Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Saint Andrew was here!

As the month comes to an end, we have been gearing up for the Advent-Christmastide-Epiphanytide publishing cycle. Yes, there really is one, where items for inculcating Catholic culture (and also appropriate alliterations) are prepared days in advance.

Today is the feast of Saint Andrew the Apostle, "The First-Called" as he is known in the East, and the brother of Saint Peter the Apostle as he is known in the East and the West. He is also the patron of this writer's hometown parish in Ohio. Here is his image as it appears among the stained-glass windows. (Yeah, low-resolution. Best we could do on short notice.)

Stay tuned, and stay in touch.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Advent I: Hope

(Romans 13:11)

Brethren: you know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.

R. Thanks be to God.


V. O Lord, hear our prayer.
R. And let our cry come unto Thee.
V. Let us pray ...

Stir up Thy power, we beseech Thee, O Lord, and come: that from the threatening dangers of our sins we may deserve to be rescued by Thy protection, and to be saved by Thy deliverance. Who livest and reignest, with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, world without end.

R. Amen.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Proficiscere: The Catholic Way of Dying

As part of our remembrance of the month of November, as that which Catholics associate with intentions of the dead and the Life Beyond, we devote this piece to the preparation of the dying. Catholics in the health care professions, particularly those devoted to home and hospice care, may have a unique opportunity to bring their commission through Baptism to the fore. But it is no less so to friends and family of those who prepare for the Inevitable. Here at “Chez Alexandre” we have a silver troika, consisting of a crucifix between two candlesticks. When a patient under Celia's care has passed away, we recite the Psalms together while the crucifix with lit candles is on the table before us. We have found the so-called "penitential psalms" also known as the "psalms of confession" to be quite suitable. They are: Psalms 6, 31(32), 37(38), 50(51), 101(102), 129(130), and 142(143). (NOTE: The numbering system from the Latin Vulgata is given preference here. Most modern usage employs the Greek, or Septuagint numbering, which appears here in parenthesis.) Of these, Psalm 50(51), the Miserere is the most appropriate:

Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness.
    In your compassion blot out my offense.
O wash me more and more from my guilt
    And cleanse me from my sin ...

Every Catholic home should have a "sick call set" handy, for the use of the priest or deacon who visits the sick or dying. It consists of a crucifix and two candles on a white tablecloth by the bedside, along with a vial of holy water, and a dish of regular water with a small white cloth for ablutions. The use of the palm from Palm Sunday, and a bell to announce the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, is optional. It has become common to have such a set self-contained in a wall crucifix, the top portion of which can be detached, to access the accessories contained in the base. (See image at left.)

The priest who comes to the door with the Sacrament does so in silence, and should be greeted by a person carrying a lighted candle. He will say, "Pax huic dómui." ("Peace be unto this house.") The greeter should respond, "Et ómnibus habitántibus in ea." ("And all who dwell therein.") The cleric is led to the room in silence. All genuflect or kneel in the presence of the Sacrament. In the event that the patient needs to confess his sins, all must leave the room, including the primary caregiver. A priest is trained to know when other assistance is needed. In the event that the patient lacks capacity to confess, a general absolution may be given. If a priest or deacon is unavailable, the faithful are nonetheless able to help prepare a soul for the journey. A page devoted to this is found at A prominent feature to this guide is the prayer known by its beginning word in Latin: Proficiscere.

Go forth, O Christian soul,
    out of this world,
in the Name of God the Father almighty,
    Who created you;
in the Name of Jesus Christ,
    the Son of the living God,
        Who suffered for you;
in the Name of the Holy Ghost,
    Who sanctified you ...
... may your place be this day in peace,
    and your abode in Holy Sion. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Of course, circumstances may dictate the length or brevity of such preparations. The communal praying of the Rosary, particularly the use of the Sorrowful Mysteries, is most commendable whatever the circumstances. Once the soul has passed on, a different set of prayers is appropriate. As the time before death is devoted to preparation, that which follows requires intercession from on high. One most appropriate form is the Responsorium, the Responsory for the Dead:

V. Do not remember my sins, O Lord.
R. When you come to judge the world by fire.

V. Direct my way in your sight, O Lord, my God.
R. When you come to judge the world by fire.

V. Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord,
    and let your perpetual light shine upon him.
R. When you come to judge the world by fire.

V. Lord, have mercy.
R. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

V. Our Father ...

Our series continues later this month, with a reflection on Catholic funerals, and the practices associated with them.

[As this month is when Catholics traditionally contemplate the "Last Things" -- death, judgment, heaven, hell -- we choose this opportunity to reprint an article from November of 2009. -- DLA] .

Tuesday, November 01, 2022

Dia(s) de los Muertos

November is the month in which the Church devotes herself especially to the remembrance of those who have died in the previous year. As we acknowledge the communion of saints already "raised to the altar" in Heaven, we also pray for those among the righteous of this life, who nonetheless part from this earth with sufficient imperfections, so as to remain in a state of purification, at the end of which they are released to witness the Beatific Vision, to see their God face to face in Glory.

And so, as is said in the Book of Maccabees: “It is a good and holy thought to pray for the dead.” The chorus of both the "Church Suffering" (the souls of purgatory) and the "Church Triumphant" (the saints in heaven), along with the choirs of angels, are among the assembled at every Mass with the "Church Militant" (the rest of us).

The second day of the month is traditionally known as All Souls Day in the western Church. In Latin America and other former Spanish colonies, it is also known as "dia de los muertos" (day of the dead). But since the celebration usually would have begun on the eve of All Saints Day (All Hallows' Eve, or Halloween), it is often referred to in the plural. In former Hispanic territories such as the Philippines, Celia's family still goes to the cemetery where their deceased loved ones are buried, not simply to lay flowers, but for a picnic. That sounds rather bizarre to us in the States, unless you consider the mayhem we make out of Halloween. Customs associated with this holiday include building private altars honoring the deceased, using sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed. It is likely that such confections are brought with the family to the graves.

In Mexico, legend has it that, on All Saints Day, loved ones are visited in the cemetery by the souls of children, especially those with the gift of baptism and before the age of reason (around seven years of age), and so are believed to be already in heaven. The legend goes on into the following day, that of All Souls Day, when they are visited by the ghosts of adults who have passed away.

VIDEO: Mexico City, 2018.

The human skull is a favorite image associated with the feast. Homemade candies in the shape of skulls are given as treats to children, and adults are known to parade in the streets in costumes featuring their faces painted accordingly.

The origins of these customs have been traced back thousands of years, to indigenous observances dedicated to the Aztec goddess Mictecacihuatl. We can surmise that the Spanish colonizers "christianized" the observance in the manner that we know today (a process surely more complicated than simply placing an image of Pachamama on the altar of God ... but that's another story).

In the month to come, man with black hat will feature other writings on matters of what Catholic teaching refers to as "The Last Things."