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The Meaning of St. Anthony's Prayer


Who Is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah?

Q: Please enlighten me on this prayer of St. Anthony: “Behold the Cross of the Lord, flee ye hostile powers of darkness. The lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has conquered.”

I have said this prayer many times in my life, but I do not understand when it says, “The lion of the tribe of Judah.” Who is this lion of the tribe of Judah?

A: You can read about Judah in Chapters 29 through 50 in Genesis. Judah is the fourth-born son of Jacob (Israel) and a child of Leah. When the brothers of Judah, jealous of Joseph, are ready to abandon him in a cistern, Judah persuades them to sell Joseph into slavery instead. Later, in Egypt, when Joseph proposes to make Benjamin his slave, Judah pleads to take Benjamin’s place.

When Jacob is near death and foretells the future of his sons, he prophesies: “You, Judah, shall your brothers praise—your hand on the neck of your enemies; the sons of your father shall bow down to you. Judah, like a lion’s whelp, you have grown up on prey, my son. He crouches like a lion recumbent, the king of beasts—who would dare rouse him? The scepter shall never depart from Judah, or the mace from between his legs...” (Genesis 49:8-10).

According to a footnote in the New American Bible, the prophecy is interpreted in a messianic sense. Further, the sons of Jacob and their descendants make up the 12 tribes of Israel. Among them Judah will be supreme. From the tribe of Judah comes King David and from David’s line Jesus Christ is born. In Revelation 5 John describes his vision of the scroll and the lamb. No one is found worthy to open the scroll. Then “One of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep. The lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has triumphed, enabling him to open the scroll with its seven seals’” (verse 5).

The lion of the tribe of Judah and the root of David are thus messianic titles given to Christ who has been victorious in the struggle with evil.

Does God Heal?

Q: One question. Am I unreal to believe in physical healings? With God all things are possible. He knew my name before I was born, surely he always cares. Scripture is full of healings! I expect to be healed. Am I a fool? I think not.

A: God does work miracles—among them miracles of healing. But by definition miracles are rare. They are worked for God’s good purpose and glory, to further his purposes. Obviously, they are not everyday events.

I’m sure God is present in your life and in the lives of the sick, and he responds to their prayers for healing—usually through human instruments like doctors, nurses, etc.

Pray with faith but in the spirit of Jesus in the garden, “Not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). The ultimate gift is the strength and courage to “come after Jesus” and take up our cross and follow him, offering our pain and suffering for the redemption of God’s people.

Why INRI?

Q: Older crucifixes have a scroll at the top, with INRI on it. Somewhere I read this was an acronym, meant ironically, “King of the Jews.” I also heard it was placed there by a wealthy Jew—connected with the story of the Wandering Jew. Most recent crucifixes do not seem to have it.

A: At the time of Jesus when a criminal was crucified, the reason or charge was placed on the cross. The Gospel of Matthew 27:37 tells us in the case of Jesus, “They placed over his head the written charge against him: This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” Mark 15:26 reads, “The inscription of the charge against him read, ‘The King of the Jews.’”

The author of John relates, “Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, ‘Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews.’ Now many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin and Greek” (John 19:19-20).

In Latin the inscription would read, “Jesus Nazarenus, Rex Judaeorum.” In Latin, the letter J can always be represented by I, so the letters INRI are the first letters of those words—a kind of abbreviation that is meant to remind us of the inscription and can fit the narrow confines of the crucifix.

John goes on to say that the Jews wanted Pilate to change the inscription to read, “He [Jesus] said, ‘I am the King of the Jews.’ Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written” (verses 21-22).

So it was Pilate who had the sign attached to the cross, not “a wealthy Jew,” as you heard.

Finding the Lord’s Prayer

Q: Where can I find the Lord’s Prayer in the Bible? Is the part that we say at Mass, “For the kingdom, the power and the glory,” in the Bible?

A: You can find the Lord’s Prayer (Our Father) in both Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:1-4. The text in Luke is somewhat shorter than in Matthew. Both texts probably reflect the way the prayer was said in the Church of Luke and the Church of Matthew.

In today’s translations, neither version has the doxology, “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.”

A footnote, however, with the Matthew passage in The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Revised Standard Version, informs us, “Other authorities, some ancient, add in some form, For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”

St. Charbel

Q: Can you tell me something about St. Charbel?

A: St. Charbel (Sharbel) Makhlouf was canonized in 1977. Charbel was born Joseph Makhlouf in 1828 of Lebanese parents. At age 23 he entered a Maronite monastery called Notre Dame de Mayfouk. After studies at St. Cyprian de Kfifane Monastery he was ordained in 1859.

Imitating the life of the desert fathers, he spent the last 23 years of his life in complete solitude at Sts. Peter and Paul Hermitage near d’Anya. He died there in 1898.

Charbel is known for his very austere life and penances. According to Lives of the Saints II (Thomas Donaghey, Catholic Book Publishing), Charbel experienced levitations while at prayer.

A small booklet by Bishop Francis M. Zayek of the Diocese of Maron credits Charbel with the gift of miracles—following his death many miracles have been attributed to his intercession. Charbel has been called the second St. Anthony of the Desert and the Perfume of Lebanon. Pope Paul VI spoke of him as a heavenly arch or rainbow in the sky uniting East and West.

How Late May I Come?

Q: I have always understood that a person has satisfied the obligation of attending Mass on Sunday even if he or she arrives for the consecration only. I understand it is desirable to be present for the entire Mass, as you said in a column last year, but when is the obligation fulfilled?

If the Mass is a repetition of the Last Supper, I would think being present for the consecration is sufficient. There wasn’t any Gospel read or homily given at the Last Supper.

A: Would you say that someone who walked into the upper room just as Jesus blessed the bread and wine and said the words of consecration and then walked out immediately after was present for the Last Supper? Or had shared in and assisted at the Last Supper? As I read the Gospels, the Last Supper was no five-minute affair. Jesus prayed long and offered the apostles much instruction before consecrating and distributing the bread and wine.

Older moral theologians used to speak of the principal parts of the Mass (offertory, consecration and Communion), and insist that a person must be present for all three parts to satisfy the Sunday or holy day obligation.

Today liturgists and theologians do not use that terminology. Liturgists speak of the celebration of the Word and the celebration of the Eucharist as the parts of the Mass. Reasons might excuse a person’s coming late. And there may be reasons or difficulties that would excuse a person who missed a notable part of Mass from attending another Mass. But a person who has missed a significant part of Mass has not fulfilled the canonical obligation.

Drinking From the Chalice

Q: I receive Communion regularly. But I receive only the consecrated bread. Is this acceptable? There must be many Catholics like me who feel uneasy about drinking from the chalice because of AIDS, even though there may be no basis for fear.

A: As you yourself seem to realize, there has been no scientific evidence to suggest that AIDS is passed by drinking from the same cup.

The greatest value of receiving both the host and the consecrated wine is symbolic. Together the consecrated bread and wine are fuller signs of eating and drinking and fuller signs of body and blood.

Anyone, however, who receives Jesus under either of the signs, bread or wine, receives Jesus wholly and entirely, body and blood, soul and divinity. Partaking of the chalice is optional. It is an opportunity for a fuller sign.



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