Friday, December 07, 2012

Today is the Feast of St. Ambrose

In honor of today's feast, I'm posting a memoir piece I wrote in the year 2000 after my trip to Italy, because it mentions the tomb of St. Ambrose and two early Christian martyrs whose burial place was revealed to Ambrose in a vision.

Three clothed skeletons were lying side by side.... This was my first sight of the bones of St. Ambrose [and] the remains of the martyrs St. Gervais and St. Protasius

Going to Italy and Coming Home


We flew Air France. It was my first time on that carrier. On the flight to Rome via Paris everything seemed better than on any other airline I'd ever flown on.

Before serving dinner, the attendants gave us a menu written in French in one side and English on the other. The food seemed far above ordinary airline food. It was French! There was pate! The creamy stuff that looked and tasted like raisin pudding was called mousse!

Liberty didn't share my enthusiasm, but then he was glumly pondering the upcoming 12 or so hours without a cigarette. I, on the other hand, was in some sort of delusionary state in which the melamine cups seemed to be china and the coffee served in those cups was the best I'd ever had!

I was delighted that, after serving the meal, the attendants passed up and down the aisles again offering extra bread. How sophisticated of them: They were speaking French! It was French bread!

"Plus du pain?" "Mais oui, s'il vous plait!" More bread! Yes! Please!

A happy blond baby girl of about a year old sat quietly on her mother's lap across the aisle from us a few rows towards the front of the airline. She never made a peep. (Liberty conspiratorily whispered a joking comment to me, "I think the baby's on drugs.")

When it was time for the little girl to sleep, an attendant hung a cute little bed with mesh sides for her from the ceiling. The baby went to sleep without protest, and she awoke calmly in the morning as we neared Charles de Gaulle airport. The mother lifted the smiling child out, and the attendants then came and unhooked the little bed and put it away.

The stewardesses and stewards were friendly and smiling as they gave out free wine and beer along with the soft drinks.

The seats had more leg room than usual on a transoceanic carrier. Each seat had its own personal video screen on which you could watch one of four movies in French or English, or you could play games.

As the trip went on, I was amused to find on the menu on my personal video screen a show about exercises to do in your seat without disturbing the other passengers. A slender woman, who was more serene than any human I have ever seen, demonstrated the exercises. As she spoke, she sat absolutely erect in a white gauzy sleeveless top and pants, with her blonde hair tied back. She was barefoot. Her chair was placed on the front deck of a small green wooden boat that was drifting on a tranquil blue-green sea. You could see nothing except the woman, the chair, the drifting boat, the anchor rope, and the sea.

From time to time, the camera would shift away from her to a collection of actors of all ages seated in airplane seats following her instructions.

The camera zoomed in closely as she showed how to shift your weight to one side and tighten one buttock. Now shift to the other side and tighten the other buttock. Now the first buttock again.

The camera moved away to a shot from the back of the actors in the airplane seats, who were rocking from side to side as they tightened one buttock and released, tightened the other buttock and released . . .. I just had to laugh.

The exercise show came to a close with the perfect woman sitting cross-legged on a beach. Rows of white candles in glass hurricane shades formed a half circle in front of her. Palm trees and the ocean were behind her. Her soothing voice led us through a breathing exercise as the camera did a tight shot of her rib cage and as it rose and fell, rose and fell, up and down with her breath. . ..

What a charming airline, I thought. I must fly it again if I ever have the chance. All was well.

Then impressions started to sour a little. Liberty and I were supposed to meet with our tour group in Paris after their flight from LA. We were supposed to fly with them the rest of the way to Rome, but their flight was delayed. The Air France attendants would not give us any advice about whether we should continue on our connecting flight to Rome without the tour group. When I pressed one of the attendants who had been so friendly on our flight, he glared at me and said, "Madame, I have work to do."

We got on the connecting plane reluctantly, not sure that we had done the right thing. As it turned out, we were taken care of. We were met at the airport by a Japanese woman holding a sign with the name of our tour group "Littleways." When we told our greeter that the rest of the group was delayed, she sent us ahead of the group in a van with our luggage to the hotel. After check in, we were pleased to find a balcony in our room, and when we leaned out and looked to the left we could see the dome of St. Peter's. All the hours during our stay there we could hear St. Peter's big, deep bells.

Coming Back

Before leaving Italy 20 days later from Milan, we changed our reservation to return a day earlier than we had planned. Air France, like all of the airlines in Europe, and like Hertz and other companies, does not have a 24 hour 7 day a week phone number. Companies have what they call a "green number," which is toll free. But the toll free phone is answered only during business hours and not on weekends or holidays.

Antonio, our tour guide, told me that even if it wasn't Saturday, no one would be answering the phone. That day January 7, was still part of the holidays. He explained, Italians are at home with their families for the holidays.

The Italian Christmas greeting gives a clue about these matters: "Buon Natale, Buone Feste" literally means "Happy Birthday (of Christ), Happy Feasts!"

The plural word feasts is used because they don't just celebrate one feast at Christmas. They start celebrating eight days before Christmas and end some time after the feast of the Three Wise Men, Ephiphany, on January 6.

Everyone was going back to work on January 9, the next Monday, but on the 7th the feasts were just not yet over yet.

In order to call Air France to make the change in our reservation, I had to first use my AT&T direct card to call the United States and then dial the 800 number for Air France. Because the call was being placed on a phone card from Italy, it was billed at the standard AT&T direct rate for calls from Italy to the US, at around $7.50 for the first minute and about $3.50 for the next minutes. I recently got the bill. That call cost me $24.00!

During that expensive phone call, the Air France clerk told me to be 3 hours early at the airport to go to the counter and pay for the ticketing change and get the new ticket. Fortunately for us, Antonio, the tour group leader, also advised us that 2 hours would be more than enough.

To get to the Milan Linate airport, we ordered a limosine because it cost less than a cab. The driver, another Antonio, was friendly and talkative. We conversed all the way to the airport in a mix of Italian and English:

He was taking the city streets, he said, because the freeway would be jammed that time in the morning. Milan traffic! Boh! Yesterday when he went to the airport, a cab driver crashed into a Volkswagen. He smashed his fists together to show the head on collision. When he repeated the story a second time, it started to dawn on me how painful it must have been for him to witness such a thing. "How terrible," I had to agree.

"Yes," Antonio said, "I saw it!" He mimed the head on collision again. "The cab driver--Kaput!" He paused. But, he said, rallying from his compelling memory of the death to his professional duty, I shouldn't worry. Not with him. He is Number One driver.

No, he doesn't live in Milan, but near the hotel outside the city. Milan proper has problems, he said, pollution, immigrants, crime . . .. In its favor of the old city, I offered my enthusiasm for the cathedral in the city center, with its white lacey Gothic spires and the gold statue of Mary as a young girl on top of its highest pillar. La Nascita della Maria. Que bella chiesa! We had toured it the day before.

Just then, with a pang I remembered a site I had meant to see, and now couldn't. I told him that I was sorry not to have seen the basilica of San Ambrogio (St. Ambrose).

Neither Antonio's English nor my Italian were up to my desire to talk about my interest in St. Ambrose. Ambrose is the highly-venerated patron saint of Milan. His patronage is so deeply rooted in the public mind that even the Communists call themselves "Ambrosini."

I'd learned from my Catholic schooling that in the fourth century St. Ambrose had influenced the conversion of St. Augustine, who in turn had profoundly affected the philosophy of the Roman Catholic Church.

But I'd gotten truly intrigued by Ambrose and his relation to Milan only the previous summer while I was reading a story in a collection of writings from travelers in Italy.

The story "Mediolanum" (which is the Roman word for Milan and means "in the middle of the plain") is by a writer named H. V. Morton from his book _A Traveller in Italy_, which was published in 1964.)

Like Alice in Wonderland, Morton started by doing an ordinary thing on an ordinary day and then was drawn down an unexpected opening into another, mysterious world. The place that Morton chanced into was an antique, sacred place, immensely significant in the history of Milan, a place that exists on another level and almost on another spiritual plane below the present-day bustling streets of Milan. The mysteries in Morton's story were sacred ones.

Morton wrote, "During one of my early-morning walks, I came unexpectedly upon the Ambrosian Basilica. .... Crossing the atrium, I entered a dark Lombardic church, cold as an ice box. As I stood shivering I noticed a glimmer of light under the high altar." Morton followed the light, descended a set of stairs and found himself in a crypt with a number of old women dressed in black who were waiting for early mass to begin.

A man hurried in with a ring of keys. He used four different keys to unlock four different parts of an altar piece, and then he cranked open four metal shutters to reveal what Morton called "one of the world's most awesome survivals.

"Three clothed skeletons were lying side by side upon a bed or bier within a crystal shrine, the central skeleton resting upon a higher level than those its right and left. This was my first sight of the bones of St. Ambrose whose remains have been preserved in the basilica since his death in Mediolanum in 397. . . . The skeletons on either side are the remains of the martyrs St. Gervais and St. Protasius . . . Roman soldiers who died for their faith long before the time even of St. Ambrose."

In the tomb, St. Ambrose is in white, and the martyrs are in red

Another book I read later placed the martyrdoms of the two Roman soldiers in the mid-2nd century A.D. They are lying on either side of St. Ambrose because St. Ambrose had been led by a vision to find their bodies. At the time that St. Ambrose lived nobody knew where their bodies were.

When Morton was writing about his discovery in the 60s, he was surprised to find that most citizens of Milan were not aware either of the presence of the ancient relics of their patron saint Ambrose in his basilica. Since then the word has gotten around.

The editor of __Italy: True Stories of Life on the Road_ notes that nowadays no one is allowed within 4 feet of the glass case, "for security."

It is too bad, I said to the limousine driver, I had so wanted to see the bones of St. Ambrose.

Antonio said "We have time. I will take you there." I should not worry, he assured me. He would accept my Visa as payment.

No, I said. It's better if I do what the airline told me to do, get there early. "But," I said, "if I ever come to Milan again, I will call you." I couldn't miss St. Ambrose a second time. And I would call him, but the second he gave me his last name, I forgot it, I think because I know deep in my heart that I never will go back.

At the airport Antonio parked the limousine and we all got out. After he took out our luggage, Antonio ran my Visa card through his card reader in the trunk of the cab. Liberty gave him a tip.

"What do you feed him?' the driver said about Liberty. "There's nothing to him. Not like me." He gestured at his belly. "Not like me either," I agreed. For a few moments, we shared a comfortable camaraderie between two ample-bellied people, a man and a woman of a certain age.

Then the little credit card machine chirped and typed out its okay. The receipt came out. I signed it, and we had to go.

"Speak Italian," Antonio said to Liberty as a final word of advice.

At Milan's Linate Airport

Both Antonios were right about there having been no need to hurry. The Air France counter was closed for still another hour after we got there. When I inquired, I was told the clerk was having her breakfast. I wished I had known so I could have stayed at the hotel longer to relax and enjoy my breakfast too. Or maybe a side trip to see Saint Ambrose . . ..

I put the time to good use by stopping for a visit at a chapel featured prominently in the airport newsletter. After helping me find the chapel, Liberty went to find someplace to smoke.

The airport newsletter showed pictures and brief biographies of four airline employees of all ages who had recently died from natural causes, along with pictures of priests vested to officiate at their funeral masses. This was unique, the official organ of Milan's Linate airport dedicated to honoring the work and lives and deaths of ordinary people who work there. Maybe this respect for workers is one effort of those Ambrosian communists?

At the chapel entrance was the last of the manger scenes I saw in Italy, which is a country with many, many, mangers on display during the holidays. Mangers are little scenes that portray the birth of Jesus. They always include the baby Jesus, his mother, Mary, and his foster father, Joseph. Almost always they include an ox and lamb, angels, shepherds, sheep and the three kings. Sometimes they include an assemblage of other characters who might have lived in the village near where Jesus was born.

Churches and civic groups vie with each other to see which one can have the biggest or most elaborate manger scene. In my 500+ photos from our trip, I have photos of every manger I came across wherever cameras were allowed. I even have a photo of a sign pointing to a manger from the basilica of St. Anthony in Padua. It reads "Presepio," the word for manger, above a black pointing hand.

Because cameras were forbidden, I hadn't been able to photograph my favorite presepio, the one in St. Mark's duomo in Venice made of murano glass.

Murano, one of the islands in Venice, is reknowned for the skill of its glass blowers. The best hotels and homes around the world boast Murano chandeliers.

I already knew I had found a treasure when I came across the manger scene in St. Mark's and saw its figures are made up of hand blown colored glass.

The Venetian presepio was in a dim area behind the altar rail on a side altar. It's presence was not advertised, and it was mostly unnoticed by the tourists who go through the church by the hundreds. I knelt for over an hour at the altar rail gazing at the nativity scene and praying.

The figure of Our Lady was blue, I remember, and one of the three kings was purple with an orange crown. I felt privileged (as I think Morton had felt privileged by his discovery of the relicts of St. Ambrose in Milan).

As Mark Twain wrote in _Innocents Abroad__, the traveler's greatest joy is to see something not previously seen. Even though the glass manger scene is no secret, it is usually seen only by Catholics attending mass.

Along with the joy of discovery, the beauty of the craftsmanship, and the moment in time that the manger scene portrays when the omnipotent God put aside his glory to be born as a poor child, all touched my heart.

At the Linate airport the day we left Italy, the presepio was set up as a village about 6 feet deep x 8 feet wide. The figures of the 20 or so villagers were about 6 inches tall. A mill wheel revolved in a stream of water. The villagers were motorized too. An old lady drew water from a fountain.

This manger scene was unique in my experience because a 10 inch volcano in front of the stable gave off smoke and red light!

Inside the chapel a sign indicated two divisions, Catholic and other, but there was no physical barrier dividing the two rows of pews. In front of the pews on the Catholic side was a tabernacle with the Blessed Sacrament. The tabernacle was a bronze globe with a tiny red laser light beaming from its center.

As I sat there praying my Morning Prayer from my Liturgy of the Hours, I was pleased that I had a sacred place to come to while I waited for the Air France clerk to get back from her breakfast.

The Last Lap

From the start, even the Air France flight back to Paris didn't seem as nice. The nasality and unintelligibility of the English instructions were now more annoying to me. "Ladies and genylmenn..."

In Paris again, we had to wait 2 or 3 hours at de Gaulle airport. I bought two American magazines with photos of the fireworks at milennium celebrations (which I'd watched on CNN like most of the other people in the world 8 days earlier-- while I was sick with the flu in my hotel room in Rome.)

While I leafed through a French magazine with photos and articles about the freak storm that had taken down hundreds of ancient trees at Versailles and all over France, Liberty found a place to smoke, then came back to the gift store to buy candy to use as a pacifier during the long non-smoking hours to come.

The plane that was taking us back across the Atlantic was smaller than the one that brought us. So much for the extra room between rows. When I lowered the tray, it wouldn't lie flat because it rested on my (ample) stomach.

My mood on the return trip was so changed that the cups no longer seemed at all like china. The coffee was now mediocre at best.

No personal video screens on this flight either: There was a single video screen for every 10 rows, so we all were going to watch the same movie together. My ear phones worked only when I held them pressed into each ear with my index fingers. And even so I had to strain to catch any dialogue.

The attendants were unfriendly. The food this time was below-average for airline food, placing it in the almost-vile category. I only remember a wilted piece of butter lettuce lying limply underneath a scoop of pea and carrot salad dressed with mayonaisse with a metallic taste to it.

When I finally slept, the angle I slept in put a kink in my neck. I woke up with a painfully dry mouth to find I had missed the movie. On the far away video screen I could see the beautiful woman from the exercise video surrounded by candles. I couldn't make out her relaxing words with my crummy ear phones, but I had missed most of the exercise tape anyway.

Long hours later, just before we landed in San Francisco, we heard a hissing sound we'd heard before and hadn't thought much about. Liberty and I discussed it and decided it was the fumigants that the airlines spray before landing an international flight. A minute later, a big blob of white foam plopped down onto my right shoulder on my black wool blazer!

For lack of another option, I used the airline blanket to wipe the foam off. When I looked up and saw more foam dripping from a seam in the overhead compartment, I wiped that off too.

I keep meaning to get around to writing Air France a letter of complaint.

At SFO, a customs officer asked me if I had any meat or fruit. I thought about the mortadella (which in our country is otherwise known as baloney) that I had almost bought as a gift in a roadside stop--near the city of Bologna--and I said no.

The officer must have seen my hesitation; he waved me into the aisle where they look for contraband agricultural items and food stuff. In that aisle an officer asked me again what I had, and I said nothing except chocolates (chocolates are okay). We had to lift all our baggage off the cart from where we'd recently loaded it up onto the belt to go through their x ray machines. Then--after all that--attendants were talking among themselves and didn't inspect the bags as they went through.

To get the rest of the way home from San Francisco, we took the shuttle van that was waiting at the traffic island outside the baggage claim. There were three other passengers.

Our driver must have been well into a double or triple work shift because he kept nodding off and swerving while he was driving. Trying to drop off a journalism student newly arrived from Spain at Hayward State college, the driver couldn't find his way to the student's dorm. Even though we asked him to several times, the driver wouldn't ask for directions from his dispatcher or look at a map. I decided not to report him but I wanted wanted to try to prevent him from putting anyone else through the same ordeal. I also didn't want him to kill himself.

I resolved that when/if he got us home I was going to say to him, "Look I don't want to get you in trouble, but I insist you go home. You are dangerous to yourself and others. If I call the shuttle company in a half hour and find out you are still on duty, I will report you."

But I fell asleep before we got there and was foggy brained when I had to wake up to get out of the shuttle. Liberty politely paid the man and tipped hin, When he got upstairs, to my surprise, he went to the phone immediately and called the shuttle company to report the driver. After he hung up, he said, "I hope I didn't get him fired." I told Liberty what I had planned to do. He said he thought that would have been the better thing to do, but it was too late.

The inattention of the custom's officers turned out to be the proverbial blessing in disguise, because the next day I came across what I thought was a pine cone, which I'd forgotten about in my luggage. I had been fascinated because from the looks of it, I surmised that Italian pine cones are quite different from ours, and without giving it any thought I brought it home from the Borghese Gardens in Rome.

When I showed the pine cone to Liberty the day we got home, we both experienced all the emotions you can imagine as we thought about what might have happened if the customs people had found that in my bag!

When I moved into my house here in San Jose the next year, I saw that the neighbors have a magnolia tree. And on the sidewalk I see many examples of the "Italian pine cones," which turned out to be magnolia cones after all.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Santa Is Not Good

Santa Claus is not good, at least he is not a good symbol for Christmas.
"Tell Santa what you want for Christmas!" trains children that it is good to make lists of things they want. And it encourages kids to expect to be given whatever they want. So, this phrase also cultivates a feeling of entitlement. A child who does not get exactly what he or she wants will feel deprived.

Hasn't anyone besides me ever noticed that this is not good training for young Christians? On the other hand, it is great training for young consumers. Retailers love a Santa Claus-inspired Christmas, which is why they start the "season" as early as possible, to enable the maximum number of "shopping days til Christmas" every year. They also count on the fact that while we are shopping for luxuries for our children, we are also picking up luxuries for ourselves. It's all about self indulgence. When we are buying our little darlings everything they ever wanted, aren't we also buying those things to make up for our own perceived lacks?
To my mind, we celebrate Christmas as a months long orgy of buying, sentimentality, glitter, and gluttony. These things are far from the poverty of the stable where the son of God came into this world. One way you can tell that all that excitement has nothing to do with Christmas is that all the hyperactivity stops on Christmas Eve. You'd be hard put to find a Christmas hymn playing on the actual day of Christmas. There's no money to be made any more. So the din ceases and the thrills fade away. The tree that has been up since Thanksgiving is often discarded on the 26th of December, just on the second day of what should be the actual celebration.
The actual person who inspired the Santa Claus legend is St. Nicholas, and his Feast Day is December 6. "Who is St. Nicholas?" has a good write-up about how St. Nicholas became associated with being a protector of children.
In most of Europe, gifts are given on St. Nicholas Day, December 6, instead of on Christmas. This helps keep the focus on awe and gratitude for God's precious gift to us at Christmas. God the Father sent His Son, God Among Us. "For God sent not his Son into the world, to judge the world, but that the world may be saved by him" John 3:17.
We owe more of our present day idea of Santa Claus to Coca Cola than to St. Nicholas. Santa Claus' suit is the Coca Cola brand color. He's a marketing device. Many a Coca Cola ad shows Santa with his head thrown back swigging a bottle of Coke, and it says, "Open happiness." No, Virginia, happiness is not to be found in swigging Coca Cola. It is to be found only in knowing, loving, and serving Christ.
Santa Open Happiness Coca Cola Billboard
Santa and Coca Cola together, even in Assisi, Italy (Christmas Eve 1999).
The elaborate fictions about Santa Claus that society spins out during a child's early years also teaches children that their parents and teachers, indeed the whole society, are capable of lying to them. And I truly believe those lies children hear from us about Santa make it easier as they grow up for children to dismiss the Birth of Christ, the angels, the shepherds, and the Three Kings, as a collection of similar well-meaning sentimental fictions.
The Discovery, cover painting for the Saturday Evening Post, December 29, 1956 by Norman Rockwell.

What do you think? How did you feel when you found out Santa isn't real? Have you ever thought that when kids lose faith in Santa they might lose trust and eventually lose faith?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Masses at the End of the Year (Revised)

Now we come to the end of the Church’s liturgical year. We are at the end of the season called the “Time after Pentecost,” which is a time when finding the Propers[1] for the Masses can be a bit confusing.

This article provide some guidance that may help make sense of the rules that govern which Propers are said for the Masses at this time of the year in the traditional Latin calendar.

  • First thing to remember is that the liturgical year begins on the First Sunday of Advent.  
  • The second thing is that the liturgical year ends on the Last Sunday after Pentecost. 

Comparing the Time After Epiphany with the Time After Pentecost

Two parts of the church year are variable.  All the other parts of the church year have a fixed number of days that do not vary. The two variable parts of the Church year are:

  • "Time after Epiphany" 
  • "Time after Pentecost"

The Time after Epiphany comes first, after Advent, Christmastide, and (of course) Epiphany.   The Time after Pentecost comes after Septuagesima, Lent, Easter Time, and (of course) Pentecost.

The following pie chart is from the Roman Missal.

  • “Time after Pentecost” is on the left in green, which is the liturgical color for the season; it has by far the biggest wedge, which has between 23 to 28 Sundays.
  • "Time after Epiphany" is shown on the right, also in green, and it has a small wedge with between 1 and 6 Sundays. 
These two times are reciprocally related.  When the "Time after Epiphany" has more Sundays, the "Time after Pentecost" has fewer Sundays.

Table: Boundaries

Variable Feasts Affecting the Numbers of Sundays

The number of Sundays after Pentecost and the number of Sundays after Epiphany both change every year because the dates of the First Sunday in Advent  and of Easter Sunday are variable:

  • The First Sunday of Advent occurs on the fourth Sunday before December 25. Because December 25 can occur on any day of the week, the date of the first Sunday of Advent can be any Sunday from November 27 to December 3. 
  • Easter is on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal (Spring) equinox (which is assigned to March 21).  Most of us are aware that the date of Easter changes because it is based on a lunar calendar to correspond to the Jewish feast of Passover.  As a result of the variability of  the dates of the full moon, Easter can occur on any of 35 possible Sundays from March 22 to April 25th.

Effects of Variable Feasts on the Numbers of Sundays

The variable dates of Advent and of Easter occurring earlier or later in a year are what lengthen and shorten the Time after Epiphany and the Time after Pentecost:

  • If the start date of Advent is early, the total number of Sundays after Epiphany may be increased and the total number of Sundays after Pentecost may be reduced
  • If the start date of Advent is late, the total number of Sundays after Pentecost may be increased and the total number of Sundays after Epiphany may be reduced.
  • If Easter comes early, Septuagesima must also start earlier, which may reduce the number of Sundays after Epiphany and increase the number of Sundays after Pentecost by the same number.
  • If Easter comes later, more Sundays (up to the maximum of six) may occur during the Time after Epiphany, and a corresponding fewer number of Sundays may occur during the Time After Pentecost.

Rules for Masses at the End of the Time after Pentecost

With all of the above being noted, let's look at the rules for which Mass Propers are said at this time when we are approaching the end of the Church year.

On the last Sunday before Advent, the Mass for the 24th and Last Sunday after Pentecost is always said. This Mass uses the Introit, Gradual, Offertory, and Communion from the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost, but it has its own Collect, Epistle, and Gospel.

23rd Sunday after Pentecost:

• If the 23rd Sunday is the Last Sunday before Advent, the Mass called the “Last Sunday after Pentecost” is said.
• Otherwise, the Mass called the “Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost” is said.

More Than 24 Sundays after Pentecost:

When there are between 24 and 28 Sundays after Pentecost, things get a bit more complicated.

  • The Introit, Gradual, Offertory, and Communion of the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost are repeated on all the Sundays between the 24th and 28th Sunday after Pentecost.
  • The Collect, Epistle, and the Gospel are taken from the Masses that were omitted from the Sundays after Epiphany. (Remember that during a year when there are more than 24 Sundays after Pentecost, there are always a corresponding fewer number of Sundays after Epiphany.)

The following table shows which Masses should be used for the Collect, Epistle and the Gospel, Secret, and Postcommuniion, according to whether the Time after Pentecost has 24, 25, 26, 27, or 28 Sundays.

Table: Rules for  What Propers to Use Between 23rd and 28th Sundays After PentecostHow to Use the Table

Find the number of Sundays after Pentecost for the current year in the columns under "If the Number of Sundays after Pentecost is:". For example, if the number is 28, follow the column under 28 for what Mass to use for the Collects, Epistle, and Gospel on the 24th, 25th, 26th, 27th, and 28th Sundays, which are given in the right column.

[1] The Propers of the Mass change either according to the season or to the feast or event being celebrated on a particular day. They include the Introit, the Collect, the Epistle, the Gospel, the Offertory, the Communion,  the Secret, and  the Post-Communion.
[2] The Roman Missal (1962) notes that the Mass for “The First Sunday after Pentecost” has been replaced with the Mass for Trinity Sunday. The old Mass called “First Sunday after Pentecost” is still in the Missal, but it is “only celebrated during the following week on days where there are no feasts of Saints.” The Mass for Trinity Sunday counts as the First Sunday after Pentecost; the next Sunday is the Second Sunday after Pentecost, and so on.
[3] Adapted from the Roman Missal (1962)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

2: How to Confess Your Sins - Traditional Latin Rite

Confessionals for pilgrims at the Shrine of St. James in Compostela, Spain

To read an overview of the differences between the form of the traditional Latin sacrament of penance and the Novus Ordo form, see my previous blog 1: How to Confess Your Sins - Traditional Latin Rite See also How to Go to Confession and Manners for Penitentsfor more details, including how to prepare for confession other things you must do, and some etiquette suggestions.

If you haven't been to confession for  along time, remember this, the priest is going to be happy for you.  He may not say it, but he knows that heaven rejoices whenever a sinner turns to God and asks forgiveness.  Remember the image of Christ the Good Shepherd who went out to seek the lost sheep and returned rejoicing to the other sheep carrying the sheep over His shoulders.
Earliest image of Christ the Good Shepherd (200-300 AD), Catacomb of Domitilla
If you can't remember what to do or you get upset or flustered, tell the priest!  He'll be glad to guide you.

NOTE: Make the sign of the Cross while the priest says the blessing.
In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.
In the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Penitent: Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It is (X days, weeks, months, years) since my last Confession. And these are my sins.
Tell the priest the number and kind of your sins, then say: For these and all the sins of my past life, I ask pardon of God, penance, and absolution from you, Father.
NOTE: The priest may give you some spiritual advice before he gives you a penance. The penance is usually in the form of a certain number of prayers or other pious actions.
Priest: Now say a good Act of Contrition.
English: O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell. But most of all because they offend Thee, who art all Good and worthy of all my love. And I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.
NOTE: Make the Sign of the Cross when the priest says the words, "ego te absolvo ...."
Dominus noster Jesus Christus te absolvat; et ego auctoritate ipsius te absolvo ab omni vinculo excommunicationis (suspensionis) et interdicti in quantum possum et tu indiges. [making the Sign of the Cross:] Deinde, ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.
May our Lord Jesus Christ absolve you; and by His authority I absolve you from every bond of excommunication and interdict, so far as my power allows and your needs require. [making the Sign of the Cross:] Thereupon, I absolve you of your sins in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Passio Domini nostri Jesu Christi, merita Beatae Mariae Virginis et omnium sanctorum, quidquid boni feceris vel mail sustinueris sint tibi in remissionem peccatorum, augmentum gratiae et praemium vitae aeternae.
May the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the merits of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of all the saints and also whatever good you do or evil you endure merit for you the remission of your sins, the increase of grace and the reward of everlasting life. Amen.
Penitent: "Thank you, Father"

1. How to Confess Your Sins -- Traditional Latin Rite (Extraordinary Form)

This information may help if you want to confess your sins to a priest who follows the Traditional Latin rite (Extraordinary Form, or EF), and you are used to confessing sins to a priest at a Novus Ordo (NO) parish. Confession of sins has always been in the local language (the vernacular). And the form of the sacrament is the same.

The terminology is different. The Sacrament of Penance in the EF is called the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the NO.

A common term for receiving the sacrament is "going to confession."

The major difference with an EF confession is that the initial blessing and the closing prayer will usually be in Latin.

For another thing, NO priests often omit the step of asking the penitent to say the Act of Contrition after the person finishes telling the priest his sins. But in the EF form, the Act of Contrition is always said by the penitent, either before or during absolution.

If the church has a confessional, that might be strange to you if you are used to going to confession sitting in a chair facing the priest. In a confessional like the one in the image under this blog's title, the priest sits behind a door in the middle while penitents kneel facing him on the side in a compartment that is behind either a door or a heavy curtain. A privacy screen separates the priest and the penitent so they can't see each other.

In all the churches I've attended lately that use confessionals, only one side of the confessional is used. But if two sides are used, when the priest is hearing a confession on one side, he keeps a sliding panel closed behind the privacy screen on the other side. The privacy panel ensures that if another penitent is waiting, the one that is waiting won't be able to hear the other one's confession.

Sometimes priests use a sort of mini-confessional with the priest sitting behind a screen and the penitent kneeling on a kneeler. The photo below shows an example of the kind of mini-confessional I'm talking about.

Fr. Joseph Marie Wolfe hears confessions at an EWTN family celebration in San Francisco

There may be a line for confessions. If a confessional is being used, a light is lit when the priest is present. Lights are sometimes lit to indicate whether the penitents' sides are occupied. When it is your turn, open the door or the curtain, close it behind you, and kneel down.

If you haven't been for a long time, you might consider calling the priest ahead of time and telling him you would like  an appointment for confession.

Another helpful practice is to make a General Confession from time to time. You can either write out the sins of your life and tell them to the priest or confess from memory.  Since  a general confession is going to take longer than a regular confession, this is another case where you might want to call for an appointment.

For how to confess and receive absolution, go to the next post: 2: How to Confess Your Sins - Traditional Latin Rite

Metaphorical Interpretation VS. Common Sense. And the Winner Is?

I'm reading the Valley Catholic diocesan newspaper again because it is showing up in my mail box, through a new initiative that delivers it to every registered Catholic home. I stopped subscribing to the paper a while back, because it always provokes me to want to write some sort of response to the doctrinal errors that stand out for me in its articles, and I have other more useful things to do with my time.

But I made the mistake of reading through the September 18 issue, since it was here, and so I got myself provoked again, this time by an article by Oblate author and regular "Spirituality" columnist Fr. Ron Rolheiser called "Ultimate Answer to Violence." The way he writes is, to me, just another reminder of the gap between common sense and the vaporous obfuscations[1] of non-traditional writers about Church teachings.

For example, Fr. Rolheiser puts quotes around the work "demons." Does that mean that he doesn't think demons exist? And he explains what "in essence" Jesus meant by fasting, using only sixty-two words, not referring at any point to abstaining from food. And the worst thing he does is to substitute the term "Ultimate Power" for "Father" when referring to the first Person of the Trinity. Details follow below.

Fr. Rolheiser starts with a good goal, in that he is trying to explain the paradox of how nonviolence can triumph over violence. Fr. Rolheiser writes that the answer to "How do gentleness and meekness inherit the earth? ... may strain logic somewhat, but Jesus hints at an answer to that question in his response to his disciples when they ask why they do not have the power to cast out certain demons, when Jesus can cast then out."

I don't think that Jesus "hints," and writing that Jesus hints at anything implies a kind of smugly inappropriate familiarity with the Second Person Who is the Creator of the Universe. But let's go on.

Before I quote what Fr. Rolheiser posits as Jesus's metaphorical answer, let's look at the literal words of the Gospel, Matthew 17: 14-20:

14 And when he was come to the multitude, there came to him a man falling down on his knees before him, saying: Lord, have pity on my son, for he is a lunatic, and suffereth much: for he falleth often into the fire, and often into the water.

15 And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him.

16 Then Jesus answered, and said: O unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? Bring him hither to me.

17 And Jesus rebuked him, and the devil went out of him, and the child was cured from that hour.

18 Then came the disciples to Jesus secretly, and said: Why could not we cast him out?

19 Jesus said to them: Because of your unbelief. *For amen I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard-seed, you shall say to this mountain Remove from hence to yonder place, and it shall remove, and nothing shall be impossible to you.

20 But this kind is not cast out but by prayer and fasting.

Here is Fr. Rolheiser's thought on verses 19 and 20:

"Jesus' answer is metaphorical, but deep. He replies, in essence, that "demons" are cast out, not through a superior cultic power, but through a superior moral power, namely, by the power that is created inside someone when he or she sufficiently nurtures a deep private integrity, graciousness, love, innocence, gentleness, and hold these in fidelity in the face of all temptation, including violence.

Nurturing these things inside oneself connects a person to the ultimate source of all Being, the Ultimate Power, the power that Jesus called his "Father."

There we have the sixty-two words that Fr. Rolheiser uses to define fasting.

I would suggest that we generally should take Jesus' words literally, unless they are obviously not to be taken literally. In contrast, Rolheiser seems to know that Jesus' answer is metaphorical, although he does allow that it is "deep." Rolheiser's point seems to be that "demons" whatever he thinks they are, are cast out not by literal prayer and abstaining from food as in traditional fasting but by "nurturing ... integrity, graciousness, love" and so forth.

And if you achieve that nurturing (no deprivation of one's senses is necessary, it seems), you will be connected to the "Ultimate Power." When Rolheiser writes that Jesus called that Ultimate Power "Father," is he hinting that "Father" was just a limited sexist term that Jesus used, but that we are too smart to use? I fear that might be so.

Does this kind of terminology belong in a Catholic newspaper? I think not. Catholics don't believe in an abstract impersonal Higher Power, or Force. We believe in One God in Three Persons, and God the Father is one of the Persons. We don't believe in God the Ultimate Power.

Ultimate answer to violence ... in Spirituality by Father Ron Holheiser, The Valley Catholic, September 18, 2012. p. 14.
[1] Hope the big word didn't put you off. The definition of "to obfuscate" fits the situation exactly, but it take a lot more words: "To make so confused or opaque as to be difficult to perceive or understand."

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

St Maximilian Kolbe Was a Rocket Scientist and Other Lesser Known Facts

Today is the Feast Day of St. Maximilian Kolbe.

Most Catholics know him as the Polish priest who died on August 14, 1941 in Auschwitz, after he offered his own life to prevent another prisoner from being killed. Less well known is the zealous faith-filled way he lived his life beforehand, which I believe prepared him well for the final sacrifice for which he is primarily remembered. Because of all the things he did, this article tells us that "Maximilian Kolbe is the patron saint of drug addicts, political prisoners, families, journalists, prisoners and the pro-life movement. Pope John Paul II also declared him the 'Patron Saint of Our Difficult Century.'" Along with all of these accomplishments, he was a rocket scientist, about which you'll learn more, if you read on.

A Conventual Franciscan friar, St. Maximilian Kolbe had also been a zealous evangelizer, with a great devotion to Our Lady, not only in Poland but also in Nagasaki, Japan. The works he did in Japan have had a seminal importance in the history of the Church in Japan. In his zeal, St. Maximilian drew many friars to work with him in his use of the latest technologies to help bring people to conversion. Following is a partial list of things that are not well known about St. Maximilian Kolbe from the article mentioned above and from
  • He was born in 1894, so he was 47 at the time of his death.
  • At 13, he illegally made a border crossing between the Russia and Austria-Hungary with his brother and entered the junior seminary of the Conventual Franciscans in Lvov, Poland.
  • His father was killed by the Russians, his mother became a religious sister, and his one brother who lived to adulthood became a priest.
  • St. Maximilian was sent to study in Rome in 1912.
  • He earned a doctorate in philosophy and in theology.
  • He took his final vows in 1914 in Rome and was ordained in 1918.
  • He was a rocket scientist! His interest in astrophysics and space flight led him to design an airplane-like spacecraft, similar to the present-day space shuttle, and he tried to patent it.
  • While still in seminary, he organized the Militia Immaculatae (Army of Mary) to work for the conversion of sinners, through the intercession of the Virgin Mary.
  • He used the latest printing presses and the relatively new technology of radio for outreach of the Army of Mary. Circulation of his publication grew to over 750,000.
  • He founded two friaries in Japan and a seminary near Nagasaki and put out a Japanese newspaper that reached 65,000.
  • From the article mentioned above: "Kolbe decided to build the [first] monastery on a mountain side that, according to Shinto beliefs, was not the side best suited to be in tune with nature. When the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Kolbe’s monastery was saved because the blast of the bomb hit the other side of the mountain, which took the main force of the blast. Had Kolbe built the monastery on the preferred side of mountain as he was advised, his work and all of his fellow monks would have been destroyed."
  • After he was recalled to Poland, he became superior of a monastery that grew to number 762 friars.
  • During the war, the friary provided shelter to 3,000 refugees 2/3 of whom were Jewish. As an amateur radio amateur he attacked Nazi activities in his reports.
  • He was eventually sent to Auchwitz after he was arrested on February 17, 1941 as a journalist, publisher, and 'intellectual.'

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Response to National Non-Catholic Fishwrap Article That Puts Fear in the Hearts of Liberal Catholics About the Liturgy

"Cardinal Burke boosts lavish, Latin liturgy" is the title of an article at National Catholic Reporter, a newspaper that is not-to-fondly referred to by Father Jeffrey Keyes and others as The National Non-Catholic Fishwrap.
The National Catholic Reporter blogger, Robert McClory wrote: "I think all Catholics should be required to view this video released by the Catholic News Service.

"It reveals in vivid color an ideal form of the Mass, as explained by Cardinal Raymond Burke, outgoing prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura. In my opinion, it reveals more clearly where the institutional church is heading and what can be expected from Rome in the forseeable future as "abuses" of the liturgy are corrected, Burke says.

"The pomp, the color, the splendor, the lavishness, the gold -- especially the impossibly gold vestments, the gold candlesticks, the gold statues -- is just overwhelming. This, Burke explains, is the sort of worship Jesus wants. The video is titled "The Call of Beauty." I wonder what the reaction of thoughtful Catholics might be."
Well, I'm a thoughtful Catholic, although I know McCrory probably would not agree. I suspect his definition would be something along the lines of "A thoughtful Catholic is someone who has rejected the doctrines that were taught before Vatican II [Ed: And which were never contradicted by Vatican II, I might add] and is someone who believes exactly what I, Robert McCrory believe, which is a rubber stamped set of liberal beliefs [Ed: The rubber stamp set of beliefs boil down to a perceived need for the Church to adapt to the "wisdom" of the world]."

One commenter, bucking the others' scorn for the gold and the vestments, wrote, "Look! A church that actually has people in it! Maybe the cardinal is onto something...."

So I replied to his post with the following comment. Don't know if it will pass moderation. If I was a betting woman, I would bet it won't pass.

I believe that when the enthusiastic adopters of the Novus Ordo Mass stripped the churches they threw much of the mystery and reverence out along with the marble altar rails.

On vacation [in Massachusetts] last summer, after a long time of attending Mass in the Extraordinary Form at home, I attended a Mass at a [Leicester] parish I used to attend as a child. My gorgeous niece attended with me, and I was uncomfortable that she chose to wear short shorts and a sleeveless blouse. The few other people there were dressed in beach casual clothes, so nobody seemed to mind but me. Some were overtly enthusiastic. A deacon practically ran me over as he rushed by me to hug my niece when we came in.

When I used to go to that parish as a child, they offered multiple Masses every Sunday, and the pews were full of families with young children, all dressed up as the people still dress up where I attend the traditional Latin Mass. In contrast, the NO church I attended last summer with the casually dressed congregation was practically empty, with one Mass only every Sunday.

I believe that the tolerance of American Catholics for birth control, the watering down of doctrine and a loss of reverence all have to do with the emptying of churches like that. At home, we have a small building for our Latin Mass oratory, and we don't have room for all the people who want to attend the multiple Masses every Sunday. Most Sundays there are about a dozen or more people kneeling out in the tiny vestibule.

I have read documents that record that the expressed intent of the creators of the Novus Ordo form of the Mass was to remove all elements that a Protestant would find offensive. I personally am offended by the abuses that became prevalent after the change away from the traditional Latin Mass. If you use gold vessels for the consecrated Body and Blood of Christ, you are reminded of the mystery and majesty of God, that a miracle of Transubstantion has occurred, and that you are not only participating in a community meal of bread and wine when you receive Christ in the Eucharist.

The traditional orders of priests and religious are accepting and turning away many applicants because young people want solid doctrine and respect for the mysteries. They want the plain Truth as taught by the Magisterium to believe in and the reality of Christ in His Church to give their lives for. They don't want to go to a worship service where bad improvisation in liturgical practices and in doctrine is the norm. Women with vocations don't want to wear pantsuits and fight to change the Church; they want to wear habits and obey. If God is not to be feared and obeyed in His Church, why bother getting up for Mass on Sunday anyway?

Personally, my taste is scandalized by banners that look like laundry that replaced the beautiful church decorations, and the polyester vestments in dayglow colors that replaced treasured hand-made precious, embroidered vestments. You can't even find the tabernacle in most churches these days, in case you are an odd believer who wants to genuflect. Part of what has been lost is the sense that we are offering up our treasures in our worship of the infinite God. When I was child in a poor family, I enjoyed coming to a beautiful church and feeling it be mine too. There was no velvet or mahogany or lace or stained glass in our family's crowded apartment around the corner, but we had the privilege to be able to enjoy worshipping in the midst of these beauties as often as we cared to attend "our church."
My comment did pass moderation. When I went back this morning to check, I saw the following comment. Below the new comment is my new reply.
I've often wondered how much Submitted by LFA (not verified) on Jul. 18, 2012.

I've often wondered how much of this obsession with vestments, incense, liturgical accoutrements and Gregorian chant is a by-product of men who never completed their childhood....I wonder how many of these members of the Church use it as an opportunity for cross-dressing without giving it a second thought? Seriously, why stop at the middle ages, for truer perspective return to the first century and wear a toga for God's sake something more like the apparel of Jesus Himself. This is an embarrassment and someone needs to put Burke in Gammarelli's store window and leave him there!

Ad Hominem Alert. LFA, to me, your reply is a prime example of the know-it-all practice of amateur psychoanalysis that immature people were so fond of in the 60s.

To imply that every priest who wants to celebrate the Mass in a beautiful vestment instead of in a polyester day-glo monstrosity is a cross-dressing department store window dresser is a gross example of ad hominem argumentation. When you don't have any good way to answer the arguments of the other side, do you really think it is appropriate to mock them?

Your remarks show no respect for the well-considered beliefs of a good Cardinal. Even though you disagree with him, it would be much more thoughtful to address the points he is making on their merits. A good Catholic does not slander anyone. Or do you think that kindness along with respect for those who have given their lives to serve Christ in His Church were thrown out after Vatican II and buried under the parking lot along with the altar rails?

He Lifted Up the Lowly: Musings about St. Joseph of Cupertino The Reluctant Saint

I watched The Reluctant Saint a few nights ago, after Emma, who attends the Traditional Latin Mass at the Oratory where I go, loaned me a VHS tape of the film. It had recently been shown at one of Canon Avis's movie nights in the basement of St. Margaret Mary's Church in Oakland, but I had missed it.

As I stuck the tape into my out-of-date TV (which has both a tape player and a DVD player built in), since I didn't look closely at the tape sleeve, I thought I might be in for one of those earnest, pious bioflics of Catholic saints that are so often produced these days. But soon I found to my surprise that I was enjoying a well-done Hollywood film from 1962*, with major stars, Maximillian Schell (Judgement at Nurenberg), Ricardo Montalban (Star Trek: Wrath of Khan), and several lesser known character actors in well-turned supporting roles. The saint's mother is played to comic perfection by Lea Padovani, a former smouldering-Italian-actress type who was 42 at the time the movie was made.

As it turned out, the movie is a very good, sometimes very funny, albeit strongly fictionalized portrayal of the life of 17th century St. Joseph of Cupertino. By the way, because of the saint's penchant for levitating, I had the random thought that the movie could have been subtitled The Flying Monk, but I found that (even better) he has been called by others The Flying Friar.**

Even though the opening credits say that the elements of the story are true in their essential details, St. Joseph of Cupertino's life was not much like the movie. Just for one example, he didn't have a drunken shiftless father; his father died before Guiseppe was born.

I never knew much about this saint before. Just knowing that he is the patron for the nearby city of Cupertino***, where a church is also named in his honor, I couldn't have imagined that he had been despised and abused as an idiot, as I learned in this movie.

This movie is very affecting, and I recommend it heartily, partly because I believe it could well be a source of hope and understanding for anyone who is looks with pity or dismay on someone who is considered slow or backward. As this movie shows and the Scriptures**** often state, God exalts humble people who often have no value in the world's eyes.

One thing about this saint that especially charms me, which I learned by research after I saw the movie, is his obedience. It is recorded that nothing could bring him out of his ecstasies except a command from a superior.
His life was now one long succession of visions and other heavenly favours. Everything that in any way had reference to God or holy things would bring on an ecstatic state: the sound of a bell or of church music, the mention of the name of God or of the Blessed Virgin or of a saint, any event in the life of Christ, the sacred Passion, a holy picture, the thought of the glory in heaven, all would put Joseph into contemplation. Neither dragging him about, buffeting, piercing with needles, nor even burning his flesh with candles would have any effect on him — only the voice of his superior would make him obey. Catholic Encyclopedia Online
With heavenly assistance, this so-called idiot was able to join the Franciscan order, pass stringent theological exams, and master enough Latin to eventually be ordained a Catholic priest and say Mass. His miraculous levitations were viewed by all and sundry, even Pope Urban VIII, making his story more strongly corroborated than most stories of the saints.
When he bent down to kiss the Pope's feet, he was suddenly filled with reverence for Christ's Vicar on earth, and was lifted up into the air. Only when the Minister General of the Order, who was part of the audience, ordered him down was Joseph able to return to the floor.
It is amusingly appropriate that St. Joseph of Cupertino is the patron saint of aviators, air-travelers and students.

Prayer card for students and test takers, front(R), and prayer on back (L). Click to see larger images.

I believe this dear saint was raised above his human limitations, not only spiritually but physically, because of his humility and obedience and his rapt and loving contemplation of the mysteries of the Catholic faith. As the Bible says, God lifts up the lowly and in this case, the lifting up was literal.

*This 1962 movie provides a flashback to an era, within my lifetime, when Hollywood used to make respectful movies with Catholic themes.

**"Cupertino first appears in the recorded history of the Spanish expedition of 1776 led by Don Juan Bautista de Anza. Leaving the majority of his party in Monterey, De Anza, his diarist and cartographer, [Franciscan Friar] Petrus Font, and eighteen other men pressed on into the Santa Clara Valley in March of that year. Encamped in what is now Cupertino, Font christened the creek next to the encampment the Arroyo San Giuseppe Cupertino in honor of his patron.... The Arroyo is now known as Stevens Creek."

***St. Joseph of Cupertino was called "the Flying Friar" because of his frequent levitations. Famed illustrator Tomie de Paola did illustrations for a book about him called The Little Friar Who Flew.

  • "Be humbled in the sight of the Lord, and he will exalt you" [James 4:10].

  • "But the foolish things of the world hath God chosen, that he may confound the wise: and the weak things of the world hath God chosen, that he may confound the strong"[1 Corinthians 1:27]. "That, as it is written: He that glorieth may glory in the Lord [1 Corinthians 1-29].
  • This passage and many others say that the foolish are chosen so that no one can boast that any work of God has been done by the power of any man, but only from the power of God.
  • Mary's Magificat, "He has put down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly." [Luke 1:52].
  • Monday, March 12, 2012

    Response to "Should Catholics Marry Young?"

    Read more:

    After I left the Church at 18, I got married and had my first baby at 24. I remember thinking even at that age I already was set in my ways. I have a hunch that early marriage and early mothering might be better for women’s psychological health and make it easier for them to bond with their husbands and their babies. One reason is the one I mentioned, the habits of having your time to yourself aren’t as deeply embedded. Girls intuitively love babies and love to play with them. Another reason is that girls are not protected in the home any more and are allowed (almost forced) to spend lots of unchaperoned time with members of the opposite sex, which can be full of stimulation and fraught with temptation. Girls also start falling in love early with boys. Disappointment at attempted seductions with no prospect of marriage has a daunting effect on a girl’s sense of worthiness. I believe that the dating scene forces a woman to develop a habit of guarding herself and saying no to her natural impulses if she wants to remain chaste. This habit of self-protection can cause difficulties later when she should be able to be open to her husband and to her children. One comment pointed out that the desire for intimacy was one of the main motivators back when premarital relations weren’t the norm. The goal of the preservation of chastity in the young would seem to suggest that marriage should not be delayed. Just some thoughts. I hope no one jumps all over me because I stepped on one of their pet theories. :-) These are thoughts from a woman who remembers when you were considered at risk of never marrying if you graduated from high school without being engaged. If you didn’t meet a husband in college, you were probably doomed to spinsterhood. Marriage meant children, and there were lots of married student housing on campuses. Only nonconformists fornicated. Girls took a big risk of not being considered marriage material if they strayed, and there was a definite double standard that was unfair to women. Men wanted to marry “nice” i.e. chaste girls, and girls wanted to be married. The norm was early marriage. My how things have changed.

    Friday, February 03, 2012

    A Shocking Occurrence in the Confessional

    I need to start by telling you that today I reread with great enjoyment (and with many peals of long loud laughter) The Thurber Carnival, which is one of the books that David Webb's sister let me take home from her brother's extensive book collection when she and her husband and the Heys were finishing the Sisyphean task of cleaning out David's apartment last week. David is a fellow choir member who died January 7th.

    I apologize about the rapid shift among the topics of laughter to death and back to comedy here, but I'm am leaving out the wonderful funeral that people chipped in and arranged for David last week, because I need to skip to to another topic, which is the funny thing that happened to me in the confessional box last Sunday.

    In case you don't know, James Thurber wrote hilarious stories for the New Yorker, many about misadventures in his family. I wonder what kind of a comic masterpiece Thurber might have been able to make of this little misadventure of mine that I'm about to relate.

    My mishap occurred when I went to sing last Sunday at Five Wounds Portuguese National Church a few minutes from my house in San Jose. Canon Fragelli, who is our current rector at the Oratory of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Santa Clara, had arranged to say a special Mass at Five Wounds at 7:00 p.m., in honor of the feast of St. Francis de Sales, who is the patron of Fr. Fragelli's order, the Institute of Christ the King.

    We were happy to be back at Five Wounds, because the former pastor, Fr. Donald Morgan, had allowed us to celebrate a sung Traditional Latin High Mass there every Sunday for a year, and we miss the church now that we are back at the little Oratory.

    The Oratory used to be a German Protestant worship space, and the proportions are wrong for Catholic liturgy to my eye. Besides, the Oratory doesn't have the space needed for the children of the large families that attend traditional Latin Masses to run around and not enough room for their parents and singles to socialize after Mass.

    Five Wounds is a unique and strikingly beautiful church built early in the 20th century with a marble high altar, mahogany altar rails, and a saint's statue in every nook and cranny. My friend, Rita Hey, told me that many of the architectural elements were brought down on wagons along the Camino Real from San Francisco from the Portuguese Pavilion after the Panama-Pacific Exposition closed at the end of 1915.

    I think that grand building is perfect for the reverent celebration of the extraordinary form of the Mass. When the Mass started last Sunday, Fr. Morgan processed in with the long line of altar servers ahead of the celebrant, Fr. Fragelli. Fr. Morgan was not vested in a chasuble, but instead he was dressed in an alb. After a while, Fr. Morgan left the altar for the confessional.

    That ornate mahogany confessional is of the traditional-style, which was designed to allow the identity of the person confessing to be hidden. The priest sits behind a door facing towards the church, and the penitent kneels facing the side of the priest in a separate compartment behind a heavy burgundy velvet curtain.

    Fr. Morgan pulled back the sliding door across the screen between us while I was still trying to lower myself onto the kneeler. I have trouble getting down onto my knees these days. The original kneeler must have been removed at some point in time, and unbeknownst to me, the movable kneeler now in the confessional was tucked in at an awkward angle so that I wasn't able to get my knees onto it on my first attempt. I had to stop partway down, hoist myself up again, move the kneeler, and gingerly lower myself again. All while Father waited for me to settle down and begin.

    Meanwhile the Mass was going on and a number of other people had started lining up for confession.

    My whole kneeling and hoisting myself up and kneeling back down again exercise was complicated by the fact that I was trying to hold the heavy velvet curtain against the door frame at the same time. In retrospect I realize that all these shifts in position may be partly to blame for the extreme wardrobe malfunction that occurred later, but I'm jumping ahead.

    So it came about that before I even got to say, "Bless me Father for I have sinned," I had to say, "Father, the curtain won't close." The curtain was partly unhooked at the top, and even though I held the curtain shut as best I could, a shaft of bright light shone into the confessional through the gap above where my left hand was holding the curtain, like a spotlight right into Fr. Morgan's face. Fr. Morgan is a small man around 60, with neatly trimmed grey hair and a florid, mild, intelligent face. He is a former Christian brother, who became a diocesan priest about five years ago. He is diffident, but you can sense a stiff backbone behind the quiet demeanor.

    I started my confession. When I was finished, he gave me a penance and prayed the prayer of absolution. I said the act of contrition, then I hoisted myself back up off the kneeler so I could get up to the choir. When I let go of the curtain, I could see some people kneeling in the nearby pews. To my surprise, Fr. Morgan got up too, I think he was going to try to fix the curtain. That's about the time when my skirt fell down.

    I told this "most embarrassing thing that ever happened to me story" to friends at the Oratory at the weekly potluck held after the 10 a.m. Thursday Mass this week. Although Fr. Morgan usually celebrates the Tuesday Mass as a visiting priest, he had been filling in for our usual Thursday priest and had eaten with us at the potluck, but he had already left when I started talking with the others about what had happened. One friend tried to be helpful. "Maybe he doesn't know it was you. Maybe he didn't see your face?"

    Not likely, I thought. "Yeah," I said sarcastically, "Maybe he had been focusing on my skirt down around my ankles." Then the friend got thoughtful, "Maybe that's why Father's face was red today when he was eating with us. Did you notice how red his face was?" No, I hadn't. Father had been asking for details about the recipe for the simmered Chinese chicken I had brought to the potluck, and I didn't see anything unusual in his looks or actions.

    "What did you do next?" somebody asked. "I pulled my skirt up and left. … Come to think of it, there was a woman in one of the pews who was looking at me funny, so maybe she saw what happened too. Oh no. Maybe others saw too." My friends had to agree that I was probably right. How dismaying a thought that one is! What thoughts must have run through those people's minds, after the kinds of scandals that have been blared all over the headlines? "What's that woman doing in the confessional with her skirt down around her ankles?"

    Actually, if you take it literally, that's a good question.

    Some have asked me how my skirt could fall off. To this I reply that with my current shape, trying to get a waistband to stay in one place without slipping down is similar to what it must be like to try to securely cinch a string around the middle of a beach ball. Spend a few seconds imagining trying to perform that task. Maybe you could get it cinched, but once the beach ball started being moved around, the odds are that the string would quickly slip to a part of the ball with a smaller dimension, and just as quickly fall off.

    Unfortunately, I have to admit that this is not the first time I've had a skirt fall off.

    My friend, Rita Hey, when she heard about this latest and most shocking occurrence told me firmly that I have to get suspenders.

    At the thought of wearing suspenders, I hesitated, fashion slave that I am, and I offered, "Maybe I'd wait until they come into style." "No," Rita said, "do it now. Wear them inside your other clothes." Maybe that's what I'll have to do. I'm seriously thinking about it. In the meantime, tonight when I dressed for the First Friday Mass where we also had our throats blessed on the Feast of St. Blaise, I put on a dress.

    About the end of the year of Traditional Latin Masses at Five Wounds in September 2010

    How the building materials for Five Wounds were brought from San Francisco

    Friday, January 20, 2012

    One Thing One Good Priest Has in Common with the Wife of Bath: Review of Discovering the Camino de Santiago by Rev. Greg Markey

    If you only have a short time or short attention span, try this three-paragraph review (if you have more time or interest, see the longer article that follows below):

    I recently read Discovering the Camino de Santiago after an autographed copy was sent to me by Mary Rose Garych, one of the parishioners of Fr. Greg Markey, who wrote the book. Mary Rose is a Facebook friend, and she thought I might be interested after she had read a lukewarm review I had posted about The Way, a recent movie by Emilio Estevez about the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route. In my review, I had found the movie lacking because it tries so hard not to be religious that it falls short of being the powerful movie it might have been.

    In contrast, Fr. Markey’s book describes a devout Catholic pilgrimage. I already had a great deal of admiration for Fr. Markey, who I'd met along with some of his parishioners at a Sacred Music colloquium in 2007. He is a zealous, comparatively young priest pastor who wears a cassock and a Roman collar and who also offers Traditional Latin Masses in the Extraordinary Form and supports a high-quality sacred music program at his parish in Norwalk, Connecticut.

    Fr. Markey’s account of his pilgrimage is a perfect book for a Catholic to read, whether or not you are planning to try to walk the Camino yourself. He provides background information about the history of the Apostle St. James the Greater that you need in order to understand why pilgrims have been trekking to the northwest corner of Spain to honor the saint for centuries. All we learn in the Scriptures is that St. James lived in Israel. Fr. Markey’s book presents the evidence for the traditional beliefs that St. James evangelized Spain, that he returned to Jerusalem and later died as the first martyr among the Apostles, and that his body was brought back to Spain for burial. And Fr. Markey’s own journey to the shrine of St. James is humbly told, reverent, and inspiring. From a comment I posted to the National Catholic Register review of the book.

    If you have time for or interest in pondering the history of pilgrimages in general and the Camino de Santiago in more detail read on.

    Probably the most famous of all pilgrimage stories is Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, which recounts a series of predominantly raunchy tales that are exchanged by a group of men and women to amuse themselves as they travel together on a pilgrimage in April of 1387 to the Shrine of St. Thomas Becket at Canterbury, England. Even if you haven’t heard of Canterbury Tales, you probably have heard of the movie Becket, which starred Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton, and dramatized the murder of St. Thomas, Archbishop of Canterbury, in his cathedral. St. Thomas Becket was killed because he had stood up against his friend and king, Henry II, to support the autonomy of the Church. St. Thomas Becket was canonized as a martyr only two years after his death, in 1173. And his tomb has been a pilgrimage destination ever since.

    William Blake’s 1 ft. x 3 ft. engraving of the Canterbury Pilgrims

    Canterbury Tales was written about two hundred years after St. Thomas of Canterbury’s death. Chaucer’s work is full of references to Catholic practices and saints, to Christ and His Mother. Among the thirty-odd pilgrims are both male clerics (a prior, a monk, three priests, a parson, a pardoner, and a summoner), and women religious (a prioress, and a nun). At the end after the raucous tales were over, when Chaucer was nearing death, he added a retraction, repenting for any harm he might have done out of ignorance by writing down lewd tales and asking for forgiveness for any parts of his work that “sownen unto sinne” [lead readers by bad example towards sin].

    From the characteristics of the characters as portrayed by Chaucer and by the stories they told, it’s obvious that even back in the 14th century most people made pilgrimages more for fun than for penance. True, Chaucer’s pilgrims were on their way to the Shrine of St. Thomas Becket but the pious destination for many seems to have been a pretext for a lark. In an era before cruise ships, travel agents, and package tours, people in Chaucer’s time traveled for many of the same reasons people travel these days, to see new places, to escape their ordinary lives, to get out in the open air in the springtime, to meet new people and to have adventures to boast about when they returned home. You didn’t have many choices back then if you wanted to see the world, you either went to war (if you were a man), or you went on a pilgrimage.
    Aside from the knight in Chaucer’s story, who is travelling to give thanks for his survival during the Crusades, and who is a “a verray, parfit gentil knight,” the only other truly inspiring member of the company is the parson, a poor priest who Chaucer describes as rich “of hooly thoght and werk.”

    But then, you might consider the five–times-married conniving Wife of Bath to be inspiring (as I once did during my feminist days when I admired her independent ways). Chaucer wrote that the Wife of Bath knew much about wandering by the way and had “passed many a strange strem.” Chaucer was making ironic digs about the much-mated woman’s indiscretions, but this bawdy 14th century character had wandered much and had passed many strange streams also because she had made an astounding number of pilgrimages: three times to Jerusalem, another time to Rome, and other times to other major pilgrimage sites, Boulogne in France, Cologne in Germany, and most apropos to this review, she had also gone to Santiago, in Spain.

    The ancient Christian world had many pilgrimage sites. And before them, the Jews had the Temple at Jerusalem that they were bound to visit several times a year, until it was destroyed. It’s intriguing to realize that the roads in the Judeo Christian world have been tramped by pilgrims for thousands of years, and that people have been traveling a lot longer distances and for many more years than we can probably even imagine.

    Santiago [Sant Iago] means St. James. Santiago de Compostela is the short way to refer to the Cathedral Shrine of St. James at Compostela where the Apostle St. James the Greater is buried. And the Camino de Santiago is the short way to refer to the road (camino=road) that pilgrims take to St. James’s Shrine.

    Discovering the Camino de Santiago, by Rev. Greg Markey, is a much more humble work than Canterbury Tales, and it was written in our era, which is for the most part no longer even nominally Catholic and which knows little or nothing about pilgrimages. Fr. Markey started writing this brief (75 page) book as he travelled prayerfully and contemplatively on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela during a sabbatical, from late June to late July in 2009. The book is not a work of literature, and it is not a guide for someone who plans to check off “Walk the Camino” on his or her bucket list.

    Hundreds perhaps thousands of books have been written about the Camino. When asked why he wrote yet another book about it, Fr. Markey replied that very few Americans know about the Camino and that misinformation abounds.

    He describes the significance of St. James the Greater whose bones are credibly believed to be entombed at the cathedral in Compostela. He quotes from significant Church documents about the shrine and provides some of the rich history of the Camino. And then he describes how he walked along the road with both a Vatican flag and an American flag hanging on his backpack and a rosary in his hand, handing out blessed Miraculous Medals as the opportunity presented itself, among a shifting stream of people who came from all around the world for many and varied reasons.

    No bawdy tales are recorded in this good priest’s book and nobody’s foibles are parodied. Fr. Markey wrote in his introduction that he wanted to write about the Camino “from the perspective of a believer” both because the Camino is rich in Catholic history and because the great contribution of the Apostle St. James to the evangelization of Hispanic peoples deserves to be better known. Devotion to St. James was the original motive for the pilgrimages to Compostela that began to be made about thousand years ago, and a record of widespread devotion to the great Apostle remains in Europe, the Caribbean, and in Central and South America in the scores of cities and towns and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of churches, that bear Saint James’s name.

    The distance from where Canterbury Tales began in Southwark in London to where it ended in Canterbury is about 58 miles, and the journey took four days for most people mounted on either a horse or mule. In contrast, Fr. Markey walked 496 often-pain-filled miles of the popular portion of the Camino called the Camino Frances, which extends from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port near France’s border to Compostela, and his pilgrimage took him a month. He walked the Camino to offer thanks to God for his ten years as a priest, with the resolution to offer up any sufferings he might experience along the way.

    This French map shows the vast network of Compostela pilgrimage routes across Western Europe and England. Four of the major routes converge in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France, where Fr. Markey began his pilgrimage

    How many of us could imagine that hundreds of thousands travel on the Camino and converge on Compostela every year? As was true in Chaucer’s tale, only a scant few of Fr. Markey’s fellow travelers could be said to be on the Camino for pure motives of performing penance and showing sorrow for sins.

    Fr. Markey greatest camaraderie occurred during the times when he fell in with a pious and joyful group of Catholic young people who are members of FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) and who seemed to be on the Camino for all the right reasons. After they kept running into each other, they decided to join forces, and from that point on they read the Liturgy of the Hours, said the Rosary, and participated at Mass with Fr. Markey, until the end of the pilgrimage.

    Fr. Markey’s goal was to arrive at the shrine by the Feast of St. James on July 25, and in spite of setbacks from “Brother Ass” that put his plan at risk, he made it--the day before the feast. He concelebrated with the archbishop and many other priests on the feast day, and a day later he was able to say a private Mass with the FOCUS group at the tomb of St. James.

    The experience of the Camino has been exhausting—perhaps the most physically demanding thing I have ever done in my life—yet filled with many graces. The Camino beats you down, wears you out and purifies you.

    I met Father Markey, along with his parish choirmaster and organist, David Hughes, and a number of their parishioners, at the 2007 Sacred Music Colloquium in Washington D.C. (Above)

    Fr. Markey is pastor of St. Mary Church in Norwalk, CT. One of his parishioners who attended the colloquium, a dear young woman named Mary Rose Garych, sent me an autographed copy of Fr. Markey’s book, after she read my review on Facebook of the recent movie about the Camino de Santiago, called The Way.

    Father Markey wears a cassock and a Roman collar, which I believe makes a much-needed statement about the special calling of a priest. I especially admired him when I first met him because he seems to do all that he can to foster reverent worship at his parish, as he wrote on the parish website, “to simply bring St. Mary Church into conformity with the norms of the Church.” Now, after reading his pilgrim story, I admire him even more. Since the book was published, Fr. Markey has become sought after as a speaker about pilgrimages, justifiably so.

    Fr. Markey at Midnight Mass at St. Mary’s Norwalk (December 25th, 2011). The parish offers a Traditional Latin High Mass daily and offers the Novus Ordo Mass in Latin on Sunday mornings
    Another reader who commented on the National Catholic Register review of this book remarked that pictures would have added a lot. Here is a photo from the web of the Virgin of Orisson, a beautiful statue that Fr. Markey encountered soon after he had entered Spain on the Camino Frances and started climbing in the Pyrennes