Twenty Third Sunday In Ordinary Time
Papal Mass in Washington. As I wrote last week, Pope Francis will be visiting Washington, DC, next month, from Tuesday afternoon, September 22, to Thursday morning, the 24th. At 4:15pm on Wednesday, the 23rd, he will celebrate a public Mass on the grounds of the Basilica.
After I sent the bulletin to the printer last week I received word that the Archdiocese of Washington, which is coordinating all the details of the Papal Mass, has given only 325 tickets to the Diocese of Arlington for distribution to our faithful. Bishop Loverde, in turn, has given at least 2 tickets to every parish, plus a few more to each based on parish population. Unfortunately, St. Raymond’s will receive only 4 tickets—two seated and two for standing.
Last Sunday we announced at all Masses that anyone interested in attending the Papal Mass should contact the parish office to add their name to the list that I would use in determining the distribution of the 4 tickets. We also announced that since we had been unaware that we would receive any tickets until last week, we had not kept a record of previous inquiries, so that anyone who had asked about tickets before last week should also contact the parish office to be put on the list. I will extend this invitation to contact the office to put your name on the list until this Tuesday, September 8, 4:30pm. I will make my selections soon after that.
Attending a Papal Mass can be a very moving occasion, a memory a Catholic can cherish for a lifetime. I’ve been privileged to attend several over the years. When I was a layman I attended Pope St. John Paul II’s Mass in my hometown of San Antonio in 1987—just the Pope, me and a million other people. As a deacon/seminarian I distributed Communion at Pope St. John Paul II’s Mass at Camden Yards in Baltimore in 1995. As a seminarian and a priest I’ve also attended or concelebrated several other Papal Masses in Rome—one in which I was honored to concelebrate with St. John Paul (standing just 10 feet away from him) in his private chapel with a small crowd of about 30 people.
On the other hand, these large public Masses usually involve many inconveniences that can take some of the spiritual luster off the day: large crowds, bad weather, hours of waiting, long lines, security restrictions, irreverent participants, etc.. I remember back in 1987 I could barely see the Pope I was so far from him, and in 1995 many people could not see him at all because their seats had obstructed views. Because of this, sometimes staying at home and watching the Mass on TV can prove to be much more spiritually uplifting.
Pope Francis and Absolving the Sin of Abortion. Last week you may have read/heard media reports that as part of his proclaimed “Year of Mercy” (beginning December 8, 2015) Pope Francis has announced that he would allow all priests “the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it.” While I praise and thank the Holy Father for his generous spirit, I’m a bit confused by his statement, and am very concerned that some penitents may be confused as well.
As a background, let me make a distinction between the sin of abortion and the “crime” of abortion. Abortion is a grave/mortal sin, and so it mortally wounds the soul of the sinner (mothers, doctors, nurses), cutting them off from life of grace, eternal life. But because it also has an important impact on others (e.g., the baby, the father, etc.), the Church also calls it a “crime” and imposes an external penalty in order to emphasize these grave external effects and to discourage people from committing it. This “penalty” is an automatic excommunication, i.e., although you can go to Mass and are loved by the Church, you cannot receive the sacraments or hold a position of responsibility in the Church (among other things). This penalty, however, does not apply if you don’t know about it beforehand—how does a penalty discourage you from incurring it if you don’t know about it? In my experience, most women who have an abortion are not aware of the automatic excommunication so it does not apply to them.
Now, back to the Pope’s remarks. They are a bit confusing because for decades now any priest who is allowed to hear confessions has had the automatic authority to forgive the sin of abortion. What a priest does not automatically have the authority to do is lift the automatic excommunication (if it applies)—the priest only has this authority if his Bishop grants him the special “faculty” to do so. Note, all priests in the Diocese of Arlington (and most priests in America) have been given this faculty by their bishop. For a more detailed explanation of this see Dr. Ed Peter’s excellent article at https://canonlawblog.wordpress.com/2015/09/01/pope-francis-on-reconciliation-for-abortion/ .
It seems clear that the Holy Father is laudably intending to extend the special authority (“faculty”) to lift excommunication to all priests worldwide, assuming their bishops haven’t already given it to them.
But, in pastoral charity and mercy, I feel I must clarify two things. First, anyone who has gone to confession and confessed and received absolution from a priest for the sin of abortion, should be absolutely confident that the priest had authority to absolve and so their sin was forgiven. Second, if their confessor specifically told them he had lifted their excommunication for the abortion, or that the penalty of excommunication did not apply to them, they should have confidence that he had the authority to do so and that they are not excommunicated.
Praying for the Sick at Mass. A few weeks back I announced my decision to change our procedures for announcing the names of the sick at Mass. As you know, it has been our custom that we pray, by name, for the sick of our parish and families in the Prayer of the Faithful (the “General Intercessions”) at Sunday Mass. While I genuinely like this practice, the inclusion of a long list of names (sometimes over 20) seems to clearly run contrary to the norms that govern the Mass: “The intentions announced should be …composed …in few words” (GIRM 71). So, beginning next Sunday, September 13, we will make the following changes:
— We will move the long list of the names of the sick to the announcements immediately before Mass.
— During the Prayer of the Faithful we will mention only the names of parishioners who are new to the list, and a few rare others deemed pastorally important to include (e.g., if the Pope is sick).
— We will also begin to include this list in the Bulletin.
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles