Sunday, April 18, 2021

On Being “Pastoral”

The gospel account of Christ as the "good shepherd" is proclaimed in the Traditional Roman Mass on the Second Sunday After Easter, which occurs today this year. Most Catholics of the Roman Rite who celebrate the "ordinary form" of the Mass will hear it next Sunday (depending on which cycle of the lectionary they're using this year, I'll be ding-donged if I know), where it occurs on the Fourth Sunday of (or Third Sunday After) Easter. Don't ask me why.

At that time, Jesus said to his disciples: "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father." (John 10:11-18)

We use the term “pastor” for our parish priest. The term itself is derived from the Latin word for "shepherd." Most Catholics use the term "pastoral" to describe the priest's degree of accommodation. To give an example: “Father Billy Bob takes a pastoral approach with couples wanting to marry, which is why they can live together before exchanging vows, and let their conscience (unguided, we are led to believe) determine whether to use birth control.”

But does that reflect what the word means?

The French writer Fran├žois-Marie Arouet de Voltaire, himself no friend of Mother Church, nonetheless attached some significance to an objective idea of Truth: “If you would converse with me, you must first define your terms.” Radical progressives do not understand this, and so use words to mean whatever they want.

For example, if there being only two genders does not satisfy one's requirements (that would be "male" and "female"), then one is compelled to appease the socially enlightened, by dismissing the limitations of biology and adding more "genders" to the list, which is confusing in a society where not everybody is sufficiently acclimated to progressive lines of thought. If we are to explain ourselves to one another, short of drawing a picture for someone, words are all we have, and their meaning must stand on its own. If we understand the word "pastor" by its original, objective meaning, to be "pastoral" is to act in the manner of a shepherd. What does a good shepherd do that a bad one does not?

Let's see that quotation again, the part given emphasis above.

“The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep.”

So then, a good shepherd risks his life to save his sheep from harm, while a bad shepherd leaves them to fend for themselves in the face of harm.

What kind of harm do we mean? Obviously, spiritual harm. An engaged couple is not being done any favors, if Father Billy Bob winks at their living arrangement. Marriage is what we call a "sacrament of the living," which means it must be entered into while in a state of grace, or we defile it. If all Father wants is to be a nice guy, he will be like the mercenary and leave Dick and Jane to their own devices. But if his goal is to keep them from spiritual harm, he will beg to differ.

To be honest, some priests can be real jerks about this. Many of them know this, and are afraid to be perceived that way. Why do they have to be? A 2014 article in Homiletic and Pastoral Review discusses how to help couples who cohabitate before marriage. While the author has good intentions, he doesn't go far enough, and actually falls short of a genuine remedy, which makes it harder for the parish priest not to come off as a jerk.

In a city like Washington, where many couples are from other parts of the country, without the support of family within reach, one party or the other would be hard pressed to break a lease on a rented apartment, losing thousands of dollars, just to satisfy what could be dismissed as a procedural requirement. This is one of the casualties of our uprootedness, where we lack any sense of a familial home, and a parish is less a spiritual home than it is the setting for a personality cult (a problem made worse by the wave of closings and mergers of otherwise viable parishes to replenish the bishop's legal slush fund, to say nothing of "Mass facing the people" -- but that's another story). If we were who we pretended to be, none of the more vulnerable among us would be left to the wolves. Can one party or the other in an impending marriage rent a room for a few lousy months from an "empty nester," a couple whose children are gone, but who are known by the pastor to be of good character, and can even serve as mentors?

It is at times like this, where all the yakkity-yak about "ministering" to people is put to the test, and is one of many reasons why we fail.

Our conclusion, then, is that to be "pastoral" has less to do with appeasement and keeping the peace, and more to do with protecting others from danger, to the point of giving one's life. And yet, it also means that no man charged with knowing his sheep can really stand alone.

After all, even a good shepherd needs a well-bred pair of Border Collies to help keep the flock together, don't you think?

Or don't you?

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Where Have You Gone, Quasimodo?

Today is known on the western Christian calendar by at least six names.

In the traditional Missale Romanum, it is referred to as “Dominica in albis octava Paschae” -- Sunday in White Within the Paschal Octave, when the robes of the neophytes were removed eight days after their initiation into the Sacraments during the Paschal Vigil. It is also known as “The Octave Day of Easter” or more colloquially as “Low Sunday.” It has also been popularly known as “Quasimodo Sunday” (my personal favorite, hence the title), after the first words of the Entrance Antiphon, or Introit: “Quasi modo geniti infantes, alleluia ...” (“Like newborn infants, alleluia ...”) In the churches of the East, it is known as “Thomas Sunday” as the same gospel is read as in the West, that of our Lord showing himself to the doubting apostle Thomas.

Since 2000, by decree of the late Pope Saint John Paul II, it is also known in the universal Roman calendar as Divine Mercy Sunday, "the culmination of the novena to the Divine Mercy of Jesus, a devotion given to St Faustina (Mary Faustina Kowalska) and is based upon an entry in her diary stating that anyone who participates in the Mass and receives the sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist on this day is assured by Jesus of full remission of their sins." (from Wikipedia)

(I thought the Sacrament of Confession did that regardless of the time of year. This is what I get for using Wikipedia for an explanation.)

This brings up an issue which has concerned traditional Catholics in recent years, one that is presented in a 2010 issue of New Oxford Review by Robert Allard: "Is Divine Mercy Sunday Liturgically Correct?"

It is interesting to note that in the Tridentine Latin Mass, the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, the epistle reading, 1 John 5:4-10, includes the mention of the blood and water as portrayed in the Divine Mercy image, not just once but three times each. This is important to note because the Feast of Mercy was established for the entire Church universal, not just for the ordinary form of the Mass.

There's also that part about Our Lord breathing on the apostles, giving them the power of the Holy Spirit to forgive sins. There's a bit of mercy for the rest of us right there. Not to mention that this devotion is mandated in its timing, on the basis of a private revelation, which in and of itself is not binding on the faithful.

Such devotions, to the extent that they would coexist with the liturgical year, must harmonize with it if they are to truly edify the faithful. This requires sufficient deference to the history of salvation as played out during the year, beginning with the incarnation, and continuing with the life, passion, death, and resurrection of our Lord, followed by his ascension into Glory, and the establishment of His Church on Earth through the work of the Holy Spirit.

That said, there is an aspect of this devotion that may appear problematic, one that has less to do with the Feast itself, than with the novena which precedes it, one that begins on Holy Thursday, and extends throughout the Octave of Easter.

Q. My pastor will allow us to pray the Divine Mercy Novena, but not on Good Friday or Holy Saturday. He says it interferes with the Holy Triduum, which are the holiest days of the year.

A. The Paschal Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday) ushers in Easter Sunday and constitutes the most holy period of the Church year. The Divine Mercy Novena does not supersede the Triduum, but extends the Solemn General Intercessions of the Good Friday observance of Our Lord's Passion and Death throughout the whole octave of Easter, building up to the day of thanksgiving for Our Lord's Divine Mercy.

This response contradicts itself. It claims that the timing of the Novena doesn't "supersede" the Triduum, and then goes on to ignore its culmination. That makes no sense. Superseding is exactly what it does.

For nearly two millennia, the Easter season, including the Octave, has been devoted to the celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Under the 1983 Code of Canon Law, the traditional requirement to abstain from meat does not apply on the Friday of this octave (which is why yours truly had a Rueben sandwich for lunch today), such is the magnitude of the occasion. The Fathers of the Church have told us, we have commemorated the fast, therefore let us celebrate the feast. Yet the novena is devoted to chanting thus: “For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”

Granted, at every Mass offered on any given day, we remember the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ -- the whole nine yards. But that comparison ends in the context of the liturgical seasons, the purpose of which is to shed a spotlight on a particular aspect of salvation history at the liturgical year progresses. There is sufficient reason to doubt that the emphasis made by this novena, given its timing, sheds that spotlight appropriately, even if we reduce it to a mere devotion (as opposed to the official prayer of the Church through her liturgical life).

If we read the history of the development of this Feast that is the Sunday within the Octave of Easter, if we understand what the readings and the orations are trying to tell us, we might consider the possibility that Our Lord was telling Sister Faustina something of Himself, which He has been trying to say to His Bride, our Mother the Church, all along. At the same time, She has long admonished us to be prudent with respect to the messages of private revelations. (See the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 65-67).

While accepting the judgment of the Apostolic See in this matter of the Sunday commemoration itself, we may wish to re-examine this devotion in relation to the whole of the liturgical year. Even if the novena is not a liturgical act in the official sense, its use in parishes during the octave of the Resurrection misses the big picture, which is ...

“We have commemorated the fast, therefore let us celebrate the feast.”

... for eight days, if not forty, and if you don't mind.

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To learn more about the devotion to the Divine Mercy, visit the website of the Apostles of Divine Mercy at DivineMercySunday.com, or that of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception at TheDivineMercy.org. For a guide to praying the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy, go to the appropriate page at EWTN.com.

Sunday, April 04, 2021

Christus resurrexit! Sicut dixit, Alleluia!

It was on an Easter Sunday,
    and all in the morning,
Our Savior arose,
    and our heavenly King.
The sun and the moon,
    they both did rise
        with him,
And sweet Jesus
    we’ll call him by name.


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An Easter Homily of Saint John Chrysostom

Is there anyone who is a devout lover of God? Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival! Is there anyone who is a grateful servant? Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting? Let them now receive their wages! If any have toiled from the first hour, let them receive their due reward; If any have come after the third hour, let him with gratitude join in the Feast! And he that arrived after the sixth hour, let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss. And if any delayed until the ninth hour, let him not hesitate; but let him come too. And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour, let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first. He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, as well as to him that toiled from the first. To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows. He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor. The deed He honors and the intention He commends.

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord! First and last alike receive your reward; rich and poor, rejoice together! Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!

You that have kept the fast, and you that have not, rejoice today for the Table is richly laden! Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one. Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith. Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again; for forgiveness has risen from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free. He has destroyed it by enduring it.

He destroyed Hades when He descended into it. He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh. Isaias foretold this when he said, "You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."

Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, O death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead; for Christ having risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

Friday, April 02, 2021

Good Friday

It was on a good Friday,
    and all in the morning,
They crucified our Savior,
    and our heavenly King.
And was not this
    a woeful thing
And sweet Jesus,
    we’ll call him by name.


From "the third hour" until "the sixth hour." From sext to none. From noon until three in the afternoon. Scripture tells us that our Lord was dying on the cross at this time, culminating in the words “Consummatum Est” (“It is finished”).

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When we were kids, growing up in Ohio, we would either go to church for Stations of the Cross or some related devotion, or if we were at home, Mom would turn the radio off, and we were told to be quieter than usual. Thus did we mark the consummation of the ultimate act of sacrificial Love, that of the Bridegroom for His bride.

PHOTO: Gail Deibler Finke

Elsewhere in Cincinnati, a venerable custom of more than a century and a half still takes place on this day.

In December 1860, a Catholic church was completed on a bluff atop Mount Adams, overlooking the central city from the east, and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Since the hill was too steep for a horse-and-buggy, there were a series of wooden steps built as well, leading from St Gregory Street near the river, all the way to the church entrance. The following spring saw the start of the War Between The States, and Immaculata Church became the site of devout Catholics praying the rosary for peace while climbing the steps to its entrance.

Even today, the tradition continues, as every year on Good Friday (a day when it invariably rains), an estimated ten thousand pilgrims climb the 85 steps -- the wooden ones having since been replaced by concrete -- leading to the entrance. The procession begins at midnight, with the parish priest's blessing of the steps, and continues for twenty-four hours.

The Passionist Historical Archives elaborates on the legacy of “St Mary’s of the Steps”, as does the parish website.

Our meditation for Good Friday is a photo montage with the imagery of the cross by Terri Rogers.

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This morning I will go to church and pray the Lauds of Tenebrae for Good Friday. Then at noon, Saint Rita's will have the Presanctified Liturgy of Good Friday for those devoted to the "extraordinary form." I will go again for a third time to pray the Matins of Holy Saturday.

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And finally, for what it's worth, the New York Stock exchange closes on this day. Even in the heart of Mammon, some things are still sacred, don't you think?

Or don't you?

Thursday, April 01, 2021

Maundy Thursday

It was on a
    maundy Thursday,
        and all in the morning,
They planted
    a crown of thorns
        on our heavenly King.
And was not this
    a woeful thing,
And sweet Jesus
    we'll call him by name.


Today begins the Sacred Triduum. For many years, I have taken this day and the next off from work. I made an exception of today this year, but I still plan to sneak away for a bit.

Last night I went to church (where I'm safer than in a supermarket), to pray the Matins of Tenebrae for Thursday of Holy Week. This morning I will go again to pray the Lauds for Thursday of Holy Week, then in the evening, the Matins for the following day.

The above notwithstanding, for a Catholic, as much as some try to deny it, the next three days are not business as usual. The whole of human history -- before, during, after -- turns on the events we remember this week. Our meditation is from a poem by Jalaludin Rumi. It is translated by Coleman Barks and John Moyne, with music by David Wilcox and Nance Pettit, and is produced by Bob Carlton.