The Marital Debt

One very traditional (and important) Church teaching that has all but disappeared from Catholic consciousness in recent decades is that of “the marital debt”, also known as “the conjugal debt”. This teaching has to do with the obligation that spouses have to acquiesce to the marital act when it is reasonably requested by the other spouse. I suppose movies and TV shows typically depict this as one-sided: the husband wants intimacy but the wife “has a headache” and declines the request. But in real life it probably goes both ways, with husbands sometimes refusing also. Indeed, it would seem that one of the problems afflicting some married couples in our very workaday and confused world at present is that of the “sexless marriage” — not because the couple is at odds with each other, but because they are just so busy and preoccupied with other pursuits.

The term “marital debt” sounds so… sterile — perhaps. It is certainly the language of legal contracts. But marriage does have a contractual quality to it, even if it is not only or merely a contract. And regardless of whether we like the term or not, we should recognize that it has biblical roots. See what St. Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthians:

The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not rule over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not rule over his own body, but the wife does. Do not refuse one another except perhaps by agreement for a season, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, lest Satan tempt you through lack of self-control. (1 Cor 7:3-5)

The original Greek, echoed in the Church’s official Latin translation of this passage, says something more like, “Let husbands pay the marital debt to their wives”.

As I said, the Church’s understanding of the marital debt is that spouses who are in a presumably valid marriage may not refuse the marital act to each other when it is reasonably requested. Our trusty moral manual by Fr. Heribert Jone helps us to understand this teaching better:

Rendering the requested marriage debt is a grave obligation, especially when the petitioner is in danger of incontinence or would have to make a great sacrifice to overcome temptation.

[…] It is only a venial sin to refuse the debt (provided the other party is not placed in danger of sinning gravely), if the petitioner will readily renounce his right, or if rendering it is only briefly postponed, or if the use of the marriage right is frequent and its refusal is only rare…

So Fr. Jone emphasizes that refusal to acquiesce to marital intimacy in some cases could lead to other problems — i.e., some form of incontinence (for example, the denied spouse resorting to solitary acts instead, because of frustration).

But what are some cases where it would be unreasonable for one spouse to request the marital debt, and therefore the other spouse could refuse it?

Some of them could be:

  • When the requesting spouse seeks sexual acts that are unnatural or repulsive.
  • When intercourse is painful (of course, medical help may and possibly should be sought for this also).
  • When intercourse is requested too often (spouses should discuss this and come to an agreement).
  • When the petitioner has committed adultery with another person — a grave violation of his or her marriage bond.
  • When the petitioner is seriously negligent in fulfilling his or her other marital obligations (support of spouse and children).
  • When there is other danger to health (for example, certain heart conditions).

From the foregoing it emerges that spouses may not “lightly” refuse “the debt” — refuse legitimate marital intimacy to their spouse — without sinning (and possibly contributing to the others’ sinning). Indeed, for some, this may well be one of the areas of married life where one did not expect to have to make sacrifices (!), if it happens that one spouse has to acquiesce sometimes for the good of the marriage, even though he or she is not otherwise “in the mood”.

So much of the difficulty that some experience in the area of the marital debt could be avoided through better communication. Some couples find it very difficult to discuss their intimacy, or they never formed good habits about doing so. If one spouse feels that the other spouse seeks intimacy too often, he or she should have a frank but charitable discussion with the other about it. If one spouse experiences discomfort of one kind or another, s/he should let the other know. And so forth.

Spouses who use Natural Family Planning often (not always) learn to communicate better in the sphere of intimacy. Couples who use no family planning method, while they do not sin, might also end up not communicating well enough about this part of their marriage. Couples who have marital acts that are not open to life also may not communicate effectively about their marital intimacy — besides the fact that they also sin by using contraception or forms of sexual intimacy that are not open to life.

Yes, the language of “the marital debt” may sound rather legalistic, sterile, cold. But it comes straight from the pen of St. Paul the Apostle. And has been constantly taught by the Church. In spite of all the emphasis on sexuality in modern times, even with things like the Theology of the Body, this particular teaching for some reason has fallen by the wayside. When I mention it in marriage preparation some couples look at me like I’m crazy. They imagine that sex in marriage will be easy, free, no sacrifice involved, always synergistic… little do they realize that one or both of them may have to make sacrifices for the good of their marriage bond, and that those sacrifices flow from the fact that through the contract of marriage they gave a right over their person to the other spouse, and vice-versa.

I did a Google search on “the marital debt” and found surprisingly few web sites that discuss it. In fact, more of them focused on questions of finance! There is more that I could say, but I have wanted to share something here of what I’ve picked up along the way and now attempt to communicate to those whom I prepare for marriage.

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ADDENDUM, 5/23/19, 9:15am

This type of post usually encourages a lot of objection and even upset, because it calls to mind for some the exceptional and difficult cases they are either aware of in the lives of their friends or even in their own marriages.

One point that needs to be emphasized in the foregoing is that of COMMUNICATION. Spouses need to be able to communicate about their intimacy and work through the issues in that area, just as they try to do in the other areas of married life. Many people today are simply unprepared to do this. This post does not propose to offer solutions on how one can more effectively communicate in that area — it just signals the problem.

Another point to be emphasized is that this teaching should not be used as a pretext by those who just want to be selfish and who do not really care about the good of their spouse. St. Paul has an extensive teaching on marriage that goes beyond the issue of the marital debt. One of those areas that he teaches on is, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church” (5:25). Intimacy in marriage is not meant to be a chore, even if we can identify aspects of it that have the nature of “duty” or “obligation” — “debt”. Intimacy should be sought for the good of both, not for the good of only one. A spouse who mis-uses this gift fails to live up to the standard of love set by Christ himself.

Those who have difficult cases should seek counseling or the advice of a prudent priest, as is appropriate. Teachings like this also become very painful when they are received in the midst of a difficult situation where no help is being sought. Again — COMMUNICATION, COUNSELING, etc. The teachings don’t change. We have to work through our difficulties and do what we can. A good priest and a trusted counselor can help a couple navigate that and find the way forward in the midst of their particular circumstances.

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Confession behind the Screen

The recent legal moves against the seal of confession in California — see Bishop Barron’s commentary here — are a good argument for only having anonymous (behind the screen) confessions. So a brother priest tweetedand I heartily agree. No priest is ever permitted to violate the seal of confession; the state can coerce as much as it wants, but the priest remains bound by the seal, even if he must die for that. St. John Nepomuk is one saint who died for the seal. May he pray for us! In any case, the anonymity of confession adds a further level of protection for both priest and penitent.

I have always preferred to go “behind the screen” myself. I realize many people like the face-to-face option. The Church allows that option, but requires that confessionals ordinarily have fixed grates (Code of Canon Law, canon 964 § 2), and even prefers that confessions not be heard outside of a normal confessional without a “just cause” (canon 964 § 3). How many churches have confessionals that are not in accord with the Church’s law! Bishops should do something about that…

(Incidentally, the “just cause” mentioned in canon 964 § 3 is a rather low bar, so I don’t mean to imply by it that many priests, myself included sometimes, are “doing it wrong” — I’m just highlighting that ordinarily, confession should take place in a confessional.)

Indeed, the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, back in 1998, put out an “authentic interpretation” (binding interpretation of the law) on canon 964, specifying further that the priest-confessor always has the right to insist on confession behind the screen. A priest may choose to avail himself of this right for any number of prudential reasons. The above, concerning the greater protection of the seal of confession, is one of them. There are several others.

One other prudential reason I will mention here is the very current concern about youth protection. For this reason, most churches by now have windows on their confessionals, which hopefully do not allow sound out but do allow a certain level of transparency that would help to deter anyone who might have bad intentions from doing something inappropriate. Only having the option of a fixed screen that cannot be navigated around is another way to add greater protection for both youth/vulnerable persons and clergy.

(An aside: where there are windows, care needs to be taken that lip-reading by those outside cannot easily take place. Traditionally, a priest would put his hand sort of over his mouth while he spoke in confession, if his face could be seen by anyone outside.)

Some will object that they cannot kneel behind a screen; I get that. But chairs or benches can also be set up. Some will remember the bad old days when confessionals were dark and suppose that that is what we are going back to; no, we have lots of good lighting solutions and just because there is a screen does not mean the confessional needs to be tight, dark, and foreboding. I suppose as with anything we can always find many reasons to be against it. But given the serious threats being brought against this sacrament — and California is not the first state where this has been tried, to say nothing of other countries (laws have already been passed in Australia) — we need to think about how best to protect it and all those involved.

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The Holy Spirit, Bringer of Order

Here follow some thoughts on the work of the Holy Spirit, prompted by my reflection on today’s gospel about the peace of Christ (John 14:27-31).

It’s not uncommon to encounter the idea in the Church today that the Holy Spirit is basically “messy”. I’ve heard countless priests and deacons speak of how their basically rambling and undisciplined preaching was the way it was because that is what the Holy Spirit inspired them to say on the spot (!). At some prayer gatherings there will be people allegedly speaking tongues in a free-wheeling way with no one to interpret, while others pass out and some even bark like dogs (!) — and this, too, is attributed to the Spirit. And then some people have implied that worship that is less formal and even freelanced is more “in the Holy Spirit” (!). And so forth. There are many more examples. But suffice to say, all manner of disorder and shabbiness is blamed on the Spirit — by some, at least.

This is not the biblical image of the Spirit, however. In the beginning of the Bible we see that the Spirit is the one who brought order out of chaos: from the “formless void” that initially existed, Creation unfolded in its marvelous (and very orderly) array (Genesis 1:2 and following). In the psalms we hear of how the Spirit is the one who “renews” the earth — doesn’t make it more chaotic, but makes it better (Psalm 104:30). In the gospel, Christ breathes the Spirit onto his Apostles to give them the power to forgive sins — that is, to bring healing and order to souls that until then had been in spiritual squalor (John 20:22-23). And in the Acts of the Apostles — the scene depicted in the engraving at the top of this post — it is the Spirit who not only invigorates the early Church but sends out her Apostles and preachers to bring order and unity in the most diverse of situations: many different languages spoken, people from all different backgrounds, yet now they can understand and receive the gospel message, thanks to the work of the Spirit (Acts 2:4-8).

One of the areas where “messiness” is often attributed to the work of the Spirit by people today is in the area of charisms. Charisms are spiritual gifts ordered to the good not of the individual but of the whole Church (Catechism no. 799). Some people have been turned off from charismatic-style prayer because of the freewheeling and undisciplined style adopted by some prayer groups; but this was a problem in the time of St. Paul also, and he had strong words to say about it (see, for example, “…all things should be done decently and in order” — 1 Corinthians 14:40). Paul also speaks of a hierarchy of gifts and warns about settling for the least of them: “Earnestly desire the higher gifts…. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong…” (1 Corinthians 12:31-13:1).

I maintain that where “messiness” is verified, it is because those who are exercising possibly-legitimate spiritual gifts are doing so without a view to the wider Church; they may be doing it for their own gratification. The authentic work of the Spirit, in distributing his manifold gifts, is to build up the Body of Christ into unity and into “mature manhood” (see Ephesians 4:4-13). Therefore, the distribution of charisms among the faithful by the Spirit is meant to happen in a way that gives rise to order, not messiness. That implies submitting those gifts to the judgment of those who have supreme responsibility for fomenting order in the Church: those who have received the sacrament of Holy Order, especially bishops. A good bishop recognizes the spiritual gifts among the clergy and laity of his diocese and strives to bring all together in a symphonic way to exercise those gifts.

But apart from those gifts that are given to us for the Church — charisms — there are also the gifts that the Spirit gives for the building-up of our own spirits. These are gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit. These are meant to bring order to our souls, and the fruit of order is peace (see Catechism no. 2304). The peace of Christ is the work of the Holy Spirit in our souls. “Not as the world gives do I give”, he says (John 14:27). We can seek world peace through all sorts of external and technical solutions. We can have a sort of individual peace through technical solutions as well: meditation, exercise, de-cluttering, etc. But the profound peace that Christ wishes to give us — a peace that abides even when there is war, terror, chaos, disturbance, or other negative factors around us, to say nothing of discord within relationships — that peace of Christ is the work of the Holy Spirit upon us.

It is not, therefore, a peace that we can procure for ourselves. It only comes from submitting ourselves to Christ’s sweet and gentle yoke (Matthew 11:28-30). Which means submitting ourselves more fully to his Church, which perpetuates his presence and work through time. By faithfully receiving the sacraments, nurturing our faith through prayer and study, and by seeking to live out our baptismal commitment more faithfully each day, we can more fully submit to Christ and cooperate with the work of the Spirit. This also means worshiping as the Church intends rather than making it up ourselves. It also means striving to use the gifts of grace we’ve been given for the Church’s benefit, not with our own agenda in mind but according to the actual needs of the Church — which also implies cooperating with her ministers.

The Holy Spirit is the bringer of order and life, not the bringer of that sort of free-wheeling shabbiness that is often attributed to him today. With the order and life he offers comes peace — true peace, the peace of Christ, a peace that surpasses all understanding. May the Holy Spirit overcome all disorder in our hearts and minds and procure for us that peace that only Christ can give.

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A Thought on Death and Dying

Memento mori – Remember you will die

I had an edifying conversation with some other priests recently on the topic of death, and it occurred to me: my hope (and prayer) is that I might have full use of my mental faculties until the very end, so that I can offer my life to God as I die. Of course, that means I hope also to have the grace to do that, in spite of whatever pain or fear of dying or anything else that may be involved.

Think about that a bit: there are a lot of dying scenarios that could include the particulars for which I hope/pray. This isn’t one of those “I hope I die a painless death in my sleep” wishes! Painless would be nice, but it is unrealistic (I likely need to suffer a lot for my sins). Every time we go to sleep we practice for death, and dying in one’s sleep might have a certain appeal over the other options, also — but it often means that loved ones don’t get to say goodbye.

No, I think my intention is that I might be awake at the moment I die and be able to offer myself to God. I hope he will grant my prayer. And give me the strength.

Memento mori!

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(This post will probably freak some out. No, I am not dying that I know of. No, I am not planning to die soon. Yes, we could all die at any given moment. We know neither the day nor the hour. We all need to be ready.)

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Eucharistic Faith and Reverence for the Renewal of the Church

Some rather profound commentaries in French have passed through my Twitter feed in the past few days, and there is an awful lot that I would like to say and share, even as I lack the time to do so. We’ll see what’s possible.

First, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI published a response to the abuse crisis roughly a month ago that made great waves in the news. The waves came mostly from superficial types who rejected what he had to say out-of-hand and with facile arguments. I maintain that those with eyes to see and ears to hear can understand that the Pope Emeritus knows well of what he speaks and that he has written very profoundly about it, even if perhaps without the full elaboration that he might have given in a longer discourse. His essay had, to my mind, a sense of haste and brevity, a sort of summary quality, that perhaps reflects his present state of life, primarily devoted to prayer and study – no longer to writing.

That essay/response of Benedict XVI may be read HERE.

I was delighted to find a feature-length elucidation on Benedict XVI’s essay/response yesterday — from Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. He delivered his paper in French at the St. Louis Center in Rome sometime in the last week. For those who read French, you may be interested in reading the entire thing HERE. Presumably someone will translate the whole thing into English soon and post it online.

What I would like to share today is a few of his final paragraphs, where he draws out his take-aways from all that Pope Emeritus Benedict said. Here are those paragraphs in my translation, followed by my further commentary:

What, therefore, is the way forward that Benedict XVI proposes to us? It is simple. If the cause of the crisis is the forgetting of God, then let us put God back in the center! Let us put back at the center of the Church and our liturgies the primacy of God, the presence of God, his objective and real presence. I was particularly touched, as Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, by one of Benedict XVI’s remarks. He affirms that “ever since his conversations with victims of pedophilia, he has been led to a have a sharper awareness of the need for a renewal of faith in the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament” and of a Eucharistic celebration renewed by greater reverence. (III, 2.)

Ladies and Gentlemen, I wish to underline that this is not a question of the conclusion reached by an expert in theology, but of a wise word from a pastor who has allowed himself to be touched profoundly by the testimonies of the victims of pedophilia. Benedict XVI has understood with great sensitivity that respect for the Eucharistic body of the Lord conditions respect for the pure and innocent bodies of children.

“The Eucharist has been devalued”, he stated. There has arisen a manner of treating the Blessed Sacrament that “destroys the grandeur of the mystery”. With the Pope Emeritus, I am profoundly persuaded that if we do not adore the Eucharistic body of our God, if we do not treat it with a fear that is both joyous and full of reverence, then among us will emerge the temptation to profane the bodies of infants.

I highlight Benedict XVI’s conclusion: “when we consider the action that before all others will be necessary, it becomes evident that we do not need a new Church of our own fabrication. On the contrary, what is needed first and foremost is the renewal of faith in the presence of Jesus Christ, who is given to us in the Blessed Sacrament” (III, 2).

Well then, Ladies and Gentlemen, to conclude I say to you again with Pope Benedict: yes, the Church is full of sinners. But she is not in crisis, we are the ones in crisis. The devil wants to make us doubt. He wants to make us believe that God has abandoned his Church. No, she is always “the field of God. There is not only the chaff but also the rich harvest of God. To proclaim these two aspects with insistence is not to put forward a false apologetic: it is a necessary service to the truth”, says Benedict XVI. He proves it; his praying and teaching presence among us – in the heart of the Church, in Rome – confirms it for us. Yes, among us there are very rich divine harvests.

Thank you, dear Pope Benedict: according to your episcopal motto, a co-worker of the truth, a servant of the truth. Your words comfort and reassure us. You are a witness, a “martyr” of the truth. Thank you all.

Some — perhaps many — will dismiss out-of-hand not only what Benedict XVI said but also this further paean of Cardinal Sarah, because they will read it only in a shallow manner. “How can the liturgy have anything to do with the abuse crisis?”, they ask rhetorically, implying that it has nothing at all to do with it.

But let’s look a little deeper. Over the past century or so, not only has there been a great decline in belief in the Real Presence (one SOURCE, PDF download), but also a decline in the use of the Sacrament of Confession. Yet it has been observed that few people who attend Mass abstain from receiving Holy Communion. Yes, I am mixing data with anecdotes here, but I don’t have time to find the more conclusive survey analyses that make all the connections (these do exist). It’s there for all to see: just open your eyes. In many parishes everyone goes up to receive; in many parishes there is only 45 minutes for confession scheduled each week and then it is lightly attended. And belief in the Real Presence, as of 2008, was only at 57%. That is pathetic and profoundly tragic.

Does the Church not teach the Real Presence as a dogma? And only 57% believe it? Yikes!

But what about priests? Pope Benedict has spoken of the abuse crisis as a loss of faith, a forgetting of God. How could this not be the case? How many of the priests who abused children and other vulnerable people continued in ministry, sometimes for decades, continually celebrating the Mass and other sacraments? How can a priest who really believes, who has faith, do such things? It is utterly sickening. Many of them didn’t abuse just once, either — for some, it was a serial thing, even as they continued to function as priests. “Function” is about the best verb that can be used here, because it’s impossible to imagine that they really believed what they were doing anymore.

Only the most extreme levels of compartmentalization could make faith (and the holy fear that comes with it) in the sacraments coexist with ongoing grave violations of chastity and celibacy, with grave abuse (spiritual, emotional, and physical) of children, seminarians, and other adults. It’s almost impossible to imagine. I am convinced — and I think Pope Benedict, Cardinal Sarah, and others who have had far more experience dealing with these matters than I have — that for many priests who were/are guilty of such heinous crimes, there was a loss of faith and a forgetfulness of God.

This loss of faith cannot fully be hidden. See the experimentation and abuses that arose with the sacred liturgy — things like “clown Masses”, making the Mass a show, the priest highlighting his own personality, changing the words, the horrible music that was in no way connected to our great tradition, handling the Eucharist in an irreverent way (the stories I could tell from things I’ve seen with my own eyes)… loss of faith. The loss of faith of priests certainly had/has an effect on the people in the pews.

But there is another consideration. A priest who himself is in a state of grace and celebrates the liturgy well carries out his ministry in a more efficacious way. Maybe some of them hid their double-life completely: but if they were not in the state of grace their ministry was simply not as efficacious. It doesn’t matter how many brilliant homilies they gave — those homilies and their celebration of the sacraments would not have had the same effect. That is to say, they would not necessarily have contributed to a deepening of faith on the part of those to whom such priests ministered.

Then there are the further abuses that have to do directly with the Eucharist. Communion in the hand was introduced in disobedience to universal norms. It was simply not an option and many bishops and priests “made it one” — then effectively put the pope in a position where he felt like he had to allow it officially (if I had time I would highlight how Pope Paul VI was so conflicted over this). But correlative with that was the way that in many places this practice was also forced on people: receiving on the tongue was no longer an option. Kneeling was no longer an option. Yes, some priests forced these issues. No magisterial document ever called for the removal of communion rails, yet they were almost universally taken away. How can all of this not affect belief?

There is much more that I could say and I do realize that I am ranting a bit here. But I have been convinced for some time and remain convinced — am even more convinced now — that Cardinal Sarah/Pope Benedict’s conclusion, that our faith and reverence for the Eucharist must grow, is a major component for the renewal of the Church.

Fortunately, there are many places where this renewal is happening. But there is a very long way to go in some areas still. Even recently, there was video of a bishop in Chile refusing communion to people who knelt (and this right — to kneel — is upheld in Church law!).

[Connected with these considerations is the failure to treat the faith and the Eucharist/liturgy as legal goods that are to be defended and protected. I hope to write more on this — it is part of both Benedict XVI and Cardinal Sarah’s recent discourses also.]

Because of the foregoing, ever since the abuse crisis bubbled to the surface last summer, I have been repeatedly emphasizing to all who will listen that the solution lies in great part within us. If we do not become saints, we will not have contributed to the Church’s true reform. The solution is always with the saints. There have been terrible and egregious crises in the history of the Church, and history shows that it was always the saints who brought the Church through those moments.

We can seek all manner of legal and technical solutions. But if we do not reform ourselves, it will take even longer for this all to work itself out. A major part of that reform is to put God back at the center of our existence, at the center of our worship. Our worship immediately gives evidence (or not!) to any outsider who comes to see it, “They are worshipping God — this is not about them”. Or does it? Does it show that we really believe that Christ himself is present in his full reality on the altar, in the Holy Eucharist? Or is it casual, familiar, shabby even?

Another thing that came across my feed in French was this comment from Dom Dysmas de Lassus, Prior of the Grande Chartreuse, the famous Carthusian monastery in France, who was responding to a local controversy that touched also upon the problems afflicting the Church (SOURCE — my translation follows):

It does not fall to us to know what must be done to repair the Church; others have received that mission. Our mission is to reform ourselves so that the Body of the Church may benefit, according to the old adage that every soul that raises itself, raises the world; moreover, our mission is to pray for those tasked with decision-making, that they have the light and the courage to do it.

We are all called to be saints. A good starting point for any priest who loves the Church and wants to help is to ask himself, in a profound examination of conscience: Does the way I celebrate the sacraments and worship the Eucharist convey faith, deep belief, awe, and holy fear? And for any lay person, a good question to consider is: How deep is my own faith? Lord, increase my faith and show me how I can be more reverent! Help me to lead others to this same faith! What more can I do, Lord? Make me a saint!

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Mother’s and Father’s Day – At Mass

Amy Welborn has a helpful post about a good way to handle Mother’s Day at Mass – I highly recommend it to all priests and deacons.

In short, asking all mothers to stand or handing out flowers to all mothers, while sweet and touching for some, only leads to sadness or anguish for others. As Amy said, we can’t easily ignore the fact that it’s Mother’s Day and that many of the families present will be expecting some sort of acknowledgment. But we can celebrate the observance in a more sensitive way – for example, the priest could simply say after the post-communion prayer during the announcements time, “Since it is Mother’s Day, let us pray together for all mothers, living and deceased. Hail Mary…”. Then move on to the final blessing. No flowers, no awkward inviting mothers to stand (and let’s face it — there’s always a random few others who aren’t really paying attention, who also stand, making it awkward for them and others), no opening wounds, etc.

The same would go for Father’s Day. There are men who grieve lost fatherhood because of abortion, men who have not yet found a wife but want to be fathers, people with father wounds, etc.

So on Father’s Day, it might be good for the priest to say something like, “Since it is Father’s Day, and St. Paul says that all fatherhood on earth comes from God the Father (Eph 3:14-15), let us pray for all fathers, living and deceased, using again the words our Savior gave us. Our Father…”. It’d probably be nice to pray to St. Joseph for the fathers, especially since we already have an Our Father in Mass, but there is not a sufficient number of people with a suitable prayer to St. Joseph memorized.

For my part, I get to spend Mother’s Day with my mother this year. I will be praying for all mothers tomorrow — and for all those who want to be mothers or who were unable to be so. And I always appreciate those who remember priests on Father’s Day also, and pray that we be better spiritual fathers.

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The Chalice & Paten: Re-Consecrate after Re-Plating?

A priest, upon acquiring a chalice, properly desires to have it blessed or even consecrated. In the Ordinary Form of the liturgy there is only a blessing of a chalice (found in an appendix of the Roman Missal); in the Extraordinary Form, there is a consecration and blessing (found in the Rituale Romanum), during which the bishop (or the priest delegated by him) even anoints the chalice with Sacred Chrism, setting it apart for divine worship in much the same way that the hands of a priest are set apart by the anointing with Chrism during ordination.

(I recommend that any priest try to get his bishop to consecrate the chalice, or request from him the faculty to do so, for it is a far more powerful blessing than the newer one.)

Gold plating wears off chalices, though. When that happens and it is sent off to be re-plated, does that constitute a significant enough change to the chalice that it must be re-consecrated after the restoration work is done?

The 1983 Code of Canon Law does not speak to this topic at all. It speaks about when a church or an altar loses its blessing in a way that is in continuity with the older code of law (1917), but it does not address the matter of how other sacred objects lose their blessing or consecration. To understand how the Church has traditionally treated this topic, we can look at the 1917 Code of Canon Law (especially canon 1305 thereof). And the answer has a surprising twist.

Canon 1305 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law says, “§1 Sacred furnishings that have been blessed or consecrated lose their blessing or consecration: (1) if they have suffered such damage or change that they have lost their original shape and are no longer fit for their purpose; (2) if they have been used for unbecoming purposes, or have been exposed for public sale. §2 Chalices and patens do not lose their consecration when the gold plating wears off or is renewed, but there is a grave obligation to have the gold plating renewed when worn out.” (Translation from the book “A Practical Commentary on the Code of Canon Law” by Woywod and Smith, 1957 edition, page 93.)

The surprising twist is that the commentary goes on from there to note that this was not always how the question had been handled. Up until the 1917 Code of Canon Law, there had been decrees from the old Sacred Congregation of Rites (as recently as 1857) that said that re-plating caused a chalice to lose its consecration; therefore, after the restoration work was done a previously-consecrated chalice would need to be consecrated anew. The 1917 law is a change of praxis on this topic.

So this is what the law said until 1983; now it has fallen silent (strangely) on this topic. The 1917 Code does not bind, but is a useful guide for us to look to when the 1983 Code is silent. Bottom line: if a chalice and paten have not been desecrated, sold, or significantly damaged — if they only need re-plating — then they need not be re-consecrated after that work is done. If they were desecrated, sold, or significantly damaged, then they should be repaired, re-plated, and re-consecrated.

Some will shake their head: there goes Crazy Jerabek with the liturgical hyper-minutiæ again! Oh, but I have encountered this question before. It might not be your question, but it is someone’s. And it has to do with the very objects that contain our Lord’s Precious Body and Precious Blood during the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice — so these details are important like the One whom they serve.

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Scrupulosity in Children

“Not the most felicitous image of Our Lord”

Following upon my recent post about scrupulosity in general, I thought it might be helpful to share some particular thoughts about dealing with this cross in children. It seems that there are few resources that speak directly to this topic. This post, like the previous one, will not be comprehensive, but I hope it helps a bit.

I’ll never forget a vignette that an older religious sister, who is very dear to me, shared from her childhood. Whenever she did something naughty, her mother would tell her to go stand in front of the family’s Sacred Heart image and talk to Jesus about it. This led to her not only repenting of the bad she had done, but developing a great love for the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In other words, it led her to a more intimate relationship with the Lord — and surely her religious vocation arose from that encounter.

One of the fundamental problems that a person with scrupulosity has is an erroneous image of the Lord. I chose the above photo of the apse mosaic from the National Shrine — once described by a priest-acquaintance as “not the most felicitous image of Our Lord” — deliberately. Children, especially, have vivid imaginations; alas, it seems that for some of us, at least, our imaginations dull as we get older. This is generally not a problem for children. They readily see imaginary friends, can construct elaborate battle scenes with their toy soldiers, know just when their baby doll needs a diaper change, and so forth.

A child who has an inclination to scrupulosity very likely has formed an image of the Lord that does not coincide with reality — indeed, that is quite harsh. How this image formed is sometimes anyone’s guess; it could be due to the his or her other character flaws, such as a propensity toward negativity, fatalistic thinking, or because of a general sensitivity and/or fastidiousness. Perhaps there was some trauma in their early years that contributed to the distorted image. We can speculate all day, and in any case, this consideration may be better left to psychologists.

The point that I would like to make, however, is that that religious sister’s mother may have been on to something in the method of discipline she chose, which helped the future sister to form a positive and warm image of Jesus in her mind and heart — indeed, an image that corresponded to the love and tenderness that He has for her and that did not over-exaggerate his judgment or wrath.

Therefore, because of the power of imagination that a child possesses and the distortions that may have entered in for a scrupulous child in connection with how he or she sees the Lord, I would propose that in addition to the general guidance I offered in my previous post, parents might also select a suitable image of Jesus and encourage the child to pray with it. The question remains: What is a suitable image? With trepidation, I will make some suggestions.


Here I would like to go where angels fear to tread: I would like to offer my opinions on the artistic merits of various images. There is no accounting for taste — we all know that. Beyond subjective taste, there are considerations of objective beauty, however. And there is also that thing called “reality” that we also have to face: images that over-emphasize one aspect to the expense of others are simply not suitable for developing a correct perception of the Lord.

The above example of a very American-looking “smiling Jesus” (Europeans and Latin Americans wouldn’t show their teeth…) is what I would consider to be a very unsuitable image for helping a child to develop a proper intimacy with him. (My own vivid imagination is now stoking fear that I might know people who have this image and who are now upset with me. Sigh. Anyway, let’s continue…) I will explain more fully in a moment. But first, another unsuitable image:

More people upset with me.

Images like the above do try to express important truths: in the former, that Jesus is happy and approachable; in the latter, that he cares about all that we do and will even help us with it. But images like these also lack any substantial reference to the reason that Christ came into this world: to suffer and die for our sins. Yes, there is a cross imposed upon the second image — but it’s not at all obvious why. Did Christ die for baseball? And what is with the pixie dust?

What I am trying to propose is that a more classic and serious image of the Lord is what is needed to help guide a child — or anyone, really — aright. It must be clear: classic and serious do not exclude the concepts of love and tenderness. But Christ will be our judge and he did die for our sins. After the resurrection, he still had his wounds. He offers us his mercy now but if we do not avail ourselves of it we will face his justice. In a word: a good image of Jesus for us to meditate on will try to capture that “both/and” dynamic of our faith: mercy and justice; love and vengeance; etc. In this connection I would like to propose two possible images.

A little child shall lead them.

The first is a decent-quality image of the Holy Infant of Prague (whether a statue or some sort of framed graphic depiction). Admittedly, this image is not a universal favorite; some people find it simply odd or precious. But there is no question that it is a big part of traditional Catholic devotion and is a miraculous image. Attached to it is a promise from our Lord: “The more you honor me, the more I will bless you.”

But why this image? The Holy Infant displays a serenity and confidence, but in the form of a small child. Children can relate to this child who came to save them. He has the regalia of a king who will also be judge. But he has the peace and strength of one who can forgive and show love. He holds the globe in his hands — “He’s got the whole world in his hands”. His arm is raised in blessing.

Children who gaze upon the Holy Infant could easily imagine what it must have been like for Jesus to be their age and therefore to have to confront the fears and difficulties they have. And then, seeing his placid strength might also help them to lay down their own struggles at his feet; after all, even as a child he held the whole world in his hands.

As a largely non-practicing Catholic when I was a child, I do not recall ever having seen this image. It is one that I encountered later in life, and only recently came to appreciate more fully. Maybe I am off-base in my assessment, but I really do think it could help a child who struggles with scrupulous tendencies.

Another image:

The Apostleship of Prayer Sacred Heart

There are many fine-quality Sacred Heart images to choose from. The above one may be a touch saccharine, but I think it could still be of benefit, as it once was for me. First of all, our Lord is beckoning the viewer to himself — indeed, to his heart. But that heart is surrounded by thorns and crowned with a cross: in other words, our Lord is not offering cheap grace but grace born of love and suffering — love and suffering for you and for me.

Second, the expression on his face is tender but strong. Again, though I could possibly make the point more clearly or concisely if I had more time to write and edit, what I am trying to say is that images like “smiling Jesus” or “baseball Jesus” implicitly exclude the concepts of judgment and justice that are inherent to our Lord. In the above Sacred Heart, Christ is tender and inviting, but the invitation does have strings attached: the viewer is offered the grace of making his or her heart like unto Christ’s.

* * *

In conclusion: the solution for a child who suffers from scrupulosity should not involve going to the extreme of denying truths about who Jesus is. Yes, he is a just judge. Yes, his warnings about hellfire are true and will come to pass for those who fail to heed his message. But see how much he loves us! See how he suffered for you and for me! See how he wants to help! See how strong he is, able to deal with anything, for he has the whole world in his hands!

“For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.” – 1 John 3:20

What using a good quality holy image will do is help guide and correct a child’s distorted imagination about the Lord, and then help him or her to connect intimately and personally with Him. There, in that meeting, they will find the grace of healing for their scrupulosity and learn that following Jesus is not a scary proposition akin to being a sinner in the hands of an angry God, but a great adventure of love in the company of the One who made that adventure possible.

In the event that anyone has persevered in reading to this point, you might disagree with my artistic evaluation, but hopefully the substance of what I said obtains: children can appreciate good quality and they can also handle things that are serious. Seek out images of Christ that more fully capture who he is — that project both love and strength.

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Mary’s Praises Sung through the Seasons

Each day, a priest ideally both celebrates Holy Mass (not an obligation) and also the canonical hours of the Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office (an obligation). Thus, typically, the last liturgical thing he does each day is pray Compline (Night Prayer). And Compline concludes with a hymn of praise to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

These hymns are known as Marian Antiphons and there are several, each of which corresponds to a different time of the year. The traditional arrangement is as follows:

(The links go to YouTubes for each.)

Here are translations of each of the traditional seasonal Marian Antiphons:

Alma Redemptoris Mater
O loving Mother of the Redeemer,
gate of heaven, star of the sea,

hasten to aid thy fallen people,
who strive to rise once more.

Thou who brought forth thy holy Creator,
all creation marveling, 

yet remainest ever-Virgin,
taking from Gabriel’s lips that wondrous “Hail!”:
be merciful to us sinners.

Ave Regina Cælorum
Hail! O Queen of Heaven.
Hail! O Lady of the Angels.
Hail! thou the root, Hail! thou the gate
From whom unto the world, a light hath arisen:
Rejoice, O glorious Virgin,
Lovely beyond all others!
Fare thee well, most beautiful maiden,
And pray for us to Christ.

Regina Cæli
Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia.
For he whom thou didst merit to bear, alleluia,
Hath risen, as he said, alleluia.
Pray for us to God, alleluia.
Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, alleluia.
For the Lord is truly risen, alleluia.

Salve Regina
Hail, holy Queen, Mother of mercy,
our life, our sweetness and our hope.
To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve.
To thee do we send up our sighs,
mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.
Turn, then, most gracious advocate,
thine eyes of mercy toward us,
and after this, our exile,
show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.
Pray for us, O holy Mother of God,
that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

* * *

How beautifully the Church acclaims our Blessed Mother each day of the year!

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Always the Regina Cæli

A priest-acquaintance of mine once told me that he re-reads the General Instruction of the Roman Missal on a yearly basis. After all, our chief duty as priests is to celebrate the Sacred Liturgy and our memory can be feeble; we need to stay fresh on what is required of us by the Church. Especially since, in the Oath of Fidelity that we took before ordination (and that we repeat before assuming various ecclesiastical offices throughout our priestly ministry), we swore things like:

With great care and fidelity I shall carry out the duties incumbent on me toward the Church…

I shall follow and foster the common discipline of the entire Church and I shall maintain the observance of all ecclesiastical laws…

A corollary of reviewing the liturgical law connected with the celebration of Holy Mass is that of reviewing the law for the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours — the other great liturgical office of priests, which all are bound to discharge faithfully on a daily basis (as well as most deacons, at least to some degree, and many religious). The laws that govern it are found primarily in the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours.

During a recent consultation of this text, I made a rather surprising discovery — something that I had entirely forgotten (if I had ever internalized it to begin with — yikes!). At number 92 it says, concerning the Marian antiphon to be recited or sung at the conclusion of Night Prayer (Compline):

Finally, one of the antiphons in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary is said. In the Easter season, this is always to be the Regina cæli. In addition to the antiphons given in The Liturgy of the Hours, others may be approved by the conferences of bishops.

I knew about the traditional distribution of Marian antiphons throughout the year (see this post for more information) — and thus that, traditionally, during Easter, the Regina cæli is sung or recited; but when one looks at the Lent/Easter volume of the Liturgy of the Hours in English, the Regina cæli is listed first among several other options, in a way that suggests any of those options is legitimate to use. Moreover, it says nothing in the Ordinary section with the rubrics (before the four-week psalter) about how during Easter, only the Regina cæli is to be done.

(The Latin Easter volume [of my six-volume Latin set from MTF] has only the Regina cæli in it!)

In other words, if one relied solely on the volumes of the Liturgy of the Hours in English to know what must be done, one would be led astray on this (admittedly, rather minor) point… It is necessary to know what is in the General Instruction also!

The things one learns and re-learns while studying…!

The beautiful Regina cæli:

Queen of heaven, rejoice, alleluia. For he whom thou didst merit to bear, alleluia, hath risen as he said, alleluia. Pray for us to God, alleluia. [Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, alleluia, for the Lord is truly risen, alleluia.]

* * *

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Unique Inscriptions

“Clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet” – probably also indicating the year 1723, if I’m not mistaken

When in Europe — especially, in my experience, in Eastern Europe — it isn’t uncommon to see this or that glorious monument with an inscription on it that has this interesting combination of differently-sized capital letters. The above photo is of the base of a monument to the Blessed Mother in Bratislava, Slovakia; I have seen these types of inscriptions in Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and other places. Sometimes it’s just a question of capital letters of differing sizes; sometimes, like in the above example, there are different colors to set off certain letters.

Fr. Hunwicke has a great post about this very thing today. This type of inscription is called a chronogram. While it is pretty cool-looking and, in my opinion, even if it didn’t mean anything in particular, would be a neat way to do inscriptions — yet, it turns out that it does, in fact, mean something. The larger letters are Roman numerals and, when added up, often represent the year the monument was placed or some other significant date. Read Fr. Hunwicke’s post for more complete information on this type of inscription.

Of course, then the challenge is knowing what the Latin says… but even if you can’t read Latin, you can figure out the date/year and perhaps, with the help of the internet, learn more about it that way!

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Other Things Priests Say

One of the most popular posts on this blog is entitled, The Sort of Things Priests Say, and has to do with some of the “shop talk” that a priest may encounter in conjunction with celebrating Mass. Back when there was only one Eucharistic Prayer (namely, what we now call the first one – the Roman Canon), and a priest would form an intention concerning those souls he wanted to remember during the memorial of the living (before the consecration) and the memorial of the deceased (after the consecration), it might happen that another priest in the church would say “Memento” to him as he passed by — asking that the priest going to celebrate Mass remember him at the memorial of the living.

(This sort of thing still happens in places like Rome, and the popularity of the post — now five years old, how time has gone by! — suggests that a lot of priests and lay people are interested in knowing about and understanding these old traditions.)

Well, a search term that regularly lands people on my blog — but for which, until now, I did not have a post — has to do with what a priest says at the end of Mass. This would typically happen either back in the sacristy, if the procession ended there, or perhaps outside, if the priest went out to greet people after.

Upon arriving to whatever stopping point, the priest turns toward the crucifix, bows, and says Prosit (“May it be of benefit [to you]”). At which point, the servers and other assisting ministers respond, Omnibus et síngulis (“For all and for each one” — or, more simply, “For everyone” or “To one and all”). Another response one hears is Tibi quoque (“And also to you”). After whatever response, it’s not uncommon for the priest or bishop to give a blessing to all the ministers.

We observed this tradition in seminary; I have encountered it in many places since; and I found it upon arriving to my present assignment also. The blessing that I give after the above back-and-forth is Benedíctio Dei omnipoténtis, Patris, et + Fílii, et Spíritus Sancti descéndat super vos et máneat semper. Amen. — May the blessing of Almighty God, the Father, and + the Son, and the Holy Spirit descend upon you and remain with you for ever. Amen.

Of course, if that’s how the procession at the conclusion of Mass ends, the question arises: Is there something in particular that is said before Mass begins? Of course, there is.

Before departing the sacristy for the opening procession of the Mass, the priest should say, Procedámus in pace (“Let us go forth in peace”). To which the servers should respond, In nómine Christi. Amen. (“In the name of Christ. Amen.”).

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