FAQ: Why the Passion?

Over the next few weeks, we would like to share with you some reflections from our nuns on common questions about the Passion of Christ, redemptive suffering and penance, and some aspects of cloistered contemplative life.  We hope these may answer some of your questions, or help you to respond to the questions of others!

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Icon of the Holy Trinity

Question #1: If God, the Holy Trinity, is love, why was the suffering of Jesus in His Passion and death on the Cross necessary for the salvation of mankind?  God could have “snapped His fingers” and saved us.  Did the Father will that Christ suffer instead?

With the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), we can affirm that God is love.  Paragraph 221 states: “God Himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and He has destined us to share in that exchange.” Keep in mind that last part: “He has destined us to share in that exchange.”

It is also true that God could have just snapped His fingers and decided to save us, and in fact, even one drop of Christ’s Precious Blood would have been enough to redeem the whole world. God could have chosen to save us in any way possible. God chose, in a sense, to make the Passion and Death necessary for the redemption of the world.

First, let’s look again at the Holy Trinity, the communion of Divine Persons Who existed from all eternity. In the life of the Trinity, each of the Divine Persons gives Himself completely to the other in an eternal exchange of love. The Persons of the Trinity are completely happy in this eternal exchange of self-emptying love.

Now recall that in the Book of Genesis, God made man in His image and likeness. We, too, are called to this self-emptying love for God and for one another. This complete self-giving love should have been easy and even enjoyable for us if it were not for original sin and the Fall of mankind. After the fall, man became turned in on himself. He became distrustful of God and tension entered into his human relationships. In this fallen and sinful world, on this side of eternity, self-emptying love becomes a sacrificial love, a suffering love.

Jesus Christ came, emptying Himself completely. St. Paul describes this so beautifully in his letter to the Philippians: “Though He was in the form of God, [Jesus] did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather, He emptied Himself and took the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men. He was known to be of human estate, and it was thus that He humbled Himself, obediently accepting even death, death on a cross!” (Phil. 2:6-8). So, the Second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity becomes incarnate and He doesn’t just prick His finger and shed a drop of His Blood, but He completely gives everything that He has to the last drop of His Blood. He was pouring Himself out in love from all eternity in the Trinity, and now this is what Jesus Christ does in His human nature.

This kind of love was unprecedented in human history until Jesus Christ came. We would not have known about this kind of love if Jesus had not given Himself completely for us. Yet, this is what the Trinity is: a communion of Persons in an eternal exchange of complete self-giving love! Jesus while He was redeeming mankind was also revealing the mystery of the Trinity to us and the inner life of God, and since we are all called to partake in this life of the Trinity for all eternity and we could not know to love in this way on our own, it was necessary that Jesus Christ not only redeem us but also teach us how to live the life of love that exists in the Trinity.

God the Father had a redeeming love for us. He did not want any of us to be lost for all eternity. God the Son was of course always perfectly united to the Father, and knowing the Father’s will, He offered Himself to redeem us (see paragraph 606 & 607 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church). The will of the three Divine Persons is perfectly aligned and so while we speak of the Father’s redeeming love, we can also say that God the Son and God the Holy Spirit willed this – since ultimately we are speaking of one God.

Rise & Shine & Give God the Glory

January 25th brought us the annual celebration of a Gaudeamus Day in honor of our superior, Mother John Mary.  Gaudeamus Days are always full of laughter and extra time for sisterly companionship, and this one was no exception.

From the big breakfast of homemade scones and fancy fruit salad, through the community viewing of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe, to the grand finale of the day with square-dancing and pizza, there was plenty of joy and hilarity to be had.  And well there should be: gaudeamus is, after all, Latin for “let us rejoice!”

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Sr. Cecilia Maria and aspirant Theresa with the breakfast scones, made with home-milled Kamut flour – thanks to Leslie M. for the grain!

We thought you would especially enjoy a peek at our after-meal entertainment, pulled together by the younger sisters under Sr. Catherine Marie’s guidance and inspiration.  They started with a quodlibet in which each of the five parts, sung simultaneously, mimic the sounds of orchestral instruments.

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The four Junior Professed nuns and aspirant, Theresa singing the quodlibet

The orchestra is a beautiful image of community life, with each of the unique instruments contributing to the music, just as each Sister brings her own experiences, ideas, and gifts to her community.

Then, the same Sisters performed a new version of the song, rewritten so that each part reflects one of the various (and hilarious) responses people may have to the rising bell, the voice of God calling us to awake and begin the new day.  This slideshow tells the story, and the words of each part are below.

 

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Sr. Somnia Maria:

(sung first time only)

At half past four in the morn,

I’m sleeping soundly,

My pillow’s so soft and warm,

And sweet are my dreams.

(sung each subsequent time)

My bed is so cozy,

And dreamland is rosy,

My bed is so cozy,

Roll over again.

Sr. Mary Sunshine:

Good morning, sun!

The day’s begun,

And so much joy & fun

Is yet to come.

The bell will ring,

We’re off to sing

The praises of

Our God and King.

Sr. Observata of the Holy Rule:

The rising bell’s ringing

Ta ta ta ta-ta ta ta, ta, ta-ta ta!

It’s time to get up now

Ta ta ta ta-ta ta ta ta!

Sr. Talitha Koum:

I can’t believe

I have to get up.

I can’t, I can’t,

Where’s my coffee cup?

The Voice of the Holy Spirit:

Good morning, dear Sisters,

It’s time to wake up now.

Get up!  Get up!

Get up, up, up, now!

 

Welcome, Theresa!

A friend of the community once quipped that a postulant is a half-baked nun, while the key word of aspirancy is being “poured out” – like batter!  It’s an apt analogy for the process of discernment and formation, perhaps even better since our newest smiling face in the monastery has already been enlisted for a few baking projects.

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No batter today – scones are in the making!

We are happy to welcome a new aspirant to Passionist life, Theresa from Louisville, KY, who will be with us for a few months as she “pours herself out” for the Lord and seeks His plan for her life.  Please pray that her time of discernment is a time of peace and the clear voice of the Holy Spirit!

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Theresa with Our Holy Founder, St. Paul of the Cross.

Christmas Prayers & Greetings from the Passionist Nuns

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Discernment in the Spirit of Advent – Union with Mary

This is the final article in a 4-part series.  To read the other pieces, click here, here, & here.

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As we enter the last few days of Advent, the spotlight shines on Mary, the privileged daughter of God who was first to receive the Son at His coming into this world.  Among the Gospels read at Mass this week, we hear the story of the Annunciation to Mary, her Visitation to her elderly cousin, Elizabeth, and Our Lady’s hymn of God’s glory, the Magnificat.  Each year the Church invites us to ponder these events with the Virgin Mother, to allow ourselves to be formed in greater openness to Christ’s coming, in union with Our Lady, His first disciple.

There is so much richness to be drawn out of these passages and applied to our lives, entire books have been written on the subject!  Today, however, I would like to focus on one point from the account of the Annunciation, which is heard at Mass on December 20th.

“Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.” (Lk 1:38)

Before uttering her fiat, her “let it be done unto me” in response to the Angel Gabriel’s message, Mary speaks an ecce, “behold.”  She presents herself to the Lord in humility and openness, a prelude to allowing His mighty will to be accomplished in her life.  This disposition is an apt model for us as we approach Christmas, certainly, but also as we discern the Lord’s calling in each of our lives.

In the words of Our Lady at the Annunciation, we discover that God wants more than just to accomplish His works in our lives; He desires our humble gift of self first of all.  There is an ever present temptation in any period of discernment to jump straight into fiat/”let it be done” because, well, we want to be done and know the final outcome already!  In so doing, it is as though we tell someone they can borrow our car, without giving them the keys.  The Ecce is the key – with it we say, “here I am Lord, everything is yours.”  On the foundation of this transparency and docility, we can add our fiat in freedom, “let it be done unto me, accomplish your will in me.”

These final days approaching the solemnity of the Nativity are a beautiful time to draw near to Mary and ask her to teach us how to speak our own ecce to the Lord.  As a good mother, she is ready to help us, if only we ask!  Consider offering three “Hail Marys” for the intention of knowing your vocation and being open to accept it.  It is a simple practice, easy to slip into our busy days even in the hubbub of Christmas preparations and celebrations.

Mary, Mother of Vocations, pray for us!

Come pray with us!

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photo courtesy of Larena Lawson

 

In the Owensboro area?  Please consider joining us for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass celebrating the Nativity of Our Lord or the Octave Day, solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.

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Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve – carols begin at 11:30pm

Christmas day – 10 a.m.

New Year’s Day – 8 a.m.

Discernment in the Spirit of Advent – Wonder

This is the third article in a 4-part series – to read the first two articles, click here & here.

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As the season of Advent progresses, it draws us not only into silence, but into a spirit of wonder.

There is a certain natural wonder we encounter, even among those who approach Christmas in a more secularized manner.  Think of the amazement and delight so evident in children as they admire the trappings of the season – nativity scenes, candles, the tantalizing possibility of a snow day, the brightness of flowers blooming in the dead of winter.  Or consider the awe sparked by the many heartwarming tales of generosity which circulate, as people seek to spread the love and light of the Babe of Bethlehem into the darkness around them.

In the whirlwind of activity as Christmas draws near, it can be a great help to us to pray for fresh, childlike eyes to see these little gifts around us, and seeing them, to give thanks to the One who gave them.  The movement from wonder to gratitude stretches our hearts and makes them more open to the gifts God wishes to pour upon us, gifts both temporal and spiritual .

Beyond this “natural” wonder, Advent also invites us to wonder at the supernatural.  In the scriptures proper to this liturgical season, there is a continual sense of astonishment at the bold promises God makes to His people.  “No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you doing such deeds for those who wait for him,” as the prophet Isaiah puts it (Is 64:3).

Promises that a virgin will conceive and bear a son, that God Himself will come to save His people, that He will gather us as a shepherd gathers his flocks, from the four corners of the earth – these promises must have seemed almost incredible when they were spoken through the prophet, and even more impossible as Israel suffered under a succession of foreign powers.  Yet these promises were passed down through the generations and hope remained alive until the fullness of time arrived.  Then, in a manner surpassing all Israel’s imaginings, God Himself did come to fulfill His promises, in the person of the Incarnate Word.

But how does this wonderful history of promise and fulfillment apply to our lives today?

Each one of us hears promises from God.  To each of our hearts, He has promised that He has created us with a purpose, that He wants us to be His co-workers in a particular way for the spreading of His Kingdom.  Perhaps you have heard that promise in a moment of quiet prayer, in a time of life-changing conversion, or through the lips of a faithful friend.  Whenever you heard it, you began to cherish that word, to seek and to follow that path God desires for your life.

Still, at times in the process of finding His path for us, as Israel experienced in waiting for the Messiah, the promises can seem too wonderful, unbelievable.  Discernment seems difficult.  God seems silent.  You aren’t sure where to go next.

Then what?  How can you keep the brightness of wonder alive and trust in His promises?  The season of Advent suggests an answer: recall the works of the Lord, recall that He is faithful.

The memory of God’s actions on behalf of His people – the Exodus, the establishment of the Davidic Kingdom, the return from exile – under-girded their confidence that even the most extravagant promises would come to fruition.  We too can recall these works of salvation history, can remember His faithfulness to His people.  And we can spend some time in prayer remembering the movements of grace in our own lives.  In these final days approaching Christmas, try setting aside some time to prayerfully revisit some of the ways God has been at work in your life.  Ask Him to remind you of the gifts He has been giving – you may be surprised at the moments and graces which come to mind!  Let the memory of His care and fidelity reignite your wonder as you wait for the next steps to be revealed.

As we hear again and again the Advent liturgy, “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it” (1 Thes 5:24).  Today, let’s look to Him with confidence, for what father is as wonderful in his fidelity as our God and Father?

Come Spouse of Christ – First Profession of Vows of Sr. Maria Faustina, CP

December 8, 2017, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, was a day of great joy for our community at St. Joseph Monastery as we witnessed the consecration of a new Bride of Christ by the profession of the five Passionist Vows.  Sr. Maria Faustina of the Agonizing Heart of Jesus and the Sorrowful Heart of Mary committed herself to follow Jesus Crucified more closely in a life of devotion to and grateful remembrance of His Passion, a life of chastity, poverty, obedience, and enclosure.

Despite the fervent prayers of some of the younger nuns, there was no snow outside, but it was a winter wonderland nonetheless, with glorious blue and white bouquets honoring our Blessed Mother and befitting Sister’s wedding day to the King of kings.

Most Rev. William Medley, Bishop of Owensboro, presided at the Mass.  Assisting him were four Fathers of Mercy, Fr. David Wilton, Fr. Lou Caporiccio (our chaplain and the day’s  homilist), Fr. Joel Rogers, and Fr. Andy Cravalho; two Passionists, Fr. Sebastian McDonald and Fr. John Schork; and two dear priest friends of our community, Msgr. Bernard Powers and Fr. Joseph Mills.  We were blessed by their presence, along with the help of our Master of Ceremonies, Ian Barnstead, and servers, Greg Mills and Maximilian Combs (Postulant with the Fathers of Mercy).

A big “thank you” is also due to the Passionist Oblates who provided a bounteous reception following the Mass!  And we are especially grateful to our three anonymous donors who supplied for the flowers and the printing of the worship aids for Mass.

The celebration of Sister’s profession was undoubtedly touched with the serenity and joy which accompany the presence of our Blessed Mother.  Reflecting on Mary as model of religious life, Sr. Maria Faustina shared:

As the spotless Bride, she draws us by her beauty (the beauty which is a crystal clear reflection of God Who is Infinite Beauty) to imitate her and do all we can to become beautiful brides for Christ.  When we entrust ourselves to Mary, she helps to make us radiant brides of Christ.

We could certainly see that beauty in Sr. Maria Faustina, the new bride of Christ Crucified!

Now without further ado, we share with you some photos from the Mass – courtesy of Larena Lawson, grazie mille!

Click the photos to see them full-size with captions.

After Mass – most from Larena Lawson, a few taken by the nuns:

Odds and ends from the beautiful day:

Discernment in the Spirit of Advent – Silence

This is the second article of a four-part series – to read the first part, click here.

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Advent is undoubtedly a time for silence, even if the lived reality of the season is often far from this ideal.  As the liturgy recounts for us the centuries of Israel’s wait for the promised Messiah, we are invited to join the vigil.  There is a sense of hush, of the silence and stillness of midnight while we long for the first blush of the “dawn from on high to break upon us” (Lk 1:78).  With the patriarchs and prophets, we strain our ears to hear the cry go up, “The bridegroom is here!  Come out and greet him!” (Mt 25:6).  This is not the silence of sleep, but the silence of eager watchfulness.

The silence of the Blessed Virgin is also present in the spirit of Advent.  Our Lady has very few words or actions recorded in the Gospels.  She is truly a woman of silence, and during this holy season we may especially see her silence as she goes about her simple daily labor, in her own home and in the home of her cousin Elizabeth, as the Infant Christ is being formed within her.  St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, a Carmelite saint of great silence herself, reflects thus: “Do we think what must have been in the soul of the Blessed Virgin when, after the Incarnation, she possessed within her the Incarnate Word, the gift of God?  In what silence, what recollection she must have buried herself in the depths of her soul in order to embrace that God whose mother she was.”  Indeed, Mary has a silent heart, ever-attentive to the voice of God and to the presence of the Incarnate Word in her womb.

Discernment of our vocations is, in a certain sense, a process of discovering what gift of God has been placed in our own hearts – we seek to know for what we have been created.  How does Christ want to be made present to the world through our lives?

The process of discernment also has similarities with the waiting of the people of the Old Covenant for the coming of the Lord.  “How long, O Lord!” we are tempted to cry out; at times, it may seem like He is slow in coming to show us the path marked out for us!

In all this, the Advent spirit of silence can be a great help to keep our hearts attentive and eager, yet in peace.  The scriptural images of silent vigil which we encounter can provide us with food for reflection on how God may be asking us to wait for His revelation of His plan.  Praying with some of the scriptures used in the Masses of Advent is an excellent way to grow in a spirit of eager and open anticipation, without falling into anxiety or impatience.

We can take advantage of this season to incorporate a little more silence into our days.  It isn’t possible to control all the noise in our lives.  But perhaps you can turn off the radio when you are driving alone.  Or step out of a Christmas party for a few minutes of silence to thank the Lord for those gifts of fellowship and joy.  Maybe you are able to set aside 15 minutes to make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament on your way to work.

Ask Our Lady to help you see where you can grow in silence.  Even these little practices can be very fruitful in giving God more space to speak to our hearts, and as we grow in hearing His voice about small things, we are more disposed to be open when He calls us to big things!

Homily from Sr. Maria Faustina’s Mass of Religious Profession

On Friday, December 8, our chapel was transformed into a winter wonderland of blue and white as we celebrated the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and the first profession of vows of another member of St. Joseph Monastery.  Sr. Maria Faustina was a radiant bride, and we have lots of pictures of the Mass and reception on their way.  In the meantime, we’d like to share the wonderful homily preached for the occasion by our chaplain, Fr. Lou Caporiccio, CPM!

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Sr. Maria Faustina is examined by Bishop Medley before professing her vows

Sr. Maria Faustina of the Agonizing Heart of Jesus and the Sorrowful Heart of Mary’s First Vows

December 8, 2017 – Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

Readings: Gen. 3:9-15, 20; Ps. 98:1-4; Eph. 1:3-6, 11-12; Lk. 1:26-38

 

The Call of God to Consecrated Religious Life as a Passionist

Every vocation whether to religious life, priesthood, marriage or the single life is a call or vocation that comes from God. In Sacred Scripture we find two vocations that compliment each other. The first is common to all. This has come to be known as the universal call to holiness and it is found in the very first book of the Bible, the Book of Genesis, where it says that “God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). Commenting on this passage from Genesis, the Catechism of the Catholic teaches, “God who created man out of love also calls him to love— the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being. For man is created in the image and likeness of God who is himself love.”[1] The second vocation that we find in the Bible is one in which a special mission is given either to an individual or to a group. For example, in our Gospel reading today we hear of Mary’s call or vocation to be the Mother of God (see Lk. 1:31-33).

Every call or vocation from God has five stages or phases. First, God makes a choice. The Church applies the words of our second reading today from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians to both the universal call to holiness as well as the vocation to a special mission: God “chose us in him [Christ] before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). From all eternity, God choose Christie Anna Carmichael now known as Sr. Maria Faustina to be not only a consecrated religious but also a member of the Passionist Congregation. Second, God makes His choice known to the individual. In the Gospel we see how God sent the angel Gabriel to Mary to convey His choice of her to be the Mother of His Only-Begotten Son. No doubt, Sr. Maria Faustina can recount how God in many ways has revealed His call to her to be a consecrated Passionist religious. Third, the person whom God calls responds. Mary’s response is “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according your word” (Lk. 1:38). After the homily, Bishop Medley will say to Sr. Maria Faustina: “My dear Sister, what do you ask of God and of His holy Church?” She will respond: “The mercy of the Lord, and the grace to serve Him faithfully in the Institute of the Religious of the Passion of Jesus Christ.” Fourth stage, God consecrates or sets apart the one whom He has chosen and He empowers him/her to live this vocation. Mary is told, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Lk. 1:35). When Bishop Medley examines Sr. Maria Faustina he will ask her: “Sr. Maria Faustina, by water and the Holy Spirit you have already been consecrated to God’s service. Are you resolved to unite yourself more closely to Him by the new bond of religious profession?” She answers: “I am.” By religious profession, Sr. Maria Faustina will deepen the baptismal consecration she received many years ago and like Baptism, she will be given all the graces she needs to live the life of a Passionist Nun to which she has been called.[2] Fifth and final stage of a vocation: God sends the one He calls to fulfill a concrete mission. Mary conceives the Son of God in her Immaculate womb and her life from that moment onward will be forever intertwined with Jesus’ life both on this earth and in eternity. Sr. Maria Faustina’s mission will be that of every consecrated religious, but she will live this out specifically as a Passionist Nun.

All religious have a two-fold mission in the Church, which is found in the teaching of the Second Vatican Council: First, “The profession of the evangelical counsels, then, appears as a sign which can and ought to attract all the members of the Church to an effective and prompt fulfillment of the duties of their Christian vocation[3] and second, “the holiness of the Church is fostered in a special way by the observance of the counsels[4] In other words, Sr. Maria Faustina, like all religious, is called to be a sign of or to manifest the universal vocation of all Christians to be Holy as God is Holy; to love as God loves, but her life as a religious should also stimulate, prompt and foster all Christians to desire to live the universal call to holiness. However, as a member of the Passionists she is to do this in a very unique and specific way. We see this in the very first vow Sr. Maria Faustina will profess when she says, “I vow to promote devotion to and grateful remembrance of the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ, and to express it in my style of life.” On the night of the Last Supper our Lord Himself taught us: “No one has greater love than this, that to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn. 15:13). In the Passion of Jesus we see how to love as God loves in its highest, purest and most perfect manner.

Preface for Holy Virgins and Religious[5]: It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God.

For in the Saints who consecrated themselves to Christ
for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven,
it is right to celebrate the wonders of your providence,
by which you call human nature back to its original holiness and bring it to experience on this earth the gifts you promise in the new world to come.

May the Passion of Jesus Christ be ever in our hearts!

[1] CCC 1604. Also see Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, 40.

[2] See St. John Paul II, Allocution to Male Religious in Sao Paolo, Brazil, July 3, 1980, 2.2: “Religious life, the Council teaches, is not placed in the Church on the level of institutional structures (it is not a hierarchical rank nor is it added as a third element between pastors and laity), but in line with the charisms and, more exactly, in the dynamism of that holiness that is the primordial vocation of the Church. The first reason why a Christian becomes religious is not to acquire a position in the Church, a responsibility or a task, but to sanctify himself. This is your task and your responsibility, ‘the rest will be given to you in addition’ [Mt. 6:33]. This is your service to the Church: she needs this school of holiness to concretely realize her own vocation of holiness.” Also see Blessed Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelica Testificatio, June 29, 1971, 11; Lumen Gentium 12b (the words special gifts instead of charisms is used in the English translation).

[3] Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, 44c. http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html. Accessed December 5, 2017.

[4] Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, 42c.

[5] Roman Missal, 3rd Edition.

***photo by Larena Lawson – many thanks!