Thursday, April 28, 2016

Nobis Post Hoc Exsilium

"And after this, our exile ..."

Such is a phrase from the Marian antiphon Salve Regina (Hail Holy Queen). Our life on earth is but a moment compared to the reality of eternity. But even in that short time, one passes through transitions, such that one begins to wander in the desert, in search of whatever is next.

Most readers know (if any are leftover after following the pack from Patheos jump ship for Aleteia as if we couldn't see that coming) that I left my position as a Master of Ceremonies at a parish in northern Virginia last January, after more than eight years, and that I began training altar servers for the Traditional Mass at a parish in northeast Washington DC. The latter a couple of weeks ago, when the pastor decided that I had given him whatever guidance he needed to continue training the servers himself.

That deal was little more than two months. We'll see how it works out in about six months. Yes, I'm that good.

He might have done me a favor. I realized I needed a break from the commitment. The esteemed Catholic writer, lecturer, and unapologetic monarchist Charles Coloumbe once did a regular feature for the Los Angeles Lay Catholic Mission entitled “Roamin' Catholic,” where he went from one parish to another to describe the experience of Sunday Mass. I'm not sure I can do justice to his astute coverage, but starting this past Sunday, and for the next several weeks, I'm never going to the same place twice in a row. Maybe I'll have something to say, and maybe I won't. Not all experiences will be Traditional Latin Masses, and not all will be Roman. They will run the gamut.

I may end up running and screaming from at least one of them. Stay tuned ...
 

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

I Walk Alone

Every now and then, The Good Men Project falls into the trap that is progressivism. Most of the time they manage to avoid it.

It’s in the quietness of solitude that a man can really see and hear himself; see where he is at in his life at that time and listen to what’s going on with himself emotionally. It’s here that you are able to extend your presence to the different parts of yourself; where you can give your deepest gift to yourself.

It is one of my regrets, that I was never able to afford a larger townhouse. Arlington Village has about twenty three-bedroom units out of several hundred, amounting to about 1200 square feet, which is about as much house as I believe I could handle (not counting the finished basement, of which there are none in this development). In addition to the master bedroom (with separate half-bath), there would be a guest room. The third and (probably) smallest upstairs room would be the study -- the "man cave," if you will -- so that one could contemplate the universe in solitude. After all, even Our Blessed Lord Himself fled into the desert, if only to be alone.

Our featured video is a 2007 student project by Michelle McPhearson, Lidia Benavides, Jewel Gonzalez, Gerald Craig, and Chris Hite, of Allan Hancock College.

Three lonely souls think they are the only ones out there that feel the way they do, and pass without knowing each other. They all have hopes and dreams that they do not fulfill.

Maybe if I win the lottery, or fall into an inheritance, I can move on up to a slightly larger footprint. Until then, somewhere in the world is a quiet place.
 

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Where Have You Gone, Quasimodo?

Today is known on the Christian calendar by at least six names.

In the traditional Missale Romanum, it is referred to as “Dominica in albis octava Paschae” -- Sunday in White Within the Paschal Octave, when the robes of the neophytes are removed eight days after their initiation into the Sacraments during the Paschal Vigil. In the traditional Roman calendar, it is officially known as “The Octave Day of Easter” or more colloquially as “Low Sunday.” It has also been popularly known as “Quasimodo Sunday” (my personal favorite, hence the title), after the first words of the Entrance Antiphon, or Introit: “Quasi modo geniti infantes, alleluia ...” (“Like newborn infants, alleluia ...”) In the Eastern churches, it is known as “Thomas Sunday” as the same gospel is read, that of our Lord showing himself to the doubting apostle Thomas.

Since 2000, by decree of the late Pope Saint John Paul II, it is also known in the universal Roman calendar as Divine Mercy Sunday, "the culmination of the novena to the Divine Mercy of Jesus, a devotion given to St Faustina (Mary Faustina Kowalska) and is based upon an entry in her diary stating that anyone who participates in the Mass and receives the sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist on this day is assured by Jesus of full remission of their sins." (from Wikipedia)

(I already thought Confession did that anyway. This is what I get for using Wikipedia for the short version.)

This brings up an issue which has concerned traditional Catholics in recent years, one that is presented in a 2010 issue of New Oxford Review by Robert Allard: "Is Divine Mercy Sunday Liturgically Correct?"

It is interesting to note that in the Tridentine Latin Mass, the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, the epistle reading, 1 John 5:4-10, includes the mention of the blood and water as portrayed in the Divine Mercy image, not just once but three times each. This is important to note because the Feast of Mercy was established for the entire Church universal, not just for the ordinary form of the Mass.

There's also that part about Our Lord breathing on the apostles, giving them the power of the Holy Spirit to forgive sins. There's a bit of mercy for the rest of us right there.

Such remembrances need to be harmonized with the liturgical season if they are to serve the faithful. This requires sufficient deference to the history of salvation as played out during the year, beginning with the incarnation, and on into the life, passion, death, and resurrection of our Lord, followed by his ascension into Glory, and the establishment of His Church on Earth through the work of the Holy Spirit. That said, there is an aspect of this devotion that may appear problematic, one that has less to do with the Feast itself, than with the novena which precedes it, one that begins on Holy Thursday, and extends throughout the Week of Easter.

Q. My pastor will allow us to pray the Divine Mercy Novena, but not on Good Friday or Holy Saturday. He says it interferes with the Holy Triduum, which are the holiest days of the year.

A. The Paschal Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday) ushers in Easter Sunday and constitutes the most holy period of the Church year. The Divine Mercy Novena does not supersede the Triduum, but extends the Solemn General Intercessions of the Good Friday observance of Our Lord's Passion and Death throughout the whole octave of Easter, building up to the day of thanksgiving for Our Lord's Divine Mercy.

This response contradicts itself. It doesn't "supersede" the Triduum, but goes on to ignore its culmination. That makes no sense. Superseding is exactly what it does.

For nearly two millennia, the Easter season, including the Octave, has been devoted to the celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The traditional requirement to abstain from meat does not apply on the Friday of this octave, such is the extension of the occasion. The Fathers of the Church have told us, we have commemorated the fast, therefore let us celebrate the feast. Yet the novena is devoted to chanting thus: “For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.” Granted, at every Mass offered on any given day, we remember the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ -- the whole nine yards. But that comparison ends in the context of the liturgical seasons, the purpose of which are to shed a spotlight on a particular aspect of salvation history at the liturgical year progresses. There is sufficient reason to doubt that the emphasis made by this novena, given its timing, sheds that spotlight appropriately, even if we reduce it to a mere devotion (as opposed to the official prayer of the Church through her liturgical life).

If we read the history of the development of this Feast that is the Sunday within the Octave of Easter, if we understand what the readings and the orations are trying to tell us, we might consider the possibility that Our Lord was telling Sister Faustina something of Himself, which He has been trying to say to His Bride, our Mother the Church, all along. At the same time, She has long admonished us to be prudent with respect to the messages of private revelations. (See the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 65-67).

While accepting the judgment of the Apostolic See in this matter of the Sunday commemoration itself, we may long for a further study of this devotion in relation to the whole of the liturgical year. Even if the novena is not "liturgy" in the official sense, its use in parishes during the octave of the Resurrection misses the big picture.

“We have commemorated the fast, therefore let us celebrate the feast.”

... for eight days, if not forty, and if you don't mind.

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To learn more about the devotion to the Divine Mercy, visit the website of the Apostles of Divine Mercy at DivineMercySunday.com, or that of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception at TheDivineMercy.org. For a guide to praying the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy, go to the appropriate page at EWTN.com.
 

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Friday, April 01, 2016

Dancing Around the Issues

(The following was intended for publication on the 15th of March, but was intentionally delayed so as not to interfere with Holy Week and the Paschal Triduum.)

It is not surprising to suggest to faithful Catholics that the time has passed for being silent. What if the time has also passed for being polite? Social media has become the public arena of choice, an arena where the playing field is level, and all bets are off. If you commit a public sacrilege with no apologies, be prepared to get called out on it, and have no one to blame but yourself. If you're a bishop who can't be bothered with the legitimate concerns of faithful Catholics, be prepared to look inadequate to the task, and (you guessed it) have no one to blame but yourself. Say all you want about playing nice, but it hasn't worked, and the Powers That Be are left with the fruits of their indifference. If this level of outrage is to be contained, it must begin at the source. That would be the problem itself, not the reaction.”

Let the games begin.
 

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Sunday, March 27, 2016

Christus resurrexit! Sicut dixit, Alleluia!

It was on an Easter Sunday,
    and all in the morning,
Our Savior arose,
    and our heavenly King.
The sun and the moon,
    they both did rise
        with him,
And sweet Jesus
    we’ll call him by name.


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An Easter Homily of Saint John Chrysostom

Is there anyone who is a devout lover of God? Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival! Is there anyone who is a grateful servant? Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting? Let them now receive their wages! If any have toiled from the first hour, let them receive their due reward; If any have come after the third hour, let him with gratitude join in the Feast! And he that arrived after the sixth hour, let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss. And if any delayed until the ninth hour, let him not hesitate; but let him come too. And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour, let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first. He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, as well as to him that toiled from the first. To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows. He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor. The deed He honors and the intention He commends.

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord! First and last alike receive your reward; rich and poor, rejoice together! Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!

You that have kept the fast, and you that have not, rejoice today for the Table is richly laden! Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one. Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith. Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again; for forgiveness has risen from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free. He has destroyed it by enduring it.

He destroyed Hades when He descended into it. He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh. Isaias foretold this when he said, "You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."

Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, O death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead; for Christ having risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!
 

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Saturday, March 26, 2016

“Awake, O sleeper ...”

Something strange is happening -- there is a silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and Hell trembles with fear. He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, He who is both God and the Son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the Cross, the weapon that had won him the victory.

At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone, “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.

“I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in Hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in Me and I in you; together we form one person and cannot be separated.

“For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, Whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

“See on My Face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On My back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See My hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

“I slept on the Cross and a sword pierced My side for you who slept in Paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in Hell. The sword that pierced Me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

“Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly Paradise. I will not restore you to that Paradise, but will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The Bridal Chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The Kingdom of Heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.”


From a homily of St Epiphanius of Cyprus
 

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Friday, March 25, 2016

Good Friday

It was on a good Friday,
    and all in the morning,
They crucified our Savior,
    and our heavenly King.
And was not this
    a woeful thing
And sweet Jesus,
    we’ll call him by name.


From "the third hour" until "the sixth hour." From sext to none. From noon until three in the afternoon. Scripture tells us that our Lord was dying on the cross at this time, culminating in the words “Consummatum Est” (“It is finished”).

When we were kids, growing up in Ohio, we would either go to church for Stations of the Cross or some related devotion, or if we were at home, Mom would turn the radio off, and we were told to be quieter than usual. Thus did we mark the consummation of the ultimate act of sacrificial Love, that of the Bridegroom with His bride.

PHOTO: Gail Deibler Finke

Elsewhere in Cincinnati, a venerable custom of more than a century and a half still takes place on this day.

In December 1860, a Catholic church was completed on a bluff atop Mount Adams, overlooking the central city from the east, and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Since the hill was too steep for a horse-and-buggy, there were a series of wooden steps built as well, leading from St Gregory Street near the river, all the way to the church entrance. The following spring saw the start of the War Between The States, and Immaculata Church became the site of devout Catholics praying the rosary for peace, while climbing the steps to its entrance.

Even today, the tradition continues, as every year on Good Friday (a day when it invariably rains), an estimated ten thousand pilgrims climb the 85 steps -- the wooden ones having since been replaced by concrete -- leading to the entrance. The procession begins at midnight, with the parish priest's blessing of the steps, and continues for twenty-four hours.

The Passionist Historical Archives elaborates on the legacy of “St Mary’s of the Steps”, as does the parish website.

Finally, our meditation for Good Friday is a "sand art" presentation of the road to Calvary, produced by Francis O'Donohue.

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For this year, today is also when the Feast of the Annunciation is usually celebrated. Tradition says that Our Lord actually died on this exact date, that of his conception by the Holy Spirit, thus his Incarnation went full circle. Saint Augustine wrote:

“He is believed to have been conceived on the 25th of March, upon which day also he suffered; so the womb of the Virgin, in which he was conceived, where no one of mortals was begotten, corresponds to the new grave in which he was buried, wherein was never man laid, neither before him nor since.”

While the Church of the West transfers this commemoration to the first day after the Octave of Easter, that of Monday, the 4th of April, the Churches of the East retain the traditional date.
 

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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Maundy Thursday

It was on a
    maundy Thursday,
        and all in the morning,
They planted
    a crown of thorns
        on our heavenly King.
And was not this
    a woeful thing,
And sweet Jesus
    we'll call him by name.


Today begins the Sacred Triduum. It is quiet here at Chez Alexandre. The week has amounted to a "working vacation," mostly doing things around the house that needed being done. And yet there are preparations to be made, errands to be run, and ... more writing.

For a Catholic, as much as some try to deny it, the next three days are not business as usual. The whole of human history -- before, during, after -- turns on the events we remember this week.

Our meditation is from a poem by Jalaludin Rumi. It is translated by Coleman Barks and John Moyne, with music by David Wilcox and Nance Pettit, and is produced by Bob Carlton.
 

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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Holy Week Reconsidered

I have written of my experience of Holy Week in the past. It will be different this time.

After more than eight years as Senior Master of Ceremonies for the Traditional Latin Mass at the Church of Saint John the Beloved, in McLean, Virginia, my resignation was accepted. The short version of the story is that a) my service to the parish had run its course, b) it was anticipated for some months before, and c) the decision was a mutual one between myself and the pastor.

The long version of the story does not bear repeating -- well, most of it, for now.

That I left with my good name intact does not lessen the heartbreak. In the thirty-five years I have lived in the DC area, I have been associated with nine Latin-rite parishes. (What can I say, at some point I may have moved around a lot.) This was the first one where I truly felt at home. And yet the circumstances were such, that continuing to participate in the life of the parish would have been uncomfortable.

There is more to be said. One of these days I'll say it. But for now, sometimes you just have to shake the dust off your feet and walk away, and so I did. What was anticipated as a sabbatical was not for long.

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Saint Francis de Sales Church (SFDS) lays claim to being the oldest Catholic mission in what is now the District of Columbia, dating back to 1722, when it was the private chapel of the Queen family in Maryland, and several of Maryland's prominent Catholic families, including the Carrolls, worshipped there. Through the years, it was known as “Queen’s Chapel” until 1908, when it was bestowed with its current patron. Shortly thereafter, its location was moved three blocks north, from 20th and Evart Streets, to 20th and Rhode Island Avenue, in the northeast quadrant of the District, to be located along the trolley line. A new building was begun, and the basement portion was completed by the time the stock market crashed in 1929. It has been a "crypt church" ever since.

During the 1960s and early 1970s, there was a succession of pastors of short duration. The demographics of the parish changed as well, from families of predominantly European ancestry, to mostly African-American. During the 1980s, liturgical dance became a feature of Sunday worship, as if to play on the false premise that young ladies cavorting in ballet tights is integral to the African spiritual tradition. In the past decade, the parish school was closed due to declining enrollment, and the Sisters of Saint Joseph left their convent. When the current pastor came on board two or three years ago, the altar was where the first few pews used to be, the tabernacle was off to the side, and the red-carpeted and unadorned sanctuary was the setting for the "dance ministry." An immediate restoration of order to the presbyterium was apparently one of the first major decisions.

The pews in front were returned to their place, but they are rarely filled. With roughly three hundred households in the parish, mostly elderly and/or retired, there are many more funerals than weddings or baptisms, and while the buildings remain up to code, some are more adequately maintained than others, and the priority in capital improvements is the parking lot, which is presently not up to safety standards.

The same could be said for half the streets in the District. Go figure.

Beyond that are the challenges typical to most inner-city parishes with changing and/or declining neighborhoods. The spirits of those who remain are high, but there are not enough of them to sustain the community in the long run. There is a hint of gentrification barely one mile to the west. Once it reaches 20th and Rhode Island, the Church will need to be there for them. Can the parish hold out that long?

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The Traditional Mass has been at SFDS for nearly one year. What began with a fair degree of participation, with about fifty attendees on average, has dwindled to fifteen or twenty on a given Sunday. Several young adult men who were experienced servers have moved on, as young adult men are inclined to do. There are four or five interested boys from within the parish, and while eager to learn to serve, they have little experience with the Old Mass. The sanctuary, like so many in the post-conciliar era, is a plain red-carpeted floor, bereft of features that mark the stages to the Holy of Holies. There is no altar rail, and the altar with the tabernacle behind it rest "in plano" (on the floor), not on a step, never mind three, leaving it with no "praedella" (the platform or step on which the altar stands, and from where the celebrant is immediately attended). This makes altar server training very difficult, as a lack of points of orientation requires prior experience, to properly set the imagination. My new students have the benefit of neither.

It's not their fault.

Over a span of half a century, we have robbed them of their heritage. We have gutted their sanctuaries, dumbed down the story of their Faith, and inundated their divine worship with novelties, whether gleaned from the latest weekend workshop, or the usual bag of tricks from "pastoral ministry" publications. The result is the iconoclasm we see today. It is generally less expensive to tear something down than to build it back up again. As with everything else, it is the poor and lower-middle-class who suffer the most. If I am to succeed, I have to get creative, and soon.

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It is here that I serve for the time being. The pastor is young, white, congenial, about forty, rather young for a pastor, who has several volunteers filling in for the lack of a paid staff. He has been emboldened by an apostolate of young adults dedicated to promoting the Traditional Mass, even as he is warmly embraced by a predominantly-black community with an active and ongoing Gospel Mass. He is also grateful that I'm giving a sense of organization to this apostolate. When I first went to Mass there two months ago, there was no one to serve. The following Sunday, I was the only one. Some of the boys who are interested have been trained, but are still not experienced enough to be left on their own.

They say that when God closes a door, he opens a window. But more than that, it is the message of Holy Week, the act of dying and rising again, one that does not happen without suffering.

It matters less what has happened up to now, than what happens next.

Photos of Saint Francis de Sales Church are courtesy of the parish website, and are used here without permission or shame.
 

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Spy Wednesday

It was on a Holy Wednesday,
    and all in the morning
When Judas betrayed
    our dear heavenly King.
And was not this
    a woeful thing,
And sweet Jesus,
    we'll call him by name.


This day in Holy Week is known among Western Christians by the above title (or among Christians in the East, Μεγάλη Τετάρτη, in case you were wondering), as tradition commemorates this day for when Judas Iscariot conspired with the Sanhedrin to betray Our Lord, in exchange for thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:15).

Was that a lot of money in those days?

The term in the original language, "arguria," simply means "silver coins." Historians disagree as to what form of currency is described. They could have been either staters from Antioch, tetradrachms from Ptolemy, or shekels from Tyre. (Nothing about Greek drachmas, which were either bronze, copper, or iron. Just so we're clear on that.)

Closer to the present, it is also when we here at man with black hat (more or less) interrupt our usual blogcasting in order to focus on the Main Event for the several days that follow. Stay tuned ...
 

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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Dancing Around the Issues

This past February saw a parish in Seattle fall victim to a hate crime.

At least that's what some would have you believe. Saint Patrick's Church, located north of downtown in the Portage Bay neighborhood of the city, has what could politely be termed a rather enthusiastic liturgical life, complete with dancing and movement and banner-waving and what-not. They haven't been all that ashamed of it, having until recently chosen to make it public on Facebook. They got a response they weren't expecting, in the form of a barrage of criticism from faithful Catholics in social media, who are tired of the nonsense, irreverence, the desecration of the house of God, whether it happens at the parish down the road, or Down Under. The extent of outrage took the parish in question by surprise, to the point where they removed their Facebook page, so that the photos of their celebrations would be free of harassment.

Well, maybe not entirely.

Enter the predictable punditry, as William Bornhoft admonishes us to respond with love, or something.

"Parish problems should be dealt with on the parish level, when possible. If that fails, they should be dealt with on the diocesan level, and so on. This is entirely in keeping with our teaching of subsidiarity. Rather than behaving like prideful whistleblowers appealing to the online masses when we are offended, we should properly communicate our grievances through the Church’s hierarchy ..."

In response, Joseph Shaw of the UK-based Latin Mass Society reminded Mister Nice Guy, that recourse to dialogue and persuasion hasn't always worked with unreasonable people ...

I think it is worth doing this because it leaves a paper-trail and goes into files. When history comes to be written, no one will be able to say that the laity acquiesced in what is going on. Historians with access to the files will be able to see that we constantly tested the system, and were constantly, with rare exceptions, rebuffed.

But we pay a price for this activity. Mr Bornhoft will be mortified to learn that this kind of thing is regarded, and denounced, by many of the people who hear our complaints or see our letters as aggressive, uncharitable, and contrary to a proper Catholic attitude. The accusations he makes of those posting comments on Facebook are exactly those made of those who are doing what he thinks they should be doing. It has happened to me ...

... and "unreasonable" is exactly what we're dealing with here, as the example to follow will demonstrate.

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Much has been written in recent decades about much that has been written; in particular, letters to the local bishop or to Rome by ordinary Catholics, citing their concern over things gone wrong, attacks on the Church from within. Whether abuses against the sacred liturgy in the local parish, errors against the Faith proclaimed from the pulpit or local "theological institute," or women Religious escorting pregnant women to abortion clinics, not to mention other attitude problems -- the list goes on. We are told to "go up the ladder" of the hierarchical system, to be short and to the point, to be excruciatingly polite, with every "t" crossed, every "i" dotted, every jot and tittle correctly jotted and tittled -- and to bide our time.

Basically, to kiss more than their rings.

One would think that the discovery of deception, over the sexual indiscretions of priests in the past generation, would have altered the sympathies of those in the pews. (It sure has hell altered mine.) Father Zuhlsdorf has counseled us, and one could say, wisely so, as to the right and wrong way to address our concerns in writing to the sacred pastors of the Church. He should know, too, since he worked in the Vatican for a number of years, and knows how complaints are handled (or aren't, depending on their merit). It is simply based upon the admonition “in omnia, caritas” -- in all things, charity; not to mention that old saying that you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

IMAGE: Catholic Answers, Inc. Used here without permission or shame.

Then, of course, there are the miscreants who ignore that good advice. It is they who become what My Very Close Personal Friend Father Paul Scalia refers to as “The Church Belligerent.”

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One year ago this month, Katrina “The Crescat” Fernandes Ebersole related her experience at the parish of her grandmother's funeral. This included the celebrant imploring the people to stand for the Eucharistic Prayer, and Katrina herself being denied Communion on the tongue, to the point where the priest actually grabbed her by the hand. She also describes how, shortly before her grandmother's passing, the parish secretary denied arranging for a visit from the priest when her grandmother was dying, offering instead to have a "lay minister" come and give a blessing.

Shortly after that story was published, she issued a clarification of events that transpired, including the profound apology on the part of the priest himself, and that she was satisfied with his overture.

Of course, you know another old saying, that "everybody has to get into the act." The mere reference in this venue to such a stalwart-albeit-anonymous fellow may provoke our readers to ask: “Yo, Mighty Black-Hatted One, what more could you in all your pompous pontificating possibly presume to produce as proxy to this predicament?”

Ah, dear minions, how easily one would cut this writer to the quick! Or was there any thought given as to just how this local brouhaha came to such a happy and expedient ending?

It is here that yours truly would dare to tell the untold story, which may or may not have had an effect, but which was undertaken on one's own volition, without prior knowledge or approval of our hapless (and more famous and well-loved) heroine. For it was while overcome with outrage, and just a dash of chivalry, that this writer decided to bring the affair via electronic mail, to the attention of the Most Reverend Francis Xavier DiLorenzo, DD, STD, Bishop of Richmond, Virginia, the diocese in which this adolescent personality cult masquerading as a parish is situated. But did we stop there? Oh no, we're much too clever for that. We copied it to the one person to whom His Excellency would eventually turn and say, "Handle it." In this case, that would be the Reverend Monsignor Mark Richard Lane, D Min, Vicar General, Moderator of the Curia*, and Vicar for Clergy.

And so what follows is the relevant correspondence at this little corner of the internet, in order of occurrence.

On Wednesday, March 11, 2015 1:47 PM, David L Alexander wrote:

Your Excellency:

There is an account of an incident that occurred recently in your diocese, and it is going viral. Its nature is such as to make right-this-damn-minute a very good time to read about it.

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thecrescat/2015/03/denied-communion-on-the-tongue-at-my-grandmothers-funeral.html

You might be interested to know just how much this is getting around.

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/standingonmyhead/2015/03/pita-priests-pastoral-slap-down-at-a-funeral.html

I'm going to assume that the use of illicit or invalid matter for Holy Communion might be a concern of yours. On the chance that it may not be, I seem to recall that the incident as described by the woman, upon attempting to receive Communion, constitutes assault according to the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia. (No, I'm not a lawyer, just a guy who knows what "tell it to the judge" means.) Maybe you're okay with that as long as it didn't involve sexual abuse or losing money. Others in high places and less beholden to you may feel differently.

That, and there were probably a whole bunch of witnesses.

I would suggest that you might dispense with the usual countermeasures of saving face, as it's generally too late once there's egg on it. Further, I submit that it serves your best interests to personally apologize (that means, meet her face to face and actually talk to her, while being just a little inconvenienced) to the woman in question, and remove the priest from his position. Let there be no room for doubt that this is not the sort of approach which the Diocese of Richmond takes in the administration of the sacraments, or in pastoral care.

It is said that she is planning to contact you. I am doing this of my own volition, because I am tired of reading stories like this, not to mention the bureaucratic bullshit nonsense that usually follows it.

Finally, and in case it has occurred to you, I stopped being overly polite about things like this a long time ago. That's the bad news. The good news for you (not to mention the priest in question) is that it didn't happen to me.

I'd be a lot less polite than I am now.

In corde Jesu,

David L Alexander
Arlington, Virginia

Now, that wasn't very nice, was it?

No, it wasn't. And by all accounts, it broke every rule which the Z-Man would impart to us. I really didn't think I deserved the courtesy of a response. I didn't expect one. A number of factors came into play while writing this, however, among them an outrage of sufficient magnitude that I didn't give a rat's ass.

Assorted malfeasance from the neighboring diocese has been fodder for local stories among faithful Catholics for many years. One might imagine that there has been sufficient time for somebody in charge down there to corral a few misbehavers. Alas (and this might be a chance to speak in the good bishop's defense), the biggest single challenge faced by any diocesan bishop is that of clergy personnel. A number of issues -- keeping them all busy and reasonably content in their assignment, finding enough of them to even fill every assignment, the mere obligatory handful of those with more than their share of growing up to do, and so on -- require a good portion of a bishop's day. And a presbyterate that is unaccustomed to a collective sense of self-discipline (a malady from which my own Diocese of Arlington has been relatively spared) can make that even more difficult, especially when you can't exactly fire them, and when they know it, and when you know they know, and when they know that you know that they … well, you get the idea.

IMAGE: A day in the life of St Thérèse of Lisieux Church, Chesapeake, Virginia. Used here without permission or shame.

So, imagine the surprise two days later (right about the time that Katrina issued her clarification) when this rogue warrior received the following unsolicited response, to that which was penned two days earlier, in his inbox.

On Friday, March 13, 2015 3:51 PM, Kevin O'Brien wrote:

To whom it may concern,

I received your email about the incident that happened this past Monday at the woman’s grandmother’s funeral. I would like to make several comments.

First, I have written an apology to the woman for not giving her Communion on the tongue. The pieces of the Body of Christ were brittle and I thought that it would be safer to place it in her hand. I was wrong. I should not have done that. I made a terrible mistake. I learned an important lesson and I will not make that mistake again.

Second, there are people in our parish who regularly wish to receive Communion on the tongue and I gladly give it to them on the tongue. Monday I made a split second decision and I was wrong. I am truly sorry. This is not a usual occurrence.

Third, the bread that we use at Eucharist here at the parish is not “pita bread.” It is in compliance with the guidelines set by the American Catholic Bishops.

Fourth, if someone is dying, I always respond to their request and visit the person as soon as possible.

Thank you for taking the time to contact me regarding this issue. God’s Blessings always!

Sincerely Yours,
Rev. Kevin J. O’Brien

Now, even an arrogant son of a b**** such as myself is not one to kick a man when he's down. If only to remove all doubt, I made an exception.

On Friday, March 13, 2015 8:44 PM, David L Alexander wrote:

Father O'Brien:

Thank you for your letter to me. I found it most contrite. Then again ...

I would surmise that your superiors brought my correspondence with them (as opposed to any of mine directly to you) to your attention. To wit, the action described by Ms Fernandes, whereby you allegedly grabbed her by the hand as she attempted to receive Communion, constitutes assault according to the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia. If this is the case, you are most fortunate that she does not take any further action. I can assure you that I would have been far less accommodating.

Reception on the tongue is normative in the Latin church, while reception in the hand is an indulgence, at the discretion of the bishop or conference of bishops. If you remember from those lectures on canon law, a lower authority cannot restrict that which a higher authority allows. (The latter would be Rome, not the bishops conference.)

As to the form of bread used for confecting the Sacrament, I took the time to examine the recipe that your parish uses. While it appears to meet the criterion set down by the Apostolic See for validity and licitness (the declarations of the bishops conference notwithstanding), there is always the danger of even the smallest of particles falling to the ground (or left on the hands with the communicant unaware, photos available upon request), especially when the form of the Sacrament is, as you describe it, "brittle." I recommend that you either employ servers to accompany you and other ministers with patens, or use a more conventional form of hosts. True, the latter takes away some of the romance, but not the essence.

I also recommend that you initiate serious catechesis with your staff and volunteers, regarding the differences in the roles of priests and laity; more to the point, that a layman offering a blessing to the dying is not of the same order as the administration of the Last Rites. When I prayed the "Proficiscere" over my dying father three years ago, I was under no illusion that it would have replaced Viaticum and the Apostolic Pardon which he had received earlier. Neither should it be.

And so there is no misunderstanding, Father, you have ABSOLUTELY NO AUTHORITY WHATSOEVER to compel the faithful to stand during the Eucharistic Prayer. I trust that manner of coercion will cease immediately. You are hardly in a position to disagree. The proper gesture is to kneel. PERIOD!

Finally, I can tell you that the tone of my letter to His Excellency was most intemperate. In my dealings with both priests and prelates as a master of ceremonies, I show the highest respect for the sacerdotal office. Unfortunately, I know this woman well enough to know the challenges she has faced in life, and how her faith has sustained her. I was so incensed at the offenses described to me (not to mention the entire internet), that I was moved to respond as I did.

We ask so much of our priests (including yourself), such that those whom they serve would grant them more latitude in their human failings. Once in a great while, one who serves will take undue advantage. Once in a great while, those whom he serves look the other way. In time, they may do it all too often. I would consider the possibility that you may not have been well served in this respect. I pray that such imprudence does not plague you too much in the future. Too many souls are in need of you.

In return for your taking this time to write, I feel obliged to inform others of your humble contrition, for the sake of your good name. Thank you again for writing me. I can only imagine how hard this must have been for a man in your position.

Oremus pro invicem!

David L Alexander
Arlington, Virginia

+    +    +

I should say at this point that Ms Ebersole was informed recently about the correspondence (if not shown its substance), and of my intention to publish it. The above is not necessarily a reflection of her own views on the matter, let alone how such incidents might be confronted, but are solely those of this writer. She has been assured that she can safely disavow any association with, or prior knowledge of, the aforementioned correspondence. The author (that would be me) has proceeded on the understanding of there being no objection.

That being said ...

Was the above a factor in a resolution of a pastoral matter? I don't know. I don't expect to.

But here's what I do know. The majority of a certain generation of priests have engaged in years of adolescent behavior, of such nature and extent that would never be tolerated in any other venue in real life, and have enjoyed such indulgence with little consequence if any, and I'm about as sick and tired of it as anyone else. At the age of sixty-plus years, it is in most areas of life, that I am expected to act my age. It doesn't seem to happen with many who pursue a life of "professional ministry." I have seen lives and marriages and reputations ruined. I have seen the good priests suffer for standing with correct belief and correct worship. I have seen those among the faithful who have lost their faith.

All this, so that a tired and perverse status quo might be held together with the bailing wire that is the code of silence, casually explained away as "the good of the Church," as though such would ever owe its preservation to a sinful act.

I would also invite the reader to pay attention to the paragraph highlighted in my response to the pastor. If one is to avoid the pitfalls that are part and parcel to the human condition, we must be aware, not only that our priests are only human, but that they are no more or less so than ourselves. It is important to take notice, not only of how much we need them, but how much they need us, and especially, how and why. We have a case where a priest was caught dead to rights, and has had to humble himself to all who would call him on his errors. He deserves notice for that much, and the vote of confidence that, perhaps, he might be just a little closer to the kingdom of Heaven; dare we might say, even more so than the rest of us.

It is not surprising to suggest to faithful Catholics that the time has passed for being silent. What if the time has also passed for being polite? Social media has become the public arena of choice, an arena where the playing field is level, and all bets are off. If you commit a public sacrilege with no apologies, be prepared to get called out on it, and have no one to blame but yourself. If you're a bishop who can't be bothered with the legitimate concerns of faithful Catholics, be prepared to look inadequate to the task, and (you guessed it) have no one to blame but yourself.** Say all you want about playing nice, but it hasn't worked, and the Powers That Be are left with the fruits of their indifference. If this level of outrage is to be contained, it must begin at the source. That would be the problem itself, not the reaction.

I remain hesitant to recommend to faithful Catholics the method I employed here, assuming it had any direct effect at all (other than finding out the hard way what I have to do to get any attention around here). Given the choice between honey and vinegar, that of the higher ground may be obvious. On the other hand (and in my defense), there are moments when the best results can be found with a fresh road kill.

In other words, sometimes you have to raise a big enough stink to get enough attention, don't you think?

Or don't you?

* The "moderator of the curia" is a position akin to a chief of staff. It is always held by a cleric, one who is often also the chancellor (the chief administrative officer or a diocesan bishop) and/or the vicar general (the chief delegate of a diocesan bishop, always a priest or auxiliary bishop).

** It is clear that the Bishop of Richmond is not among that number, and where he is concerned, yours truly stands corrected.
 

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