring our concrete needs collectively to God in the form of the Prayers of the Faithful or bidding prayers, so that the fruits of the Mass might be extended to our families, our communities, to the whole Church, and to the world at large.

Yet, as just as petition forms the essence of prayer in general, it is also central to the Mass itself, our highest prayer. Let us take the Roman Canon, or Eucharistic Prayer 1 as an example. Before the consecration, the priest says, “Be pleased, O God, we pray, to bless, acknowledge, and approve this offering in every respect; make it spiritual and acceptable, so that it may become for us the Body and Blood of your most beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.” And again after the consecration, “In humble prayer we ask you, almighty God: command that these gifts be borne by the hands of your holy Angel to your altar on high in the sight of your divine majesty, so that all of us, who through this participation at the altar receive the most holy Body and Blood of your Son, may be filled with every grace and heavenly blessing.” Thus the very words of Christ which effect his sacramental presence are “clothed,” as it were, with our own petitions.

In the next reflection, we consider the final part of prayer: intercession.

Click here to return to the Year of Prayer page.

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Saint Thomas Aquinas on “Thanksgiving”

10 January 2024

St Thomas Aquinas on "Thanksgiving" - Year of Prayer 2024

By Joey Belleza, PhD (Cantab.)

In his Angelus address yesterday, 21 January 2024, Pope Francis said the following:

The coming months will lead us to the opening of the Holy Door, with which we will begin the Jubilee. I ask you to intensify your prayer to prepare us to live well this event of grace, and to experience the strength of God’s hope. Therefore, today we begin the Year of Prayer; that is, a year dedicated to rediscovering the great value and absolute need for prayer in personal life, in the life of the Church, and in the world. We will also be helped by the resources that the Dicastery for Evangelization will make available.

In these days, let us pray especially for Christian unity, and let us never tire of invoking the Lord for peace in Ukraine, Israel and Palestine, and in many other parts of the world: it is always the weakest who suffer the lack of it. I am thinking of the little ones, of the many injured and killed children, of those deprived of affection, deprived of dreams and of a future. Let us feel the responsibility to pray and build peace for them!

In the previous reflection, we considered the first part of prayer, oration, as a posture of humility before the God to whom we raise our minds and hearts. In this refleciton, we consider a second part of prayer according to the division of Saint Thomas Aquinas: thanksgiving.

Whereas oration signifies a general calling on the name of the Lord, thanksgiving gives more concreteness and specification to our cry. We explicitly acknowledge God’s greatness by recalling the many wonderful things he has done for his people throughout the ages. Thanksgiving is thus tied to memory, and our cry to God is always accompanied by memorializing something real which God has accomplished for us. From childhood we are taught to thank people for what they have done for us, no matter how big or small the deed; how much more should we express our thanks to the God who holds us and all creation in being at every instant?

The notion of thanksgiving is so central to Christian prayer that it gives its name to the very sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood. Our word “Eucharist,” derived from the Greek eucharistia, means “thanksgiving.” At each Mass, we are reminded that Christ “gave thanks” before blessing the bread and wine; and this is again linked to the notion of memory, for Christ commanded the Apostles and all future priests to “do this” in his remembrance. Memory and thanksgiving make the presence of the Lord real.

In the next reflection, we will consider petition.

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Saint Thomas Aquinas on “Oration”

10 January 2024

Saint Thomas Aquinas on "Oration" - Year of Prayer 2024

By Joey Belleza, PhD (Cantab.)

Saint Thomas Aquinas OP (1225-1274) is one of the Doctors of the Church. His teaching has been especially promoted by the Church as an exemplar of philosophical clarity and theological orthodoxy. In his great systematic work called the Summa Theologiae (a “summary” or “manual” of theology), he treats of nearly all aspects of Christian doctrine, from the doctrines of God as Creator, as Triune, and as Incarnate, to rigorous reflections on the sacraments and the so-called Four Last Things (judgment, hell, purgatory, and heaven). In the Summa, he also considers the nature of prayer, bringing to bear the reflections of Scripture and the saints who came before him. This reflection is the first of four in which we look at Saint Thomas’s treatment of the four parts of prayer, namely: oration, thanksgiving, petition, and intercession. As we progress through this Year of Prayer, we will return to these basic themes presented by Saint Thomas, showing how his fundamental insights are shared by saints and holy figures from throughout the Church’s history

Saint Thomas did not invent this fourfold division. Although it was first codified in a systematic way by the monk Saint John Cassian (360-435), the roots of this division comes from Saint Paul himself in 1 Timothy 2:1: “I urge… that petitions, orations, intercessions, and thanksgiving be made for all people.” In this reflection we will consider oration.

Oration is derived from the Latin oratio, which can be translated simply into English as “prayer,” but the theological tradition has given it a more specific meaning. Related to the noun os (oris), meaning “mouth,” an oration is something spoken aloud toward someone or something. It pertains to the first part of the definition of prayer given in the Catechism, “the raising of one’s heart and and mind to God,” but this ascent is done by explicitly calling out to God.

But who is the source of this calling out? Does it come merely from ourselves? Or is it already a participation with God’s own action? Indeed, we are only able to call out to God because God has called us first. Indeed, as the Creator who is the source of all things, our call to God can only be a response to the one who gives us our being as the very first gift. When we raise our hearts and minds to God and call upon his Name, we are in a sense returning ourselves to the source of our being, acknowledging his greatness and our humility before him. This humility is the basic posture of prayer: we place ourselves before God and call out to the one who made all things visible and invisible. All prayer, all oration, starts from God and returns to him.

In the next instalment, we will consider a second aspect of prayer: thanksgiving.

Click here to return to the Year of Prayer page.