Behind the Screen

One of my parishes has a very small (and historic) church. At some point during its nearly 125 years, the old confessional, which I am told used to be on the left side as you walked in the front doors, was removed. I’m not sure why. Fortunately, the deacon who most recently administered the parish before my arrival in July, took care to reinstate a proper area for confessions. The sacristy to the left of the sanctuary now doubles for that purpose.

Just recently, we acquired a screen or grille for that confessional, to make it possible for penitents to exercise their right to anonymity, and for the priest to exercise his right of hearing confessions “behind the screen” (more on these rights in a moment):

Screen donated by a generous benefactor.

Screen donated by a generous benefactor.

Now those who wish to confess “behind the screen” can kneel at this screen when they walk in; those wishing to confess “face to face” can make use of the chair to the right.

Indeed, as I said above, penitents have the right to confess anonymously (within reason – obviously there are situations where that might not be possible). Here is what Canon Law says about it:

Can.  964 §1. The proper place to hear sacramental confessions is a church or oratory. §2. The conference of bishops is to establish norms regarding the confessional; it is to take care, however, that there are always confessionals with a fixed grate between the penitent and the confessor in an open place so that the faithful who wish to can use them freely. §3. Confessions are not to be heard outside a confessional without a just cause.

A 1994 clarification from the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts indicates furthermore that the priest can insist on the use of the screen when there is a just cause and outside of cases of necessity (for example, when someone in the hospital requests the sacrament). In other words, even if you prefer to go to confession face-to-face, it is the priest’s prerogative to ask that you go behind the screen instead.

I personally prefer to go “behind the screen” myself, and I encourage others to do so as well. Perhaps in a future post I will explain the reasons why I think the traditional manner is preferable.

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May Non-Catholic Christians Receive Blessings?

Pope Francis blesses a whole ton of people. It's highly likely that some non-Catholics were present in the crowd!

Pope Francis blesses a whole ton of people. It’s highly likely that some non-Catholics were present in the crowd!

I was consulting the Vatican’s “Ecumenical Directory” today (= directives, save this link in case you have trouble sleeping one night), and came across this paragraph which answers our question: May non-Catholic Christians receive blessings?

121. Blessings ordinarily given for the benefit of Catholics may also be given to other Christians who request them, according to the nature and object of the blessing. Public prayer for other Christians, living or dead, and for the needs and intentions of other Churches and ecclesial Communities and their spiritual heads may be offered during the litanies and other invocations of a liturgical service, but not during the Eucharistic Anaphora. Ancient Christian liturgical and ecclesiological tradition permits the specific mention in the Eucharistic Anaphora only of the names of persons who are in full communion with the Church celebrating the Eucharist.

There are some restrictions and also ambiguities (probably deliberate) in this directive, but the short answer is: Yes, non-Catholic Christians may (generally) receive blessings. It is also important to note that this directive extends to objects as well – so, for instance, a non-Catholic Christian could request that a Catholic priest bless his home. And I have done this on a few occasions. As someone recently said somewhere (maybe I read it on Facebook or Twitter), non-Catholics often believe in the Catholic Church when it comes to dealing with the forces of evil! It’s not uncommon for a Protestant to request holy water or a house blessing if they notice strange phenomena happening in their home.

A few notes about this paragraph: it restricts blessings to Christians – i.e., those baptized with the standard trinitarian formula). Obviously, when a priest (or the pope, as above) is blessing a crowd of people, he doesn’t necessarily know the faith of all present. But he gives the blessing anyway – even if there should be some hindus or muslims or non-baptized atheists present. So this doesn’t have to with crowd circumstances. It is understood that it concerns individual requests for blessings.

It also directs that in the Eucharistic prayer, where – depending on which prayer is used – it is possible to insert names (for example, the memorial of the living, or the memorial of the deceased), only the names of Catholics may be inserted. Finally, please note that this does not have to do with the intention for which Mass is offered – so if you wanted to have a Mass said for a deceased non-Catholic Christian relative, you could.

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Our Lady of Sorrows

Today we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. It follows upon the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross and is closely connected with it. Our salvation came through the cross of Christ, through his sacrifice on the cross, and Our Lady was closely associated with his sacrifice. She was no detached bystander; she was intimately involved. In today’s gospel we hear how Our Lady kept vigil with her Son as he hung dying. And before Jesus died he gave St. John to Our Lady as her son. We can imagine how this only increased her suffering – it made the reality of her son’s impending death even more acute, as he now entrusted her to another. And so we say that Our Lady cooperated in the redemption in a very real way. The suffering that she experienced was profound and it was profoundly united with that of her Son. All of us, for our part, have a share in the cross of Christ as well. We all have a cross to bear; sometimes more than one, it seems. Our Lady stands beneath our crosses as well, bearing her share of the burden of suffering. She stands with us as Jesus entrusts us to her as well. Today we should reflect on our relationship with Mary, who stands silently in our own lives just as she did in Christ’s. She is there for us, as our mother. Let us always remember to turn to her in our every need.

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The Holy Name of Mary

Tomorrow, September 12, we observe the liturgical memorial of the Holy Name of Mary – an old feast, which was removed from the liturgical calendar in 1969, but restored more recently by Pope St. John Paul II.

It says, "May the sweet Name of Mary be my hope and my refuge!"

It says, “May the sweet Name of Mary be my hope and my refuge!”

Did you know that the celebrant at Holy Mass is supposed to bow his head at the name of Mary? Here is what the General Instruction of the Roman Missal says about this gesture:

275. A bow signifies reverence and honor shown to the persons themselves or to the signs that represent them…

a) A bow of the head is made when the three Divine Persons are named together and at the names of Jesus, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of the Saint in whose honor Mass is being celebrated.

The context of this instruction suggests that it is to be observed by the celebrant and other ministers at Mass. However, there was a time when many people were taught to bow their heads at the names of Jesus and Mary – even when attending Mass in the congregation. I’ve seen some people doing it at some of the Masses I’ve celebrated!

This is a beautiful tradition and a fitting way to honor these powerful and important names. It is also a good way to listen and participate more attentively at Holy Mass.

Maybe we could all resolve to bow our heads slightly out of reverence for the names of Jesus and Mary from now on!

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Pope St. Gregory the Great

This evening I have the privilege of celebrating Mass for the St. John Vianney Vocations Society here in Birmingham. Here is the brief homily that I have prepared to give. (If you are going to be there, and are reading this beforehand, act like you’ve never read/heard it before when I’m giving it at Mass. Thanks :-) )

Pope St. Gregory the Great, pray for us.

Pope St. Gregory the Great, pray for us.

St. Gregory the Great is one of the great doctors of the Church, and one of the few popes to have the title “great” appended to his name. He lived in the second half of the sixth century, which was a turbulent time in Italy and in Europe. And he would have preferred to live the life of a monk – which he did enjoy for a time, but God then called him to the very public and active role of Pope. Setting aside his preferences, Gregory responded yes to God, and strove to fulfill his responsibilities faithfully. And Christ did great things through him.

Just as, in today’s gospel, the Lord Jesus felt a certain urging to continue to other towns to preach rather than remaining in one place, so also Pope St. Gregory did not focus on just one place – for example, on building up the city of Rome. Rather, he devoted his attention to the entire Church, and carried on extensive correspondence with key figures far and wide. He understood that he had the role given to Peter of “confirming the brethren”: so where the faith already was, he strove to make it stronger, and where the faith had not yet arrived, he endeavored to send it. In this regard he also imitated Ss. Paul and Apollos from our first reading – in some places he sowed the seed, in other places he watered it; but it was always God who gave the growth.

In the area of missionary activity, in particular, St. Gregory is famous for having sent a certain group of monks, led by one Augustine, to England, to evangelize that land. We now know the leader as St. Augustine of Canterbury, and thanks to his work under the direction of Pope St. Gregory, England was a strongly Catholic country for nearly 1,000 years – until Henry VIII. And even though the Church was very badly damaged by Henry and his successors, it was never fully extinguished, so well had it been planted there; indeed, today some statistics indicate that the largest group of church-goers in England are Roman Catholics.

Pope St. Gregory made many other contributions to the great richness of the Church – to our theology, to our understanding of scripture, to our worship. But the most important contribution he made of all was his heroic virtue, his sanctity of life. In giving his life totally to the Lord in an heroic manner he has set an example for us to follow, and now from heaven he is able to obtain for us the special graces we need to do so. He is a saint, and so he is our friend and our help. What is the Lord Jesus asking of you and of me? What seeds does he wish for us to plant? Where does he desire us to water the growth that has already begun? Where does he want us to go with his message? As we reflect, in these next moments of silence, on today’s readings and on what the Lord is asking of us, we pray also that St. Gregory the Great will help us, by his intercession, to fulfill the mission of sanctity that the good Lord has entrusted to each one of us. Pope St. Gregory the Great, pray for us.

* * *

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Your Thoughts on Tithing

$8.00 of this should be given away as a tithe.

$8.00 of this should be given away as a tithe.

At our recent deanery meeting there was a presentation on tithing given by one of the other priests. It was a topic that I had already been thinking about for quite a while. And, in fact, I recently made the personal decision to start tithing – the first 10 percent goes to God, either via his Church or via other charities.

Rather than share my personal reasons for doing so here, I’d like to hear why you may or may not tithe. It dawned on me recently: I’ve never heard anyone who tried tithing say anything negative about it! Much to the contrary: I’ve only heard positive testimonies.

What do you think about tithing? Do you have personal experience with it? 

I hope some of you will share your thoughts!

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Help A Catholic Doctor in Liberia

If you’ve already read this post, be sure to scroll down for important updates!

I received word today that a good Catholic doctor, who has a sister who is a Sister here in my diocese, has just arrived in Liberia, where he will be helping to fight against the Ebola epidemic by providing care, training, and other support. His name is Dr. Tim Flanigan and practices as an infectious disease doctor, normally in Rhode Island. Dr. Flanigan, who is also a Permanent Deacon, leaves his wife and five children behind here in the U.S., and they are understandably nervous. Yet a number of factors have come together in the past days to indicate that he is embarking upon the Lord’s work. So we need to pray for Dr. Flanigan, for those he will help, for his family back home, and that all involved will have what they need.

Would you join me in praying for this intention?

This article in the excellent National Catholic Register is an interview that he did with Joan Frawley Desmond just three days ago, explaining more about his mission. Also, his family has set up a blog here.

A big part of what Dr. Flanigan will be doing is to educate on how to prevent the transmission of this deadly disease. For example, when I was talking with his Sister-sister on the phone this evening, she was telling me about how normal it is, at a funeral, for the grieving spouse to embrace the deceased’s body one last time before the casket is closed. Yet in the case of an Ebola victim, this very normal embrace can be deadly, for the grieving person could contract the same disease that took the life of his or her spouse. So education is needed for funerary workers, clergy, and others who might be in a position to help conduct dignified funerals for the victims but with proper health controls in place. That is just one example of the many ways that the spread of this disease can be checked.

One of the organizations that Dr. Flanigan will be working with is St. Joseph’s Catholic Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia. They are in need of your financial support – you can give through Paypal using the “Donate” button on the right side of their site (scroll down a bit – or click this link to go directly to the donate page). With the proper equipment and basic protective measures, such as masks and gloves, they can do a lot to stop the spread of this deadly virus.


1. Follow Dr. Flanigan’s blog (click here) to get updates on what is happening in Liberia and the work that he is doing;
2. Read this article to understand the scope of his mission and the challenges he faces;
3. Pray for all who are working to help stop this deadly disease;
4. Pray for their family and friends who worry for their safety;
5. Pray for all those whose lives this disease has already claimed, that they may rest in peace;
6. Donate to this Catholic hospital that is on the “front lines” and needs our support.

Thank you for your prayers and support!


Sister brought to my attention two religious orders that are doing yeoman’s work in Liberia, in connection with the mission that Dr. Flanigan is helping with. Donations can be made directly to these religious also, with the added benefit that they are incorporated in the United States and so you can gain the tax benefit as well. I will leave the link for the Catholic hospital above, but please consider supporting these Franciscan and Salesian Missionaries also:

1. Salesian Missionaries – be sure to pray especially for Sister Barbara – here is a link to their donation page. [It says in fine print at the bottom that they are a 501 (c)(3)].

2. Bernardine Franciscan Sisters – scroll down on this page for the address to which you can mail your gift – and be sure also to pray for these Sisters, who are helping in Liberia as well.

This seems like a good opportunity to review the Memorare, a prayer all should know!

The Memorare

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary,
that never was it known
that anyone who fled to thy protection,
implored thy help, or sought thy intercession
was left unaided.
Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee,
O Virgin of virgins, my mother!
To thee do I come, before thee I stand,
sinful and sorrowful.
O mother of the Word Incarnate,
despise not my petitions,
but in thy mercy hear and answer me.

* * *

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Caring for Liturgical Linens

Earlier today I was laundering and ironing some liturgical linens over at Holy Rosary, and I posted this photo on Facebook:

Facebook: show-and-tell for adults.

Facebook: show-and-tell for adults.

Among the comments it received, a brother priest suggested that I explain how to launder liturgical linens. Since I am getting ready to conduct training on this in my two parishes, I will take him up on his suggestion. So here goes.

First we need to think about some general details. These linens are used for various purposes. The three basic types of linens that are most often laundered are:

  1. Corporal
  2. Purificator
  3. Lavabo Towel (also called a Finger Towel)

The corporal is the square-shaped linen that folds into nine squares and is placed on the center of the altar, underneath the chalice. Those who handle it properly know how to fold it in a certain way: it is never to be flung out in mid air (which I’ve seen happen more times than I care to recall), flipped over while open, or anything else other than carefully unfolded and refolded according to a specific pattern. The reason for this has to do with why the corporal is used in the first place – the word “corporal” comes from the Latin root corpus which means “body”. The Body of the Lord is placed on the corporal. And everything the priest does with the consecrated host should be over the corporal – so that, should any particles fall, they will be collected on it. This is why it is folded a certain way: so as to ensure that any particles contained therein do not fall out.

The purificator is a rectangular linen that is folded lengthwise in three and then folded in half. It is used to wipe the Precious Blood off the chalice. It is then used in the purification of the chalice and the other sacred vessels. Since it comes in contact with the Precious Blood, those who are using the purificator (the priest, deacon, and the extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion) should be cautious and not touch the areas that are damp, lest the Precious Blood moisten their fingers and then be transferred to other surfaces where it should not be. This is why it is particularly important for extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion to handle the purificator carefully and with skill. They should be taught how to use it so that it doesn’t become a messy proposition. Priests also should be attentive and possibly use a new purificator during the purification of the vessels, if the ones that were used during communion have too much Precious Blood on them. I could go on. But the bottom line is: while the corporal comes in contact with the Precious Body of the Lord, the purificator comes in contact with his Precious Blood.

The lavabo or finger towel is used by the priest and/or other ministers to dry their fingers – either after the washing of the hands (by the priest) during the Offertory, or after distributing Holy Communion, when they dip their fingers in the ablution cup (small vessel full of water) so that any remaining particles of the host will be removed. Since the water in the ablution cup is made holy by contact with the Eucharistic particles (which then dissolve in it and cease to be the Eucharist), it is fitting that the lavabo towel should be laundered like the other sacred linens as well.

Having reviewed these general details concerning different types of linens, we now have to look at how they are laundered after they become “soiled” from use.

The first step is how they are handled immediately after use. Clearly, from what has been said above, they should be handled with care. Again, one must be careful not to unfold a corporal the wrong way, or pick it up carelessly so that it falls open; one must be careful to pick up the purificators in the areas where they are not soaked with the Precious Blood; etc. The sacristy is not a place for the distracted and the nonchalant. These are serious things that call for serious people.

The next step is to put them in some sort of container where they are held until they should be laundered. These containers differ from parish to parish and we need not concern ourselves too much with it here. Obviously one should not “dump” them in said container or “toss” them in; again, they should be placed there with reverence and care.

The third step is when the laundering process actually begins. Here we need to make an historical note. Up until roughly 1970 (I am not certain on the exact year, but I believe it would have coincided with the change to the vernacular Mass), the priest and only the priest had to do the initial rinsing of the sacred linens. Only after the priest had rinsed them, could someone else take them, launder them further, then press them.

In our time, it is permitted for others to do this initial rinsing. Whether this is a good idea or not, let everyone decide for himself. I personally am not convinced. In any case, here we need to talk about how this rinsing is done.

Ordinarily, the linens should be soaked for a while. This should be done in a container that is dedicated for the soaking and laundering of linens – i.e., it should not be done in your regular dish pan or mixing bowl. The linens should be placed in it and then covered in water. You may need to press them down with one hand to get the air out, so that they do not float; this hand should then be rinsed (over the container – its good to have a small pitcher of water handy to be able to pour over the hand that needs to be purified), since it has just come in contact with the first rinsing water,which absorbs particles of the host from the corporal(s) and any remaining Precious Blood. (Note: when the particles of the host are absorbed in the water they cease to be the Eucharist; when the Precious Blood dries, or any still-moist Precious Blood is dissolved in the water, it ceases to be the Eucharist.)

Wherever all of this soaking and rinsing is being done, care should be taken not to splash the water everywhere.

The ideal place for this rinsing to occur is in the sacristy of the church, in the sacrarium, if it is big enough to accommodate the linens. In that case, if the drain can be stopped, it will not be necessary to put a container in it to rinse the linens in. They can be placed directly in the sacrarium. The sacrarium, by the way, is the sink that drains directly into the ground. Most, but not all, churches have one. Every Catholic church should have one. Here is the one we have here at St. Barnabas:

The metal cover lifts up to reveal a shallow basin. Ours, unfortunately, is not large enough to be able to use for the soaking, so we do it in a separate container, then pour the water carefully down the sacrarium.

The metal cover lifts up to reveal a shallow basin. Ours, unfortunately, is not large enough to be able to use for the soaking, so we do it in a separate container, then pour the water carefully down the sacrarium.

If the soaking is done someplace else – for example, at the sacristan’s house – then care should be taken to use a container that has high enough sides so that it can be moved without the water’s splashing out. And the water from the soaking should be poured into the ground, in an area where no one will walk (for example, a flower bed, or in the woods behind the house).

It is good to soak the linens overnight – or at least for a few hours. After properly disposing of the soak water from the first soaking, I usually rinse them a few more times (again, pouring the water in the sacrarium or outside in the ground).

The water from the soaking should never, ever be poured into a sink that drains into a septic tank or a sewer system.

After the linens have been thoroughly and reverently rinsed, then it is possible to launder them as one would launder any normal fabrics. It may be necessary to pre-treat stains (particularly since there is often lipstick on the purificators). Shout-brand pretreater is good for this purpose. In any case, I have found that as long as they were soaked for a good long time, it is sufficient to wash them with a couple teaspoons of bleach and some Oxi-Clean in addition to the regular detergent.

If your washer has a “second rinse” setting, it is advisable to use it, to be sure that all of the soap is rinsed out. If you do not rinse out all the soap, the linens will yellow and possibly also be a bit stiffer when you iron them. Sometimes I just run them through another wash cycle without adding any more soap, so that they are more thoroughly rinsed out. It depends upon the washing machine also.

Again, soiled liturgical linens should never be placed directly into a washing machine without first going through the initial rinsing procedures mentioned above.

If you will not have time to iron the linens right away after you launder them, the best thing to do is put them damp, out of the washer, into a ziploc bag and freeze them. They will thaw quickly when you are ready to iron them.

Generally speaking, I do not put them in the dryer, because this can cause them to become misshapen. Also, if the linens are made of pure linen, it is easier to press them when they are damp. People have different tips and tricks with how to iron linens, but I prefer to do so when they are still damp. Sometimes they are still a little damp (particularly around the hemmed edges) after ironing, but I leave them in the open air for a while so that they can finish air-drying before I put them away in the sacristy.

As for whether to use starch, it should only be used on the corporal, and apart from just mentioning it, I will not try to explain how to starch corporals here. I am told that it is best to use a cellulose-based starch instead of traditional cornstarch – something to do with the longevity of the linens when one is used over the other. Down through the centuries, nuns have of course invented fancy things you can do with starch and corporals: see here for more on that.

Of course, all this ironing should be done on an ironing board that is immaculately clean, with an iron that is in good working condition and not caked up with starch and mineral deposits. If the iron or the ironing board are dirty, the linens will get brown or yellow stains, end up being stiffer than they should be, and other problems may arise. None of this is befitting the sacred linens used in the service of Our Lord. Ideally one would have an iron and an ironing board that are just used for sacristy items.

A final note concerning the material that linens are made from: it is not always linen. If you are ever in a position to buy linens, you should never get any that contain synthetic fibers, which may impede or lessen the absorption capabilities of the particular item. The traditional thing is to have linens that are made of 100% linen; nowadays there are also many that are a linen-cotton blend, and so easier to care for, pure linen being much more difficult to iron. Of course, in many places “back in the day” they had mangles and other fancy equipment that made pressing linens easier; nowadays most of us are using our household irons and the results vary.

Click to see on Amazon

Click to see on Amazon

So there you have it – my sort of brief explanation of how to care for liturgical linens. Those who need more information, such as how to fold a corporal properly, how to identify which linen is which (for example, sometimes it is easy to confuse lavabo towels and purificators), and more, might pick up a copy of this inexpensive booklet: Handbook for Laundering Liturgical Linens.

And I’m sure there is much more that could be said. This is what comes to mind off-hand, in response to my priest-friend’s suggestion to talk about it. Some of you who are experienced sacristans might have some observations or suggestions to add. Some of you may have questions. Feel free to comment!

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Thanks from the Nuns

Remember when I asked you to join me in helping the good Dominican nuns down in Marbury, Alabama last month?

I received this nice note from them today:

A typically nun-ish note!

A typically nun-ish note!

I feel certain that they must have written to thank all those who gave as well, but in any event, be sure that they are praying for you! Thank you for helping the nuns!

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New! Catholic Luncheons in Huntsville

A couple of months ago I advertised a great Catholic event for Birmingham: Scott Hahn was coming to town. I went to that luncheon, and it was excellent. The place was packed.

Today I received news that such quarterly luncheons will begin next month in Huntsville also! The first one will feature the excellent speaker, Patrick Madrid.

The email that I received today from John Martignoni (the organizer) follows. (edited)

* * *

For all of you in North Alabama, this is a reminder about the first ever Catholic Quarterly Luncheon to be held in Huntsville, on Tuesday, September 16, from 11:30am – 1:00pm. The event will take place at the Jackson Center, at 6001 Moquin Drive in Research Park. Our speaker will be Patrick Madrid , one of the most popular Catholic authors and speakers in the country. He is also an EWTN television and radio host, popular blogger, and internationally-known evangelist and apologist. His topic will be: “Why Be Catholic?” which is based on his new book of the same title.

Patrick Madrid

For many years I’ve been asked, “John, you organize all of these events in Birmingham, what about us up here in Huntsville?” Well, I’ve heard you and this is my attempt to respond to your requests. My plan is to bring in the best Catholic speakers out there today to Huntsville – one every three months. I hope you will join us for this first one and I hope you will tell your friends about this event and ask them to come along. (For a preview of this talk, check out this online article.)

The cost of the luncheon is $27.50. To reserve your spot, you can pay online at:  – with a credit  card or via PayPal (when you make a $27.50 “donation” or some multiple thereof, I will know it’s for the luncheon); or you can mail a check to: 

Bible Christian Society, PO Box 424, Pleasant Grove, AL  35127

(When you pay online, you will receive an email acknowledging your reservation. If you send in a check, and would like an acknowledgment, please include an email address.)

Seating is limited to 200 people, first come first served, so the sooner you sign up, the better. We’ve already received a number of reservations and the announcement for the luncheon is going to appear in the One Voice this weekend, so you might want to get in there while you can. And, just so you know,  if you pay now and something comes along  that will cause you to miss the luncheon, you have until 48 hours  before the luncheon to notify me and receive a full refund. Finally,  we will be unable to accommodate walk-ups the day of the luncheon, so  you need to make your reservation beforehand.

This is going to be a great event…you don’t want to miss it!

If you need more information, please email me ( or call me: 205-744-1856.

* * *

Let’s fill the place!

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URGENT: Pope Asks Prayer for Iraq

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AFP Photo, found via this post at Rorate Caeli

AFP Photo, found via this post at Rorate Caeli

Pope Francis today, August 9th, at 10am Rome/4am New York time, asked all Catholic parishes and communities to say a special prayer this weekend:

We will heed the Holy Father’s request here at St. Barnabas and Holy Rosary. Unless some other prayer is indicated to us by the Bishop or the Bishops’ Conference over the course of the day, I will print out copies of the Memorare.

In fact, let’s all say it right now for this very intention, indicated to us by Pope Francis:

The Memorare

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary,
that never was it known
that anyone who fled to thy protection,
implored thy help, or sought thy intercession
was left unaided.
Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee,
O Virgin of virgins, my mother!
To thee do I come, before thee I stand,
sinful and sorrowful.
O mother of the Word Incarnate,
despise not my petitions,
especially for a swift end to
the Christian genocide in Iraq,
and for all suffering there,

but in thy mercy hear and answer me.

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St. John Vianney, 2014 Edition

It’s time once again to prepare for the feast of St. John Vianney, patron saint of parish priests, whose liturgical memorial is celebrated tomorrow, August 4th. This feast has special import for me this year, since I now have the care of a parish (or two) of my own.

Well, there is no better way to prepare for tomorrow than by re-reading St. John Vianney’s brief Catechism on the Priesthood, which I re-post below:

My children, we have come to the Sacrament of Orders. It is a sacrament which seems to relate to no one among you, yet relates to everyone. This sacrament raises man up to God. What is a priest? A man who holds the place of God – a man who is invested with all the powers of God. “Go”, said Our Lord to the priest: “as my Father sent me, so I send you. All power has been given me in heaven and on earth. Go then, teach all nations….He who listens to you, listens to me; he who despises you despises me.” When the priest remits sins, he does not say, “God pardons you”; he says, “I absolve you”. At the Consecration, he does not say, “This is the body of our Lord”; he says, “This is my body”. St. Bernard tells us that everything has come to us through Mary, and we may also say that everything has come to us through the priest: yes, all happiness, all graces, all heavenly gifts. If we had not the Sacrament of Orders, we should not have our Lord. Who placed him there, in that tabernacle? It was the priest. Who was it that received your soul, on its entrance into life? The priest. Who nourishes it, to give it strength to make its pilgrimage? The priest. Who will prepare it to appear before God, by washing that soul, for the last time, in the blood of Jesus Christ? The priest – always the priest! And if that soul comes to the point of death, who will raise it up, who will restore it to calmness and peace? Again the priest. You cannot recall one single blessing from God without finding, side by side with this recollection, the image of the priest.

Go to confession to the Blessed Virgin, or to an angel: will they absolve you? No. Will they give you the body and blood of our Lord? No. The Holy Virgin cannot make her Divine Son descend into the Host. You might have two hundred angels there, but they could not absolve you. A priest, however simple he may be, can do it; he can say to you, “Go in peace; I pardon you”. Oh, how great is a priest! The priest will not understand the greatness of his office till he is in heaven. If he understood it on earth, he would die – not of fear, but of love. The other benefits of God would be of no avail to us without the priest. What would be the use of a house full of gold, if you had nobody to open you the door! The priest has the key of the heavenly treasures: it is he who opens the door; he is the steward of the good God, the distributor of his wealth. Without the priest, the Death and Passion of our Lord would be of no avail. Look at the heathens: what has it availed them that our Lord has died? Alas! They can have no share in the blessings of Redemption, while they have no priests to apply his blood to their souls!

The priest is not a priest for himself: he does not give himself absolution; he does not administer the sacraments to himself. He is not for himself – he is for you. After God, the priest is everything. Leave a parish twenty years without priests; they will worship beasts. If the missionary Father and I were to go away, you would say, “What can we do in this church? There is no Mass; our Lord is no longer there; we may as well pray at home.” When people wish to destroy religion, they begin by attacking the priest, because where there is no longer any priest there is no sacrifice, and where there is no longer any sacrifice there is no religion.

When the bell calls you to church, if you were asked, “Where are you going?”, you might answer, “I am going to feed my soul”. If someone were to ask you, pointing to the tabernacle, “What is that golden door?” – “That is our storehouse, where the true food of our souls is kept”. “Who has the key? Who lays in the provisions? Who makes ready the feast, and who serves the table?” – “The priest”. “And what is the food?” – “The precious body and blood of our Lord”. O God! O God! How you have loved us! See the power of the priest: out of a piece of bread the word of a priest makes a God. It is more than creating the world…. Someone said, “Does St. Philomena, then, obey the Curé of Ars?” Indeed, she may well obey him, since God obeys him.

If I were to meet a priest and an angel, I should salute the priest before I saluted the angel. The latter is the friend of God; but the priest holds his place. St. Teresa kissed the ground where a priest had passed. When you see a priest, you should say, “There is he who made me a child of God, and opened heaven to me by holy Baptism; he who purified me after I had sinned; who gives nourishment to my soul”. At the sight of a church tower, you may say, “What is there in that place?” – “The body of our Lord”. “Why is he there?” – “Because a priest has been there, and has said holy Mass”.

What joy did the Apostles feel after the Resurrection of our Lord, at seeing the Master whom they had loved so much! The priest must feel the same joy, at seeing our Lord whom he holds in his hands. Great value is attached to objects which have been laid in the drinking cup of the Blessed Virgin and of the Child Jesus, at Loreto. But the fingers of the priest, that have touched the adorable flesh of Jesus Christ, that have been plunged into the chalice which contained his blood, into the pyx where his body has lain – are they not still more precious? The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus. When you see the priest, think of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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