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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Some Problems with Whole Wheat Hosts

The “spotless” victim?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bilingual Catechism

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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Home Chapels

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

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

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

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The Options That Divide Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Blessing of Herbs for the Assumption

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Assumption by Titian – in a church in Venice.

* * *

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Sanctifying Holy Days of Obligation

Last November 1, I posted a blog about work on Holy Days of Obligation. Since we have a Holy Day this week — the Solemnity of the Assumption — I again want to direct people to that post and encourage them to consider seriously what is expected of us by our faith.

The Catechism reminds us about our obligation to attend Mass not only on Sundays but also on Holy Days, of which there are about five each year (give or take; it’s somewhat complex — alas). Then it goes on to tell us how we should sanctify those days also:

2185. 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.

Thus, in my post, I encouraged people to use their time off wisely, so that they could ideally take a day off work for each Holy Day. Not everyone has a generous or flexible time off policy, but many do. If you find time for long weekends, family vacations, professional development, “mental health days”, and the like, but are not taking the day off work on the few Holy Days of Obligation each year, I invite you to start doing so.

I was delighted to learn of a local Catholic-owned business that made the decision to start closing on Holy Days of Obligation. This is an act of faith. Of course it means — perhaps initially — inconvenience for clients and even some loss of revenue. Tell me, though: will setting a good Catholic example and thus enabling employees and others to fulfill their obligations not be rewarded by our good God? Look at Chick-fil-A, Hobby Lobby, and other businesses that close on Sundays — are they hurting?

I was also pleased to hear of a local plan that is afoot. Some families want to start having a festive gathering in the afternoon on Holy Days, inviting as many families as possible to attend. Let’s call it a potluck-picnic-spectacular. These are the types of things where the adults get to visit, the kids go wild and run around, and someone’s house — God bless them — probably gets destroyed. But it is worth it. I am blessed to attend one such gathering at least once a month (on a Sunday) and it is always worthwhile and life-giving.

By having this “family festival” in the afternoon, it drives home the idea that you really have to take the day off work to be able to attend. By having it in the afternoon, it enables families either to go to a morning or mid-day Mass, or still be free to go to the evening Mass, to fulfill their holy day obligation. It also bears witness to others: non-Catholic neighbors might ask, “why did y’all have a big party on a Thursday afternoon?” — “It was the Feast of the Assumption, what’s your excuse!?

Living an authentic Catholic life, which means following the rhythms of the liturgical year (including not only feasts but fasts), is certainly a challenge in our time and culture. It require intentionality and an individual, family-by-family decision. The important detail is the recognition that one family can have a splendid effect. Invite a few others over, they get some ideas and run with it and host their own things in the future, etc. — it all spreads. THIS IS WHAT IS NEEDED.

So I post this again, to again challenge everyone. Authentic Catholic Culture is what built Western Civilization, and it is what Western Civilization, which has gone so far adrift, so desperately needs. It is lovely and it builds up families. It is wholesome and it creates memories that will last unto eternity.

We all know that there are exceptions — people who cannot get time off work, jobs that require their employees to be on-call, folks who have to work more than one job to make ends meet; yes, there are exceptions. I am not “judging” people with legitimate exceptions! I do want to encourage those, however, whose particular situation enables them potentially to make a difference!

It’s so easy with things like this to throw up our hands and conclude that our little efforts don’t matter. Tell me: where will the change begin? And do your efforts not matter to God? It is He whom we serve. He will bless any good thing we do in accordance with His Church’s teaching.

Finally, let me say, one of the things that is so gratifying to me about the above is that this new initiative — to have a sort of “family festival” — is lay-led. Priests can’t do everything. We have even messed up a fair amount, historically. The Church has a hierarchical structure but that does not exclude legitimate lay initiatives. All of the baptized have something to contribute in building up the Kingdom of God.

The Italians have a great expression: “ben venga”. Let’s translate that as “come right on”. Lay folks want to start something holy and good? Come right on. Go ahead! What a relief to me, as a fairly over-burdened priest, to know that others are fighting the good fight and responding to God’s grace. We’re all in this together. Thank you to those who have heeded the Church’s teaching and are trying to make a difference. It will bear fruit.

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[Through Christ our Lord. Amen.]

I remember following along in the missalette during Mass as a layman, and whenever the Roman Canon (the first Eucharistic Prayer) was used, wondering why there were words in red brackets that no priest (!) ever read: [Through Christ our Lord. Amen.]

Was there some rule written someplace, that these words were always to be omitted? If so, then why print them?

The answer is “no“; the red brackets signify that the words are optional. At some point, probably a few years after ordination, I started including the bracketed words pretty much every time I used the Roman Canon. It seemed right and most in continuity with our Catholic tradition. I wonder if any other priests do so while celebrating the Novus Ordo?

I suppose the words are in brackets because, on the one hand, the liturgical reformers may have been bashful about doing too much violence to this prayer, which is the oldest of our Eucharistic Prayers, having sanctified generations of Catholics for well over 1,000 years. Rather than completely cut some things out of it, then, they put in the brackets to make them optional. The outcome, of course, was that they came to be completely omitted in most places. That is — if this prayer was even used anymore (in many parishes it has not been heard for years!).

On the other hand, it seems that on the part of the reformers, there was a sense that this particular phrase was an interruption in the larger prayer. That is an understandable concern. I do not like the mentality that then says that we might be free to alter something used by the Church for so long. This is indeed the “hermeneutic of rupture and discontinuity” of which Pope Benedict XVI spoke. But the sentiment is understandable.

The great liturgical scholar, Josef Jungmann, saw these conclusions as ways of dividing up the principle sections of the larger prayer: “Our intercessory prayers and commendations, like all our prayers, should be offered up only ‘through Christ our Lord.’… Like a sign-post marking the line of our prayer, the formula is found today after successive stages all through the canon.” (Missarum Sollemnia [The Mass of the Roman Rite], vol. II, p. 178)

Indeed, the Roman Canon covers a lot of territory and is a long prayer. Having occasional conclusions with pauses is a good way to keep our prayer focused and orderly. It also makes it into a sort of litany, for in the Preface prayer that precedes the Sanctus and the Canon, we start everything off “through Christ our Lord” (e.g., “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God, through Christ our Lord…“). We also end the Canon that way: “Through Him (Christ), with Him, and in Him, O God almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit…”. Thus we conclude each major section of our prayer through Christ also, continually pleading to the Father through his Son.

As I wrote recently, when options are presented in the newer form of the Mass, I think it’s best to choose what is most in line or in continuity with our tradition. These prayer conclusions remain as obligatory in the older form — the Traditional Latin Mass or Extraordinary Form. They have been spoken in the Eucharistic Prayer or Canon since at least the 9th century in some places, and since about he 11th century pretty much everywhere (cf. Jungmann, p. 179). Who are we to declare them optional now? That’s a good question any priest can ask when evaluating options: “Who am I? What did my forefathers in the faith do?”

It seemed good to write this post because if I had the above doubt when I was a layman in the pew, I am sure that others have had it and have it still now. And so that, perhaps, some priests might take up the practice of including these words in each place where they are now listed as optional. It is important to remember that, in the Novus Ordo, the Roman Canon “may always be used” and is especially indicated for Sundays and certain feasts. (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, no. 365a)

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Thank You – Breviaries

A couple of times over the past several months I have made available my “Vocations Wish List”, to invite those who wish to help purchase books that will support vocations. Most recently, this effort was to buy several copies of Christian Prayer — 30 in all — so that we can start groups of young men praying vespers, learning to pray as priests do. There were also opportunities to buy the Ordo that helps with getting acclimated to these books.

THANK YOU to all who helped! Amazon sent me name slips for some, for others there was nothing in the package, and some of them had slips with no names. So… this is my thank you here. I am so grateful for all who have purchased these.

As you can see in the one photo, we have put labels inside asking those who use these books to pray for the benefactors. Thank you for supporting priestly vocations!


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I Often Don’t Like the Longer Form

For a long time I was critical whenever the choice was made to use the “shorter form” of a reading at a Mass. This coming weekend there are two opportunities to use “shorter forms”, in fact: for both the second reading and the gospel. (In case the link expires, I’m referring to the 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time in Cycle ‘C’.) This does not happen every week; it doesn’t even happen all that often. But sometimes a shorter form is given.

Yes, I took a sort of cynical/suspicious view: those who opt for the shorter form are part of “the problem” (whatever that is). I certainly was not alone in thinking this way; I know many people still think that way or similar.

Well, my mind has changed — mostly. Many times, now, I am glad to “embrace” the shorter form when it is given as an option. Allow me to explain.

The document on the sacred liturgy of the Second Vatican Council, Sacrosanctum Concilium, called for a “more lavish” sharing of the Word of God in the sacred liturgy. To wit: “51. The treasures of the bible are to be opened up more lavishly, so that richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God’s word. In this way a more representative portion of the holy scriptures will be read to the people in the course of a prescribed number of years.” No. 35 said that scripture selections should be “more varied”. No. 35 also called for additional types of scriptural services (that have never really caught on), such as “bible vigils” before great feasts.

It’s clear that Vatican II wanted us to have greater exposure to scripture. Thus, a change was made from a one-year cycle of Sunday readings to a three-year cycle. Moreover, an extra reading was added at Mass. Yes — in the older form of the Mass, there is a first reading, a gradual and alleluia (with scriptural verses), and the gospel; no second reading.

The result has effectively been a “more lavish” exposure to scripture, but not merely in the sense of a greater variety of readings covering a more extensive amount of the bible, but also, generally speaking, by a greater quantity of scripture at each Sunday Mass.

(Aside: several scholars have done great work over the last few years to analyze what was left out of the new scripture cycle — i.e., things that used to be read that are now omitted. This has taken place not only in terms of certain passages that are now omitted altogether, but also with passages that are read but with certain verses excised from them. See especially the writings of Dr. Peter Kwasniewski on this theme — for example, HERE.)

Now it does happen sometimes that the “shorter form” option seems to have been set up so as to leave out a part of a passage that may be more controversial for those of a politically-correct mindset. For example, the passage from Ephesians 5, about how wives should be subordinate to their husbands, has, if I am not mistaken, a “shorter form” option that downplays the subordination part whenever it occurs in the Sunday cycle of readings.

But there are also times when the passages given are just so long. It’s too much – too much to retain; too much to narrow down for preaching purposes. Look at the readings for this Sunday: after hearing that long gospel proclaimed in its longer form, who would still remember what the first and second readings were about — especially if the longer form of the second reading was also used!? We can only handle so much. (Sometimes the “longer form” option includes more than one pericope, as well — and it’s not always clear why, when it would have made more sense only to have one.)

One of the things that has gotten harder for me as a priest as the years pass is the sheer amount of words that are spoken out loud (often amplified) during our worship. One begins to yearn for silence, for contemplation. The Holy Father has often criticized priests for generally preaching too long: in one document he encouraged a homily that goes no longer than 10 minutes, I believe. Yet I regularly hear of priests who preach longer — after a string of rather long readings! Can we really retain all of that? Is more always better?

I have begun to prefer opting for the “shorter form” (whenever it is not evidently trying to save us from being politically incorrect…) to make Mass more manageable and digestible. The Church wants us to participate “actively”, in the sense of listening attentively, uniting ourselves to what is happening, meditating on it, etc. But we can only absorb so much in one sitting. Between the readings — even when they are shortened — and the prayers of the Mass, there is always ample material upon which to preach. It is laudable for us to read the readings at home and meditate on them more deeply — that is where we can read longer passages if we wish. That’s how I see it, at least. I know many will disagree.

And this brings to a final point. In the newer form of the Mass there is an almost infinite number of options. One parish uses the long form, another the short. One parish uses Eucharistic Prayer II, and another uses Eucharistic Prayer 5-C (yes there is one called that). One parishes sings contemporary songs such as “Gather Us In” (that says the words “we” or “us” about 25 times…), another opts for the ancient chants. There are so many options, and the outcome is a diversity that tests the limits of reason. Is our worship really “catholic” (universal) when it can be just so different from parish to parish? Many concerned priests and laypeople hope for some sort of consolidation of options in the future, to help us all to be more fully on the same page.

For when you get into all these options, you cannot avoid the realm of personal taste. Hence the carefully-chosen title of this post, about what “I” like. At the end of the day, whether we use the long form or the short is basically up to the local celebrant and his personal reasons for doing so. However, true worship is not of our creation, but is given to us by God. The scriptures show that it is he who tells us how to approach him; in fact, there are notable passages where personal initiatives had rather disastrous outcomes.

Until any eventual consolidation or reduction of options occurs, it is best for us to choose those options that are most in continuity with our tradition. That is a very fine way to detach them from the celebrant’s ego and caprice! This is why I use the simple greeting, “The Lord be with you”, at the beginning of Mass instead of one of the various other options listed in the Missal — because in the Extraordinary Form, only “Dominus vobiscum” is used by priests, not other forms. This is why I often use Eucharistic Prayer I (the Roman Canon) at Mass on Sundays, which is the only Eucharistic Prayer in the older form — instead of the other more recent compositions. Etc.

But when it comes to this longer/shorter form business, we don’t really have a clear link with tradition. In the Extraordinary Form there were not shorter forms given for the readings: they were what they were. Sometimes they did go longer. Often they were rather compact. The decision of what to do in this case really does seem to rest with the priest-celebrant’s personal philosophy. Or — I don’t know — how he feels that day. And that is problematic!

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Unworthy Holy Communions: The Kiss of Judas

Consider this: making an unworthy communion — that is, a communion when one is in the state of mortal sin, not in God’s grace — is like giving Jesus the kiss of Judas again.

When I was in seminary we had a Byzantine Divine Liturgy (Ruthenian) every November 30, the Feast of St. Andrew, to expose us to the “other lung” of the Church’s rich tradition. I was completely electrified by the prayers the first time I ever attended.

Something I read last night reminded me of this and also called to mind the prayer that I remember we said before Holy Communion:

O Lord, I believe and profess that you are truly Christ,
The Son of the living God, who came into the world
To save sinners of whom I am the first.

Accept me today as a partaker of your mystical supper, O Son of God,
For I will not reveal your mystery to your enemies,
Nor will I give you a kiss as did Judas,
But like the thief I profess to you:

Remember me, O Lord, when you come in your kingdom.
Remember me, O Master, when you come in your kingdom.
Remember me, O Holy One, when you come in your kingdom.

May the partaking of your Holy mysteries, O Lord,
Be not for my judgment or condemnation,
But for the healing of my soul and body.

O Lord, I also believe and profess, that this,
Which I am about to receive,
Is truly your most precious Body, and your life-giving Blood,
Which, I pray, make me worthy to receive
For the remission of all my sins and for life everlasting.  Amen

O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.
O God, cleanse me of my sins and have mercy on me.
O Lord, forgive me for I have sinned without number.

It is not required that we go to communion at every single Mass. If we are not properly disposed — if we are not in the state of grace — may we not give Jesus the kiss of Judas! Our obligation is to attend Mass every Sunday and Holy Day — not to receive communion every time we are at Mass. Sometimes we may not be prepared to do so. Better to wait, in that case.

No, if one is not properly disposed for Holy Communion, it is better to remain in a state of humble repentance, unlike Judas, not daring to approach our Lord until we are spiritually prepared to do so, having gone to confession. Until then, however, we may make a spiritual communion. This post has a good spiritual communion prayer.

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