St. Peter Damian, Pray For Us

At Mass this morning I noted how it was fortuitous that the so-called Summit on Abuse at the Vatican was beginning today, on the feast of St. Peter Damian, a great reformer-saint (and Benedictine) of the 11th century, who contended against the very scourges that afflict the Church today.

I mentioned his book, The Book of Gomorrah, in which he inveighed against the moral laxity and sexual incontinence of the clergy of the Italian peninsula during his time — including homosexuality, pedophilia, and concubinage. A new, critical edition of the book came out in English in the past few years (link), including a biographical section on this great Saint and Doctor of the Church, whose suggestions were received by popes and thus contributed to true reform in another scandalous period of history.

As I have been saying from the pulpit, true reform in the Church happens when saints rise up; in other words, we ourselves must be reformed and become holy for there to be any meaningful and lasting improvement. Our own holiness helps cause “all the other ships to rise”. Our prayers and sacrifices contribute to needed atonement and reparation for the atrocious crimes and sins of some, and obtain special graces of healing for victims and repentance for perpetrators.

We should seriously consider the sacrifices we will make this Lent — and offer them for the purification of the Church! See here and here.

St. Peter Damian, PRAY FOR US!

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

Punctuality and the Virtue of Religion

Religion involves our offering to God the worship that is due to him. Because he is our creator, our greatest good, and the end to which we are directed, we owe him (in justice) our worship. Religion is therefore a virtue. Those who struggle to worship the Lord as is his due — e.g., those who go to Mass begrudgingly, or only sometimes, or who willfully entertain distractions during it, etc. — lack in the virtue of religion. Those who, on the other hand, willingly and readily fulfill their obligations to God have this virtue. Obviously there is a sort of “spectrum” involved.

Punctuality ordinarily falls under the heading of charity. We should be on time out of respect for others, to show that we value their time; if also reflects upon our personal integrity. Charity obviously involves justice but also often goes beyond justice; perhaps the other person is not strictly due this or that thing, but we freely choose to bestow it upon him anyhow.

When it intersects with worship, punctuality shifts from being merely or primarily an expression of charity to being an expression of the virtue of religion. That is, it has to do with justice. Being on-time for our religious duties is part of what we owe God. Consider the fact that the Church defines our ordinary worship obligation as that of attending Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation (see the first precept of the Church). Moralists further explain that this obligation entails “hearing all of Mass”.

Yes, our basic duty is to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days — the whole thing. We can split moral hairs and determine if we have sinned venially or mortally by missing some portion of the Mass. But our fundamental duty to God is the whole thing.

Some people struggle mightily with punctuality. They are not just late to Mass — they are late to practically everything else, too. They are called to overcome this tendency. Tying it in with one’s love of God and neighbor, and thinking about what is due to both in justice and in charity, could help. Whereas, in the past, the effort toward punctuality might have entailed doing it “for the sake of being punctual”, now it could well entail doing it “for the sake of loving God more perfectly”, or “for the sake of respecting my neighbor’s time”. Having a more solid motive can help a great deal to focus our efforts and achieve success.

(This inspiration for this post came from this commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict.)

(Also, I know that it’s hard to get kids dressed and fed and loaded and I know there are traffic issues. I’m speaking generally, not about “special situations” where conflicting factors and factors that may be beyond our control come into play.)

Posted in Scheduled

More Good Cloistered Nuns

A photo I took at a warmer time of the year – on a previous visit.

Last week I made a retreat at the monastery of the Discalced Carmelite Nuns of the Holy Name of Jesus in Denmark, Wisconsin. This was not my first time there, but it was the first retreat I’ve made with them. They are a wonderful and joyful group.

Of course, an added bonus for me was that there was a good amount of snow while I was here.

These faithful sisters live a hidden life in the rural farmland outside of Green Bay, Wisconsin. About 20 minutes down the road is the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in the town of Champion — the only approved Marian apparition in the USA. A couple of miles down the road there is a charming wayside chapel, recently built there with the Bishop’s blessing — the Curran Spirituality Center. In the nearby city of De Pere there is the Shrine of St. Joseph. Further afield, a couple of hours toward the southwest is the beautiful Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. A couple of hours to the south is Holy Hill — the Basilica and National Shrine of Our Lady, Help of Christians. Another fun stop on a “Wisconsin family vacation/pilgrimage” route could include the quirky Dickeyville Grotto in the eponymous small town. I’ve been to all these places and I’ve eaten at several Culver’s restaurants (frozen custard, mmmm) along the way!

The charism of these sisters is expressed on their web site as follows: “Prayer is the Carmelite nuns’ apostolate. Through it they reach out to the world, the Church, the young, the sick and elderly, but most especially, as apostles of the apostles, to priests.” Since being here, I have learned that devotion to St. Joseph is also a big part of their prayer. St. Joseph has provided richly for them and they entrust all their most important intentions to him. The hospitality house for priests is named after him. Here is the nice statue of St. Joseph they have in their convent chapel:

It’s located on what I guess could be called the “special guest” or “overflow” side – on the regular public side you will not see it, unfortunately.

The nuns have beautiful liturgies daily in their convent chapel, including not only a daily conventual Mass but also the various hours of the Liturgy of the Hours – the Divine Office. Their horarium (daily schedule) is posted on this page (scroll down).

Please pray for these sisters, that they continue to receive good vocations and that the young ladies who come to them persevere in their call. If you know of any young women discerning the religious life, you might encourage them to check out Holy Name Carmel.

These good nuns can always use your financial support as well. You can also email them via this page, to send them your prayer intentions.

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

Blessing Enemies – Or Else

“Break thou the arm of the evildoer” (Psalm 10:15).

“Draw the spear and javelin against my pursuers” (Psalm 35:3).

“O God, break the teeth in their mouths” (Psalm 58:6).

“Let them be blotted out from the book of the living” (Psalm 69:28).

The above is a small selection of verses from some of the imprecatory psalms — the psalms that pronounce curses upon the foes of God and man. These psalms also are held to be the inspired Word of God — obviously, therefore, there is some place for cursing in God’s economy (!). Yet, it would seem that these psalms are best understood within a Christological framework: in other words, they are not primarily for us to take up against our personal enemies, but they express, rather, the justice that is due those who persecute Christ, who persecute God and his Church — and who do not repent.

These psalms are quoted in the New Testament: for example, in the passage from the Acts of the Apostles where the apostles deliberate on how to replace Judas Iscariot. “Let his camp be made desolate” — “Let another take his place”; two imprecatory psalm verses, shown to have been fulfilled in the person of Judas the Betrayer (Acts 1:20). It would seem, in this connection, that they are shown to have been fulfilled in terms of Judas’ final end — i.e., that he did not repent. It would be incoherent to wish these things upon him if there were still a chance for him to turn back to God — incoherent, in view of Christ’s proclamation of mercy and pardon. Indeed, if God “desires that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4), is there any room for cursing? There is – but only with reference to those who, in retrospect, did not respond to his grace, who did not turn back… who ended badly.

Yes, there is hope for everyone — and by “everyone”, I truly mean “everyone”. There are some people in every age the repentance of whom would be greeted with snarls if it were to happen: “He doesn’t deserve mercy!” “He doesn’t deserve to be saved!” “Look at what he did!” We all too easily come down on the side of the imprecatory psalms in some cases, even where there is still time for someone to turn around with the help of God’s grace. We lack confidence in just how great God’s mercy is. Part of us wants it only to apply to us and not to others — or at least to some others. God, have mercy!

But Christ teaches us a different way: “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you…” (Matthew 5:44).  “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (Romans 12:14). The will of God for us is not that we should pronounce a curse upon our enemies or his; rather, that we should pray for them, bless them, hope for their repentance. It is not for us to curse them. That could well be their fate if, God forbid, they do not turn around. In that awful outcome, the curses of the psalms may well be fulfilled by them. Again, God forbid! But if we were to decide that outcome for them now, we could well find ourselves sharing it with them later.

The will of God for us is to be a blessing: to everyone.

In this connection, it occurs to me that the charming (possibly also worrying) Southern expression, “Bless your heart”, is more or less on track. Now some do use it with a sense of dissimulation: they say one thing but mean the opposite. But if we can grow really to mean that — to desire God’s blessing upon everyone — then it will do us some serious spiritual good.

But what is the deeper wisdom behind our Lord’s teaching? I do not pretend to have plunged the depths of it. But I can say a few things, at least.

The first is: in the heat of passion — when we are offended or outraged — we can be rash. We can overreact, misjudge, exaggerate, and so forth. Sometimes, only later, when we have calmed down, do we see that our initial reaction was disproportionate. But if we at least are making the effort not to be guided by emotion, to let reason take control, and therefore, to bless our “enemy” in that moment, we will have been on the way to doing well. (The goal, of course, is to avoid the emotional overreaction to begin with.)

The second is: we tend to perceive the faults of others more clearly than our own. We forget that old and very wise saying that when we point a finger, three fingers point back at us. In our bursts of self-righteousness we can be so sure of what others deserve and forget that, well, basically, we are “dust and to dust [we] shall return”. The Southern expression “hot mess” often describes well our spiritual condition. God help us! More than this, but connected with it — we often lose sight of where we have come from. Maybe we are in a better place now — thanks to God’s ineffable mercy — but, my goodness!, how much closer we may have been to the very thing we now condemn, in the past.

The third is: we are often just so convinced of our own righteousness whenever we find it “necessary” to convict others. But our vision is skewed. Who of us can really claim to be righteous? Bless, and do not curse. “Maybe if I bless, I’ll receive a blessing…”

I could go on. In the end, it really comes down to: Will we obey Christ or not?

If someone is an enemy — perceived or in fact — you are required by Jesus to bless him. Let God sort out the rest. Pray for his well-being. Pray for his or her conversion. Pray for your own, for that matter. But bless! The curses of the imprecatory psalms have already been pronounced by the inspired authors. They will continue to be fulfilled in those who, sadly, do not respond to God’s saving grace. We do not need to add to them.

If only we could learn to desire the good for others, and not their ill. This is God’s will for us: “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord: thoughts of peace, and not of affliction…” (Jeremiah 29:11). Our blessing those with whom we disagree could be an occasion of grace for them. It will most certainly help us grow in charity. It will enable us to fulfill the will of God… and let God be God and recognize our own smallness and limitation. May, indeed, his enemies be cursed — if they do not repent. But may we always bless. Amen.

* * *

LATE ADDITION: I wrote and scheduled this post last week; in the meantime, this past Saturday, the verdict came down concerning the penal dismissal from the clerical state of Theodore McCarrick, former archbishop/cardinal of Washington, D.C., for various crimes that he committed involving the sixth commandment, solicitation in confession, and abuse of power. So I am logging in to add this additional comment before it is published.

Emotions run high in McCarrick’s case, in particular — the fact that he was able to do what he did for so long indicates real, grave problems in the Church, and many of us wonder if they are being effectively addressed.

There is also simply the fact that what he did is so repulsive. In the Church’s law there is a Latin term that describes some of the things that he did — nefas — “utterly and absolutely forbidden”; we get our word “nefarious” from it. A reaction of anger is very normal in cases like his.

But we need to be careful, and reflect upon the above post. McCarrick is still alive and so still has time to repent. Do we mean what we say, when we pray, “Oh my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell; lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of thy mercy“? Let us pray for McCarrick’s repentance, which will do more good for his victims than if he were to die and be damned. People who have done really bad things, like he did, are often greatly tempted to despair of God’s mercy. The devil has them in his grip and does not want to lose them.

But just imagine, if, thanks in part to our prayers, he were to repent and begin praying for those whom he hurt, offering penance and sacrifice for them? That is a great good to be desired, and let us ask great things of God’s mercy for not only McCarrick’s victims but for him, while he still has time and a chance.

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

How Many Intentions Per Mass?

I’ve written before about the Mass “for the people” (pro populo) that pastors are bound to offer on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligations for the sake of their parish(es). But at the other Masses each week, For how many intentions may a single Mass be offered? 

First let me preface the answer by saying that in most places in the U.S., this generally does not seem to be an issue. That is, at least judging from the published lists of intentions I come across in parish bulletins during my travels. However, I’ve seen fairly remarkable abuses in other places…

The Code of Canon Law dedicates 14 canons to the issue of the offering given for Masses and the intention connected with that, but interestingly, doesn’t really address this issue of combining multiple intentions in one Mass offering in a clear manner (canon 948 touches on it). The current Code went into effect in 1983; it wouldn’t be until 1991 that the Vatican addressed the present issue specifically in a separate document, entitled Mos Iugiter.

Mos Iugiter (which means “the longstanding custom”), moreover, is only available in Italian on the Vatican web site. It’s not a terribly long document, but for some reason it has never risen to the top of the “to be translated” stack, I guess. Odd. It’s hard to hold people accountable to a document that they can’t access in their own language.

In any case, here is the answer given by that document concerning the combination of multiple intentions in one Mass:

  1. Multiple Mass intentions may be combined into a single celebration only when those who requested the intentions know about that in advance and agree to having their intentions combined;
  2. The day and time of those Masses with combined intentions are to be made known publicly, in advance;
  3. Combined/collective intentions should not be scheduled more than twice per week;
  4. The celebrant may not keep all the stipends given for the separate intentions, but only a sum not exceeding the usual amount in that diocese for a single intention (in many places now it’s $10); any excess funds remaining from the various stipends received for the intentions must be handled according to the norms established by the local bishop;
  5. Diocesan bishops have a duty to inform priests (whether diocesan or religious) about these norms and supervise their execution;
  6. Priests should instruct the faithful about the Mass offering (to avoid any sense that they are “buying” spiritual goods), the value of giving in general, and the support of the clergy and the Church.

Pope John Paul II approved these norms “in specific form”, meaning that he intended for them to be legally binding.

There are some other points the document makes, but the above are the most important and relevant to the present question.

Bottom line: combining multiple intentions (always with the permission given beforehand of those who requested them and made an offering for them) should be rare, and cannot, for the priest, become a sly way for him to augment his income.

Some additional clarity may be needed. I might request a Mass to be offered for several intentions at once. Let’s say: “for my friend John, for the healing of my beloved cat, and for world peace”. I might make that one single intention request, with one stipend given for it. Even though there are multiple parts, then, it is still considered only one intention. Offering the Mass for that intention with multiple parts requires no special permission, because it is understood to be, in fact, a single intention. It could even be combined with other intentions, assuming the priest fulfills the conditions set forth in the law, as enumerated above.

So between the Code of Canon Law and the subsequent legislation of Mos Iugiter, it is very clear how priests must handle the intentions they receive. There may be local legislation also — for example, as to how he is to handle the stipends in general or perhaps how he is to handle the excess stipends that he may not keep.

What emerges in my mind, upon reviewing these things, is that the later legislation of Mos Iugiter has a sort of “compromise quality” to it: it’s as if there were widespread abuses in some places, so these norms were written in a way that helped ease those priests off the abuse and move towards doing things the right way. That’s just speculation. Whatever the case may be, it’s clear that combining Mass intentions is something we should not ordinarily encounter; it’s not really what the Church intends, though she does tolerate it in some cases. If a priest judges it necessary or highly opportune to combine intentions from time to time, he must be careful how he handles it – and the law offers clear direction.

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


This Sunday (three Sundays before Ash Wednesday), February 17, 2019, is traditionally known as Septuagesima — Latin for “seventieth” and understood to be approximately the seventieth day before Easter. Septuagesima is the traditional beginning of Pre-Lent.

This observance has been abolished in the Church’s law and, largely, in her life (in the West) for a few decades now. But it is worth our reconsideration for several reasons:

  • Eastern Catholics still observe it
  • The Orthodox still observe it
  • It was/is part of Catholic discipline and life for well over 1,000 years
  • The recently-developed “Anglican Ordinariates” observe it
  • Some segments of other Christian faiths observe it
  • Also, It makes good sense!

In summary, those of us who attend/celebrate the Novus Ordo may be in the majority, but for that reason we stand out all the more when so many around us are still doing or are re-discovering what, until recently, basically all Christians had always done.

Yes, Lent is a time of more rigorous discipline, and basic human psychology suggests that taking on a more rigorous discipline is something that we do better to ease ourselves into, instead of jumping in whole-hog (and then possibly being overwhelmed and abandoning it altogether, as happens with so many who find themselves unable to complete their Lenten commitment).

Amy Welborn has an extensive post on the topic of Septuagesima HERE, with links to many other sites. Here is a taste:

The point being…Lent calls for preparation.  And while it’s all well and good to look at the calendar, wonder, “Hey, when is Ash Wednesday this year?” And then say, “Yikes…that’s soon!  Okay. Start thinking. What am I going to give up?” …well, what these traditional preparation-for-the-preparatory seasons do is to set the fact of that realization and need to prepare into a deep context that is wise, rooted in the richness of tradition, and helpful.

To be clear: unless you go to the Traditional Latin Mass or Divine Liturgy in an Eastern Catholic parish, there is nothing really different about this Sunday. And nothing extra is required of you in current law. I am suggesting that it’d be a good idea to adopt the “spirit” of this ancient observance for yourself/your family, as a way of easing in to what will hopefully be a more successful Lent than in the past.

Read over the posts and think/pray about it. In any case, it’s good to know more about our traditions and to reflect upon the earnestness and rigor that was required of our ancestors. We get off rather easily in comparison. I’m not sure we’re better off for it.

Fr. Zuhlsdorf also has some good commentary on Septuagesima/Pre-Lent: HERE.

On a related note, as we think about what we will give up for Lent this year, I’d like to renew two suggestions:

  1. Do not give up chocolate (click HERE for more on that)
  2. Do give up excuses (click HERE for more on that)

Amy also has a good Lent round-up HERE.

Happy Pre-Lent!

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

Morbid Introspection

Dom Mark Kirby is the Prior of the excellent Silverstream Priory (Benedictines), north of Dublin in Ireland. He is also probably (so many of us think) the author of the book In Sinu Jesu…The Journal of a Priest at Prayer, which I recommend very highly for every priest and for everyone who loves and prays for priests. For many years, Fr. Kirby has also written a blog, Vultus Christi (The Face of Christ), full of spiritual insight.

One of the things that Fr. Kirby often posts on his blog is commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict. Now the Rule is a classic of Western spirituality; its wisdom is for more than just Benedictine monks and nuns/sisters. If you haven’t ever read the Rule of St. Benedict, I encourage you to do so.

The most recent commentary Fr. Kirby posted led him to speak about the reality of morbid introspection. He speaks about novices and monks, but this wisdom is valid for all. Here is an excerpt, followed by some commentary of my own:

The novice or the monk who focuses on himself will become melancholic and troubled; he loses himself in self–analysis. What am I thinking? What am I feeling? How does this thing affect me? How do others see me? Such thoughts centre around I and me. Much energy is wasted in such self–absorbing ruminations. Their effect is to shrink the capacity of the soul. Self–knowledge that is lucid and honest has its place in the monastic life, but there is no place in the monastic life for morbid introspection. The monk who thinks more about himself, his feelings, his image, his needs, and all the hurts (real or imagined) that come with life in community, is like a man who closes the shutters, windows, and doors of his house, draws the blinds and curtains, and then ruminates his misery, in a room deprived of light and fresh air.

When tempted to morbid introspection, begin to praise God. Even if, at first, your praise of God seems forced, persevere in praising Him. The act of praise begins not in sentiment, but in the will. Praise mingled with tears is an acceptable sacrifice. The praise that rises from an afflicted heart or from a place of darkness is doubly precious because it is disinterested and gratuituous. God is worthy of praise at every moment and in all circumstances.

One of the temptations we may sometimes face in prayer is not so much to pray, properly-speaking, as to “think in the presence of God”. This is not automatically bad in itself, for God is concerned about our thoughts and he also does not need our words. A favorite Bible verse of mine comes from the last chapter of Isaiah: “Thus says the Lord, ‘Heaven is my throne, earth is my footstool: what kind of house would you build for me…?'” (66:1). In other words, everything we do — everything we can say — pales in comparison with the majesty of God.

In any case, God is interested us, as fumbling as our words and other efforts may be. And in this sense, merely thinking in his presence (instead of praying) could also go bad. Not only because he does want to hear from us — but also because when we approach him merely to think in his presence, our thoughts may quickly become self-absorbed. So often, the “thinking in the presence of God” that we might do is really “thinking about ourselves”.

Focusing on ourselves in the presence of God most often leads to sadness. Frankly, it leads to that even if we don’t place ourselves in the presence of God before going down that route. And the temptation behind this practice is tricky, indeed: it tells us that we should analyze ourselves more, even that we should stir up sentiments of sadness about how pitiful we might be. But it is all so turned inward. It is spiritual navel-gazing.

The solution is not to never think about ourselves or examine our consciences. Rather, it is to do so in a way that opens back out to the Lord. Think of it as exposing your wounds to him for healing — followed by thanksgiving to him for his greatness, praise for his goodness, hope expressed in his almighty power.

A classic paradigm for prayer is ACTS — adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, supplication. Where does morbid introspection fit into this? It doesn’t. Adoration centers mostly around praise. Contrition involves introspection, but turned back to God for his mercy and healing. Thanksgiving perhaps also involves introspection, as we thank God for the ills from which he has already delivered us and for all the other blessings he has given. Indeed, thanksgiving often involves praise. And supplication may involve some introspection as we ask for what we need — but praying for ourselves should usually be secondary to praying for others and the world, lest we end up becoming too self-involved.

If you struggle with a tendency to grow sad by focusing on your problems/difficulties, the advice that Fr. Kirby gives is right on, and I’ll paraphrase: cut it out, and praise God instead. Praising God can be difficult for those who have not been given to doing so. Sometimes one does not know where to start. Fortunately, there is an endless supply of praise to be found in the scriptures. Take the last six psalms (145-150), for example: all of them have to do with praise. Many other psalms do so, as well. Take a look at Psalm 33.

There are also many other scripture verses that one can use as a sort of aspiration (in old books, these short exclamations were called “ejaculations”). Besides scripture verses in this regard — and everyone must find the verses that s/he likes — there are many similar prayers from our Catholic tradition. Old prayer books and internet searches are helpful.

Praise of God helps us to forget self and focus on the only One who can save us, who can truly help us amidst our misery. “For without me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). “If our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts” (1 John 3:20). Lurking behind many temptations to morbid introspection is the idea that we can control our destinies: that if only we figure things out, then we can fix it. But God does not need our understanding at all. Our finite understanding can only go so far, but the Lord sees all. “What kind of house would you build for me?”; he desires, rather, to build us a house. “I go to prepare a place for you…” (John 14:2).

Posted in Scheduled | Tagged , , , , , ,

The Best Incense

Incense is a topic that, in some places, can be almost as divisive as the subject of sacred music. In many parishes it is no longer used — period. In some places, it is only used once or twice a year — a very rare bird. We use it weekly at our Solemn Mass in my parish.

(I remember hearing of one rather wealthy parish where it was used weekly — but they positioned air purifiers around the perimeter of the sanctuary to prevent, as much as possible, the smoke from getting out into the congregation… Ugh…….)

There are countless anecdotes of priests or server “wags” who, for a laugh, walked into the church with an unlit censer to see if people would start coughing — and some did. No smoke, but still coughing! Yes, some people have decided that they’re allergic, whether there is any incense actually present or not. Then, of course, there are some who are truly allergic. I don’t mean to downplay real health issues.

Leaving controversies and allergies aside, the question is: Which incense is best? You may be surprised to find out that I have an opinion.

A browse through any religious supply catalog will turn up any number of possibilities. Most of which — in my supremely humble opinion — are no good. So much of what is sold today has chemicals and fillers added and, even if it starts out smelling OK, ends up being rancid or otherwise foul.

Recently, a friend in Mexico who runs a religious goods shop there contacted me for my recommendations. Here are the suggestions I sent him — based on my own experience of having tried much of what is on the market over the past nearly 20 years:

1. Pure Frankincense from Ethiopia

I received several advertisements from this supplier before I determined that they were legit and decided to give them a try. And I’m glad I did. First, it is probably the cheapest solution out there at present: basically, if you order a kilo, it works out to $26 per pound. And they give you a small returning customer discount. Many commercially-produced incenses, by comparison, cost $10 or $20 more than that.

This is pure frankincense “from the source” — from the part of the world where it is harvested. It is a “fair trade” product that helps the people in that region. It’s organic. I bet it’s even gluten free… Be sure to browse their site for more info — including a video on this page.

Pure frankincense has a clean, “classic” scent that does not sour. This firm also sells some scents that you can mix in, such as Myrrh, Amber, etc. It doesn’t take much to transform the whole batch: a small amount (2 oz.) is enough for a whole pound. Of course, you can also add the scent in “to taste”. This is our go-to incense at my parish; we use it most Sundays. I highly recommend it and am very pleased with it.

2. Prinknash Abbey Brand Incenses (incidentally, pronounced “Prinnish”)

This is one of the finer commercially-prepared incenses on the market. They have several scents — my favorite is “Sanctuary”. You can buy a sampler pack to try them out and decide what’s best. Contact your religious goods supplier to order — they no longer sell directly from the UK; you have to go through a US distributor. If your local supplier doesn’t carry it, try the online “Aquinas and More” store.

Being imported from the UK and being commercially-distributed, the cost is also a bit higher. I have also had some experiences of the smell “souring” after burning for a bit, though usually it’s fine. Some of their blends have colored granules, which suggests that they add colors/chemicals to their base solution. Many priests, in any case, swear by this brand. It is really lovely overall.

On their monastery web site (which is a little “under construction”-looking), they have a Youtube video about how they make their incense. They have a pretty long tradition there and, in traditional monastic fashion, the “recipe” is safely guarded and handed down. Check out this page on their site for that video.

3. Orthodox Incense —

This seller provides attentive service and good prices for traditional Greek Orthodox-style incense — that is, uniform chunks of resin in white powder.

Many priests love this style but I have to say that it mostly “all smells the same” to me: it tends to be highly perfumed and have a very pungent/sweet odor. To me, this would work best for a very large space — it could choke out a smaller church.

As I mentioned, it tends to be very “perfumey”. There are floral scents and then there are several others — which, to me at least, mostly have a bit of floral smell also. I did like the pine-scented blend, which was very subtle, and there are some others that I like. Overall, I mostly use this type of incense on major feast days.

The quality is high and, as I said, the service is good.

* * *

Well, there you have it. As I said, incense can be a divisive topic — there are also strong opinions about what type is “best”.

So many commercially-prepared blends today include fillers like cedar chips/sawdust (which only end up smelling bad and burnt, though they help to produce more smoke), as well as chemicals and colorants that probably contribute to allergy problems — in spite of, often, being labeled as “non-allergenic”! Some of them claim to be what is used in “the Vatican”, but if you believe that, I have a city-state to sell you for a good price.

The above are what have worked for me; if anyone cares to share their experiences, please use the blog contact form or comment on my Facebook post.

Posted in Scheduled | Tagged , , , , , ,

Where May the Blessed Sacrament Be Reserved?

The altar of St. Joseph, on which the Blessed Sacrament is reserved, in the south transcept of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

I’ll never forget the time, many years ago in a far-off place, when an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion who visited the sick told me about the “stash” of the Blessed Sacrament that she kept in a pyx in her car – in case she needed it. What a disaster. One wonders if such a person really believes in the Real Presence; how could a car in any way be a fitting place to reserve the Holy Eucharist?

Another vignette from the distant past: I remember, when I was getting into the practice of the faith at about age 20, I used to go to the EWTN book shop in Irondale, Ala. (before it was enlarged and turned into the Religious Catalogue Shoppe that is there now). They sold reliquaries there – and there was a sign next to them that said something to the effect of, “FOR RELICS ONLY”. One day I asked the sales clerk why that sign was up; after all, wasn’t it obvious that one would only put relics in them? But she told me: no, some people have taken a host home from church and had private “adoration of the Blessed Sacrament” in their home, using a reliquary to hold the host. Again – what a disaster.

With those two unpleasant stories having been told, our question is: Where exactly may one reserve the Blessed Sacrament?

The Code of Canon Law gives a rather thorough answer, though we can also elucidate on it further:

Canon 934 §1. The Most Holy Eucharist: 1/ must be reserved in the cathedral church or its equivalent, in every parish church, and in a church or oratory connected to the house of a religious institute or society of apostolic life; 2/ can be reserved in the chapel of the bishop and, with the permission of the local ordinary, in other churches, oratories, and chapels.
§2. In sacred places where the Most Holy Eucharist is reserved, there must always be someone responsible for it and, insofar as possible, a priest is to celebrate Mass there at least twice a month.

Canon 935 No one is permitted to keep the Eucharist on one’s person or to carry it around, unless pastoral necessity urges it and the prescripts of the diocesan bishop are observed.

Canon 938 §1. The Most Holy Eucharist is to be reserved habitually in only one tabernacle of a church or oratory.
§2. The tabernacle in which the Most Holy Eucharist is reserved is to be situated in some part of the church or oratory which is distinguished, conspicuous, beautifully decorated, and suitable for prayer.
§3. The tabernacle in which the Most Holy Eucharist is reserved habitually is to be immovable, made of solid and opaque material, and locked in such a way that the danger of profanation is avoided as much as possible.
§4. For a grave cause, it is permitted to reserve the Most Holy Eucharist in some other fitting and more secure place, especially at night.
§5. The person responsible for the church or oratory is to take care that the key of the tabernacle in which the Most Holy Eucharist is reserved is safeguarded most diligently.

There’s a lot there. Bottom line: the ordinary place for reserving the Blessed Sacrament is an approved church or chapel. This covers things like parish churches, rectory chapels (when the Bishop has given permission for the priest to reserve the Eucharist there), Catholic school chapels, hospital chapels, convent/monastery chapels. Moreover, it should be kept in a “fixed” or “immovable” tabernacle.

We may not keep a “stash” in our car; we may not otherwise reserve the Eucharist in our homes or anywhere else.

Canon 935 also explains that we may not simply carry the Eucharist around with us apart from 1) pastoral necessity and 2) following the Bishop’s directives. Experience suggests that many bishops don’t issue directives in this regard; they rely on their priests to know their sacramental theology and have common sense, to teach correctly, and to train Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion well. And it is clear that pastoral necessity most of the time involves visiting the sick.

Now the current Code of Canon Law was issued in 1983; since then, there have been other documents that have spoken to this matter. I will reference one: the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, issued by order of Pope John Paul II by the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments in 2004.

It does not so much add to what the Code says, but elaborates upon it. Take this number, for example:

129. The celebration of the Eucharist in the Sacrifice of the Mass is truly the origin and end of the worship given to the Eucharist outside the Mass. Furthermore the sacred species are reserved after Mass principally so that the faithful who cannot be present at Mass, above all the sick and those advanced in age, may be united by sacramental Communion to Christ and his Sacrifice which is offered in the Mass. In addition, this reservation also permits the practice of adoring this great Sacrament and offering it the worship due to God. Accordingly, forms of adoration that are not only private but also public and communitarian in nature, as established or approved by the Church herself, must be greatly promoted.

See how it emphasizes the reverence and worship due to our Lord!

Then there are these three important paragraphs:

131. Apart from the prescriptions of canon 934 § 1, it is forbidden to reserve the Blessed Sacrament in a place that is not subject in a secure way to the authority of the diocesan Bishop, or where there is a danger of profanation. Where such is the case, the diocesan Bishop should immediately revoke any permission for reservation of the Euchari­st that may already have been granted.

132. No one may carry the Most Holy Eucharist to his or her home, or to any other place contrary to the norm of law. It should also be borne in mind that removing or retaining the consecrated species for a sacrilegious purpose or casting them away are graviora delicta, the absolution of which is reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

133. A Priest or Deacon, or an extraordinary minister who takes the Most Holy Eucharist when an ordained minister is absent or impeded in order to administer it as Communion for a sick person, should go insofar as possible directly from the place where the Sacrament is reserved to the sick person’s home, leaving aside any profane business so that any danger of profanation may be avoided and the greatest reverence for the Body of Christ may be ensured. Furthermore the Rite for the administration of Communion to the sick, as prescribed in the Roman Ritual, is always to be used.

The first paragraph emphasizes the security of where the Holy Eucharist is reserved: ordinarily tabernacles are bolted down or otherwise made immovable, as canon 938 § 3, above, indicates. I’m afraid that in many places that detail has not been sufficiently attended to.

The second paragraph reiterates that one may not reserve the Blessed Sacrament in a non-approved place, much less in one’s home. (Excluded, obviously, are those cases where a priest has permission from his Bishop to have a chapel in his rectory.)

Then the third paragraph is also very important: when we’re carrying the Blessed Sacrament for a legitimate reason — such as going to the sick — we must go directly there. I have encountered many situations where well-meaning people were planning to hold the Eucharist for some time, doing other errands or non-sacred activities; even planning to hold it overnight before administering it to a sick person. Priests must teach Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion correctly on this and check in from time-to-time to ensure that they are doing what is right!

That last point, about using the proper ritual, is often rarely observed, in my experience. There are certain prayers that one is supposed to say when bringing Holy Communion to a sick a person. In any case, that goes a bit beyond the purpose of this post.

Redemptionis Sacramentum also has a lot of other points to make about Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, reminding us especially that they are, in fact, supposed to be extraordinary (in the sense of not being too common), well-trained, and that where they are needed, there should be particular prayers made for vocations.

I have posted a couple of times about a particular issue that arises in this connection: the handling of pyxes. They are a sacred vessel. Back in the day, they would have been made of a noble material (such as sterling silver plated with gold) — whereas nowadays they are even made of plastic! Back in the day, they would have been blessed, whereas today I doubt many are. Many priests no longer attend to them properly, never mind the lay people they have delegated to do so. This is a major lacuna in our Eucharistic reverence, and I know, thankfully, of many priests who are working to recover a proper sense of things. Here are two previous posts on that topic:

Pyx Problems

Pastors Should Take A Pyx “Collection”

These have been some of the more frequently-visited posts on the blog. It suggests to me that it is a matter that resonates with many. Thanks be to God.

May the Lord increase our faith in his Real Presence and keep us from neglecting any detail in our worshipful handling of the Most Holy Eucharist!

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

Children in Church

I sympathize with priests who struggle with crying children in church, and who perhaps don’t always handle it in the best way. We’re human too, and sometimes it’s tough.

That said, over the years I’ve come to appreciate more and more the value of having children – whether crying or well-behaved – always in church. I am not a believer in “children’s liturgy of the Word” and similar novelties. Children should be in Mass. Children of all ages. Period.

I have joked that the 8:30am Sunday Mass in my present assignment often sounds like “the rainforest”: there are yelps and whoops and screeches throughout the Mass – often, seemingly, when I am talking. I always enjoy the time immediately after the homily, when I go to sit down for a moment of reflection before continuing with the Creed: for it has often happened that things in the church settle down as soon as I go silent. A salutary lesson in humility!

But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am blessed to be assigned to a parish where, not only do we not have a cry room, but it’s really not possible to build one. There is simply not space to add one. And that’s just fine. It’s better that the kids be in church with everyone else. Children need to be with adults. Separating them only reinforces the erroneous concept of “youth culture” – an artificial construct that only delays (or prevents entirely) their entrance into the world of adults.

In this connection, I recommend this recent article from Crisis. Read the whole thing. In short, the author explains how children in Church 1) witness to the adults present, and 2) benefit from the witness of those adults present. CLICK HERE.

The article was written at least in partial response to a recent controversy on “Catholic Twitter” on the very topic of children in church. Panem et circenses.

Check out the article and ask yourself, also: What is my attitude to children in church? We all have stories of parents who just let their children scream, who don’t get up quickly enough, or whatever. Sure. But overall: Isn’t this a beautiful and wonderful thing? Lord, help us truly to be a culture of life. “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them!” – Jesus (Matthew 19:14)

Posted in Ad Hoc | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

May Deacons Use the 1962 Blessings?

Following upon recent posts, I have received several comments and emails from deacons, asking if they may use the blessings contained in the 1962 Rituale Romanum.

I have declined to post these comments or answer them privately because it is a topic that I simply have not had much time to research.

I know what the Code of Canon Law says: c. 1169 § 3 A deacon can impart only those blessings expressly permitted by law.

So you can see that the grant given to deacons is already very narrow, even within the newer liturgical books. A deacon would need to go through the present Book of Blessings to see which blessings are expressly indicated as possible for him to impart in it. I don’t have time to do that research. In any case, this post about adding the sign of cross to blessings when using the Book of Blessings is important for all deacons, priests, and bishops to reviewMany still seem unaware of this directive.

To the above canon from the Code of Canon Law, I can add the following norms from the Instruction Universae Ecclesiae on the application of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, which bring further clarity:

24. The liturgical books of the forma extraordinaria are to be used as they are. All those who wish to celebrate according to the forma extraordinaria of the Roman Rite must know the pertinent rubrics and are obliged to follow them correctly.

27. With regard to the disciplinary norms connected to celebration, the ecclesiastical discipline contained in the Code of Canon Law of 1983 applies.

28. Furthermore, by virtue of its character of special law, within its own area, the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum derogates from those provisions of law, connected with the sacred Rites, promulgated from 1962 onwards and incompatible with the rubrics of the liturgical books in effect in 1962.

35. The use of the Pontificale Romanum, the Rituale Romanum, as well as the Caeremoniale Episcoporum in effect in 1962, is permitted, in keeping with n. 28 of this Instruction, and always respecting n. 31 of the same Instruction.

I boldfaced that word “derogates” in no. 28, because I do believe it was the case that subsequent to 1962, there were some developments to the rubrics that did allow some blessings to be done by deacons. So those permission have been walked back. Universae Ecclesiae “reset” some things. I don’t have references to the post-1962 documents ready to hand.

There was, however, legislation prior to 1962 that clarified that deacons could do certain things. Fr. Daniel Gill compiled a helpful post in this regard back in 2014.

All of that said, the general outcome would seem to be that deacons may not impart most of the blessings contained in the 1962 Rituale Romanum. This would include the fact that a deacon may not use the traditional exorcism and blessing of a medal of St. Benedict. As I concluded in that post, however, there are still some gray areas, and it is to be hoped that clarity will eventually be given by the Holy See.

This clarity would hopefully come in the way of newly-issued liturgical books for the rites of 1962, fully updated in accord with present canon law and any additional concessions that the Holy See may wish to make for the sake of order within the contemporary Church. For example, certain numbers of Universae Ecclesiae already pointed toward possible developments, such as in number 25. Moreover, some further clarity could be given to what may or may not be done in the vernacular, specifically. And it would be helpful if new English translations were issued of those sacramentals and elements of sacrament rituals that may be done in the vernacular, since the English translations that come down to us in the reprints of 1962 books are often a bit shaky.

I do not know anyone who works in the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, so I have no special insights into any timelines for the above; my sense is that things are more or less in a state of inertia at present with regard to further developments to the 1962 books. Anyone, of course, is always free to write a letter submitting some dubium or another to the Congregation, but experience would suggest that the answers received can also be inconsistent and, except for matters of great import, are often given as “private” answers not having a normative value.

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

Candlemas 2019

We had a lovely Mass this morning for the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord – traditionally known as “Candlemas”, the fortieth day after Christmas, the day when candles are blessed and carried lighted in procession. Also – in many places – today was traditionally observed as the final day of the Christmas season.

It was edifying to see how many people brought candles to be blessed at this morning’s Mass. For those who missed it, however, I want to remind everyone that any priest can bless candles on any day of the year. This is one of the many blessings in the old Roman Ritual that is not only beautiful but quite powerful. I am pleased to reproduce it here:


Priest: Our help is in the name of the Lord.
All: Who made heaven and earth.
Priest: The Lord be with you.
All: And with your spirit.

Let us pray.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, bless + these candles at our lowly request. Endow them, Lord, by the power of the holy + cross, with a blessing from on high, you who gave them to mankind in order to dispel darkness. Let the blessing that they receive from the sign of the holy + cross be so effectual that, wherever they are lighted or placed, the princes of darkness may depart in trembling from all these places, and flee in fear, along with all their legions, and never more dare to disturb or molest those who serve you, the almighty God, who live and reign for ever and ever.
All: Amen.

They are sprinkled with holy water.

Encourage your priest to use these great old blessings! The books he needs are this set: THE ROMAN RITUALAny priest may use the blessings in these books by virtue of the permission given in Summorum Pontificum and further elucidated upon in the instruction Universae Ecclesiae.

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