The Armchair Liturgist: Veil Or Not

Veiling statues, images, and crosses was once commonplace in Catholicism for Holy Week and the week before. For the US, it is not mandated. But a few places do it, as a nod to traditional practice.

Render judgment from the purple armchair on how you would do it:

  • No veiling?
  • Veil during Holy Week?
  • Veil all during Lent?
  • Veil from the 5th week?
Posted in Lent, The Armchair Liturgist | 8 Comments

DPPL 260: Various Popular Devotions to the Dead

STA altar at night smallFour forms of popular devotions are briefly discussed:

260. In accordance with time, place and tradition, popular devotions to the dead take on a multitude of forms:
• the novena for the dead in preparation for the 2 November, and the octave prolonging it, should be celebrated in accordance with liturgical norms;

More often I see a month observing prayers for the dead. Any readers with experiences of the novena preceding?

• visits to the cemetery; in some places this is done in a community manner on 2 November, at the end of the parochial mission, when the parish priest takes possession of the parish; visiting the cemetery can also be done privately, when the faithful go to the graves of their own families to maintain them or decorate them with flowers and lamps. Such visits should be seen as deriving from the bonds existing between the living and the dead and not from any form of obligation, non-fulfilment of which involves a superstitious fear;

I remember a cemetery visit at a monastery where I happened to be on retreat one November. It was a very moving experience, seeing the religious community praying with devotion as well as affection for their deceased brothers.

• membership of a confraternity or other pious association whose objects include “burial of the dead” in a the light of the Christian vision of death, praying for the dead, and providing support for the relatives of the dead;
• suffrage for the dead through alms deeds, works of mercy, fasting, applying indulgences, and especially prayers, such as the De profundis, and the formula Requiem aeternam, which often accompanies the recitation of the Angelus, the rosary, and at prayers before and after meals.

As for these last two, I have no experience of them growing up, not being in a Catholic family. You readers, any experiences to share?

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

Posted in Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, post-conciliar liturgy documents | 2 Comments


As some of you know, priest and/or seminary recruitment videos have been getting attention at dotCommonweal (here and here) among other places this week. Last month, I posted this video with no comments following. The Fr Barron critique got 163 at dotC.

I will share with you all what I wrote in response to my Ascension Press contact last month:

- If you aim at high school, the more crucial calling–and the two priests hinted at this in the film–is the call to holiness as a baptized person. Your film will nudge the already-Catholic. A young person who has given up on the Church won’t sit still for ten minutes, no matter how good your production values and how moving and honest the witness is.

All of the videos under discussion presume an active faith. People of active faith–they numbers in the few tens of thousands I would guess–will be steered into ministry of all sorts, including Holy Orders largely through the personal witness of others. What these videos do is to touch on the inner drive and inspiration of the individual.

- It’s only effective to the people we’ve already got. Young people I know on the fringes of faith are not impressed with information. But they are willing to be accompanied if a person is willing to listen to them and answer what’s on their agenda.

We have believers in the millions who are largely disengaged from active faith. Who is gong to make the videos that will nudge them into intentionality, discipleship, and commitment. What is the greater need: a few thousand more priests, or a few million more disciples?

Posted in Commentary, film, Ministry | Leave a comment

The Armchair Liturgist: Cuing Passion Responses

PrayTell is discussing the theoretical role for the assembly in the Passion narratives of Palm Sunday and Good Friday. That’s explored territory on this blog. Liam offered a significant contribution, though:

What happens when the assembly is given a “part” in the “script” is that it spends more of its time waiting for its “cues” than immersing in the Gospel. Even putting aside the issue of liceity, as a substantive matter it’s very dubious.

In many places, it’s also traditional, going back more than forty years. I remember objecting to having the words, “Crucify him!” put into my mouth.

I find it better to use refrains at key moments. This year we are using “Jesus, Jesus, truly the Son of God” as an echo of the centurion’s acclamation after the death of the Lord. By having the musical interludes, we avoid the frowny-faced accusations of illiceity. To a degree.

How would you cue the assembly to either spoken or sung interludes? Anybody really sticking up for “Crucify him!”?

Posted in Holy Week, The Armchair Liturgist, Todd's music | 8 Comments

DPPL 259: Modern Aversion to Death

STA altar at night smallModern society fears and avoids death–we all know it.

259. “Hiding death and its signs” is widespread in contemporary society and prone to the difficulties arising from doctrinal and pastoral error.

My sense is that human emotion overrules what religion might teach about death and dying.

Doctors, nurses, and relatives frequently believe that they have a duty to hide the fact of imminent death from the sick who, because of increasing hospitalization, almost always die outside of the home.

And yet the dying often have a way of knowing and will show great peace and insight at the time of death.

It has been frequently said that the great cities of the living have no place for the dead: buildings containing tiny flats cannot house a space in which to hold a vigil for the dead; traffic congestion prevents funeral corteges because they block the traffic; cemeteries, which once surrounded the local church and were truly “holy ground” and indicated the link between Christ and the dead, are now located at some distance outside of the towns and cities, since urban planning no longer includes the provision of cemeteries.

Burial of the dead has become a business commodity. Open land within cities is more valuable for the living, if not for business interests. Vigils can be held in “neutral” locations–families are spared the burden of hosting gatherings. And even new parishes in the suburbs prize the “holy ground” of athletic fields. A cemetery has a professional staff that provides services few parishes can offer.

That isn’t to say the link between Christ and the dead isn’t weakened. But there are strong cultural factors that lack malice. For the Church, and especially the local parish, how does one restore old links or even find new ones?

How indeed do we engage death more directly?

Modern society refuses to accept the “visibility of death”, and hence tries to conceal its presence. In some places, recourse is even made to conserving the bodies of the dead by chemical means in an effort to prolong the appearance of life.

The Church speaks of “intolerance,” but I think more is at stake.


The Christian, who must be conscious of and familiar with the idea of death, cannot interiorly accept the phenomenon of the “intolerance of the dead”, which deprives the dead of all acceptance in the city of the living. Neither can he refuse to acknowledge the signs of death, especially when intolerance and rejection encourage a flight from reality, or a materialist cosmology, devoid of hope and alien to belief in the death and resurrection of Christ.

Economic exploitation: bad.

The Christian is obliged to oppose all forms of “commercialisation of the dead”, which exploit the emotions of the faithful in pursuit of unbridled and shameful commercial profit.

Other thoughts or observations?

Remember, the full document Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy is online at the Vatican site.

Posted in Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, post-conciliar liturgy documents | 2 Comments

Contrition and Delay

A number of years ago I was on retreat, and the monastery provided Penance form II–not for retreatants (there were only 2 or 3 of us on site), but as a matter of course for the monastic community. We lay people were informed and invited, and I took advantage of the opportunity.

I had one more serious sin that I listed after about three or four venials, and the monastic confessor paused and said, “Let’s visit that last one.” It wasn’t quite going to slide in anonymously with routine offenses. He offered a few sentences, and then an act of satisfaction that fit what I had done.

When I read yet another analysis of St Mary’s cathedral sprinkling system here, this advice struck me:

(T)he archdiocese’s statement buries its apology in the penultimate paragraph—well after it rehearses the many important acts of charity it offers to the neediest San Franciscans. … But when a transgression of this magnitude becomes known, the risk of scandal is real—the first order of business is remorse, not self-defense.

Our parish penance service went very long last night. I wasn’t there once the confessions began; we also had an Easter Vigil music practice elsewhere in the building. When the music was nearly over, I rushed upstairs thinking that I needed to check on lights, candles, and clean-up. But I was surprised to find a lot of people still at liturgy.

Five confessors handled about 160 penitents in ninety minutes. That was almost three minutes per penitent. How much longer would that liturgy have taken if people were leading in with lists of all the good things they had done before the serious sin?

What if public relations were a sacrament? What would be the liturgical theology of the San Francisco apology? It’s embarrassing enough to have one’s words sifted through in internet commentariats around the world. To be sure, the world has noticed. Is it fair for past transgressions to be rehashed? For a one-and-done offense, I think it’s a bit harsh. But as part of a recurring pattern, perhaps not.

For a single penitent, canon 988 advises, “confess in kind and number all grave sins committed.” To model this, does the person responsible for the installation need to get out there and say, “I did this, and it cost n dollars”? Does that person have to be the bishop, even if he didn’t approve the installation?

I don’t have the answers to these questions. But I do observe a few things:

  • Stories like this never completely go away, not in the internet age.
  • If there are future stumbles, critics revisit the past.
  • The pattern is one of human nature: grievances are nursed and resurfaced when the time suits.
  • This is not a pattern of conservatives, liberals, blogs, mainstream media, or advocacy groups alone. It is a matter of people being people.

Maybe the hidden and missed lesson in all this is the opportunity for the Church as institution (its spokespeople, leaders, and others who want to participate) to model contrition, confession, and acts of satisfaction. On that last point, is anybody really satisfied with this story?

In contrast, an alternative to dousing the homeless or selling off the Vatican’s artistic treasures: make sure the poor enjoy them, too.


Posted in Commentary, Rite of Penance | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

DPPL 258: Matters to Avoid Concerning Death

STA altar at night smallFive aspects to avoid:

258. In matters relating to doctrine, the following are to be avoided:
• the invocation of the dead in practices involving divination;
• the interpretation or attribution of imaginary effects to dreams relating to the dead, which often arises from fear;
• any suggestion of a belief in reincarnation;
• the danger of denying the immortality of the soul or of detaching death from the resurrection, so as to make the Christian religion seem like a religion of the dead;
• the application of spacio-temporal categories to the dead.

Different cultures have associations with one or a few of these. Reincarnation is often visited with in the West these days. What does the Church mean by “spacio-temporal categories”?

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

Posted in Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, post-conciliar liturgy documents | 1 Comment