Pope Francis Address to CELAM 13: The Laity

Pope Francis takes notice of the laity in this address of the Holy Father to his brother bishops of Latin America. Many of today’s Catholics attempt to justify or explain away clericalism, clouding definitions or appealing to some vague sense of history.

In Latin America, hope passes through the hearts, the minds and the arms of the laity

I would like to repeat something I recently said to the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.  It is imperative to overcome the clericalism that treats the Christifideles laici as children and impoverishes the identity of ordained ministers.

Though much effort has been invested and some steps have been taken, the great challenges of the continent are still on the table.  They still await the quiet, responsible, competent, visionary, articulated and conscious growth of a Christian laity.  Men and women believers, who are prepared to contribute to the spread of an authentic human development, the strengthening of political and social democracy, the overturning of structures of endemic poverty and the creation of an inclusive prosperity based on lasting reforms capable of preserving the common good.  So too, the overcoming of inequality and the preservation of stability, the shaping of models of sustainable economic development that respect nature and the genuine future of mankind, which unfettered consumerism cannot ensure, and the rejection of violence and the defence of peace.

Without a vitalized laity, vocations will flounder, and more importantly, the Gospel witness in the world will be only a shadow of the possible.

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Aparecida 257: Christ With The Needy

Some thoughts from Pope John Paul II on the encounter with Christ in the needy among us.


257. We also encounter Him in a special way in the poor, the afflicted, and the sick (cf. Mt 25:37- 40) who reclaim our commitment and give us testimony of faith, patience in suffering, and constant struggle to go on living. How many times do the poor and those who suffer actually evangelize us! In the recognition of this presence and nearness, and in the defense of the rights of the excluded, the Church’s faithfulness to Jesus Christ is at stake.(Novo Millennio Ineunte 49) The encounter with Jesus Christ in the poor is a constitutive dimension of our faith in Jesus Christ. Our option for them emerges from contemplation of his suffering face in them (Cf. Ibid. 25) and from the encounter with Him in the afflicted and outcast, whose immense dignity He himself reveals to us. It is our very adherence to Jesus Christ that makes us friends of the poor and unites us to their fate.

Many Christians need convincing on these points.

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

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Aparecida 255-256: Deep Friendship Through Prayer

Prayer is more than a pious fulfillment of a mandate from God. Pope John Paul refers to it as an art. The Aparecida bishops urge prayer as an expression of friendship.

255. It is in personal and community prayer that the disciple, fed by the Word and the Eucharist, cultivates a relationship of deep friendship with Jesus Christ and seeks to embrace the will of the Father. Daily prayer is a sign of the primacy of grace in the missionary disciple’s journey. Hence, “we have to learn to pray, as it were learning this art ever anew from the lips of the Divine Master.”(Novo Millennio Ineunte 33)

Prayer might arise spontaneously, under the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Most often I see it cultivated by example. Parents. Mentors. Godparents. Catechists. Clergy and religious. Community leaders. If prayer is an art, then more than ever we need to offer people an apprenticeship in its practice.

Scripture tells us …

256. Jesus is present in the midst of a living community in faith and fraternal love. There he fulfills his promise: “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt 18:20). He is in all disciples who strive to make Jesus’ existence their own, and to live their life hidden in Christ’s life (cf. Col 3:3). They experience the power of his resurrection to the point of identifying deeply with Him: “yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20). He is in the shepherds, who represent Christ himself (cf. Mt 10:40; Lk 10:16).

The bishops by divine institution have succeeded to the place of the apostles, as shepherds of the Church, and he who hears them, hears Christ, and he who rejects them, rejects Christ and Him who sent Christ (Lumen Gentium 20).

The bishops indeed bear great responsibility for the spiritual direction of the communities they oversee.

Any person may serve the cause of social justice; these people too are examples to imitate:

He is in those who give testimony to the struggle for justice, for peace, and for the common good, sometimes even surrendering their own life, and in all the events in the life of our peoples, who invite us to seek a more just and more fraternal world, in every human reality, whose limitations we sometimes find painful and overwhelming.

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

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Pope Francis Address to CELAM 12: Hope Has A Woman’s Face

Pope Francis looks to the women of Latin America in this address to his brother bishops south of the Mexico-US border.

In Latin America, hope has a woman’s face

I need not dwell on the role of women on our continent and in our Church. From their lips we learned the faith, and with their milk we took on the features of our mestizo soul and our immunity to despair.  I think of indigenous or black mothers, I think of mothers in our cities working three jobs, I think of elderly women who serve as catechists, and I think of consecrated woman and those who quietly go about doing so much good.  Without women, the Church of this continent would lose its power to be continually reborn. 

Some feminists might find this wording suspect. But Pope Francis is speaking of more than breeding stock for new Catholics. He looks to the witness of Scripture which, often enough, was penned by a patriarchal hand. Yet the faith witness of women is undeniable. Despite efforts to mansplain it away now or in the past.

It is women who keep patiently kindling the flame of faith.  We have a grave obligation to understand, respect, appreciate and promote the ecclesial and social impact of all that women do. They accompanied Jesus on his mission; they did not abandon him at the foot of the cross; they alone awaited for the night of death to give back the Lord of life; they flooded the world with the proclamation of his risen presence.  If we hope for a new and living chapter of faith in this continent, we will not get it without women.  Please, do not let them be reduced to servants of our ingrained clericalism.  For they are on the front lines of the Latin American Church, in their setting out with Jesus, in their persevering amid the sufferings of their people, in their clinging to the hope that conquers death, and in their joyful way of proclaiming to the world that Christ is alive and risen.

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Aparecida 254: The Sacrament of Penance

254. The sacrament of Reconciliation is the place where the sinner experiences in a singular manner the encounter with Jesus Christ, who has compassion on us and gives us the gift of his merciful forgiveness, gives us the sense that love is stronger than the sin committed, frees us from whatever keeps us from remaining in his love, and returns to us the joy and enthusiasm of proclaiming Him to others with open and generous heart.


Very true and very pious. But for lay people who live in locales without resident priests, more of a theoretical exposition than a practical or pastoral one. As with Sunday celebrations, the church’s liturgy does provide for Word services without sacramental confession and absolution. These go unmentioned in this document.

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

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VNO 15: For Promoting Harmony

This Mass seems less about music, or even our political situation as such. Remember the context–it is found under the heading of “For Holy Church” and includes the first twenty VNO Masses.

The 1998/2002 Lectionary will be of no help to us; this liturgy didn’t exist in previous incarnations of the Roman Missal. We have no readings; only prayers and antiphons.

The recommended Preface for this Mass is “of the Unity of Christians.” In the Roman Missal, third edition, this is a separate Mass, the 17th in this part of the Missal. Otherwise, the prayers are all unique to this theme. We might conclude that VNO #15 is for an occasion when harmony is needed within the Church.

I find the presidential prayers unremarkable in terms of their poetry. The intentions are praiseworthy:

(G)rant your faithful one heart and one mind, that the body of your Church … may flourish in harmony and be made strong in enduring unity.

(G)rant us a spirit of peace and grace so that your entire family may be devoted … and united in purity of intent.


Believers don’t intend that the Church be riven with disunity. The theme of peace is picked up after Communion:

(G)rant … we may possess the peace we hand on and preserve the peace we have received.

I wonder if this Mass was a new composition, or if it was an element just “lost” in previous Missal translations. Regardless, this post-Communion prayer is a head-scratcher for being rather plain in its vocabulary.

Here are the antiphons:

Entrance Antiphon Acts 4:32-33

The community of believers was of one heart and mind. The Apostles bore witness to the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them all, alleluia.

This passage seems to require a lyrical text for the verses. Perhaps 1 Corinthians 13:4-13 or select verses from Romans 8. Best of all might be selections from the fourth chapter of the First Letter of John.

Communion Antiphon Jn 17:20-21

Father, I pray for those who will believe in me, that they may be one in us, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me, says the Lord.

For unity, any of the above passages from the epistles might serve as a match. If you were to press me for a Psalm, I might offer the 122nd as a possibility. Perhaps 22:23-32 or even Psalm 48.


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 252-253: “Living According To Sunday”

Seminaries, cities, and many schools have Sunday Mass. Not every Latin American lives where Sunday Mass is celebrated weekly. It is a significant challenge to all of us, including those who wrote this text:

252. Thus becomes clear the great importance of the Sunday obligation, of “living according to Sunday” as an inner need of the believer, the Christian community, and the parish community. Without active participation in the Sunday eucharistic celebration and on holy days of obligation, there will be no mature missionary disciple. Every great reform in the church is linked to the rediscovery of faith in the Eucharist.(Cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium 6) Hence it is important to promote the “Sunday ministry,” and give it “priority in pastoral programs,”(Pope Benedict XVI, Introductory Address 4) for a new impulse in the evangelization of the people of God on the Latin American continent.

In much of the US, Liturgy of the Word could be celebrated with the distribution of Communion. But usually this is forbidden. Such a celebration would not be Mass, but it would provide sustenance through Word and Sacrament. There are places in which Mass is celebrated every Sunday. Clergy, especially bishops, nearly always live in a situation in which Mass is a given. But this is not true of many of the faithful who live in mission lands. Still, giving priority to liturgical ministries must be a priority. It’s something I’ve believed in for decades and have been honored to  join many colleagues in providing the very best we can muster at every and any opportunity.

The Aparecida bishops did recognize the problem:

253. With deep pastoral affection, we want to tell the thousands of communities with their millions of members who do not have the opportunity to participate in the Sunday Eucharist, that they also can and must live “according to Sunday.” They can nourish their already admirable missionary spirit by taking part in the “Sunday celebration of the Word,” which makes the paschal mystery present in the love that draws together (1 Jn 3:14), in the Word received (cf. Jn 5:24-25), and in community prayer (cf. Mt 18:20). Certainly, believers must yearn for full participation in the Sunday Eucharist and hence we also encourage them to pray for priestly vocations.

It is more than praying for vocations. Vocations are best developed from people who are already disciples. Vocations can be cultivated in parishes that foster discipleship. But the reality is that such seminarians are shipped away for education and will staff parishes in cities, near universities, and other population centers. Bishops and priests give good example for others. If that example is not visible, prayer might seem an empty exercise, just a wishful thing on the part of those who urge “praying for vocations.” Is Mass #9 for Various Needs and Occasions prayed regularly by a diocesan bishop or his clergy? If not, “thoughts and prayers” for more clergy seem to be a very NGO way to go.

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

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