Pastors Should Take A Pyx “Collection”


A post on this blog that has received a lot of traffic and generated a lot of contacts from readers is the one I wrote on PYX PROBLEMS a little over a year ago. Many good people had already noticed some of the problems I highlighted and shared my concerns; others have been enlightened by what I shared and have updated their own practices.

In this regard, I want to encourage pastors to take up a collection of pyxes in their parishes. Given the ease of acquiring pyxes nowadays from any religious catalog or store, as well as the way that many parishes hand them out to anyone who wants to bring Holy Communion to the sick (often with little to no instruction on how to do it), it is certain that in many if not most parishes, several people have pyxes at home.

This means that many people have pyxes at home which have not been purified. Those visible particles that remain are the Real Presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ! Thus, these people are effectively reserving the Blessed Sacrament in their home unawares! And this, of course, is not permitted.

Pastors can try to address this problem and improve the general situation by making an appeal to parishioners to bring any and all pyxes that they have at home back to church as soon as possible to be purified. (Be sure to say: Do not open the pyx, simply bring it closed and as-is and Father will take care of it!)

In the case of pyxes that have push buttons, spring actions, and other little crevices where particles can become lodged (see my prior post), I recommend soaking them in a container of water for at least a week, carefully pouring that water down the sacrarium, giving everything (including the container) another rinse into the sacrarium, then letting everything air dry. This will likely render those pyxes unusable (which is fine – they shouldn’t have been used to begin with, being of inferior design) and then they can be buried. The same fate should await those with plastic linings (be sure to soak etc. then bury). In short, this is a good opportunity to take some problematic pyxes out of circulation. It is also a good opportunity to educate people about this important topic, since the integrity of the Holy Eucharist (and therefore, of souls!) is at stake.

Those who have a well-designed pyx and who are not willing to surrender it can then at least have it purified and receive instruction about the proper use of it in the future.

Fathers, if you have people who regularly help you bring communion to the sick, you should instruct them to bring their pyx regularly for purification. It says right in the ritual for visiting the sick that the purification is done after Holy Communion is given. Yet so many never have their pyxes purified. When I can’t purify my pyx right away, I put it in the tabernacle.

We really have a catch-22 situation right now: lay people can use pyxes and bring holy communion to people who need it, but lay people are not permitted to purify sacred vessels; meanwhile, many priests have not thought this through and taken concrete steps to remedy it. One hopes that some day, something will be done to address all of this… Until then, hopefully we can at least improve the situation somewhat.

O Sacrament most holy! O Sacrament divine! All praise and all thanksgiving be every moment Thine!

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A New Postulant!

I’ve posted here a number of times about the excellent Dominican Nuns in Marbury, Alabama. Recently I sent them a prayer request – as I occasionally do – and they responded not only saying that they would pray for it, but with a request of their own: to pray for their new postulant. This is exciting news for their community, and I will be sure to pray for that intention – I hope you will as well.

On this vigil of the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary – a very special feast day for the nuns – let’s be sure to say some special prayers for them.

Here is the news on their blog:

Welcoming our new Postulant, Sister Anna

new-postulant-2016The Dominican Nuns joyfully announce the entrance of our new postulant, Sister Anna, on October 1.

Sister Anna comes to us from Bethel, Ohio, a small town east of Cincinnati.  She first learned of our community in 2006 when another young woman from her local homeschool group entered our monastery.  Would she herself become a nun?  “I could never pray that much!” she thought. […]

Read the full story on their blog!

Don’t forget to SUPPORT THE SISTERS – they need our help!

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Cardinal Sarah Again Addresses Ad Orientem Worship

I would like to call your attention to Sandro Magister’s latest column, in which he presents the upcoming book of Cardinal Robert Sarah. In particular, the excellent Cardinal again speaks about “ad orientem” worship. I quote:

“FACING EAST” (par. 254)

It is not enough simply to prescribe more silence. In order for everyone to understand that the liturgy turns us interiorly toward the Lord, it would be helpful during the celebration for us all together, priests and faithful, to face the east, symbolized by the apse.

This practice remains absolutely legitimate. It is in keeping with the letter and the spirit of the Council. There is no lack of testimonies from the first centuries of the Church. “When we stand up to pray, we face the east,” says Saint Augustine, echoing a tradition that dates back, according to Saint Basil, to the Apostles themselves. Churches having been designed for the prayer of the first Christian communities, the apostolic constitutions of the 4th century recommended that they be turned to the east. And when the altar is facing west, as at Saint Peter’s in Rome, the celebrant must turn toward the orient and face the people.

This bodily orientation of prayer is nothing other than the sign of an interior orientation. [. . .] Does the priest not invite the people of God to follow him at the beginning of the great Eucharistic prayer when he says” “Let us lift up our heart,” to which the people respond: “We turn it toward the Lord”?

As prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, I am intent upon recalling once again that celebration “versus orientem” is authorized by the rubrics of the Missal because it is of apostolic tradition. There is no need for particular authorization to celebrate in this way, people and priest, facing the Lord. If it is physically not possible to celebrate “ad orientem,” a cross must necessarily be placed on the altar, in plain sight, as a point of reference for all. Christ on the cross is the Christian East.

Read the whole article to see more of what the good cardinal has to say. I look forward to this book.

HERE: My previous post on this topic as it relates to Cardinal Sarah.

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Where Things Stand With Père Hamel

A folio from the "Book of Hours of the Use of Rouen"

A folio from the “Book of Hours of the Use of Rouen”

Several weeks back, upon the news of Fr. Jacques Hamel’s assassination in France at the hands of Muslim terrorists, I put up a post questioning whether it was really wise to jump to the conclusion that he was a martyr (as many were doing, and I certainly sympathized with it). The Church has clear guidelines for determining martyrdom, and at that point, we simply did not have the answers to all the questions.

Since then, we have gained some details about Fr. Hamel’s last words (Begone, Satan!) and some of the other circumstances that surrounded his death. And these have reaffirmed the idea that he may well have been a martyr. I still think that it would be irresponsible for us, in our private judgment, to reach that conclusion – especially on the basis of media reports. The Church has a process, and we need to respect that.

Adding a dose of confusion to the mix, Pope Francis offered a Mass in suffrage of Fr. Hamel’s soul – that is, at least, how the Vatican web site people entitled the Holy Father’s reflection for that day. Now, when you offer Mass for someone, it’s because you are not sure that they are in heaven yet and want to try to help them along. But at that Mass, the Pope preached in such a way as to give the impression that Père Hamel was certainly a martyr and certainly already in heaven; he said, “May [Fr. Hamel], from Heaven — we ought to pray to him, because he is a martyr! Martyrs are blessed, and we should pray to him — give us the meekness, brotherhood, peace, and also the courage to speak the truth.” I guess the Mass was not offered for him, then – maybe the Holy Father had another intention, perhaps in thanksgiving for Fr. Hamel’s martyrdom. Only God knows for sure.

Following that Mass and those words, many surmised that the Holy Father’s intention was simply to dispense with usual procedures (as he is wont to do) and declared Fr. Hamel a Blessed on the spot. Now, keep in mind, Popes do not effect juridical acts, such as promulgating a solemn teaching or declaring someone a Blessed or Saint, in the context of a daily Mass homily. Therefore, ever since that declaration this situation has been crying out, as it were, for further clarification. (There are also the reports, repeated in the article linked below, that the Holy Father had encourage that Fr. Hamel’s photo be displayed for devotion in churches.)

Well now – I suppose, to help resolve some of the confusion (maybe?) – we have a report today that walks things back a bit. The Archbishop of Rouen is saying that the Holy Father has waived the usual five year waiting period to start a cause for beatification and canonization. The logical conclusion would be: Fr. Hamel is not yet a “Blessed”, but the Pope’s personal opinion is that he is and wants him to be, and has streamlined that official process by waiving the usual waiting period. But again, the article repeats the fact that Pope Francis encouraged the display of Fr. Hamel’s photo for devotion. (Incidentally, in other circumstances, this could jeopardize a cause for canonization because it could be seen as “rigging it” by artificially fomenting a cult of devotion, rather than verifying one organically.)

When I was recently in Rome, I saw Fr. Hamel’s photo displayed in the French church there (San Luigi dei Francesi), and I’m sure it is displayed in many parishes in France. So some places are already honoring him as a Blessed, on the basis of the Holy Father’s declarations, even while the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints works with the Archdiocese of Rouen to formalize all of that. It’s all rather messy, but that’s where things stand. All holy martyrs, pray for us!

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Helpful Thoughts on Marian Consecration

I made a total consecration to Mary, using St. Louis de Montfort’s guide for doing so, in preparation for my priestly ordination (I timed it so that it would end on the day I was ordained). More recently, I’ve been thinking about doing that form of consecration again. In that regard, I came across these helpful words about distinguishing between “total” consecration and other forms. This comes from the book, Mary and the Priestly Ministry, pages 50-53:

It goes without saying that Mary is not the ultimate goal of consecration to her. God alone is our final goal. But actual practice demonstrates, and traditional teaching indicates that total consecration to Mary is the best way to attain our purpose in life.

We are speaking here of a true consecration. There are pious practices called “consecrations to Mary” which are more a self-seeking than a self-giving. One consecrates a child to Mary or one consecrates oneself to Mary at the time of First Communion or at the end of a parish mission, but it is for the purpose of getting her special protection. Father Zucchi’s well-known act of consecration to Mary is an example. After devoutly stating to the Blessed Virgin: “I consecrate to you my eyes, my ears, my mouth, my entire person,” the prayer concludes, “Because I belong to you, O my good Mother, guard me and defend me as your possession and your property.” It is a most legitimate request, one that pleases the Blessed Virgin and Our Lord, but it is not a donation properly speaking. It is more like a contract—Do ut des (I give so that you may give in return)—than a gratuitous gift. Properly speaking, consecration means giving oneself to Mary without any expectation of a return. It is made to please her and to further her interests above all.


Whatever form of total consecration one chooses, it is important that it be lived. This means that one no longer conducts oneself as proprietor and master of self, of what one has and of what one does, but as someone who belongs completely and irrevocably to Mary…. It means that one does what Mary wants one to do.

* * *

Here is a good version of St. Louis de Montfort’s total consecration to Mary.

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Making Prayer a Priority

I have been thoroughly enjoying Cardinal Sarah’s book, God or Nothing, during my retreat this week. And I feel the need to share the following excerpt on prayer (pp. 120-122):

* * *

How would you describe this life of prayer that you speak about so often?

Each one of us absolutely must schedule time for prayer each day and build up his prayer life. How? I will tell you a little story that offers food for thought.

One day an elderly professor was hired to provide training in efficient time management to a group of fifteen heads of major businesses…. While standing, he looked at them one by one, slowly, and then told them: “We are going to do an experiment.” From beneath the table, the professor brought an enormous pot holding several gallons, which he gently placed in front of him. Then he held up a dozen rocks, each about the size of a tennis ball, and gently placed them one by one into the big pot. When the pot was filled to the brim and it was impossible to add another rock, he looked up at his students and asked them, “Is the pot full?” They all answered, “Yes.” He waited a few seconds and added: “Really?” Then he bent down again and brought out from under the table a container filled with gravel. He meticulously poured this gravel onto the big rocks and then gently stirred the pot. The bits of gravel filtered between the rocks down to the bottom of the pot. The old professor looked up again at his listeners and repeated his question: “Is the pot full?” This time his brilliant students were beginning to understand his scheme. One of them answered: “Probably not!” “Right!” the old professor replied. Again he bent down and this time brought some sand from under the table. He poured it into the pot. The sand settled into the spaces between the big rocks and the gravel. Once again he asked: “Is the pot full?” This time, in chorus and without hesitating, the students answered: “No!” “Right!” the old professor replied. And as the students expected, he took the pitcher of water that was on the table and filled the pot to the very brim. Then the old professor said: “What important truth does this experiment demonstrate for us?” The boldest of the students, who was no slouch, thought of the subject of the course and answered: “It demonstrates that even when we think that our agenda is completely full, we can always add more meetings and more things to do if we really want to.” “No,” the old professor replied, “That is not it! The important truth that this experiment demonstrates for us is the following: if you do not put the big rocks into the pot first, you will never be able to make them all fit later.” There was a profound silence, each one becoming aware of the obvious truth of these remarks. The old professor then told them: “What are the big rocks in your life? Your health, your family, your friends, your dreams, your professional career? What you need to remember is the importance of putting the big rocks into your life first; otherwise you run the risk of failing to do so. If we give priority to junk—the gravel, the sand—we will fill our life with futility, with unimportant, worthless things, and we will no longer have the time

to devote to the important things. So do not forget to ask yourself the question: What are the big rocks in my life? Then, put them first into the pot of your daily routine.”…

Is prayer one of the big rocks in my life? I answer without hesitation: Prayer truly must be the big rock that has to fill the pot of our life. It is the time when we do nothing else but be with God. It is the precious time in which everything is done, everything is regenerated, and God acts to configure us to himself.

* * *

This is just one snippet of the treasure trove of wisdom and sound doctrine found in this excellent book. I strongly encourage its reading by all. And more than that, that all act upon the anecdote that is written above, and make prayer the big rock of your life!

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Is Père Hamel a Martyr?

An image that I find strangely comforting even as I find it haunting. And that I shared on social media today. Prematurely? I hope not!

An image that I find strangely comforting even as I find it haunting. And that I shared on social media today. Prematurely? I hope not!

Is Father Hamel a martyr? I would like to think so – and I have certainly thought so today. But in the end I cannot say for sure. I wonder if we may still need to pray for his soul also.

How do we know if someone is a martyr? The book released by the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, entitled “Le Cause dei Santi” (Causes of the Saints), lists three conditions that the Church has for the category of martyrdom. They are:

1. A violent death (whether instantaneous or prolonged);

2. Being killed in odium fidei (in hatred of the faith) — whether in hatred of the faith as such, or in hatred of some key aspect of it that contradicts the fundamental principles of the killers’ religion;

3. A voluntary acceptance of death (which does not exclude trying to save one’s life — indeed, we should try to preserve our life). This can be difficult to ascertain.

The fulfillment of conditions numbers one and two seems clear.

But what about number three?

I think we know that Fr. Hamel initially tried to resist and/or defend himself. What I am not sure we know is whether he gave some sign of voluntarily accepting his death in the end — such as, perhaps: by vocally forgiving his killers, or by crying out “Vive le Christ Roi!” (Long live Christ the King) while being killed, or by some other sign (there are many possibilities). Maybe we will find this out… maybe not.

This is just a brief summary of a complex category; there is much more that could be said. In the end, I remain hopeful that Fr. Hamel is a martyr, even while I whisper a prayer for his repose.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

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Purifying the Vessels

The purification of the sacred vessels at Holy Mass is an action limited to bishops, priests, deacons, or instituted acolytes. There was, at one point here in the United States, a special indult that allowed for other lay people to purify also, but several years ago that indult expired and the Vatican declined to renew it. The fact that purification by lay people who are not acolytes continues to happen in some places is a liturgical abuse.

Well, how is the purification to be done? This is the big question – so it might seem, given the variety one sees “on the ground”: from the uncomfortably-hasty-and-shabby, to the painfully-long-and-scrupulous, and so many variations in-between. (I will leave out any elaboration on those situations where certain things really do not get purified at all…) I remember a bishop (RIP) who, during televised Masses of which he was the celebrant, would purify the chalice with his tongue and lips after he did the ablutions the normal way! I don’t know if he was scrupulous or was making a point.

But the point is this: If we believe that the Most Holy Eucharist, which we receive in Holy Communion, is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord, Jesus Christ, then it matters how we do “cleanup” after communion. It matters an awful lot. For that which we are purifying is what remains of his Real Presence, which is sacrosanct – our greatest treasure on this earth.

The problem is, there are not very detailed instructions on the proper method of purifying the sacred vessels in the modern Roman Missal. In fact, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal even gives one directive that, in my mind, is erroneous: it says that the paten should be wiped with a purificator (what will then happen with the particles of the host that adhere to the purificator?). Apart from certain details like that, it says very little about what to do. And the results are disastrous. I will not here indulge in “storytime”, but trust me, I could – to shocking effect.

Well, how can we learn what to do? There are a few principles that for me are key:

  1. Mature reflection on What it is that we are handling – the Body and Blood of Christ.
  2. Concern for details (Luke 16:10).
  3. A resolve not to rush through things or otherwise be shabby, even if one will be criticized by lay people, brother priests, or bishops as a result.
  4. Knowledge of the past.

The bottom line is: what is on the paten, in the ciborium, and/or in the chalice is the Body and Blood of Christ. Any and all particles or drops that remain must be consumed. To leave any remaining is to expose the Lord to sacrilege and possibly to give scandal. Let the manner in which we purify reflect this, the Church’s belief!

In the matter of purifying, we can learn a lot from the ancient form of the liturgy. I have referred to it in this post. And we can draw out conclusions from those old practices for our current situation.

Some examples:

Is the Precious Blood distributed to the faithful? This means that it now coats the entire inside of the chalice(s). The entire inside therefore needs to be purified – including the sides, all the way up to the rim, not just the very bottom of the inside!

There should, first of all, be a concern for what I have called “purificator purity“: it’s probably not a good idea to use the same purificator that was used repeatedly to wipe the rim of the chalice, to purify it, for it is tantamount to purifying the Precious Blood with the Precious Blood – to say nothing of the danger of transferring the Precious Blood to one’s fingers or to other surfaces. It is good to use a clean purificator instead.

But again, the Precious Blood now coats the entire inside of the chalice, even if you cannot see it. It only stands to reason. Therefore, water should be brought into contact with the entire inside during the purification. This is done by pouring in a generous amount, tipping the chalice slightly until the water comes up to the rim (which is safeguarded by the purificator), and then rotating it. Only in this way can we be sure that we have removed all of the Precious Blood.

With regard to the particles of the host, one of the challenges today is that we have kinds of unusually-shaped contraptions for holding the hosts. From stacking ciboria, to various sorts of shallow-bowl-like plates, to traditional pedestaled ciboria, there are all different shapes and sizes and surfaces. My general practice has been: what cannot be removed with the fingers (which are then purified with water), is to be removed with water. And sometimes it takes multiple rinses to get all the particles, particularly when there are a lot.

A consequence of all of this is that often there is a need for a larger quantity of water. Nowadays we are often dealing with the purification of multiple sacred vessels during or after a Mass, yet in so many parishes I see just the usual small cruet of water (sometimes half-emptied from the process of preparing the offertory and then washing the priest’s fingers…) – nowhere near enough water to purify the vessels properly and thoroughly.

I have dedicated a fair amount of space on this blog to the proper handling of the Eucharist – from how the faithful should receive (on the tongue) to how the chalice is prepared to how the linens are washed to, now, how the vessels are purified. Again, some of you (if you are still reading) are probably thinking that I’m crazy and obsessed……….. But then I talk to like-minded brother priests who share my angst about how the Blessed Sacrament is treated nowadays… I hear from faithful lay people who tell of their own sorrow at the abuses they see… And I think: someone needs to say something!

Perhaps some clergy who need to will read this post and reflect a bit on the proper method of purifying the sacred vessels. Who knows….perhaps I’ll also get some more fan mail! I hope for the former, not the latter!

O Sacrament most holy! O Sacrament divine! All praise and all thanksgiving be every moment thine!

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Mass according to the Rubrics

Pope Francis celebrates Mass ad orientem — i.e., facing the same direction as the people — in the Sistine Chapel

Pope Francis celebrates Mass ad orientem — i.e., facing the same direction as the people — in the Sistine Chapel

I’ve posted on various occasions about Mass celebrated ad orientem, “facing east” – that is, with priest and people facing the same direction, toward the altar. You can easily use the search feature on the blog to find some of those prior posts.

Yesterday, Robert Cardinal Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, gave great impetus to the movement to resume celebrating Mass in this manner on a wider scale. I quote him somewhat at length, with emphasis added (source):

I want to make an appeal to all priests. You may have read my article in L’Osservatore Romano one year ago (12 June 2015) or my interview with the journal Famille Chrétienne in May of this year. On both occasions I said that I believe that it is very important that we return as soon as possible to a common orientation, of priests and the faithful turned together in the same direction—eastwards or at least towards the apse—to the Lord who comes, in those parts of the liturgical rites when we are addressing God. This practice is permitted by current liturgical legislation. It is perfectly legitimate in the modern rite. Indeed, I think it is a very important step in ensuring that in our celebrations the Lord is truly at the center.

And so, dear Fathers, I ask you to implement this practice wherever possible, with prudence and with the necessary catechesis, certainly, but also with a pastor’s confidence that this is something good for the Church, something good for our people. Your own pastoral judgement will determine how and when this is possible, but perhaps beginning this on the first Sunday of Advent this year, when we attend ‘the Lord who will come’ and ‘who will not delay’ (see: Introit, Mass of Wednesday of the first week of Advent) may be a very good time to do this. Dear Fathers, we should listen again to the lament of God proclaimed by the prophet Jeremiah: “they have turned their back to me” (2:27). Let us turn again towards the Lord!

I would like to appeal also to my brother bishops: please lead your priests and people towards the Lord in this way, particularly at large celebrations in your dioceses and in your cathedral. Please form your seminarians in the reality that we are not called to the priesthood to be at the center of liturgical worship ourselves, but to lead Christ’s faithful to him as fellow worshipers. Please facilitate this simple but profound reform in your dioceses, your cathedrals, your parishes and your seminaries.

The good cardinal stated at least twice that Pope Francis has encouraged him in his work. And of course, this form of celebration is not unknown to the Holy Father himself – I have posted about it here and here.

A relevant point to be emphasized at this point, perhaps, is the fact that this form of celebration is what is foreseen by the current Roman Missal. To celebrate Mass this way is to celebrate according to the rubrics. Don’t believe me? Here are some sample rubrics:

1. […] When the Entrance Chant is concluded, the Priest and the faithful, standing, sign themselves with the Sign of the Cross, while the Priest, facing the people, says: “In the name of the Father…”

29. Standing at the middle of the altar, facing the people, extending and then joining his hands, he says: “Pray, brethren, that my sacrifice…”

127. The Priest, turned towards the people, extending and then joining his hands, adds: “The peace of the Lord be with you always.”

132. The Priest genuflects, takes the host and, holding it slightly raised above the paten or above the chalice, while facing the people, says aloud: “Behold the Lamb of God…”

133. The Priest, facing the altar, says quietly: “May the Body of Christ…”

Just a few examples. In fairness, it is worth mentioning that the rubrics are silent about which direction the priest faces in other instances. The rubrics for the Novus Ordo are notoriously incomplete: just one example is how, above, it says that the priest faces the people for the Sign of the Cross, but it doesn’t say when he turns away from them again. Only in knowing the rubrics of the Extraordinary Form is it possible to fill in some of the lacunae in the Novus Ordo rubrics.

The bottom line is, according to the rubrics the priest almost always faces the people when addressing them – and God when addressing him. And this makes sense theologically, since the priest is a mediator between the people and God. Standing in persona Christi, who “lives to intercede for” us (Hebrews 7:25), the priest brings the people’s prayers to God and then brings God to the people.

If you’d like to learn more about the ad orientem celebration of Holy Mass, I recommend this post by Father Finelli, which includes links to several tracts that he wrote on the subject. He has implemented in his parish church precisely what Cardinal Sarah suggests, and noted the many blessings that it has brought. Father Heilman has also recently written about this subject with great conviction, having also had firsthand experience of the effects of choosing to celebrate Mass according to the rubrics.

I am well aware of the controversy that surrounds this topic. It causes strong emotions to arise in many who discuss it, and often even irrational responses. A large number of priests and bishops carry great baggage about this matter and will hear nothing of it. Why we often cannot talk about this subject in a calm manner is evidence – to me – of the activity of the evil one in trying to cause division and strife in God’s Holy Church.

I’ve had people say things to me like that celebrating in this way means that the priest “turns his back to the people”. Well, to me, that implies that the priest has made a choice to be rude. But most of us have learned our manners and being rude is the last thing on our mind if we celebrate that way! What a negative way to think of it – a way that often precludes reasoned discourse!

For me, arguments in favor of ad orientem worship have always been self-evident; I understand well, however, that that is not the case for all. Perhaps we can all simply open our hearts to something that Pope Francis himself has no problem doing, and one of his main cardinal-collaborators has spoken about on several occasions, and try to understand the reasons for it. That is what I hope to have accomplished with this post, and what Cardinal Sarah is obviously doing in his increasingly frequent talks that touch upon this topic.

The final word to Cardinal Sarah:

We priests must be worshippers first and foremost. […] We must remember that we are not the authors of the liturgy, we are its humble ministers, subject to its discipline and laws. We are also responsible to form those who assist us in liturgical ministries in both the spirit and power of the liturgy and indeed its regulations.

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The Blessed Mother and the Blessed Trinity

Here is my homily from this Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity:

Each year, the Sunday after Pentecost is designated as Trinity Sunday. Although we gather to worship the Triune God every week and even every day, yet this Sunday we are invited to contemplate the mystery of the Trinity in a more focused manner. It is the central mystery of our faith and also the greatest mystery of our faith. There is much that we can say about the Blessed Trinity; yet there is infinitely more that we cannot say – or even, in this life, understand. But it is important to point out that the Trinity is not only a mystery of our faith, but that it is a mystery which can only be known by faith. Through reason alone we can arrive at the certain knowledge of the existence of God, but unaided reason can never figure out that God is both one and three – one God in three Persons. We believe in and profess the Holy Trinity because he has given us the faith to do so.

Rather than preach about the theological details and technicalities of the three Divine Persons or some such message this year, I’d like to focus on a particular topic that I think will help us to appreciate the Blessed Trinity’s activity in and relationship to our own lives better; I’d like to consider our Blessed Mother’s relationship with the Holy Trinity. She alone among human beings has perfectly known, loved, and served God during her time on earth; and as our model in the spiritual life, she can teach us how to do so better, as we strive towards that Christian perfection to which all are called. Remember always the words of our Lord in the Gospel: “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This is our common call, and the Blessed Virgin Mary shows us the way. We must therefore consider what her life reveals to us about living in communion with the Triune God.

Before all else, we recognize in the gospels that the Blessed Mother is the beloved daughter of God the Father. He created her out of love – as he did for each one of us. He saved her from sin – as he does and will do for each one of us. He chose her for a special mission during her life on earth – as he does for each of us (even if our missions are far lowlier!). I could go on with comparisons between her life and ours, but the most important thing we can consider is that Mary always knew that she was the beloved daughter of the Father. She lived and breathed God’s love; she was secure in his love. God’s love was what motivated her choices and was the goal of her choices. We ask her to intercede for us and help us to have this same realization, for we find it all too easy to doubt God’s love and even reject it. Each one of us, by virtue of our baptism, is a beloved son or daughter of God.

In her relationship with God the Son Mary has a very unique role: that of being his mother. She was the chosen vessel to bring the Son into the world as man. She carried him in her womb and nurtured him at her breast. She helped shape his humanity and prepare him for his mission. But how could we relate to any of this? It might not be so obvious at first. But ask yourself: Have you nurtured your relationship with Christ, feeding and shaping his presence in you through sound spiritual practices and other helps to your faith? Have you nurtured and shaped Christ in others by setting a good example for them or helping them to find him? Have you accompanied Christ as he treads a path through your life – just as Our Lady was always at his side, even when he hung upon the cross? Our “motherhood” of Christ, so to speak, is analogous, but it is a strong analogy. We ask our Blessed Mother to help us live out that relationship with God the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, as well.

Then there is her relationship with God the Holy Spirit. Several saints spoke of the Blessed Mother as the “spouse” of the Holy Spirit, and I think we can readily understand that image since it was by the Holy Spirit that she conceived Christ in her womb. Her union with God was so real and so intense that it not only bore fruit in the birth of Christ but meant that she was continually united with him at every moment of her life. But perhaps we would find it quite difficult to think of ourselves in a “spousal” relationship with God. There is also the fact that the Holy Spirit operates in sometimes very different ways in the life of each individual person – the Scriptures speak of the Holy Spirit as being like wind that blows where it wills. Yet, in spite of our possible doubts, understanding our own spousal relationship with God comes right down to what I preached about last week: namely, whether the Holy Spirit lives in us as a temple or not. If we have not cast him out of our souls through mortal sin – or if we have done so, but then repented of our mortal sin through sacramental Confession – then he dwells within us in a most intimate way and helps us to be conformed more and more to his likeness.

We thus have a third and final prayer to make to our Blessed Mother. We not only ask her to help us be more aware of God the Father’s love and call, and to help us be good “mothers” of God the Son by nurturing and causing his presence to increase in our lives and the lives of others. We also ask her to help us steer clear of sin, and to repent of it promptly when we fall, so that God the Holy Spirit might ever dwell in our hearts and we might ever grow in union with him. She is our model in the spiritual life, and by contemplating and imitating her relationship with the three Divine Persons we can come to appreciate and live out better our own relationship with the Triune God. She gave God glory in everything, and thus we conclude now as well: Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.

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The Contempt of Some Priests!

An Italian blog I check on recently posted an excerpt from the writings of St. Alphonsus Liguori on the reverence – or lack thereof – with which some priests celebrate Holy Mass. It’s striking to think that this was written sometime about the mid-18th century, since so much of it is just as applicable today. I was really struck by the Saint’s observations and argument and thought it could be worthwhile to share them in English translation here.

I found the text in a scanned book online and made a few small linguistic adaptations for readability and left out some passages for overall brevity. This text is a good meditation for priests and laity alike.

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On Masses Celebrated with Little Reverence

St. Alphonsus Liguori

O God! it would be necessary to weep, and even to shed tears of blood, at the manner in which many priests celebrate Mass. It excites compassion to see the contempt with which some priests and religious, and even priests of the reformed orders, treat Jesus Christ on the altar. Observe with what kind of attention certain priests celebrate Mass. I hope their number is small. Of them we may well say what Clement of Alexandria said of the pagan priests, that they turned heaven into a stage, and God into the subject of the comedy. But why do I say a comedy? Oh! how great would be their attention if they had to recite a part in a comedy! But with what sort of attention do they celebrate Mass? Mutilated words; genuflections that appear to be acts of contempt rather than of reverence; benedictions which I know not what to call. They move and turn on the altar in a disrespectful manner….

All arises from an anxiety to have the Mass soon finished. Some say Mass with as much haste as if the walls were about to fall, or as if they expected to be attacked by pirates without getting time to fly away. Some priests spend two hours in useless conversation, or in treating of worldly affairs, and are all haste in celebrating Mass. As they begin the Mass without reverence, so they proceed to consecrate, to take Jesus Christ in their hands, and to communicate with as much irreverence as if the holy sacrament were common bread… The Lord commanded the priests of the Old Law to tremble through reverence in approaching his sanctuary: “Reverence my sanctuary” (Lev 19:30). And still we see scandalous irreverence in priests of the New Law while they stand at the altar in the presence of Jesus Christ; while they converse with him, take him in their hands, offer him in sacrifice, and eat his flesh. In the Old Law the Lord threatened several maledictions against priests who neglected the ceremonies of sacrifices, which were but figures of our sacrifice… St. Teresa used to say: “I would give my life for a ceremony of the Church”. And will a priest despise the ceremonies of the holy Mass?….

How can priests expect by Masses said with such irreverence to obtain graces from God, when during the oblation of these Masses they offend and dishonor him more than they honor him? Should a priest not believe in the most holy sacrament of the altar, he would offend God; but it is a still greater offense to believe in it, and to celebrate Mass without due reverence, and thus make the people who are present lose their veneration for the holy sacrament. In the beginning the Jews respected Jesus Christ, but when they saw him despised by their priests they lost their esteem for him, and in the end joined in the cry of the priests: “Away with this man; crucify him!” And in like manner, lay people, seeing a priest treat the Mass with such irreverence, lose their respect and veneration for it. A Mass said with reverence excites devotion in all who are present at it; but, on the other hand, a Mass celebrated with irreverence destroys devotion and even faith in those that are present….

[B]ecause Masses are frequently so short, and so little calculated to excite devotion, lay people, after the example of priests, attend Mass with lack of devotion and with little faith; and when they find that it lasts longer than half an hour, they, on account of the bad habit that they have contracted, grow weary and begin to complain; and though they spend without tediousness several hours at play, or in the street, to pass the time, they feel it tedious and fatiguing to spend half an hour in hearing Mass. Of this evil, priests are the cause… The want of reverence with which many priests celebrate Mass is the cause that it is treated with contempt by others. Poor priests!…. Miserable priests! And miserable the bishop who permits such priests to celebrate. For, as the Council of Trent prescribes, bishops are bound to prevent all irreverence in the celebration of Mass: “The holy synod decrees that the ordinary bishops of places shall take diligent care and be bound to prohibit irreverence, which can hardly be separated from impiety.” Mark the words, “shall take diligent care and be bound”….

And let us, dearly beloved priests, endeavor to amend, if we have hitherto offered this great sacrifice with a want of reverence and devotion. Let us, at least from this day forward, repair the evil we have done. Let us, in preparing for Mass, reflect on the nature of the action that we are going to perform: in celebrating Mass we perform an action the most sublime and holy that man can perform. Ah, what blessings does a Mass, said with devotion, bring on him who offers it, and on those that hear it! With regard to the priest who offers it, [one author] writes: “Prayer is more quickly heard when recited in the presence of a priest saying Mass.” Now, if God hears more speedily the prayers which a lay person offers in the presence of a priest celebrating Mass, how much more readily will he hear the prayers of the priest himself if he celebrates with devotion! He who offers the holy Mass every day with devotion shall always receive new lights and new strength from God. Jesus Christ will always infuse increased knowledge and consolation; he will encourage him, and grant him the graces that he desires. A priest may feel assured, particularly after the consecration, that he shall receive from Jesus Christ all the graces he asks…..

The Council of Rhodes commanded priests to show their faith and devotion towards Jesus Christ by pronouncing the words with piety, and performing the ceremonies with reverence and devotion towards Jesus Christ, who is present in the Mass. The external deportment, says St. Bonaventure, is what shows the interior dispositions of the celebrant. And here let us call to mind, in passing, the command of Innocent III: “We also command that the oratories, vases, corporals, and vestments should be kept clean; for it seems to be absurd to neglect in so holy actions what would be unbecoming in profane actions.” O God! the Pontiff has too much reason to speak in this manner; for some priests have no repugnance to celebrate with corporals, purificators, and chalices which they could not bear to use at table!

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Purificator Purity

I’ve recently, after a long hiatus, had occasion to celebrate the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite – with its rubrics that are far more detailed and thought-provoking than those of the Ordinary Form. And doing so has revived in my mind another observation I’ve been making for some time about how we tend to do things in the Novus Ordo liturgy.

I’m writing tonight about the way that we handle the purificator.

In many places where the Novus Ordo or Ordinary Form is celebrated, the Precious Blood is distributed to the faithful on a regular basis – even daily. There are arguments for and against this practice, and I’m not going to get into that here. What I am going to get into are some of the problems that arise from this tendency.

Most priests and many lay faithful will by now have witnessed how, when the Precious Blood is distributed to many people, the purificator that the minister uses tends to become rather spotted as the rim is wiped after each sip. And not only that – sacristans will have noted the cosmetics that often end up on the purificator as well.

What happens next is the main difficulty that I would like to point out: after, the sometimes-heavily-soiled purificator is brought back to the altar with the chalice. And in many places, the priest or deacon uses this same purificator to purify the chalice.

Here arise two principal problems:

  1. The risk of handling a purificator moistened with the Precious Blood, and so transferring small amounts of it to other surfaces;
  2. A question whether one really purifies the chalice by wiping it out with a Precious-Blood- and cosmetic-stained cloth.

There is a prior, connected problem:

  • The fact that some Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion do not handle the purificator all that carefully (for lack of instruction), such that they, very often, are probably touching moistened parts of it with their fingers and so transferring the Precious Blood elsewhere also. I’ve seen the way purificators sometimes come back rather soaked with the Precious Blood, and I cannot escape the foregoing conclusion.

HE’S CRAZY – some of you are probably saying by now. I AM GOING TO WRITE TO HIS BISHOP. Well, if you must. These types of posts have already generated fan mail… Clearly I am not doing this to be popular.

What does all of this have to do with the Extraordinary Form? A few things:

  1. In the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, the Precious Blood is almost never distributed to the faithful, and thus there are no problems with heavily-used purificators afterwards being used to “purify” vessels;
  2. Even the priest does not necessarily bring the purificator in contact with the Precious Blood – after he receives from the chalice, he does not wipe the rim, but simply places the pall back on top until it’s time to purify it. The purificator is then used only to wipe out the already-rinsed chalice or other sacred vessel;
  3. The result from all of this being, basically, by the time the priest purifies the sacred vessels, the purificator that he usees to do so is essentially still clean. There is thus no risk of touching moistened parts of it and/or transferring the Precious Blood to other surfaces.

Again, I am not arguing here for never having the Precious Blood distributed to the faithful. But I am suggesting we need to re-think a few things.

First, priests, deacons, and Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion would do well to be more conscious of how they are handling the purificator, taking care not to touch sections that have already been moistened.

Second, priests and deacons who then purify sacred vessels would do well to have a clean (spare) purificator on the altar with which to do so, not attempting to put the already-soiled one(s) into further use. (Often, I am able to fold the already-used ones inside-out and so avoid problems, but even then, not always. It’d be better just to have a clean one on hand.)

Third, all of us should pray for a deeper faith in the Real Presence and for a greater awareness of the consequences of that Presence. This could include reviewing the practice of receiving Holy Communion in the hand, and switching to receiving on the tongue instead.

O Sacrament most holy! O Sacrament divine! All praise and all thanksgiving be every moment thine!

I strongly recommend this short, inexpensive, and very accessible book:

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