From the Pastor’s Desk | January 7, 2018

frsamDear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

“More sparing, therefore, let us make, the words we speak, the food we take, our sleep, our laughter, ev’ry sense; learn peace through holy penitence.” This verse from the Lenten hymn “Again We Keep This Solemn Fast” (number 474 in the hymnal if you’re curious) encapsulates an important goal of our Lenten observance that is reflected in the Church’s liturgy. Through the discipline of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, the spiritual wisdom of the Church invites us to reflective silence, to a simpler way of living, and thus to a more profound reliance on God’s providence.

During the Lenten season, the decorations in the sanctuary are to be minimal, symbolizing the season’s penitential quality. The Church calls for musical instruments to be used in the Mass only to support singing. Increased silence during liturgical celebrations is encouraged. Certain prayers, such as the Gloria and the Te Deum are omitted during the Lenten season. The Mass during Lent reflects the spiritual reality of our practice and helps us to enter more deeply into that prayerful attitude that focuses us on God. Lent provides us with the opportunity to simplify, get back to the essential elements of the spiritual life, and be renewed in our faith.

Reflecting these universal practices of the Church, you will notice very minimal decorations in our sanctuary during Lent. We will chant the proper parts of the Mass in Latin, following the same melody we are already familiar with from our use of it with English words over the last six weeks. Perhaps the most noticeable practice we will observe is a silent recessional procession at the conclusion of Mass. Exiting the Church in silence will serve as a reminder of the sobriety of our liturgical celebrations in Lent, as well as providing a moment for quiet reflection before the congregation disperses. Incidentally, the practice of singing a hymn at the end of Mass is not required by any liturgical norm of the Church. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal says nothing about a hymn being sung during the procession, and the Roman Missal itself states that after the final blessing and dismissal, “… the Priest venerates the altar as usual with a kiss, as at the beginning. After making a profound bow with the ministers, he withdraws.” In the long tradition of the Church, the procession after Mass was often accompanied by an organ postlude, or by the singing of one of the Marian antiphons, such as the Salve Regina. The use of a closing hymn is a recent development, though no liturgical instruction requires such a hymn.

May our liturgical celebrations during this Lenten season help us to live out the words quoted at the beginning of this column: “More sparing, therefore, let us make, the words we speak, the food we take, our sleep, our laughter, ev’ry sense; learn peace through holy penitence.”

Peace,

Fr. Sam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the Pastor’s Desk | February 11, 2018

frsam

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

In the early centuries of the Church, it was common for Catholics to receive Holy Communion under the species of both bread and wine. However, the practice of receiving from the chalice had almost entirely disappeared by the eleventh century. The Council of Trent (1546) made the practice of receiving Holy Communion under one form the universal norm for the Latin Church (that’s us). Accompanying this norm was a clarification about what we receive when we receive Holy Communion. The Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ is fully present in the Eucharist, whether we receive under the form of bread or wine. Thus, it is not necessary to receive both kinds in order to “fully” receive Holy Communion.

While the priest is obligated to receive both species, his reception of Holy Communion is not only for himself but also for the whole community assembled. This reality is not always in evidence at our regular celebrations of Mass because, in general, it is possible for people to approach and receive Communion. However, the priest’s role as intercessor and his reception of Communion on behalf of the whole community has, historically, been evidenced in powerful ways, particularly when Mass is difficult or dangerous to celebrate. For example, there are countless stories of priests in Nazi concentration camps, Soviet gulags, and other prisons celebrating Mass with tiny scraps of bread and drops of wine that had been smuggled to them. During those Masses, it was virtually impossible to distribute communion to the other prisoners, but the priest would receive on their behalf while the assembled congregation in the prison barracks would make an act of spiritual communion, uniting their prayers to the prayer of the priest.

The Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) suggested that the practice of distributing Communion under both kinds could be restored in a limited way so that the symbolic nature of the act of receiving Communion could be more fully visible. The Council left it to local (national) conferences of Bishops to provide directives to their respective territories. In paragraph 55 Sacrosanctum Concilium suggests Holy Communion could be distributed under both kinds “for instance, to the newly ordained in the Mass of their sacred ordination, to the newly professed in the Mass of their religious profession, and to the newly baptized in the Mass which follows their baptism.” The document remains silent about other occasions. Thus, we can safely say that the Second Vatican Council, without mandating Communion under both kinds, did open the door for Holy Communion to be distributed under both kinds, while the promulgation of norms was left to competent authority outside of and after the Council.

This historical background can help set the stage for our deeper understanding of the distribution of Holy Communion under both kinds. While the chalice is no longer being distributed here per our bishop’s directive for flu season, it is good for us to be reminded of the tremendous privilege we have in receiving our Lord who is truly present in the Eucharist, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity!

Peace,

Fr. Sam

From the Pastor’s Desk | February 4, 2018

frsamDear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

With the flu season upon us, Bishop Caggiano has, as you know, recommended that parishes suspend the practice of distributing Holy Communion under the species of wine. We have an opportunity to reflect sincerely on the nature of the Mass and what it means to receive Holy Communion reverently and well. Therefore, I would like to invite you to a serious study of the Church’s liturgical norms over the next few weeks, which will either be published in this column or in another place in the bulletin.

As we reflect on the nature of the Church’s liturgy, we need to remember an important point. The Church’s liturgy is not a matter of opinion, though we all have plenty of opinions about Mass. Rather, the Church Universal governs the celebration of the liturgy so that there may be unity in worship for all Catholics throughout the world. While there are naturally differences because of culture, language, and human personalities, the goal of liturgical norms is to ensure that the sacred mysteries we celebrate are a visible sign of unity for all Catholics. Thus, as we reflect on what the Church says about the celebration of Mass, we should be willing to suspend our tendency to judge something as good or bad, our tendency to think of our personal preferences first, and instead receive the facts as information worthy of prayerful reflection. We should also remember that the Church’s norms for the celebration of Mass are for our good and safeguard the reverence due the holy things we celebrate.

In some cases, we have seen things done that seem to be in conflict with the Church’s norms. The Church provides norms so that we can properly celebrate Mass. Abuses of the liturgy, even if they are common or seem to make us feel good, ought to be corrected. Spiritual writers, theologians, and philosophers, have reflected on the idea of the Mass being “play.” The games we play have rules that help us to enjoy the game and play it fairly and correctly. If I were watching people playing baseball and saw that they had the three strikes rule correct, but were allowing eight balls instead of four, I would be right to correct them and help them play the game as it ought to be played. In the same way, we should happily correct mistakes in the celebration of Mass, not to be legalistic, but to help us “play” correctly and beautifully. We should also rejoice in those things that need no correction.

As we move forward then, I invite you to enter into a deeper understanding of the Mass and the Church’s liturgy. When we gather as a community of faith, we come to worship the God who made us, who knows us, who loves us. We are mystically united in prayer to all those Catholics throughout the world, and even to those in heaven who worship the Lord face to face. Let us continue, then, to worship our God reverently and well, for it is right and just to give Him thanks and praise in all places and circumstances!

Peace,

Fr. Sam

From the Pastor’s Desk | January 28, 2018

frsamDear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” These words that accompany the Psalm today represent both a challenge and an invitation. To listen attentively to the voice of God as He speaks to us in Scripture, the tradition of the Church, and in our own personal prayer can be difficult. Keeping our hearts open to the promptings of God is a greater challenge still.

We are challenged to listen, first. How can we hear the voice of the Lord if we are not first listening? How often do we let the readings of Scripture wash over us, without allowing them to soak in? How often do we say our prayers in Church, but rush back to other things as soon as possible, without really allowing our prayer to impact our life? How often do we recognize that God speaks to us, not only with an audible voice, but through the teachings of the Catholic Church? Or do we see the Church’s teachings as points on a political platform to be debated and rejected?

Of course, God’s voice is always present and speaking. Our Lord always wants to speak to us, first to communicate his divine Word of love and to call us into a relationship with Himself. He speaks in Scripture, He speaks in nature, He speaks in the Church, He speaks in the inner recesses of our hearts. We should be gluttons for the voice of God, eager to hear it in every possible way, never limiting ourselves to one way or another. This voice of God must have an effect in our lives.

God’s voice speaking has effect in our lives when our hearts are open and docile enough to be transformed. Will you allow God to change your life? It is common today for people to look for the Church to simply affirm them and tell them that they’re fine. While it is, of course, true that God loves us no matter what, it is also true that God wants us to be different. Harden not your hearts, the psalm tells us. The “come-as-you-are” attitude is good insofar as it gets us through the door. But there is so much more to living the Christian life! We are invited then, by these words of the psalm, to change our lives. We are invited to take the Church’s teachings and put them into action in our lives.

Jesus speaks with authority. His word is life and love. Today, let us hear his voice and keep our hearts open to his inspiration.

 

Peace,

Fr. Sam

From the Pastor’s Desk | Janury 21, 2018

frsamDear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Do you see a pattern? The Gospel this weekend again presents the call of the disciples, who leave everything to follow Jesus. They leave their nets to follow the man who proclaims that the Kingdom of God is at hand, and that now is the time for repentance. The truth is that Jesus looks at each of us, too, crying out “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” He wants us to share in His mission and bring souls to His Kingdom.

When we hear about these fishermen leaving their whole livelihood behind to follow Jesus, we can at first be tempted to think that it is too much, that following in such a radical way is more than we can handle. We can be intimidated by the saints whose lives seem like such perfect examples of holiness and discipleship when compared to our efforts to follow the Lord. But we should really keep reading the Gospel. If we do, we will find that these same men who seem to follow Jesus in such a perfect manner turn out to be men who struggle, fail, and disappoint, too. Their discipleship is not perfect, and while their readiness to leave all else behind is admirable, it is not the defining characteristic of their lives with Christ. Rather, the disciples are defined by their willingness to get up after a fall, to return to Jesus again and again in their weakness, to pray begging God’s help when all else seems lost.

What holds us back from answering Christ’s invitation? Are we stuck in some sin and afraid to let it go? Are we worried about what people will think of us if we try to be disciples? Does the possible discomfort of a life of discipleship intimidate us? Fair enough. There are plenty of things to be concerned about in striving to be true disciples of Christ. However, we will never know how we will respond to those challenges if we do not take the first step.

Jesus walks along the shore towards you today. His words are the same He spoke to the fishermen – “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Do not let fears of the future or the opinion of others sway you. Stand up and follow Him. Let Him lead and show you where you are to go and be confident that following Jesus in everything will lead you to the Kingdom of God.

Peace,

Fr. Sam