31 March 2007

Home, sweet home

Recent headlines have read, “Bishop Herzog joins the Roman Catholic Church,” and “Retired Episcopal bishop becomes Catholic.” Of course, this is good news. The retired Episcopal bishop, Daniel Herzog, is now a practicing Catholic. However, it was not strictly a “conversion” in the commonly-understood sense of the word. It would perhaps be better called a “reversion.”

Daniel Herzog was born in 1941 and was raised as a Catholic. He was fully initiated into the Church through the Catholic sacraments. He attended a Catholic college. He then left the Catholic Church as a young married man of about thirty years of age and became an Episcopalian, where he subsequently was ordained, most recently serving as the Episcopal bishop of Albany. Upon his retirement he and his wife have returned to the practice of their Catholic faith.

As I said, this is good news. But it is really the story of a prodigal returning to his father’s house. It’s not the story of a gradual discovery of Catholic truth, moving from the known into the unknown and having the treasury of the Faith unfolding along the journey. Daniel Herzog already had all that, and for a time he rejected it. That happens. Very often in our lives we think we have something better than the wisdom of our fathers and in our youthful exuberance we want to take our own path. It must be a common story, since our Lord Himself used it as the basis of one of His best-known and most enduring parables.

But eventually the son comes home. Or so we hope. In this case he did, and in some ways this is a happier story than if Daniel Herzog had been raised as a protestant. There are many who have no concept of what the Catholic Church actually teaches, and so their life outside the fullness of the Catholic Faith is something for which they do not bear responsibility. But when someone has actually had the treasure in his hand, when someone wanders away from the family in which he has been raised and where he has been loved, how much sweeter it is when he retraces his steps and enters the house he had left.

The bishop left as a Catholic layman, and he returns as a Catholic layman. He’s had some adventures along the way, but thank God he never forgot that there’s no place like home.

30 March 2007

Now, on to other things...

The short version of the report: the visit of members of the Texas Catholic Conference Accreditation Commission went extremely well. Apparently our parish high school exceeds the standards, and their report will reflect that. Not that I doubted it, but it’s nice to know.

Now life gets back to normal for a while, just in time for us to enter the great and beautiful mystery of Holy Week. Speaking of which, here’s our schedule:

Palm Sunday: Masses at 7:30 a.m., 9:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m.

Monday: Masses at 7:00 a.m. and 8:45 a.m.

Tuesday: Masses at 7:00 a.m. and 8:45 a.m.

Spy Wednesday: Masses at 7:00 a.m. and 8:45 a.m.; Evensong at 2:45 p.m.; The Office of Tenebrae at 7:00 p.m.; Confessions at 8:30 p.m.

Maundy Thursday: Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament at 8:45 a.m.; Mass of the Lord's Supper at 7:00 p.m., followed by the Office of Tenebrae and the All-night Vigil in the Sacred Heart Chapel.

Good Friday: Solemn Liturgy at 3:00 p.m.; Stations of the Cross and the Office of Tenebrae at 7:00 p.m.

Holy Saturday: The Great Vigil of the Resurrection at 8:00 p.m.

Easter, the Sunday of the Resurrection: Masses at 7:30 a.m., 9:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.

28 March 2007

We've got visitors

The place is buzzing today as we get ready for members of the Texas Catholic Conference Accreditation Commission to visit to our Upper School. The visitors arrive later today and will be conducting interviews with various administrators, teachers and parents, and then we’ll have a reception for them in our beautiful library. Tomorrow they go through all our files with a fine-toothed comb, observe classrooms, and generally wander around the building looking at things to make sure we are what we say we are: an excellent Catholic school!

It’s always a little nerve-racking to be under the microscope, but we’re in fine shape and we’re pleased to welcome our visitors. If I don’t get to post anything for the next few days, you’ll know what’s occupying my time…

26 March 2007

What a day!

The church was packed this morning as we celebrated the Solemnity of the Annunciation, and what a magnificent celebration it was! One of our favorite hymns is “Sing we of the Blessed Mother,” sung to “Rustington,” which is such a marvelous tune. As the procession moved towards the altar, the smoking thurible marking the way, every voice was belting it out. The Casavant organ was raising the roof, and the organist was having a good time filling in between some of the verses so we’d have plenty of time to incense the altar.

And then, the choir! It was our Academy’s select choir of about eighty children’s voices, singing the Messe d'Escalquens by Jean Langlois. This is the same choir which sang the American premiere of this Mass setting early in February, and I must say they were in fine form.

At the Offertory everyone joined in singing the delightful Basque carol with the words by Sabine Baring-Gould:

The angel Gabriel from heaven came,
With wings as drifted snow, with eyes as flame:
"All hail to thee, O lowly maiden Mary,
Most highly favored lady." Gloria!

"For know a blessed mother thou shalt be,
All generations laud and honor thee;
Thy son shall be Emmanuel, by seers foretold,
Most highly favored lady." Gloria!

Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head;
"To me be as it pleaseth God," she said.
"My soul shall laud and magnify God’s holy name."
Most highly favored lady." Gloria!

Of her, Emmanuel, the Christ, was born
In Bethlehem all on a Christmas morn,
And Christian folk through-out the world will ever say:
"Most highly favored lady." Gloria!

I spoke to the students about the wonderful mystery we were celebrating, and took them back to the protoevangelium in the book of Genesis, so they could understand what was in God’s Divine mind from the beginning, and how this solemnity is really the incarnation of God’s great love for us.

We always genuflect at the mention of the Incarnation when we say the Creed, and I explained that today we would actually kneel on both our knees in awe of the Mystery of the Word Made Flesh. That always reminds me of the story of the old man from Cornwall after the protestant reformation – a staunch Catholic who could not imagine being anything else – who was visiting a rather low Anglican parish. He genuflected during the Creed, and was asked afterward why he persisted in doing such a Popish thing. His answer: “God made Hisself small for me, so I makes meself small for Him.” There’s wisdom for you. Of course, it probably wouldn’t play too well in most liturgy offices.

As it came time for Holy Communion, the number of communicants was increased with our Second Graders, who had been confirmed and received their First Holy Communion this past Saturday. How beautiful it was to see these little ones concentrating so intensely, trying to coordinate saying “Amen” while at the same time getting their tongues positioned just right to receive the intincted Host. For some, it will take a bit more practice to get it down smoothly!

And then, on the way out, we sang the old barn-burner, “Hail, Holy Queen.” The experts would probably think it too Marian for the day, but too bad. Humble Nazareth maiden though she was, she is after all our heavenly Queen. And we’re happy to shout that to the rafters.

25 March 2007

A new deacon

What a joyful and blessed event for the Anglican Use community in Scranton, Pennsylvania! Eric Bergman, the future pastor of the St. Thomas More community there, was ordained as a Catholic Deacon on March 24th. His ordination to the Priesthood will take place (God willing) on April 21st, and with that he and his congregation will begin a new and important chapter of their existence in the Catholic Church.

Please pray for Deacon Bergman and his beautiful family, as well as for the faithful laity there. It has been a long path, and sometimes a struggle, as they moved from the Episcopal Church into the fullness of the Catholic faith. May God give many others this same courage and grace.

22 March 2007

A great encounter with God

Over the past two days I’ve heard in excess of a hundred confessions. Nearly fifty of them were our school’s second graders. The rest were various children in CCD and several adults who have entered the Church through a Profession of Faith. Their confessions were part of their preparation for receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation on Saturday, and for most of them it also will be the day they receive Holy Communion for the very first time.

Last year was our first year to have the restored order of the Sacraments of Initiation, returning to the more ancient sequence of receiving Baptism, then Confirmation, followed by First Holy Communion. Pope Benedict XVI, in his Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, makes mention of the Holy Eucharist as being the “completion” of Christian initiation in section 17:

“If the Eucharist is truly the source and summit of the Church's life and mission, it follows that the process of Christian initiation must constantly be directed to the reception of this sacrament. As the Synod Fathers said, we need to ask ourselves whether in our Christian communities the close link between Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist is sufficiently recognized. It must never be forgotten that our reception of Baptism and Confirmation is ordered to the Eucharist. Accordingly, our pastoral practice should reflect a more unitary understanding of the process of Christian initiation. The sacrament of Baptism, by which we were conformed to Christ, incorporated in the Church and made children of God, is the portal to all the sacraments. It makes us part of the one Body of Christ, a priestly people. Still, it is our participation in the Eucharistic sacrifice which perfects within us the gifts given to us at Baptism. The gifts of the Spirit are given for the building up of Christ's Body and for ever greater witness to the Gospel in the world. The Holy Eucharist, then, brings Christian initiation to completion and represents the centre and goal of all sacramental life.”

This restored order is now the ordinary practice in some dioceses, and we are pleased to have returned to this venerable tradition in our parish. The Code of Canon Law states that Confirmation is to be administered to those who have been baptized and who have reached the age of reason. Since our bishops’ Conference has not decreed otherwise, it seems wise to follow the mind of the Church in this. Postponing the reception of Confirmation until the teenage years (when young people need it most) comes at the time when they are least likely to present themselves for it. Better to arm them with the grace early. It won’t go bad, and it won’t run out. And they’ll have it to use.

So Saturday will be the day. Lots of adults who should have been confirmed years ago will be presented, and it’s a great day for them. But especially moving to me is to present these young children, seven or eight years old. They will have pondered over their Confirmation names. We’ll probably have a dozen or so who take St. Therese – she’s always a favorite, and quite rightly so. There’ll be plenty who will add Francis or Anthony or Mary to their baptismal name. And we’ll have a few marchers-to-a-different-beat who will have searched Butler's Lives and found a new spiritual friend in an obscure saint whose name will forever shine in their life. And after they’re confirmed these new soldiers of Christ will be ready to kneel at the rail to receive the Body and Blood of their Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ for the very first time.

I’ll be as happy and proud as a new father.

19 March 2007

A little push

We’ve honored St. Joseph with two Masses today – an early Low Mass and a Sung Mass later in the morning – and I’m still thinking about how grateful I am to him. Many years ago he nudged me into the Church.

I was a young Episcopal cleric just returned to Rhode Island from a stint of serving in the Anglican Diocese of Bristol, England. The parish I had come to was middle-to-high: vestments, occasional incense, a few statues strategically placed.

There was a parishioner who wanted us to have a new statue of St. Joseph. The old statue was small and not in terribly good shape. I was deputized to find a new one, but there were a couple of requirements. It had to be two feet tall and it had to be cheap. The only solution was to go to a local religious goods store and look for something that might look half-way acceptable if the lights were dim.

I found one. It wasn’t beautiful, but it didn’t look as though it had been dragged behind a truck either. “Wrap it up and I’ll take it,” I told the clerk. “Sorry, sir, but this is the last one and we don’t have a box for it,” was the reply. A dilemma. I was driving a Volkswagen, and the back seat was already fairly full with a child’s car seat and other assorted items. The only option I could see was to stand it up in the passenger’s seat and strap the seat belt around it, which I did.

I was just closing the passenger door. St. Joseph was safely strapped in, facing ram-rod straight ahead. I heard a voice behind me. “You might want to let him drive.” I turned around to see a young priest about my age, with a grin on his face. We exchanged quips about the statue with the seat belt, and then began to chat about other things. We quickly discovered that my Episcopal parish and his Catholic parish were located fairly close to one another. We seemed to click, we made lunch plans, and one of the most important friendships of my life began.

We got together regularly to talk. It didn’t take long for our discussions to turn into question and answer sessions – me asking the questions, and him giving the answers. I wanted to know about the Catholic faith. And he told me. He was always gentle in his answers, but he never watered down the truth. Even if the issue was a difficult one, he always told me what the Church teaches. I was grateful for that. I would have resented it if I had discovered that he was tailoring what he said to make it fit what he might have thought I wanted to hear. I learned Catholic truth, and when it was presented to me in its fullness and in its beauty, I knew I had to embrace it. I believed it completely.

How grateful I always have been to St. Joseph. Without saying a word, he helped bring me into the Catholic Church by introducing me to a faithful Catholic priest. The statue may not have been very beautiful, but everything else in the story is.

17 March 2007

Jerusalem the golden...

The distant chant we hear is Lætare. We set our face towards Jerusalem. “Rejoice ye with Jerusalem, and be ye glad for her, all ye that delight in her…” says the Introit. The remembrance of Jerusalem is a reminder of all that God has done. He has made this city holy with His presence from ancient days. It was in Jerusalem that the Temple was constructed. It was in Jerusalem that Christ opened the treasures of the Kingdom of God. It was in Jerusalem that our Lord was condemned and killed, and it was in Jerusalem that death was conquered for us all when Jesus Christ walked triumphantly from the tomb.

Jerusalem. It is the symbol also of our destination. It looks to the heavenly Jerusalem where God is enthroned, surrounded by angels and saints, and where a place has been prepared for each one of us.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. It is an earthly city torn apart by sinful man, but it is a heavenly destination sanctified by the Perfect God.

14 March 2007

A new priest, a new congregation

What joyful news! For almost two and a half years a faithful man and his parishioners have been waiting. Patiently waiting. And now the news has come. Permission has been granted for the ordination of Eric Bergman (pictured above, signing his Profession of Faith as a Catholic), and also for the formation of a Catholic congregation in the Diocese of Scranton, under the patronage of St. Thomas More. This will be the newest addition to the Anglican Use in the Latin Rite, all made possible because of the Pastoral Provision approved by the Servant of God, Pope John Paul II in 1980. Following is the article from the Scranton diocesan newspaper, The Catholic Light.

Former Episcopal Minister to be Ordained to the Priesthood

A former Episcopal clergyman and convert to Catholicism, Eric Bergman, will be ordained a Catholic priest next month.

His walk towards ordination to the priesthood began almost two and a half years ago, on the Feast of Saints Simon and Jude, 2004. Bishop Joseph F. Martino and Mr. Bergman met that day in the Chancery Building of the Diocese of Scranton. At the time Mr. Bergman was the rector of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in the Green Ridge section of Scranton, having served in that capacity for more than five years. On that late October afternoon he came to Bishop Martino with a question, “Are you willing to see the Pastoral Provision of Pope John Paul II implemented in the Diocese of Scranton?”

The Pastoral Provision, Bishop Martino knew, was issued in 1980 by our late Holy Father as a means to reconcile Anglican Christians to Mother Church. It allows for a former Anglican clergyman to be ordained a Catholic priest and then be appointed the pastor of a Catholic congregation made up of his former Anglican parishioners.

Bishop Martino also knew that the Pastoral Provision permits former Anglicans to retain elements of their patrimony that are consistent with Catholic faith and practice, most particularly in the use of an “Anglican style” Sacred Liturgy, published in the Book of Divine Worship.

Mr. Bergman explained to Bishop Martino that his own family and several other families from the Church of the Good Shepherd desired to become Roman Catholic. Months after his meeting with Bishop Martino, Mr. Bergman reflected upon that tumultuous time in the life of his former parish, “We were saddened to leave the Episcopal Church, and at the same time we were very much attached to our tradition, many of us having been Episcopalian all our lives. A good number of my parishioners and I were thrilled to learn about a way that we could build a church upon the Rock of St. Peter, without having to say good-bye to those parts of our heritage that are truly Catholic. We resolved to find out if the Pastoral Provision were a possibility for us.”

Fortunately for Mr. Bergman and his parishioners, Bishop Martino said yes to their petition. He agreed to have the Pastoral Provision implemented in the Diocese of Scranton, creating for Mr. Bergman and his parishioners the St. Thomas More Society of St. Clare Church in Scranton. He made Mr. Bergman the director of the Society and appointed Msgr. William Feldcamp as their pastor.

After 10 months of catechetical instruction at St. Clare Church, 40 members of the St. Thomas More Society were confirmed and received their First Holy Communion at the Vigil Mass for All Saints’ Day, on Oct. 31, 2005. Since then an Anglican Usage Mass has been celebrated for them every Sunday afternoon at St. Clare Church by Msgr. Feldcamp and five other priests of the Diocese with permission to celebrate this Mass: Father Charles Connor, Monsignor Vincent Grimalia, V.G., Monsignor Dale Rupert, Father James Rafferty and Father Edward Scott.

Bishop Martino is not the first bishop to assent to a request to ordain a former Episcopal clergyman and create this type of community. In 1983, in San Antonio, Texas, the first Anglican Usage of the Roman Rite personal parish was erected, and Father Christopher Phillips, the pastor, was ordained a priest. Since then several more Pastoral Provision communities have been founded in dioceses across the United States, the most recent prior to the St. Thomas More Society being the Congregation of St. Athanasius in Boston, Mass., established in 1998.

William Cardinal Levada, Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, was responsible for reviewing Bishop Martino’s request to erect just such a community here in the Diocese of Scranton, a request sent last June to the Holy See for approval by Pope Benedict XVI.

On Feb. 8 Mr. Bergman received the news from Bishop John M. Dougherty, Auxiliary Bishop of Scranton, that the Holy Father had given permission for Mr. Bergman’s ordination to proceed. This was the happy outcome of a two-year application process, undertaken in conjunction with the Pastoral Provision Office, which is under the leadership of Archbishop John Myers of Newark, the Ecclesiastical Delegate for the Pastoral Provision.

The process began with the compilation of 13 documents, each of which attested to Mr. Bergman’s suitability as a candidate for ordination to the priesthood. After being reviewed by Bishop Martino and Bishop Dougherty, this dossier was sent by Archbishop Myers to Cardinal Levada in Rome.

Archbishop Myers also arranges for each Pastoral Provision candidate for ordination to undergo a theological evaluation some time during the first year of the process. For his evaluation, Mr. Bergman traveled in July 2005 to Boston to learn how he should supplement the master’s degree he received from Yale University in 1997. At St. John’s Seminary his knowledge of seven subjects was evaluated by the following men: Ascetical Theology, Father John Farren; Canon Law, Father David Cavanaugh; Church History, Father John Langlois; Dogmatic Theology, Father Romanus Cessario; Liturgical and Sacramental Theology, Father William Stetson; Moral Theology, Father Jose Ruisanchez; and Sacred Scripture, Mr. Leonard Maluf.

When he returned from Massachusetts, Bishop Dougherty arranged for Father Charles Connor, pastor of St. Peter’s Cathedral, to guide Mr. Bergman through his study, according to the syllabus the Pastoral Provision Faculty had formulated.

After a year of study, Mr. Bergman was required to pass one written and one oral exam in each of the seven subjects. The written exams were administered here in Scranton at the Cathedral Rectory, then sent for grading to Seton Hall University, where on October 20 of last year Mr. Bergman took his oral certification examinations. The examining faculty members were: Ascetical Theology, Father John Russell; Canon Law, Monsignor Robert Coleman; Church History, Monsignor Robert Wister; Dogmatic Theology, Father Lawrence Porter; Liturgical and Sacramental Theology, Monsignor Gerald McCarren; Moral Theology, Deacon William Toth; and Sacred Scripture, Father C. Anthony Ziccardi.

Archbishop Myers’ secretary, Father William Stetson, informed Mr. Bergman that day that he had passed all 14 exams. With this accomplishment Mr. Bergman had successfully completed all the Pastoral Provision requirements for ordination to the priesthood.

The Pastoral Provision was Pope John Paul II’s generous response to the reality that many Anglicans, including many Catholic-minded clergymen, no longer experience a peace of conscience in the Anglican Communion. Hence, by implementing the Pastoral Provision in the Diocese of Scranton, Bishop Martino has heeded the example of our late Holy Father and other bishops who have done the same.

Moreover, in responding so positively to Mr. Bergman’s petition, Bishop Martino has fostered Christian unity by graciously welcoming into the Church a group of Anglicans who desired full Catholic communion, going so far as to establish a Catholic community that retains traditional Anglican customs of worship.

The retention of their traditional Anglican customs of worship is not all that makes this group of Catholics exceptional, however. Once Mr. Bergman is ordained, the St. Thomas More Society will have as its pastor a married father of four young children. Mr. Bergman and his wife of 10 years, Kristina, are the parents of Clara, 5, Eric 3, Julia 2, and Joan, 4 months. Because he is married, Mr. Bergman had to receive special permission from the Holy See to be ordained. The Holy Father signed for Mr. Bergman a document called a rescript, a dispensation for an individual from a specific canon law, in this case from the canon law requiring celibacy for priests of the Roman Rite.

As to why the Holy Father sees fit to make these exceptions, Mr. Bergman explains, “The Pastoral Provision is just that, a pastoral exception, an extraordinary exception that is made in order that an Anglican clergyman and his flock can be reconciled to the Church together. In other words, the Pastoral Provision allows a congregation to keep their pastor as they convert from Anglicanism to Catholicism. In this way my marriage to Kristina doesn’t stand in the way of achieving in some small measure the unity for which Christ prayed in St. John’s Gospel, ‘Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one’” (John 17:11).”

The Pastoral Provision stipulates that if Mr. Bergman’s wife should predecease him he will not be permitted to marry again, and it also makes clear that when any vocations to the priesthood are fostered by an Anglican Use Catholic community, the candidate is to embrace a life of celibacy before his ordination.

Mr. Bergman will be ordained to the diaconate on March 24 and to the priesthood on April 21. Both ordinations will take place at St. Clare Church in Scranton.

Earlier this year Msgr. Feldcamp had expressed during a homily his hope that Mr. Bergman’s ordinations would take place at the church that has hosted the St. Thomas More Society for more than two years. Last month Bishop Martino agreed that this should indeed be the case, an arrangement that emphasizes the extraordinary nature of these ordinations, while allowing the parishioners of St. Clare Church to host the celebrations.

“The members of the St. Thomas More Society and the people of St. Clare Church have waited a long time for this to happen,” said Msgr. Feldcamp. “We’re all looking forward to Eric being the newest priest in the Diocese of Scranton.”

As he looks to the future Mr. Bergman sees much potential for growth, noting that the other Anglican Use communities that have enjoyed a similar level of support have flourished. For now, however, he’s simply grateful for all that has transpired since that initial meeting with Bishop Martino in 2004.

“Without the labor of Bishop Dougherty, the sponsorship of Bishop Martino, and the generosity of our Holy Father, this unique work would not have come to be,” Mr. Bergman said. “The people of the Society and I are just so grateful that the leadership of the Church has seen this endeavor through. We owe everything to them and to the intercession of our patron, St. Thomas More. We humbly offer our thanks to our bishops and so many priests of the Diocese of Scranton who have helped us – and praise to Jesus Christ in all his saints.”

13 March 2007

A love letter

I felt an unexpected and special closeness to the Holy Father today at the early Mass. His Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis had just been released and I was able to look at only part of it early this morning before I had to get ready to celebrate Mass. I looked through the index and started to read his words, “The sacrament of charity, the Holy Eucharist is the gift that Jesus Christ makes of himself, thus revealing to us God's infinite love for every man and woman…” I had to tear myself away from reading too much, since the grandfather clock in the lobby outside my office was ticking away and the time for Mass was getting closer. But as I was vesting, what I had read of the Holy Father’s thoughts stayed in my mind. As we began the Liturgy I thought of the many priests doing exactly the same thing. I thought of the Pope who had labored over his Exhortation, writing with love about the sacrament of Christ’s love. I had the feeling which comes when you receive a letter from someone close and dear. At odd times my mind pictured the few very brief times I had met the Holy Father when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger. How gracious he always was, and it always struck me that those who thought him to be distant or cold or stern really hadn’t looked too closely. He is a man who understands profoundly the love of God for each one of us. This Apostolic Exhortation, with its deep spirituality and practical guidance, is a welcome letter from a loving father.

11 March 2007

Holy ground

One of the moments of high drama was when Moses saw the burning bush and heard the voice of God. “Moses, Moses,” God said. And then Moses was told to “put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” This was what Catholics throughout the world heard at Mass on the Third Sunday in Lent.

Of course, we might say with Christ, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” The idea of “holy ground” has been tossed out by quite a few in the past generation or so, as we slid into the age of multi-purpose church buildings and horizontal architecture.

It’s clear from scripture that there is supposed to be “holy ground” set apart for God’s worship and glory. And we’re expected to treat such places as truly holy. Part of that expectation includes dressing appropriately for worship, speaking respectfully and refraining from idle conversation when in holy places. It means having a reverent demeanor when we are in God’s House.

Let’s be careful that our churches aren’t turned into little more than ecclesiastical malls, gathering places which are simply for our convenience, rather than what they really are: the very dwelling place of the Incarnate God.

10 March 2007

This is a must-read

If you don’t read anything else today, read this.

The Most Reverend Robert Finn, Bishop of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, has issued an excellent pastoral letter, Blessed Are The Pure In Heart. It speaks of the dignity of the human person, the danger presented to all of us by pornography, and how we can combat it. It’s not news that we’re assaulted daily by pornographic images and words on the television, in movies, through the internet. It’s scarcely possible to move about in the world without encountering depictions of gross and demeaning immorality.

Enough is enough. Like the garbage it is, it’s got to be thrown out. And Bishop Finn gives some very good guidance in doing just that. Please, read his pastoral letter. Send the link to others. Make copies of it and pass them out. Pornography is destructive to individuals, to families, and to society in general. As with a dirty floor, the scrubbing needs to begin someplace. God bless the bishop for getting the disinfectant and scrub-brushes out.

06 March 2007

Come on in, the water's fine

Following the advice of my Yankee forebears, who were usually quite insistent that it is just as easy to be sick while doing something as it is to be laying about in bed, I decided to rouse myself, coughing and sniffling still intact, and have a browse around the blog community.

I have been particularly interested over the past days to see numerous articles and comments concerning the celebration of Mass ad orientem. Virtually everything I am reading on the blogs commends this form of the celebration. All the reasons are given as to why this is a good practice. Signs are searched for in the hope that it might be found more frequently. Rejoicing over the altar arrangement seen in the Vatican’s Redemptoris Mater Chapel are being expressed. Some priests are voicing the possibility that they might well try it.

Perhaps I am being naïve in asking my brother priests, “What are you waiting for?” As has been stated by more than one knowledgeable cleric, no special permission is required. The point has been made over and over again that it enhances the devotion of both priest and laity. It is a practical fact that even free-standing altars usually have sufficient room on the west side to celebrate facing east. As I said, perhaps I am being naïve (and I’m sure I’ll be told so if that is the case) but I really don’t understand the hesitation.

When we built our original church in 1987 the sanctuary was designed for an eastward facing altar. The local experts in the worship office told me I couldn’t do that, but I was more brash then, and ignored the wringing of their hands. The archbishop came to dedicate the church and consecrate the altar, and without batting an eye he did so – facing east. Over the course of the twenty years I have been saying Mass at that altar, I have celebrated nearly 15,000 times, every single time ad orientem. Our parish has an extraordinary number of visitors, and only once have I been asked why I am facing in that direction. When I explained, the response was, “that makes sense.” The students in our parish school attend Mass every day and not a single child has expressed any confusion over the position of the celebrant. In fact, visitors at the children’s Mass always marvel, wondering how it is that five hundred children are so attentive and devout.

We have had two cardinals visit the parish, a number of bishops, and innumerable priests. Not one has been anything but positive in his comments about the experience, and in fact the usual statement is, “I am amazed at how much everyone participates!”

Our music is unashamedly traditional. Only men and boys serve at the altar. Incense is used liberally. I don’t think I’ve ever told a joke while in the sanctuary or pulpit. All this means that the most common words I hear from people is, “Well, we certainly know we worshipped God!”

I heartily agree with those who extol the merits of the eastward facing celebration. I encourage those who extol it to do it.

Under the weather...

In addition to the joys which go along with having a parish school, there’s also the down-side. You tend to catch every wayward sniffle and sneeze the children bring with them. And that’s my sad condition now, which is why I haven’t posted anything for a few days and it will probably be another day or two before my mind kicks into gear. Right now my aches and pains and clogged head allow me to think of little else but myself.

I have noticed an interesting phenomenon, however. Even though I feel as though I can scarcely put one foot in front of the other, my mind clears a little and my energy somewhat returns when it’s time to celebrate the Mass. This morning, when I dragged myself out of bed, I wondered how I’d get through the morning. But before I knew it, I’d said both Masses, and even had a little bit of energy left to do a couple of other things. Now, however, I’m going to pack it in, go home for a cup of Earl Grey, and watch some old episodes of “All Creatures Great and Small” which I have on DVD. It takes me back to my childhood on the farm, and that always makes me feel better.

03 March 2007

On the mountaintop in Lent

The Gospel reading for the Second Sunday in Lent is that wonderful account of our Lord’s transfiguration. I’ve written about it before, and how the contrast between the sobriety of the season and the splendor of the event makes for a powerful statement.

At the time of the transfiguration St. Peter wanted to build a tabernacle, a permanent dwelling place. He wanted to “capture the moment,” so to speak. By itself, that desire wasn’t wrong. It just wasn’t the time. There was still work to be done, still truth to be learned. The opportunity would afford itself later, after the passion and death, after the resurrection and ascension of Christ. It would be later, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles. It would be then that Peter would have the task. He would be asked to build the Church upon that Rock which was chosen by Jesus Christ Himself.

This would be the tabernacle which needed to be built: the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ. Not far off on a mountaintop would it be built, but a tabernacle which is to be in the midst of the world, allowing everyone to worship the One who lives within it.

Christ gave St. Peter the desire to build and He gave him everything he would need to make the most glorious tabernacle.

Behold our Lord transfigured,
In Sacrament Divine;
His glory deeply hidden,
'Neath forms of Bread and Wine.
Our eyes of faith behold Him,
Salvation is outpoured;
The Saviour dwells among us,
by ev'ry heart adored.

No longer on the mountain
With Peter, James and John,
Our precious Saviour bids us
To walk where saints have gone.
He has no lasting dwelling,
Save in the hearts of men;
He feeds us with His Body,
To make us whole again.

With Moses and Elijah,
We worship Christ our King;
Lord, make our souls transfigured,
Let us with angels sing.
Lead us in paths of glory,
Give tongues to sing thy praise;
Lord Jesus, keep us faithful,
Now and for all our days.

Text: Fr. Christopher G. Phillips, 1990
Music: "Ewing" by Alexander C. Ewing, 1853

02 March 2007

Can't quite let go of everything

For the past twenty-five years we have used an order for the Stations of the Cross at the parish which was assembled by the now-departed Fr. W. T. St. John Brown. I have always found this particular version of the Stations to be especially beautiful, a lovely combination of traditional devotions coupled with Collects from the Book of Common Prayer, and readings from the scriptures. I guess it’s the scriptures that really get to me. Or, to be more specific, the version of the scriptures which is used is what I love; namely, the old Authorized Version, also known as the King James Version. Yes, I know -- there’s a lot of baggage that goes along with that. But I can’t help it. There’s something about those familiar words that really burrows down deep in my soul.

Fr. Brown’s order for the Stations can be found here, and as an added bonus there are some reflections by John Henry Cardinal Newman. We don’t use the reflections in our public saying of the Stations, but they’re included for your edification.


Among the many reasons for my love of our Anglican Use liturgy, not least is the thread of elements from the Eastern churches which shows itself at various times. It gives an emphasized sense of universality and timelessness and reminds us of the richness and diversity of the various liturgies in the Church.

During the Lenten sung Masses we use the Trisagion, the “Thrice Holy” in place of the Kyrie eleison. This ancient hymn is found in almost all of the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox liturgies: “Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One, have mercy upon us.” It is a preview of the Sanctus, with its roots in the angelic hymn found in St. John’s Book of the Revelation (4:8). The Coptic Church ascribes it first to Nicodemus who, when taking Christ’s body down from the cross, saw the divinity of our Lord manifested and cried out, “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal!”

There is another tradition which says that during the reign of the Emperor Theodosius II (408-450), Constantinople was experiencing a violent earthquake. As the people were praying for God’s help, a child was thrown up into the air by the violent quaking. Everyone cried out “Kyrie eleison!” As the child fell to the ground he was heard praying, “Holy God, Holy and Strong, Holy and Immortal,” after which the child died.

In the Western Church the Trisagion found its way into the Sarum rite as part of Compline from the Third Sunday in Lent until the Fifth Sunday in Lent. It was included in the Gallican rite during the Reproaches at the Good Friday liturgy, where it is still used throughout the Latin Rite.

The Trisagion has a rich history, and its place in the Anglican Use Mass is yet another chapter in that living history.