Sanctifying Holy Days of Obligation

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

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

2185. On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are to refrain from engaging in work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s Day, the performance of the works of mercy, and the appropriate relaxation of mind and body. Family needs or important social service can legitimately excuse from the obligation of Sunday rest. The faithful should see to it that legitimate excuses do not lead to habits prejudicial to religion, family life, and health.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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[Through Christ our Lord. Amen.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thank You – Breviaries

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

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

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


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I Often Don’t Like the Longer Form

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Unworthy Holy Communions: The Kiss of Judas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An Idea for Diocesan “Traditional” Vocations

It has now been 12 years since Pope Benedict XVI issued his document Summorum Pontificum, which clarified that any priest may celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass according to the liturgical books of 1962. The result of this legislation has been a great increase in the number of such Masses celebrated around the world. More than that, there has been the establishment of parishes dedicated solely to the traditional rites. Here in my diocese, we have a parish and a monastery where only the traditional rites are celebrated; another parish has both forms of the liturgy on a weekly basis, besides. Of course, there were already places where the Traditional Latin Mass was celebrated (under indult) before Summorum Pontificum, also.

An interesting result of this historical development is that we now have the phenomenon of young men who grew up primarily attending the Traditional Latin Mass and now sensing a call to the diocesan priesthood. What are they to do?

None of the young men in this circumstance whom I have had the occasion to get to know reject the Novus Ordo (i.e., the Ordinary Form of the Mass) celebrated in the vernacular per se — they recognize that it is a legitimate variation in the life of the Church. It is just not the variation that they prefer. Indeed, it is rather alien to them, since it has not been part of their weekly religious experience for most of their years on this earth.

Are we to reject and effectively export such vocations, channeling them toward the traditionalist religious orders, such as the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter or the Institute of Christ the King, as their only option to answer God’s call? But some of these men feel called to be diocesan priests, serving the Church in the area they grew up in. Is it truly right and just simply to turn them away?

Granted, while the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass has spread greatly in a rather short time, it is not the mainstream in most places. Most dioceses still only have a “need” for a few priests who can regularly celebrate the sacraments in the Extraordinary Form. Yet in these same communities there are often families with numerous children, that might even produce multiple vocations. In other words: there are likely to be a large number of vocations from Latin Mass communities. We need a solution that responds in a just manner to our dilemma.

I have been pondering this dilemma for a few years now and have batted around various ideas that are essentially variations on a theme. Basically, we err if we see diocesan priestly vocations only or primarily in terms of parish work. There are many ways that a priest may serve. I will return to this in a moment. Moreover, Pope Benedict XVI made it clear that there are two forms of the Roman Rite: ordinary and extraordinary; if we expect some men primarily to celebrate in one form, there is no reason we might not expect some men primarily to celebrate in the other.

My idea concerns a process whereby, eventually, a diocesan oratory or a collegiate chapter of canons/collegial church might be established as the place where such men may reside, as the home base from which they may do their priestly work — rather than taking on “regular” parish assignments.

Many dioceses have at least one nice old church with a good-sized rectory that is no longer particularly needed — usually due to demographic shifts. The closure and liquidation of such churches is often a matter of local strife and national news (at least in Church circles). But a bishop might be able to “re-purpose” such a church in order to handle the “problem” of traditional vocations. It seems easiest to lay this out in steps:

  1. Begin accepting such men as seminarians and send them to a seminary that responds to their general sensibilities: the liturgy there is primarily celebrated in the Extraordinary Form and the doctrine is traditional in nature, as outlined by the Code of Canon Law and immemorial practice (thus, focusing heavily on St. Thomas Aquinas, the study of Latin, the study of Aristotelian philosophy, etc.).
  2. As these men reach ordination, begin assigning them to this church which is set aside. There they will form a community which can be juridically defined at the appropriate time (when it reaches a critical mass).
  3. These priests can be the ones that are sent for further studies (in topics like canon law); they can work in the tribunal; they can be hospital chaplains (someone who is in danger of death is grateful to receive the sacraments in whatever form and language they are offered!). They can supplement confession schedules in local parishes. They can visit the Catholic schools and hear confessions there. For that matter, they can teach in the schools. They can be sent on loan to teach in seminaries. They can give spiritual direction to lay people and be confessors and even spiritual directors for the other priests of the area. They can provide coverage for Latin Masses wherever they are offered, so that the priests who ordinarily offer them may take their vacation.
  4. A particular charism of such a nascent community might be that of offering their daily (Latin) Masses for a diocesan purgatorial society (i.e., for the faithful departed who are enrolled in that society by the faithful of the diocese, who would also make financial contributions to fund a foundation, the interest of which would pay the Mass stipends). They could offer Masses in reparation for offenses against the Holy Eucharist. They could offer Masses in reparation for clergy scandals. There is much reparation needed in the Church today, and these priests could have that be a focus of their spirituality.
  5. Once the number of priests in this group reaches a certain size, the bishop could further define it with a set of statutes, forming it into either a diocesan oratory or even a collegiate chapter (foreseen in canon law and fully within the power of the local bishop to establish — see canons 503ff). In the latter case, the canonical acrobatics could be done to re-designate the church as a capitular church, with the priests resident there becoming canons with liturgical and other responsibilities as defined in their statutes.
  6. The remuneration of these priests can happen in numerous ways, from the positions they hold in the diocese (chancery or whatever), to the establishment of an endowment fund that would support them, and so forth. I have a lot of ideas in this area but this is the sort of thing that would have to be worked out locally in each place according to the possibilities that exist there. In any case, I am confident that the financial part could be worked out with reasonable ease. Where there is a will, there is a way.
  7. Priests in this oratory or collegiate chapter could “transfer out” and take regular parish assignments if they wished (thus probably transitioning to mostly celebrating in the ordinary form); likewise, existing diocesan priests could “transfer in”. Processes and guidelines could be established to foresee these possibilities.
  8. Of course, this group of priests would also be fully trained in the celebration of the sacraments in the Ordinary Form and could be available from time to time (possibly defined in the statutes) to assist on a limited basis where needed in that specific regard.

The result would possibly and hopefully be a spiritual powerhouse and great resource to meet many diocesan needs.

  • How many dioceses do not need more priest confessors?
  • How many dioceses do not need more priests who can handle chancery roles?
  • How many dioceses do not need more priests who can visit hospitals?
  • How many dioceses do not need more priests who simply offer Mass quietly and, as it were, in a hidden way, in reparation for the great evils that have taken place in our Church?
  • How many diocese do not need more priests who are trained to serve as spiritual directors?
  • And so forth… we need to think a bit outside the typical box.

The traditional vocations that are appearing from our Latin Mass communities are a great gift and we risk missing the ways that they can help us respond to our real and actual ecclesial needs. The foregoing is a quick run-down of what I would envision; surely there are other ways that we could respond besides. This reality calls for creativity and a will to accommodate all the “laborers for the harvest” whom the Lord sends us in answer to our fervent pleading to the Master for vocations!

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A Time of Judgment

Sometime last Fall, as I was ascending the altar for one of our Sunday Masses, carrying with me the news of the latest scandals in the Church, a word — I believe from the Lord — came to me: “This is a time of judgment”. Usually, when I go to celebrate Mass, I am reasonably recollected, but my heart had been particularly heavy with the news that day. Something about this emerging round of scandals just seemed so different and so much more ponderous than in the past. Fortunately, these things do not shake my faith. But I was carrying a burden. The word that I received set me at peace; it just made sense.

Since then, I have periodically come back to that word. We wake up each day wondering what new abuse of power or sexual scandal might await us in the news. Or, more recently, what gross financial misdeeds might be coming to light, to the shame of the malefactor and to the Church and her Lord, whom he was supposed to represent.

This is a time of judgment. Our Lord is shaking things down.

I am convinced that this ongoing shake-down, painful as it is, is aided in a particular way by the prayers and penances of so many who by now are simply fed-up. A theme that I have continually returned to over this past year is how the reform of the Church in every age always has to do with the saints. The saints are the ones who bring about true renewal; or rather, the Lord brings about that renewal through their cooperation with his grace.

St. Ignatius of Loyola, whom we celebrated yesterday, started out like all saints: he was a sinner — a rather formidable one, at that. The particular circumstance of his convalescence is what got him where the Lord finally penetrated the hardness of his heart. As he lay on his sick bed and contemplated the lives of Christ and the saints about whom he read — there were no other books available in the place — Ignatius’ heart started to open. At one point he thought to himself, What if I should do what Saint Francis or Saint Dominic did? Indeed — what if he should open his heart to Christ and allow him to transform him by his grace? So his new life began, and the sinner became a great saint.

Roughly a year on from the breaking of the latest round of scandals, I would like to renew my call to everyone to take up the arms of personal holiness and so contribute to the solution. I wrote this post, Purify Your Church, O Lord, posted on my parish web site since then, and I think it is as relevant then as now. This is a time of judgment. The Lord is purifying his Church. He invites us all to open our hearts to him. What if we should do what the saints did? What if we should become saints? The Church would be much better off for it — and we should go down in history as the ones who, as humble instruments of our Savior, overcame evil with good (Romans 12:21) and started a new chapter of holiness and glory in the annals of salvation history.

St. Ignatius of Loyola, pray for us!

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The White Cassock

A “current trend” in clergy fashion is to wear a white cassock during summertime. Some wonder if this is permitted. The answer is probably something like, “technically, no, but it doesn’t really matter”…

Technically, no — because, back in the day when there was a concern for getting permissions and following rules, permission to use white cassocks was given to tropical zones (like South America), not to places like North America. I remember seeing some priests in Argentina with white cassocks. Instead of having black trim (piping) on them, the cassock itself was a sort of off-white-approaching-beige color, perhaps to distinguish it more fully from the pope’s cassock, which is ivory-colored.

But it doesn’t really matter — these permissions, or the concern about them, have little practical import anymore. If a bishop were to write a letter to the Holy See asking for permission to let his priests wear white cassocks instead of black, I’m sure they’d have to let the letter sit for a while in whatever office till they could regain composure and draft a reply with a straight face. And perhaps, in an elegant/understatedly snarky Italianate style, they might even congratulate the bishop that his priests wore cassocks!

Here’s the thing: I live in Alabama. When it’s 95 degrees and humid (as it was this afternoon, as I write this), it’s… miserable. No matter what I wear. I have my doubts as to whether the comfort gained from wearing white instead of black in such conditions is all that noticeable. Maybe it helps.

In any case, as I mentioned, more and more priests are “embracing” this “look”. I think what they are embracing, in fact, is the look of looking like priests. When a priest wears a cassock there is no question what he’s about. I’ll never forget when I was in Rome and wore the cassock: people always stopped to take photos. It was awkward. I think it ticked a box for tourists. Here there were all kinds of priests walking around town in clerical collars — but rather few in cassocks, the traditional garment for a Roman Catholic priest. That’s how priests have often been depicted in movies, after all!

Some people protest that in the United States, the cassock has never really been traditional outside of liturgical offices. That is true. The Council of Baltimore, in fact, legislated that in public a priest was to wear a clergy suit. In any case, those rules no longer bind and current universal law makes it clear that a cassock remains normative. In a society that is increasingly drifting away from God, the witness of the cassock seems to be useful. The priests I know who wear their cassocks regularly wear it for that reason: to bear witness more effectively to the priesthood and make themselves available to others.

This is one of those topics that most people will have already decided upon in advance. I’m not trying to convince anyone — much less myself. I already know where I stand. And I know something else: wearing the cassock can also be penitential. It is hot in the summer and it does attract attention — sometimes negative attention. That negative attention can range from very awkward comments (like the woman who said to her young daughter, “look, he has a dress on also!” – ugh) to anti-Catholic type remarks. I have heard recently of one bishop who has started wearing his cassock all the time, precisely to do penance for the clergy sex abuse scandals.

This is a bit of a rambling post and I don’t have a particular point to make other than to acknowledge this trend and to say that it is basically fine. It’s a legitimate variation and, I have to say, not a bad one.

Since posts like this seem to have a “trolling effect” on some, I’ll finish the job and close with this wonderful quotation from G.K. Chesterton:

It is quite certain that the skirt means female dignity, not female submission; it can be proved by the simplest of all tests. No ruler would deliberately dress up in the recognized fetters of a slave; no judge would would appear covered with broad arrows. But when men wish to be safely impressive, as judges, priests or kings, they do wear skirts, the long, trailing robes of female dignity. The whole world is under petticoat government; for even men wear petticoats when they wish to govern.

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A Magazine for Men

Our Fraternus chapter’s dignified altar, set up for our recent Eucharistic Procession through the streets of Birmingham.

I am blessed in my parish to have a group of men and boys that meets weekly during the school year — well over 100 of them — and a couple of times each summer. That group is Fraternus, and there are more and more chapters being founded around the country. If there is not a Fraternus chapter near you, I strongly recommend it and encourage you to consider if you might be called to help start one (it doesn’t all have to be on you — no man is an island — round up some other good Catholic guys and make it a group effort).

One of the many good initiatives that Fraternus promotes, in an effort to help us be virtuous men who live in reality and are prepared to rise to reality’s demands, is to encourage us to detach from modern technology and media. I am of course typing this on one such device and into such a medium; you are likewise obviously using such to read it. But these things threaten to take over our lives. They end up highly influencing the way we think. Amy Welborn published a very fine article today about the histrionic type of media reporting that marks our ecclesial scene today and threatens to distort our view of the Church. We need to be able to detach and to perceive reality more clearly.

One way that several men who are involved with Fraternus has sought to do so is by publishing a quarterly magazine — only in print, though I will provide a teaser below. It is called Sword & Spade. We need to rediscover the printed word and be able to work our way through longer articles on weightier topics (rather than the latest hysteria), thoughtfully considering what they propose and allowing them to influence us as may be appropriate. Thus, there is no digital version of this new publication. Moreover, only a donation (albeit recurring) is asked in order to subscribe to it — you choose the amount. It goes to a very fine cause. I encourage all men to subscribe. I encourage those who have any skill in writing to submit articles. Ladies, see if this would be a good use of your charitable giving funds and a good gift for your guys. Here is a teaser — from an article I wrote for it:

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Living a Liturgical Life as a Family – Where to Start
Very Rev. Bryan W. Jerabek, J.C.L.
Pastor & Rector, Cathedral of Saint Paul, Birmingham, Alabama

“We don’t do this anymore!”, the priest said from the pulpit, while tearing a rosary apart in front of everyone.

That scene – a true story – was recounted to me by another priest, reminiscing about the sorts of things that happened here and there around the time of the liturgical changes of the late 1960s and early 1970s. He had witnessed the dramatic denunciation with his own eyes… as well as the stunned wonderment of the congregation.

The denouncing priest was reacting against the prayer of the rosary during Holy Mass – a practice that had been quite common till that time. It was one of the most cherished ways that the lay faithful united themselves spiritually to the mystery of Christ’s sacrifice, made present on the altar. In any case, that priest’s attitude was also emblematic of the general rejection of traditional devotions that corresponded to the same period of history.

Whereas it had been common for there to be rosary groups, nightly novenas, prayer of lauds or vespers (morning or evening prayer), adoration and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, processions, the lighting of votive candles, and other devotions in most parishes, now so much of that would virtually disappear. Thankfully, in recent years, many of these things are making a comeback in our churches.

Devotional life all but disappeared within many Catholic families, also. Many had the habit of attending the aforementioned parish devotions and liturgies, but not only – they also lived some form of “liturgical life” in the home. There was the family rosary and other shared prayer. There was weekly confession (with the father taking everyone there). There were seasonal devotions. They invited the priest over for dinner. They hoped and prayed that one of their own might be called to be a priest or nun. They helped the poor. They supported the missions.

But, “We don’t do this anymore!” I daresay, most of us grew up without some or all of these things. And we are not better off for it. In this article, I intend to offer three concrete suggestions on how we might begin to recover for ourselves and our families a truly liturgical life: a way of living that not only imbues our homes and our hearts with authentic spirituality, but also unites us to the rhythms of the Church’s year – indeed, to the rhythms of the heart of Christ.

“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” — Joshua 24:15

When a new church is constructed, a bishop ordinarily must consecrate it before Holy Mass may be celebrated there. Doing so transforms it from a mere man-made structure of four walls (however impressive in itself) to a true house of God, a sacred place exclusively committed to the divine service. In fact, if – God forbid – something gravely contrary to that purpose were ever to take place in a consecrated church, a bishop would have to re-consecrate it before worship could resume there.

The Church teaches us that the family home is called to be a domestic church – a place where the Lord is known, loved, and served – indeed, where he is worshipped. Sure, many other things happen in our homes besides; they are not exclusively committed to sacred activities, as a proper church is. Consecration by a bishop is not what is needed. But our homes may be blessed. The Church has a blessing expressly for that purpose.

Have you ever had your priest over to bless your home? A priest’s blessing is a sacramental of the Church: it is a pledge of divine favors and graces. Traditionally, a pastor would pass through all the homes of his parish during the Easter season, blessing them, ensuring that all children had been baptized, and having an opportunity to get to know his parishioners better. Alas, “we don’t do this anymore”, either – in most places, at least. But you may still invite your priest over and request this blessing from him. Most priests are edified to receive such invitations and welcome the opportunity.

Besides setting apart your home as a place specially dedicated to the good God, a blessing will help purify it from any evil influences that may have also made their home there. Such evil may enter in various ways, but the greatest of these today is through the use of pornography. There is no question that porn comes straight from hell. Using it is asking the devil to entertain you; more than that, it is inviting him into your home. If you or any other family member has ever used pornography, your home is a prime candidate for a blessing. There is also the possibility – if you are not the first occupant of the house or apartment you live in – that some previous resident may have opened a door to evil as well in some way or another. […]

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The article continues for about another 1,700 words. Subscribe to Sword & Spade to read more content like this and on other topics connected with authentic Catholic manhood. CLICK HERE.

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Nuns Need Help

Me with the nuns for my September 2012 retreat.

About this time each year I receive a letter from the good cloistered Dominican nuns in Marbury, AL — a tiny town with a small monastery of faithful sisters who pray in a hidden and quiet way for us and for the whole world; this annual letter gives an update on what they are working on and how we can help.

Last year they had a leaky roof. I recall another recent year in which they had a lot of “equipment failures” — having to replace old appliances. These nuns live in a very modest monastery and they devote themselves entirely to prayer. They do not have a gift shop, a vestment-making business, nor do they export fruitcakes or spiked eggnog. (Though I’d support all of those if they did, haha!)

This year the nuns are repairing and resurfacing sidewalks on their property. They could use our help!

This year is their Platinum Jubilee as a foundation — 75 years ago their monastery was established here in Alabama. Their newsletter writes, “On August 17, 1944, our Mother Foundresses and a novice departed from Catonsville, Maryland. It was a hot afternoon when they arrived in Montgomery, Alabama…” — the newsletter goes on to speak about the dream of Mother Mary of Jesus concerning a race riot and a monastery on a hill where people of all races knelt in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. St. Jude Monastery in Marbury, Alabama was the first integrated monastery in the Deep South — well before the Civil Rights movement reached its peak and integration of other institutions took place.

The chapel of St. Jude Monastery, Marbury, Ala.

This small but faithful group of nuns has a beautiful charism of prayer. They chant the Divine Office daily, adore our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament, pray the Rosary, and assist at Daily Mass offered by their chaplain and various other priests. They pray daily for the sanctification of priests. I encourage all who may have the opportunity to pass through the tiny town of Marbury — not far off I-65, north of Montgomery, Alabama — to pay a visit to the Sisters. Do your best to contact them in advance so that you can be sure of being able to participate in one of their times of prayer or, if possible, visit with them in the parlor.

It would be wonderful for parish groups (youth groups, sodalities, etc.) to arrange special service trips to help the sisters with their needs. There are already groups who bring them food donations; I organized a group once to go down and rake leaves on their property; I’m sure there are always ways to help and they would be grateful for it.

CAN WE HELP THE NUNS WITH THEIR FINANCIAL NEEDS THIS YEARI note that on their PayPal giving option, it’s possible to set up a monthly donation. I have set up a modest monthly gift. Perhaps some others will set up monthly gifts, so that the nuns have a more steady income to meet their ongoing expenses. Others may prefer to send a gift by check or use their bank’s bill payment service. Their monastery buildings & grounds are of the age when things need to be replaced or updated. Let’s also help them by praying for their community and for vocations. CLICK HERE TO HELP THEM.

Thank you for your support of the Dominican Nuns of St. Jude!

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High Altars and Side Altars: A Matter of Justice

A high altar, four side altars, and a newer detached or “people’s altar” — five possible places to celebrate Mass in this church!

During and following the Second Vatican Council there was an almost-frenetic push to remove or drastically alter the high altars and, as the case may be, side altars in many churches. No authoritative Church document ever called for their removal or other alterations — this was an ideological movement, similar to what was behind the removal of altar rails and even, in some places, of kneelers from pews.

Some of those altars had even been given by the faithful in payment of vows (i.e., as an “ex voto” — a thank you to God or a saint for answered prayer). I have seen some with inscriptions concerning Masses to be offered on an annual basis for certain deceased people. And so forth. In other words, rarely were they ever merely a “piece of furniture” that could easily be disposed with!

(For an example of how side altars in some places were altered so as to render them unusable, see this previous post I did on one of the “lesser-known” churches of Rome — scroll down for a photo of a side altar reduced to a shelf that look similar to the functioning altar that used to be there.)

There is a terrible injustice that has been done with all of this. The faithful of previous generations donated very generously and lavishly — often at great sacrifice — to provide fitting and dignified altars for their churches. For those altars to have then been removed or otherwise rendered unusable was a great violence.

Many older parishioners in various places have commented to me about the upset they experienced over this “back in the day”, when it happened. The fact that they have persevered in the faith is admirable. I know of others who did not. One person once told me that he left the Church “when they made it Protestant”. While I do not share the view that it was “made Protestant”, the sentiment is certainly understandable, given what such people witnessed when these drastic, non-mandated changes took place.

A simple way to remedy this injustice is for priests to hold occasional Masses on these historic altars, where they are still usable. If a church has side altars still, there is no reason that a priest cannot occasionally celebrate a Mass there — to honor those who donated it. Side altars are especially fitting for daily Masses, usually attended by smaller crowds. If there is a side altar dedicated to Our Lady, it could be where the Saturday morning Mass is celebrated, if the parish has such a Mass on its schedule.

Of course, this would almost always mean celebrating Mass ad orientem — I’ve written about that on several occasions. Type “ad orientem” in the blog search box to see all those articles. In any case, this has been in the news again recently, because Bishop Wall of Gallup, NM is the latest bishop to promote this in our country. With sufficient catechesis many people happily embrace this traditional posture of celebration, wherein priest and people face the Lord together in a common direction of prayer.

Simple gestures like holding a Mass to honor those who donated an altar not only fulfill the demands of justice but are an important expression of gratitude — a virtue which is quickly going by the wayside in our time. It also teaches about the necessity of praying for the dead. So many of our churches have names inscribed on the stained glass windows and on other items that were donated — and I have met good people who tell me that when they see those names, they pray for those people. What about our impressive altars? A Mass is just what is needed to honor those who gave. Where the altars are usable, let them at least occasionally be used!

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Supplying the Exorcism Prayers of Baptism

I have written here a few times about baptism in the Extraordinary Form, including making note of the powerful exorcism prayers included in it. I believe I have also shared the sentiment that I, like so many others, wish I could go back and be “re-baptized” using this form, since I was baptized in the Ordinary Form — without those powerful prayers.

Meanwhile, I have been told by various people that Dr. Taylor Marshall recently encouraged folks to approach their priests and ask that these exorcism prayers be “supplied” for them. “Supplying the rites” is something that is ordinarily done when someone was baptized in an emergency situation — i.e., the full ceremonies were not performed in their regard, only the essential minimum. Once the person reaches a more opportune condition, he or she can be brought to the church and all the other prayers that normally would have been said during a baptism are then said — without baptizing them again in the process. In other words, everything that was omitted is then completed.

Let us consider for a moment, however, the purpose of these various prayers of exorcism that are said — ordinarily — before someone is baptized (in either form, but especially in the Extraordinary Form, in which the prayers are more powerful and more numerous). These prayers are sacramentals of the Church. The exorcism and blessing they bring help to dispose the person who receives them to receive the grace of baptism more fruitfully. That is what sacramentals do: they do not give us sanctifying grace, but they help us to be more disposed to receive it in the sacraments. Sacramentals prepare and strengthen us to get more out of the sacraments.

Why, then, would the exorcisms be done for someone who had been baptized in an emergency? I would argue that it was more for the sake and consolation of the family: here their child had been baptized in non-ideal conditions, in haste; but now things are better, so we supply the Church’s full rites. Some might reject this as a superficial way of thinking, but it’s clear that in all of the Church’s ceremonies there are elements that speak to our psychological dimension, that are for our consolation. Also, we could argue that the Church herself had supplied for what was missing at the moment of the emergency, it not being prudent to include those prayers then; therefore, what was there only virtually then, we now do in fact.

(It’s interesting to note that in 1964, the rules for supplying rites were changed, to exclude doing the exorcism prayers. Incidentally, the 1964 rules largely do not apply now, as the instruction Universae Ecclesiae on the implementation of Summorum Pontificum reset most things back to how they were in 1962.)

For those of us who were baptized without the benefit of these exorcism prayers to prepare us for the sacramental grace, we need to realize that every good confession we’ve made post-baptism has renewed that grace in usThe sacraments are more powerful than the sacramentals, though the sacramentals certainly are powerful helps. If you’ve gone to confession, if you’re worn a blessed medal (especially a St. Benedict medal), if you’ve done something like a Marian consecration in the spirituality of St. Louis de Montfort (which is ordered to the renewal of one’s baptism), if you’ve made fervent holy communions, etc. — all these and other spiritual practices have powerfully disposed you to benefit from the grace of your baptism.

An analog here is what we do with someone who is experiencing spiritual affliction (possibly from demonic activity): we do not immediately go to the exorcism prayers. Rather, we find out: Are they praying? Are they going to Mass at least on Sundays and Holy Days? Are they striving to live a moral life? Are they going to confession? Etc. Exorcism prayers are usually the last resort, because we recognize that living a proper Christian life is itself very powerful, particularly the dimension of the sacraments included in that. In the sacraments, such as confession and Holy Communion, Christ himself reaches into our lives. Sometimes the additional exorcism prayers of a priest are necessary. But many people who experience affliction, upon improving their spiritual life, notice that the affliction leaves them.

Fr. Zuhlsdorf also wrote on this and counseled much the same thing: we should not go back and try to have the rites supplied. It would have been nice if we had been baptized using the old books. But we were not. However, we were still baptized. And we have not lacked in remedies since then to help us benefit from all that the Church offers us for our spiritual growth and protection.

There is a certain neo-pelagianism inherent in advice like Dr. Marshall’s (full disclosure: I have not watched his video; I am relying on second-hand reports): the suspicion is that one did not receive quite enough to be saved, that the Church has somehow left us just short of what we truly need — so we need to take matters into our own hands and seek out that which is not foreseen by the Church herself. Let’s be clear: the Church does not foresee our supplying rites of baptism in the circumstance described. Again, see what I wrote about exorcisms in general above: going to the exorcism prayers are usually our last resort; we usually have enough help in the sacraments and traditional spiritual practices.

I would also warn about an additional spiritual danger for priests who try what Marshall counsels: the Church is clear about the use of exorcism prayers. There is much confusion about this nowadays, and I need to do another post on it — many are simply ignorant of even recent documents in this regard. But the devil is a legalist. If you (a priest) are not covered by the authority of the Church and your bishop to do this or that exorcism prayer, you provoke the evil one. He is far more powerful than us and if we dare to speak to him “out of place”, we ask for trouble. Since the Church does not explicitly foresee our supplying the rites of baptism, including using those exorcism prayers, in the circumstance Marshall counsels, those priests who do it ask for more trouble — for themselves and for those they try to help. Let’s not mess around with exorcism prayers!

(I don’t want to hear about “minor exorcisms” vs. “major exorcisms”, either. Show me the documents where the Church actually uses those categories! I will show you the documents I have in return. There is much ignorance about all of this. I’ll do a post on it, hopefully soon.)

Yes, the changes made to our rites were drastic. Yes, we are rediscovering now what was lost and many are taking advantage of it. But God has not left us orphans. We do not need to scramble to somehow benefit “retroactively” from sacramentals that were meant to be done chronologically. Let’s focus now on living out our call to holiness and trust that by faithful reception of the sacraments and a devout life of prayer, we will have all that we need and more to be saved and be happy with God forever.

All of that said, I do encourage parents to consider having their children baptized in the Extraordinary Form!

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