Ecce, Sacerdos Magnus

This photo was most likely taken shortly after my ordination to the diaconate – so probably in the first half of 2007.

A great priest passed from this life mid-afternoon today, November 29, 2018, here in Birmingham, Alabama: Fr. Lambert Greenan, O.P., age 101 upon death and having been a priest on this earth for 78 years.

Fr. Lambert, né Lawrence, was born on January 11, 1917 in Northern Ireland. He came from a devout family and both he and one of his brothers entered the Dominicans and were ordained priests. (His brother, Fr. Clement, died a few years ago, if memory serves.) He had other siblings but I don’t remember much about them. Fr. Lambert excelled in his studies and was ordained at age 23 — they would have had to obtain a dispensation to ordain him so young at that time, though it was not an uncommon occurrence.

Fr. Lambert was a canon lawyer and taught canon law at the Angelicum University in Rome for many years. He was also the founder of the English language edition of L’Osservatore Romano — the daily newspaper of the Holy See. In fact, he told many impressive stories from that chapter of his personal history, and how he, as editor, had the task of upholding Church teaching during the turbulent 1960s, when some were trying insidiously to air erroneous teachings through media. Fr. Lambert was a stalwart priest, a real legend. He was what the Italians call a “uomo di Chiesa” — a churchman in the fullest sense.

There are several stories of his that I recall him telling, but I feel that it is not my place to share them all in this makeshift obituary. I am sure the Sister Servants, at whose convent he lived and ministered for over 20 years, will publish a fine obituary in his honor soon enough. And given how well-known and beloved Fr. Lambert was — after all, he taught many priests and priests who would become bishops over the years, and was very experienced in Rome — there will surely be other and far more eloquent tributes published about him.

Fr. Lambert was extraordinarily kind and encouraging to me, and although I did not get to see him as often as I would like in recent years, our brief encounters were always edifying. I will greatly miss him and am profoundly grateful to God to have known him and to have counted him among my friends. I know that he would be appalled at any suggestion that he might already be in heaven so soon after his death: he would want us to pray for him, and I will. I am reminded of the recent cautionary tale that I posted in this regard. He did receive the last sacraments and he was well cared-for not only by the Sisters but also by local medical professionals and friends. The Bishop was at his side shortly before he died. He surely had a good death. But let us pray for him — as he would want. Tomorrow I will offer Mass for him.

Fr. Lambert died on a Thursday — a day especially important to priests, for Christ instituted the priesthood on a Thursday. He is a priest forever. May he soon enter into the heavenly liturgy and enjoy the perfect vision of God. May we not forget to pray for him and all of our beloved dead — and may we some day be reunited in eternal joy.

May Fr. Lambert Greenan, O.P. rest in peace. Amen.

Tu es sacerdos in æternum secundum ordinem Melchisedech

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A Prayer before Preaching

The task of preparing to preach is a serious one, upon which depends the spiritual good of the people entrusted to the preacher’s care. All priests are challenged to invest time and prayer into their preaching, carefully preparing what they will say and striving to respond to God’s inspiration in that endeavor.

The monks of Silverstream Priory have posted a beautiful and edifying prayer to say before preaching, and I am glad to link to their post. A priest or deacon could say this prayer before preparing his homily; he could also say it before Mass, along with the vesting prayers while getting ready.

Many priests have been touched by the beautiful charism of Silverstream Priory in recent years, especially through the book In Sinu Iesu that one of their monks published. It has been a balm and an encouragement for many priests, the present author included. I highly recommend this book for any priest, prospective priest, or anyone who prays for priests.

One of the things that I appreciate about the work produced by Silverstream, beyond its spiritual depth, is the beauty with which it is presented. From the higher, more sacral register of the English language (notice, for example, the vocative “Jesu” in the prayer linked to this post) — beauty that we have all but lost in modern times — to the way that it is arranged, typeset, and otherwise designed, it is of the highest quality.

As a preacher who sometimes struggles to find the words to say, I know that this prayer will be of benefit and profit.

I note that Silverstream Priory is undergoing a period of great growth and can also use our help.

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Christmas Greetings for the Popes, Current and Emeritus

I posted a couple of years about how to send Christmas greetings to Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI; those posts have always been very popular. I’m happy to share this information again, in case you want to include the men in white on your Christmas greeting list.

If you’d like to send Christmas greetings to Pope Francis and/or Pope Emeritus Benedict, these are the addresses that you may use:

His Holiness, Pope Francis
Domus Sanctae Marthae
00120 Vatican City-State
Europe

His Holiness, Pope Emeritus
Benedict XVI
Mater Ecclesiae Monastery
00120 Vatican City-State
Europe

Traditionally, the Vatican Secretariat of State (which handles a lot of the incoming mail) will send a Christmas holy card in gratitude for the greetings sent to the Holy Father. I can’t guarantee that you will get one, but this is what happened in the past. And of course, it’s not known for certain if the Pope will ever get to see your card, but it is the thought that counts and there is the chance that he will!

It’s nice also to send a Christmas card to your local bishop and your parish priest (and to anyone else whose “family” is the Church – so, local convents/monasteries as well)!

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Where should the priest look during Mass?

What is a priest supposed to do with his eyes during the celebration of Mass? The question probably seems trifling and frivolous to many, but the answer to it can greatly affect the experience of those assisting and praying at the Mass.

Most of us have seen a Priest Who Makes Uncomfortable Eye Contact During Mass. Many such priests seem basically to have memorized the Eucharistic prayers (or one of them, at least), and generally look at the people throughout much of it — even though it’s a prayer directed to God and not to the people.

The answer that I would like to set forth may be somewhat surprising. In general, I think priests should practice “custody of the eyes” — not looking out into the congregation, except obviously during the homily, when it would be bordering on absurd not to make eye contact.

Not that I always follow the rule that I am proposing. I do tend to look out at other times; but anyway, this is not confession. At least allow me to build an argument about why I think a general policy of “custody of the eyes” during Mass may be what the Church intends!

The first thing is that for the modern form of the Mass — the Ordinary Form — the main body of instructions that guides its celebration is the document we know in English as the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. It says nothing about what a priest should do with his eyes. Nothing. This is surely one reason why there may be such a wide variety of practice.

However, it does say something that I think is key to answering our question:

42. The gestures and bodily posture of both the Priest, the Deacon, and the ministers, and also of the people, must be conducive to making the entire celebration resplendent with beauty and noble simplicity, to making clear the true and full meaning of its different parts, and to fostering the participation of all. Attention must therefore be paid to what is determined by this General Instruction and by the traditional practice of the Roman Rite and to what serves the common spiritual good of the People of God, rather than private inclination or arbitrary choice. [emphasis added]

Does undisciplined looking at people throughout the Mass conduce toward beauty and noble simplicity – indeed, to prayer? But what is the traditional practice of the Roman Rite in this area? We need to figure that out, rather than solving this problem according to our personal tastes.

The document that guides the celebration of the Mass in the older form — the Extraordinary Form — is known as the Ritus Servandus. We could translate that title as, “The Rite to be Observed” — in other words, the “how to” of that form of the Mass. It has a lot to say about the eyes.

One thing worth noting is that for all it has to say about where the priest is to look, it never once says that he is to look at the faithful. Now again, I think we can reasonably expect that the priest should look at the faithful during the homily or sermon; this is Basic Communication 101.

In any case, apart from those times when it specifically mentions that the priest is to look at the Altar Cross, up toward Heaven, at the Host or the Chalice, the Missal, and so forth, it otherwise assumes (or explicitly mentions) that his eyes will be downcast. Here is an instructive quotation in this regard:

The Priest walks with eyes downcast, in a dignified manner, and with his body erect.

The great rubricist, Rev. J.B. O’Connell, explains the general philosophy of “custody of the eyes” in the traditional Roman Rite as follows (with my emphasis added):

In general, during the celebration of the Mass the celebrant is to keep his eyes cast down… both for his own recollection and for the edification of the congregation[O’Connell, Rev. J.B., The Celebration of the Mass (1964: Milwaukee, The Bruce Publishing Company), page 195.]

O’Connell says that the humble posture of keeping custody of one’s eyes is edifying for the congregation. How could this be?

Well, this brings us back to the Priest Who Makes Uncomfortable Eye Contact During Mass. Something about that habit of celebration — that particular ars celebrandi — says implicitly, “hey, look at me”. It draws attention to the priest: to his personality, to his skill (or lack thereof) in proclamation, to the meaningfulness and feeling with which he celebrates, etc.

The priest who is not always looking about takes the emphasis off his own ego. Which is what is supposed to happen, anyhow: he is celebrating in persona Christi, not “in persona Fr. So-and-So”. Thus so many other elements of the Mass: from the way that his street clothes are to be completely covered over (using an amice, also, if necessary), to the dignified vestments that he wears (which are nothing like anything we wear on a day-to-day basis; they take the emphasis off him and place it rather on his role as Priest). From the clear and decorous way that he pronounces the texts of the Mass (cf. GIRM 38), to… his not constantly looking about and making eye contact, outside of the homily (and, by extension, the announcements).

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal says nothing about where the priest should look during Mass, but it does say that we should follow the tradition of the Roman Rite. It would seem to me that we have here a classic example of that mutual enrichment that Pope Benedict said should take place between the old form and the new. And by understanding better our tradition, we can not only heed the directives of the newer form of the Mass but also, thereby, celebrate it in a way that puts more emphasis on Christ and less on the individual priest: in sum, in a more edifying way.

Here is the full section of O’Connell on the priest’s custody of the eyes during Mass. References to the Ritus Servandus are contained in the footnotes (abbreviated as “R.”).

Click to enlarge the above images. You can purchase O’Connell’s manual HERE.

Regarding the prayer of the “Our Father” in particular — a time, in the Novus Ordo, when many priests look at the people — see this prior post that I did about it.

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Priest Gifts Compendium 2018

As I mentioned in my last post, this time of year I get a fair number of blog visitors who are searching the internet for “Christmas gifts for priests”.

Please note, lest there be any doubt or suspicion: I am not fishing for gifts by posting this — most of the things I suggest, I already have! 

Since this topic is a subject of blog traffic, I’m happy to provide some additional suggestions.

Here are the posts on the topic from prior years: HEREHERE, and HERE. And here follows two new ideas.

If your priest celebrates the Traditional Latin Mass or has expressed an interest in learning it, a nice set of altar cards would be a very fine gift. Daniel Mitsui, a very talented young artist out of Chicago, has produced a beautiful, unique set:

At $260, this might be the sort of thing to go in with some other parishioners on – especially if you factor in the cost of framing. But it could be a very meaningful and appreciated gift for some priests.

As far as framing, you might present the cards first and then take them for framing after consulting with the recipient. Some priests may want a table-top type frame, with the flap on the back so that it can be stood up on the altar without having to lean it against something like a candlestick or the tabernacle. Other priests may want just a plain frame back with no built-in stand feature (this is what I prefer, at least for the central card: it is easier to move it — e.g., at communion time when I have to get into the tabernacle — without the stand thing on the back to get caught on something). Your priest may also have a preference about frame color: in my opinion, a fairly thin, gold-leaf-look frame would probably be good, but some priests may prefer a darker color like mahogany or something, or perhaps even a weightier frame thickness.

I can vouch for the quality of Daniel’s work. He is extremely talented and has succeeded in making a living (though I’m sure he’s not getting rich) on this trade, while raising an ever-growing family. You can read more about him here: Daniel Mitsui (scroll down 2/3 for the biographical text block).

HERE IS A LINK FOR THE ABOVE-PICTURED ALTAR CARDS

Another fine gift — and this one more affordable — would be a sign that the priest can hang in the sacristy to help him prepare for Mass. I previously posted about the vesting prayers here, and if you think that particular sign would be of interest to your priest you might consider having it printed (it is formatted for 8.5×11) on a nice card stock, then buying an attractive document-sized frame for it.

But another nice sign for the sacristy is this classic saying:

This is item # 4 on the page that loads if you click the image.

“Priest of God, say this Mass as if were your first Mass, your last Mass, your only Mass.” Now that is a good meditation to prepare for Holy Mass.

To order this attractive sign, go to this site (it’s # 4 on that page). They also have a couple of frame options, and overall it’s quite affordable.

Again, other ideas HEREHERE, and HERE.

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New Stoles for Sale

If you’ll indulge a moment of “Religious Catalogue”…

A friend of mine is a skilled seamstress and has made some beautiful stoles as part of her new business. (There are more coming, this is an initial sample.) As she has not been able to get her web site up and running yet and is still getting settled, I am glad to help her sell these items. These are brand-new, never-used, and ready for immediate shipping from Alabama.

This time of the year, my blog always gets a fair number of “hits” from people looking for Christmas gift ideas for their priest. This post could well meet a need in that regard — but be warned, most priests have specific preferences about vestments and you should only buy something like this for him if you know that he would definitely appreciate it. These could be good gifts for seminarians also. In some places this is also the time when new permanent deacons are ordained. Lots of possibilities here!

Please contact me via the Blog Contact Form with any questions or to place an order, and I will provide payment instructions (PayPal) or pass the question along.

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IVORY PRIEST STOLE WITH VINTAGE TRIM, ROYAL BLUE LINING • $200

This stole is well-suited for preaching, baptisms, weddings, and blessings. The trim is vintage and no longer available. This stole is made from a fine ivory damask fabric. Simple “French cut” design. This stole is unique — not found in any catalog!

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WHITE PRIEST STOLE WITH ANGEL DETAIL, GREEN TRIM/LINING • $200

This stole has a green velvet decoration on the end and a vintage Chi-Rho emblem. A simple gothic style, it would be well-suited for a priest to use for concelebration (where chasubles are not provided); also as a preaching stole, for baptisms, weddings, or blessings. It should be noted that green is the color of hope and of eternal life: very meaningful in the celebration of sacraments like baptism and marriage! The “standing angel” pattern woven in gold into the fabric is a traditional and venerable design.

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SOLD WHITE PRIEST STOLE WITH ANGEL DETAIL, BLUE ACCENT/LINING • $200

See the preceding description. This stole, with blue accent, would also be fitting for Marian occasions (processions, blessings, baptisms on a Saturday, weddings, etc.). The trim on this stole is not “vintage” — it is still produced and is very high quality and beautiful. Like all of the preceding, a unique, non-“catalog item”!

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CLOTH OF GOLD DEACON STOLE WITH BURGUNDY DETAIL • $200

This deacon stole has burgundy velvet ends with a vintage Chi-Rho symbol. The main fabric is a cloth of gold with crosses woven in. Deacons ordinarily wear the dalmatic (large garment with sleeves) when serving Mass, but not all parishes have them, in which case the deacon wears the stole only. Gold is used on a more festive occasion. This stole would be especially nice for a wedding presided by a deacon or for a house blessing during the Easter Season. It may also complement nicely a gold chasuble (worn by the priest for a major feast day), where there is not the matching “deacon gear”.

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SHORTER GOLD DEACON STOLE WITH BURGUNDY DETAIL • $175

This shorter deacon stole would be suitable for a deacon who is of lesser stature and slimmer body weight. It is made of a fine gold silk damask and lined in burgundy. A vintage Chi-Rho detail is on the end, along with a cloth of gold accent. This stole is very festive and could be used in much the same applications as noted for the preceding one.

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The above prices include shipping in the lower 48 states and also cover PayPal fees. If you are interested in any of these items, send me a message via the Blog Contact Form.
To be very clear: I am not profiting in any way from these sales — just helping a friend. Thank you!

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Visit of the Incorrupt Heart of St. John Vianney

We will soon be blessed here in Birmingham to host the relic of the incorrupt heart of St. John Vianney, patron saint of parish priests. The Knights of Columbus are having the relic tour the country from November to May, in reparation for the recent new wave of clergy scandals involving sexual abuse and predation. Click the following image to download a PDF with complete information about when the relic will be in Birmingham, Alabama. Unfortunately, I do not have much information about the rest of the tour: the Knights’ site says that they would be announcing the tour dates/locations soon, but as of this posting there is only an incomplete schedule online.

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Praying for the Dead – And A Cautionary Tale

A requiem Mass celebrated on the outdoor altar in my parish, located near the bishops’ graves in the courtyard. This altar faces due East!

Two of the three past/deceased bishops of the Diocese of Birmingham are buried in our courtyard beside the Cathedral of St. Paul. The most recent to be buried there was Bishop David E. Foley, bishop of the diocese from 1994 to 2005, but remaining here afterwards and continuing to serve tirelessly until just before the Lord called him home in Spring 2018. He was very beloved, and he had a pious death.

As Rector of the Cathedral, it has been touching for me to see so many people stopping to say a prayer at Bishop Foley’s grave – often at unsuspected times. As I said during his funeral rites, Bishop Foley’s greatest fear was that people would not pray for him in death. By publicizing that fear so effectively, he now has many people praying for him.

Recently (a little over a week ago), our Cathedral Fraternus chapter sponsored a Mass in remembrance of Bishop Foley, celebrated by one of our diocesan priests on the outdoor altar that flanks the bishops’ graves (pictured above). It was a traditional Latin requiem with absolution over the grave. The outdoor altar depicts the Death of St. Joseph in marble relief:

In that way we fulfilled Bishop Foley’s request to pray for him in a particularly effective way: by offering the holy sacrifice of the Mass for his intention. The sung Mass (Missa Cantata) – the first Mass to be celebrated on that outdoor altar, in fact – was exceedingly beautiful.

This morning, after our regular Saturday morning Mass of Our Lady, I led a group of parishioners and friends to visit the large old cemetery in town where many of our priests are buried, including Father Coyle. We prayed a rosary in order to gain the plenary indulgence for the faithful departed:

The celtic cross monument marks the spot where Fr. Coyle is buried.

During the Mass this morning I had recounted in the homily a bit of a cautionary tale I recently read on an Italian blog that I follow. A favorite genre, for sure. This tale fits in well with Bishop Foley’s wishes and our work of mercy of today, of going to pray for the dead. Here is my translation, preserving the unique/charming punctuation and style:

From the writings of Fr. Giuseppe Tomaselli (1902-1989)

In this time of moral miseries, in order to justify one’s moral weakness one says: The passions are too strong and I can’t always resist!… Besides, after sinning I go to Confession! –

Others say: I don’t commit grave sins! I always err in some little trifles, that are inevitable!… But there are some who sin more than I, and with greater gravity! –

When someone dies, it is commonly said: What a holy person! How much good they did! He has certainly gone to Heaven! –

On tombs the most untruthful and flattering inscriptions present the departed as models of illustrious virtue.

Our true self is what we are in the sight of God. Man judges humanly and often falls in error. But God’s judgments are most exact, and it is necessary to meditate on their strictness in order to live the most holy life possible; also to be of assistance to those who, having departed from this valley of tears, now make atonement in Purgatory for the sins they committed on earth.

PURGATORY

How I suffer!…

On February 3, 1944, an old lady died at almost 80 years of age. She was my mother. I had the opportunity to see her dead body in the cemetery chapel, before the burial. As a priest I thought: You, O woman, from what I can tell, have never gravely violated a single commandment of God! – And I reminisced about her life.

As a matter of fact, my mother always set a great example, and I owe my priestly vocation to her in great part. She went to Mass every day, even in old age, with the crown of children. She went to communion daily. She never missed the rosary. She was charitable to the point of even losing an eye while completing an act of profound charity towards a poor woman. She was always in uniformity with God’s will, even to the point of asking me while my deceased father was lying in state in the house: What can I say to Jesus in these moments to please him? – She repeated: Lord, may your will be done!

On her death bed she received the last sacraments with living faith. A few hours before dying, suffering so greatly, she was repeating: O Jesus, I wish you would decrease my sufferings. But I do not want to go against your will: your will be done!… – Thus that woman, who brought me into the world, died.

Basing myself on the concept of Divine Justice, and worrying little about the eulogies that acquaintances and even priests might have given about her, I intensified my prayer for her soul. I offered a great number of Holy Masses, many acts of charity, and wherever I preached, I exhorted the faithful to offer communions, prayers, and good works in suffrage for her.

God permitted my mother to appear to me. I studied the matter and I had brilliant theologians look closely at it also, and it was decided: It was a true apparition! –

My mother had been dead for two and a half years. And suddenly she appeared in my room under human appearances. She was very sad.

– You left me in Purgatory!…

– You have been in Purgatory until now?

– Yes and I am still here!… My soul is surrounded by darkness and I cannot see the Light, who is God!… I am at the threshold of Paradise, close to eternal bliss, and I long to enter there; but I cannot! I have said so many times: If my children knew of my terrible torments, ah!, how they would come to my aid!…

– Why didn’t you come earlier to tell me?

– It was not within my power to do so.

– You have not yet seen the Lord?

– As soon as I died I saw God, but not in all his splendor.

– What can we do to free you right away?

– I need one single Mass. God has permitted me to come and ask this of you.

– As soon as you enter Paradise, return to share the news!

– If the Lord will permit it!… What Light… what splendor!… – Speaking thus, the vision vanished.

Two Masses were celebrated and after one day she reappeared, saying: I have entered into Heaven! –

After all that I have set forth, I say to myself: An exemplary Christian life, a great quantity of prayers… and two and a half years of Purgatory!… Totally different than the judgments of men!

[Passage taken from “I nostri morti – La casa di tutti”, by Fr. Giuseppe Tomaselli]

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A Meditation on One of the Requiem Chants


Our mid-day Mass for All Souls here at the Cathedral of St. Paul will have a simple musical accompaniment: a chant schola singing the Church’s beautiful requiem propers. In my homily, which I copy below, I reflect on a surprising and delightful connection between the requiem and nuptial Masses.

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Commem. of the Faithful Departed – November 2, 2018 – Rev. Bryan W. Jerabek, J.C.L.
Cathedral of Saint Paul, Birmingham, Alabama – 12:10pm Mass – 650 words

As on every All Souls Day, we offer a requiem Mass for all the faithful departed. I would like to comment on one element of the requiem we offer today. I am grateful to our Music Director, Bruce Ludwick, for having arranged a schola to sing the traditional requiem propers at this Holy Mass. The propers are the scriptural and poetic texts given to us by the Church for the opening, the offertory, communion, the gradual (which takes the place of the responsorial psalm), and alleluia chants. Today’s gradual, in particular, merits special attention.

The melody of the requiem gradual starts out the same as the one used in a nuptial Mass, and so calls it to mind, though the texts sung are different. For the requiem gradual, which we just heard, the text used is essentially the “Eternal Rest” prayer that we all know and hopefully pray often. Whereas for the nuptial Mass, it is verses from Psalm 128(127): “Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children like shoots of an olive”. Why these two texts? And why should these two very different Masses be related by the same chant melody?

(Some cynical types would joke about how this is fitting: a wedding is a sort of funeral, they would say! But we may set cynicism aside and consider the deep, beautiful spiritual reasons behind this connection made by the Church’s sacred liturgy.)

We do well to recall that a nuptial Mass, like a requiem, is first and foremost an act of divine worship, entering in to Christ’s worship of his Father. The “wife” spoken of in that nuptial gradual is a reference to the Church, whom Christ unites to himself and offers to the Father. The Church is like a fruitful vine and her children are numerous, like the shoots of an olive tree. The bride and groom are thus invited to contemplate how their marriage is meant to be like Christ’s love for his Church: profoundly intimate and bearing abundant fruit unto God.

Now a requiem Mass is also about marriage: hence the melody chosen for its gradual chant. At the requiem what we contemplate is not the marriage of two people on earth and how that reflects Christ’s love for his Church; no, we contemplate, rather, the wedding feast of the Lamb – the heavenly wedding banquet – to which the soul of the deceased person is now called. At the end of our life on earth we commend our souls to God, which means we give ourselves entirely to him in a final way: “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit”.

But while the chant of the requiem calls to mind the nuptial melody and imagery, the text it uses is one of supplication: “Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord.” We beg God to draw the souls of the departed into his rest. Many must pass through a final, cleansing fire of his love. We already know of that fire on earth, for every state of life – including holy matrimony – is a sort of crucible in which we are tested. But whatever impurity yet remains at death is purified by God’s love in Purgatory, so that the soul can enter in to the feast, clothed in the wedding garment.

Today, then, as we pray for the souls, we ponder the marriage feast of heaven. Yesterday, we celebrated and begged the intercession of those who are already there. Today we ask God that their number may grow, with many holy souls being received into the wedding feast thanks to our prayers. How beautiful are the Church’s chants and canticles,[1] when we come to understand them on a deeper level! How beautiful the singing will be at the wedding feast in heaven: may our Lord admit many to it this day – and help us to reach it someday as well. Amen.

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[1] A favorite quotation from St. Augustine’s Confessions comes to mind: “How I wept when I heard your hymns and canticles, being deeply moved by the sweet singing of your Church! Those voices flowed into my ears, truth filtered into my heart, and from my heart surged waves of devotion. Tears ran down, and I was happy in my tears.”

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Working on Holy Days of Obligation

A “Closed for Mourning” sign on a business in Italy — more on why I chose this photo, below.

There are five [or six] Holy Days of Obligation each year in the United States: Immaculate Conception (December 8), Christmas (December 25), Mary, Mother of God (January 1), Assumption (August 15), and All Saints (November 1). [In a few regions the Ascension is observed on Thursday instead of being transferred to Sunday and is also a day of obligation, but that does not apply here in Alabama. Your mileage may vary depending on where you are from.]

The rules about Holy Days of Obligation are confusing and frustrating, and I won’t get into that here. They should be changed. We can handle going to Mass five (or six) extra days besides Sunday. I always encourage people to form the habits of always going on these five [or six] days, because they are both important and often we are obliged to do so anyhow. That said, even if the rules are confusing, it is clear that the obligation is removed from some Holy Days from time to time: I am not suggesting that because the rules are confusing, we are obliged to go on all the days anyhow. But I think we should go on all the days.

So hopefully we make it to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligations. (Failing to do so could be a mortal sin.) But how do we spend the rest of the day?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes canon 1248 of the Code of Canon Law on this one. We should treat it like a Christian sabbath — we should rest:

On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are to refrain from engaging in work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s Day, the performance of the works of mercy, and the appropriate relaxation of mind and body. Family needs or important social service can legitimately excuse from the obligation of Sunday rest. The faithful should see to it that legitimate excuses do not lead to habits prejudicial to religion, family life, and health.

This brings me to another thing I encourage: taking time off on Holy Days of Obligation. Yes, not everyone has a job that gives much vacation time or flexibility in its use. Yes, some people’s jobs require them to work at odd times, including Sundays. Yes, there are always those who have legitimate excuses. I know…..

But many people have do have generous amounts of vacation time or PTO. I strongly encourage them to plan out their use of it each year so that they have a day off on the holy days of obligation also. So that they can relax on those days, take themselves and their families to church, engage in other family activities, and so forth.

And that brings me to a final point: I also encourage Catholic business owners to close on those few days each year. You’re already closed on Christmas and New Year’s (Mary, Mother of God), in many cases! So it’s a question of adding three [or four] more days to your schedule of closing days each year. If you honor God and your Catholic faith in this way, is there really such a great concern about lost business? Will not God bless your business even more?

Look at businesses that are famous for closing on Sundays: Hobby Lobby, Chick-fil-A, and others. Every time I go to Chick-fil-A – doesn’t matter what time – there is a huge line of cars and inside is booming as well. Hobby Lobby seems to be doing just fine. And that, in spite of the fact that many people go shopping on Sunday nowadays (in violation of the Third Commandment) or go out to eat on Sundays (not necessarily in violation of the Third Commandment). Folks still patronize them because they value their products; they adjust and go on the days they are open.

Another common objection goes something like, “Look, I get it intellectually, but non-Catholics won’t understand why our business is suddenly closed on a certain day and will take their business elsewhere”. Again: you’re probably already closed on two of those days. We’re talking just three [or four] extra days a year on top of that. And what’s to say you couldn’t be open on a couple of the Federal Holidays on which you might otherwise close, in order to make up for the days lost to Holy Days?

Moreover, this is 2018. We have social media. We can put up signs weeks in advance advising customers about a closure. We can print it on receipts. And so forth. In Italy (picture at top of post), it’s not uncommon to be going about your shopping and being unable to complete it because a business is “closed for mourning”. You adjust, you go back another day. Life happens.

“Closed to allow for worship.”

What a great opportunity for evangelization it would be, for a Catholic business owner to close on a day like today and hang a sign on the door: “Closed to allow our families to celebrate the Feast of All Saints”.

Our Church offices are closed today and on every Holy Day of Obligation that falls on a business day. Other Catholics organizations and businesses should do likewise. We should rest on this day. And we should get to Mass.

All Saints, pray for us!

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Seven Sisters: A Great Gift

Click image to visit the Seven Sisters Apostolate web site

An extremely generous and kind parishioner notified me a little while back that she was intending to set up a Seven Sisters Apostolate group to pray for me.

Today she sent me the names of those who are praying, the days that they are praying, and told me that they start tomorrow – the Feast of All Saints.

I am profoundly grateful and humbled by this great gift! What a wonderful endeavor this is. I encourage all ladies to see if they can do this for their priest, wherever they are.

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Smartphone in Confession?

A couple of years back, I started to notice an uncanny occurrence: often things that I had spoken about (out loud) during the day would suddenly appear in online ads (e.g., on my Facebook). It didn’t take long for me to make the connection that the phone is always listening (even if, at that time, I did not use the phone’s voice features), and that that had implications for the line of work I’m in.

Even if there is not a human being physically listening to my conversations, much data is being captured and somehow being stored “someplace” and being used in various ways. Ways over which I have little to no control.

[Did you know that in 1988 — long before smartphones — the Vatican issued an excommunication for anyone who records a confession? The Seal of Confession is serious business!]

At some point, therefore, I realized that I must physically turn off my phone when I go to hear confessions. The Seal of Confession is inviolable: but the way the phone is “listening” in some way seems to put that in danger, even if we can’t be exactly sure how. So I formed the habit of always turning my phone off both when I hear confessions and when I go to the sacrament myself.

I can’t seem to find a link now, but sometime in the past couple of years there was an article I think from Polish bishops who warned about this: priests should turn off their phone when they go in the box, or leave it someplace else.

The question arises: What about the various apps that help a penitent prepare for the sacrament? I think it’s fine to use them beforehand, but I would only use it to jog my memory; I wouldn’t “register” in some way my sins in it. If I needed a list to help me remember everything, I’d do the old fashioned thing and write it down on paper, taking care to destroy it afterwards.

I am unaware of any ruling either from the Vatican or the Bishops’ Conference on this matter. But I do think it’s serious and merits consideration. Our phones are incredible inventions that bring the whole world to our fingertips and give us so many conveniences. But they bring real concerns about privacy also.

I don’t want anyone other than the priest and God to hear my confession. So I turn my phone off whenever I go in “the box”!

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