Resurrection and the Rising Sun

Martyrs of Nagasaki

In my homily for Easter Sunday (PDF download) I reflected on the theme of “memory” in connection with Resurrection faith. As part of this I told the story of the Church in Japan, “the Land of the Rising Sun” — a story which is extremely moving and, I think it fair to say, truly miraculous. I always get ‘verklempt’ when reading or telling it. Here is that section of the homily:

I mentioned that we sometimes fear that the powerful moments we record in the annals of our minds might be forgotten by subsequent generations. That is not what happened in Japan. St. Francis Xavier brought the Christian faith there in 1549, and other Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries continued his work until about the mid-17th century. But then, through a series of astonishingly brutal government persecutions, the Church was all but eradicated in Japan – or so it seemed. When French priests from the Foreign Missions Society of Paris finally gained entrance into the country in the mid-19th century, they made an astonishing discovery.

The date was March 17, 1865, and the location was Nagasaki. Fifteen “hidden Christians” revealed themselves to one of the priests and assured him there were some 50,000 more of their kind. They remembered the prayers that the missionaries had taught, handing them down through the generations. They secretly baptized their children. And they also taught them what to look for, on some future day: that men might arrive anew who were celibate, who venerated the Blessed Virgin Mary, and who heeded the authority of the Pope. That day arrived; in these French missionaries, their hopeful memories were now realized in the flesh.

The story of the resurrection of the Church in Japan is as powerful as it is remarkable. For we know how feeble memory is – yet those impressive souls preserved the memory for some 300 years. That has not happened everywhere; we know well the need for a “new evangelization”, for so many have lost the memory of the Lord – or perhaps not totally lost it, but have grown hard of heart and slow to believe. Look what happened in France – the land of incredible saints and magnificent Cathedrals, but where, in the past year, over 1,000 churches have been vandalized, with little notice given in the press. Then the “jewel” burns – how awful it was to see Notre-Dame in flames – and the resurrection begins. The touching prayer vigils and generous financial response suggest that the memories are indeed surfacing anew.

You can read a bit more about the history of the Church in Japan on its Old Catholic Encyclopedia entry (scroll at least halfway down to the subsection “Catholicism”).

Of course, the history of the Church in Japan did not conclude with the beautiful events of 1865. No, there would be more persecutions… then ultimately the atomic bombs dropped on some of the biggest Christian centers of the nation — Hiroshima and Nagasaki — in 1945, dealing another fatal blow to the Church there. The Catholic Church in Japan has experienced a bitter share in the Lord’s Passion over the centuries. More recently, I understand it is growing again. My heart goes out to missionaries who risk so much to spread faith in our Risen Lord in spite of present challenges and historical precedents!

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Blessing of Paschal Foods/Easter Baskets

Baskets brought for last year’s “Swieconka” Easter Basket Blessing in my parish.

In some places there is an old tradition of blessing the food that will be eaten on Easter morning (thereby breaking the traditional Lenten fast). These foods are usually brought in a nicely-decorated basket to the church on Holy Saturday morning to be blessed. See, for example, this information on the Polish tradition of swieconka.

Customs of course vary somewhat by country, and there is also the fact that now we tend to break our fast by eating chocolate or other candy on Easter morning instead of healthful kielbasa, eggs, butter, and bread!

The old Rituale Romanum (Roman Ritual) had a series of blessings for paschal foods. These more or less responded to the tradition that was prevalent in Poland and the other Slavic countries. I have made a file with these blessings, taken from the Rituale and with minor adaptations. It might be useful for any priest who will be doing an Easter Basket Blessing. DOWNLOAD IT HERE (PDF).

The final blessing on the page covers “all the other things” — from Lamb-shaped butters to chocolates and jelly beans. So regardless of what people bring in their baskets, everyone’s basket will be blessed.

I hope this file is useful for priests who have this tradition or wish to start it in their parishes.

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Altar of Repose 2019

I wanted to share this photo of this year’s Altar of Repose in my parish, the Cathedral of Saint Paul, Birmingham, Alabama. This year’s variation includes sheaves of wheat and bunches of grapes (beside and on the candlesticks), as well as antique wood-carved cherubs (owned by a parishioner), holding the drapery on either side.

This space in the church is where the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary is. There was originally a marble side altar here — sadly removed in one of the major renovations of the last century (I think 1972). The Blessed Mother statue from that altar was then placed on a beautiful new wooden pedestal that stands here — not really visible in this photo because of the kneeler and the decoration.

For the last three years, we have put up this wooden backdrop in front of the statue (which, in any case, is veiled for Passiontide) so as to create an altar of repose. Parishioners and visitors may then spread out in the side aisle of the church to pray before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament during the period of adoration from the conclusion of the Holy Thursday Mass until midnight.

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The Mothers of Lu

On this Holy Thursday we consider the two sacraments our Lord instituted this day: the Holy Priesthood and the Holy Eucharist. They are intimately connected – no priests, no Eucharist; no love and reverence for the Eucharist, no priests.

In this connection, I came across the very inspiring story of the “Mothers of Lu” — Lu being a small town in Italy where a large group of mothers in the last century united for the purpose of praying for vocations. They organized adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and efforts to make worthy Holy Communions. They composed a brief but poignant prayer for this intention. These mothers “got” the connection between Eucharist and Priesthood.

From that small town came a total of 323 vocations, of which almost half (152) were priests — truly remarkable. See the photo above of a reunion of just some of the vocations that came from that town.

A little over a decade ago, the Congregation for Clergy in the Vatican put out a lovely book on Spiritual Maternity for Priests. You can download it in PDF format from the Congregation for Clergy HERE.

To help familiarize more people with the important story of the “Mothers of Lu”, I excerpted the two pages dedicated to it from the above PDF into a separate file. You can download the excerpt HERE – THE STORY OF THE MOTHERS OF LU.

What a worthy thing it would be if a group of mothers now were to try to form a similar initiative. I see many young men today with the signs of a vocation — and I see many families that effectively prevent such young men from following God’s call. (Some do so under the cleverest of pretenses — but God is not fooled!) The words of our Lord, Many are called, few are chosen, repeatedly bear out, as I fear many who do have a call do not heed it or get distracted from it.

The prayer that weighs heaviest on my heart this Holy Thursday is that more young men will answer the call to the priesthood, embracing it with courage and joy. The laborers are few and the need is urgent!

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Our Lady of Sorrows in Passiontide

The famous image of Our Lady of Hope of Macarena from Spain. Wikipedia photo.

Today — Friday before Palm Sunday — is traditionally the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows in Passiontide; also known as “St. Mary in Passiontide”, “Our Lady in Passiontide”, or “Our Lady of Seven Sorrows”. This feast is found in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass and also in the Anglican Ordinariate’s Missal, Divine Worship.

In places like Spain there are great public processions with images of Our Lady of Sorrows.

What about in the Ordinary Form of the Mass? I think there is a way that this historic commemoration could be observedwith the bishop’s permission. See no. 374 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM):

374. If any case of a graver need or of pastoral advantage should arise, at the direction of the Diocesan Bishop or with his permission, an appropriate Mass may be celebrated on any day except Solemnities, the Sundays of Advent, Lent, and Easter, days within the Octave of Easter, the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls’ Day), Ash Wednesday, and the days of Holy Week.

I judge that there is “pastoral advantage” for keeping this commemoration and so using an “appropriate Mass” of Our Lady from the Missal today. Hopefully the bishop will agree!

It would be great if some bishop someplace would take the lead by putting a memo out to his whole diocese with permission and encouragement to keep this commemoration.

Here is the prayer (Collect) that is in the Anglican Ordinariate Missal:

O Lord in whose Passion, according to the prophecy of Simeon, the sword of sorrow did pierce the most loving soul of thy glorious Virgin Mother Mary: mercifully grant that we, who devoutly call to mind the suffering whereby she was pierced, may, by the glorious merits and prayers of all the Saints who have stood beneath the Cross, obtain with gladness the benefits of thy Passion; who livest and reignest with the Father…

In both the Anglican Ordinariate Missal and the Extraordinary Form Missal the beautiful sequence Stabat Mater is indicated also for this commemoration. Read the whole thing here, but let this excerpt guide our meditation on this day:

Virgin of all virgins blest!,
Listen to my fond request:
let me share thy grief divine;

Let me, to my latest breath,
in my body bear the death
of that dying Son of thine.

Wounded with His every wound,
steep my soul till it hath swooned,
in His very Blood away;

Be to me, O Virgin, nigh,
lest in flames I burn and die,
in His awful Judgment Day.

Amen!

UPDATE: Well duh. I forgot that in the Third Typical Edition of the Roman Missal, there is an optional second Collect given for today’s Mass, which reflects this more ancient commemoration. In any case, what I say above is still useful, because if the bishop gives permission then the priest could use the Mass of September 15 (Our Lady of Sorrows) and wear Marian vestments, whereas if he only celebrates the Mass of the day he will be in purple and only the Collect reflects the feast, not the rest of the Mass texts.

Here, in any case, is that optional Collect:

O God, who in this season
give your Church the grace
to imitate devoutly the Blessed Virgin Mary
in contemplating the Passion of Christ,
grant, we pray, through her intercession,
that we may cling more firmly each day
to your Only Begotten Son
and come at last to the fullness of his grace.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity…

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Trust the Church of God

An important and helpful quotation from Cardinal Newman — who is due to be canonized later this year:

Trust the Church of God implicitly, even when your natural judgment would take a different course from hers, and would induce you to question her prudence or her correctness. Recollect what a hard task she has; how she is sure to be criticized and spoken against, whatever she does;—recollect how much she needs your loyal and tender devotion. Recollect, too, how long is the experience gained in eighteen hundred years, and what a right she has to claim your assent to principles which have had so extended and so triumphant a trial. Thank her that she has kept the faith safe for so many generations, and do your part in helping her to transmit it to generations after you.

Source

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How Much Water in the Wine?

During the preparation of the chalice (see HERE for another interesting post on this topic), the deacon or priest who is doing the preparation is supposed to add some water to the wine. This is done

…as the Council of Trent observes, “both because it is believed that Christ the Lord did this, and because from his side flowed forth water as well as blood, and by this mixture this mystery is recalled, and, since in the Apocalypse of blessed John water represents the people, the union of this faithful people with Christ, the head, is represented [by the mixture].” (Rev. J.B. O’Connell, The Celebration of the Mass, page 133)

The foregoing explanation does not necessarily account for the historical development of this practice: often, things to which we afford some mystical significance now were added to our rituals initially for practical reasons. For example, I have heard it said that in the ancient world wine was often mixed with water because it tended to be strong — thus to dilute it somewhat and so make it more palatable.

Regardless of how the practice originated and its precise meaning, a very practical matter surfaces: How much water is too much when doing the mixing? It’s obvious that if you keep adding water to wine at some point it dilutes it to the extent that it no longer has the qualities of wine and is not seen as such any longer. When would we get to that point — and so invalidate the matter used for Mass — during the offertory?

Answers in this matter are perhaps a bit surprising. I say this because basically I do not remember much attention being given this in my seminary training (though my memory is subject to frequent lapses and failures), and somehow it had more or less gotten fixed in my head at some point that as long as more than half of the mixture was wine, then it was still truly wine and so permissible for Holy Mass. (I have since abandoned that idea, as you will see in what follows.)

As with many things, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal is not very thorough in describing what is needed. In numbers 142 and 178 it simply provides a description: wine is mixed with a little bit of water; in number 322 is notes that true wine is needed; in number 324 it says what to do if a priest discovers that only water has been put in the chalice. No information is given about how much water to mix with the wine — or how much water is too much.

As usual, we can look to older manuals to help us figure this out. I have a theory that with many things in the newer form of the Mass, it was taken for granted by the reformers of that time that certain customs/mores would be preserved, and that it was considered “stuffy” to have to write all that stuff out in long form now. The preference, instead, was to provide simple instructions that took for granted “how things had always been done”. The problem with this approach is that unless the collective wisdom is actively handed on — and it largely wasn’t — then we become unmoored from the traditions of our Rite and we start making things up ourselves to fill in the blanks. Thus the latest edition of the GIRM reminds us:

42. […] 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.

— And I keep returning to this point on the blog as I write on these various topics.

Anyway, older manuals help us to figure out how much water is too much. The answer may surprise for two reasons: both how little water is too much, and how manualists are not totally in agreement.

First, a moral manual — “Jone” (Moral Theology by Fr. Heribert Jone — no longer in print, irritatingly):

A little water must be added to the wine during the Holy Sacrifice. Should a priest forget to do so at the offertory, this must be done sometime before consecration; it may never be done after the consecration of the chalice. A single drop of water is enough to comply with the rubric. If the water added should exceed a third part of the wine the latter would become doubtful matter; light wine would thereby become invalid. (Jone no. 494)

So Jone sees too much as “more than a 1/3 water to wine ratio”; a “single drop” is enough. It’s interesting to note why the next author, O’Connell (The Celebration of the Mass), says that one drop probably isn’t enough:

The water which is to be added must be natural water, rose water or other distilled waters will not do, and the quantity must be small. Two or three drops will suffice – it is dangerous to add one drop only, lest it adhere to the side of the chalice and should not mingle with the wine – but a somewhat larger quantity may be used. This water is certainly converted into the Precious Blood, probably by way of complete absorption into the wine. (pages 133-134)

So O’Connell wants to see two or three drops, lest one drop only never make it down the inside of the cup into the wine. (Again, see THIS post in connection with this!) But then in a footnote, he clarifies how much is too much: “Theologians think that even as much as a quarter – or even a third, in the case of good wine – of the quantity of wine, would not render the mixture doubtful matter, unless the wine was very light in quality.” (footnote 74, page 134)

Thus O’Connell is substantially in agreement with Jone, but slightly more cautious: no more than a 1/4 ratio is a good idea, in case the wine isn’t of the greatest quality, but up to 1/3 is probably OK if the wine is good.

Stop for a moment and think about the small amount of wine that a priest puts in the main celebrant chalice in many cases — just enough for himself, a small gulp really. Maybe a teaspoon or at most a tablespoon. So when you think about that quantity, two or three drops of water are probably already approaching 1/4 of the volume of liquid!

Well, it is good to consult a very fine Italian liturgical manual for these sorts of questions, also — Tremoloni (Ludovico Tremoloni, Compendio di Liturgia Pratica, 3a Edizione). Here is what Tremoloni says (my translation):

…recall that even the strictest authors admit validity and liceity for a one-fifth mixture of water — and some allow for more. The wine can be white or red, even if white is to be preferred for reasons of cleanliness (since it does not stain the sacred linens). (page 218)

So Tremoloni actually is the most conservative of all the authors (and he does cite a well-regarded moral manual for what he says — Piscetta-Gennaro), allowing for a 1/5 ratio ordinarily, though admitting that some authors are more lenient.

(I included his comment about the color of wine for interest — I think some people think it must be red because then it looks more like blood; while there is perhaps a greater sign value to using red, using white is totally legitimate and — I might add — quite common in most places outside the U.S. that I have been to!)

From all of the foregoing the take-away may be: it really should only be a couple of drops of water. And those are drops, not “splashes”.

In light of the consolidated opinion of moralists and liturgists on this matter, the custom did arise in some places of using a small spoon — popularly called a scruple spoon — to get just the right amount of water in the chalice:

It is a very small ladle-like spoon, designed to sit in the water cruet or at least be able to fit inside its mouth, by which a small quantity of water may easily and quickly be added to the wine during the preparation of the chalice. It takes the guesswork out and just makes things go more quickly and smoothly. Since cruets come in many shapes and sizes, sometimes are overfilled, sometimes pour faster than one realizes, and so forth, a spoon like this just makes things easier.

I have encountered scruple spoons “in the wild” (mostly in Italy) and always appreciate using them. Still, it’s not rocket science to pour a small amount of water from a cruet, and there is always the possibility of pouring in some more wine if needed — as I have had to do on occasion where the water came out faster than I was expecting. (Though it’s fun to note that Tremoloni talks down the practice of pouring in more wine, implying it might be a bit scrupulous to do so since more than one drop of water can be added — even as he also has the tightest water-wine ratio of the manuals I surveyed!) One figures it out.

I would be curious to know how many priests ordained in, say, the last thirty years, learned anything about the foregoing — beyond a more or less “close enough” or “no fuss” approach that does not want to come across as too “stuffy” – but may, in the end, border on sloppiness.

Uncritical eschewing of stuffiness risks grave error, because in its pursuit of alleged simplicity it often fails to consider the context — and in this case, we are dealing with the very matter of our greatest sacrament, the Most Blessed Sacrament. We need to get that right! So this is serious business, and having a good sense of how things should be done and then approaching celebration in a consistent way can ensure that one both gets it right and does not get bogged down in “fussiness” in the process.

Again, another post on the preparation of the chalice HERE.

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Passiontide Veiling & Unbleached Candles

This morning, after our Saturday morning Mass, our crew of employees and volunteers did the annual veiling of the images and setting out of unbleached candles that we do during Passiontide.

(Since we are celebrating a Year of St. Joseph this year [until May 1], we did not veil the statue of St. Joseph, though we did take down the festive drapes around it.)

Here is the description that I shared in my parish bulletin concerning this practice:

VEILED IMAGES AND UNBLEACHED CANDLES FOR PASSIONTIDE

The Sunday before Palm Sunday was traditionally known as Passion Sunday. It was on that day that the church’s principal images (statues/crucifixes) were veiled for the remainder of Lent. This was, at least in part, because the gospel for that day said that Jesus “hid himself, and went out of the temple” (John 8:59). The veiling of images of our Lord and his saints adds to the penitential “feel” of the Lenten season as we approach his death on Good Friday and mourn his time in the tomb. Thus also the use of unbleached beeswax candles: they contrast with the more festive white of the bleached candles that we traditionally see throughout the year. Unbleached candles may actually be used not only during Passiontide but whenever purple is worn – so almost all of Lent and Advent. Historically, they were most often used on Good Friday and for the Office of Tenebrae. Apart from penitential seasons, they may also be used as a sign of mourning at funeral Masses. Details such as these add wonderful variety to our celebrations and enhance their spiritual meaning. The conclusion of Lent is a more reserved and somber time; may we all strive to be recollected and unite ourselves to the liturgical movement, so to prepare ourselves for a wonderful celebration of Easter!

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Does Friday Penance Bind Gravely?

Today, when this is being posted, is a Friday of Lent — a day of abstinence from meat for all Catholics who have completed 14 years of age. But is it really a sin if one chooses to eat meat anyhow (i.e., deliberately) on a Lenten Friday? Throughout my priestly ministry I have regularly encountered this question among the faithful.

The last major document that dealt with penitential discipline in the Church was Paenitemini, issued by Pope Paul VI in 1966. There we read the following:

II. 1. The time of Lent preserves its penitential character. The days of penitence to be observed under obligation throughout the Church are all Fridays and Ash Wednesday, that is to say the first days of “Grande Quaresima” (Great Lent), according to the diversity of the rites. Their substantial observance binds gravely.

So here it is very clear: all Fridays and Ash Wednesday are days when the deliberate/culpable failure to do the required penance would be a mortal sin. Except (keep reading)…

Another question arises: What about all the Fridays outside of Lent? Because here in the United States, we are not required to give up meat outside of Lent. In fact, the law is rather vague about what we must do. Can we really say that it’s a mortal sin if we fail to do penance on non-Lenten Fridays, even though the law is so very vague?

First, let’s review the law. Paenitemini gave Bishops’ Conferences the power to adjust penitential discipline for local/regional sensibilities. And this was carried over into the 1983 Code of Canon Law. Therefore, the U.S. Bishops first issued a pastoral statement on penance in 1966 that reflected the possibilities that Paenitemini afforded. Here are some relevant excerpts:

13. In keeping with the letter and spirit of Pope Paul’s Constitution Poenitemini, we preserved for our dioceses the tradition of abstinence from meat on each of the Fridays of Lent, confident that no Catholic Christian will lightly hold himself excused from this penitential practice.

(So they upheld the gravity of the obligation of Friday penance in Lent.)

21. For these and related reasons, the Catholic bishops of the United States, far from downgrading the traditional penitential observance of Friday, and motivated precisely by the desire to give the spirit of penance greater vitality, especially on Fridays, the day that Jesus died, urge our Catholic people henceforth to be guided by the following norms.

22. Friday itself remains a special day of penitential observance throughout the year, a time when those who seek perfection will be mindful of their personal sins and the sins of mankind which they are called upon to help expiate in union with Christ Crucified.

23. Friday should be in each week something of what Lent is in the entire year. For this reason we urge all to prepare for that weekly Easter that comes with each Sunday by freely making of every Friday a day of self-denial and mortification in prayerful remembrance of the passion of Jesus Christ.

24. Among the works of voluntary self-denial and personal penance which we especially commend to our people for the future observance of Friday, even though we hereby terminate the traditional law of abstinence binding under pain of sin, as the sole prescribed means of observing Friday, we give first place to abstinence from flesh meat.We do so in the hope that the Catholic community will ordinarily continue to abstain from meat by free choice as formerly we did in obedience to Church law.

So, basically, “we really want you to know that Friday is a day of penance, but there is no longer anything particular required and it does not bind under pain of sin”. I’m sorry if that sounds flippant, but re-read the paragraphs I quoted.

Basically, we are encouraged to do something — especially preserving the traditional practice of abstaining from meat — but nothing in particular is strictly required, in the sense of possibly giving rise to sin.

Therefore, from this we may conclude that failure to do penance on a Friday outside of Lent is not a mortal sin. In fact, the Bishops protest that it is not a sin at all. See this, for example:

25. Every Catholic Christian understands that the fast and abstinence regulations admit of change, unlike the commandments and precepts of that unchanging divine moral law which the Church must today and always defend as immutable. This said, we emphasize that our people are henceforth free from the obligation traditionally binding under pain of sin in what pertains to Friday abstinence, except as noted above for Lent. We stress this so that “no” scrupulosity will enter into examinations of conscience, confessions, or personal decisions on this point.

(The statement is carefully written — there is no pain of sin “in what pertains to Friday abstinence”; I suppose one could argue that there is some pain of sin for not doing anything at all. But I can’t see how it could be classified as anything more than a light matter, given the overall vagueness of the legal norm and the teaching included in it.)

The Code of Canon Law merely re-iterates and formalizes what was set forth in Paenitemini, preserving the right of the Bishops to adapt it — which the U.S. Bishops did.

All that said, it is important to note what Paenitemini also says about penance in general:

I. 1. By divine law all the faithful are required to do penance.

The Bishops also said this in their pastoral statement:

1. Thus Sacred Scriptures declare our guilt to be universal; hence the universal obligation to that repentance which Peter, in his sermon on Pentecost, declared necessary for the forgiveness of sin (Acts 2:38). Hence, too, the Church’s constant recognition that all the faithful are required by divine law to do penance. As from the fact of sin we Christians can claim no exception, so from the obligation to penance we can seek no exemption.

We can split moral hairs about penance outside of Lent, but the bottom line for all of us: we need to do penance. Therefore, we should strive to keep all Fridays of the year, as is the Church’s immemorial custom — even when Friday penance outside of Lent is not morally obligatory. We should do other penances besides. We must do penance for our many sins. Let us not be “bare minimum Catholics“!

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The Realism of Moral Manuals

84. Night prayer is the last prayer of the day, said before retiring, even if that is after midnight.

That norm, from the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, implies that the prayer of Vespers (Evening Prayer) shall have concluded before the clock strikes midnight. And there are many stories from “back in the day” of priests who would be pulled over on the side of the road, saying their breviary by the light of the car’s headlamps, in order to fulfill their obligation in time (i.e., by midnight).

The burden to pray the breviary is not nearly as great now as it was then — the modern Liturgy of the Hours pales in comparison with the old Divine Office, taking only about a third of the time each day to recite. But it is still the case, sometimes, that a busy priest may find himself running up against the clock to fulfill his obligations in time. Priestly life can be very frenetic, and there are some days that… well, there are some days!

Those who have familiarized themselves with the great old moral manuals — in this case, I am thinking of the one by Fr. Heribert Jone — may be delighted to find that “midnight does not always mean midnight”, in the sense that we often think. Each of us lives in a time zone, and we are accustomed to setting our clocks by whatever the time is for the entire zone. But the movement of the sun is of course slightly different across the entire zone. The sun may have already set in the eastern part of a given time zone, while there is still an hour or more of sunlight in the western part. Our moral obligations, at least privately speaking, go by the sun, not by the man-made time zone.

Oh, but there’s more…

There are also modern constructs like “daylight savings time”, when we artificially force ourselves ahead by an hour for part of the calendar year in order allegedly to gain productivity — or something. But “daylight savings time” does not enter into our moral obligations. The sun is still the sun, regardless of where we artificially set our clocks. Our moral obligations (that are connected with time) go by the movement of the sun, not the movement of fashions, ideologies, or tedious positive laws that otherwise affect our lives.

But what obligations does a priest have that have to do with time? They are relatively few anymore. It used to be that the Eucharistic fast began at midnight. Therefore, a priest who was working within the framework of modern life and perhaps sometimes “came up against the clock” was happy to know when midnight really was wherever he was, so that he could give himself the time needed. The principal obligation a priest has now, connected with the clock, is that of reciting at least through Vespers by midnight. (And that obligation is only implied, as indicated above — not set out as clearly as it should be, taking for granted, perhaps, that that is how things were always done.)

So when is midnight where I am? To determine this, you need to use a solar time calculator. Here is a link to just one: HERE. From there you need to know things like the longitude and latitude of where you currently are, which you can easily find online nowadays.

(I recommend using an online calculator like this; the table scanned above from the old manual has some inaccuracies and also some nuances that are easy to miss and perhaps complex to calculate. Just use an online calculator!)

What I find when I calculate solar time for Birmingham, Alabama is that right now, on the date I calculated it, we are about nine minutes behind our “time zone time”. In other words, when it is 12:00am on the clock, the position of the sun indicates that in Birmingham, it’s really 12:09am. (Obviously, because of the tilt of the earth’s axis and its revolution around the sun throughout the year, the time variance will change; I can’t just add nine minutes to “clock time” on any date of the year, but need to do a fresh calculation for the given time/date.)

So given that it is also daylight savings time at present — when we force the clock ahead an hour — that means that when it is 12:00am on the clock, it’s technically 11:09pm in Birmingham (add nine minutes, then subtract an hour — again this calculation is only valid for the present day!).

That means that I could fulfill my legal and moral obligation with regard to the breviary up to 12:51am (on the clock time) during central daylight time on today’s date!

However, if you read the small print on the scan of a page from Jone above carefully, you will see that a priest “may” follow solar time (what it calls “true local time”) in private recitation. That means: if it is to his advantage to do so. In other words, he may also simply follow what the clock says. He can go simply by what time his phone says it is. It’s up to him.

So for some, depending on where they are located within their time zone, there may sometimes be an advantage to following solar time. For others, it may be more advantageous to follow what we might called “standardized local time” — the time on one’s mobile phone clock.

To many, this will seem like so much hair-splitting. But for a priest who is taking his obligations seriously and is sometimes running against the clock, the above may actually help him preserve a peaceful conscience in what are otherwise challenging conditions. I would be concerned if any priest were routinely approaching his obligations from the perspective of, “What is the absolute minimum I need to do to get by”.

So no, I don’t plan to start staying up till 12:51am to finish my prayers during this time of the year! But at least I know that if I have a crazy day, as occasionally happens, I have a bit of extra time to get things done –  without failing to fulfill my priestly obligations and thereby possibly sinning.*

* Leaving aside the other moral principles that may be applied with regard to the fulfillment of one’s obligations to the Divine Office, such as conditions that might excuse one from all or part of it — that is for another post, perhaps.

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The Priests’ Sabbath Rest

The concept of a “day off” for a priest is not foreseen in the Code of Canon Law. From there, one can find many reasons against it: “one doesn’t get a day off from being a father”, “you’re just buying into the American therapeutic mindset”, “you’re probably being selfish”, etc. Those and many more reasons can be brought against a priest who chooses to take a day off with any regularity.

Granted, there are some priests who may treat their days off as sacrosanct: their most devout parishioner might be on his or her deathbed… and he or she must wait until after the day off to receive a priest’s attention. Cases like that, which apparently do happen here and there, are a gross failure of priestly ministry; it’s easy enough to point out such disastrous hypocrisy where it happens.

In an age of a general shortage of priests, though, many of us are in the category of feeling a need for a day off but often not feeling “free” to take one. Many priests face burnout: they know they need more “personal time”, but they fear taking it because they don’t want to be seen as selfish, self-involved, “soft”, etc. — or, they fear the workload that will pile up if they take a day off and life continues in the meantime.

Well, the institution of a “day off” might not be in Canon Law, but it is a tradition at least in this country. More than that, I recently came across this article, which speaks of the concept of sabbath rest in connection with a priest’s day off. The Christian sabbath, of course, is Sunday – one of the busiest days of the week for most priests: besides the various Masses (and some priests have to celebrate in more than one language, with multiple homilies also, etc.), there is often a lot of visiting/socializing with parishioners, youth group meetings, PSR visits, adult ed, and the like. It can be a very tiring day — one that doesn’t feel very sabbath-like from the priest’s personal perspective!

It occurred to me when I read the article, which has several good points about constructive uses of the time of rest, that I had never considered a priest’s day off within the framework of God’s design for creation: we all need to rest from our labors. It’s so easy to set aside taking a day off, in favor of “trying to stay caught up” or at least “not falling further behind”, or even for worse reasons such as feeling that one is indispensable, or in the cases where some priests have trouble “letting go” of day-to-day control of things. This article is good food for thought for those who struggle with taking a day off.

Of course, ultimately, one cannot take a day off from being a father, and so every priest must be ready to rearrange his schedule as needed to meet reasonable requests and more urgent priorities as they arise. The main thing for any priest is to take the time that he truly needs, even if it’s in smaller chunks or spread out over more than one day out of necessity. And Canon Law is clear about the amount of vacation to which a priest is entitled; priests who struggle with taking all their vacation (a struggle I have never had!) should even be challenged by their parishioners to do so.

I share this article here for any brother priest who may struggle with the idea of taking a weekly day off, even as he feels the need to take one. Many of us are feeling rather acutely the effects of the clergy shortage, as we try to maintain the same schedules our parishes have always had with less help than in the past to do so. Actually taking that time and then using it constructively, in pursuit of true leisure, may do more for our priestly ministry than continually wearing ourselves down as we power through extended periods with no meaningful rest — as is exceedingly common for many priests nowadays.

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The Physical Presence?

Is Jesus physically present in the Holy Eucharist?

This not the teaching of the Church. I would challenge anyone to find such a concept in the Church’s magisterium.

Let us consider some of the implications:

  • If Christ were physically present in the Holy Eucharist, then the priest, who consumes a larger host (approx. 3″ in diameter), would receive more of Jesus than the faithful, who only receive a 1.25″ host. But the Church does not teach this.
  • If Christ were physically present in the Holy Eucharist, then Protestant protestations of Catholic cannibalism would be hard to refute.
  • If Christ were physically present in the Holy Eucharist, then somehow the quantity and volume of consecrated hosts throughout the world should not add up to more than the mass of his physical body — which is manifestly not the case.
  • If Christ were physically present in the Holy Eucharist, then fracturing the host would be dividing Jesus into parts.
  • If Christ were physically present in the Holy Eucharist, then any loss of the Eucharist (for example, through desecration or even through simple mistakes/human weakness) would cause him to be imperfect and incomplete.

Consider, in contrast, the Church’s teaching on the doctrine of concomitance: Christ is present whole and entire in each and every part of the consecrated species. Those who receive under one sacramental form (host or chalice) do not receive more of him than those who receive both. No, we may not speak of his presence as “physical”.

We can speak of the physicality of the sacrament: we engage in the physical act of eating and/or drinking; the sacrament itself has a certain physicality, quite obviously.

But we may not speak of his presence in that way.

No, the Church defines that presence, rather, as Real, True, and Substantial. This is the Church’s perennial teaching. Very precise terms are needed for so great a mystery.

In the Holy Eucharist we really receive Jesus Christ in his body, blood, soul, and divinity. We truly receive him. We receive his substance. But we do not physically receive him — which would reduce his presence to something finite and possibly imperfect.

His presence is mediated to us through a sacrament, and may not be described in purely physical terms.

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