Most Popular Posts and Assorted Others

This blog has been going for one month shy of six and a half years now — and this is its 897th post. Many daily visitors arrive here by internet search, and sometimes the stats on an older post will spike, suggesting that someone found it helpful and shared it on social media. I have several current post ideas that I am mulling over but not a lot of stamina to write semi-intelligently about them at present, due to general busy-ness and also some seasonal illness that I’ve been trying to shake. If you could whisper a quick prayer for me, I would certainly appreciate it!

For a while now I have been hoping to find the time to put together a topical index of the blog. Absent that time/effort, I thought it could be good to create a couple of short lists. Here follow, then, two lists: the first, a selection of the top 10 most-visited posts of the blog since it was started; the second, 15 assorted posts that I think will be of interest, especially to more recent readers. Thank you for reading!

* * *

SELECT TOP TEN MOST-VISITED POSTS

10. First Blessings and Masses of New Priests (March 2016) — debunks an urban legend about an indulgence allegedly connected with a priest’s first blessing, but explains then how a seminarian can arrange special indulgences for his first Masses (plural!).

9. Sick Call Crucifix (June 2014) — explains not only what the unique type of crucifix is that many married couples (historically, at least) had hanging above their marriage bed, but also some customs surrounding its use.

8. Applause in Church (May 2014) — encouragement not to applaud in church, but also an explanation of why applause is not fitting.

7. Our Lady of Fatima (May 2015) — a homily I had given on Our Lady of Fatima, with the theme of “do not be afraid” as a refrain.

6. Put St. Joseph to Work for You (May 2014) — commentary from Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI on devotion to St. Joseph, a saint for our time.

5. Prayer before and after Mass (February 2014) — simple prayers that I composed (and at one time had on a holy card) to help recollect before Mass and give proper thanks after.

4. Prayer of Absolution (July 2017) — what is the minimum prayer that a priest must say to absolve us from our sins? This post addresses this delicate yet important topic. Be sure to read the post that is linked at the bottom, also, for additional info.

3. The Sort of Things Priests Say (February 2014) — a bit of liturgical trivia, but the third-most popular post on the blog! This surprised me a bit. Seminarians and priests who visit Rome will certainly (or at least hopefully) want to know about this wonderful pious tradition.

2. Non Fecit Taliter Omni Nationi (June 2013) — in sending his mother as Our Lady of Guadalupe to the American continent, God truly gave a grace that he had not given to any other nation. Devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe is so important for us; this information will help you grow in your understanding and appreciation of this devotion.

1. Caring for Liturgical Linens (August 2014) — that this is the most-read post on the blog provokes in me a certain sadness: it suggests to me that ignorance surrounding the proper care of liturgical linens is great (this conclusion is amply supported by other evidence I’ve heard of or seen first-hand throughout my ministry). But I’m glad to be able to provide this information also, hopefully to help improve the state of things.

* * *

FIFTEEN ASSORTED OTHER POSTS OF INTEREST (in no particular order)

15. Sign of the Cross in Blessings (April 2014) — although many priests are now preferring to confer blessings from the 1962 Rituale Romanum instead of the newer “Book of Blessings”, it is important to know — and this is not taught in most seminaries — that the Church intends for us to include the Sign of the Cross in the newer blessings, also, even where it is not explicitly included (as is the case for most of them).

14. Working on Holy Days of Obligation (November 2018) — in which I challenge Catholics in general and Catholic business owners in particular to take the day off/close up shop on Holy Days of Obligation, in order to follow the divine and ecclesial law on the santification of such days and bear witness of the faith to others.

13. Pyx Problems (July 2015) — many people have pyxes (small containers to carry the Eucharist to the sick) that are totally unsuitable for The One whom they are carrying. This post challenges them and especially priests to improve the overall situation.

12. Confession during Mass (June 2019) — many people do not realize that hearing confessions during Mass is not only permitted but very traditional; moreover, one may go to confession during Mass and still fulfill his or her Mass obligation, if it is a Mass of precept. Supporting documentation included in this post.

11. Scrupulosity (April 2019) — the cross of scrupulosity is a terrible burden for some people, and there are not always spiritual directors and confessors readily available to help a soul deal with and even move beyond the terrible throes of this psychological condition. This post is not meant to be a comprehensive solution but an initial guide to help such souls (and priests/spiritual directors) navigate these delicate circumstances.

10. Baptism Booklet for the Extraordinary Form (October 2018) — so far this year I have baptized some 25 infants, fully two-thirds of which have been in the Extraordinary Form, due to the rediscovery by many of the beauty and power of this older form of baptism. This participation guide not only provides the prayers (in translation, where applicable), so that parents may make an informed decision about which form they wish for their child, but also serves for laity and clergy in following along with (and learning) the rite.

9. The Contempt of Some Priests! (May 2016) — rather biting commentary by St. Alphonsus Liguori on “Masses celebrated with little reverence”, a problem that we have all encountered.

8. Sufficient Confession Times (July 2019) — some practical thoughts on how to determine if a parish has sufficient confession times for its population and the true spiritual growth of its members.

7. The Biretta (June 2019) — information about the traditional three-cornered hat that clergy and seminarians may wear… as well as the surprising lack of symbolism connected with it!

6. In What Color Are Priests & Deacons To Be Buried? (May 2014) — while funerals are commonly celebrated in white today and clergy are often vested in white for their burial, the traditional color for burial was different and perhaps needs to be rediscovered!

5. Mass “For the People” — All the People (June 2014) — have you ever wondered why Mass was offered “for the people” or “for the people of the parish” (or similar) each week in your parish? Or, have you not seen that intention published (yikes!)? This post explains it in greater depth.

4. Communion in the Hand (November 2013) — I strongly believe that this contemporary practice (which originated through a movement of disobedience) has contributed to the overall erosion of faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. I humbly ask every Catholic who receives this way to reconsider.

3. Fat Priests (August 2019) — there is no doubt that rates of obesity are higher today than in the past, and clergy do not cease to be members of the larger society, affected by its trends. Many clergy today are also terribly (too) busy. This post suggests some concrete ways that are rooted in proven spirituality for them (us) to get “back on track”.

2. Blessed Rolando Rivi: “I Belong to Jesus” (October 2013) — when I wrote this post, this Blessed was barely known outside of Italy, and my attempt was to help spread his fame. I believe it has contributed to that end. A very important holy man for our time!

1. Having A Home Chapel (August 2017) — a lovely Catholic tradition that is perhaps more “within reach” than ever for your average American family that has extra space and could benefit from devoting some of it to true devotion to our Lord and his saints!

* * *

Thank you for reading my blog!

Posted in Ad Hoc | Tagged , , , , ,

The Silence of God

Has God ever seemed silent — even absent — to you? While so much that would seem to call for his intervention is happening around you?

At an audience in Loreto, Italy in 2007, Pope Benedict XVI was asked by a youth about the silence of God. Here is her question, followed by his excellent response:

Question posed by Sara Simonetta :

“I believe in the God who has touched my heart, but I have many insecurities, questions and fears that I carry within. It is not easy to speak about God with my friends; many of them see the Church as a reality that judges youth, that opposes their desire for happiness and love. Faced with this refusal, I feel all of my solitude as a human and I would like to sense the nearness of God. Your Holiness, in this silence, where is God?”

Response of the Holy Father:

Yes, even though we are believers, we all know God’s silence. In the Psalm we just recited, there is this almost despairing cry: “Make haste to answer me, O Lord… Do not hide your face!”, and a little while ago a book of the spiritual experiences of Mother Teresa was published and what we already all knew was a little more clearly shown: with all her charity and the power of her faith, Mother Teresa suffered from God’s silence.

On the one hand, we must also bear God’s silence in order to understand our brothers who do not know God. On the other, with the Psalm we can always cry to God once again: “Answer us, show your face!” And without a doubt, in our life, if our hearts are open, we can find the important moments when God’s presence really becomes tangible even for us.

I now remember a little story that John Paul II told at the Spiritual Exercises he preached in the Vatican when he was not yet Pope. He recounted that after the war he was visited by a Russian official who was a scientist and who said to him as a scientist: “I am certain that God does not exist. Yet, if I am in the mountains, surrounded by his majestic beauty, by his grandeur, I am equally sure that the Creator does exist and that God exists.”

The beauty of creation is one of the sources where we can truly touch God’s beauty, we can see that the Creator exists and is good, which is true as Sacred Scripture says in the Creation Narrative, that is, that God conceived of this world and made it with his heart, his will, and his reason – and he found it good. We too must be good in order to have an open heart and to perceive God’s true presence. Then, hearing the Word of God in the solemn liturgical celebrations, in celebrations of faith, in the great music of faith, we feel this presence.

I remember at this moment another little story which a Bishop on his ad limina visit told me a little while ago. There was a very intelligent woman who was not a Christian. She began to listen to the great music of Bach, Handel, and Mozart. She was fascinated and said one day: “I must find the source of this beauty”, and the woman converted to Christianity, to the Catholic faith, because she had discovered that this beauty has a source, and the source is the presence of Christ in hearts, it is the revelation of Christ in this world.

Hence, great feasts of faith, of liturgical celebration, but also personal dialogue with Christ: he does not always respond, but there are times when he really responds. Then there is the friendship, the company of faith.

Now, gathered here in Loreto, we see that faith unites, friendship creates a company of travelling companions. And we sense that all this does not derive from nothing but truly has a source, that the silent God is also a God who speaks, that he reveals himself and above all, that we ourselves can be witnesses of his presence, and from our faith a light truly shines also for others.

Thus, I would say on the one hand, we must accept that God is silent in this world, but we must not be deaf to his words or blind to his appearance on so many occasions. We see the Lord’s presence, especially in creation, in the beautiful liturgy, in friendship within the Church, and full of his presence, we can also give light to others.

Thus, I come to the second part, or rather, the first part of your question: it is difficult to speak to friends today about God and perhaps even more difficult to talk about the Church, because they see in God only the limit of our freedom, a God of commandments, of prohibitions, and the Church as an institution that limits our freedom, that imposes prohibitions upon us.

Nonetheless, we must try to make the living Church visible to them, not this idea of a center of power in the Church with these labels, but the community of companions where, in spite of all life’s problems that exist for everyone, is born our joy of living.

Here, a third memory springs to mind. I was in Brazil, in Fazenda da Esperança, this great community where drug addicts are treated and rediscover hope, the joy of living in this world; and they witnessed what the actual discovery that God exists meant for their recovery from despair. They thus understood that their life has meaning and they rediscovered the joy of being in this world, the joy of facing the problems of human life. Therefore, in every human heart, despite all the problems that exist, is a thirst for God, and when God disappears, the sun that gives light and joy also disappears.

This thirst for the infinite that is in our hearts is also demonstrated even in the reality of drugs: the human being wants to extend the quality of life, to have more than life, to have the infinite, but drugs are a lie, they are a fraud, because they do not extend life but destroy it.

The great thirst that speaks to us of God and sets us on the path that leads to him is true, but we must help one another. Christ came to create a network of communion in the world, where all together we might carry one another, and thus help one another together to find the ways that lead to life and to understand that the Commandments of God are not limits to our freedom but the paths that guide us to the other, towards the fullness of life.

Let us pray to the Lord to help us understand his presence, to be full of his Revelation, his joy, to help one another to go forward in the company of faith and with Christ to increasingly find the true Face of God, and hence, true life.

* * *

Posted in Scheduled | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Our Response to Unworthy Priests and Bishops

I have begun in earnest to read Cardinal Sarah’s latest book. His writings and discourses are always chock full of wisdom, doctrine, and the saints. He is a walking encyclopedia. But more than a source of information, it is evident that he has really internalized and appropriated the faith in a marvelous way. He is a living witness.

Many are struggling right now in the Church. These are times of scandals and divisions. Our response must always be to recognize that the Church remains the one that Christ founded — “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life.” (John 6:68). However, many are still finding it difficult to persevere. This book is for them and for all who are in any way concerned. Look at what the Cardinal says about unworthy priests and bishops:

Dear friends, your pastors are full of faults and imperfections. But despising them is not the way to build Church unity. Do not be afraid to demand of them the Catholic faith, the sacraments of divine life. Remember the words of Saint Augustine: “Let Peter baptize, this is the one [Jesus] who baptizes;.. Let Judas baptize, this is the one who baptizes!” The most unworthy priest of all is still the instrument of divine grace when he celebrates the sacraments. See how much God loves us! He consents to handing over his Eucharistic Body into the sacrilegious hands of miserable priests. If you think that your priests and bishops are not saints, then be one for them. Do penance, fast to make reparation for their defects and their cowardice. That is the only way that anyone can bear another’s burden. (page 19, my emphases)

As I write and post this, it is the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. The Lord appeared to Francis and told him to rebuild his Church; Francis immediately busied himself with fixing up the dilapidated church building that he was in. But he would later come to understand that true reform involves more than having fitting Church buildings: it involves having fitting souls. Francis’ great revolution was one of holiness — and it began with him. The Lord then used him to lead others to that same ideal.

If we become holy — which is our calling! — then the Lord will work through us to build up and reform his Church. It is really all we can do in many cases. I have written and spoken about this before, and Cardinal Sarah’s words serve as a reminder for us all now. Consider reading his book — it will surely be a great encouragement.

THE DAY IS NOW FAR SPENT (click to see on Amazon.com)

Posted in Ad Hoc | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

The Churching of Women

Today, after our solemn Mass, a nice family that was visiting asked me if I would give the “Blessing of a Woman after Childbirth” from the traditional (1962) Roman Ritual — also known as “the churching of women”. Read the Catholic Encyclopedia article on it HERE.

This blessing harks back to the biblical tradition of a woman’s needing to be ritually “purified” after childbirth — a tradition observed by the Blessed Virgin Mary herself, when she presented Christ in the temple. It also relates to a woman’s natural desire to give thanks to God in a formal way for the gift of her child. And in former times, when the recovery after childbirth was typically longer and more difficult, it was also the first time that a woman came back to church after having convalesced and nursed her child for a few weeks.

The rite consists of a few prayers that take less than 10 minutes to recite. It starts at the entrance of the church, where the mother holds a lighted candle and the priest reads a Psalm. Then he places the left end of his stole on the woman and leads her up to the step of the sanctuary, where she kneels (if possible) — he then says the following prayer over her:

Almighty everlasting God, who by means of the blessed Virgin Mary’s childbearing has given every Christian mother joy, even in her pains of bringing forth her child; look kindly on this servant of yours who has come in gladness to your holy dwelling to offer her thanks. And grant that after this life, through the merits and prayers of that same blessed Mary, she and her child may be deemed worthy of attaining the happiness of everlasting life. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Finally, he gives her a blessing and sprinkles her with holy water.

I’ve been a priest over 11 years now and this was the first time I was asked to give this blessing. What a joy that there are still new (old) things to discover and to share with others!

Many thanks to the family for taking the photo and allowing me to share it.

Posted in Ad Hoc | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Can the Devil Read Our Thoughts?

I’ve seen various memes about us and the devil on social media recently, along the lines of the one displayed above. The purpose of them is obviously to give us a certain confidence in God and his power over evil; some of them cross the line, however, making it sound like we can somehow contend with the devil. That’s just dumb — and dangerous.

In any case, there is a certain truth conveyed by the meme in this post, and that is: the devil cannot read our thoughts.

He is far more intelligent than we — or than we can really fathom.

He observes us intently and can deduce many things from what he observes.

But he cannot see with certainty what we are thinking, if it remains only in the realm of thought and we do not visibly express it.

St. Thomas Aquinas teaches this in his Disputed Questions on Evil (De Malo), question 16, article 8. And the Second Vatican Council teaches us (Gaudium et spes 16) that our conscience is our most secret core, where we are alone with God.

So the above meme is correct: when we pray (when we are not moving our lips or otherwise manifesting the content of our prayer!), the devil does not know what we are saying to God. The evil one cannot read our thoughts. We are safe from him there. When we pray, therefore, we must speak to God openly, honestly, and with confidence — without fear that the devil might be listening in!

Posted in Ad Hoc | Tagged , , , , , ,

Learning How to Serve the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) – Unit 1 Home Study

I will soon be learning how to serve the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) myself — something I never learned to do; I only learned how to celebrate it. And I will also be training some boys how to serve.

In preparation for this, it seemed opportune to devise a sort of home study program. There is a great initial investment needed to learn how to serve the Latin Mass. Part of this investment is learning the differences between the two forms of the Mass, Extraordinary and Ordinary (older and newer). And another major part is figuring out the Latin prayers.

Since many people have not studied Latin, there is first of all the need to figure out how the pronunciation works. With this home study, I take the approach of not getting into too much theory, but simply pronouncing the words as the listener reads along. You just have to sort of get it in your ear. Then you can get it on your tongue. The theory can come later. So Unit 1 is a practice in pronunciation.

From there, after we’ve practiced saying the words and started to get proficient at it, we should learn what those words mean. So then we’ll have a side-by-side Latin and English version of the text and continue practicing our pronunciation, while being able to cross-reference the English, know what we are saying, and start to reflect on it. Contemplation is important; celebrating or serving the Mass is not just an act of declamation — it is prayer. So Unit 2 is more practice but with the translation provided for reflection.

From there, well… I’m still developing this system. There will probably be a third unit, covering the other principal responses of the Mass. Then the home study will end and we will have to start putting it all in motion, with in-person practices.

I’ve tried to speak simply in the introductory recording, on a level a middle or high school student could understand. It is not deep liturgical theology; there is obviously much more that could be said.

Stay tuned as I publish these units. And please share them with anyone who could possibly benefit from them.

> Unit 1 Study Sheet (PDF file – download and print)

> Introductory Audio File (mp3 – about 9 minutes)

> Prayers Audio File 1 (mp3 – about 1.5 minutes)

> Prayers Audio File 2 (mp3 – about 2 minutes)

> Prayers Audio File 3 (mp3 – about 1.5 minutes)

When you click the links, the files will open up in a new tab. So you can come back to the original tab to click on the next, then alternate between tabs. Alternatively, you could download them all to your computer or phone, then play them from your audio app.

Those who wish to share feedback with me may do so via this post on my Facebook page, or by using the Contact Form on the blog.

Posted in Ad Hoc | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Fat Priests

“The last thing the Church needs is more fat priests!” — a (now deceased) priest whom I had the privilege of knowing in college (when I weighed about 90 lbs less…)

It’s easy enough for priests today to resign ourselves to being victims of our circumstances: many of us are too busy, with heavy assignments, always on the run, and so we often make poor choices with respect to what we eat and whether, if at all, we exercise. Genetic pre-dispositions and other particular health issues aside, many of us simply lack virtue and the resolve to eat properly and so keep the weight off.

I’ve never been much of a dieter, because I tend to lack the willpower. I’ve read a lot about diets and dreamt of completing one with success. I tried Weight Watchers at one point (although I know several who are doing it with great success now — it seems the new system they have is far more effective); I’ve done intermittent fasting; I’ve done keto. But then there are the dinner invitations, the candy dish, the office parties, and… well, the poor choices reflecting a lack of moral virtue! Yes, so much of it comes down to just that.

I suspect that most of us priests who are overweight sense the burden this state of affairs has on our ministry: not only in terms of the disedifying effect that our appearance and gait may have on others, but our reduced stamina, other attendant health issues, and perhaps, even, our reduced self-esteem/confidence. There is also the basic issue of justice: we have embraced the celibate life so that we may give ourselves entirely to the Church, but if we shorten our life through poor lifestyle choices, we limit our gift. As the good Father said, The last thing the Church needs is more fat priests!

In reflecting on this issue and also praying about it, I keep coming back to the question of virtue: How can I acquire the virtue needed — of self-control, of moderation, of prudence — to eat less, eat better, and so be healthier (and hopefully, skinnier)? This needs to be part of my relationship with God. It needs to be part of who I am as a Catholic and a priest. A mere technical solution is not enough.

But systems do help. We need a structured approach. Maybe it really is best to do almost-no-carb (keto or keto-ish), or count points, or whatever. But so often that is hard to manage amidst the particular exigencies of priestly living. A more suitable system is needful.

Well, the one that keeps coming to mind for me is one that I read about many years ago. It is called the No-S Diet. The man who developed it is not Catholic, but he thinks in a Catholic way. The premise behind it is: no snacks, no sweets, no seconds, except on days that start with “s. (Other days, besides Saturdays and Sundays, can also be “S” Days, designated as such by the individual — such as birthdays, holidays, etc.) He has reasons, which I think are good ones and rooted in a simple and sane reflection on how humans have lived down through the centuries, behind all of these provisos. But what I really like about it is how nicely it fits in with our Catholic, liturgical framework.

For the traditional Catholic way of living is that we fast and we feast. Fasting is now at an historic legal minimum — just two days per year, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. But traditionally, there were all sorts of fasts throughout the year — for example, on the vigils of most major feasts. Then there were the feasts, with their particular celebrations and often special treats. Think about the zeppole for St. Joseph or the wonderful cassata for St. Agatha’s feast day. These seasonal treats were connected with the great feasts and were also things to look forward to.

Our society today teaches us that we may have whatever we want, when we want it. Just do it! Indulge! Eat “sinful” things, even! If some food is out of season, it is imported from another part of the world. If there is a treat you enjoy when you visit Europe, no problem – you can have it here Stateside also, through online order. And then there are the far more banal treats that tempt us, crying out from their strategic location by the checkout line.

We need virtue to make the right choices, but we also need a framework to grow in virtue. The liturgical framework — observing natural cycles of the year, eating less most days but having special days to enjoy — is one that just makes sense for a Catholic. Especially for a Catholic who is striving to recover a proper Catholic culture for himself and for his family.

Well, priests live (or are supposed to live) liturgical lives. We pray the Liturgy of the Hours, with its different rankings of feasts. We celebrate Mass for those varied saints and other observances. Our “big days” are Sundays and Holy Days. And each day, we have the task, like everyone else, of trying to acquire virtue.

It seems to this overweight priest that something like the No-S Diet may be the most coherent approach we can take in our pursuit of virtuous eating and living. Maybe some of us have few invitations out and don’t mind cooking — so we can pursue a keto diet easily or count points or whatever. But for many who are out a lot, don’t like cooking or don’t have the time or energy to do it, and so forth, something like this is a simple framework and it coheres with our liturgical life. Thus we can readily bring it back to our prayer, and draw strength from the Lord so that we may persevere.

Indeed, we might think of it as a “modified No-S Diet” — Saturdays don’t count as S days. No, it’s best for us just to stick with Sundays, Holy Days of Obligation, our birthdays, our baptism anniversaries, our personal name/saint day, and maybe the Octave of Christmas and the Octave of Easter. That’s plenty of days for festivity. But in-between, there are plenty of days to avoid snacks, sweets, seconds; to make virtuous decisions and so form better habits. And to pray through it.

A diet framework like this will likely not have as immediate and dramatic results as something like intermittent fasting or keto. But it is probably more “sustainable” also. For someone who loses weight quickly through keto or IF then has to figure out how to maintain afterwards. Someone who forms habits that include general moderation and self-restraint, punctuated by special treats coinciding with the liturgical year, may indeed have seasonal fluctuations, but overall will be able more easily to keep the weight down.

I am reminded of something I once read in one of Cardinal Ratzinger’s books. He wrote of how he had a slightly larger cassock to wear in the winter, around the holidays, when there were more sweets for the special feast days (he loves sweets). He had his fluctuations — and they followed the rhythms of the liturgical year. But those of us who have kept up with Ratzinger/Benedict down through the years know that he has never been fat.

This all touches upon a topic that I alluded to above and hope to return to again: liturgical living. I recall also the book by Josef Pieper, In Tune with the World: A Theory of Festivity. Authentic Catholic culture is such a gift. It is what transformed the divided and, in some cases, barbarous cultures of the distinct races of Europe and united them into what we know today as the European continent. It is what brought an end to so many historical atrocities in Latin America. It has done much for our own United States. But we have lost it in great part. We need to recover it. The present topic is just one small element of this larger (weightier?) issue!

The No-S Diet: the book, the web site.

Posted in Ad Hoc | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Some Problems with Whole Wheat Hosts

The “spotless” victim?!

It didn’t take long after I was ordained for me to start disliking whole wheat hosts.

For one, I noticed that when I fractured them, they tended to produce more crumbs or particles than regular white hosts. After communion, it sometimes took two or three rinses to completely remove the particles from the sacred vessel. These particles were less water-soluble than their pure-white-host counterparts, also. Of course, they’ll still dissolve — but it seems to take longer.

Then there was the experience of consuming them. Whereas we had been taught to let the host dissolve on our tongue when we received our first holy communion, these didn’t really work that way, either. You pretty much had to do some chewing before they could go down.

But then there was another insight that came to me at some point. This insight especially emerged after the new translation of the Mass went into effect, a few years after I was ordained. During the Roman Canon — the First Eucharistic Prayer — there is that beautiful and poetic passage (in the new/current translation):

…we, your servants and your holy people,
offer to your glorious majesty
from the gifts that you have given us,
this pure victim,
this holy victim,
this spotless victim,
the holy Bread of eternal life
and the Chalice of everlasting salvation…

The “pure” and “spotless” victim. But what is this bespeckled host before me?!

The prior translation completely obscured the crucial words. The corresponding passage in the translation used from 1969 to 2011 said:

…and from the many gifts you have given us
we offer to you, God of glory and majesty,
this holy and perfect sacrifice:
the bread of life and
the cup of eternal salvation…

The words we pray do make a difference. In this case, when we finally had an accurate translation, it led me to think about the host I was praying over in a different way!

Traditionally, hosts have been made of pure white, fine flour. Thus they dissolve readily on the tongue. Thus they break cleanly, without big chunks and particles ordinarily being left behind. Thus they more clearly represent a “pure” and “spotless” victim being offered to the Father!

The whole wheat host fad strikes me as one of those innovations introduced by the liturgical suppliers. Nuns used to make almost all the hosts that were used. With the steep decline in female religious numbers, there were fewer convents available to supply the need. Companies like Cavanagh also came around, offering a quality-controlled, economically-priced product. Market forces took over. Then marketing forces also came to bear – hence the introduction of various novelties that really didn’t make sense with respect to our tradition: such as larger hosts (“pizza hosts”, I call them), more substantial hosts that can really only be consumed via chewing, whole wheat hosts, etc…

I hate to think that any parish would have switched to whole wheat for health reasons, but there was the whole grains fad also… who knows. Looks like more marketing to me.

But once that host is consecrated, it’s the pure, holy, and spotless victim. It should look like what it is. As we approach it, it’s the time to count our blessings, not count calories or grams of fiber! 

A simple thing that every pastor could do to enhance a more coherent sort of reverence in his parish’s worship is to use up his supply of whole wheat hosts and then make the switch to pure white.

If he wants a lovely type of host for use on his own paten and for his own communion, he might consider something like the St. Michael’s Altar Bread celebrant’s hosts. The white ones are pure white, thin, dissolve easily, break cleanly, etc.

Of course, he should use the Roman Canon, at least on Sundays, also! How beautiful it is in the more recent and more accurate translation!

Posted in Ad Hoc | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Bilingual Catechism

With the new catechetical year beginning, it may be time to consider once again a purchase of my book. This basic bilingual catechism (Spanish/English) meets a pastoral need that I have encountered over and over again: in working with Latino immigrants, I found that a very large number of them have little formal education in the Catholic faith. Many come to the Church as adults to make their first communion — some, even, to be baptized! When faced with pastoral situations such as this, it is helpful for the pastor or catechist to have a basic resource to put in their hands: something that can be a sort of “springboard” for learning what is needed for sacramental preparation and personal spiritual growth. I have also found that many individuals who already have their sacraments enjoy this resource for “brushing up on the basics” of their faith.

This basic catechism is just that — basic. It’s a starting point. I have seen it produce good results in helping people to begin orienting to a more active and informed life of faith.

This slim volume, at 98 pages, entitled Our Wonderful Catholic Faith, has a number of features that I think are quite useful:

  • It is in large print (helpful for the many immigrants who have poor eyesight and have never been able to remedy that due to their financial situation);
  • It is completely bilingual (helpful especially for the second generation – those born here – who live in “both worlds” and who need to know their faith in both languages; also helpful for those who still only speak Spanish but need to learn English in order to integrate better into American society);
  • The English translation is rather literal, to help those who are learning one language or the other to form correct correlations between the two;
  • The book is attractively priced (at just under $5.00 per volume – notwithstanding coupons that you might find on sites like Retailmenot.com – making it affordable for pastors and catechists to buy multiple copies and even re-sell them at a modest profit; also making it affordable for those of modest financial means, like many immigrants).

The Lulu self-publishing site used to have an option for me to show a complete preview of the book online. Now that seems to depend upon having Adobe Flash (which many don’t) and it is only partial. Therefore, I have uploaded a PDF of the entire book here to the blog. Take a look so you can see what you can decide for yourself if this resource might be useful. Download:

> CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD A PREVIEW PDF OF THIS BOOK <

As you will see from the preview file, this book has several sections: Basic Prayers (including the beautiful rhyming prayers often used in Spanish), Formulas of Catholic Doctrine (often in list format, either for memorization or reference), Questions and Answers (101 total, touching upon the main tenets of the faith in a non-exhaustive manner), How to Confess Well (including a basic examination of conscience suitable for children – when this book will be used by adults, a more complete examen should be inserted), and a section on Indulgences (this may seem somewhat esoteric to some, but I am convinced that by teaching the spirituality of indulgences we can be most effective at encouraging regular worthy reception of the sacraments).

A pastor faced with helping an adult immigrant prepare to complete his Christian initiation could give him a copy of this book, encourage him to study it, and then meet with him on several occasions to “flesh out” the relevant sections and understand them better. An Hispanic family (with bilingual children) that wants to practice daily family prayer could use the prayer section of this book as a guide, ensuring that their children not only learn their prayers in Spanish but can see them in English also. A seminarian charged with learning Spanish could find in this book a good reference for things not easily found elsewhere.

This book does not pretend to be exhaustive: there is much more that I could have included in it, such as “How to pray the Rosary”, the Stations of the Cross, more Q&A, the Liturgical Year, etc. But I saw the need for something more basic. Perhaps in the future I will be able to develop a more comprehensive resource. This book is not meant to replace official Church catechisms, such as the “Catechism of the Catholic Church”, but rather is to serve as an introduction to such official resources.

To learn more and/or to place an order, GO HERE (click). Remember to check the web site Retailmenot.com, typing “Lulu.com” in the search box — often there are great coupons available. Also, Lulu itself offers bulk discounts for purchases of 15 copies or more.

Please share this resource with your pastor, DRE, other parish staff, seminarians, and other possibly interested parties!

Posted in Scheduled | Tagged , , , , , ,

Home Chapels

I posted almost two years ago to the day on the topic of home chapels: see the post, Having a Home Chapel. For those who have the space and the creativity, it’s a wonderful way to honor the Lord in one’s home by having a decorous place dedicated to prayer with him and his saints. It’s a great reminder that the house belongs to him. “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord!”

I’m thinking I should start collecting photos of home chapels and sharing them here from time to time. I have the sense that this is becoming a “thing”. (And no, I’m not claiming causal connections with my post, either.) The photo at the top of this post was just shared by one of my parishioners; they have recently made beautiful enhancements to their home chapel. See more photos of their chapel here, on their blog.

This blog cross-posts to my Facebook page and there you can post comments. Feel free to share any info you know about home chapels there! (For those who get my postings via email, I’m going to go back in after I post it and provide a direct link to the comments section on my Facebook page. You might want to reload the post on the blog in your web browser — https://fatherjerabek.com/2019/08/24/home-chapels — so that you can get the updated Facebook link.)

Posted in Ad Hoc | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Options That Divide Us

There can be rather drastic liturgical differences between parishes — most of us have experienced this. Some of us have chosen to attend a parish precisely because of the way it “does liturgy”. But does that necessarily mean that the one is “doing it right” while the others are “doing it wrong”? When it comes to the Ordinary Form of the Mass or Novus Ordo, things aren’t quite that simple.

Let’s run through some of the options that each priest has on any given Sunday. I’ll do it in an outline form:

I. Opening Hymn/Chant
a. It could be the Gregorian chant introit verse (entrance antiphon)
b. It could be a vernacular composition of the entrance antiphon
c. It could be the Latin but in another musical style/composition
d. It could be a hymn from a hymnal
e. He could just enter in silence and read the verse upon reaching the altar
f. Oh yes – there are more options than just these
II. Greeting
a. He could do “The Lord be with you”
b. He could do one of several others that are provided
III. Remarks/”Pre-homily”
a. He could now add remarks, introducing the liturgy of the day
b. Or he could omit remarks and continue to the penitential rite
IV. Penitential Rite
a. There are three forms that can be used
b. Within one of the forms — “form c” — there are nearly endless options
V. Gloria
a. He could recite it with the people
b. He could intone a Latin Gloria and then the people and/or choir sing it
c. A vernacular setting could be sung – the possibilities are rather numerous
VI. Collect (Opening Prayer)
a. He could sing it according to a traditional tone (solemn, festive, etc.)
b. He could sing it according to some tone that he made up or prefers
c. He could recite it
VII. Responsorial Psalm/Gradual
a. The responsorial psalm as printed in the lectionary could be recited or sung
b. Another psalm could be substituted in many cases
c. Another translation is also possible
d. Or he could have the Gradual sung (whether in the Gregorian setting or another composition/language)
VIII. Alleluia/verse
a. He could omit it entirely
b. He could recite it
c. He could have it sung according to a million different settings/styles
(We’ll leave out options that exist concerning chanting the readings versus reciting them)
IX. Homily
a. He could preach on the readings
b. He could preach on the other prayers of the Mass
c. Or…. he could preach on what the bishop told him to preach about, like the charities drive
X. Creed
a. He could use the Nicene Creed
b. He could use the Apostles’ Creed
XI. General Intercessions
a. Virtually unlimited possibilities for the texts
b. Also the possibility of singing all or part of them (e.g. only the response)

That’s just the “Liturgy of the Word”. And 99% of the things I listed are legitimate options. Then we could start listing common abuses…

How does a priest decide? I’ll tell you what happens in many, many places: he chooses what he likes, what he thinks/knows the people like, or some combination of the two. Some places have liturgy committees that assist with these decisions also.

What this alarming multiplicity of options has led to is precisely a subjectivism about liturgy: it becomes about us and our preferences. This then drives the choices that many make about what parish they will attend — “I like their hymns better”; “I like the fact that they recite everything and use the shortest options”; etc.

This subjective approach to worship is not what true worship is about. It is God who tells us how he is to be approached. Think of the burning bush: he instructed Moses first to take off his sandals, for it was sacred ground. Think of the two sons of Aaron, who offered incense in a way that went against what God had commanded in Leviticus 10: they were burned up.

God makes us worthy to offer him fitting worship through baptism. That is when we come to share in his priesthood, such that we can pray to him in a way that befits his majesty and is pleasing to him. But he doesn’t just leave it to us to figure out afterward. No, through both divine revelation and the further guidance of his Church, he effectively tells us how we are to approach him.

Yes, the multiplicity of options that I listed above are legislated by the Church, and so are legitimate variations: I am not disputing that. What I am pointing out is the way that they have led, in practice, to a subjective approach that has contributed to our being divided into camps. We may well choose certain options, and legally — but we may choose them for the wrong reasons. And we often have done so.

The way forward, which I think will help us to achieve better unity within our worship, is two-fold:

  1. Realize, through liturgical education, that worship calls us out of ourselves and challenges us – it is not something we create based on personal tastes or questions of efficiency or convenience;
  2. Seek always those options that are in continuity with what was done by our ancestors.

When a priest sets about celebrating a Mass in the Extraordinary Form, yes, he does have options. But they are far, far fewer in number. And it’s not like abuses or deviations from the ideal didn’t enter in also (historically) or aren’t still present now in some places. But the general approach — the starting-point — remains quite different: it simply does not lend itself well to “personalization”.

Most priests, the present writer included, who have learned how to celebrate the Extraordinary Form, have experienced in a rather striking way how it makes a claim on us. The burden of choosing between countless options is all but eliminated, and I simply must obey the text. I don’t have to make things up. “Amen, amen, I say to you: when you were young you used to gird yourself and go where you would. But when you are old, behold, you will stretch out your hands and another will gird you and lead you where you did not wish to go” (John 21:18): this prophecy applies to all who are invited to follow after Christ, but in particular, to priests. Some liturgical forms assist us in appropriating it better.

Taking the above partial outline, and trying to seek those things that would be in fuller continuity with our tradition, these are the options that a parish might choose for its Sunday liturgy:

I. Opening Hymn/Chant
a. Chanted introit/entrance antiphon instead of a hymn
II. Greeting
a. “The Lord be with you” (the other options are certainly scriptural but are not in continuity with liturgical tradition)
III. Remarks/”Pre-homily”
a. Omit entirely — important announcements may be made before Mass or in the bulletin
IV. Penitential Rite
a. Use the Confiteor (“I Confess”)
V. Gloria
a. Chant, ideally in Latin — Mass VIII (Missa de Angelis) may be over-done in many places, but it is easy for people to learn and can be a good starting point
VI. Collect (Opening Prayer)
a. Sing it according to a traditional tone
VII. Responsorial Psalm/Gradual
a. Chant the Gradual rather than the Responsorial Psalm. Use either the Gregorian setting or a composed setting in English or Latin
VIII. Alleluia/verse
a. Sing using a Gregorian setting or at least something dignified, that doesn’t sound like a stadium chant
IX. Homily
a. Fr. Hugh has some good reflections/guidance on the homily
b. (Of course, if the bishop mandates a certain topic, do it in obedience!)
X. Creed
a. Use the Nicene Creed and consider chanting it in Latin. Credo III is not hard to learn
XI. General Intercessions
a. Keep them brief and follow the outline given in the GIRM
b. Omit them entirely at daily Masses

If all parishes took the approach of choosing those options that are in continuity with our tradition, they would be liberated from slavery to subjectivism while at the same time finding that there is still a wonderful variety. They would be worshipping more fully in union with their ancestors. They would be challenged to appreciate new things rather than taking refuge in familiar comforts. The quality of their liturgical celebration might be raised. A new reverence and a holy fear of God might more readily be fostered.

Many have written on this and there is certainly much more that can be said. Perhaps I’ll return to this topic in the future and from different angles.

Posted in Scheduled | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Blessing of Herbs for the Assumption

This evening, on the Vigil of the Assumption, I offered the traditional Blessing of Herbs that is affiliated with this feast day. This is the first time as a priest I had done so. This blessing has mostly fallen off our Catholic radar (although I have seen notices of many other priests offering it this year — I guess the Spirit is moving!). In any case, it is a great example of the wide variety of blessings that the Church offers for so many moments throughout our year.

Some wonder, Why do we bless herbs – especially on this particular feast?

An introduction to this blessing from an old ritual book gives us the following background:

This blessing comes from Germany, and formulas for it are found as early as the tenth century. The blessing of herbs was reserved only to the feast of the Assumption. Herbs had not our restricted English meaning but included all kinds of cultivated and wild flowers, especially those which in some way had a symbolic relation to our Lady. The people brought herbs to church on her feast not only to secure for themselves another blessed object, but also to make of the occasion a harvest festival of thanksgiving to God for His great bounty manifested in the abundant fruits of the earth. The herbs were placed on the altar, and even beneath the altar-cloths, so that from this close contact with the Eucharist they might receive a special consecration, over and above the ordinary sacramental blessing of the Church.

We don’t put them on the altar anymore — much less under the altar cloth!

In my homily this evening, I also offered the following:

The celebration of the Feast of the Assumption dates back to ancient times, but until the end of the sixth century it was held on January 18. Mauritius, the Emperor of Constantinople, moved its celebration to August 15, where it has remained ever since.[1] And this time corresponds roughly with the summer harvest season in the Northern Hemisphere; thus we see one of the ways that our liturgical calendar follows the rhythms of life. While the first fruits of the summer crops are being gathered, so also we honor our Blessed Mother as the first fruits of God’s great harvest of salvation.

[1] Cf. Pius Parsch, The Church’s Year of Grace, vol. IV (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1964), pp. 318-319.

In other words, the blessing of herbs is a very concrete way that we sanctify our day-to-day, connecting it with the mysteries of our faith and our salvation. Mary is the first fruits; so on her feast, we bless some of our first fruits.

(However, this blessing is not restricted only to those who actually have a garden or grow herbs. It’s totally find to buy herbs in the grocery store and bring them for a blessing! Graces are meant to be multiplied, not restricted.)

It is important also to note that it is permissible to include flowers and vegetables also in what one has blessed on this day — it is not strictly for what we now consider to be “herbs”.

One of the prayers of the blessing really struck me. This is powerful stuff! Here it is:

O God, who through Moses, your servant, directed the children of Israel to carry their sheaves of new grain to the priests for a blessing, to pluck the finest fruits of the orchard, and to make merry before you, the Lord their God; hear our supplications, and shower blessings + in abundance upon us and upon these bundles of new grain, new herbs, and this assortment of produce which we gratefully present to you on this festival, blessing + them in your name. Grant that men, cattle, flocks, and beasts of burden find in them a remedy against sickness, pestilence, sores, injuries, spells, against the fangs of serpents or poisonous creatures. May these blessed objects be a protection against diabolical mockery, cunning, and deception wherever they are kept, carried, or otherwise used. Lastly, through the merits of the blessed Virgin Mary, whose Assumption we are celebrating, may we all, laden with the sheaves of good works, deserve to be taken up to heaven; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Some may look down on these old blessings as hopelessly outdated, from simple, pre-scientific times, etc. Their loss!

A final thought: one thing that has continually struck me as a priest is how God humiliates the devil and the demons not only through sinful creatures (i.e., priests who have been given authority over them — priests, who are far lower than angels in the hierarchy of beings), but even through material things which he has enriched with divine blessingHow much the devil must hate it when we use these things with faith and gratitude to God!

A blessed feast of the Assumption to all! Here is my favorite image of Mary assumed into heaven:

The Assumption by Titian – in a church in Venice.

* * *

Posted in Ad Hoc | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,