St James Cathedral - Seattle, WA

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Begins TODAY!

Depending on where you live (or more precisely where you shop), it's been Christmas since October.  As soon as the trick-or-treating is over, the Halloween decorations come down and the Christmas stuff goes up. If you're slow, you might wait until Thanksgiving.  I suppose this isn't all bad.  All things considered, the world could use a little bit of the Christmas spirit throughout the year.

I say that now, but the day after Christmas, it will seem like Christmas never came, unless you're returning unwanted Christmas gifts or buying what you wanted with the gift cards you received.  That's because it's more about shopping, buying, and getting; than celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.

After December 25, the only place you'll hear a Christmas carol or see Christmas decorations is in church.  Why?  Because the commercial world has forgotten when Christmas really is.

Here's a technical layout to the Christmas season and all the feast days within it. The Christmas season formally begins on the evening of December 24, and continues for 2-3 weeks until the Baptism of the Lord (January 13 for 2013).  The Octave of Christmas starts on Christmas Day and concludes on January 1, the Solemnity of Mary.  The Sunday during the Octave is dedicated to the Holy Family (unless it falls on January 1).  The Epiphany of the Lord is celebrated the following Sunday (transferred from January 6 in the United States and several other countries if January 6 is not a Sunday).  The Baptism of the Lord is the last Sunday of the season (moved to the Monday after Epiphany Sunday when the Epiphany is later on January 7 or 8).

Don't get me wrong, I'm not anti-Christmas until December 25.  I just prefer to keep things real and use Advent as the preparatory time it was intended to be, then honoring Christmas with all the celebration during the proper time.  Otherwise, Christmas can feel like it's getting old a few days into it, when we're really just getting started!

So a big BOO to all the places that decorate for Christmas in November, then rip everything down on December 26.  Three CHEERS for places that put up the creche or manger seen in December, and wait until Christmas to add the newborn Jesus.  YAY for all the people that host their Christmas parties through mid-January.  BOO for all the people buying Valentine's Day stuff on December 26.

If you want Christmas to last longer, then don't celebrate it until December 25, and keep on celebrating it till it's over!  Don't worry shoppers, you can still have your black Friday sales- just don't call it Christmas shopping.  It's the Vatican that says when Christmas is, not the retailers!

I'll conclude with some Catholic cocktail party talk for you.  The commercialization of the holiday has people believing that the Twelve Days of Christmas (as in the song) ends on Christmas Day.  The song actually refers to the twelve days between Christmas and the Epiphany on January 6, traditionally known as Christmastide.  

Gloria in excelsis Deo!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Ordo, Secret to the Liturgical Calendar

So how does the priest know what prayers to say at Mass, or which readings to use? This can seem like a little liturgical secret if you've never heard of it before. I'm talking about a little book called the Ordo, a short name for The Order of Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours and the Celebration of the Eucharist.

So what's an ordo? An ordo is a calendar that provides direction for the liturgies for the day. It's primarily intended for clergy and religious, although lay faithful who assist with liturgical celebrations or pray the Liturgy of the Hours use it, too. You can expect to find one in almost every sacristy- it tells the celebrant the particulars of that day's Mass such as which one to say (or which Masses he is permitted to say), the color of the vestments, the rank of the day, and which readings may be used. From personal experience, it becomes especially handy if the ribbons happen to fall out of the Roman Missal or the Lectionary right before Mass starts!

Homilists and others who have to plan ahead for liturgical events use the ordo to help with their duties. These are people like the music director or those who read from the Lectionary.  It's especially helpful to the sacristan, so (s)he knows which color the altar cloth (and other decor) should be, and which vestments should be prepared for the celebrant.  

To give you an idea of how this works, here's a scan of the page for November 7-10 in 2012. Clicking on it will make it easier to read: 

If you look at November 8, it is Thursday of the 31st week in Ordinary Time. The ordo says that any set of prayers can be used for Mass that day, however the prayers for the 10th or 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time are suggested. The liturgical color is green, and the readings for the Mass are from #488 in the Lectionary and are listed there. The V3R3 abbreviations mean that a votive or ritual Mass (such as a funeral or another Mass for a specific need or occasion) may be celebrated on that day at the celebrant's discretion.

The next day is a little different. November 9 is the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica, which is celebrated as a feast. The Mass prayers must be taken from the Common of Dedication Mass. The liturgical color is white, and the Gloria must be recited or sung. The readings for the Mass are from #671 in the Lectionary. V1R1 indicate that a funeral may be celebrated on that day, but all other types of ritual or votive Masses may be said only with permission from the diocesan bishop.

So if you attended the daily Mass on that Thursday, it would have been a shorter daily Mass with only one reading before the Gospel, no Gloria or Creed, and less music (if any). Because of the feast day, the following day's Mass would have been more like a Sunday Mass with two readings before the Gospel, the Gloria would have been said/sung, and generally more music (depending on the resources of the parish or community).

Something else you should know is that each diocese has it's own liturgical calendar. It's based on the General Roman Calendar, but with a few adaptations including local celebrations such as titular feasts, diocesan patrons, and anniversaries of dedications that are important to the area.  Many religious orders also have their own general calendars which will vary slightly to incorporate saints and other celebrations important to them.  (Often specific provinces or congregations within larger religious orders will have their own regional adaptations, too.)  For example, if you catch the daily Mass on EWTN and on the same day happen to attend Mass at your parish, every once in a while you'll notice a difference in the day's saint- that's because the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word follow a Franciscan ordo, while your parish probably follows the diocesan ordo. I noticed a number of similar differences when I studied at Saint Meinrad. The particular Benedictine ordo that we followed has the Feast of St Benedict on March 21 (the day he died), however the rest of the Church celebrates his feast day on July 11. So for several years, I celebrated St Benedict's feast day twice, once during the spring semester at school, then again at home during the summer.

For many years, Paulist Press has been the most popular publisher of ordos in the United States.  All the dioceses are grouped into regions, then a specific book is published annually for each. The regional book also contains a necrology of the clergy in each diocese, so that each can be remembered on the anniversary of the day he died.

As technology continues to advance, so do the available formats of the ordo. Some ordos are now available online, such as this one for the Jesuit provinces in the United States. Recently the deacon at my parish told me about the new "Ordo App" on his iPhone from Paulist Press. Personally, I'm sticking with the classic book version for now!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

We Need TRUTH, Not Hype!

Three days ago, a Chicago Tribune reporter wrote an article: Bishop orders priests to read anti-Obama letter at Sunday sermons.  The article starts by saying: "Joining the chorus of Roman Catholic clergy in Illinois criticizing President Barack Obama before next week's election..."  Within minutes of it's online publishing, there were hundreds of comments.  Plenty of them supported Bishop Jenky of the Peoria Diocese, saying that he's done the right thing standing up for religious freedom.  Unfortunately, so many more were the extreme opposite.  A lot of angry people said that the Church's IRS tax-exemption status should be revoked for taking a position against a candidate or political party.  Many others took the opportunity to bash the Church, saying things like child abusers shouldn't tell other people how to vote, and we don't like abortion so we can abuse more kids.  If you ever wanted to see examples of misunderstanding and misplaced anger about the Church, there they are.

The worst part wasn't the comments themselves.  It was that the article didn't include a copy of the letter!  It doesn't tell you where to find it, and it wasn't easily found by a search engine.  The endless comments were written about a letter that I'm betting NO ONE EVEN READ.  So I went to the website for the Diocese of Peoria and found the actual letter that the reporter wasn't able to share. Here's the complete text:
Dear Catholic Believers,
Since the foundation of the American Republic and the adoption of the Bill of Rights, I do not think there has ever been a time more threatening to our religious liberty than the present. Neither the president of the United States nor the current majority of the Federal Senate have been willing to even consider the Catholic community’s grave objections to those HHS mandates that would require all Catholic institutions, exempting only our church buildings, to fund abortion, sterilization, and artificial contraception. This assault upon our religious freedom is simply without precedent in the American political and legal system. Contrary to the guarantees embedded in the First Amendment, the HHS mandates attempt to now narrowly define and thereby drastically limit our traditional religious works. They grossly and intentionally intrude upon the deeply held moral convictions that have always guided our Catholic schools, hospitals, and other apostolic ministries.
Nearly two thousand years ago, after our Savior had been bound, beaten, scourged, mocked, and crowned with thorns, a pagan Roman Procurator displayed Jesus to a hostile crowd by sarcastically declaring: “Behold your King.” The mob roared back: “We have no king but Caesar.” Today, Catholic politicians, bureaucrats, and their electoral supporters who callously enable the destruction of innocent human life in the womb also thereby reject Jesus as their Lord. They are objectively guilty of grave sin. For those who hope for salvation, no political loyalty can ever take precedence over loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ and to his Gospel of Life. God is not mocked, and as the Bible clearly teaches, after this passing instant of life on earth, God’s great mercy in time will give way to God’s perfect judgment in eternity.
I therefore call upon every practicing Catholic in this Diocese to vote. Be faithful to Christ and to your Catholic Faith. May God guide and protect His Holy Church, and may God bless America.

Most Reverend Daniel R. Jenky, CSC
Catholic Bishop of Peoria

As you can see, to call the letter "anti-Obama" is inaccurate.  President Obama's name isn't even mentioned.  The letter is in opposition to the HHS mandate, and appropriately shows how the mandate threatens our religious freedom.  It has absolutely no IRS implications for the tax exempt status for the Diocese of Peoria.

So why do I care what about a bunch of angry comments on the internet?  Actually, I really don't.  I just wanted to point out that as a society, we're quick to judge without having all the facts.  And what empowers us to do this?  It's all the hype from the media.  It's no secret that the media likes to report more hype than truth, and they do it because that's what society is looking for.

So the bottom line- We don't need any more hype!  We need accuracy and reality.  Most importantly, we need the Truth (notice the capital T).  I admit it- speculation, hype, and sensationalism are more fun, and it's so tempting to get caught up in it all.  But it isn't real, and it's one of the devil's tools for keeping us from heaven. 

As I've said so many times before:  We Catholics need to stand up for ourselves.  Please don't tolerate hype!  If the news you watch is more hype than news, then change the channel.  If you're reading an article where the body doesn't match the heading, then it's probably more hype than news; either stop reading it or write a comment that calls it out.  Hype and sensationalism only add to the misunderstanding and misplaced anger towards the Church that's already abundantly out there.  

Lastly, stand up for your faith.  Don't let someone say things about the Church that aren't true.  You wouldn't let someone talk about your mother that way, so don't let someone talk about Holy Mother Church that way either!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

What's a Titular Church?

I have to warn you, this article is more on the informative side than usual. Okay. To the be honest, my wife thought it was downright boring. But keep reading, maybe it'll be interesting!

Earlier this month, New York's Timothy Cardinal Dolan wrote in his blog about taking possession of his titular church in Rome. Well if you're not familiar with that, you might want to ask: What's a titular church? And why does Cardinal Dolan have one? Here's the answer.

The first cardinals of the Catholic Church were actually the priests in Rome. For obvious reasons, they were the pope's closest advisers and elected a new pope when the Holy See became vacant. When clergy from outside of Rome were selected to be cardinals, the custom of linking them to a Roman church began.  At that time, a church around Rome was known as a titulus, and someone who held property for the Universal Church was called a titular.  (Titulus/titular are from the Latin meaning title.) Today, cardinals who are designated cardinal priests are given a titular church in Rome from this tradition. The cardinal gets his name and coat of arms at or near the door of the church, but in most cases has little to do with its administrative or sacramental life. In a similar way, cardinals who are cardinal bishops are given one of the Suburbicarian Sees near Rome, and cardinals who are cardinal deacons are also given a titular church called a cardinalatial deaconry. This way, where ever in the world a cardinal resides, he remains symbolically close to the pope.

The other case where the term titular church is used is with bishops who are not heads of dioceses.  These bishops are known as titular bishops.  Auxiliary bishops, papal nuncios, and heads of the Roman Curia are common examples. While these bishops do not function as diocesan bishops, they must still be the bishop of a church or diocese, at least symbolically. As a result, a diocese that no longer exists, called a titular see, is assigned to them. These titular dioceses will always have potential to be reinstated, although this rarely happens.

In modern times, when a diocesan see is suppressed its area is absorbed into another diocese. This could happen for organizational reasons, such as when an area's Catholic population is no longer sufficient to maintain a diocese, or if the see is moved to where the population has increased. In history, dioceses would be suppressed if the city is destroyed by disaster or war, or when conquered by non-Christians (7th century northern Africa for example). These bishops would flee to other dioceses and assist the bishop there, acting in a similar way to today's auxiliary bishops. When the helping bishop would die, there would often be a successor who would take the title of the former diocese with the hopes that it would someday be restored.

So if your diocese has an auxiliary bishop, his job is to assist the diocesan bishop in the same way another priest in the parish assists the pastor.  In some way, the auxiliary bishop actually has a diocese of his own, but it has no cathedral, clergy, or laity, although it probably did at one time (and may again if it is ever restored in the future).

Since 1970, diocesan bishops whose resignations are accepted for retirement are no longer assigned titular dioceses. They are now given the title bishop emeritus of their former diocese (according to Canon 402). The same goes for a coadjutor bishop, which is a bishop designated to assist the diocesan bishop and will succeed him when he resigns or dies. Instead of being given a titular see, he is now titled coadjutor bishop of the diocese that he will eventually oversee. I'm not sure why this was changed, other than the possibility of running out of titular dioceses with the number of retired bishops is growing. If anyone knows the answer, please tell me!

I know this article is a little different from my usual stuff; I decided to let my nerdy side come out a little. The Catholic Church has many neat historical customs and traditions that the everyday Catholic may not know of, so I thought talking about one of them is good once in a while (or this could just be a total bust).

I don't know if the subject of a "titular church" will ever come up in cocktail party talk, but if it does, you'll be well prepared!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Don't Miss Out on the Year of Faith

If you haven't heard, with his apostolic letter Porta Fidei, Pope Benedict XVI has declared a "Year of Faith" from October 11, 2012 to November 24, 2013.  October 11 commemorates two anniversaries within the recent history of the Church: the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council by Blessed Pope John XXVIII (in 1962) and the 20th anniversary of the promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church by Blessed Pope John Paul II (in 1992).

I don't think the pope did this on purpose, but I'm so glad the Year of Faith is starting during election season in the United States.  Especially this election, we Americans have been so consumed with the political course of our nation that it's easy to forget there's still plenty of other things going on in the world and in the Church.  While it's critically important that we pay attention to our nation's needs, the Year of Faith reminds us to also pay attention to the other needs of God's Kingdom. 

The Year of Faith is a much needed opportunity for all of us.  It's an opportunity to deepen our faith, better our relationship with our Lord, and renew our enthusiasm for the Church.  And we really need this now more than ever.

It's no secret that the average Catholic receives no ongoing education or formation in the faith. Other than a 7-minute homily on Sundays, there may not be anything else.  Of course, there are some considerable exceptions to this.  I've noticed there are at least three groups, and I hope there's even more than I realize.  

Families with school-age children may be the largest group of exception.  When children are catechized (either in a Catholic school or through a parish's religious education program) often the entire family benefits from the catechisis.  This is the group of people that dominates at all parish/school functions, and therefore are more likely to spend time at the parish outside of Sunday Mass.  

Another group are the dedicated retirees- these are the people who keep things going around the parish.  Since they don't have dependent children or the need for employment, these are the people who often have the largest representation at daily Mass and who help take on many of the parish's ministries.  They also have time to read or for personal study (and I'm a little jealous of this).  

The last group that comes to mind are college students and recent graduates.  In contrast to the retirees, this group is incredibly busy with various activities, however they seem to be able to incorporate their faith into their new found adulthood in an enthusiastic way.  These are the folks who fill university Newman Centers.  They go on weekend retreats, mission trips during school breaks, and often enlist in programs like the Jesuit Volunteer Corps after graduation, all while advocating for various causes from being pro-life to saving the environment, before going to graduate school or finding a job.

There really is one more exceptional group.  These are the people that make it a point to have ongoing formation in the faith, regardless of where they are in their life.  This is the group that the Year of Faith wants to expand, and turn it into the norm rather than the exception.  This group would have the best of everything: the enthusiasm of the college crowd, the dedication of the retirees, and the attendance rate of the families with school age children.  

Regardless of your state in life or where you are on your spiritual path, each of us can take part in the Year of Faith, and move closer to having regular faith formation in daily life.  You don't have to do anything big like join a religious order or become a missionary (unless that's what God is calling you to).  Here are some simple suggestions that just about everyone can do.

If you're a magazine reader, subscribe to a Catholic magazine.  People have endless magazine subscriptions on just about every topic- cars, fashion, parenting.  What's one more, especially one that provides an opportunity to deepen your faith?  There are plenty to chose from.

Watch some Catholic media.  I know, some of what's on EWTN can be really boring, but there can be some really neat catechetical programming on there.  If you turn it on and don't like what you see, then try again at another time.  There is one series shown periodically on EWTN that I highly recommend, Fr Robert Baron's Catholicism.  I promise, you'll be moved when you watch it.

Depending on where you are, there could be Catholic radio station in your area.  I'm a fan of Relevant Radio.  We no longer have it where I live, but I download a lot of the programming onto my MP3 player and listen during my commute.  It's a great way to hear about current topics that impact Catholics.  For example, they had programming about the 3rd Edition of the Roman Missal long before most parishes started to announce it was coming.

If you're on social websites, talk about your faith. You don't have to be preachy, just start with small things like tweet about Sunday Mass, or post pictures on Facebook of you or your family at church or parish events. Jesus doesn't have an online account, so yours will do just fine.

There's also plenty of books that can be read. With two kids ages 2 and under, I don't have much time to sit, but I've heard Pope Benedict's newest book is a decent read.

If your Sunday Mass attendance isn't where it needs to be, then this is another good reason to get to Mass every Sunday. If you are going every week, see if you can add a daily Mass into your schedule one or two days during the week; it will make a difference to you, and also the people around you. If you're already doing that, there's always the Liturgy of the Hours, too.

Whatever you decide to do, don't let the Year of Faith get passed you. There should be some neat events such as conferences or retreats at your parish or around your diocese. Be sure to check your parish bulletin or your diocesan publication for more information!

For more information regarding the Year of Faith, please visit the official website:

Other suggestions for the Year of Faith?  Please feel free to include them in your comments below!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Concerns with Organ Donation

What do you think about organ donation? As a devout Catholic, what I have to say might surprise you.

Here's what the Church teaches:

Organ transplants are in conformity with the moral law if the physical and psychological dangers and risks to the donor are proportionate to the good sought for the recipient. Organ donation after death is a noble and meritorious act and is to be encouraged as a expression of generous solidarity. It is not morally acceptable if the donor or his proxy has not given explicit consent. Moreover, it is not morally admissible to bring about the disabling mutilation or death of a human being, even in order to delay the death of other persons. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No 2296)
A lot of people read the part that says "noble and meritorious act" and run with it. Well, after you've talked with me, you may not want to run too far. Yes, I have ethical concerns with organ donation; not the whole thing, but there are certain parts of it that call for a reflective pause and warrant a deeper look.

Before going any further, it's important to say that there are some wonderful things about organ donation. Organ donation has saved countless lives in many parts of the world.  From one donor can come the opportunity for several people to live. I commend anyone who truly understands what this means and wants to to do this.  It's a neat way to be more like Jesus Christ.

So what's the problem? Well, there's actually two of them: the issue of brain-death and the lack of informed consent.  I question if how we're doing this in the United States actually follows Church teaching.

The first concern: Brain-death. In the movies, a brain dead patient is shown in a hospital bed, attached to a ventilator (which keeps the body alive) while a continuous EEG shows no brain activity. Well in real life, it just isn't that simple, either medically or religiously.  According to our faith, does brain-dead mean the patient is dead? If so, can we say that with absolute moral certainty, the same way we say an embryo is a person?  Catholic theologians are not all in agreement about this.  The medical community isn't in agreement about brain death either.  There is established criteria for brain death, but it remains disputed among physicians, ethicists, and moral theologians. If the patient is truly brain dead, then why is anesthesia used when the transplant surgeon removes organs/tissues?  The patient can still feel pain?  I thought the patient was brain-dead?  Clearly, this alone shows that issue is NOT resolved.

The second concern: Informed consent. Most people really don't know what having the words "Organ Donor" on your driver's license really means. According to CORE, the organ procurement organization for Pennsylvania:

"In Pennsylvania, the words Organ Donor will be printed in green lettering on your driver's license. This is consent to donate organs and tissue. It is a legal document and your family cannot override your decision to donate."
Legal document? Decision to donate? Wait a minute. So at the end of your life, if you're family has a concern about what is happening, they are legally powerless to stop it?

Picture this: A tragedy has occurred and hours later you're laying in the ICU, completely dependent on the ventilator. The doctor is telling your immediate family that the care could be futile, and there is little to no chance for recovery and it's best to withdraw care.  Since you may die within 24 hours, the nurse is required to contact CORE without your family's permission. (Federal law requires hospitals to notify their organ procurement organization anytime a patient may expire.  The same law exempts organ procurement organizations from HIPAA and other privacy laws.) The representative from CORE comes to the hospital and says things like, "it's clearly what he would want since it's on his driver's license." The next thing you know, there's a transplant surgeon beside you and your organs are being harvested. If you weren't brain dead before, you certainly will be completely dead in a few moments. Sadly, most of your family doesn't even know you've been hospitalized. The ones who are present are still trying to figure out what the doctor meant by "little chance for recovery" and are wondering if the right thing had been done.

Was that over-dramatized?  Sure.  In reality, most physicians would never withdraw care without the family's full cooperation, and organ procurement organizations are really good about talking to families before proceeding.  But could something like this happen? The laws regarding organ donation are certainly set up that way.  It really concerns me that if "Organ Donor" on your driver's license is considered legal and binding, then the argument could be made that no one even obligated to talk with your loved ones before taking your organs.

Think about it this way. When planning to have surgery or medical procedure, the physician discusses the risks and possible complications (i.e. pain, infection, etc) as part of obtaining your consent. You should be able to ask questions and have a good understanding about what's going to happen. But when it comes to organ donation at the driver's license center, there's no opportunity for discussion. It's just blind consent; you are consenting for surgery by simply checking a box. The scary thing is, this is the one kind of surgery where the biggest risk is guaranteed to happen- your death.

Few people realize that two words on a driver's license can actually usurp the responsibility and authority your family have to speak on your behalf at the most vulnerable time in your life and you can't speak for yourself.  

If protecting your family from having to make your medical decisions during a crises is a concern, then there's a better way to do it.  Sit down with your family and complete a living will for health care. Review it with the person whom you designate to make medical decisions on your behalf.  Discuss it with your primary care physician.  You can even specify which organs/tissues you wish to donate and how you prefer them to be used.  Many complete their living will with the help of an attorney when completing their legal will. 
Please know that I'm not saying organ donation is wrong.  I'm not trying to persuade people from becoming organ donors, especially when there are so many dying as they wait on transplant lists.  I'm just tired of people being duped into agreeing to things without truly knowing what's going on.  This happens a lot, especially to Christians who just want to do the right thing.

Since the Church teaches that organ donation should occur after death and "it is not morally admissible to bring death of a human being," then great care should be taken to determine if someone is truly brain-dead, and there has to be some moral certainty about what brain-death means.  The Church also wants you (or your designate) to be able to give explicit consent, and what happens at the driver's license center is incredibly insufficient for this.

I'm not claiming to be an expert.  There are people much smarter than me, and people with more knowledge and/or first hand experience when it comes to organ donation.  But when so many experts disagree on an important life and death situation, we definitely have to proceed with caution!

This post was inspired by "Bioethics of Organ Donation," an article in Our Sunday Visitor on 8/9/2012.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Does God Care What We Wear to Church?

"God doesn't care what we wear to church, He's just happy we're there."  Who ever believes this might be a little naive, maybe even fooling themselves.  It sounds good at first, reminding us to be thankful that people are coming to church.  But it also implies that people can't do any better, that we should just settle for the pews being occupied, and that's not true at all. 

(I actually avoided writing about this topic for some time.  It's already talked about frequently, and I wasn't sure if I could make any impact.  However, after receiving several prompts from a close colleague and reading comments from the last blog entry connecting what people wear to being properly disposed for Holy Communion, it's definitely a worthy topic.)

When people aren't dressed well for church, I doubt they are trying to be inappropriate, they just haven't put much thought into it.  I'm talking about that lady who wears those very short, bright green gym shorts where the bottom of her butt cheeks peek out, that middle-aged woman with cellulite who shouldn't be wearing a mini-skirt, or that guy wearing a T-shirt with the yellow arm pits that commemorates the last concert tour of a certain grunge band in the late 1990s.  I wonder if their mothers be embarrassed to see what they are wearing to church.

Something else I wonder-  If they were stopped for speeding on the way to church, would the police officer believe that they were on their way to church based on the clothes they're wearing?

Jennifer Fulwiler offers some good insight on this.  She says we aren't dressing up anymore because as a society, we've lost a sense of value and gratitude.  Flying on an airplane, going out to eat at a fancy restaurant, even attending certain sporting events used to be considered a privilege or an honor, so you wore your best attire.  Now that we as a society have less respect and gratitude for things, we've put less effort into our clothing.  When it comes to the Eucharist and what we're wearing, the same thing has happened.  We have devalued what is really the greatest privilege of all, being able to Communicate in such a unique way with God; and it's reflected out in the clothes that Catholics wear to church.

Disproportionate values can also share some blame, especially if someone spends an hour or two getting ready to go out on a Friday/Saturday night, yet can't afford more than 15 minutes to get ready for church on Sunday morning.  There's also that family that goes to church first, then goes home and changes into nice clothes to go out to eat.  Talk about having priorities ordered all wrong!

Not to long ago, Relevant Radio's Fr Francis Hoffman was asked about why more priests don't preach more about the length of a woman's skirt from the pulpit.  He responded jokingly, "Because we fear for our lives!"  It's true- it's hard for a male homilist to tell certain female parishioners what to wear, especially in light of the other issues that have to be waged.  A bulletin insert seems much safer. 

Therefore, a lot of this effort might be up to us lay people.  After all, it is lay people that don't know how to dress up for church.  Of course, please be careful how you go about telling others about this problem.  My wife and I once watched a woman come into church wearing a hoodie, gym shorts, and flip flops.  Shortly after she sat down, another woman approached her with an angry look on her face and said something to the mal-dressed women.  The woman, obviously embarrassed, cried for a few moments and left as Mass started.  I haven't seen her in church since.

If you're in a position to be able to say something to someone else, please do so charitably and with encouragement.  Point out that the individual deserves more, and God does, too.  How much (or how little) effort one prepares externally for church could be an indicator of how much effort they are prepared spiritually.  If you love God, and you're looking forward to the Eucharist, let it show in your attire.  

Women, if you wear nice clothes, other women will notice and follow your example.  Men, tell all your buddies to man up, and dress better for church.  Parents, start now with your kids.  I know it's hard (I have two small kids), but they won't learn it if you don't teach it. 

Lastly, if you're one of those people that actually believes God doesn't care what you wear to church: I don't know if He cares or not (since there are bigger issues out there), but I sure do.  If you don't see the need to do it for God, then please wear appropriate attire in church for the rest of us.  I'm trying to set a good example for my kids and would appreciate your help.

On a side note, since we've been talking about what lay people wear, I thought it would be fun to briefly describe the most frequently used vestments worn by the clergy during Mass.

The outer garment that the priest/celebrant wears is called a chasuble.  The most commonly used style looks like a poncho.  It's color will be that of the Mass.  A deacon wears a similar garment called a dalmatic, but it has sleeves and tends to look a little more like a tunic. 

The next vestment is the stole.  This indicates the rank of the cleric.  A bishop/priest wears it hanging from both shoulders (like an untied scarf or necktie).  A deacon wears it over the left shoulder and fastened at the right hip.  It usually matches the chasuble/dalmatic and is the color of the Mass.  It's worn underneath the outer vestment so you won't really see it unless the cleric isn't wearing a chasuble or dalmatic.

The last garment is the alb.  It's white or off white, worn over the individual's secular clothes (the stole and chasuble/dalmatic are worn over the alb).  It represents the white garment given at baptism.  The alb worn by both clergy and laity that are ministers in the liturgy (such as altar servers).  It can be secured at the waist by a cincture, a cord which acts like a belt.  The cincture can be white or the color of the Mass.  There is an additional piece called an amice, but this is less common and/or often not visible.

One last piece of liturgical vestment trivia.  A priest who is present but is not a concelebrant doesn't have to wear a stole or chasuble.  This if often the case when the priest is acting as an acolyte or master of ceremonies for the bishop.  You'll see a priest don a stole if he takes a priestly ministry such as proclaiming the gospel or assisting with the distribution of Holy Communion.  The same goes with a deacon who is in the sanctuary- if he takes one of the roles proper to a deacon, he will wear a stole.  If he doesn't, the alb (or surplice with cassock) is sufficient.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Right Way to Receive Holy Communion

Perhaps this might seem rudimentary for some, but I can tell you it's something we need to talk about.  I don't think it matters where you live, the problem is there- some Catholics simply don't know the right way to receive the Eucharist.

To be clear, the Church desires that everyone to receive Holy Communion.  (Wait, don't call me a heretic yet.) However, the Church wants everyone to receive Holy Communion the right way.  (See, I'm not a heretic.) Receiving the Eucharist is a big deal.  It's such a big deal, that there's all sorts of rules about it and we don't just let anybody do it.  Things like nuclear power plants, space shuttle launches, and British royalty are other examples of big deal things with a lot of particular rules.  (Yes, that was quite random, but you get my point.)

Before talking about how to receive Holy Communion properly, let's talk about being properly disposed first.  If you're not properly prepared, then you shouldn't receive Communion.  This means being free from mortal sin and having followed the communion fast (in addition to being a practicing Catholic).

Being free from mortal sin is self-explanatory: don't commit grave sin.  If you happen to, then refrain from receiving Communion until you've been able to make Reconciliation (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1415).  An extra reminder of this is needed in the United States where the tendency is for everyone to automatically get up and go to Communion.  It's rare for someone to stay behind in the pew- they might even get funny looks if they do.  In many other parts of the world, not everyone goes to Communion and it's more common to see people remaining at their seat.  Is it because there are more sinners in other countries?  I doubt it; I think they are just being more mindful about being properly disposed.

Following the communion fast is also something that needs emphasis.  For Latin rite Catholics, this means refraining from food and beverage for one hour before receiving the Eucharist (Canon 919).  Some people say this means they can eat up to 30 minutes before Mass starts since the Communion rite is typically 30-45 minutes into the liturgy.  Personally, I prefer to refrain 1 hour from the start of the Mass.  It's weird to walk into a Church on a full stomach.  Besides, what if a daily Mass takes only 25 minutes, then eating 30 minutes prior doesn't work! 

So now let's talk about how to receive Holy Communion.  Having served as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion in different parts of the United States, I should say that for the most part Catholics do this well.  However, there have been times where I've done a jaw drop or double take because someone didn't receive Communion properly (and I suspect they were regular attending Catholics).

With the decree Norms for the Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion Under Both Kinds in the United States of America, the USCCB permits the reception of Holy Communion in the hand.  The decree refers to St Cyril of Jerusalem who wrote:
"When you approach, take care not to do so with your hand stretched out and your fingers open or apart, but rather place your left hand as a throne beneath your right, as befits one who is about to receive the King. Then receive him, taking care that nothing is lost."  (Paragraph 41)
Unfortunately, the contrary does happen.  As a Eucharistic Minister, it's gut wrenching when the sacred host is snatched out of my hand, or if the communicant casually shuffles the sacred host from the palm to the finger tip of the same hand like a poker chip before they shoot it into their mouth.  On the other end of the spectrum, I'm also not a fan of waving the host in a large cross-like fashion before consuming it.  That might seem pious, but the best thing to do is to just place the sacred host in your mouth- you don't get more grace by doing anything else.

Removing the chewing gum from your mouth before receiving is also advisable!  (Why would you want anything in your mouth besides the Eucharist?)

It's necessary to point out that while receiving Holy Communion in the hand is permitted by decree in the United States (and many English speaking countries), it isn't the norm in the rest of the world.  So for Americans traveling internationally, never assume that you can receive in the hand where ever you go. Follow the norms of the local place. If you don't know them, then play it safe and receive on the tongue. If you're not used to it, it's actually quite reverent.

Lastly about receiving in the hand, parents should make sure their kids are receiving Communion correctly. It's hard for the minister when you have an 8 year old holding his/her hands down at their waist. (The minister can't see the hands when they are that low and then has to bend down.) Whether you're a child or an adult, the communicant's hands should be held up and out, closer to the ciborium or patent so that the sacred host doesn't have to travel far.  This way, there is less risk of the Body & Blood of our Lord falling to the ground.

There's much more that could be said, but I'll conclude by talking about the appropriate response to the prompt, "The Body of Christ" or "The Blood of Christ."  It isn't silence.  It isn't "We are," or  "Yes it is," or even "Thank you Jesus."  The best response is "Amen."  I know- it's simple, yet profound.  It's also what the Church asks us to do.

Here's some neat Catholic cocktail party talk:

Want to know why the first meal of the day is called breakfast?  For hundreds of years, the communion fast started at midnight before receiving Holy Communion.  So people would get up early, go to church, and then break their fast with eating afterward.  This was also one of the reasons why Mass would be said so early in the morning.  Many people still remember this.

In 1953, Pope Pius XII reduced the communion fast to refraining 3 hours for food, 1 hour for beverage, primarily for when Mass was going to be celebrated in the evenings (which was a new thing back then).  Pope Paul VI reduced the fast on November 21, 1964 to what we observe today.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Women in the Church

After writing about priests and vocations, many readers have told me that I can't blog about the (male) priesthood, and not talk about women in the Church.  So for the sake of world peace, here it is! (Just kidding about the world peace part.)

A male dominated, hierarchical institution.  Does that describe the Catholic Church?  Yes, it does. Is the statement true? Yes, it is.  It's true that the clergy (deacons, priests, and bishops) are all men, therefore the decisions regarding doctrine will always be made by men.  I can't change that.  Blessed John Paul II said he couldn't either. 

With that in mind, I would like to offer a different way of looking at things.  First, let me say that I'm not a woman.  Even though I have a mother, sisters, wife, daughter, and plenty of female friends and colleagues, ultimately I don't know what it's like to be a woman.  However, I think it's okay for me to have an opinion about women and Church, and that's what I'd like to share here.

How we think of women and Church largely depends on how we see the Church.

When we think of the Church, it's common to think clerically or administratively, i.e. the pope, cardinals, bishops- men that wear zucchettos (skullcaps worn by bishops/prelates).  But realistically speaking, how often does the average Catholic actually see the bishop? What about an archbishop, cardinal, or even the pope?  Don't get me wrong, these are key people in the life of the Church, but not necessarily the main people in the average Catholic's faith life.  So let's not think administratively; let's think about where the life of the Church really is.

The life of the Church isn't what happens at diocesan chancery or at a Vatican dicastery, it's what happens at your local parish church.  That's where we are week after week, and that's where we will continue to experience the Church the most.  It's mostly through the parish that the Gospel message is spread.  It's mostly through the parish people get to experience Jesus through the sacraments and the Christian people.  This makes the parish the center of life for the Church, not one of the basilicas in Rome that most Catholics will never visit.

Putting the central view of the Church on the parish offers us a very different perception of men and women in the Church, and who's actually doing the bulk of God's work. 

The next time you're in a full church, pick any pew and compare the number of women to men. Unless your at a special commemoration for the Knights of Columbus, or a bus load of high school varsity football players has decided to stop in for Mass, you'll find that the women easily outnumber the men in church.

If your parish bulletin lists the leadership/ministers of your parish on the front cover, take a look at the number of women and men.  On my parish bulletin, the pastor and deacon are listed (both men of course).   Then the lay leadership follows: business manager (woman), school principal (woman), director of religious education (woman), parish secretary (woman).  The last two are men: director of music and the youth director (the youth director position was held by a woman until last year).  So the majority of the parish's lay leadership is primarily women.  Of course, there are other ministers that aren't listed, but from what I know, the sacristan is a woman, the person who helps take care of for the church building (called the custos is some places) is also a woman.  I won't list the parish council, but guess what- the majority of members is women.

So as a male layperson, I'm feeling a little bit in the minority.  A woman once said to me, "How come when I see a man in church, he's either the priest or an usher?"  Well, I just confirmed her point.  If you quantify all the parish's ministries into number of hours worked, the majority of them will be worked by women.  I don't think this is atypical for a parish; the women majority is probably the norm in most places (at least in the United States).  

So where did all the men go?  Well if you look at the numbers of priestly vocations, they didn't go there.  I once talked about this in a small group at a Catholic men's retreat.  The consensus was that the typical Catholic parish doesn't appeal to certain groups, and one of them is men.  Think about all the things you see when you walk into a church- fresh cut flowers in the sanctuary, decorations that resemble nick-knacks, altar cloths with pretty colors, banners to match them, etc. To top it off, the celebration is led by a guy wearing pretty vestments.  These things don't exactly appeal to a man's machismo.  

I don't know if the absence of men has led to a more femininity in the parish life, or if the femininity in the parish life has contributed to the absence of men.   Nevertheless, in modern times, the laity has a much stronger role in the ministries of the parish, and since the active laity is mostly women, that means a woman will likely have a much bigger influence on the life of the average Catholic than we might realize.

So ladies, I know that women can't be priests can seem unfair (to say the least).  However, in the life of the parish church where it really matters, clearly you're running the show and the clergy can't do it without you. 

You've heard the saying, "Behind every great man there's a great woman."  Well when it comes to the Church, perhaps we should say, "In front of every good priest there's about twelve women."

I look forward to reading your comments and feedback.  (Keep it kind, please!)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

What's Your Favorite Part of the Mass?

Have you ever thought about this? I have to admit, I have.
(I realize this makes me look like a total nerd when it comes to going to church.)

Having a "favorite part" of the Mass is a good thing. After all, so many go to church because they feel they have to, not because they want to. When you start having a favorite part of the Mass, then you're probably there because you want to be there. You even looking forward to being there.

I haven't thought about having a favorite part since I was a little boy. Even as a small child, I remember always liking the liturgy. The rhythm, the ritual, the expected prayers with a little variation from week to week, it all seemed to fit me very well.

I can remember liking the entrance procession- always trying to get a glimpse of the the priest and servers walking to the altar, lead by cross and candles. I think I even pretended to do this at my house growing up when I was about 4 or 5 years old.

I've always liked the bells, whether the ones in the bell tower which rung before Mass, or the smaller ones at the altar, rung at the elevations of the Eucharist. The parish I attend now doesn't have either, so there's a bit of nostalgia for me when I'm at a different church and hear the bells rung.

As I grew older, I started to look forward to the bigger liturgical celebrations for holy days because I liked the more celebratory music and the use of incense and candles.  This became quite a delight for me when I arrived at Saint Meinrad- every Sunday and feast day called for chanting, incense, and additional candles for Mass and Evening Prayer. Liturgically speaking, the Benedictine monks who ran the place could easily compete with the Vatican!

So what's prompted me to talk about my favorite liturgical things? It's actually two unrelated things that have come together- my young kids and the new edition of the Roman Missal.

Let's talk about my kids first.  I had no idea that my kids would start having preferences, especially about church, at such young ages.  My son will soon be three years old and he already has preferences and opinions from which church clothes he wears, to which children's books he borrows from our church's cry room. He notices it when we go to a church other than our usual parish, and and doesn't hesitate to tell us where we should go to eat afterwards.

One Sunday, my son felt that the church should have crayons during the children's Liturgy of the Word, and he thought the pastor needed to know of his concern. I was thankful when he became a more typical two year old and buried his face into my wife's shoulder when the pastor said hello to him after Mass. His one year old sister may not be as shy. She's starting to prefer a particular stained glass window when we go for walks in the back of the church, and she knows her way from the pew to that window, regardless of where we sit. I might be in trouble when they start telling me what they think about the homily!

Now to the 3rd edition of the Roman Missal, which has been in use for several months now.  Since the change over, we've all paid more attention to the language the Church uses in the liturgy. There is a lot of redundant description, and much of the text makes more grammatical sense in Latin than in English, but overall the language is much more poetic, scriptural, and ceremonial.

Between the priest and the people, the new text seems much more uneven- the celebrant gets to use all these descriptive, long worded phrases, and the faithful simply respond "Amen." As a layperson, I feel a little slighted, but I've come to really appreciate the parts of the liturgy that the faithful do have.  

The part I've come to appreciate the most is the "Mystery of Faith" which immediately follows the consecration, formerly called the Memorial Acclamation. Here are the three options, and I really like each one:
We proclaim your death, O Lord, 
and profess your Resurrection 
until you come again.
When we eat this Bread
and drink this Cup,
we proclaim your death, O Lord,
until you come again. 
Save us, Savior of the world,
for by your Cross and Resurrection,
you have set us free.
These acclamations are proper (that's liturgical talk for 'belong') to the people at Mass, and in saying (or singing) them, the faithful get to use the same poetic, scriptural, and ceremonial language that the celebrant uses.  They are also speaking directly to Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, not just responding to the prompts of the minister.  So you can see, these are much more than the usual short responses "And with your spirit" or "Thanks be to God."

Other parts of the Mass I like, too.  There's a strong sense of conviction when reciting the new Confiteor, and when using "I believe" with the Creed. I'm also a fan of the response for the Invitation to Communion (that better reflects Luke 7:6-7). The difference though, is that all of those parts are proper to both the celebrant and the people.  Instead, the Mystery of Faith is proper to us as laypeople, and the celebrant joins in.  That's not very common in the liturgy.  To use a phrase not found in any edition of the Roman Missal- I think that's pretty cool.

If you have a favorite part of the Mass (or also used to play church as a kid), please share by writing a comment below!


Friday, June 29, 2012

Supporting Priestly Vocations

The Church in the United States has a vocations problem. (This may seem obvious to most, but there's still a few people that don't realize this.) 

When people hear vocations, they usually think priesthood and religious life, although these are actually two distinct vocations among the others. (I'm actually a big fan of not grouping priests and religious together- a priest is not a nun with a jacket.) It's also necessary to point out that the vocation problem isn't limited to the priesthood and vowed religious, but also exists for marriage and the dedicated single life. 

Each vocational group is vital and necessary for the Church, however I'm focusing on vocations to the priesthood, particularly the diocesan priesthood. Our Church is centered on sacraments, almost all of which are administered by priests. Without priests there are no sacraments. Without sacraments, I'm not so sure there would be a Catholic Church.

In most areas, the problem is simple- there are not enough priests to meet the needs of the local Church.  Is it because God is calling less men to priestly orders?  I doubt it.  Times are different now, and thanks to societal changes, men aren't realizing the call or aren't able to respond to the call as they could before.  A similar problem is occurring with marriage and its decline in numbers- either couples aren't getting married in the Church, or they aren't seeing it as a vocation with important spiritual essentials including fidelity and permanency.

In other parts of the Church, the problem might be more intricate.  For example, they have priests, but the average age within the presbyterate (the body of priests in a diocese) could be 70 years, with no one to replace them when they retire.  Their replacements may all be young priests or seminarians in their 20's who won't be ready to fill the shoes of the more experienced pastors for a couple decades.

Lastly, in some dioceses the problem might be financial. People who complain that the Church has too much money haven't been to a diocese that is mostly rural or where the Catholic population is small and spread over a large area.  The tuition alone for a Catholic seminary is around $10k-$12k per semester. With each seminarian in school for 5-6 years, the cost for priestly formation really adds up.  A few places have to ask the seminarian to borrow for their education rather than funding the cost (then the diocese provides financial assistance after ordination).  This could really discourage men from applying if they are unable or unwilling to do this since most applicants carry debt from previous education or even from life in general (car payment, mortgage, etc).

So what can we do to address the problems? Off limits are discussing changes the ministerial priesthood- this includes women priests or allowing priests to marry. I don't mind talking about these issues, but since I am a layperson with absolutely no authority in the matter whatsoever, there's no use in talking about it.  Allowing priests to get married is not very likely, and is actually very different than admitting married men to priesthood (which is more the exception than the norm). Regarding women ordination, Blessed John Paul II made it pretty clear in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (1994) by saying: "I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful." So women ordination advocates, there's no need to hold your breath.

Now that we've covered that stuff, let's back to the matter at hand. Here are six practical suggestions for promoting and supporting priestly vocations mostly from my own experience. (For my vocation story, see A Path to Holiness.)

Tip #1. Every diocese has a vocation director- know who this is and ask how you can help. This role is usually held by a priest or a team of priests who act in the name of the diocesan bishop in matters of vocations. In some cases, the diocesan bishop may hold the role or parts of the role to himself. Normally at the ordination liturgy, this is the priest who presents the ordinand to the bishop and testifies to his readiness for sacred orders.  His primary responsibility is the recruitment of priestly candidates.  Depending on the diocese, the vocation director usually also serves as the bishop's liaison to the seminary (if outside the diocese) and oversees the overall training of the seminarian for the diocesan bishop.

Vocations poster circa 1995. That's me on the lower left.
Typically the vocation director travels around the diocese offering presentations and meeting with applicants. He's usually the one who produces all the vocation posters and advertisements. In this regard, he functions much like a college recruiter. He may ask parish pastors and fellow diocesan priests to assist him with these duties. It can be a hard job, especially if the vocation director is also a parish pastor or has additional diocesan assignments.

Tip #2. Support the seminarians in your diocese. A seminarian is affiliated with a particular diocese where they will be ordained and serve as a priest. Support the ones affiliated with your diocese. You may find a seminarian living/working at your parish for the summer or on a pastoral year- he would be an easy one to support. If there's a larger seminary within your diocese, there will be men from other dioceses sent there to study who can be a long way from home (this was the case for me when I was in the seminary), so consider supporting them, too.  What do I mean by support?  Pray for them.  Feed them. Help them a little financially here and there.  Seminarians are busy college or graduate students, and therefore have empty wallets (with the exception of a periodic stipend).  In most cases, they aren't able to hold meaningful employment while studying or on pastoral assignments.  A little money for gas or pizza can go a long way.

Tip #3. If you think someone would make a good priest, tell him! This might seem a little rudimentary, but people overlook this all the time. God doesn't send e-mails (at least I've never received one). He uses people like you and I to convey His message. Don't be discouraged if the guy currently has a girlfriend.  What it takes to be a good priest is also what it takes to be a good husband and father.  The difference is how God calls them to serve. So if you think someone has the call to priesthood, say something to him.

Tip #4. Support the priestly vocations that we already have. Don't forget about your pastor and other priests you know. These guys work hard, and often have to work as lone rangers. Nowadays, they typically live alone and may not see another priest with any frequency. The pastor sees himself as the head of a parish family, so it wouldn't hurt to make him a part of yours once in a while. Invite him out to eat with your family after Mass, or have him over for dinner.  Even if he doesn't accept, he'll really appreciate the invitation.  If he comes over for dinner, you don't have to treat him as an honored guest- priests like respect, but they also appreciate familiarity. Let him set the table before hand or ask him to help dry the dishes afterward, just like you would any other family friend.  The company of your family with a home cooked meal is a blessing; even more so he gets to take part in the preparation or clean up.

Tip #5. Examine and process your own personal feelings about priests.   Some people don't realize how much the pedophilia scandal affected them.  It's affected a lot of people with hurt and anger, even they don't know any of the victims or priests that were involved.  Has the scandal impacted vocations?  Depends on who you ask.  Some say it has deterred applicants, others say it has encouraged more dedicated and committed men to the seminaries.

But even without the scandal, you'd be surprised what people thought about priests and didn't realize it. On more than one occasion, I've had parents emphasize that the Church needs good priests, but when you would ask them about one of their own kids becoming a priest, you'd get something like "Oh no. Johnny could never be a priest, we're going to have grandchildren." In other words, it's okay to encourage someone to be a priest, just not someone in your own family...that's worthy of a pause for thought.

This last suggestion is for priests. (Since there's a few that read this blog.)

Tip #6. Tell people how happy you are! No one is going to want to be a priest if they don't know you, or know how happy you really are. Timothy Cardinal Dolan wrote on Twitter:
"As a kid, priests and sisters showed me that giving your life to Jesus was a happy thing to do! If we can recover that, we'd be onto something." (June 18, 2012)
Concluding with good news, perhaps priestly happiness is becoming more visible.  The numbers for vocations are starting to trend up.  Seminary enrollment has been increasing, to the point where a few schools are nearing capacity. That's a good problem to have, even if we won't notice it in the parishes for a few more years. 

I'm happy to have your thoughts or suggestions about promoting & supporting priestly vocations attached to this blog post. Please comment below!

St John Vianney, patron saint for priests, pray for us. 

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