July 28, 2013

Pope Francis and the Crowd. As I write this (on Wednesday morning, July 24) reports from World Youth Day (July 22-29) in Brazil cause me great concern about Pope Francis’ safety. You may have heard how the Holy Father’s driver supposedly “took a wrong turn” and wound up driving into a mob—that God it was a friendly crowd, but even friendly crowds can be unsafe. Of course, Pope Francis doesn’t seem to care too much about his own safety, as he wants to be close to the people. But while I can appreciate that, I’d also like him to be able to do so for many years to come. So let’s keep him and all the young people gathered in Brazil in prayer, for their holiness, but also for their safety and wellbeing. Viva il Papa!

Hermeneutic of Continuity. Clearly Pope Francis is applying his own pastoral approach to his pontificate, especially as we see his emphasis on simplicity and the poor. In doing this, however, he has clearly not rejected the important contributions of his immediate predecessors, Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. We see this in his homilies as he regularly quotes from their writings, and especially in his first encyclical, Lumen Fidei, which he acknowledges as being largely written by Pope Benedict.

One of the most important contributions of John Paul and Benedict , working closely together, was to provide the intellectual basis for settling the great theological confusion that had developed after Vatican II. Benedict summarized their approach by distinguishing between what he called “hermeneutic of discontinuity” and the “hermeneutic of continuity.” [hermeneutic: a principle of or key to interpretation]. He pointed out that the hermeneutic of discontinuity sees a split between the pre-Vatican II Church and the post-Vatican II Church—almost 2 different churches, with different sets of doctrines and beliefs. But the correct understanding follows the hermeneutic of continuity, which sees only one Church before and after the council. What was taught as true or considered for centuries by declarations of popes and councils to be good or helpful for the faithful, cannot be declared false or bad by subsequent generations of the Church—even by a council or a pope.

One key area where Pope Benedict particularly chose to shine the light of continuity during his pontificate was in the liturgy, reminding us that Vatican II called for a reform of the liturgy but not for a complete rupture with the form of Mass in place since before the 6th century. And so, in 2007 he recognized the right of all Catholic priests to say the old “pre-Vatican II” Mass, thus encouraging an awareness and appreciation of continuity in worship between the “Old Mass” and the New. (Note: he was expanding a practice already allowed by John Paul).

And looking at the differences between the Old Mass and the New Mass (the Mass we say here every Sunday) one of the greatest differences is the practice in the Old Mass of the priest offering Mass, as some say, with “his back to the people”—now, of course, the priest normally stands at the altar “facing the people.” But nowhere in the documents of Vatican II (or even the current instructions ) does it ever mention or require this change.

In fact, this “turning the altar around” came about because of weak scholarship, perhaps influenced by the hermeneutic of discontinuity, that concluded that the earliest practice of the Church was for the priest to say Mass facing the people. The problem is, a few years later other scholars proved that the most ancient practice of the Church was the opposite: the whole church, congregation and priest, turned together in prayer toward the East. It ties back to the practice of first century Jews in places like Rome to turn toward the temple in Jerusalem—toward the East (“ad orientem”)— when they prayed. The Christians picked up the practice but for them the East represented the rising of God the Son, the light of the world, turning in expectation to await the second coming of the Messiah. And so the priest led the people in symbolically turning and praying toward God.

Benedict wrote extensively about this “turning toward the Lord” in Holy Mass, and, following the hermeneutic of continuity, he encouraged priests to follow the ancient practice, and often did so himself.

Some people say that when the priest “faces East” it’s as if he’s turning his back on the people and excluding them from the Mass. But as Benedict/Ratzinger wrote in The Spirit of the Liturgy: “[this] did not mean that the priest ‘had his back to the people’… [I]t was much more a question of priest and people facing in the same direction, …together …in a procession toward the Lord…’” Furthermore, when he faces the people: “the priest… becomes the real point of reference for the whole Liturgy. Everything depends on him… Less and less is God in the picture…”

Others say we should face each other as a community gathering to eat the Eucharistic meal, like the Last Supper. But as Benedict wrote: “…in antiquity. …the head of table never took his place facing the other participants. Everyone sat or lay on the convex side of an…horseshoe-shaped table. …The communal character… emphasized…by the fact that everyone …[sat] on the same side of the table.” He continues: “The turning of the priest toward the people has turned the community into a self-enclosed circle… [I]t no longer opens out on what lies ahead and above, but is locked into itself. … [the early Christians] did not gaze at one another, but as the pilgrim People of God they set off for the Oriens, for the Christ….”

Ad Orientem at St. Raymond’s. Ever since I arrived at St. Raymond’s 3 years ago many parishioners have been asking me to incorporate this more traditional approach here. I have postponed this change because I knew it would strike some of you the wrong way, and I wanted to give you a chance to get to know and trust me first.

That being said, and counting our mutual respect for each other, I am announcing that sometime in September we will begin offering Mass “ad orientem” every Sunday at the 8:45 Mass. This means that after the Prayer of the Faithful the priests will stand at the altar facing toward the high altar and tabernacle—just like you do—leading you in prayer to the Lord.

I know this will be disconcerting for some of you—discontinuity is like that. But there is a greater continuity to be remembered here. I ask you to please to be patient and open minded, and to prayerfully consider my reasons for this addition. If after a few months of adjustment it proves to be widely unpopular, I will reconsider. But remember: it’s only one Mass, and all are free to attend one of the other six Masses offered here every Sunday.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

Easter 2013

RESURREXIT SICUT DIXIT! ALLELUIA! He is risen as he promised! Alleluia! What a glorious day, on which Our Savior, Jesus Christ, rose triumphant from the tomb and conquered death and sin and all evil in the world. Let the earth “shake with joy, filled with the mighty voices of the peoples!” This is the day our Catholic faith lives for, and takes its life from, as we received in our baptisms a share in the risen life of Jesus. Let us rejoice, and no longer live under the slavery of sin and Satan, but in the freedom of the children of God, members of the very body of Christ.

My thanks to all who contributed so much in time and energy and prayer to helping the parish enjoy a truly Holy Week (more on that next week). And to all parishioners and visitors, from Fr. Kenna and myself, a holy, blessed and happy Easter Day!

In past Easter columns I’ve included Easter messages from Pope Benedict XVI. Unfortunately, as of this writing, there is nothing similar from Pope Francis. HOWEVER, below is a beautiful Easter Vigil homily he delivered as Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 2008. (Note this is an unofficial translation I found on the internet).

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (now Pope Francis):

1. In the shadows of the Temple we have followed the signposts of a long road. God chooses a people and sends them on their way. Starting with Abram: “Go forth out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and out of thy father’s house, and come into the land which I shall show thee. And I will make of thee a great nation.” (Gen 12:1-2). Abram went forth, and became the father of a people that made history along the way, a people on the way towards that which was promised. We also recently made our way listening to [the telling of] this history of traversing lands and centuries, with our eyes fixed on the paschal event, the definitive Promise made reality, the Living Christ, victor over death, resurrected. Life in God is not sedentary, it is a life on the road…and even God Himself desired to be on the road, in search of man…and became man. On this night we have traveled both roads: of the people, of man, towards God and that of God to man, both roads leading to an encounter. The anxiousness for God sown in our human heart, that anxiousness of God given as a promise to Abram and, on the other hand, the anxiousness of God’s heart, His immeasurable love for us, are to be found here today, before this paschal event, the figure of Christ Resurrected that resolves in itself all searches and anxiousness, wishes and loves; Christ Resurrected is the goal and triumph of these two roads that meet. This is the night of an encounter…of “Encounter” with capital letters.

2. It is brought to our attention how the Gospel we have just heard describes the Encounter of Jesus Christ, Victorious with the women. Nobody stands still…all are in movement, on the move: it is said the women went, that the earth shook strongly; the Angel came down from Heaven, making the stone roll, the guards trembled. Then, the invitation: He will go to Galilee, that all go to Galilee. The women, with that mix of fear and joy –that is, with their hearts in movement — back up rapidly and run to spread the news. They encounter Jesus and approach Him and fall to His feet. Movement of the women towards Christ, movement of Christ towards them. In this movement the encounter happens.

3. The Gospel announcement is not relegated to a faraway history of two thousand years ago…it is a reality that repeats itself each time we place ourselves on the road towards God and we allow ourselves to be met by Him. The Gospel tells of an encounter, a victorious encounter between the faithful God, passionate for His people, and us sinners, thirsty for love and searching, who have [finally] accepted placing ourselves on the road…on the road to find Him…to allow ourselves to be found by Him. In that instant, existential and temporal, we share the experience of the women: fear and joy at the same time; we experience the stupor of an encounter with Jesus Christ which overflows our desires but which never says “stay,” but rather “go.” The encounter relaxes us, strengthens our identity and sends us forth; puts us on the road again so that, from encounter to encounter, we may reach the definitive encounter.

4. I was recently mentioning that, in the midst of the shadows, our gaze was fixed on the Paschal event, Christ, reality and hope at the same time; reality of an encounter today and hope for the great final encounter. This is good because we breathe losses [literally, “disencounters”] daily; we have become accustomed to living in a culture of loss, in which our passions, our disorientations, enmities and conflicts confront us, separate [literally, “eliminates our brotherhood”] us, isolate us, crystallize us inside a sterile individualism which is proposed to us as a [viable] way of life daily. The women, that morning, were victims of a painful loss: they had had their Lord taken from them. They found themselves desolate before a sepulcher. That’s the way today’s cultural paganism, active in the world and our city, wants us: alone, passive, at the end of an illusory path that leads to a sepulcher, dead in our frustration and sterile egotism.

Today we need the strength of God to move us, that we have a great shaking of the earth, that an Angel move the great stone in our heart, that stone that prevents us from heading out on the road, that there is lightning and much light. Today we need our soul shaken, that we’re told the idolatry of cultured passivity and possessiveness does not lead [this could also be translated as “give”] to life. Today we need, after being shaken for our many frustrations, to encounter Him anew and that He tell us “Be not afraid,” get back on the road once again, return to that Galilee of your first love. We must renew the march begun by our father Abraham and which signals this Paschal event. Today we need to encounter Him; that we find Him and He find us. Brethren, the “Happy Easter” I wish you is that today an Angel rolls away our stone and we allow ourselves to encounter Him. May it be thus.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

March 17, 2013

Our New Pope. By the time you read this I am confident that we (will) have a new Holy Father. But as I write this, on the morning Wednesday the 13th, the cardinals in conclave have been through 3 unsuccessful ballots, and no pope yet. I guess they didn’t know about my deadline. In any case, assuming we have a new Pope, I’m sure you join with me in joyfully thanking the Good Lord for His great gift of our new Pope, and in pledging total support and obedience to our new chief shepherd, and pray that he may live and reign, as they say, “a thousand years.”

Sometimes people ask me why we call the successor of Peter “Pope” and “Supreme Pontiff.” The word “pope” comes from the Latin and Italian “papa” which is just what it looks like—what a child calls his father. Its usage is to refer to the Bishop of Rome goes back to at least the 3rd century. The term “Pontiff” comes from the Latin “pontifex,” which literally means “bridge builder” (bridge: pons, make: facere—priests build bridges between God and man), and was a term used to refer to the highest ranking priests in the pagan religion of ancient Rome—the “Pontifex Maximus” being the “high priest.” Some say that taking this title from the pagans is inappropriate, but any time Christianity translates itself into a new language we can only use the words of that new language to communicate equivalent ideas from the “old language.” So the Latin word used to name the ordinary “priests” of pagan Rome was “sacerdos”, and so that is what Christian priests were called. Likewise, “pontifex” became a common term for bishops, and Pontifex Maximus (“Supreme Pontiff”) for the pope.

Passiontide. As Lent continues, today we enter into that part of the season called “Passiontide,” a time when we more intently and somberly focus our attention Christ’s Passion. We try, in effect, to take ourselves 2000 years back in time and walk with Jesus in those last days before Good Friday. We mark this in a very dramatic way by covering the statues and crucifixes in our churches: Good Friday has not yet happened, so there is no cross yet; Easter has not happened, so no saints are in heaven. (This year we hope to cover the main cross hanging from the ceiling over the altar. If it works, thanks to Jane and Rick Steele who worked so hard to make it happen; if it doesn’t, sorry, it’s my fault…). Keep this in mind in the coming days: “I’m walking with Jesus, and Peter and the apostles…With Judas. With John, and Mary Magdalene… Walking toward Jerusalem, stopping in Bethany, going to the temple….I’m in the Upper Room, at the Last Supper…In the house of Caiaphas…In the palace of Pilate…Standing with Blessed Mary as they scourge her little boy….”

The bodily/physical reminders of these days are so important to our experiencing the meaning of the season—Jesus created us in bodies, and came and spoke to us and suffered and died in His body. Which is why it’s so important to experience the mysteries of this season “in the flesh.” So, please, come to the church and physically take part in the various sacraments, liturgies and other pious activities of the Church and parish in the next few weeks.

I strongly encourage all of you to take advantage of the extra Mass and confession times (we’ll have at least 2 priests hearing at most times, and sometimes 3 or 4), as well as opportunities for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. In particular, please participate in praying the Stations of the Cross, especially in the church, and particularly on Friday evening at 6:30, led by the priests.

I also strongly encourage you to attend next Sunday’s (Palm/Passion Sunday, March 24) Living Stations of the Cross acted out by our youth group a little after the 5:00pm Mass. As last year, the Living Stations will take place outside (pray for good weather! If not, we will be in the Parish Hall). Come and both support our youth and enter more deeply into the mystery of the Lord’s suffering.

Also next Sunday, Palm/Passion Sunday, March 24, please consider coming to the 8:45 Mass and joining in the Solemn Procession with Palms at the beginning of Mass. Those who would like to join in the procession should gather inside the Parish Hall before 8:45 and then, after some prayers and a Gospel reading, process outside, and enter the church from the front, taking their pews as normal. All this should take about 10 minutes. We will be reserving pews for those who join in the procession, if they call (703-440-0535) or email (straychrch@aol.com) the office during the week (you need not call to join the procession). If you attend the 8:45 Mass you may also simply take your seats in the church before Mass as usual and listen over the speakers in the church to everything said/sung in the Parish Hall.

Holy Week. Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord is, of course, the beginning of Holy Week. Next Sunday we will include a schedule for Holy Week, but I ask you to plan ahead today. These are the most solemn and sacred days of the Christian year, marked by special and unique liturgies, including Holy Thursday’s evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, with the washing of the feet and the solemn procession and silent adoration of the Blessed Sacrament until midnight—“can you not watch one hour with me?” Then there’s Good Friday’s Celebration of the Passion of the Lord, with the Veneration of the Cross and Holy Communion, which begins at 3pm—the hour of the Lord’s death. And finally, the Easter Vigil at the end of Holy Saturday evening.

As your spiritual father I beg you, from the bottom of my heart, to try to participate in all of these liturgies, that are so important to experiencing the fullness of Catholic prayer in Holy Week. I especially recommend that you attend the 3pm Good Friday service, with the Veneration of the Cross. Last year I was so edified and moved to see a standing-room-only church, as well-over a thousand people stood in line patiently, many in tears, to venerate the cross of Christ. Some say, “but it’s a work day!” But I say: “it’s the hour of the Lord’s death! The most sacred hour in all time! Why would any Catholic want to be at work?”

And finally, I remind you that on Holy Saturday afternoon—a day which is supposed to be marked by the quiet somberness of Good Friday—we will once again be showing Mel Gibson’s incredible film “The Passion of the Christ” in the Parish Hall, beginning with a short talk by myself. This powerful movie is so helpful in reminding us what Holy Saturday is all about. (Note: Parents should use their discretion in bringing children to this graphic movie).

Oremus pro invicem, et pro novo Papa nostro. Fr. De Celles