The Roman Canon and Children

In seminary we were given some sort of vague familiarity (or at least knowledge of) the so-called “Eucharistic Prayers for Masses with Children” that had been composed as an option for the Novus Ordo at Masses where the majority present were children. I think I had even seen one of them used “in the wild” on one occasion. And I was sure that they were not the right approach.

Therefore, from the time that I was ordained to the present, I have never used them, even when it has been requested of me. Now, the temptation in these circumstance is to go ahead and use the shortest Eucharistic Prayer — the second one, the one that I suppose is most often heard at daily Mass (but in many places, sadly, even on Sundays). The idea behind such a compromise is that children have short attention spans and generally find Mass boring; so get it over with, already!

However, at some point early on I decided to try something different: I used the Roman Canon, the first Eucharistic Prayer — also the oldest one. In fact, the Roman Canon was the only Eucharistic Prayer in the Roman Church for well over a millennium. Although the fourth Eucharistic Prayer of the Novus Ordo — a fairly rare bird that, it seems to me at least, is even less commonly used now under the new translation — is probably just as long if not longer, we can say that among the choices most commonly used today, the Roman Canon is the longest.

So it goes against the compromise/wisdom above that suggests that what the kids need is something quick.

Although I do not always use the Roman Canon in school Masses and the like (in one case, because everyone has to kneel on a gym floor), I have used it fairly often with school groups and other groups of children. And with no problem. Why is that?

My theory is that the particular features of the Roman Canon more readily pique the interest and imagination of children. For one, there are the two lists of saints: one before the consecration and one after. “Who are all these people?” “Why do we mention their names specifically?” “Hey! I know someone named Cecilia!” “I know someone named Jude!” Etc… These are what I imagine to be some of the thoughts that children might have while those names are being read.

There is also the fact of the greater variety of gestures in the Roman Canon. Within its opening paragraphs the celebrant traces the sign of the cross over the gifts on the altar. He pauses and joins his hands in prayer at the commemoration of the living and the commemoration of the deceased — before and after the consecration, respectively. After the consecration, he bows profoundly with hands joined on the edge of the altar, begging God to receive in heaven what has been offered on earth, by the hands of his holy Angel. (What a marvelous mental image for children to work with!)

Finally, the “register” of the Roman Canon — the level of language used — is richer than in the other prayers. This is especially noticeable since the new translation. “He took bread in his holy and venerable hands”…”He took this precious chalice”…”this pure victim, this holy victim, this spotless victim”…. The greater beauty of the text, particularly when pronounced well and with reverence, surely has a splendid effect on the minds and hearts of innocent (or mostly innocent!) children.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal says that the Roman Canon or “First Eucharistic Prayer” may always be used (no. 365). There is also the important directive of no. 42, which helps us to stay rooted in our tradition: “Attention must therefore be paid to what is determined by this General Instruction and by the traditional practice of the Roman Rite and to what serves the common spiritual good of the People of God, rather than private inclination or arbitrary choice.” My contention is that the more frequent use of the Roman Canon (I try to use it at least on Sundays and Holy Days in my parish), especially with groups of children, is a spiritually good and traditional practice that priests should pursue in the Novus Ordo.

You can review the texts of the four main Eucharistic Prayers on this site.

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Blessings for Ordinary Things

The Church has many wonderful blessings to enrich and enhance our daily life. Every priest should have a copy of the 1962 Rituale Romanum, which contains these blessings, many of which were not carried over to the post-conciliar “Book of Blessings”. Or, if they were carried-over, they were often changed so drastically so as not actually to confer a blessing any longer, understood in the traditional way (i.e., a constitutive blessing). If your priest doesn’t have the 1962 Rituale Romanum, you can get a copy for him HERE.

Here is a list of “ordinary everyday items” that can be blessed, using a special prayer from the above-referenced book:

  • A home
  • Candles
  • Horses or other animals
  • A sick animal
  • A wheelchair
  • Medicine
  • Bread
  • Beer/Ale
  • Cheese/butter
  • Lard
  • Oil
  • Eggs
  • Fowl-meat
  • Grapes
  • Seed
  • Bells (which are not used in church)
  • Automobiles or other vehicles (e.g., motorcycles, three-wheelers, etc.)
  • Mountain-climbing equipment
  • A wedding ring (e.g., if you get a new one sometime after marriage)

Then there are the various blessings over people:

  • Over a mother after childbirth
  • Of an expectant mother
  • Of sick children
  • Of sick people in general/adults
  • Of pilgrims (e.g., who perhaps are going on the Camino or going to the March for Life)
  • Of children/of a child
  • Of an infant

These are just a selection of the blessings contained in the volume referenced above. There are many others in another volume, which once were reserved to religious orders but now are permitted to all priests. Many of these have to do with religious articles. The full three-volume set of the Rituale Romanum is found HERE.

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Some Reflections on Preaching

My friend Fr. Lambert Greenan, O.P. (RIP) once told me about how in Ireland, “back in the day” (he lived to be 101…), it was not uncommon for bishops to issue a syllabus each year to the priests of their dioceses on what they were to preach on in the course of the Sundays and major feast days of that year. Preaching was not necessarily as tied down to the readings of the day, and the issuance of a syllabus ensured that the faithful across the diocese were hearing something approaching a consistent message from parish-to-parish and also a more-or-less complete exposition of the faith over the course of each year.

Such an idea may seem very stifling today, until one considers how, within any given topic, there is an Awful Lot that can be said. If the bishop instructed us to preach on the mystery of Christian marriage on some Sunday, for example, sermons could vary quite widely between parishes, even though “marriage” was the common topic under consideration in all. So there was still freedom. At least, it would seem, that system served to ensure that the main points of the faith were communicated from year-to-year. Not a bad goal.

Legislation on preaching has changed since those bygone days. The current instruction for Holy Mass, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), states that “the Homily is part of the Liturgy and is highly recommended, for it is necessary for the nurturing of the Christian life. It should be an explanation of some aspect of the readings from Sacred Scripture or of another text from the Ordinary or the Proper of the Mass of the day and should take into account both the mystery being celebrated and the particular needs of the listeners.” (GIRM, 65). Although there is a case to be made for the bishop’s ordering that the homily be given on some particular topic on a given Sunday, even if it doesn’t relate to the readings, we see from the foregoing that the homily now is ordinarily tied to the readings of the day and/or the prayers of the Mass.

And those tasked with preaching quickly realize that there is not a lot of coherence week-to-week in the themes presented by the Lectionary, which itself is on a three-year cycle of readings (for Sundays). I think of the several weeks in a row last summer, for example, when we had the gospel from John chapter 6 each week – so, several weeks in a row on the Holy Eucharist. Then there are times when the topics jump around greatly. It would be hard to make a coherent syllabus of preaching topics from the Lectionary and prayers of the Mass as currently organized. But our preaching is tied to them.

Recently, I also did a survey of the homilies I’ve given over the past year. My concern each week is to try to preach something that not only connects to at least the gospel, if not more of the readings (or occasionally, to one of the other readings but not the gospel) and also connects to some tenet or doctrine of the faith. Beyond that, I think about “things that I need to preach on” — various moral issues and the like, which I have a duty to preach on as a priest — and whether it might be possible to make a connection on a given weekend or not, without “forcing the issue”. Then I generally try to think back over what I’ve said in recent weeks and months and make sure I am not being repetitive or otherwise beating a dead horse. (I do pray, also……..)

I was surprised by my findings. In devising a list of short descriptions for each homily, I concluded that, in the course of a year, I covered what seems to me like precious little ground. Yes, there is a lot to talk about. But the short descriptions reveal some of my preaching biases (virtually all preachers have them — themes they keep coming back to). And, at the end of the day, there is the challenge of responding to the law, which we priests have sworn an oath to uphold: preaching on the readings and prayers, which themselves do not necessarily afford the “space” needed also to cover in a systematic manner all the bases of the faith!

To priests who write out their homilies, you may want to go back and do a similar analysis. Over what period of time do you succeed in giving a fairly complete exposition of the faith? It’s useful also to reflect on what the Code of Canon Law says about preaching:

Can. 767 §1. Among the forms of preaching, the homily, which is part of the liturgy itself and is reserved to a priest or deacon, is preeminent; in the homily the mysteries of faith and the norms of Christian life are to be explained from the sacred text during the course of the liturgical year. §2. A homily must be given at all Masses on Sundays and holy days of obligation which are celebrated with a congregation, and it cannot be omitted except for a grave cause. […]

Can. 768 §1. Those who proclaim the divine word are to propose first of all to the Christian faithful those things which one must believe and do for the glory of God and the salvation of humanity. §2. They are also to impart to the faithful the doctrine which the magisterium of the Church sets forth concerning the dignity and freedom of the human person, the unity and stability of the family and its duties, the obligations which people have from being joined together in society, and the ordering of temporal affairs according to the plan established by God.

Perhaps the law places upon us a burden which it is not actually possible to fulfill. In which case, we are morally not bound to fulfill it. In any case, we see a weakness in the present law/approach. I would note also this very fine essay from Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, on weaknesses and exclusions in the present three-year Lectionary, versus the old one-year format, as well.

Well, we could “zoom out” a bit. I am pastor in my assignment for at least six years (possibly twelve). That is the term of office I am given. So maybe, at least, within the confines of Church law, I can fulfill my mandate not within a year — which is clearly impossible — but within six or, at worst, twelve. Perhaps it’s not reasonably possible to cover all the bases in one year or even two or three. Well, in any event, how am I doing? Am I on track at least for the end of my mandate? That may be a good way for each pastor to approach the matter.

I suppose – and I need to end this post at some point – that underlining my considerations is the presupposition that the homily is a catechetical moment. Some priests disagree with that. The study of Dr. Kwasniewksi (and the author of the book he reviewed), linked above, suggests to me that that is how the readings were chosen (and how some were omitted). The approach that some Irish bishops apparently took in the past suggests to me that it was understood that the homily or sermon was a teaching moment, also. The way the law is written strengthens my opinion, besides. But some today assiduously assert that that is not the case. Well… May we all find clarity! The above exercise has been helpful for me, in any case, and I share the experience for the benefit of those who also keep track of what they say on Sundays and Holy Days and may profit from analyzing it as well.

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How to Incense the Altar

123. The Priest goes up to the altar and venerates it with a kiss. Then, if appropriate, he incenses the cross and the altar, walking around the latter.

That’s the extent of the directions the General Instruction of the Roman Missal gives on how to incense the altar in the Novus Ordo. My suspicion is that when these instructions were written, it was taken for granted that priests would do things “the way they had always been done”. The tendency of the time was to get away from detailed prescriptions, diagrams, and the like. There was a reaction against “legalism”.

Over the years, however, the knowledge of how things have always been done in the Roman Rite has been lost in many places — especially in many seminaries. How to incense the altar? “I guess I just walk around it swinging the thurible in some sort of meaningful way”, could be the answer. I’ve seen some general tendencies, but a lot of variation as well, in this regard.

Again, following upon my last post, the consistency with which we celebrate the Sacred Liturgy, according to the mind of the Church, assures its catholicity.

I keep coming back to the directive of the General Instruction about following the traditional practices of the Roman Rite, also:

42. The gestures and bodily posture of both the Priest, the Deacon, and the ministers, and also of the people, must be conducive to making the entire celebration resplendent with beauty and noble simplicity, to making clear the true and full meaning of its different parts, and to fostering the participation of all. Attention must therefore be paid to what is determined by this General Instruction and by the traditional practice of the Roman Rite and to what serves the common spiritual good of the People of God, rather than private inclination or arbitrary choice. [emphasis added]

Well, one might think, weren’t all altars attached to the wall in the past? You couldn’t walk all the way around them, as is often the case now. But that is not so, either. There were many places where detached altars were used — especially in Rome. And so there were instructions on how to incense them when they could be walked around, as well. Here is a traditional diagram from an old Missal:

What this diagram shows is a total of 22 swings of the thurible, after the cross has been incensed (whenever an altar has a cross sitting on it between the priest and the people). Six of the swings are done above the mensa of the altar; the other 16 are done below the mensa of the altar. So, the sequence of things would be as follows:

  1. Charge the thurible with incense, blessing it.
  2. Standing at the center of the altar (facing the people), bow to the cross, and do three sets of double swings toward it. Bow again.
  3. Then start going counter-clockwise around the altar, that is, to the right.
  4. Along the back-right side (swings 1-3 in the diagram), do three single swings above the surface of the altar.
  5. As you go around the back-right corner towards the front (swings 4-5 in the diagram), do two single swings below the surface of the altar.
  6. As you go around the front-right corner, now on the front side of the altar (swings 6-11 in the diagram), do six single swings below the surface of the altar.
  7. Now you are going around the front-left corner, starting to walk toward the back of the altar again. Do two single swings on the left side (swings 12-13 in the diagram).
  8. Now you pause at the back-left corner and you will do three swings in place over the top of the altar (swings 14-16 in the diagram). If you didn’t pause and do these swings in place, you’d have to walk back like a typewriter to do swings 17-19. So you do three swings above the surface while pausing briefly, then you move to the next step.
  9. Now, coming around the back-left corner, you do six swings below the surface of the altar (swings 17-22 in the diagram), ending up at the back-right corner.

The easiest way to learn it is to do dry runs. For those who have learned to celebrate in the Extraordinary Form, it perhaps makes more sense. (Indeed, when celebrating on a altar attached to a reredos, the same number of swings is used, although the number of “aboves” and “belows” is a little different.)

A few things are helpful to work out in one’s mind: the short sides of the altar get two swings, the long sides gets six (or two sets of three). So everything is in multiples of twos and threes. I also think that most are used to stopping in the center (e.g., where they started), whereas in the older form one always ended at the side (known as the Epistle Side). If the altar has not only a crucifix but also six candlesticks on it, it’s easier to visualize the numbering system also.

A question arises: why 22 swings (not counting the incensing of the cross)? I consulted several books but found no answer. The answer is very likely: “Because that’s the way we do it”. I also enjoyed this answer from the great Adrian Fortescue, in his book, The Mass, page 230:

The exceedingly definite rule by which we now conduct the incensing, illustrated by a picture in the missal, the exact determination of where and how often to swing the thurible is part of the final crystallization of rubrics in the reformed Missal (Pius V and Clement VIII). In the middle ages this (as many other details) was much vaguer. We need not regret the minute exactness. Such increased definiteness was bound to come and, after all, you must incense an altar somehow; it does not hurt to be told how to do so.

Do we have to incense the altar according to this traditional manner? In the celebration of the Ordinary Form (the Novus Ordo), the answer is clearly no: the law is vague, even in its appeal to Roman Tradition. But if we are going to celebrate the liturgy in continuity with our ancestors and in an orderly and consistent way, I think that following the traditional practice is wise. It is also another example of the “mutual enrichment” that Pope Benedict XVI taught as being possible between the two forms of the Mass.

UPDATE: It should be clear that I have taken for granted that the priest is celebrating Mass “facing the people” (versus or contra populum). Obviously, if the priest is celebrating ad orientem these directions can be adapted easily for that circumstance. Also, my understanding has been that when celebrating ad orientem, even if going all the way around the altar is comfortably possibly, it is not required. In other words, the traditional incensation of only the front and sides may be done, which, as I said above, has the same number of swings but a different division of the “aboves” and “belows” and a few other details that are different.

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A Change of Rubrics

The Church teaches that the faithful have the right to the liturgy celebrated according to its laws — according to the rubrics — for they express the mind of the Church and are a guarantee of the catholicity of our worship. Sometimes, we witness — let’s call them “variations” — on what the Church intends. These can provoke frustration and anger from those who just want things to be done by the book.

There can also be a temptation in these cases to think badly of the priest or other minister who is the occasion for the variation. But here is where we must exercise some caution. On the one hand, there is the possibility of a mistake: maybe the priest had a “senior moment”, simply forgot to do something, got distracted, or whatever. But there is another possibility that I do not get the sense many people think about — one which affected me recently. There is a possibility of a change in rubrics that the minister did not learn about.

In fact, recently, it came to my attention that there was a change in rubrics in 2011 for how the Offertory is handled (here I am talking about the Novus Ordo). That was the year the new English translation went into effect — so a new Missal was published, along with a new General Instruction of the Roman Missal. Now I studied that document in seminary, having also learned to celebrate according to the old translation. When the new translation came out, there were some workshops offered (though I remember a criticism many of us had at the time was that they weren’t really hands-on enough, and were mostly focused on trying to convince those who didn’t want a new translation that it was a good idea) and some other publications put out, but it was mostly left up to us to “figure it out”. Not that the changes were earth-shattering; but there were some.

The change had to do with when the priest may say the offertory prayers (offering up the bread and the wine) aloud. As I recall, we learned that this was up to the priest’s discretion. Indeed, in the 1975 General Instruction, which was the one that we studied, it said very little about how these prayers were to be done — nothing, in fact, about when it would be more opportune or correct to do them quietly rather than in a full voice. So this is the habit I formed, and I had more or less arbitrary “guidelines” on when I said those prayers out loud: in general, I preferred to do them quietly, especially at Daily Mass, and on Sundays there was often music anyhow during that time. But occasionally, either when the music had stopped or there was none to begin with, I would say them aloud.

The new General Instruction of 2011 is far more specific. On this point, it says:

141. The Priest accepts the paten with the bread at the altar, holds it slightly raised above the altar with both hands and says quietly, Benedictus es, Domine (Blessed are you, Lord God). Then he places the paten with the bread on the corporal.

142. After this, as the minister presents the cruets, the Priest stands at the side of the altar and pours wine and a little water into the chalice, saying quietly, Per huius aquae (By the mystery of this water). He returns to the middle of the altar and with both hands raises the chalice a little, and says quietly, Benedictus es, Domine (Blessed are you, Lord God). Then he places the chalice on the corporal and, if appropriate, covers it with a pall.

If, however, there is no Offertory Chant and the organ is not played, in the presentation of the bread and wine the Priest may say the formulas of blessing aloud and the people acclaim, Blessed be God for ever.

So the change is that if there is no music during the time of the offertory, the priest may say these prayers aloud. He may always say them in a low voice (quietly). And if there is music, then he should say them quietly.

This is a lot more clarity. And I had missed this point. So on some occasions, if the hymn finished early, I started saying the prayers aloud – again, following the arbitrary criteria I had fixed in my mind, per my original training.

The lesson for me and hopefully for other priests is that we have to keep studying, and sometimes have to go back and re-study what we think we already know. (I know one priest who told me that he re-reads the General Instruction on a yearly basis to make sure he stays fresh on what the Church expects in our celebration of Holy Mass.)

The lesson, hopefully for all, is that if a priest does something incorrectly at Mass or one of the Church’s other liturgies, try to give the benefit of the doubt: he may have forgotten, or simply failed to “get the memo” to begin with! Also: pray for priests!

* * *

Check out a previous post I did, HERE, on the spirituality of the offertory.

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A Thought on the Mantilla or Chapel Veil

A woman wearing a Spanish-style mantilla at an event I attended.

On my Spanish-language Facebook page, someone recently requested that I explain the meaning of the mantilla or chapel veil. More and more ladies are wearing them now, re-discovering the old traditions, as it were. It tends to be controversial for some… and it really seems to trigger some folks. I really don’t see a problem with it. It’s also biblical, so who am I to judge?

In any case, as I was typing my response, a thought I hadn’t had before came to me. I was going on about how we veil things that are sacred. In the Church, we veil altars by putting a cloth over them — sometimes covering the whole thing, even though it might have beautiful carvings and other details! We put a veil over the chalice; we sometimes even veil the tabernacle. Then there is the topic of modesty: our bodies have been sanctified by baptism, so we dress modestly also, covering over that which is sacred.

(There’s a great chapter in the book The Heresy of Formlessness by Martin Mosebach on the concept of veiling the sacred.)

The new thought was this: I wonder if the late rediscovery and embracing of veiling by some isn’t a reaction — perhaps on the subconscious level — against the objectification of women that has become rampant in our culture?

Oh, I’m sure some veil purely for fashion reasons. Some may do it to be seen. Some may do it for reasons they can’t express; it just feels right. Others may do it out of simple obedience to scripture. In other words, there are a lot of reasons that motivate. And clearly, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s certainly no longer a part of Church law (it was until 1983, though the law was widely disregarded probably for a decade or two before that point). So women are free not to veil for any reason they might have. Either way is a legitimate choice.

But I do wonder if the above thought doesn’t factor into the equation for some who do veil?

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Non-Penitential Fridays 2019

Code of Canon Law, canon 1250: The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.

Code of Canon Law, canon 1251: Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Code of Canon Law, canon 1252: The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year. The law of fasting binds those who have attained their majority, until the beginning of their sixtieth year. Pastors of souls and parents are to ensure that even those who by reason of their age are not bound by the law of fasting and abstinence, are taught the true meaning of penance.

Code of Canon Law, canon 1253: The conference of bishops can determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence as well as substitute other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety, in whole or in part, for abstinence and fast.

* * *

We know that we are supposed to do penance on Fridays, to honor our Lord’s crucifixion, since it was on a Friday that he died to save us. That applies to all the Fridays of the year, with some exceptions. In this post, I’ll list the exceptions for 2019.

But some further clarifications are first in order:

In the USA, abstinence from meat on Fridays applies only to Lent. The rest of the year, it is the traditional things for Catholics to do, but we are free to choose some other penance. This is left up to our determination and is an exceedingly vague law. A law that is well-written leaves us with a clear sense of whether we have completed it or not. A law that is poorly-written leaves things so open-ended that we might question whether we complied either with its letter or its spirit. Alas. Such is our current state of affairs. We have a law that is rather vague. No matter. We do our best and leave the rest to God.

So the spirit of the law is that we are supposed to do penance on all Fridays of the year, but outside of Lent that may or may not involve abstaining from meat; in fact, outside of Lent, we can determine it ourselves, and so one person might do something really great and one person might do something terribly tiny and both have fulfilled the law.

Catholics today seem increasingly to be gravitating back toward the traditional practice of just observing meatless Fridays.

If one eats meat deliberately on a Friday during Lent, traditionally this is understood by all the best moralists to be a mortal sin.

All those prefatory notes aside, here is the list of EXCEPTIONS for 2019. I list the date and why it is an exception to the regular Friday rule:


Friday, April 26 (Friday within the Octave of Easter, and the days of the Octave of Easter are observed as solemnities, according to the Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and Calendar, no. 24)

Friday, June 28 (Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus)

Friday, November 1 (Solemnity of All Saints)

* * *

Some people think that Friday within the Octave of Christmas (as of this posting: tomorrow) is also a day when we can skip penance. However, the Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and Calendar note two important things: 1) that the Octaves of Christmas and Easter are each governed by their own set of rules (no. 12); and 2) while it says specifically that the days of the Easter Octave are all Solemnities, it specifically labels many of the days of the Christmas Octave as Feasts and does not say anything about the rules of solemnities applying to them. In other words, the days of the Christmas Octave do not rise to high enough a rank to give us a Friday off from penance.

* * *

So, for 2019 we get three “exception Fridays”. Enjoy! And do not listen to any Catholics who try to guilt you into doing penance anyhow on those days. The rules are clear: we do not have to do penance when a solemnity falls on a Friday. On all the other Fridays, though, we should abstain from meat or, outside of Lent, do that or some other form of penance, gratefully recalling the ineffable sacrifice of our Lord to save us!

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Epiphany Home Blessing

The traditional Rituale Romanum (Roman Ritual) has a surprising number of blessings connected with the Feast of the Epiphany. As you may know, in many countries that were historically Catholic, Epiphany was sort of a bigger day than Christmas itself: for example, in Italy, it is the day when Befana brings gifts to children; in many other countries gifts are exchanged on this day — and not Christmas day — also. Perhaps the plethora of blessings arises from the extra solemnity with which Epiphany — the twelfth day after Christmas — was/is celebrated popularly. I can only speculate; I have not had time to research this topic.

Among the blessings for Epiphany in the Rituale there are:

  • Blessing of Epiphany Water (a powerful variant of holy water blessed via an elaborate ritual)
  • Blessing of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh (I really don’t know what the practical use of this blessing is, and while frankincense and myrrh are not hard to get I do tend to lack gold…)
  • Blessing of Chalk (which is then used to bless homes)
  • Blessing of Homes during Epiphanytide

The Blessing of a Home during Epiphany, when done by a priest, is particularly impressive compared with your garden-variety house blessing: it involves not only the sprinkling of holy water but also the use of incense. I suppose nowadays we have to be careful of smoke alarms. But usually a small quantity of smoke, kept moving through the house, is fine. I got to do this blessing for the first time last year and hope I will be invited to do so in the future as well (locals: hint, hint).

But there is a variant for a lay person to use in the absence of a priest. I am pleased to share that here. Epiphany falls on its traditional date this year (January 6), so at the Sunday Masses of January 5-6 I will bless chalk and provide the leaflet I link to below in baggies for folks to take home and use for blessing their homes.


I hope to look at also doing the Epiphany Water blessing next year (i.e., January 2020), as it does require some additional logistical and scheduling consideration. But the many blessings connected with the Church’s liturgical cycle and feasts are important ways for us to sanctify our homes and our lives throughout the year and benefit from special graces along our way.

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Coming Up: Blessing of Wine

An infographic recently posted on my parish’s social media.

This Thursday, December 27, is the Feast of St. John the Evangelist. And the Roman Ritual gives us a special blessing connected with his feast day: the blessing of wine!

I’m happy to share here a PDF that I created with that text in English, for those priests who may wish to offer this blessing.

Blessing of Wine (CLICK TO DOWNLOAD)

The prayers remind us of the legend that St. John was saved from a poisoned chalice of wine by blessing it (this theme is present in the lives of other saints also, such as St. Benedict) and how wine is blessed to be beneficial for physical health. As we know, scripture contains the injunction to use wine medicinally (e.g., 1 Timothy 5:23)!

Blessed wine is nice to keep around to share with family and friends and also to give as gifts (to those who will use it rightly and with gratitude). If your priest doesn’t offer this blessing, consider asking him to do so! It’s one of our many beautiful, bygone Catholic traditions.

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Rorate Mass

Straining to read the gospel in the low light! More candles next year!

At the kind instance of a parishioner, I scheduled a Rorate Mass this year. Not only had I never been to one of these Masses; I had not celebrated one either. I did it as a High Mass (Missa Cantata), with the preaching in both English and Spanish, for the sake of our diverse Catholic population.

I am very pleased to share these beautiful photos. Sunrise was forecast for 6:44am on Saturday, December 15, so I scheduled the Mass for 6:15am — the idea being that we would start out in total darkness, only by candlelight, but the natural light would gradually increase so that by the end of Mass the sun would be fully risen. Alas, it was cloudy, but you can see especially in the photo of the elevation of the Host how the light was already increasing by that point in the Mass. Here is a gallery of photos:

Photos by Mary Dillard.

This Mass was a multi-parish effort and over 200 people attended. We planned for 100 — not really knowing what to expect! And the feedback afterwards was spectacular: it is clear that we should make this an annual tradition, and that it will be something to look forward to each Advent.

Read this link for more about what a Rorate Mass is. I am grateful to Our Lady for the grace of this special Mass. It was offered for purification and healing in the Church.

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Ecce, Sacerdos Magnus

This photo was most likely taken shortly after my ordination to the diaconate – so probably in the first half of 2007.

A great priest passed from this life mid-afternoon today, November 29, 2018, here in Birmingham, Alabama: Fr. Lambert Greenan, O.P., age 101 upon death and having been a priest on this earth for 78 years.

Fr. Lambert, né Lawrence, was born on January 11, 1917 in Northern Ireland. He came from a devout family and both he and one of his brothers entered the Dominicans and were ordained priests. (His brother, Fr. Clement, died a few years ago, if memory serves.) He had other siblings but I don’t remember much about them. Fr. Lambert excelled in his studies and was ordained at age 23 — they would have had to obtain a dispensation to ordain him so young at that time, though it was not an uncommon occurrence.

Fr. Lambert was a canon lawyer and taught canon law at the Angelicum University in Rome for many years. He was also the founder of the English language edition of L’Osservatore Romano — the daily newspaper of the Holy See. In fact, he told many impressive stories from that chapter of his personal history, and how he, as editor, had the task of upholding Church teaching during the turbulent 1960s, when some were trying insidiously to air erroneous teachings through media. Fr. Lambert was a stalwart priest, a real legend. He was what the Italians call a “uomo di Chiesa” — a churchman in the fullest sense.

There are several stories of his that I recall him telling, but I feel that it is not my place to share them all in this makeshift obituary. I am sure the Sister Servants, at whose convent he lived and ministered for over 20 years, will publish a fine obituary in his honor soon enough. And given how well-known and beloved Fr. Lambert was — after all, he taught many priests and priests who would become bishops over the years, and was very experienced in Rome — there will surely be other and far more eloquent tributes published about him.

Fr. Lambert was extraordinarily kind and encouraging to me, and although I did not get to see him as often as I would like in recent years, our brief encounters were always edifying. I will greatly miss him and am profoundly grateful to God to have known him and to have counted him among my friends. I know that he would be appalled at any suggestion that he might already be in heaven so soon after his death: he would want us to pray for him, and I will. I am reminded of the recent cautionary tale that I posted in this regard. He did receive the last sacraments and he was well cared-for not only by the Sisters but also by local medical professionals and friends. The Bishop was at his side shortly before he died. He surely had a good death. But let us pray for him — as he would want. Tomorrow I will offer Mass for him.

Fr. Lambert died on a Thursday — a day especially important to priests, for Christ instituted the priesthood on a Thursday. He is a priest forever. May he soon enter into the heavenly liturgy and enjoy the perfect vision of God. May we not forget to pray for him and all of our beloved dead — and may we some day be reunited in eternal joy.

May Fr. Lambert Greenan, O.P. rest in peace. Amen.

Tu es sacerdos in æternum secundum ordinem Melchisedech

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A Prayer before Preaching

The task of preparing to preach is a serious one, upon which depends the spiritual good of the people entrusted to the preacher’s care. All priests are challenged to invest time and prayer into their preaching, carefully preparing what they will say and striving to respond to God’s inspiration in that endeavor.

The monks of Silverstream Priory have posted a beautiful and edifying prayer to say before preaching, and I am glad to link to their post. A priest or deacon could say this prayer before preparing his homily; he could also say it before Mass, along with the vesting prayers while getting ready.

Many priests have been touched by the beautiful charism of Silverstream Priory in recent years, especially through the book In Sinu Iesu that one of their monks published. It has been a balm and an encouragement for many priests, the present author included. I highly recommend this book for any priest, prospective priest, or anyone who prays for priests.

One of the things that I appreciate about the work produced by Silverstream, beyond its spiritual depth, is the beauty with which it is presented. From the higher, more sacral register of the English language (notice, for example, the vocative “Jesu” in the prayer linked to this post) — beauty that we have all but lost in modern times — to the way that it is arranged, typeset, and otherwise designed, it is of the highest quality.

As a preacher who sometimes struggles to find the words to say, I know that this prayer will be of benefit and profit.

I note that Silverstream Priory is undergoing a period of great growth and can also use our help.

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