Holy Days of Obligation, 2019-2020 Edition

The task of figuring out which Holy Days are “of Obligation” each year can be confusing and frustrating. One of them — Ascension — is transferred to Sunday in most parts of the country, except for the states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Nebraska. Others are days of obligation… except when they’re not. The rules are a bit complex. For your convenience, here are the upcoming Holy Days for 2019-2020, followed by some explanatory notes.

All Sundays of the Year, plus:

  • Wednesday, December 25, 2019 – Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord (Christmas)
  • Wednesday, January 1, 2020 – Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
  • [in ME, NH, VT, MA, RI, CT, NY, NJ, PA, and NE: Thursday, May 21, 2020Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord — everywhere else, it’s transferred to Sunday, May 24, 2020]
  • Sunday, November 1, 2020 – Solemnity of All Saints (you have to go on Sunday anyhow!)
  • Tuesday, December 8, 2020Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the B.V.M.
  • Friday, December 25, 2020 – Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord (Christmas)

Some might wonder: Why not the Immaculate Conception in 2019? Why not the Assumption in 2020?

In 2019, Immaculate Conception falls on a Sunday. According to the liturgical norms, a Solemnity of Our Lady cannot supersede a Sunday of Advent. (There is a weighted ranking of “liturgical days” in the Roman Missal.) Therefore, the feast is displaced to the next day — Monday, December 9. And because it is displaced, according to present regulations, it is not a day of obligation — the obligation is attached to the date of December 8, not when it is transferred to another day. Again, that is just for 2019 for the Immaculate Conception.

In 2020, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary falls on a Saturday. There are a couple of Holy Days — this is one of them — for which, if they fall on a Saturday or on a Monday, the obligation to attend Mass is abrogated. But again, that’s not for all Holy Days. That’s why we need explanatory things like this. If you want to read the norms, CLICK HERE.

The bottom line is that there are either five or six Holy Days of Obligation on the calendar, depending upon where you live (check the lists of states above — if you live in one of those, you have six Holy Days). And there are 52 Sundays. So we technically have 57 or 58 days each year when we need to be at Mass. Of course, sometimes a Holy Day falls on a Sunday — as with All Saints in 2020. Sometimes one is abrogated because of other technicalities.

But it would be very fine if we all formed the habit of honoring these days every year, obligation or not. In fact, that’s the easiest way to deal with confusing rules: decide to go to Mass on those days each year no matter what. Then you don’t have to worry if you missed one or if that year didn’t apply or whatever. Many of you enjoy generous amounts of paid time off, personal days, or vacation days with your jobs. You should put in for these days every year so you can bear witness to the Catholic faith and take your families to Mass more easily (instead of having to go to a “red eye” before or after a long day of work…).

And in that vein, I encourage you to read my post on sanctifying Holy Days: HERE.

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Christmas Gifts for Priests, 2019 Edition

Each year around this time, folks start arriving at this blog looking for Christmas gift ideas for priests (based on the search terms that the site stats track). I would like to offer some ideas for this year. (My previous year’s post — which links to prior ones — is HERE.)

DISCLAIMER: No, I am not fishing for gifts; I either already have these items or, in any case, do not want them — hopefully this list will help those who need ideas for other priests.

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BOOK: Worthy Sons of So Noble A Mother (LINK)
Many priests have done the consecration to Jesus through Mary of St. Louis de Montfort before. However, it is good for us to renew that consecration from time to time. This book helps a priest (or a seminarian) to do so, aided by texts and other meditations that specifically relate to the priestly vocation. I am renewing my own consecration this year, using this book. The idea occurred to me that I should do so annually from now on. How wonderful it would be to help encourage a priest to consecrate himself (or renew his consecration) to our Blessed Mother — it can only be a benefit for his ministry.

BOOK: The Priests We Need to Save the Church (LINK)
I did a fuller review on this book HERE. It has also received critical acclaim from notable Catholic intellectuals such as Dr. Janet Smith. The author, Kevin Wells, is very clear in identifying the problems that he sees as a layman (whose uncle was a beloved priest [and was killed] and whose brother is a priest) and the solutions. A renewal of the priesthood is needed to help the Church move through this time that we are in. That renewal is only possible by rediscovering certain fundamentals such as the daily holy hour and a more profound reflection on the nature of a priest as spiritual father and one who makes and offers sacrifice.

BOOK: Christus Vincit (LINK)
Bishop Athanasius Schneider writes in a lapidary manner on a whole host of topics relating to the world and the Church today, both of which are clearly in a period of turmoil and division. As I read this book it occurred to me that it could be useful as a reference for preaching. It was a great refresher on so many topics (such as ecumenism!). He also references some important books in the footnotes; I have already purchased two volumes on freemasonry as a result. As I read, I always set this book down with a sense of renewed hope: yes, we are going through difficult times – but the Lord WILL have the final word and we must remain faithful.

BOOK: The Sanctifier (LINK)
When it comes to the Holy Spirit, many priests come up against a loss for words. At the other extreme (perhaps) are those who are really “into” charismatic spirituality, but do not always attribute or explain the movements of the Spirit in an orderly or accurate way. This text by a former Archbishop of Mexico City is a classic and still as useful today as ever. I read it for the first time in college and am re-reading it now. I have written before about some of the common errors that one hears concerning the Spirit — HERE. It couldn’t hurt for us all — especially for priests — to understand his action better. It would certainly help our spiritual lives.

DEVOTIONAL AID: Pardon Crucifix One-Decade Rosary (LINK)
The young lady who runs this webshop makes beautiful rosaries, chaplets, and other devotional items — for reasonable prices. This one-decade rosary features the beautiful and spiritually-beneficial “pardon crucifix”; the beads are available in a variety of colors. Be sure to take a look at the many other items in her shop. I have a “Job’s Tears” rosary that she made — it is reputed to be the type that St. Mother Teresa used. In any case, priests sometimes give their rosaries away — I am continually surprised how many people come ’round asking for a rosary! — so the gift of one will rarely go to waste, whether he uses it for himself or gives it to another.

BOOZE: Buffalo Trace Bourbon
Standard disclaimer: if your priest is a loner type or has a known problem, do not buy him alcohol. However, if your priest is reasonably well-adjusted and attends well to his duties, then he can probably handle it. During my summer vacation this year I stopped at the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Kentucky. This good bourbon is one of the more inexpensive values out there; the quality and the taste are excellent for the price. Of course, like with many things, the sky’s the limit: there are always fancier things available. I will just say that for me, I always hesitate to use expensive/really nice bottles — I don’t generally have the time to invite priest-friends over for a drink, nor do I have the type of gatherings where one would put out the really high-end stuff. I think for many priests who enjoy a drink from time-to-time, they will be more likely to enjoy a more “average” bottle.

PRAYERS: Seven Sisters (LINK)
To leave the most important things for last, there is prayer. Here I have two suggestions. The first is the Seven Sisters Apostolate. A generous prayer warrior in my parish set one of these up for me just over a year ago, with seven ladies who would offer a holy hour for me for at least a year — one for each day of each week. God only knows what my life would be like without this amazing prayer commitment to support me. Priests need to be men of prayer themselves. But inasmuch as we represent Christ in a hostile world and so are special targets of the enemy, we need many prayers besides. I am so grateful for this gift that I received — and I hope many more priests will be able to receive likewise.

PRAYERS: A Spiritual Bouquet
An incredible gift that I received a year and a half ago for my tenth anniversary of ordination was a special spiritual bouquet. For those who are unaware of what a spiritual bouquet is, it is a quantified offering of prayer. You commit to certain prayers for someone else, and you possibly collect the same from others; you tally them all; you present the gift to its recipient. In my case, it was that at least one family would be praying for me each day for a year. There was even a calendar to go with it, so I would know who was praying for me and could offer a prayer for them also. Spiritual bouquets do not always need to be huge and have year-long commitments attached; why not get together a group of faithful friends who will commit to praying for a priest in concrete ways, tally their prayers, and present it to him as a group gift? Any priest would be grateful for such a gift.

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Hopefully these suggestions are of help! Be sure to check out last year’s post for more suggestions and links to prior years. HERE

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When Can We Decorate for Christmas?

One of the controversies that one encounters nowadays among conscientious, tradition-minded Catholics concerns the question of when it is “correct” to decorate for Christmas.

Stores put out the Christmas items earlier and earlier each year; in many places the local radio stations play Christmas music as early as Halloween now; and then, of course, there is the problem that on December 26 many trees are out to the curbs for trash pickup and all other decorations taken down, even as the Christmas season in the Church is really only beginning.

Is it “correct” for Catholics to have such a clear and distinct separation of seasons – which means, in this case, no Christmas decorating until Christmas Eve!?

My answer is based on two things: 1) What the liturgical seasons mean; and 2) What is actually done in traditionally Catholic places.

The season of Advent is a time of preparation. It is — as I have written about a fair amount in the past — a penitential season. We fast before we feast. Nowadays the penitential nature of Advent has been almost completely eclipsed. The priest may well wear purple at Mass, there may not be a Gloria, and the church may not be decked out for Christmas… but outside, it’s “Christmas in full swing”. So, can’t we just do what everyone else does?

This is where those who are trying to be faithful to the true sense of the faith may end up indulging excess: “No Christmas music until midnight Mass! No decorations until 12/24! You can give a gift for the Feast of St. Nicholas but you can’t otherwise put out gifts before then!” And so forth…

Inasmuch as Advent is a period of preparation, though, what exactly is wrong with starting to put up Christmas decorations? What is wrong with doing the Christmas shopping? Yes, our world has the seasons backward — yes, the world celebrates Christmas only until 12/25, whereas we really start our festivity then. But is it truly so wrong to begin to acknowledge Christmas before the big day arrives?

Here I answer: there is no problem. We should maintain the spirit of Advent. This is obviously easier said than done in our world today. We should have specific Advent traditions. We should teach our children about it and not go all-out on the egg nog and Christmas cookies. But you can start decorating. You can start “getting in the spirit”. This is fine. Especially if you then really celebrate the season like the Church does — from December 25 at least until the Baptism of the Lord (or at the very least, to Epiphany — though there is an old tradition of going until February 2, the Presentation, also).

So putting up the tree around Thanksgiving, listening to the Christmas station, doing your Christmas shopping… not a problem in my mind. Just don’t forget that it’s Advent. Ask yourself if you are really preparing spiritually for Christmas. Ask yourself if you are teaching your children about that and actually leading them in that regard. That should include things like an extra effort to go to Confession, and otherwise observing a certain austerity or restraint. Save something for the actual season!

Two simple questions are: How is Advent different for us than either Ordinary Time or Christmas? And, do the differences reflect the spirit of Advent?

Now with regard to “what is actually done in Catholic places”, the tradition in the Vatican is a good indicator. But I can also speak to what happens in the neighborhoods of Rome, where real Romans still live. First the Vatican.

The large tree in St. Peter’s Square (a specimen of which is pictured above) is brought in at the end of November and the process of decorating it begins. Yes — they put their tree up around the time that we Americans are celebrating Thanksgiving! The tree is then officially illuminated closer to the Immaculate Conception. I am told by a reliable source that the illumination this year will be on December 5. Thus it will remain into January.

This is not a new tradition — this is the way things have long been done in the Vatican.

But unlike our American neighbors who might put their trees out to the curb on 12/26, the tree in St. Peter’s Square is left up, as I said, for all of the Christmas season. Until recently, in fact, it was left up until at least February 2 (following the old tradition). Now it is taken down sometime after Epiphany, following the more contemporary liturgical norms. The tree might go up fairly early, but it stays up for the entire Christmas season.

In many of the neighborhoods of Rome, there are very charming street decorations put up by associations in those areas. They often involve lights strung over the streets — more or less elaborate depending upon the neighborhood and those who live there. Here is one of the main thoroughfares in the heart of Rome (surely these lights are provided by the city itself and not by a neighborhood association):

But it’s not just Rome. Here is photo I once took in the wonderful town of Sorrento, south of Naples, near the Amalfi Coast:

Yes, the problem is not so much how early the decorations go up, but how long they remain. They should stay up for the entire Christmas season!

So I would not be too critical of those who decorate early. It should be within reason. For me, before Thanksgiving is pushing it. But putting the tree up on ‘Black Friday’? No problem. Keep it up till the Baptism of the Lord, though! Be the crazy Catholic in your neighborhood who celebrates the true meaning of the season and does so until the season really ends.

And don’t forget about Advent! Don’t get lost in the preparations, especially the material ones. Make them — but don’t neglect the preparation of your own soul (and the oversight you should have over your children in that regard). Let Advent be different; indeed, let it have a penitential tone, for we should fast before we feast.

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Book Review: The Priests We Need to Save the Church

In the past couple of weeks I have taken some extra time for reading — something I really needed to do — and the books I chose have not disappointed. I hope to post another review in a few days. In these times of scandals, corruption, confusion, and division, we need to sink our minds into something that will give us a sense of hope and even a sense of a way forward. This book and the other I will review soon do just that.

Kevin Wells, the author of The Priests We Need to Save the Church, is a married layman who had an uncle who was a much-beloved priest in the Archdiocese of Washington, who was killed in cold blood in his rectory in the year 2000. Msgr. Thomas Wells had been a priest for 29 years when he died — and he had a great reputation for holiness.

First, a disclaimer: the title of the book may sound a bit wrong, theologically. We know that no priest or group of priests can ever save the Church. Christ is the Savior of his Church. We know this. And so does the author. His analysis of the crisis that the Church is undergoing at present leads him to believe that it will be through a radical renewal of the priesthood — with priests taking their spiritual fatherhood seriously and pursuing authentic holiness — that the Church will get through the present malaise. Of course, no radical renewal of the priesthood is possible without the priests’ themselves seeking the transformative grace of Christ, our Great High Priest.

Here is one way the author himself describes the book:

This book is a wholehearted plea meant to encourage the earnest priest who cares deeply for his flock and wants nothing more than to help lead them to everlasting life with God — but in this time of mistrust and disillusionment can’t find the proper footing to shepherd them properly. It’s an appeal for him to recognize and reclaim the mystical unfolding of the Holy Spirit on that remarkable day when he lay down before his bishop — nose and kneecaps pressed hard to the cold floor — and climbed into the skin of Christ. It’s a plea for him to give birth (or rebirth) to the supernaturality born in him that day, the same mystery that propels him to help save souls through a vocation brimmed over with an intense interior friendship with Jesus. (page 65)

Wells also has a brother who is a priest — I was in seminary with him (I believe he was a year or two behind me). I remember now-Fr. David Wells telling me about his uncle and how he had been inspired to answer God’s call also, especially through the events that surrounded his uncle’s murder – with all the love that was shown by so many people whose lives his uncle had touched.

Wells thus interpolates the question of what a holy priest is and how he can affect so many positively, by narrating a selection of vignettes from his uncle’s holy life and ministry. It is an inspiring story of fidelity. And one thing that stood out to me was how Msgr. Wells went to seminary and was ordained in a time of great confusion in the Church, and in spite of that remained faithful. He was able to do this because of the intimate friendship with Christ that he always had, which he especially kept fresh through his daily holy hour.

In the process of writing this fine book, Wells interviewed numerous good priests and lay people; he shares from those contacts also. In addition, he is honest about the fact that it would be normal to have some apprehension about a book about how to be a good priest written by a layman. I admired his honesty and also the answer he gave about why he wrote the book in spite of that.

Many good young men today hesitate to answer God’s call to the priesthood because of what they see happening in the Church. The story of Msgr. Tommy Wells, who was ordained in the early 70s and no doubt witnessed all kinds of ecclesiastical silliness throughout the years — yet remained faithful to Christ, maintained an attitude of good cheer and authentic joy, and never compromised on Church teaching — may well be the inspiration and the impetus that such young men will need to say “yes” to Christ and “do whatever he tells [them]”. If Msgr. Wells could do it and do it so well, so can we. Jesus is always faithful and we need good men now to be good priests, strong spiritual fathers.

This book will be read with profit by priests and laypeople alike. It would be a good gift for a seminarian or for a young man whom you think might have a vocation. You might have the parish secretary or someone else close to your priest make stealth inquiries about whether he has it, and consider getting it for him for Christmas. Then again, even if he does have it, it could be good for him to have extra copies to give out to the young men whose vocations he may be trying to encourage.

I am happy to recommend The Priests We Need to Save the Church. Kevin Wells is a skilled writer and an engaging storyteller. His advice is solid, and, if taken, will no doubt contribute to the renewal of the Church.

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Recommended Vestment Makers

I remember that, around the time I was ordained, it was still rather difficult to find more traditional styles of vestments — whether those of the gothic style (but perhaps made in more noble materials) or of the Roman style. It was especially difficult to find those that were also affordable. Summorum Pontificum had only recently been promulgated; there was still not great demand for these things. Then, even if there were some firms that produced more traditional items, many of them did not yet have a web presence and so were difficult to track down. With rare exceptions, catalogs were generally still full of the unworthy (and over-priced!) vestments that had filled many sacristies in recent decades.

In particular, I wanted to have a nice stole for when I gave my first priestly blessings. I recall searching Italian-language catalogs to try to find something nice in a more Roman style (that again, was also at least somewhat affordable). What I got was surely nice for the time, but there are nicer (and generally more affordable) things that are available now. A lot has changed in a relatively short time.

With that said, I’d like to share some of the vestment makers (in no particular order) that I have done business with on the personal and the parish levels. These firms are producing fine-quality items, typically made from noble materials (silks and the like, exceptions will be noted), usually at quite fine prices also. So here goes — with the name of the firm, their URL(s) in parentheses, various photos, and then my notes for each:

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SACRA DOMUS AUREA (Facebook page)

Rose Roman-style chasuble made in fine French rose lampas fabric with metallic threads, lined in forest green silk taffeta, silver metallic trims.

The Italian woman who runs this firm does very high-quality work and is quite eager to please. She is also very proficient in English. While she generally makes things in the Roman style, she has examples of other styles and is quite versatile. Contact her to discuss your project. Her prices are very reasonable and production times seem efficient. As of this writing (10/23/19), I believe she has several unique items in stock and ready to ship. Her Facebook page has many photos of the different sets she has recently produced.

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BENEDICAMUS (On Facebook as Kupiec Blawatny, Website)

A young man from Poland, Adam Blawat, runs this firm. While he tends to use synthetic fiber fabrics more for a lot of his works (for example, the white gothic chasuble pictured above, which I personally own, appears to be about 100% polyester or similar man-made fiber materials), his quality is superb and his prices are very fine. The precision with which he assembles his vestments is simply outstanding, especially when compared with some much higher-priced makers. I have found that you can share your ideas with Adam and he will strive to come up with something that realizes your vision; while he does have quite a few “standard items” in his portfolio, he is also very good at custom work. His web site and Facebook page have many photos of his work.

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MARIS STELLA VESTMENTS (Facebook pageWebsite)

A French lady who lives in England, Geneviève Gomi, runs this shop using traditional methods and fine materials. Geneviève has several “standard designs” in her portfolio but can also make whatever you like. She also has a capacity for doing custom embroidery in high quality. Generally speaking, wait times for her custom work are reasonable — usually no more than a few months. I would gauge her pricing as “medium”, though the quality and variety of what she does, as well as the unique types of things I have not seen elsewhere, make the cost quite worth it. I highly recommend Geneviève’s work!

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THE SANCTUARY GUILD (Website)

Deirdre McNamara recently created the above-linked web site for her long-established vestment business. A particular feature of her work is that she has in her studio many no-longer-produced unique trims, mostly in mid-century styles (as pictured in the black chasuble and white stole above). Deirdre prefers to use silks and other natural fiber fabrics and can make virtually anything you want. Her pricing is quite reasonable (especially for an artisan based in the US) and the quality of her work, using traditional, time-tested methods, is superb. She has some unique stoles in stock on her web site currently. Contact her with your ideas for a special project.

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The above are some of the firms I have worked with for custom work on behalf of myself, my parishes, or others in recent years. There are certainly many others on the market. I encourage you to check the web site for Liturgical Arts Journal, in particular, as well as that of the New Liturgical Movement, to find other makers (listed in their articles and also featured in the advertising in their sidebars — be sure to use the desktop version of these sites to be able to see all the advertising for liturgical artisans).

I am not being remunerated by any of these companies to recommend them, nor have they asked me for advertising. My goal in sharing this information is to help others to see that good-quality work is available — much more easily today than in recent times! — and encourage parishes and individual priests to seek out this quality for their liturgical worship of the Most High, Who always deserves our best!

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Most Popular Posts and Assorted Others

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

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

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SELECT TOP TEN MOST-VISITED POSTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thank you for reading my blog!

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The Silence of God

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

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

Question posed by Sara Simonetta :

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

Response of the Holy Father:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Our Response to Unworthy Priests and Bishops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Churching of Women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Can the Devil Read Our Thoughts?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

> Introductory Audio File (mp3 – about 9 minutes)

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

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

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

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

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

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Fat Priests

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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