DPPL 112: The Feast of the Holy Family

STA altar at night smallOnce we overcome the popular notion that Christmas Day ends the Christmas season, there are opportunities for the believer. The first of which may be the Sunday after Christmas:

112. The feast of the holy family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph (Sunday in the Christmas octave) is a festive occasion particularly suitable for the celebration of rites or moments of prayer proper to the Christian family. The recollection of Joseph, Mary and Jesus’ going up to Jerusalem, together with other observant Jewish families, for the celebration of the Passover (cf. Lk 2, 41-42), should normally encourage a positive acceptance of the pastoral suggestion that all members of the family attend Mass on this day.

It would be the wish of every serious liturgist and pastor that the Sunday after Christmas be attended by the same throngs of families who cam on Christmas Eve and Day. Sadly, we know this is rarely the case.

This feast day also affords an opportunity for the renewal of our entrustment to the patronage of the Holy Family of Nazareth (Cf. Actus consecrationis familiarum, in EI, Aliae concessiones, 1, p. 50); the blessing of children as provided in the ritual (Cf Book of Blessings 174-194); and where opportune, for the renewal of marriage vows taken by the spouses on their wedding day, and also for the exchange of promises between those engaged to be married in which they formalize their desire to found a new Christian family (Cf. ibid., Ordo benedictionis desponsatorum, 195-204).

My parish observes a monthly blessings for couples celebrating an anniversary. Our December blessing is always done on Holy Family Sunday. How many engaged couples seek this blessing mentioned above? Many young people make a promise on Christmas. Where is the Catholic culture strong enough to suggest such a blessing long before a wedding day?

Outside of the feast, the faithful have frequent recourse to the Holy Family of Nazareth in many of life’s circumstances: joining the Association of the Holy Family so as to model their own families on the Holy Family of Nazareth (Erected by Leo XIII through the Apostolic Letter Neminem fugit (14 June 1892) in Leonis XIII Pontificis Maximi Acta, XII, Typographia Vaticana, Romae 1893, pp. 149-158: confirmed by John Paul II with the decree of the Pontifical Council for the Laity (25 November 1987)); frequent prayers to entrust themselves to the patronage of the Holy Family and to obtain assistance at the hour of death(Cf. EI, Piae invocationes, p. 83).

Are people aware of this association?

The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy is online at the Vatican site.

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swan-in-attack-mode-2I had been following–but not jinxing the Royals by watching–the World Series. I had missed the Liverpool-Swansea match yesterday. The Swans won the League Cup before I knew there was a League Cup and before my corporate masters at NBC informed me there was such a club playing in the Premier League.

How did I miss that match? I knew it was in my mind–I could have had those little panel boxes scrolling or the Twitter feed running while I set up templates for the clergy and sacristan schedules in 2015–yesterday’s mid-afternoon task. My wife even texted me that Liverpool was playing Real Madrid on tv yesterday. I told her it had to be a replay of last week’s debacle. We only get premier league and champions league here in the States.

Fine time for Mario Balotelli to come out of his pout. Couldn’t that have lasted one more match?

Garry Monk’s side might be getting the bad side of a number of calls, but at some point does the manager stop complaining about what he can’t control, and push the buttons that work? If he were an American coach, he would have been fined, suspended, and certainly not scheduled for a one-on-one meeting with the head of officiating.

Swans have a rematch against the young miss’s number 2 team this Saturday. With Britain off daylight time, I think that’s now an 8am start for Iowans. I get to watch the first forty minutes before going to keep watch over our parish’s non-obligatory holy day Mass.

Just as my wife left for her small group last night (taking the family’s only car), I got a text inviting me to view the World Series in a local sports bar. One of my staff colleagues was gathering a small cadre at a table by the door. I kept my promise. I didn’t even watch the game at home. (I viewed a PBS Nature program “What Plants Talk About.”)

No game six drama meant that by the end of the 2nd inning, everybody on the planet knew there was going to be a game seven tonight. My sense tells me tonight will be an exception to this unusual series lacking close games. Instead of ending with a dramatic hit, I expect  great defensive play in the top of the ninth will close the curtain on 2014 baseball.

With the Swans exit of the League Cup, which underdog remains to cheer onward? Following NCAA basketball, it’s hard to imagine a tournament that has no brackets until the obvious penultimate round.

I see the FA Cup starts numbered rounds now. I will follow that, as I will be recognizing some names. To get myself in shape for this, I’ve been learning all the teams in British football. Last night I was up to 82 before time was called. One round a day. Goal: improvement on the last go.

One of our students is studying abroad next semester–in Cardiff. I will instruct her to wear blue if she gets to a match, and not to utter the word “tan” in mixed company.

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DPPL 110-111: Midnight Mass

STA altar at night smallTechnically, we’ll start with before Mass, the recommendation to pray the Office of Readings:

110. Where possible, the Church desires that the faithful should prepare for the celebration of Midnight Mass on the 24 December with the Office of Readings(Cf. GILH 215). Where such is not possible, it may be opportune to arrange a vigil of hymns, readings, and elements drawn from popular piety.

This was a surprise when I read the document, I admit. Sunday, week one (where major feasts default) assigns Psalms 1, 2, and 3 in Christian Prayer. Psalm 2 fits, certainly. I would think one of the kingly Psalms also (93-99) over even the 145th.

Hymns and readings drawn from the Scriptures are more common. I like the Christmas homily of St Isaac the Syrian as a source from the writing of the saints.

111. At Midnight Mass, an event of major liturgical significance and of strong resonance in popular piety, the following could be given prominence:
• at the beginning of Mass, the proclamation of the Savior’s birth according the formula contained in the Roman Martyrology could be made in song;
• the prayer of the faithful should really be universal, and where appropriate, use several languages; and the poor should always be remembered in the presentation of the gifts;
• at the end of Mass, the faithful could be invited to kiss the image of the Child Jesus, which is then placed in a crib erected in the church or somewhere nearby.

These suggestions are striking. Many parishes sing the Christmas Proclamation–it has been promoted at least since the 80’s by many progressive liturgy outlets.

The suggestion to use several languages in the prayer of the faithful made me sit up and take notice. Why do you think this is especially good for Midnight Mass?

A collection for the poor, yes.

Veneration of the figure of the infant Jesus. I have never seen that happen before. What would the modern version be, selfies with the Baby?

The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy is online at the Vatican site.

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Why Am I A Catholic?

I noticed Ross Douthat published an entry in his NYT blog in response to the many comments on his “precipice” piece from Sunday. He’s an intelligent, occasionally refreshing young guy. But sometimes I think faith can be over-thought.

Why am I a Catholic? It’s simple.

I was called.

This touches on the difference between people, many conservatives and some liberals, who are wringing hands these days, and some liberals and a few conservatives who are not.

I know many Catholics, many believers and disciples get to Jesus through their mind. I get that. I have what passes in some circles as something of a theological education. I’ve had to test and write about things of religion and faith. My mind is not a stranger to religiosity. But it’s just a part of a much bigger picture.

The key is the seeking of the lost, and the invitation to come home. That is where Pope Francis is leaving many people behind. They do not think of the Church in terms of their participation in the net-casting of Christ. They think of it in terms of how they measure up to a standard–sometimes an internal one. How much what they think aligns with what they think God thinks. Or failing God, what a religious institution–say the bureaucracy of Rome–thinks.

I believe God calls. I also believe we are called to imitate that … if we consider ourselves believers/disciples/Christians/devout Catholics/orthodox. If the people aren’t coming to us, it is our mission to go to them.

I don’t think it means as much that we’re asking the question. I think it means more if we are part of someone else’s answer. In other words, why is so-and-so a Catholic? Because Ross or Todd or someone (insert your name) called them. That’s the kind of answer I’d rather hear.

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I have a moderately high opinion of John Allen’s endeavor at Crux. My caution is that I think he’s finding it difficult to fill the space that earlier this month was filled by the synod. I think he makes good points in today’s column contrasting the treatment of Cardinal Kasper and Archbishop Chaput for remarks taken out of context. But “honeymoon is over”? Maybe not. The laity pretty much get to decide this one, not the bishops or pundits.

Looking at recent history, I don’t think the honeymoon was ever over for JP2 and B16. Neither of them had a Humanae Vitae moment like Paul VI. I think followers and detractors were pretty much always in place. In other words, people have their opinions on some things (and some other people) and no quantity of facts will change that.

Likewise, I thought the “Oscar” commentary was lame. If I were on Team Allen at the Globe, I would have applauded the stuff of the commentary, but not the way it was framed. Mr Allen nearly always has interesting news bits–that’s why most of us read him.

If Pope Francis were off the honeymoon, the critics wouldn’t be going after his lieutenants and perceived opponents with such fervor. I think the pope’s critics are in a more tenuous situation. Their worldview is largely pessimistic. And when you’re a pessimist, you’re always waiting for the next worst thing to happen.

On the liturgy front, it’s the way Rome has been working for years now. We got Redemptionis Sacramentum, a document designed not to inspire people to good behavior, but to set out parameters for the bad. It’s the flaw in the hermeneutic of subtraction. RS isn’t going to inspire the creation of great new music or art. It will punish the pretenders. And the occasional poor soul caught in the crossfire.

We need a new approach. Something that exposes tittles and jots in the law for what they are: small-minded markings that don’t amount to very much in the big picture.

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Going Further

After I read Cardinal Nichols’ brief pastoral letter on the recent family synod, I got the idea Pope Francis is operating on a totally different plane from some of his critics.

Cardinal Nichols pooh-poohs the idea the synod was a defeat in any way for the pope. That seems right. If Pope Francis is looking to conduct this as an advanced exercise in discernment, this is about how I might expect things to look. The cardinal seems to think so:

Pope Francis set the tone. He asked us to look reality in the eye; to speak openly from the heart; to listen humbly and respectfully to each other. This is what we did. There was no rancour, no contestation. There were disagreements, of course. But he told us to live through the experience with tranquility and trust. And we did. It was a marvellous experience of the Church as a family and of the Church, at this level, hard at work, trying to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit and express them in carefully chosen words.

For people still operating in the country of the just, these words might be a bit provocative:

But Pope Francis went a little further. He spoke of ‘the Church composed of sinners…..that has doors wide open to receive the needy, the penitent and not only the just.’ He spoke about the duty of pastors always to welcome into the Church those in difficult situations or in trouble. Then he corrected himself saying that we, as pastors, were not simply to welcome them but to go out and find them, just as the Good Shepherd did for those who had drifted away.

This is significant. We might not be placed to give the Eucharist to the needy, but we are urged to go out and find them. I can imagine some Catholics just throwing up their hands at that and say it would be just easier to invite the ones present to Communion.

I mentioned earlier today I think an adaptation from Dietrich Bonhoeffer is needed. What some of the conservatives are offering is little better than cheap rigor.

It seems we can do much better than that.

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DPPL 109: Christmas Eve

STA altar at night smallIn the developed world, Christmas Eve has superceded the day of the Nativity in the practice of many, at least as far as church is concerned. The Church lays out a set of options, some of which yet live, and elsewhere, some have faded. Which of these three, if any, do you, your family, and friends still observe?

109. In the space of time between the first Vespers of Christmas and Midnight Mass, both the tradition of Christmas carols, which are potent means of conveying the Christmas message of peace and joy, and popular piety propose certain forms of prayers, differing from country to country, which should be cherished and, where necessary, made consonant with the celebration of the Liturgy: These would include:
• “live cribs” and the inauguration of the crib in the homes of the faithful which is an opportunity for family prayer: this prayer should include a reading of St. Luke’s account of the birth of Christ, the typical Christmas carols, as well as prayers of petition and praise, especially those of children who are the protagonists in such family moments;
• the inauguration of the Christmas tree. This event also offers an opportunity for family prayer. Apart from its historical origins, the Christmas tree has become a potent symbol today and is very diffuse amongst Christians; it evokes both the tree planted in the centre of Eden (Gen 2, 9), and the tree of the Cross, which lends it a Christological significance: Christ is the true tree of life, born of human stock, of the Virgin Mary, the tree which is always green and productive. In the Nordic countries, the tree is decorated with apples and hosts. “Gifts” can be added; but among the gifts placed under the tree, something should be included for the poor since they belong to every Christian family;
• the Christmas supper. The Christian family, which traditionally blesses the table and gives thanks to the Lord for the gift of food, performs this ceremony with greater intensity at the Christmas supper which gives potent concrete expression to the joy of family ties.

A few things stand out for me:

  • The prominence given Christmas carols. Clearly, there is no expectation of plainchant and Mass propers. Perhaps the more lamentable development in the past four generations is the fading of gathering around a home piano to sing. We let the hi-fidelity sound surround us instead.
  • The importance given the Word in home celebrations. Setting up a crèche is not just a decoration, but it gives substance to the Word proclaimed.
  • Claiming what was once a pagan tree for Christianity. Very slick.
  • Nordic tree decoration with apples, yes. But “hosts”? The Spanish version gives a sweet confection, a lollipop. (I will say that the Vatican site’s translation of this document is clumsy and unprofessional in stretches–typos and other silly errors. But who knows for sure–the Latin is not available there.)
  • Gifts for the poor under the tree: not just an idea for the church tree.
  • I know a number of people who celebrate a nice dinner on Christmas Eve. Sometimes that is a necessity, given extended families, in-laws, and travel commitments. The demands of modern life might bring a Christmas Eve banquet to life in some homes.

The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy is online at the Vatican site.

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