St James Cathedral - Seattle, WA

Sunday, December 15, 2013

"In those days" and Other Lectionary Incipits

"In those days" is one of my favorite phrases in Scripture.  You should know though that most of the time when it's heard during Mass, it's actually not a part of text from the Bible. 

Wait, what? Yep, it's true.  Here's the explanation.

The readings in the Lectionary are snippets from the Sacred Scripture.  These lections are grouped by themes, and therefore not read in the same order as they are found in the Bible.  When you take selections from the Bible and read them separately, many of them will seem out of context.  When this happens in the liturgy, the Church adds an introductory phrase called an incipit at the beginning of the reading to make it easier to understand.

The reading from the Lectionary at Mass may start with the phrase in those days, however you won't find it in the actual chapter and verse.  The only times the phrase actually appears in the Bible (that I can find) are Joel 3:2, Matthew 24:36, and Luke 2:11. 

Historians suspect that incipits were initially used by the readers orally to introduce the passage, then were written in with the readings over time as lectionaries were assembled.  

There are times when an incipit is actually part of the Biblical text, such as In the beginning which introduces both Genesis and John's Gospel.  It was popular to reflect these introductory phrases very artistically in historic versions of the Bible, especially with decorative and distinctive incipit pages proceeding the rest of the manuscript.

Paragraph 124 of the General Introduction of the Lectionary for Mass (GILM) talks about the incipits that were inserted into the Lectionary:
In this Order of Readings the first element of the incipit is the customary introductory phrase: "At that time," "In those days," "Brothers and Sisters," "Beloved," "Dearly Beloved," "Dearest Brothers and Sisters," or "Thus says the Lord," "Thus says the Lord God." These words are not given when the text itself provides sufficient indication of the time or the persons involved or where such phrases would not fit in with the very nature of the text. For the individual languages, such phrases may be changed or omitted by decree of the competent Authorities.
So maybe you've never noticed the Lectionary incipits during Mass before, but I bet you will now!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Not Giving Money to the Church

Money is a sensitive issue, especially in the Catholic Church. It's been said before that if a priest talks about money even once, he's talked about it too much. After writing this, I'm sure some of my readers are about to tell me I've talked about it too much, and I'm not even a priest.

There's plenty of reasons (or excuses) not to give money to your parish church, some of them are better than others. Here's a few I've heard recently: There's still a lot of scorn from the priest abuse scandal, even on a good day. There's disagreement with magisterial teaching on abortion, marriage, or whatever topic you want to insert here.  The homilies are bad, the music is awful, or the pews are uncomfortable. My all time favorite: the Church just doesn't need it.

Well let's be clear. The Church definitely needs money, especially at the parish level. In fact, all the Church's problems, shortcomings, and dissension probably have made the need even greater.

Speaking practically, the Church has bills to pay. Lights, heating/air conditioning, water, maybe even a mortgage and other debt. The buildings and property need regular maintenance and upkeep. If you're a homeowner or manage a business, then you know what I'm talking about. One time walking into church, I heard the two women in front of me complaining about having to give money, then in the next breath complaining about how the parking lot was in poor shape. There was no realization that you have to have one to be able to fix the other.

The church also has to pay salaries. There's a notion that everybody in church is a volunteer, or that people who work for the church should do so for nothing. This is ecclesiastical hokum. Everyone deserves an appropriate wage for the work they do, especially people who have their employment with the Church. There's nothing wrong with paying the music director, the parish secretary, or the maintenance guy a half-decent salary to live on. If not, they'll eventually move on to other employers, not because they want to, but because they financially have to.

I can already hear some of the objections coming...  Here's my answers to a couple of them.

What about all that treasure and art at the Vatican? If the Church sold all of it, that would take care of the money problems. In a word, no. It's obvious that the wealth of the Church is unevenly distributed, however selling all the "spoils" in the Vatican Museums isn't the easy fix. First of all, this assumes that people would actually want to buy all of that stuff. (Funny how the people who suggests doing this don't offer to buy any of it.)  Secondly, a lot of those treasures were donated, blessed, or would just be scandalous to sell on eBay. For argument's sake, let's say the pope liquidates the Musei Vaticani and your pastor sells all the statues in the church. Eventually the money would run out and it would only be a matter of time before your local parish would have to pay bills again.  Then we would have no history, no art, uglier churches, and still the same money problems.

What if I really object with the way the money is used at my parish or diocese? I think this happens a lot more than people admit.  Besides talking to your pastor or joining the finance council, the easiest thing to do is to earmark or designate your contributions.  All parishes have a general offertory collection, but most parishes have other ways of giving.  My parish, for example, has several specific funds such as the maintenance fund, the debt fund, etc. that are managed separately from the general budget. Parishioners can also purchase items that the parish uses regularly, such as the altar bread/wine, candles, even office paper.  If giving to your parish still doesn't suit you, then I know plenty of other worthy Catholic social or educational organizations that could use your regular contribution. Whatever you do, don't let your disagreements with others prevent you from being generous.

So let's say you're ready to give to the Church, but you have no idea how much.  Some people say 10%, referring to tithing in the Old Testament.  That's great if you have the ability to do that, but most people I know simply can't, especially at first. Start off by giving the equivalent of one hour of wage or salary for your household. This way all the working members in your household can give the same amount, even though they have different incomes.  I don't know anyone who can't afford to give at least an hour's wage and it's a neat way to sanctify your employment, especially if you are consciously setting aside that hour.  If you're working full-time, an hour is actually a small percentage of your paycheck with room to give more when you can.

To be fair, there are some people that just cannot give financially.  There's no need to apologize if you're not working, on a fixed income, or you just don't have it.  But for a lot of people, the problem isn't affordability but rather how they spend their money. For example, take a look at your cable or satellite bill (if you don't have one, pick some other monthly cost that has to do with how you entertain yourself).  If your cable bill is $200 a month and your parish contribution is only $4 or $5 a month (depending on how many Sundays there are), then your beliefs aren't reflected in what you're doing with your money.

Last point.  A lot of times, people give out of their surplus (meaning the spare change in your pocket or that extra canned vegetable that you don't really care about).  There's nothing wrong with this and its good to do, but it's superficial compared to what we could be doing. We have a Savior who completely gave Himself by dying on a cross, showing us what real giving entails.  Sacrificial giving is heroic, makes you dig deep, and will push you far from your comfort zone. It probably won't come to dying, but it might mean skipping a meal or going without some necessity so that we can truly give from within ourselves. Giving sacrificially is hard. Personally I may never fully achieve it, but it's worth striving for.

St Ignatius of Loyola said it best in his generosity prayer:
teach me to be generous;
teach me to serve You as You deserve;
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to ask for reward
save that of knowing I am doing your will.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Sharing a Wrist Band with the Pope

Pope Francis and I now have a little more in common!

Have you seen that yellow silicone bracelet that Pope Francis has?  Having worn it to various functions, it's caught media attention since silicone wrist bands are not the usual attire for the successor of St Peter. 

It was given to the pope the day after his election by Wilfrid Cardinal Napier, OFM, the Archbishop of Durban in South Africa.  The bracelet is something one of the parishes in his archdiocese is doing for the Year of Faith.  Before he left for the conclave, the cardinal was asked to give one to the newly elected pope.  Here is a quick video from Rome Reports that shows the Holy Father receiving the wrist band and Cardinal Napier's thoughts about giving it to him:

Immediately after seeing this, I thought about how neat it would be to see if I could get one.  (It couldn't hurt to ask, right?)  So I looked up the Archdiocese of Durban, and sent them an e-mail.  Four months later, a letter from South Africa arrived and inside was the wrist band! 

I didn't expect the letter to be actually signed by Cardinal Napier- the same guy who participated in the papal conclave and handed Pope Francis his wrist band.  I was also taken that it began with a sincere apology saying that it took so long for him to mail one to me because they had run out.

Accuse me of hero worship if you want. (I'll admit there's a little bit since I'm showing off the bracelet.)  But it's what the wrist band has come to represent that I think is a real eye opener.  The fact that an American  Catholic like me can wear the same wrist band as the Argentinian pope, the same wrist band worn by a lot of people in South Africa, and all of us are living on opposite ends of the world, shows the connectedness and universality of the Church in a really neat way.

I bet Cardinal Napier didn't realize how much attention his gift to the Holy Father would receive.  I'm also betting the priest who created the wrist bands didn't know that the pope would one day be wearing one! I don't know how many bracelets they have left; I'm sure they've had to get more now that the pope has one. 

If you too want a wrist band, reach out to the Archdiocese of Durban and you'll probably get one.  I just ask that you help them out by sending a little donation to cover the cost and support the Church there.  Thanks for being so awesome, Cardinal Napier!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Reject Bad Information About the Church!

Want to know what really pushes my ecclesial buttons? 
It's spreading misinformation and misunderstanding, specifically about the Church.

I know we get a lot of it from the media.  It was especially noticeable when Benedict XVI resigned from the papacy.  Many journalists who had never said the word papal before pronounced it wrong, as if it rhymed with "apple" instead of "maple." (Credit goes to college friend John Jansen from Generations for Life who first pointed this out.)

We get a lot of misinformation from people outside the Catholic Church, too.  The world seems to have an abundance of people who have a poor understanding of the Church, and our large number of poorly catechized Catholics isn't helping.

What I can't tolerate is people who claim to be devout, sanctimonious Catholics who share wrong information about the Church with other people.  Whether they realize it or not, what they are actually doing is pushing their own agenda or version of church instead of the real Truth.

Here's a prime example of what's got me all fired up.  There's a bogus video circulating through the internet called Pope Francis Rejects Communion in the Hand.  It's edited footage from the Holy Father's liturgies at St Peter's Basilica on April 14, 2013 and on April 21, 2013.

Here's what's so misleading about it.  The video doesn't show Pope Francis rejecting or denying Holy Communion in the hand at all!  What it shows is the Holy Father administering Holy Communion to the deacons of the Mass (on the tongue, which is the norm for ministers at the altar).  It also shows one of the priests from each Mass, instructing an individual communicant to receive the Communion on the tongue, not the hand. 

What it doesn't show you is that Pope Francis usually only distributes Holy Communion to the ministers close to him at the altar at the larger pontifical celebrations. He hasn't been giving Communion to the faithful in attendance, even on the tongue. It also doesn't show the numerous priests and deacons who assist with the distribution of Holy Communion at these liturgies, with some of them administering Holy Communion in the hand.

Besides the selective editing, there's a lot that unsuspecting viewers may not realize. Receiving Holy Communion on the tongue is the norm at the Vatican (and really in the entire Church). Reception in the hand is only permitted by decree in certain countries where the bishops have asked for it (including Italy which surrounds but does not include Vatican City). Therefore, it is perfectly acceptable for a priest at St Peter's Basilica to insist that the unknowing Mass attendee receive the Eucharist on the tongue, especially if this instruction can be done with little disruption. Of course, this instruction has nothing to do with the pope supposedly eradicating Holy Communion in the hand that the video wrongly claims.

Cardinal Bergoglio (Pope Francis) giving Communion in the hand in 2004.
The end of the video is the tell all. It's a reference to a person's blog whose personal agenda is pretty apparent. This guy wants everyone to receive Holy Communion on the tongue while kneeling, to the point where he's jumping to false conclusions about the pope and then manipulating video to push his agenda on unsuspecting Christians.  Maybe some day this guy will get his wish, but if that happens, it will come by decree of the Holy Father or the Congregation for the Discipline of the Sacraments, not by a lay person's twisted video production.

St Athanasius once wrote: "In accordance with the Apostolic Faith delivered to us through the tradition of the Fathers, I have delivered the tradition without innovation, without adding anything extraneous to it."  He's referring to doctrine, but it's fair to extend this to general information about the Church, too.  All I'm asking of my fellow Catholics is to teach what the Church teaches, not your own version of it or what you think the Church should teach.

People deserve the real deal, not some cheap imitation.  Giving them anything else doesn't serve the Church, but selfishly builds your own ego. Chicago's Fr Robert Barron said in a recent homily: "When the ego takes over, the flow of grace is blocked."  That's pretty evident in the video. 

Receiving Holy Communion on the tongue is very reverent and I recommend it.  However, I don't recommend lying and saying the pope denies Holy Communion in the hand when he doesn't. Reject this video. Pray for the one who made it.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Needing a Little Courage with Being Pro-Life

In case you're wondering if I'm pro-life, this is what I think:
  • Life is beautiful and sacred, even if it doesn't always seem that way. 
  • Each person is unique, unrepeatable, and has something to offer.
  • Life doesn't begin at birth, but at the very beginning at conception.
  • You shouldn't kill people.
I believe this not just because the Catholic Church teaches this, but also on my own discernment.  I've also found that whether you believe them or not doesn't take away from the reality that they are all true. 

So what's the problem?  Well, I didn't think I had one until I started thinking about getting the Choose Life specialty license plate for my car.  

If you haven't seen what I'm referring to, Choose Life America is an organization that started the Choose Life license plate with the idea of funding prenatal care for mothers considering adoption and to help fund pro-life pregnancy centers.  It actually started in Florida where I grew up and is now available in at least 29 other states.  According to their website, they have been able to raise $14 million so far.

Initially, this seemed like a great idea.  I'm pro-life, and a license plate that reflects my values and beliefs is available in my state.  It raises money for a charitable organization and brings attention to a worthy issue.  The problem is it also brings some attention to me, and this is where I stopped.

Let me explain.  I'm not a shy person.  I'm not one to hide my Catholicity or being a Christian.  I often participate in casual conversations about faith or religion in the workplace.  I hope my faith life is reflected in my behavior (although I know it sometimes isn't).  At the same time, I've always been a very prudential person and tend to pick my battles.  I prefer getting the job done rather than being the announcer that says it has to be done.  I prefer to talk to people when they're not emotional, and do not care for heated arguments that typically don't lead to anything but misunderstanding and frustration which is why the argument started in the first place.

And that's my fear, getting caught up in some confrontation that I don't need to get caught up in.  I'm not sure how rational or realistic this fear is, but I have it.  Do I want to be caught in a debate about abortion at a gas station when all I want is to pump gas?  Would that police officer have given me a break on that ticket if he/she wasn't so convicted that a woman has a right to do what she wants with her body?  Maybe that garbage wouldn't be on my car when I came out of the store if it had the regular license plate.  I might be able to live with things like this, but what if my kids are there or my wife is driving the car?

I know I might be over thinking this a little.  Maybe I'm thinking about myself and my family too much.  Regardless of where you are on being pro-life and how you convey it, this can be a very desperate issue.  People do unnecessarily crazy things when they're desperate, and I prefer them not to do them to me, especially if I'm in a hurry or my kids are watching.  Is this a good reason not to get the Choose Life license plate?  I couldn't seem to arrive at an answer, and I wasn't even sure if there was a right answer.  After all, you don't have to have a license plate to be pro-life.  On the other hand, if everyone did nothing out of fear, then nothing in the world would get done.

So, I turned to my wife and asked her what she thought.  She's not the kind of person to rock the boat and doesn't like it when people argue.  Waiting for her to pass on getting the Choose Life specialty plate with a multitude of reasons including mine and a few more, she says with the wisdom of Solomon: "Paul, it's pretty obvious we're pro-life.  Get the plate."

And so with a little courage, I did.  The application has been submitted; the plate should be arriving any day now.  Even before putting this license plate on the car, I've realized some things about being a pro-life Christian: 
  • Some people preach on street corners, others prefer a subtle approach.  Both are fine as long as you are using your God given talents fully.
  • Being a Christian comes with a price (and an eventual reward).  All the important things in life do.
Who knows, maybe I'll help save a life by having the Choose Life plate on my car.  

I'm sure I'm not the only one who's thought about this, or even been deterred from getting the license plate for similar reasons.  If you're pro-life, do you think you should get one?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Official Vatican Photo of Pope Francis Released

The Vatican News Service released this official photo of the new Holy Father with his signature. It's dated the day of his election. According to the news service: "In the crucifix is the image of Jesus the Good Shepherd, carrying the sheep on his shoulders, with the flock following him."  

I think it's a great photo.  Does it look like a Polaroid?  Check out the signature, it doesn't match the forgeries I talked about here.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Simony or Scam- Need a Rosary Blessed by the Pope?

Have you looked on eBay since the papal election?  If you haven't, go ahead and type "Pope Francis" into the search bar.  When I did it, there were 2,433 related things for sale.  You'll find all sorts of papal memorabilia, ranging from commemorative t-shirts to a large clock featuring the Holy Father's head.  Sadly, the first listing that came up for me was a little surprising: 50 rosaries supposedly blessed by Pope Francis on 3/14/2013.  The listing goes as far as to say "Great resale opportunity" and that each rosary comes with a "proof of blessing."  Want to see it yourself?  Here's a link to eBay item #251247240040.

So I guess I should provide some background about how people get religious articles blessed by the pope.  If you visit the Vatican and see the pope during his regular General Audience on Wednesdays, he will impart a formal Apostolic Blessing.  It's clearly stated that his intention is to bless all in attendance and any religious object brought to the audience for him to bless.  Most people bring crosses or religious medals, but to give you an idea of how far people take this, there were some pilgrims carrying a very large (and heavy) statue at the audience I attended with Benedict XVI. I had no idea how they got it there, or how they were going to get it back out.

Unfortunately, there's always people trying to make a quick buck (or a Euro in Italy), and will do so at the cost of sin. This sort of thing isn't anything new; even in the Old Testament sacred items were being traded for profit.  If you dig into eBay's history, you'll see where there has been ongoing scandal (that periodically catches media attention) including the selling of consecrated hosts, holy oils, various types of relics, and so forth.  Outside of any sinful intention, many Christians have created an online market on eBay for sought after relics because it's an easy way to obtain them for private veneration.  There are even religious groups that raise money to try to purchase authentic relics from eBay and other similar websites to prevent the sacred from being treated like tokens or artifacts. 

A big part of the problem is that it's hard to verify the authenticity of things.  For this particular auction listing for the blessed rosaries, it shows a picture of the "proof of blessing" that comes with each rosary.  Funny thing is, if you go to another auction listing by the same seller, what is supposed to be the pope's signature is very different! 

Besides, how do you know what the new pope's signature looks like? And just to clarify, the Vatican doesn't offer a "proof of blessing" on any random item that's brought to a papal audience, there's no way it could keep up with such a demand.

So let's pretend these rosaries were actually blessed by Pope Francis. If that's the case, then is it sinful to sell them? You bet it is. The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls it simony. Paragraph 2121 clearly defines it and refers to Simon the magician who tried to purchase spiritual abilities from the Apostles Peter and John (Acts 8). Canon 1171 also addresses blessed objects: "Sacred things which are destined for divine worship through dedication or a blessing are to be treated with reverence and not be employed for improper or profane use even if they are under the control of private individuals."

You might be able to argue that the seller isn't selling the blessing, just the beads and chain that make up the rosary. Maybe the sale price covers the cost of the seller's time and efforts to obtain the rosaries and get them blessed.  Perhaps the seller is actually doing a service for people that can't get to the pope to get their rosary blessed.  I suppose you can make an argument for these points.  What I can say with certainty is if 90% of the price goes into the seller's pocket, then it's probably simony, a scam, or both.

Don't get me wrong.  It's good to offer a service for people, especially providing religious goods, and there's nothing wrong with making a living doing so.  It's perfectly acceptable for shrines and retreat centers to sell medals, crosses, and spiritual books.  It's great that your parish might have a gift shop that sells First Communion and Confirmation gifts which helps raise money for the church.  The big difference is that the clergy are happy to bless the items AFTER they are purchased, and you're not being lied to or scammed!

Some people might think I'm being too technical here, but the bottom line is that blessed objects aren't merchandise and shouldn't be sold.  If something is purchased and blessed afterwards, there's nothing wrong with that unless it's sold again, especially if it's being sold because it's blessed.  

So what do you do if you want to get a rosary blessed by the pope but can't get to Rome?  Anything but buy one already blessed.  The best thing to do is talk to a priest or vowed religious you know.  Chances are he/she can connect you with someone who is going to Rome or who is currently studying or working there.  That person can take your item or obtain one there for you, get it blessed by the pope, and get it back to you.  People who travel to Rome are asked to do this all the time.  Another option is contacting one of the reputable gift shops in Rome. A decent store near the Vatican will sell you the item, then take it to the next General Audience and have it blessed for no additional charge.  If the item is advertised as already blessed, or they charge you a fee for getting it blessed, then don't use them.

Final thought.  Want to know what's more important than a rosary blessed by the pope?  A rosary used for prayer.

* * *

3/21/2013 Update: I sent the eBay seller a message with a link to this blog article. To my surprise, he replied back. To be fair and charitable, what he wrote has been added as a comment below. I'm a little skeptical, but take a look and let me know what you think!  

Also, I did just find Pope Francis' signature with his official photo. You can see it here.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Some Thoughts On The New Pope

Before talking about our new pope, can I point out how fascinated I am with the Church and modern technology? 

Never before have billions of people been able to watch the chimney at the Sistine Chapel yet never step foot in St Peter's Square.  Probably with only a few exceptions, the entire world found out about the new bishop of Rome within moments thanks to the news media and internet.  Compared to a thousand years ago (or say a hundred popes ago), it might have taken half a century to find out about the election of a new pope. It's quite possible that Rome may have been through a couple more popes before people in far away lands found out the first one had died!

For me, I definitely took advantage of all the technology I could.  A few minutes after 2PM, I was bombarded with constant text messages while watching a live feed on a colleagues iPhone and monitoring all the posts on Facebook and Twitter on another device before making it to a television.  I wanted to see and hear the new pope for the first time.  Like so many, I had never experienced it before.

It was all worth it, and in fact I was absolutely captivated by Pope Francis.  When he came onto the loggia of St Peter's Basilica and quietly stood there (with some shock and awe), I could tell he was a holy man.  Wearing only the white cassock, and forgoing the rochet covered by the red mozzetta normally worn by his predecessors, his simplicity was obvious (especially when the prelates and attendants around him were all decked out in their ecclesiastical best).  He didn't even wear his stole until he blessed the assembly.

He seems to be very personable and a man of humility, as evidenced by his first words to the Church.  Here is the text from the Vatican News website:

Brothers and sisters good evening.
You all know that the duty of the Conclave was to give a bishop to Rome. It seems that my brother Cardinals have gone almost to the ends of the earth to get him… but here we are. I thank you for the welcome that has come from the diocesan community of Rome.

First of all I would like to say a prayer pray for our Bishop Emeritus Benedict XVI. Let us all pray together for him, that the Lord will bless him and that our Lady will protect him.

And now let us begin this journey, the Bishop and the people, this journey of the Church of Rome which presides in charity over all the Churches, a journey of brotherhood in love, of mutual trust. Let us always pray for one another. Let us pray for the whole world that there might be a great sense of brotherhood. My hope is that this journey of the Church that we begin today, together with the help of my Cardinal Vicar, may be fruitful for the evangelization of this beautiful city.

And now I would like to give the blessing. But first I want to ask you a favor. Before the Bishop blesses the people I ask that you would pray to the Lord to bless me – the prayer of the people for their Bishop. Let us say this prayer – your prayer for me – in silence.

I will now give my blessing to you and to the whole world, to all men and women of good will.

Brothers and sisters, I am leaving you. Thank you for your welcome. Pray for me and I will be with you again soon... We will see one another soon.

Tomorrow I want to go to pray to the Madonna, that she may protect Rome.
Good night and sleep well!

I knew very little about Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio before his election to the papacy today, but I'm delighted in what I have heard so far.  He was a late vocation with a graduate degree in chemistry before entering formation.  He is the first member of the Society of Jesus to be elected Pontiff.  As a part-product of Jesuit higher education, I know the Society gets a bad rap sometimes (and many times it's well deserved), however I've come to know so many of them who are faithful servants, often committed to the poor and other important social justice issues as Cardinal Bergoglio was.  I also heard that as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he resided in an apartment and often took public transportation to the office- not the perceived norm of an archbishop and member of the College of Cardinals.

In his former posts, he was known for being straight forward and for his efficacy, some of which the world saw when His Holiness asked the massive crowd in St Peter's Square to pray for him in silence.  He bowed his head, and they did.

I also have to say, I love the new name, and it seems to match up with the first impressions of the new Holy Father. I'm really surprised that no previous pope had ever taken the name since so many have a devotion to St Francis. Initially, I wasn't sure if he took the name in honor of St Francis of Assisi or for St Francis Xavier (one of the founders of the Jesuits, and also my son's patron). All credible sources say it is for St Francis of Assisi which is consistent with his episcopal motto  "Lowly yet chosen." 

I'm looking forward to getting to know this new pope.  Thanks to all the modern technology available to us, we now can. 

* * *

Funny side note, I'm glad that Vatican has clarified that the Holy Father will be known as "Pope Francis" not "Pope Francis I."  It's a little weird to be called "the first" without having "a second."  It would be like naming a child "John Smith, Sr" without knowing if there will ever be a John Smith, Jr.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Did the Pope Really Resign???

When the news broke out, I didn't believe it at first. 

History was made today. The world's one billion Catholics learned that Pope Benedict XVI will resign from the papacy effective February 28, 2013 at 8pm (Rome time).  Only a handful of the 265 successors to St Peter have done this, the last being Gregory XII in 1415. 

Once the news settled, it actually didn't surprise me that the Holy Father would resign- it seems to fit him and his style. I think it definitely surprised the world the way in which he did it, especially with most of the cardinals unaware of this announcement that was to come during the Consistory. Many Catholics who didn't even know the pope could resign now know it well with Canon 332 §2 of the Code of Canon Law making it's way through every social media outlet available. 

So what happens now? One thing is for sure, be careful of whom you listen to in the media. It became clear during my morning commute that the facts are quickly becoming mixed with fiction and hype, especially from journalists and reporters who don't really understand the papacy or the Catholic Church.  

According to the Vatican Press Office, here are the details as we know them. Pope Benedict XVI will not be participating in the conclave to elect the next pope in March. (I don't know if this is because he is over the voting age of 80 or because he does not want to.) When he leaves office at the time his resignation becomes effective, he will move to the papal residence at Castel Gandolfo. He will eventually move to a former cloistered monastery within the Vatican. 

From there, it seems Benedict XVI will be setting a precedent since there really isn't one for having a former pope around. Based on what happens when bishops, abbots, and other religious superiors resign, it probably won't be all that different, at least I think. I suppose if he were able (and the new pope wanted) Benedict XVI could hold some sort of office or have duties within the Church. I just don't think that will happen since he cites his advanced age as one of the reasons for his resignation. Knowing him, he will most likely take on a quiet life of prayer and study away from the public eye, perhaps with an appearance every once in a while.  Like any other retired cardinal, he will be subject to the new pope, and would never  want to do anything that would take away from his successor's pontificate.  

One of my favorite pictures of Benedict XVI
I'm also wondering if he would continue to wear a white cassock. Scholars correct me if I'm wrong, but it doesn't say anywhere that the pope has to wear white, especially a former pope. When he was a cardinal, it was common to see him around the office wearing a simple black cassock with only his zuchetto being red; he only wore his more formal attire when the occasion called. Perhaps he will return to that, except with his zuchetto now white. 

While it's most likely he would stay at the Vatican, it would be possible for him to reside elsewhere. I'm just not sure if I'd want to the bishop of the diocese where he would move to...having your former boss living nearby might be a little awkward. 

One thing is for sure- I found Benedict XVI to be a good pope, and his resignation gives us the opportunity to express our gratitude to him for his pontificate. I had the privilege of a general audience at the Vatican in 2005, and that's when I learned how personable and sincere he is. He's an intelligent man of unwavering truth, and is able to convey it charitably yet without sacrificing its integrity. I'm a little taken because my children are so young, they will never really know him.

The Anglican Ordinariate, liturgical reforms, his Twitter account, I wonder what people will remember him most for?

The Collect from the Mass for the Election of a Pope:

O God, eternal shepherd,
who govern your flock with unfailing care,
grant in your boundless fatherly love
a pastor for your Church
who will please you by his holiness
and to us show watchful care.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


Friday, February 1, 2013

Enough Is Enough, Cardinal Mahony!

I'm not one to publicly criticize bishops.  In fact, I usually detest it and encourage others to not do so.  Usually...but not this time; although it helps that Roger Cardinal Mahony is retired.

In case you're not familiar with what I'm eluding to, Archbishop Gomez of Los Angeles has publicly announced that his predecessor Cardinal Mahony will "no longer have any administrative or public duties."  Abp Gomez has also announced that Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Curry (who was then Vicar for Clergy under Cardinal Mahony) has been granted his request "to be relieved of his responsibility" as Episcopal Vicar for the Archdiocese's Santa Barbara region.  This happened after the Archdiocese of Los Angeles was court ordered to release 30,000 pages of it's clergy sex-abuse files this past week.  As far as I know, a diocesan bishop publicly relieving his predecessor (who's a cardinal) and an auxiliary bishop at the same time are unprecedented.  You can read Archbishop Gomez's statement here.

Perhaps relieving is not the right term to use.  Since the announcement was made, I've been searching through Canon Law.  While it specifically doesn't address a bishop emeritus (fancy name for retired bishop), it seems that any duties that a titular bishop (a bishop who isn't the head of a diocese) has within the diocese are granted by the diocesan bishop and therefore can be removed by him, but only the pope alone has the ability to accept a bishop's resignation. It seems Abp Gomez has the ability to significantly limit Bp Curry's diocesan abilities until that happens, but can't relieve any of the auxiliary bishop's faculties in the way he can if he were a priest. Since Roger Mahony is a cardinal, Abp Gomez can only prohibit him from the archdiocesan duties that had previously asked him to do. Only the pope can prevent him from participating in a papal conclave, and only the pope can remove his faculties.  (Canon lawyers and other smart people, please correct me if I have any of that wrong.)  In fact, I just saw that Abp Gomez released this statement today which clarifies the canonical status of the two bishops.

Back to my point. As a devout Catholic and father of small children, the whole thing sickens me.  The sexual abuse of minors by clergy sickens me.  The fact that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has 30,000 pages of documentation on clergy sexual abuse sickens me.  The fact that Cardinal Mahony and Bishop Curry covered so much of it up sickens me.  The fact that Archbishop Gomez had to take action against two other bishops sickens me. 

Want to know what really sickens me?  That Cardinal Mahony released a public letter to Archbishop Gomez in response to the matter.  Seriously Cardinal?  The people have had enough! You've been relieved of any diocesan duty so, your eminence, please just go away quietly.  At the very least, you made some very bad decisions when you were Archbishop of Los Angeles; at the very most you should have been criminally charged and imprisoned.  Either way, a lot of people have been hurt by your actions, and the largest archdiocese in the United States that was entrusted to you for over 25 years will be cleaning up from your episcopacy for years to come.  The only reason you're still in good standing is because Abp Gomez doesn't have the authority to say otherwise.

Archbishop Gomez, thank you for your transparency and cooperating with exposing this evil.  Only by bringing our sins to the light can we begin to move forward.  

Bless our victims, forgive our sins, and help your Church, Lord.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Going High Tech for Holy Mass

The term "hands free" will never enter your mind if you've got two small toddlers with you in church.  If I'm not holding the squirmy one, I'm holding the other who's restless and ready to fall asleep.  Because of this, being able to use a hymnal or a misalette during the liturgy can be a rare occurrence for me.  This became especially evident when the changes in the Mass were introduced.  I even thought about buying a new daily missal to help learn the responses, but I wasn't sure if my kids would give me a chance to use it! 

So a few weeks ago, I found a free app for my smartphone that contained the commonly used texts and responses in the liturgy- the Confiteor, Gloria, Creed, etc.  I thought this would be really helpful since I'm not able to use the reference pages in the hymnal or reach one of the worship aids in the pew while holding a small child.  One Sunday as I held my daughter when the Nicene Creed started, an idea came to me.  While holding her with one arm, I could use my free hand to look at my smartphone and I could finally recite the Creed without stumbling over the words!  

Well, what I thought was divine inspiration quickly became something else.  Towards the end the Creed, I realized how out of place this must have looked and quickly put the phone away.  Sure, I was legitimately using my smartphone as a worship aid, thumbing through the text of the Nicene Creed.  But to the people around me, I'm sure it looked like I was reading e-mail, checking Facebook, or playing Words with Friends.  My wife's what-are-you-doing glance definitely confirmed my suspicion.

A Catholic radio show host tells another interesting story about mobile devices in the liturgy.  He was attending a wedding at a parish he had never been to before.  As the bridesmaids lined up at the door of the church, a well-dressed man began slowly walking down the center aisle, carrying an iPad prominently above his head- the same way a deacon carries the Book of the Gospels in the entrance procession.  No one was really sure what was happening.  Was this some type of e-Gospel book? Was this the beginning of the procession?  If so, should he stand up? As the guy walked by, he realized what was going on- it was just the wedding photographer taking a video recording of the center aisle decorated so nicely.

It's no surprise anymore seeing people use smartphones, tablets, and other similar devices in public.  (In fact, it's more of a surprise someone to find someone without one.)  But in church, we're not there yet and I'm not sure why.  Already popular are the Divine Office App, the eBreviary, and other similar programs for those who want to pray the Liturgy of the Hours using a mobile device.  My parish deacon will tell you he actually prefers the electronic version of the Breviary- it's more portable, easier to read, and the pictures are nicer!

It's easy to envision future generations of Catholics incorporating these devices into the Mass.  Imagine the ambo or pulpit with a touchscreen, complete with an eLectionary and a Prayers of the Faithful app.  Instead of a thick, heavy Roman Missal for the celebrant, a thin, lightweight tablet with a cover that matches the color of the Mass.  It could even receive automatic updates with the latest liturgical revisions and new prayers for recently canonized saints.  For the faithful, the parish would have Wi-Fi capability and charging stations in the pews next to the hymnals. (Okay, I think I'm getting a little carried away now, but there's already an app called the iMissal...What's next?)

We may not be ready for all this now, however anything that enhances genuine participation in the liturgy is a good thing.  It would be interesting if the Congregation for Divine Worship or the USCCB issues norms or similar documents for guidance.  If that's going to be the case, how do you say mobile device in Latin?

Originally published in Saint Meinrad's Echoes of the Bell Tower.  

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Epiphany Proclamation and Date of Easter

One of the neatest things about being Catholic is that there's always something new to experience, especially with internet access and social media making things so readily accessible. Thanks to technology, you can pretty much know what the pope is up to.  If you have a Twitter account, His Holiness could also know what's going on with you!

Thanks to television coverage of the Papal Mass on the Epiphany a few years ago, I discovered the Epiphany Proclamation- when the Church announces the dates of Easter and other moveable celebrations. I knew how the Church determined the date of Easter every year (the Sunday after the first full moon of Spring in the northern hemisphere), but I didn't know the history behind it or that the proclamation was so solemn.

So I did some research. The tradition dates back to the early Church when calendars were not readily available. Prior to the Council of Nicaea in 325, different areas were celebrating Easter at different times because of the inconsistencies with the Jewish calendar. The Council established that a method independent of the Jewish calendar be used, and that Easter should be consistently celebrated throughout the universal Church. Interestingly enough, it would take several centuries before the Church achieves any consistency; it still has some differences even today.

Skipping over a lot of history, it became the norm for the Patriarch in Alexandria (the place with the most astronomers) to determine the date of Easter, and then notify the Bishop of Rome and other metropolitan bishops. Over time, it became custom to announce the upcoming date of Easter and the other moveable feasts on the Epiphany (January 6). This is done at the Vatican and many other metropolitan churches at Mass, either after the Gospel reading or after Holy Communion.

Based on the text of previous year's proclamations and an Ordo, here's what the Solemn Proclamation for 2013 should be at St Peter's Basilica:

Dear brothers and sisters, the glory of the Lord has shone upon us, and shall ever be manifest among us, until the day of his return. Through the rhythms of times and seasons let us celebrate the mysteries of salvation.

Let us recall the year's culmination, the Easter Triduum of the Lord: his last supper, his crucifixion, his burial, and his rising celebrated between the evening of the 28th of March and the evening of the 30th of March.

Each Easter - as on each Sunday - the Holy Church makes present the great and saving deed by which Christ has for ever conquered sin and death.

From Easter are reckoned all the days we keep holy:
Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, will occur on the 13th of February.
The Ascension of the Lord will be commemorated on the 8th of May.
Pentecost, the joyful conclusion of the season of Easter, will be celebrated on the 19th of May.
Corpus Christi will be celebrated on the 30th of May.
The First Sunday of Advent will be celebrated on the 1st of December.

Likewise the pilgrim Church proclaims the passover of Christ in the feasts of the holy Mother of God, in the feasts of the Apostles and Saints, and in the commemoration of the faithful departed.

To Jesus Christ, who was, who is, and who is to come, Lord of time and history, be endless praise, for ever and ever.

You may notice some differences between the Proclamation and when certain days are celebrated.  In many places within the Latin Rite, both Ascension Thursday and Corpus Christi are transferred to the following Sunday. (I talk more about that here.)  Also, the Eastern Churches that continue to follow the Julian calendar will have differing dates from the West most years.

If you want to catch the Epiphany Proclamation this year, EWTN will be broadcasting the Mass from St Peter's Basilica. Soon after someone will probably post the proclamation on YouTube. Here's a clip I found from 2009: 

So now I'm curious, did you know about the Epiphany Proclamation?  

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