Lament for the Thylacine

I was out Christmas shopping yesterday. I heard on the radio yesterday that the remains of the world’s last known thylacine were found in a Tasmanian museum.

When I was a boy, I was fascinated and sad reading about extinct animals. Dinosaurs, not so much. But recent ones like the Carolina Parakeet and the Passenger Pigeon.

Perhaps no species extinction has struck me as much as the one also known as the Tasmanian Tiger. In sixth grade I became fascinated with all things Australia. (Still have yet to get there.) And animals, the strangeness of the marsupials–how they had some parallel similarities with placental mammals in the northern hemisphere, but were totally unrelated. The thylacine resembles a dog with a fox’s head more than a tiger, despite those stripes above its hind legs.

Coat of arms of Tasmania.svgWrongfully accused and executed for livestock raiding in the Australian island state, today Tasmania honors the thylacine on its coat of arms, left.

For drivers, they can identify their vehicle with the cartoon version of the animal peeking out from grass.

What to make of this rehabilitation, after the end?

I found this lyric here:

They alliterated me,
called me the Tasmanian Tiger,
me, a marsupial.
They think they obliterated me,
but here I am, lurking
in the murky shadows
between sorrow and laughter,
cowering in sun burnt woods.
I only come out at night,
and you are waiting to find out
if my bark is worse than my bite.

Kim M. Russell, 20th December 2018

I suppose it is the smallest sliver of hope this fine animal is still out in the wilds of Australia. Unconfirmed sightings from Western Australia, thousands of miles from Tasmania, are numerous. But the species was long eliminated from the main continent by the time Europeans arrived in the 1600s. Or so it is supposed.

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DSCAP 21-22: It’s a Substitute

The Directory for Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest parrots a frequent party line in these Chapter II paragraphs:

21. It is imperative that the faithful be taught to see the substitutional character of these celebrations, which should not be regarded as the optimal solution to new difficulties nor as a surrender to mere convenience. (Cf. Paul VI, Address to bishops of Central France, 26 March 1977: AAS 69 (1977); “Proceed judiciously, but without multiplying this type of Sunday assembly, as though it were the ideal solution and the last chance.”)

This rather overlooks the quality of grace, the ever-present God in the midst of human workings, and the inability of individuals or organizations to induce it by their own abilities. The Church lays down the law:

Therefore a gathering or assembly of this kind can never be held on a Sunday in places where Mass has already been celebrated or is to be celebrated or was celebrated on the preceding Saturday evening, even if the Mass is celebrated in a different language. Nor is it right to have more than one assembly of this kind on any given Sunday.

Emergency situations often get a pass from some bishops–the priest is sick, travel was prevented. Suppose a parish celebrates multiple Masses on Sunday. How often does the bishop send a priest to cover a sickness? Or come himself?

22. Any confusion between this kind of assembly and a Eucharistic celebration must be carefully avoided. Assemblies of this kind should not take away but rather increase the desire of the faithful to take part in the celebration of the Eucharist, and should make them more eager to be present at the celebration of the Eucharist.

The problem with this line of reasoning is that it works for clerics who can or cannot celebrate Mass at their own option. Communities without a resident priest, far less so. Most urban or rural parishes I know appreciate the celebration of Mass when they get it. They also have the community memory of when their community was served by a resident pastor. Parishes also know that clergy staffing is based on diocesan priorities. A small parish can generate several vocations that result in active priests. No small parish will guarantee it gets an assignment.

That said, there is an undeniable charism present when a faith community of any size gathers for any God-centered purpose. A deacon or lay person might bring certain qualities in her or his leadership. Sometimes there are qualities that surpass the abilities of many priests.

Documents like this would have benefitted from a wider consultation and more understanding of the real situation in certain communities.

Directory for Sunday Celebrations in the absence of a priest English translation © 1988, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Creator Plus

To start with, I don’t have an issue with “Creator of the Stars of Night.” Nor with modern treatments of old hymnody–I program/perform them myself. What do you make of the addition of an antiphon to the aforementioned hymn? I had not used this prior to my current parish. I feel ambivalent about it. It’s well-crafted, sure. I didn’t program it this year–no peep from my unofficial music committee.

What’s missing? For me a sense of the tune as something modal, not Western. What do you readers think?

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DSCAP 20: Sunday Word, and Maybe Communion

The Directory for Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest describes prime alternatives to Sunday Mass:

20. Among the forms of celebration found in liturgical tradition when Mass is not possible, a celebration of the word of God is particularly recommended, (SC 35) and also its completion, when possible, by Eucharistic communion. In this way the faithful can be nourished by both the word of God and the body of Christ. “By hearing the word of God the faithful learn that the marvels it proclaims reach their climax in the paschal mystery, of which the Mass is a sacramental memorial and in which they share by communion.” (Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist outside of Mass 26)

The challenge for this, of course, is that ordinary Sunday preaching at Mass doesn’t quite engage the Paschal Mystery. In some communities, it’s a “theme of the week,” based on Jesus’ latest adventure in one of the Gospels at best. Or a moral or political sermon at worst.

Further, in certain circumstances the Sunday celebration can be combined with the celebration of one or more of the sacraments and especially of the sacramentals and in ways that are suited to the needs of each community.

Baptism, I suppose. What other sacramental rite permits a lay person as presider?

Directory for Sunday Celebrations in the absence of a priest English translation © 1988, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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The King Shall Come, New and Old

I have always liked the text and traditional tune for “The King Shall Come.” The linked recording with the simple GIA arrangement is a bit slow for my taste. I’m not in favor of the Picardy drama at the end, not for Advent. Alter the harmony if one must, but keep it in F minor, E minor, G minor, or whatever the chosen tonality might be. As a shape note tune, it translates a bit better for guitar than organ, I think. Also, quite sturdy and singable a cappella.

Trevor Thomson has a creditable contemporary setting of the text. The people at my previous parish advocated for it, but we never got to implement.

Not every parish I’ve served had the traditional tune in the repertoire, but most did. I wonder how widespread it is these days. Many folks, especially monastics, prefer “Creator of the Stars of Night” as the lead-out Advent hymn. Modern Catholics seem less impressed with that tune. It would be my choice, but my choices don’t always sit well with folks in the pews.


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A Thanksgiving Reminder: 1 Timothy 6:6-11, 17-19

A new suggestion for my experience on Thanksgiving Day, and an appropriate companion to the Deuteronomy 8:7-18 reading.

Two important reminders for people in my country: a touchstone on religion with contentment, and also a warning for the rich. Let’s also keep before us that every home with a full table certainly qualifies.

Indeed, religion with contentment is a great gain.
For we brought nothing into the world,
just as we shall not be able to take anything out of it.
If we have food and clothing,
we shall be content with that.
Those who want to be rich
are falling into temptation
and into a trap
and into many foolish and harmful desires,
which plunge them into ruin and destruction.
For the love of money is the root of all evils,
and some people in their desire for it
have strayed from the faith
and have pierced themselves with many pains.
But you, (chosen) of God, avoid all this.
Instead, pursue righteousness, devotion, faith,
love, patience, and gentleness.
Tell the rich in the present age
not to be proud
and not to rely on so uncertain a thing as wealth
but rather on God,
who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment.
Tell them to do good,
to be rich in good works,
to be generous,
ready to share,
thus accumulating as treasure
a good foundation for the future,
so as to win the life that is true life.

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DSCAP 18-19: Conditions for Celebration

Chapter II of the Directory for Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest covers numbered sections 18 through 34. Here, we’ll discuss “Conditions for Holding Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest.”

So, a priest isn’t available or doesn’t show up. It could happen for lots of reasons. In my experience, snowfall and oversleep and medication adjustment and just simply unreachable. For colleagues in ministry, there is no priest available.

Church teaching here is simple: go somewhere with a priest.

18. Whenever and wherever Mass cannot be celebrated on Sunday, the first thing to be ascertained is whether the faithful can go to a church in a place nearby to participate there in the Eucharistic mystery. At the present time this solution is to be recommended and to be retained where it is in effect; but it demands that the faithful, rightly imbued with a fuller understanding of the Sunday assembly, respond with good will to a new situation.

And this can be a challenge in some situations. People who once had a resident priest now lack one. The reasons might be sound and well-discerned, but some resentment lingers. Perhaps the good will here can and should be mutual. A bishop can no longer staff a parish with a weekend presider. Will he go himself a few times a year and offer it up to good will? Will he permit liturgy led by deacons or lay people even if that is not his preference? Good attitudes are catchy. Who leads?

19. The aim is that the riches of Sacred Scripture and of the Church’s prayer be amply provided to the faithful gathered on Sundays in various ways even apart from Mass. For the faithful should not be deprived of the readings that are read at Mass in the course of a year, nor of the prayers of the liturgical seasons.

The importance of the Lectionary cycle is a prime consideration. Likewise the prayers of the Missal. Does the DDWDS means the core seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter? Or would they include the procession of Sundays in Ordinary Time?

Directory for Sunday Celebrations in the absence of a priest English translation © 1988, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Priests or People?

Archbishop Cordileone gave an interview with CNA. Salvatore J. Cordileone, cropped.pngSome liturgy questions and answers popped up at the end of it. It’s always interesting to see a totally different point of view from most Catholics. What do I mean by that? 

Clergy never go to Mass as a believer–they are nearly always doing something. Usually away from most of the people. In a cathedral, even a bit farther away from the back pew. Their experience of Mass is telling people what to do, and enjoying considerably more elbow room, no matter how close the altar servers are.

What in particular about the Mass needs to change?

How the Blessed Sacrament is handled and how people prepare to receive Communion respectfully. There’s a lot of goodwill out there. I think people just need better formation and awareness about it. So I do think there’s a lot to work on.

My premise here, and always has been that many priests need better formation in liturgy. And there is a lot to work on–maybe even more than the laity. 

It’s very easy to be casual when receiving in the hand. It’s a lot more challenging to preserve reverence for the Eucharist when it’s given in the hands. If we are going to do it, we have to be very intentional about it. When I was a pastor, I would regularly instruct people about how to receive Communion properly. Actually at Sunday Mass for the homily, I would demonstrate how to receive on the tongue as well as in the hand.

I suppose if one’s parishioners are stuck in a state of evangelization, this is a possible need. It might be that a consistent lecture on liturgical practice falls on deaf ears. At least, the reverent people don’t need the coaching. And the stubborn don’t see themselves in need of correction. It’s always about the other person. 

I’d see it happen, and the priests on Monday would find hosts on the floor, under the pews, or in the pages of a missalette. So I had the ushers at the Communion station to make sure people did not walk off with the host.

Yes, this does happen. There are often reasons for it: a non-Catholic gets ushered into the procession, or a very young child. I once saw a communicant spit it out, so there’s no golden fool-proof method to distribute. 

The Church’s problem is that we have too many clergy who don’t themselves treat the Eucharist–or worshippers–with respect. How does that work?

When an uninformed person leaves consecrated altar bread in a pew, the person finds it feels dismay. An experienced pastor likely doesn’t let it bother him. When a priest is super speedy in distributing Communion, several people will feel the rush. And if a parish has clergy who routinely do this, it will detract from a proper sense of respect for Mass. A parishioner mouthing off to a priest? Minimal impact. A priest on harangue from the pulpit? Dozens to hundreds will feel it, most of whom don’t deserve it.

You know, [Catholics] used to have to fast from midnight [the night before Mass], and be on their knees, and receive only on the tongue. We need to have some kind of practical measures in place, reminders to people of who they are receiving when they are receiving Communion. Never has Communion been treated so casually, In any of the apostolic churches, in any of the Eastern rites, or in the West. So this is a new thing we’re trying to grapple with.

Good leadership knows it has to start at the top. Bosses give orders and people follow them sometimes. Effective leaders show the way. They don’t have to tell it.

My sense is that casual treatment hits seminaries and students there might be taught it’s the laity’s fault. They need to see that perhaps the infection is a bit wider than expected. Starts at the top, perhaps.

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DSCAP 16-17: Sunday, A Day of Joy and Freedom

The Directory for Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest recognizes the challenge for people in the modern world. Bosses insisting on working workers. Workers striving for more money and recognition. Corporations sending peons far and wide in the obsession with expansion and travel. Does Sunday become “a day of joy and freedom?” Less often for some than others.

16. Finally, pastoral effort should concentrate on measures which have as their purpose “that the Lord’s Day becomes in fact a day of joy and of freedom from work.” (SC 106) In this way Sunday will stand out in today’s culture as a sign of freedom and consequently as a day established for the well-being of the human person, which clearly is a higher value than commerce or industrial production. (Cf. “Le sens du dimanche dans une societe pluraliste. Reflexions pastorales de la Conference des eveques du Canada,” La Documentation Catholique, no. 1935 (1987), 273-276)

17. The word of God, the Eucharist, and the ministry of the priest are gifts that the Lord presents to the Church, his Bride, and they are to be received and to be prayed for as divine graces. The Church, which possesses these gifts above all in the Sunday assembly, thanks God for them in that same assembly and awaits the joy of complete rest in the day of the Lord “before the throne of God and before the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9)

Perhaps some of us are so overworked that rest becomes equated with sleep. Sunday isn’t about sleeping in as much as saving oneself to express qualities such as gratitude and enjoy experiences of community.

Directory for Sunday Celebrations in the absence of a priest English translation © 1988, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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M7: Ptolemy’s Drop of Scorpion Venom

The star cluster Messier 7.jpgLet’s continue our survey of Messier objects. Check some basic info if you’re joining late here.

Above is another open cluster, like the previous number of this series. Not a pretty name like “Butterfly,” but that of a figure of science from the ancient world. Ptolemy described it as a nebula (Latin for cloud). At a distance of almost a thousand light years, it does take a telescope to discern any of its eighty or so stars.

Does M7 have any scientific significance? Not really. The Hubble Space Telescope hasn’t been aimed there. It is a family of stars all birthed from the same interstellar cloud about two-hundred million years ago. An observer on a planet inside the cluster would have swaths of bright stars spotting the night skies. Some might even be visible in daylight.

As seen from Earth, it appears near the end of Scorpio’s tail, maybe a drop of invertebrate venom. To see it well from the Northern Hemisphere, look well to the south, and only in summer can one see it in dark skies.

Image credit: By Credit: ESO –, CC BY 3.0,

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DSCAP 15: Active Participation and Renewal

The notion of active participation gets a prominent mention in paragraph 15 of the Directory for Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest. There are only two sentences, but a fair amount to unpack.

15. In the Sunday assembly, as also in the life of the Christian community, the faithful should find both active participation and a true spirit of community, as well as the opportunity to be renewed spiritually under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In this way, too, they will be protected against the attractions of sects that promise relief from the pain of loneliness and a more complete fulfillment of religious aspirations.

The years before and following the millennial jubilee I saw a lot of naysaying, if not outright fake news about the notion of liturgical participation. Straining at gnats about active, actual, and the like, parsing the Latin translations and all. In the English language “active” is the word of choice in many documents following Sacrosanctum Concilium, those originating in Rome as well as the bishops’ conferences of North America.

The link here with spiritual renewal satisfies my understanding of active participation. The aim has always been renewal. People singing more, serving more–these are just means to a greater end. Sunday, according to the Church, is a prime locus for the hoped-for renewal.

As for the “attractions of sects,” I think that the more dangerous influences are things such as the religion of sport, our bosses’ insistence on work 24/7/365, and the exaltation of leisure in the wealthier classes. If the DDWDS is concerned about other Christian religions, unfortunately, the ordination requirements are less stringent for most evangelicals. They don’t require a leader with training akin to a First World seminary. Alas, the institution has looked unfavorably to certain remedies in mission lands, such as an effort two decades ago in the Mexican diocese of San Cristóbal de las Casas.

Ah, the institution is in a tough spot. If Sunday Mass is really so vital (and I would be one of the last to argue against it) it seems like a way to provide it more often could be found.

Directory for Sunday Celebrations in the absence of a priest English translation © 1988, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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DSCAP 14: Sunday, From the Beginning of Christian Formation

Continuing with the Directory for Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest, and its teaching on Sunday. Remember the principles previously stated (DSCAP 12-13): the centrality of Sunday as a time when God gathers his people, when the Paschal Mystery is preached and expressed, and when the Church’s primordial holy day is celebrated.

14. Such principles should be set before the faithful and instilled in them right from the beginning of their Christian formation, in order that they may willingly fulfill the precept to keep this day holy and may understand why they are brought together for the celebration of the Eucharist by the call of the Church (Eucharisticum Mysterium 25) and not simply by their personal devotion.

The establishment of Sunday obligation might work against this principle at times. If God calls, then does God work through a person’s sense of guilt, through an emotional connection to religious practice? Or does the Sunday assembly offer its own momentum as a response to God’s agency?

The following is a good aspiration:

In this way the faithful will be led to experience the Lord’s Day as a sign of the divine transcendence over all human works, and not simply a day off from work; in virtue of the Sunday assembly they will more deeply perceive themselves to be members of the Church and will show this outwardly.

But I’d say most Catholics see Sunday Mass in terms of devotion, or obligation, or an expression of community. Perhaps each of these elements is in play–I wouldn’t argue against it. I don’t think most Catholics see the Lord’s Day as a transcendence.

Directory for Sunday Celebrations in the absence of a priest English translation © 1988, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Ecclesiastical Maps

Move and merge.

A bit to the south of me, I heard Bishop Robert Barron has scored a huge anonymous donation to acquire land and build a new pastoral center nearer the center of his Winona-Rochester diocese. Seems to me Albert Lea or even Blue Earth would be more of a median location in southern Minnesota. If they did a population-weighted map, I suppose the center of the diocese might be a tad left of the medical metro area. Or even in it.

Map, right, from the wiki with my capital letter intrusions.

Meanwhile, in another midwestern state, a proposed merger in Ohio between the purple and yellow dioceses,  below left, has been put on pause. Apparently, the US bishops were going to discuss at their meeting next week. But enough clergy and lay people along the banks of the Ohio River have raised a fuss, and Bishop Monforton has pulled back, pending more synodality. Punditry here.

What to make of these changes? It’s not the first time in the pandemic era a small diocese was blended into a larger. I suspect Steubenville has, as the lingo goes, a bit more brand identification than Juneau, Alaska. Do its people cling to this? Despite sagging infrastructure and a lack of resources compared to other Ohio dioceses?



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Quote of the Day

Susan B. Anthony Dollar ObverseSomeone struggled for your right to vote. Use it.

Attributed to Susan B. Anthony

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DSCAP 12-13: Principal Requisites for Sunday

The Directory for Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest gets to the essence of Sunday and its observance with these sections.

12. The following are the principal requisites for the Sunday assembly of the faithful.

a. the gathering of the faithful to manifest the Church, not simply on their own initiative but as called together by God, that is, as the people of God in their organic structure, presided over by a priest, who acts in the person of Christ;

b. their instruction in the paschal mystery through the Scriptures that are proclaimed and that are explained by a priest or deacon;

c. the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice, by which the paschal mystery is expressed, and which is carried out by the priest in the person of Christ and offered in the name of the entire Christian people.


The DDWDS seems to suggest the action in the person of Christ is the priest’s entire liturgical presidency at the Mass, not just the Liturgy of the Eucharist or its consecration of the elements.

Is the impulse to celebrate Mass as a community something more than the desire of individuals to worship? Does our “practice” of the faith involve a supernatural element of grace, that we attend to God’s urging deep inside of us to celebrate, even when our human inclination is elsewhere? I can see this.

They also suggest that the Liturgy of the Word is an activity of instruction and explanation. I wonder if this is way too simplistic. Much more goes on in the proclamation of the Word than education.

As for point c, a bit more reflection might be helpful here. How do the various “intrusive” elements aid in the expression of the Paschal Mystery: collections, the Lord’s Prayer, the Rite of Peace, and inevitable preparations before the Eucharistic Prayer and the Communion procession? Or are these a collage of necessary and peripheral sidebars?

13. Pastoral efforts should have this aim above all that the sacrifice of the Mass on Sunday be regarded as the only true actualization of the Lord’s paschal mystery (Cf. Paul VI, Address to bishops of central France, 26 March 1977: AAS 69 (1977), 465; “The goal must always be the celebration of the sacrifice of the Mass, the only true actualization of the Lord’s paschal mystery.” (tr., DOL 449, no. 3842)) and as the most complete manifestation of the Church: “Hence the Lord’s Day is the first holyday of all and should be proposed to the devotion of the faithful and taught to them… Other celebrations, unless they be truly of great importance, shall not have precedence over the Sunday, the foundation and core of the whole liturgical year.” (SC 106)

This is how the liturgical year is formatted: Easter and Pentecost being the significant intensifications to Sunday. But these each are elements of the Paschal Mystery. Each of these feasts, especially Easter, echoes in every sound Sunday celebration. Of course, if the institution really believed the importance of Sunday, some dioceses and organizations might pay closer attention to providing the Eucharist for what are now less-served communities. If priests and bishops took their turn in outlying and under-served areas, no matter how remote or ill-regarded, that would itself be a sign of the Paschal Mystery, a notion of sacrifice gladly and obediently undertaken for the good of all, not just a few.

Directory for Sunday Celebrations in the absence of a priest English translation © 1988, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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