Communion for Infants

liturgical spoonKimberly Hope Belcher offers “5 quick pastoral reasons” for infant Communion. Pastoral is fine. But her points are not without theological merit. The Scholastic/Tridentine heritage of sacramental theology has a pelagian problem. Infant communion will help rid us of heresy.

Dr Belcher on it:

The “age of reason” theology also misleads people into believing that the Eucharist is the reward for a proper amount of knowledge and piety, rather than the absolutely free gift of God’s grace that elicits our response of ecstatic thanksgiving.

This is right. Dr Belcher points out we did fine for centuries without “age of reason,” so maybe it’s time to retire it. Or limit it to Marriage and Orders.

Additionally, anything that can rid the sacramental system of the specter of graduation has got to be a plus.

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Pope Francis on Spiritual Direction

CNS had a feature with a hodgepodge of Pope Francis answering questions, but his comments on spiritual direction caught my attention:

In the other diocese I had, I always asked the sisters who came to me asking advice, ‘But tell me, in your community or congregation isn’t there a wise sister, a sister who lives your charism well, a good sister with experience? Ask her to be your spiritual director.’

(Spiritual direction) is not a charism exclusive to priests. It’s a charism of the laity.

That makes the most sense. There are clergy–but not all of them–who are excellent directors. But no spiritual director is dependent on the charism of Holy Orders to be a skilled director.

The Holy Father seems to think it valuable to find people within religious communities to serve members. Superiors are on notice for this: get people trained. Why wouldn’t one say the same thing for parishes?

Why aren’t clergy the answer? Pope Francis offers a significant distinction:

A spiritual director is one thing and a confessor is another. I go to a confessor, say what my sins are, feel condemned, then he forgives everything and I go forward.

But with a spiritual director, I have to talk about what is in my heart. The examination of conscience isn’t the same for confession and for spiritual direction. For confession, I have to look at where I was lacking, where I lost patience, if I was greedy — that kind of thing, those concrete things that are sinful.

But in spiritual direction, I must examine what is happening in my heart, where the Spirit is moving, if I felt desolation or consolation, if I am tired, why I am sad: These are things to talk about with the man or woman who is my spiritual director.

It would seem we need to somehow move away from the therapeutic models of direction and confession. These are not magic moments for mentor and student. Who can help a person look past the distractions and peer into her or his own heart?

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Misericordiae Vultus 25: Conclusion

head of ChristNow we arrive at the end of the document proclaiming the Jubilee Year. Have any of you held back observations until now? Feel free to share them.

25. I present, therefore, this Extraordinary Jubilee Year dedicated to living out in our daily lives the mercy which the Father constantly extends to all of us. In this Jubilee Year, let us allow God to surprise us.

Opening ourselves to surprise: a most under-appreciated experience, in my opinion. Often it’s a far better thing than the same ol’ continuity.

He never tires of throwing open the doors of his heart and repeats that he loves us and wants to share his love with us. The Church feels the urgent need to proclaim God’s mercy. Her life is authentic and credible only when she becomes a convincing herald of mercy. She knows that her primary task, especially at a moment full of great hopes and signs of contradiction, is to introduce everyone to the great mystery of God’s mercy by contemplating the face of Christ. The Church is called above all to be a credible witness to mercy, professing it and living it as the core of the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Pope Francis mentions credibility again. Clearly, this is one of the core messages of the year, and important enough for us to pay close attention.

From the heart of the Trinity, from the depths of the mystery of God, the great river of mercy wells up and overflows unceasingly. It is a spring that will never run dry, no matter how many people approach it. Every time someone is in need, he or she can approach it, because the mercy of God never ends. The profundity of the mystery surrounding it is as inexhaustible as the richness which springs up from it.

Another important insight: that mercy does not involve some kind of zero-sum game. In other words, we can be assured there will not be hell to pay for exercising mercy, and doing it generously.

This isn’t to say, it will be easy for any of us. Extending mercy may present us with disappointment, fatigue, doubt, resentment, and cloud our clarity.

In this Jubilee Year, may the Church echo the word of God that resounds strong and clear as a message and a sign of pardon, strength, aid, and love. May she never tire of extending mercy, and be ever patient in offering compassion and comfort. May the Church become the voice of every man and woman, and repeat confidently without end: “Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old” (Ps 25:6).

The sign-off:

Given in Rome, at Saint Peter’s, on 11 April, the Vigil of the Second Sunday of Easter, or Sunday of Divine Mercy, in the year of our Lord 2015, the third of my Pontificate.


The highlighted text is © copyright – Libreria Editrice Vaticana. You can find the document in its entirety on the Vatican website here.

Any last comments?

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PS 27: Holy Week

Jesus arms outstretchedRemember, you can check the full document Paschale Solemnitatis on this site, among many on the internet.

Moving into the final days of Lent, we remember the events of the Paschal Mystery, beginning with the last Sunday in Lent:

27. During Holy Week the Church celebrates the mysteries of salvation accomplished by Christ in the last days of his life on earth, beginning with his messianic entrance into Jerusalem.

We all recognize that Lent concludes at sundown on Holy Thursday, as the Mass of the Lord’s Supper is celebrated:

The Lenten season lasts until the Thursday of this week. The Easter Triduum begins with the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, is continued through Good Friday with the celebration of the Passion of the Lord and Holy Saturday, to reach its summit in the Easter Vigil, and concludes with Vespers of Easter Sunday.

And all know the Three Days is indeed seventy-two hours, just about. Triduum doesn’t conclude until Evening Prayer of Sunday.

A word about the importance of the days of Holy Week:

“The days of Holy Week, from Monday to Thursday inclusive, have precedence over all other celebrations”. (Cf. General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar, n. 16, a)
It is not fitting that Baptisms and Confirmation be celebrated on these days.

So, no saints, and ideally, no sacraments of initiation. I’ve never been aware of a bishop celebrating Confirmation during Holy Week. As for Baptism, I’m sure an emergency situation might arise that merits a celebration.

Any commentary on the days of Holy Week?

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On My Bookshelf: Deep Space

deep spaceGovert Schilling has assembled a few hundred pages of astronomy eye candy here. Pretty pictures have inspired people to get interested in astronomy for centuries. And these days, the images are prettier than ever.

One comment I’ve heard is that the simple human eye peering through a backyard telescope never sees the full range of what telescopes on Earth and in space can produce through computer processing. Isn’t processing a kind of cheating, like putting gold plating on cheap coins? Doesn’t it raise expectations too high for the local club’s star party?

Not necessarily. People who capture and process images can look deep into stars, nebulas, galaxies, and planets. We don’t need an actual sampler light years away to taste whether the molecules are ordinary or extraordinary, living or dead, carbon, oxygen, water, or some other material. Processing what the human eye can’t detect just gives us information. And if the information is presented in an artistic way, I’m disinclined to complain.

The texts presented with the pictures are easily understood. I think a middle-schooler would get a lot out of this book. Any layperson with any sort of interest in astronomy will find the ideas and concepts here well within an everyday grasp.

Highly recommended, not just as a coffee-table book.

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Time For Ascension

ascensionRelatively few people seem to miss last Thursday’s holy day. I noticed Raymond Arroyo’s Twitter feed got a bit cheeky–ashes for Monday for him in 2016. No need for that, really, as people do attend Ash Wednesday, on the day, in big numbers. Maybe we ought to look deeper on that.

For my own preferences, I’d rather be celebrating liturgy associated with a monastic community, so my own choice would be a Thursday even for this holy day. But most people seem to have forgotten about that shift.

As a minister, my own choices are nearly irrelevant for the pastoral and liturgical practices of the faith communities I serve. As for my best day to observe a commemoration like Ascension, who cares? But I do have a few thoughts for the rest of the Church.

Moving Ascension to Sunday and celebrating it like any other given Sunday in May seems to be a waste of effort. Theologically, Ascension is no worse than number five among the major observances of Christians. For a parish observing Ascension on Sunday or Thursday, it would seem that we need to reinforce that importance.

I’m also a skeptic on having a holy day of obligation just for the hardcore Catholics who like making it hard on themselves, and even harder on others. Again, the theology is vital here. Ascension isn’t about “doing” an extra Mass inside a building, and away from the world. Jesus giving the Great Commission (no less a commandment than eat my flesh, drink my blood) and leaving the disciples behind suggests an outward focus. Not a holy-me-and-Jesus good-Catholic thing. We’re not play-acting the Pentecost novena and waiting for the Holy Spirit. Unless, somehow, the Holy Spirit given in baptism is somehow on vacation for these key nine days.

So, some suggestions:

  • For people who like a Thursday holy day, by all means go to Mass. But maybe it’s time to stop harping on people who don’t, be they individuals or most of American dioceses. This observance is about obeying the Lord. And he didn’t tell people on the fortieth day to go to the Temple and wait and feel holy. He told them to do something. Maybe that obligation needs to be taken as seriously as Sundays and holy days. And as seriously as the Lenten observances of fasting, praying, giving alms, and going to church on Wednesday before Lent.
  • For people who like Ascension on Sunday, and with a dose of good liturgy, why not celebrate this Sunday like it’s the number five day of the Christian year? Big music. Extra rehearsals. A superior homily that preaches the whole of the Easter season and not just another weekend in Spring.
  • For both Thursday and Sunday ascenders, maybe the day is an occasion for a parish party. In other words, celebrate like the medieval Christians did. Not just some canned piety.

Forgive the slight spirit of curmudgeonry, but I think the observance of the Ascension leaves a lot to be desired no matter who is coming to Mass or complaining. And whether it lands on one day or another is about the last bit of business we should be discussing.

Maybe celebrating Ascension Mass should wait for the committed way we’ve engaged the Great Commission.

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Humanae Vitae 25a: To Christian Couples

sperm and eggHumanae Vitae is online at the Vatican site, and the text highlighted below is © Copyright – Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

This section, which we’ll cover in two posts, is addressed directly to Catholic couples:

25. And now We turn in a special way to Our own sons and daughters, to those most of all whom God calls to serve Him in the state of marriage. While the Church does indeed hand on to her children the inviolable conditions laid down by God’s law, she is also the herald of salvation and through the sacraments she flings wide open the channels of grace through which (the person) is made a new creature responding in charity and true freedom to the design of his Creator and Savior, experiencing too the sweetness of the yoke of Christ. (See Mt 11. 30) In humble obedience then to her voice, let Christian husbands and wives be mindful of their vocation to the Christian life, a vocation which, deriving from their Baptism, has been confirmed anew and made more explicit by the Sacrament of Matrimony. For by this sacrament they are strengthened and, one might almost say, consecrated to the faithful fulfillment of their duties.

I think one might definitely say “consecrated.”

Thus will they realize to the full their calling and bear witness as becomes them, to Christ before the world. (See Gaudium et Spes 48; Lumen Gentium 35, 40-41) For the Lord has entrusted to them the task of making visible to men and women the holiness and joy of the law which united inseparably their love for one another and the cooperation they give to God’s love, God who is the Author of human life.

A significant thought. Part of the mission of marriage is to unite with Christ and his mission of spreading and preaching the Gospel. More emphasis there would be most helpful, I think. All too often, the focus of marriage catechesis is inward, on the couple and on their family. A sacramental generativity should also be facing outward, and able to spread the witness of love and commitment to the benefit of others.

We have no wish at all to pass over in silence the difficulties, at times very great, which beset the lives of Christian married couples. For them, as indeed for every one of us, “the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life.” (Mt 7. 14; see Heb 12. 11) Nevertheless it is precisely the hope of that life which, like a brightly burning torch, lights up their journey, as, strong in spirit, they strive to live “sober, upright and godly lives in this world,” (See Ti 2. 12) knowing for sure that “the form of this world is passing away.” (See 1 Cor 7. 31)

Jesus would certainly acknowledge these difficulties. I believe he would address them with confidence in people, and with mercy ready at hand. What do you think?

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