On Christmas Eve

Image result for christmasI’ve remarked on social media my bemusement on the “obligation” that lies heavily on Catholics to come to two Masses this weekend. It’s not so much that my routine is five, and Christmas adds but three more and gives me an extra twenty hours to do it. Canon Law speaks of a Sunday obligation  of which includes a bit more than going to Mass.  I note less attention given to keeping that spirit of a Sunday, something that might naturally draw a soul to liturgy a second time on a holy weekend. Sunday evening or Monday morning, for example.

Elsewhere on social media, I’ve seen a few good commentaries on genealogies and John the Evangelist’s christological hymn. While appreciative, I confess I can’t get excited by these efforts either. The distinction between Mass at vigil, in the night, at dawn, and during the day are more a part of a mystifying tradition than a mystical one. It makes more sense to me to offer a genealogy on the fourth Advent Sunday and move Epiphany back to a weekday to make room for John 1:1-18 on the first Sunday of the New Year. Or make a forty-day season of Christmas and spread out all these delicious readings to five or six Sundays, culminating with the Presentation of the Lord. Maybe the first bishop of Mars can implement something like that, given that the Martian year has 96 weeks of days.

The Advent/Christmas mashup strikes me as a possible lost opportunity. I can appreciate that people have family, if not work commitments. If I were a bishop, I’d consider a list of alternatives for the people who really, truly, deeply do not want to attend Mass twice.

  • Bring someone to Mass who would not have otherwise attended church. Count that as a two-for-one. Better yet, solicit a constructive conversation about what they heard in the Christmas message this year as it applies to their life.
  • Take a few hours to volunteer somewhere Saturday or even Tuesday and bring some Nativity cheer to those burdened by homelessness, hunger, loneliness.
  • Pray with the Sunday readings at home, with family and guests.

When the notion of obligation really sinks in, taking an extra hour or two to celebrate a second Mass and transport to and fro doesn’t seem that burdensome. Consider that a lot of folks are doing extra stuff these holidays: bringing people to church, serving in shelters and soup kitchens, praying with families.

Many of my liturgist colleagues long for a Christmas expanded from the Nativity of Luke 2. Additionally, I long for a time of communities of disciples making Christmas come alive not just in churches filled with occasional attendees. I long for a more activated Christianity where it becomes blessedly obvious to the world what Christians are about and why the Nativity of Jesus is so important. Or more important than commercialism.

Happy Christmas Eve, all.

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Aparecida 301-303: The First School of Faith

With the fourth theme of Chapter Six we’ll discuss “Places of Formation for Missionary Disciples.” This will take us right to section 346, the end of the chapter. A brief intro:

301. We will now briefly consider some spaces of formation of missionary disciples.

Before we get to the “first school of faith.”

302. The family, “patrimony of humanity” constitutes one of the most valuable treasures of Latin American peoples. It has been the setting and school of communion, source of human and civic values, and home where human life is born and is welcomed generously and responsibly. In order for the family to be “school of faith” and be able to help parents to be the first catechists of their children, family ministry must offer opportunities for formation, catechetical materials, and moments of celebration that will enable it to fulfill its educational mission. The family is called to lead children along the path of Christian initiation. Together with the parish, the family, small church, must be the primary place for Christian initiation of children.(Sacramentum Caritatis 19) It offers children a Christian meaning of existence and accompanies them in charting their direction in life, as missionary disciples.

Above, I noticed “moments of celebration.” Without liturgy and social gatherings (both of which I would place under these moments) catechesis remains simply a school. Ask yourself how much middle school math, history, or science you remember. Especially if you aren’t a scientist, teacher, or politician.

The challenge is that parents, by and large, do not see themselves as disciples, but rather Church members. I wonder if the base communities of Latin America offer more in this regard than North American parishes on their maintenance kick.

303. It is also a duty of parents, especially through the example of their life, to educate their children for love as gift of themselves and to aid them to discover their vocation of service, whether in lay life or consecrated life. Thus, the formation of their children as disciples of Jesus Christ takes place in the experiences of daily life in the family itself. Children are entitled to be able to count on their father and mother to take care of them and be with them on the way toward fullness of life. “Family catechesis” carried out in different ways has proven to be a successful help in family unity, as well as offering an efficient possibility for forming parents, youth, and children to be firm witnesses of the faith in their respective communities.

“Different ways” of catechesis strikes me here. Are we prepared to dream of models of formation and help parents implement these in the home?

If you wish, remember to check an English translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference.

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On Scandal and a Funeral

A black-and-white photo of Law's faceAuthor and catechist Joe Paprocki had a facebook comment on Cardinal Law’s funeral:

Our Church is quick to deny a funeral to someone in a gay marriage because of the “scandal” it would cause but then has a Vatican funeral for Law, ignoring the scandal that caused for so many, especially victims of clergy sex abuse. We have a long way to go.

Long way, indeed. I’ve written about possible consequences of Cardinal Law’s scandal. That Boston might be demoted from being a metropolitan see: no red hat, and the chief diocese of a province be recognized as one with a stronger record of virtue, even if a smaller city.

Given the notion of scandal, maybe Cardinal Law’s funeral should omit the celebration of the Eucharist. A Vigil, a liturgy of the Word, and a private burial.

But then there is the idea of mercy. And I would agree that we need mercy. There is no other way to end the cycle of mistreatment, secrecy, and a new generation that abuses power. It would seem to be in the place of abuse survivors and their allies to grant mercy and forgiveness. Sure, some people struggle with this. But healing from abuse likely includes coming to an inner peace on the trauma. I don’t think Pope Francis, the bishop of Boston, or any cleric gets to pronounce that we have moved on.

There’s this piece from a perspective within a scandal-buffeted diocese. Melinda Henneberger notes mercy has not been “doled out evenly” by the Church. Most striking in her commentary, though, was the notice of the sculpture of St John Bosco pointing at the altar, and seeming to warn children of dangers afoot.

That’s not to say we adults don’t have temptations to avoid. Prominently, it is so difficult to recognize sin when it is near, when it is disguised with loved ones, allies, colleagues. We don’t want to believe bad things about people we live with, work with, or have been ordained with. That makes it all the more important to listen carefully to people who don’t share our homes, work, or friends.

Scandals are not only bred in secrecy, but also in insularity.


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Aparecida 300: Catechesis and Popular Piety

Today, finishing up the topic of permanent catechesis. The Aparecida bishops recognized that formation must plug in to where people are. Ineffective catechesis happens when information is served whole, without regard to a person’s interests, practices, or needs.

300. An appropriate catechesis must be given to accompany the faith already present in popular religiosity. One concrete possibility is to offer a process of Christian initiation in visits to families, where not only are the contents of faith communicated to them, but they are led to the practice of family prayer, to prayerfully reading the Word of God, and to developing the evangelical virtues, so as to establish them ever more firmly as domestic churches. For this growth in faith, it is also well to utilize pedagogically the educational potential within popular Marian piety. It is an educational path whereby cultivating personal love for the Virgin, true “educator in faith,”(Puebla Document 290) leads us to increasingly resemble Jesus Christ, and leads to gradual assimilation of his attitudes.

Placing more of the initiation process in homes is not a new idea here in the States. Some of my colleagues in RCIA conduct pre-catechumenate sessions in homes of team members. Familiarity with a parish campus has its place, certainly. But when the object is to cultivate relationships, especially the notion of apprenticeship, more personal spaces might better achieve the aim.

For deeper examination, an English translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference.

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Struggles With Vatican II

In the old days here, occasionally, we’d get a comment that I’d pull out for its own post. Most traditionalist-leaning Catholics have given up on this site. But every so often someone new stumbles in and finds something objectionable.

On one of the Vatican II commentaries, a guest muses about error in modern church documents:

By error I mean that it it’s not compatible with the catholicism that came before it.

Regular readers and friends know I don’t place much stock in the whole rupture thing. Even for lifelong Catholics, people progress through life stages incompatible with what came before. Young adults no longer have parents making choices on church involvement. Married persons do not practice celibacy or serial dating. People in religious life honor vows that have changed their lives in various ways. Some believers progress in the mystical life in significant ways. Sinners, even if they falter, aspire to leave behind serious sin that has dogged them.

I would charge that rupture, not continuity, is the hallmark of a faithful believer. At the very least, moments of rupture invite serious discernment. When the world’s bishops go into council, one must presume discernment is part of the deliberation.

Speaking to a part of Gaudium et Spes, our friend Joe writes:

I actually don’t think that the intent in the first sentence was to be blasphemous, but it is written so sloppily that it can easily be taken as blasphemy by someone who takes a “textual” reading at face value without trying to discern meaning between the lines.

A few things here. The official “writing” of this document was done in Latin. Precision is a hallmark of scholarly Latin. Translations are most often careful. For the most part, they are authoritative and trustworthy.

The problem here is when the modern mindset of investigation is applied without discrimination to church documents. We expect skepticism when it comes to science. A researcher might bring a bias. A paleontologist, for example, might be intrigued by the image of a dinosaur with feathers. She might probe fossils, seeking impressions of plumage in sedimentary rock, looking deeply where others dismiss.

But when it comes to matters of theology, relationships, and faith, this oft-cited section from the Catechism:

To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:

Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. and if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved. (#2478)

We can no longer visit or write to a council bishop and ask directly: what do you mean? Church documents no longer belong to the ones who composed them.

Our friend zeroes in on a non-theological pronouncement:

The Church in its councils should not be ambiguous. This writing would earn a D in any university class. Take the first sentence… “According to the almost unanimous opinion of believers and unbelievers alike”… really? Did they survey believers and non-believers? What does almost unanimous mean? 80% agree, 90%, 99%? Do 99% of people hold the opinion that all of nature was created for man (if that’s what the sentence is taken to mean)?

I don’t know that this premise is a problem. Maybe it’s a cultural notion whose time comes and goes, like head coverings for women. For Christians, there is the notion from Genesis 1:28, “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.* Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that crawl on the earth.”

One side question:

And why are we concerned with non-believers anyways in a Church council?

Because non-believers are our mission.

It’s good to have discussions like this, regardless of how tedious they seem to one side, another, or those who observe. More thoughts or comments?


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VNO 26: For the Sanctification of Human Labor

Workers need prayers. Somehow, I don’t think the big-time colored Masses with bishops and white collar pros use these prayers and readings. But maybe I’m wrong.

Looking at music first, just to mix things up:

Entrance Antiphon Genesis 1:1, 27, 31

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, God created man in his image; God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good.

Or: Cf. Psalm 90:17

May your favor, O Lord, be upon us, and may you give success to the work of our hands.

Psalm 104:23 has merit too: “People go out to their work, to their labor till evening falls.” Or Psalm 128:2: “What your hands provide you will enjoy; you will be blessed and prosper.”

Overall, I think Psalm 90 is a good text for verses with either of these antiphons.

Communion Antiphon Colossians 3:17

Whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Some of you readers are familiar with thanksgiving as a psalm genre. Several of these might blend well, as they recount a time of struggle (perhaps even hard labor) that leads to a period of gratitude and contentment. It’s good to look ahead. Psalms 34, 65, 118, or 139 contain rich material that might help develop this antiphon a bit more.

The readings are good, the choices two for each locus:

  • Genesis 1:26-2:3 or 2:4b-9, 15 from the Creation narratives.
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:1b-2, 9-12 or 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12, 16 where Saint Paul urges his people to work quietly with love and not idleness.
  • Matthew 6:31-34 (seeking the Reign of God) or 25:14-30 (the parable of the talents).

The Lectionary Psalms are the 90th (a perspective on time) and the 127th (building the house).

When might this Mass be celebrated? Many of the Church’s rituals give more than a nod to more agricultural activities. Laboring on farms is hard work. But in factories we find no few persons who truly earn by physical means. Likewise many people in service jobs: nurses, waiters, musicians, trainers and fitness consultants, etc.. Maybe a cathedral could consider offering more than Masses in red, white, or blue. What color would you assign to laborers?

Some years ago, we blogged on Masses And Prayers For Various Needs And Occasions. In the GIRM, sections 368-378 cover the universal regulations on their use. You can check our brief comments here and here and here. The USCCB’s unannotated text on the matter is here.


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Aparecida 299: Not Only Doctrine

The modern age prioritizes what can be known, verified, proven, argued well and to a finality. It’s not a coincidence that doctrine and catechesis are exalted a bit too highly among many Catholics.

299. Catechesis cannot be limited to merely doctrinal formation, but it must be a true school of integral formation. Hence, friendship with Christ in prayer, appreciation for liturgical celebration, shared experience in community, and apostolic commitment through ongoing service to others must be cultivated. To that end it would be useful to have some catechetical aids prepared on the basis of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, and to set up courses and schools of ongoing formation for catechists.

Formation in prayer, delight in liturgy, commitment to serve others: here is where the deepest experience of school is to be found. If catechists aren’t formed in this, there is less hope for students of the Gospel.

For deeper examination, an English translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference.

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