Exorcism as An Argument for Infant Baptism

It has long been my sense that, in spite of all of the biblical evidence and the witness of the Fathers, many non-Catholic Christians simply are not open to reason when it comes to the topic of infant baptism. Many of them get hung up on the (false) idea of baptism’s being a personal choice, a taking ownership of one’s faith — and therefore, something that may only properly be done after the age of reason.

Recently, I’ve had occasion to celebrate Baptism a few times according to the Extraordinary Form (or older form) of the Roman Rite. The newer, “post-conciliar” rite of Baptism does have an exorcism in it, but it is a bit “lite” compared with the multiple exorcisms of the older rite. Here is the one “exorcism” prayer in the newer rite:

Almighty and ever-living God, you sent your only Son into the world to cast out the power of Satan, spirit of evil, to rescue man from the kingdom of darkness, and bring him into the splendor of your kingdom of light. We pray for this child: set him (her) free from original sin, make him (her) a temple of your glory, and send your Holy Spirit to dwell with him (her). We ask this through Christ our Lord. All: Amen.

As you can see, the priest prays a deprecatory prayer, asking God to deliver the person from the power of original sin (not the devil! — although he is mentioned).

The older rite, however, uses several imprecatory prayers (commanding the evil one to leave). Here they are, by comparison:

1. Depart from him (her), unclean spirit, and give place to the Holy Spirit, the Advocate.

2. I cast you out, unclean spirit, in the name of the Father + and of the Son + and of the Holy + Spirit. Depart and stay far away from this servant of God, N. For it is the Lord Himself who commands you, accursed and doomed spirit, He who walked on the sea and reached out His hand to Peter as he was sinking. So then, foul fiend, recall the curse that decided your fate once for all. Indeed, pay homage to the living and true God, pay homage to Jesus Christ, His Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Keep far from this servant of God, N., for Jesus Christ, our Lord and God, has freely called him (her) to His holy grace and blessed way and to the waters of baptism. Never dare, accursed fiend, to desecrate this seal of the holy + cross which we imprint upon his (her) brow; through Christ our Lord. All: Amen.

3. I cast you out, every unclean spirit, in the name of God + the Father almighty, in the name of Jesus + Christ, His Son, our Lord and judge, and in the power of the Holy + Spirit. Begone, Satan, from God’s handiwork, N. Because our Lord has graciously called him (her) to His holy sanctuary, where he (she) will become a dwelling place for the living God, a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. We ask this in the name of Christ our Lord, who is coming to judge both the living and the dead and the world and the dead and the world by fire. All: Amen.

You see the difference!

Well, why do I think that the prayers of exorcism — whether from the new rite or the old rite — are a more powerful argument for infant baptism?

When I introduce people to the concept of exorcism in the context of baptism, I explain that exorcism does not only have to do with the really scary stuff like demonic possession. On a more basic and fundamental level, we recognize that when a child is born she does not yet have God’s grace in her soul. Rather, she has the stain of original sin, with all of its consequences. Baptism washes that stain away and fills the soul with God’s grace, establishing a living bond between God and the precious child.

The devil is the prince of this world, and so whatever in it does not belong to God, in some way belongs to him: he has a claim over it. What exorcism does is to remove that person or thing from the devil’s sphere; it claims it spiritually for God. (This is also why we should avail ourselves of the many blessings the Church offers for persons and things.) The Church uses exorcism in many contexts — for example, in sacramentals, like holy water and blessed salt. In baptism, exorcism serves the purpose of removing the child from any claims the devil has on her and placing her securely under God’s care. Then, her soul is filled with God’s grace as the water is poured and the prayers are said.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them” (Matthew 19:14). The devil says the same thing – but for his sinister and nefarious purposes. There are so many dangers in our world today for children. The exorcism(s) of baptism is/are a powerful sacramental that helps the baptized stay more firmly in God’s care. Of course, parents and godparents must do their part to guide chidren aright and shield them from evil, also.

Maybe the witness of whole households being baptized in the Acts of the Apostles and other scriptural arguments are not enough for some non-Catholics to seek baptism for their children. Well, what about the fact that the devil is the prince of this world and he therefore has some claim over the non-baptized? The Catholic Church has a beautiful and simple solution for this: a sacramental called exorcism, which is administered in the context of baptism. I wish more people would bring their children for baptism – and would not delay!

With regard to old rite vs. new rite, let me be clear: I will celebrate either, and happily. As a Catholic priest of the Latin Rite it is my duty and honor to provide the sacraments and sacramentals in all of the ways that they are offered within our Rite. I do think the older form is more efficacious and powerful, and I now suggest it quite freely — now that I have learned how to do it and learned more about it myself. But whether baptism is in the old or new, I’m just so happy to be celebrating it, knowing that through my priesthood and ministry, another child has been given over to our loving God!

If you know of any Catholics who have not had their children baptized, urge them to do so — urge them to talk to a priest soon. And if you know non-Catholics who scoff at our practice of infant baptism, maybe show them this little article: it might open their eyes to something that they haven’t thought about — and lead them to re-consider what their own faith teaches.

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Tenth Anniversary

Last month – on June 7 – I celebrated my tenth anniversary of priestly ordination. My parishioners at the Cathedral of St. Paul (and friends from former assignments and beyond) organized a lovely celebration for me. Here is a small sampling of photos:

If you’re interested in seeing more of the great photos one of the parishioners took, a full gallery is online here.

As you see in one of the photos above, I was presented with a spiritual bouquet calendar as a tenth anniversary gift! A parishioner contacted hundreds of people to ensure that at least one — often two — people are praying for me each day from June 7, 2018 until June 7, 2019. Of all the gifts that I received, this was the greatest, and it is my pleasure and duty to pray for those whose names are listed each day. Thank you!

As I look back over these ten years so much has happened – and the time has gone by so quickly. I have been Parochial Vicar at Holy Spirit Parish in Huntsville, where I also became fluent in Spanish as I worked daily with the many Hispanic immigrants. I was religion instructor and later chaplain of St. John Paul II Catholic High School (also in Huntsville). Then the Bishop sent me to study canon law in Rome – three years that were both wonderful and not without their own challenges. When I returned I was first Administrator and then Pastor of two parishes in Birmingham — St. Barnabas and Holy Rosary. And from there, Bishop transferred me to be Rector of the Cathedral of St. Paul, in addition to naming me Chancellor of the Diocese and Judge of the Marriage Tribunal.

Along the way I have met so many wonderful people. I have made many mistakes but see the many good things that God has enabled me to do also. Each week I meet young men whom I believe could have a call to the priesthood – and, whenever it seems prudent, I tell them that. I hope that many others will want to follow God’s calling to serve him in this way. The priesthood is a wonderful life for those who are called to it, and I am thankful to God for my call. Please pray with me in gratitude for these years – and that I may serve the Lord and his people more faithfully in the years to come!

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Conga Line Lectors

Have you ever been at a Mass (usually a school Mass) where a line-up of people takes part of the same reading or the intercessions? I guess it’s most often done with the responsorial psalm…

I jokingly refer to this as “conga line reading”. I’ve always felt it was inappropriate and reflective of a misguided sense of needing to have everyone “do something”.

Tonight, while reviewing part of the rules of Mass – i.e., the document known as the General Instruction of the Roman Missal – I was pleasantly surprised by this find:

109. If there are several present who are able to exercise the same ministry, nothing forbids their distributing among themselves and performing different parts of the same ministry or duty. […] However, it is not at all appropriate that several persons divide a single element of the celebration among themselves, e.g., that the same reading be proclaimed by two readers, one after the other, with the exception of the Passion of the Lord. (emphasis mine)

In other words, the sharing of a single psalm, reading, the intercessions, or any other part of the Mass should not be done.

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New Book Recommendation

A really great new book on marriage will be out soon, and I want to encourage you to pre-order it and include it in your summer reading. It is by Dr. David Anders, whom may know from his work on EWTN Radio. He is a noted apologist, theologian, and teacher of the faith. This book combines his personal testimony with Church teaching, while seamlessly weaving in reference to challenges against marriage in our wider culture today.

Full disclosure: I helped review this book for publication.

This book is written for popular consumption (for priests and laity alike), but has real substance. It will inspire and strengthen lay people, married and unmarried; for even if one does not have difficulties in his own relationship, he always meets others who do. I believe that many lay people, in reading this book, will be develop a renewed appreciation for the true meaning of marriage and the grace that God offers to those in sacramental marriage so that they may live out their state in life faithfully until death. One of the great features of the book is that it does so thoroughly address the matter of grace – a topic missing in many contemporary discourses on marriage.

It will also surely be inspirational and helpful for priests, helping them as they approach converts and the marital problems that they often bring – helping them also to “brush up” on certain key concepts connected with marriage, morality, law, and grace.

The Catholic Church Saved My Marriage will be published in June in paperback, and Amazon already has the price discounted. You can also pre-order the Kindle Edition.

I note also that Dr. Anders spoke about his book today on his radio show. (CLICK HERE)

Congratulations to Dr. Anders on such a fine book! I hope it will be a blessing to many.

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Notes on Trinity Sunday

I am grateful to Archbishop Gullickson (whose blog you should read) for posting on Twitter a link to this article with some historical notes on the provenance of Trinity Sunday:

Non Est Authenticum: The Micrologus on the Feast of the Holy Trinity

The article is somewhat scholarly and technical; to summarize, the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity is neither of ancient nor of Roman origin, and several saints, scholars, and other authorities – among them Popes – criticized its introduction into the liturgical calendar as a sort of redundancy.

After all, the entire Mass is Trinitarian in nature; think, for example, of the concluding formula for many of our prayers: “Through our Lord, Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.” Think also of the conclusion of the Eucharistic prayer: “Through him [Christ], and with him, and in him, O God almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all honor and glory is yours, for ever and ever. Amen.” Recall the conclusion of the Gloria: “…you alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father. Amen.”

The redundancy, so to speak, of this feast is even more evident when you consider another feature of liturgy – that is, of the liturgy of the Extraordinary Form: the Preface of the Holy Trinity (reproduced in English below) was used on many Sundays and weekdays throughout the year. In short, folks were used to hearing the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity in clear and compact distillation on a regular basis.

That extremely beautiful preface, in the newer form of the Mass, has been relegated to just this one Sunday of the year now. In this regard, it makes more sense now than before to have a specific feast dedicated to the Holy Trinity, to give this dogma greater emphasis and give us greater cause to reflect on it, since we no longer have the benefit of meditating on a very theologically-dense preface frequently throughout the year (though, those who attend the Extraordinary Form still do). Here is that preface:

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God.
For with your Only Begotten Son and the Holy Spirit
you are one God, one Lord:
not in the unity of a single person,
but in a Trinity of one substance.
For what you have revealed to us of your glory
we believe equally of your Son
and of the Holy Spirit,
so that, in the confessing of the true and eternal Godhead,
you might be adored in what is proper to each Person,
their unity in substance,
and their equality in majesty.
For this is praised by Angels and Archangels,
Cherubim, too, and Seraphim,
who never cease to cry out each day,
as with one voice they acclaim…

A great product of the “mutual enrichment” of the two liturgical forms that Pope Benedict XVI foresaw taking place might be a permission given to let us use this preface on ferial days through the year (i.e., of Ordinary Time), among the various options provided for the Ordinary Form of the Mass.

There are many jokes and laments on this feast day about the heretical homilies that so many end up hearing, as priests and deacons strive to teach on this dense subject (or some, I suppose, just “phone it in” and repeat pious old stories that are in fact heretical); perhaps if we all had more frequent opportunities to contemplate this sacred mystery liturgically, we might not be so prone to the errors that are now so common!

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BLESS me, Father…

It occurred to me today to ask other priests this question (in the event that there may be some priests among my readership): when the penitent says to you, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned…”, do you actually give them a blessing?

I think of all the times I’ve been to confession, where the priest did nothing at that moment. Not the end of the world, to be sure – but in light of my last post about blessings, I think it could help…

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For Priests: Blessings in the Communion Line

There have been plenty of discussions online and elsewhere about whether blessings should be given in the communion line to those who are not receiving for one reason or another. I do not intend to address that concern here. My decision has been to give blessings in Ordinary Form Masses to those who approach with arms crossed over their chest or who otherwise indicate that they are not receiving communion.

What I do intend to address here is a little insight I had about the intention that I should possibly have when giving these blessings. This may be of interest to other priests (and deacons and seminarians).

Recently I had occasion to brush up a little on the theology of sacramentals. Blessings are one of the sacramentals of the Church. Blessings also come in many different forms and can be given to persons, objects, and places. Here is a basic introduction to what sacramentals are, on the EWTN web site.

One aspect of the theology of sacramentals is that they obtain actual graces from God for the recipient (in the case of a blessing) or those who use them (e.g., praying with a blessed rosary, which is a sacramental, vs. praying with one that is not blessed). “Actual grace” is divine help to cause us to grow in sanctifying grace or to get back in it if we have lost it through mortal sin.

The efficacy of sacramentals depends in part upon the disposition of both the minister and the recipient. If the priest himself is in the state of grace, is recollected and prayerful (as opposed to doing things in a mechanistic and rote way), and so forth, then the sacramental that he celebrates will be more fruitful for its recipient(s). If the recipient, for his or her part, is disposed to receive the graces that come through that sacramental, then it will be more effiicacious for him or her also.

And here is where I had my insight: by blessing people who approach me in the communion line, they stand to receive actual graces from that blessing. I should therefore form the intention that in giving such blessings, I desire that God give the recipients the particular actual graces of conversion and salvation that they need. It’s very easy for a priest just to give a blessing without thinking about why he is given it: we’re asked to give blessings all the time, and in the communion line, especially, with the rapid-fire succession of people, one can become mechanistic in what one does.

Therefore, priests and deacons might form the following virtual intention or similar: In blessing those who approach me in the communion line, I ask that God grant them the graces needed to be rightly disposed to receive Holy Communion fruitfully and worthily in the future, whether that be through the resolution of a marriage situation, a lifestyle change, victory over sin, better preparation for Mass, or any other reason.

Most priests have seen how those who come up for blessings often appear to have a willingness and openness to receive that divine assistance. Through the sincere smiles, the peaceful countenance, and other body language that we see, it is clear that many people deeply appreciate this gift. And given our theology of sacramentals, that willingness and openness stand to help them in fact to receive a benefit. But the disposition of the minister matters: the intention that we bring to it – I think! – can help.

A disclaimer: we should, of course, never assume that someone who goes for a blessing needs to go to confession. They might not have kept the Eucharistic fast. They might not be feeling very well. They might have been very distracted during Mass and feel like they are not ready to make a sacramental communion. They might have an unresolved dispute with a loved one and do not feel they can make a sincere communion. There are many possible reasons why someone might not receive; we should not make assumptions!

Perhaps ordained ministers who form the above virtual intention may never have knowledge in this life of how it made their blessings more efficacious and fruitful for those who approached in the communion line. But we will find out in heaven. And, I think, we should form this intention, for we know that God hears the prayers of his ministers, that God likes our prayers to be specific, and that the Church’s sacramentals are powerful means of actual grace, intended to help us participate more fruitfully in the sacraments.

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Arnaud Beltrame, Great Hero

I apologize for the radio silence of recent months — it’s not that I haven’t had ideas of things to post about, it’s just that I usually do not have the time to do so or, when I do, I can’t remember what I wanted to post about…

I found the story of Arnaud Beltrame, the gendarme in the south of France who gave his life to save a hostage during yesterday’s terrorist attack on a supermarket there, so incredibly inspiring and edifying. Cardinal Sarah has done a great service in sharing the testimony of a priest who knew Arnaud and his fiancée personally, and thanks to the good offices of RC, I am sharing that story here in English translation (with some small corrections).

Perhaps we will see a cause for canonization at some point for this great hero. Many immediately noted that his heroic act was similar to St. Maximilian Kolbe’s — and Pope Francis formally added that category to the Church’s law on canonization last year.

Here is the very edifying story posted by Cardinal Sarah on his Facebook:

A picture taken in 2013 in Avranches and obtained from La Gazette de la Manche local newspaper on March 24, 2018 shows French Lieutenant Colonel Arnaud Beltrame who was killed after swapping himself for a hostage in a rampage and siege in the town of Trebes, southwestern France, on March 23.<br /> Beltrame, 45, was among a group of officers who rushed to the scene in Trebes, near Carcassone, on March 23 after a gunman who claimed allegiance to the Islamic State group, stormed a supermarket and fired at shoppers. Beltrame offered to take the place of a woman the gunman had taken hostage and was shot. He died on March 24 of his wounds, becoming the gunman's fourth victim. / AFP PHOTO / LA GAZETTE DE LA MANCHE / -

ARNAUD BELTRAME:
An heroic Christian officer who gave his life to save others

Witness by a canon of the Abbey of Lagrasse (Aude, France), on the day of his death, March 24, 2018

It was in a chance encounter during a visit to our abbey, an historical monument, that I made the acquaintance of Lieutenant Colonel Arnaud Beltrame and Marielle, whom he had just married civilly on August 27, 2016. We became friends very quickly and they asked me to prepare them for their religious wedding which I was to celebrate near Vannes on the coming 9th of June. So we spent many hours over the past almost two years working over the fundamentals of married life. I had just blessed their house on December 16, and we were finalizing their canonical marriage dossier. Arnaud’s very beautiful declaration of his intention came to me four hours before his heroic death.

This young couple came to the abbey regularly to attend the Masses, offices, and teaching sessions, in particular taking part in the Our Lady of Cana small-group. They were part of the team for Narbonne. They came again just last Sunday.

Intelligent, athletic, talkative, and lively, Arnaud spoke freely about his conversion. Born in a nominally Catholic family, he experienced a genuine conversion around 2008, at the age of 33. He received his first communion and confirmation after two years of catechumenate, in 2010.

After a pilgrimage to Sainte-Anne-d’Auray in 2015, where he asked the Virgin Mary that he might meet the right woman, he came into contact with Marielle, whose faith is profound and reserved. The engagement was celebrated in Brittany, at the Abbey of Timadeuc at Easter 2016.

Enthusiastic about being a gendarme, he had always cherished a passion for France, its greatness, its history, its Christian roots – which he rediscovered through his conversion. In offering himself at the site of the hostage-taking, he was likely moved with passion by his heroism as an officer, since for him, to be a gendarme meant to protect. But he knew the extraordinary risk he was taking.

He also knew the promise of religious marriage that he made to Marielle, who already is civilly his spouse and whom he loves tenderly: I am a witness to that. So? Did he have the right to take such a risk? It seems to me that only his faith can explain the folly of the sacrifice which today has become the admiration of all. He knew, as Jesus said to us, that “no man has greater love than to lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13). He knew that if his life was beginning to belong to Marielle, it also belonged to God, to France, to his brethren in danger of death. I think that only a Christian faith motivated by charity could ask of him such a superhuman sacrifice.

I was able to be with him at the hospital at Carcassonne around 9:00 last night. The gendarmes and the doctors or nurses made it possible with remarkable consideration. He was alive but unconscious. I was able to give him the Sacrament of the Sick and the Apostolic Pardon for those in danger of death. Marielle made the responses for those beautiful liturgical rites. It was Passion Friday, just before the opening of Holy Week. I had just prayed the office of None and the Stations of the Cross for his intention. I asked the nursing staff if he might have a medal of Our Lady, that of Rue du Bac [the Miraculous Medal]. Understanding and professional, a nurse attached it at his shoulder.

Because he was unconscious, I was not able to marry them, as one article mistakenly has said. Arnaud will never have children according to the flesh, but I believe his striking heroism will inspire numerous imitators, ready to give themselves for France and her Christian joy.

* * *

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Thank You

As we continue our Advent preparation and near the feast of Christmas, my heart is filled with gratitude for so many things, including you, those who read my blog. I have not been able to post much over these past couple of years (when I was in Rome for further studies, I had a lot more “leisure”, alas), but the blog continues to have good traffic, and it is clear to me that the Lord is still guiding many people toward it to learn about the things I have posted or find answers to their questions.

Several of you have bought me books from my wish list, for which I am most grateful. Several of you have corresponded with me also, either through comments or through email. This blog is an outlet for my creativity and to hand on what I have learned. Often I am overwhelmed with my workload and the last thing I can think of is what to blog about; sometimes, things “bubble to the surface” and I feel moved to share in one way or another.

I am offering Mass this evening for all of my “followers” or readers, and your special intentions. Thank you!

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Sermon on Fatima

I took the time last night to listen to a great sermon by Fr. Thomas Dufner of the Archdiocese of Minneapolis-St. Paul, which Fr. Z had posted on his blog. Click here to listen to it:

> A strong sermon with food for thought

Fr. Dufner has a skill for synthesizing a wide range of topics and managing to touch upon practically all of our modern ills in the course of a few minutes, within a focused and well-composed homily. In the above-linked sermon, he speaks about the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady’s message, and its implications for us today. Well worth 18 minutes of your time.

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Images above Altars

I’ve been on my annual retreat this week, which I am making in a beloved city in Mexico. During this time I have been sharing some photos on social media. One, in particular, generated some comment:

The Shrine of the Congregation of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Santiago de Querétaro, Mexico

Some have wondered not only how there could be such a big Mexican flag above the altar, but also why there should be an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe directly above, with the large crucifix only on the side.

With regard to the Mexican flag, it is important to note that the national identity of many historically-Catholic nations is closely tied with a certain image of Our Lady. In Mexico, it’s Our Lady of Guadalupe, whom Mexicans consider their “Queen and Empress”. The inscription around the arch above the altar says “Our Lady of Guadalupe, Queen of Mexico, Pray for Your Nation”. Then, the tympanum immediately above the image has the quotation from Psalm 147: “Non fecit taliter omni nationi“, reminding us that it was because of Our Lady of Guadalupe — a singular grace from God not given to any other nation — that the Catholic faith took root in Mexico (and thus, in a real way, united the country).

The national identity of Poland, for example, is very closely connected with the image of Our Lady of Czestochowa. There are other examples. In any case, this concept may be a bit challenging for those of us who are from a religiously and culturally diverse nation like the United States of America. In the case at hand, the flag in the sanctuary should not be viewed as a political statement, but as a prayer request to Our Lady to watch over the nation and keep it in the faith.

But what about this issue of having an image of Mary with no crucifix above the altar?

First of all, historically, there would have been a crucifix there as well. Notice that the tabernacle has a flat surface on top. When this was a proper high altar (the altar now has been disconnected from it), there would have been a crucifix on the tabernacle, which the priest would have gazed upon according to the rubrics at various points during the Mass. The people, of course, would have seen it also and thus been reminded of the sacrifice of Christ being celebrated on the altar.

In this case, the church was “re-ordered” at some point according to the “Spirit of Vatican II”, and so the altar was detached, Mass began to be celebrated facing the people, and thus there wasn’t as much need to keep a crucifix on top of the tabernacle (though it would still be a lovely thing to have there). Instead, they set up the large one which is on the left there. In the current legislation for the Mass we read:

308. Likewise, either on the altar or near it, there is to be a cross, with the figure of Christ crucified upon it, a cross clearly visible to the assembled people. It is desirable that such a cross should remain near the altar even outside of liturgical celebrations, so as to call to mind for the faithful the saving Passion of the Lord.

So everything here is above board, even if, often, we are accustomed to seeing the crucifix in the center of the sanctuary and above the altar.

For cross-reference, take note of these other historic churches which had an image of something other than the crucifix prominently displayed above the altar – but with a smaller crucifix for priest and people to look upon still there as well.

First there is the Sistine Chapel, which we know has the incredible Last Judgment scene by Michelangelo frescoed on the entire wall behind the altar. But here is a shot of the atlar, with crucifix set up in front of this scene:

Photo taken by yours truly.

Then there is the famous high altar in Notre Dame de Paris, with the stunning pietà sculpture on it. But note in this photo that there is also a crucifix there:

By Abelmontf – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21389892

And finally, the chapel of Our Lady of Humility in the Casa Santa Maria residence in Rome (where most American priests who are in Rome for further studies live), with its image of Our Lady of Humility and other paintings prominently displayed above the altar — but if you look closely, there is a crucifix that surmounts the beautiful tabernacle:

Photo by yours truly.

There are countless other examples. The bottom line is: it’s perfectly fine, and quite customary actually, to have an image of a saint, of the Blessed Mother, or of Our Lord that is other than the crucifixion above the altar. But traditionally, there is a crucifix there as well. And if there is not a crucifix front-and-center, then it should still be displayed near the altar in a way that the faithful in attendance can see it.

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Why Do Some Sign Themselves during the Penitential Rite?

It is fairly common to see people making the sign of the cross when the priest says the words, “May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life. Amen.” Yet, that sign of the cross is not indicated in the rubrics of the Mass and never has been in the history of the Novus Ordo (i.e. since 1969). So where does it come from?

I believe that this is a carryover from the older form of the Mass — what we now call the Extraordinary Form. When the priest and servers (or deacons) are saying the “Prayers at the Foot of the Altar” in the old Mass, it is then that the “penitential rite” takes place. The priest recites the confiteor prayer (I Confess); then the servers or deacons do so. After they have done so, the priest says:

Misereatur vestri omnipotens Deus et, dimissis peccatis vestris, perducat vos ad vitam aeternam.

May almighty God have mercy on you, forgive you your sins, and lead you to everlasting life. (The translation is slightly loose, to make it match up better with what we currently say.)

At that point, however, the priest and ministers do not make any gestures like signs of the cross. It is immediately after that they do so. The next thing the priest says is:

Indulgentiam, + absolutionem, et remissionem peccatorum nostrorum tribuat nobis omnipotens et misericors Dominus.

May the + almighty and merciful God grant us pardon, absolution, and remission of our sins.

It is while the priest is saying those last words that he signs himself.

The “Misereatur vestri” prayer was brought into the new Mass, but the one that immediately follows it, “Indulgentiam, absolutionem, et remissionem” was not. Yet — I opine — the gesture that accompanied it was. Not officially, but through popular piety. Many people remembered it and got in the habit of making the sign of the cross when the priest recited the so-called “absolution” in the new penitential rite.

So this gesture is not in the rubrics of the “new Mass”; it doesn’t even quite go with the prayer that it accompanies, historically speaking. But I would say that it is meaningful to many, and a harmless thing to do.

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