Monday, September 25, 2023

The forest advances

(Cumberland Island, GA, 2020)

I've spent a relaxing afternoon on my day of rest in my favorite local coffee shop with the latest issue of First Things. 

Louise Perry, the author of The Case Against the Sexual Revolution, herself not a believer, and a self-described agnostic on abortion, but clearly discomfited by it, writes of what is at stake in this particular debate of the "culture war." Citing an image from T.S. Eliot, the basis of a book by Steven Smith, Pagans and Christians in the City, she suggests that the fight is whether we will continue to be a civilization influenced by the Christian insistence radical dignity of the human person, the destabilizing preference for the weak that Christianity introduced into the world. The abortion debate is the "bleeding edge of dechristianization." 

We should understand Christianity’s impact on morality in much the same way—not as a process of replacement, but rather as a process of blending. The supremely strange thing about Christianity in anthropological terms is that it takes a topsy-turvy attitude toward weakness and strength. To put it crudely, most cultures look at the powerful and the wealthy and assume that they must be doing something right to have attained such might. The poor are poor because of some failing of their own, whether in this life or the last. The smallness and feebleness of women and children is a sign that they must be commanded by men. The suffering of slaves is not an argument against slavery, but an argument against allowing oneself to be enslaved.

Most cultures—perfectly logically—glorify warriors and kings, not those at the bottom of the heap. But Christianity takes a perverse attitude toward status and puts that perversity at the heart of the theology. “God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” is a baffling and alarming claim to anyone from a society untouched by the strangeness of the Jesus movement.

That the post-Christian secularism of the West, for the most part, isn't yet ready to embrace the logic of abortion and go all the way to infanticide, is a sign of the lingering influence of the Christian worldview on it. Perry suggests that the sharp demarcation between abortion and infanticide, in fact, is not how things have worked in practice in most cultures and civilizations. Even in the Christian world, the reluctance of societies to truly punish women who exposed their children, or sought abortions (she mentions the reluctance of juries to sentence women to the required punishment, among other examples), suggests the complicated, conflicted nature of common moral intuitions towards the killing of the unborn (a reality that manifests itself in all kinds of ways in our post-Dobbs world). 

There are some memorable quotes in her piece: 

In other words, secular humanism is just Christianity with nothing upstairs.

This presents a problem for feminism, because a prohibition on abortion places on women burdens that it does not place on men. And given the widespread practice of both abortion and infanticide, even in Christian cultures, it’s apparent that people struggle to abide by a moral principle that causes huge practical problems. Christianity only ever blended with paganism, rather than fully replacing it, because Christian teachings do cause huge practical problems for followers of the faith. It is difficult to be a good Christian; it is supposed to be.

Most horrifyingly, at least for Christians, and I suspect, for many non-Christians and post-Christians of good will, is that what is replacing post-Christian moral systems is something resembling ancient Rome (Perry does a good job explaining why that the alternatives are not as stark as Christian civilization, or National Socialism). This is especially evident in our enlightened neighbor to the north, where the (my language), the new religion is firmly in place. 

When it was first introduced in 2016, the Canadian Medical Assistance in Dying program (MAID) offered medically assisted suicide only to those patients whose deaths were foreseeable. But now MAID will be made available to the disabled and those suffering mental illness. Disturbing reports out of Canada suggest that the poor and the disabled are already under pressure to make use of this “service,” and depressed teenagers are eager to see it extended to so-called “mature minors,” as some euthanasia lobbyists propose.

Indeed, Pope Francis referred again to this "brave new world" in his latest in-flight presser, on the way back from Marseille last weekend, when he asked folks to read Robert Hugh Benson's Lord of the World, precisely in response to a question about Euthanasia in France. [These scattered remarks (on abortion, euthanasia and gender ideology) aside, his signature project, the upcoming Synods, seem not to take this challenge to a dying Christian culture in the West at all seriously. Or, it seems, the ones in charge are bent on further secularization within the Church, along the lines of the immediate post-Conciliar self-destruction. Or perhaps, this will, in fact, somehow, turn the ship around, this time. When I look at the hierarchy in the West, with a few bright exceptions, it is a rather bleak outlook.] 

Perry's final image is definitely disconcerting -- paganism is like a dark, magical forest. Christianity is what made a clearing, tended a garden, opened up a clear view of the heavens, and let the light in. Now, it seems, the forest is creeping back. Or rushing back in. 

As always, my thoughts go back to that famous radio address of Joseph Ratzinger. Things will get worse, from one perspective. But that which created Christian civilization, faith, will always remain, as islands of sanity in a mad world.

Louise Perry: We are Repaganizing. First Things, October 2023.

Obeisance to the new religion
A notice board outside the library of a Catholic university in Canada

Monday, July 10, 2023

Penitentiary


The Apostolic Penitentiary that is. 

I expect to write a few posts on the recently concluded visit to the Roman Curia that I participated in, from my Canon Law Faculty at St. Paul University in Ottawa. I'd been sharing daily updates on Instagram Stories, and this question showed up from one of my followers (and a dear friend!). 

So is the excommunication theoretically, also internal for him, so the priest would know he was excommunicated due to the offense, but it’s not a formal situation? Would love to talk more about this when you get back at some point I’m intrigued by the whole excommunication process, I took one course of canon law when I was in graduate school and it’s enough to have found an area I was fascinated by. 

But if the remission of the censure is confidential, because it’s within the internal forum, and within the sacrament of reconciliation… is the whole process confidential? Is abortion still an automatic excommunication? But I do remember reading at some point that bishops designate all of their priests, in most diocese, to be able to absolve and therefore the excommunication is lifted. Is that correct or just popular Catholic thought?

In the current law of the Church, the Apostolic Penitentiary deals with three areas: 

  • the remission of censures reserved to the Holy See (and reserved sins of the Eastern Churches) in the internal forum
  • the dispensation from irregularities for the reception of, or exercise of, Holy Orders 
  • certain kinds of radical sanations of marriages, after the cessation of an impediment, that are reserved to the Holy See. 

The Penitentiary operates entirely in the internal forum. This means that the delicts (that is a canonical crime) has been committed, but is occult, that is it is not known, actually not known by anyone except by the offender. 

When the offender is aware of having incurred a censure (the ones reserved to the Holy See are all latae sententiae ("automatic") excommunications), he or she (though two of the potential delicts can only be committed by priests) approaches a confessor, who advises the penitent that she or he is guilty of a canonical censure reserved to the Holy See. There are two ways to proceed: 

  • the penitent can be advised to return to the confessional at a later date (say a month later), and absolution is withheld. After that the confessor contacts the Penitentiary. The remission is granted by granting the faculty (capacity) to the confessor to remit this particular censure in this particular case, and it is communicated (only by actual post) to the confessor, who will then make this known to the penitent , and will grant absolution, including the intention of remitting the censure. 
  • it may be that the penitent will be in difficulty by having remission of the censure withheld for a long time. For instance, an excommunicated priest cannot celebrate the sacraments, and this has repercussions for the community as well! In such a case, the confessor can grant absolution and a conditional remission of the censure. The penitent still has to come back later, at which point, the actual remission of the censure, having been confirmed with the Penitentiary by the confessor, can be communicated to him. 

In this entire process, the name of the penitent is not mentioned, so the matter remains entirely confidential, and within the seal of the confessional. 

These are the six delicts in the 1983 Code which result in penalties reserved to the Apostolic See. 

1. A person who throws away consecrated species, or takes (or retains) them for a sacrilegious purpose, incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the apostolic see.

2. A confessor who directly violates the sacramental seal incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the apostolic see.

3. A priest who acts against the prescript of Canon 977 incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the apostolic see. (Canon 977 prohibits a priest from giving absolution to someone with whom he has had unlawful carnal relations).

4. A person who uses physical force against the Roman pontiff incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the apostolic see.

5. Both a person who attempts to confer a sacred order on a woman, and the woman who attempts to receive the sacred order.

6. A bishop who consecrates a bishop without a pontifical mandate, and the person who receives the consecration, incur a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the apostolic see.

It should be self-evident that the last three delicts are practically impossible to commit in a manner that is occult. This means that the remission of these delicts is handled not by the Apostolic Penitentiary, but by another dicastery of the Roman Curia, or by the Roman Pontiff himself (see, for instance, the lifting of the excommunication against the three bishops consecrated by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009).

It is important to remember that a delict is a sin. However, all sins are not delicts. By declaring a particular sin to be a canonical crime, a delict, the Legislator is indicating the gravity of the offense and the harm that is caused to the common good of the society that is the Church. Some sins are so grave that their remission is reserved to the Apostolic See. Others can be remitted by the local Ordinary (the Diocesan Bishop or others who are local Ordinaries in law, such as a Vicar General). 

When it comes to abortion, the law still says that a person who actually procures an abortion incurs the penalty of a latae sententiae excommunication (c. 1397.2). The remission of this penalty is not reserved to the Apostolic See. Since the 1980s, at least, ALL priests in the US, as far as I am aware, received the faculty to remit this penalty without further recourse to the Ordinary. In the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis basically extended this faculty to all priests who are authorized to hear confessions, worldwide. So, in effect, the censure of latae sententiae excommunication, can be remitted, and the grave mortal sin forgiven, in an "ordinary" confession (so to speak). 

Please note that there are many factors in the Church's penal law that prevent a penalty from being imposed, or mitigate the guilt. 

So for instance, see this canon: 

Can. 1323 — No one is liable to a penalty who, when violating a law or precept:

1° has not completed the sixteenth year of age;

2° was, without fault, ignorant of violating the law or precept; inadvertence and error are equivalent to ignorance;

3° acted under physical force, or under the impetus of a chance occurrence which the person could not foresee or if foreseen could not avoid;

4° acted under the compulsion of grave fear, even if only relative, or by reason of necessity or grave inconvenience, unless, however, the act is intrinsically evil or tends to be harmful to souls;

5° acted, within the limits of due moderation, in lawful self-defence or defence of another against an unjust aggressor;

6° lacked the use of reason, without prejudice to the provisions of cann. 1324 § 1 n. 2 and 1326 § 1 n. 4;

7° thought, through no personal fault, that some one of the circumstances existed which are mentioned in nn. 4 or 5.

So a woman who is physically forced, or is a minor, doesn't incur the penalty of latae sententiae excommunication. Someone who is, without fault, ignorant that this is a canonical crime, doesn't incur the penalty either. 

So, for anyone who is weighed down by the sin (and crime) of abortion on their conscience (a woman who procured it, someone who directly abetted it), can approach the Sacrament of Penance without fear, or anxiety. She or he can be forgiven, their guilt removed, friendship with God restored. 



Tuesday, April 04, 2023

Chrism Mass 2023

(Photo of the Altar during the Eucharistic Prayer, taken from the Facebook feed of Archbishop Hartmayer)

And after that the Lord gave me brothers 
(St. Francis of Assisi, Testament, 1226)

"It is important for priests not to live off on their own somewhere, in isolation, but to accompany one another in small communities, to support one another, and so to experience, and constantly realize afresh, their communion in service to Christ and in renunciation for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven" 
(Pope Benedict XVI, Address to the Priestly Fraternity of the Missionaries of St. Charles Borromeo, February 12, 2011)

"Priestly fraternity doesn't take away from one's ministry, but enhances our ability to love the People of God well" (Archbishop Gregory Hartmayer, April 4, 2023)

Today was a beautiful day.

My neighbor, dear friend, and fellow traveler, Fr. Jack, in front of the Cathedral,
with yours truly.

The presbyterate of the Archdiocese (and all other priests who serve in Atlanta) gathered for our Lenten Day of Reflection, led by Fr. Santo Cricchio OFM Conv and Dr. Peter Akridge. It was a very intense couple of hours of introduction to some therapeutic themes surrounding emotional woundedness. A lot to unpack.

The priests who serve OLPH: Fr. James and myself

The Archbishop gave us a heartfelt and encouraging talk on the need for prayer, and a monthly "desert day" in silence with the Lord, by ourselves, or with brother priests. His care for us was quite evident.

There was an opportunity to receive the Lord's mercy in Reconciliation, and time for quiet prayer. But most of the day, at lunch, in breaks, and in the evening, was filled with conversation and laughter, catching up with brothers, and seminarians, as well as brief encounters with good friends from the Metro Area after Mass. 

The lovely Heather Triggs, a daughter of St. Francis de Sales, with a beautiful heart! 

At 4 pm, we concelebrated the Chrism Mass with the Archbishop and our Auxiliary Bishops. The music was simply stunning. The Cathedral's new organist and music director is making a very welcome mark! The Ordinary of the Mass, by Claudio Casciolini, was some of the most sublime polyphony that I have ever heard at our Cathedral. What a gift!

The Archbishop made some self-deprecatory remarks about the length of homilies (to raucous laughter from the priests), and delivered a beautiful reflection on the four central relationships of a priest: with God, with his Bishop, with his brother priests, and with the People of God.

The holy oils were solemnly blessed -- those oils that will prepare our catechumens and infants for baptism, strengthen the sick, and anoint those to be confirmed, and consecrate the hands of those to be ordained to God's holy service.

Fr. McKenna: at 93, still an active pastor!

At a meal together afterward, we honored the priests celebrating jubilees: over a dozen marking their 25th anniversary, two Golden Jubiliarians, one (Fr. Joe Mendes MSFS, a holy man, and an erstwhile spiritual director of mine) his 60th. And one, his 62nd. At 93, he is the oldest actively serving Pastor in the Archdiocese: Fr. Jerome McKenna CP of St. Paul of the Cross! He received a well deserved standing ovation. And for the first time, I think, to my delight, I recognized more names than I didn't.


We are a motley crew here in Atlanta ... the "Archdiocese of Transplanta" as we often joke. Everyone is from somewhere else, though we have a good share of native born Georgians. The priests are from all kinds of backgrounds, ethnic as well as walks of life. We are, like so much of the Church, rather divided by the different approaches to understanding that event that still, six decades later, frames all ecclesial conversations and debates. But the Lord called us all to serve His people here. And we do. Or do our best. Haltingly. Stumblingly. Keeping our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:12), as our numbers shrink, and as the demands on us keep increasing. The more recently ordained ones among us especially, as well as the seminarians coming up the ranks, I think, understand even more sharply, the need we have of each other. We are not made for isolation, but for communion. 

I happened to catch all of our soon to be transitional deacons! 

And, so, with a full heart, for the tenth year, alongside my brother priests, I renewed the promises I made on the day of my Ordination ... "prompted by love of Him." (The link is to my reflections on my first Chrism Mass as a priest, in 2014.)

Dear People of God, pray for your priests. 



Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Republic Day 2023

 January 26, 1950.

Newly independent India's new Constitution goes into effect, superseding the Government of India Act of 1935. The Dominion of India becomes The Republic of India, after 107 years of being subject to the British Crown.

The day is celebrated as Republic Day, with a signature military parade down Rajpath in New Delhi, with the President and Prime Minister, and other dignitaries in attendance.

The new Constitution is the longest national constitution in the world (395 articles at its adoption), second only to the newly adopted (2022) Constitution of Alabama (the state in the US). It is heavily influenced by British custom and law, the Constitutions of the United States, Ireland, Australia and even the Soviet Union (on fundamental duties of citizens).

The President of the Constituent Assembly, which drafted the new Constitution between 1947 and 1949, was Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Amebdkar, a member of India's "untouchable" castes (now known as Dalits). Article 17 of the new Constitution boldly abolishes "untouchability." And while things have improved tremendously, caste discrimination continues in modern India (and in the Indian diaspora).

(For searing invective on the reality of religious caste discrimination, read this excerpt from his essay "Kon Pathe Mukti") 

The image below is of Article 25, which guarantees freedom of conscience, and the right to profess, practice and *propagate* religion, a right that is increasingly undermined in today's India, where perversely named "Freedom of Religion" laws in various states are used to intimidate and cow those who wish to convert to another religion. "Conversion" is a bad word in India.


On this 74th Republic Day, may India live up to the ideals enshrined in her trailblazing Constitution, and (to borrow the lyrics of an old Indian Christian hymn), may there be freedom, from Com'rin's Point to Everest Peak.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

St. Therese of Lisieux and the Thief

(resumen en español abajo) 

In my homily for the First Sunday of Advent, I expounded on the fact that the Lord says He will come like a thief, and I paraphrased the following story about St. Therese: 

During the last couple of years of her life, as she was dying of tuberculosis, she began to relate to Jesus as “Le Voleur,” the “thief,” more and more. She wanted to help the thief steal her heart. When her sister Pauline (Mother Agnes of Jesus) asked her whether she was afraid of the thief who seemed to be at the door, she replied, “He’s not at the door. He’s already come in,” adding, “How could I be afraid of someone I love so much?” She made up a small aspiration that she would pray, showing her approach to Jesus the Thief, “Le Voleur viendra et m’emport’ra Alleluia!” “The thief will come and snatch me away! Alleluia!” Her whole approach was summarized by her waiting for the Thief quietly with loving expectation to take her to be with him forever. She was always alert and awake for his coming. 

(Taken from a blog post by Fr. Roger Landry from 2017)

I was a little surprised at how few folks had even heard of St. Therese (I asked). More startlingly, at the Spanish Masses, it seems, no one had heard of her. I wonder if she simply didn't have the same impact in the hispanophone world as she did in the anglophone and francophone ones. At least in the late 20th and early 21st century in the U.S., it's impossible to go through seminary without learning about St. Therese. she is often seminarians' favorite saint! And I suppose this carries over into priests' teaching and preaching. 

So -- for those who are interested, here are some links about St. Therese. (Español abajo)

A short article giving an overview of her life and spirituality

The Way of Trust and Love -- a Retreat with St. Therese by Fr. Jacques Philippe (excellent!) 

Fr. Jacques talking about St. Therese on EWTN (2015) 

And of course, The Story of a Soul

Finally, a song by the the Stillwater Hobos about St. Therese! 

~~~~~~~ en español ~~~~~~~~

Hermanos y hermanas -- en mi homilía el domingo pasado para el Primer Domingo de Adviento, me referí a Santa Teresa de Lisieux, y estaba tan sorprendido que nadie había escuchado de ella. Quizás no la conocen como Santa Teresa de Lisieux, sin embargo como Santa Teresita del Niño Jesús. De todas maneras, la vida de esta santita es preciosa pare aprender más sobre el amor de Dios y la vida de discipulado, del seguir de Jesucristo. Les comparto aquí unos enlaces para que puedan aprender más de la vida de esta Santa, y su "camino pequeño" de confianza en la misericordia de Dios. 

Una presentación sobre Santa Teresita de Lisieux (Santa Teresita del Niño Jesús)

Un breve resumen de su vida (YouTube) 

La vida de Santa Teresa de Lisieux (YouTube) 

Frases útiles de la Santa Teresa (YouTube)

El camino de infancia (YouTube) 

The Tomb of St. Therese, Lisieux, March 2013.


Monday, November 07, 2022

COP27

I  The 27th Conference of Parties of the UNFCC (“COP27”) begins today at Sharm-al-Shaikh in Egypt. As Catholics, the Holy Father has asked us to pay attention to the issue of climate change, because of its impact on human beings, human society, and human flourishing. I.e. it is something that concerns the moral sphere of analysis and action. 

Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day. Its worst impact will probably be felt by developing countries in coming decades. Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry. They have no other financial activities or resources which can enable them to adapt to climate change or to face natural disasters, and their access to social services and protection is very limited. For example, changes in climate, to which animals and plants cannot adapt, lead them to migrate; this in turn affects the livelihood of the poor, who are then forced to leave their homes, with great uncertainty for their future and that of their children. There has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation. They are not recognized by international conventions as refugees; they bear the loss of the lives they have left behind, without enjoying any legal protection whatsoever. Sadly, there is widespread indifference to such suffering, which is even now taking place throughout our world. Our lack of response to these tragedies involving our brothers and sisters points to the loss of that sense of responsibility for our fellow men and women upon which all civil society is founded. (Laudato Sii, 25) 

Honestly, I’ve been very skeptical of the way in which “climate change” has risen to the level of a kind of pseudo-religion in some sectors of society, along with fear-mongering and alarmist predictions that seem to steer policymakers to the “activist fallacy” (“something must be done — this is something — therefore, this must be done!”) 

The Pope’s counsel is to invite a wholesale reexamination of modern society itself (few seems to have appreciated the general anti-modern thrust of Laudato Sii) 

Many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms, simply making efforts to reduce some of the negative impacts of climate change. However, many of these symptoms indicate that such effects will continue to worsen if we continue with current models of production and consumption. (No. 26)

My own understanding has been shaped by largely (what in the US one would call) politically conservative voices. I’m not a climate scientist, and one doesn’t have the ability to truly study everything about an intricate science. I’ve found the work of the Copenhagen Consensus (which is about solving a variety of challenges, including, but not limited to, climate change) to be a helpful resource. And in particular, Bjorn Lomborg (who serves on that think tank), has been particularly helpful. 

His most recent op-ed in the WSJ: “Climate Change and the Lancet’s Heat Death Deception” (Just search for “Bjorn Lomborg WSJ” in your favorite search engine for more thoughtful articles.)

I find a lot of initiatives — even well-intentioned ones supported by parishes and dioceses — to be less than helpful. They don’t really try to tackle the complexity of the issue — and therefore of the response — and seem to imply that small things of dubious value (just look up the problems with recycling in the US, for instance) have planet-saving implications, which, in most cases, is naive at best, and falls into the “this makes us feel good, so it must be good” category of actions

I think it would be more helpful if more citizens — and a fortiriori — Catholic citizens, would learn more about the challenges of a changing climate, and critically analyze the information that is often presented in an uncritical way, supporting one particular narrative. 

Meanwhile, a more simple lifestyle, rooted in the evangelical counsels — a way to conform oneself more to Christ — is the call of all disciples. One can’t go wrong there. 

Meanwhile — the Guardian on the political problematics of the COP27 taking place in authoritarian Egypt. And the Economist on abandoning the “1.5C goal” from Copenhagen and Paris.

Thursday, September 01, 2022

How is your wonder going? Mass with Pope Francis

The stairs at the end of the Braccio di Constantino


I wanted to title this post: "I attended Latin Mass with Pope Francis," but figured it would be too click-baity. :-) But, yes, it was a Mass largely in Latin, celebrated by (well, sort of), Pope Francis. And if I'd written "I concelebrated Latin Mass with Pope Francis," that would give it away -- that this was, of course, a Novus Ordo Mass, and not the usus antiquior

This was the Mass with the College of Cardinals on Tuesday, August 30, at St. Peter's Basilica. I've concelebrated a large Papal Mass before, at Epiphany, early on in this Pontificate (and in my priesthood!), in January of 2014. Back then, I had to have one of the seminarians at the North American College apply for a concelebration ticket with the Office of Papal Liturgical Celebrations, and then go pick it up, through the Santa Anna gate at the Vatican, on the second floor of one of the offices in that wing of the Apostolic Palace. Nowadays, one registers at a Vatican website online, providing various details and a scanned copy of one's celebret. Once registration is approved, one can then apply for a ticket for an upcoming concelebration, and receives a rather unceremonious email with instructions, and the actual ticket attached as a PDF. According to the website, this is also the procedure for Bishops (though the paperwork requirements are slightly different). All this was done a couple of weeks back from the US. Not quite as glamorous as being let in to the Vatican offices by a member of the Swiss Guard. Easier and more efficient, for sure. And amazingly, for the Vatican, it all worked smoothly. 

The day itself was another blazing hot August day. The Mass was scheduled at 5:30 pm, and the ticket instructed concelebrants to show up at 4 pm at the Braccio di Constantino. Not knowing if there was a separate security line for concelebrants, I joined one of our party who had valiantly agreed to stand ahead (while the rest of us enjoyed the a/c in our AirBnB), at 2:30 pm. It turned out that there was a separate concelebrants' line -- much shorter, and under the shade of the colonnade. At about 3:15 pm, the security guards (after much back and forth among them about "i concelebranti") let the priests and deacons in. Everyone made a mad dash to the Braccio di Constantino on the north side of Bernini's Colonnade. I'm. not sure why … we'd all be lined up later by the MCs and going in to the Basilica together anyway. 


By 3:25 pm, I was fully vested. It was hot and humid in the corridor of the Braccio. There were over two hours still to go, and my handkerchief was quite soaked already. I watched as groups of priests trickled in and vested (clearly they had a better idea of how far in advance to come!). I would estimate that at least 75% were "of color," i.e. Latin American, Asian or African. I also estimated that maybe 30-40% didn't put on the cincture. This is another pet peeve. I'm not sure why priests think that omitting an essential part of the vestments of Mass is permissible, especially one that has a prayer for chastity connected to it! (The chasuble is the only vestment that is optional at a concelerbration.) 

At 5 pm, the ceremonieri (Masters of Ceremony) appeared at the top of the steps, and gave instructions, in Italian and English. I nodded in hearty approval at one of these: "you are all reminded that you are concelebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. As such, we request you not to take any photographs during the Mass, and maintain an atmosphere of recollection." The lack of decorum at large Masses that I've attended, whether at our Cathedral in Atlanta or elsewhere, is, to me, truly scandalous, and another sign of the rather pathetic state of liturgical formation of clergy in general. I truly wish that the "guardians of tradition" would pay much more attention to this than they clearly do. But that would require another post entirely. 

At 5:20 pm or so, we were all lined up, "two by two, Fathers!" The large blob of priests moved towards the door of the corridor, clearly unable to form itself into two separate lines. A guard, with a (well deserved) scowl brusquely indicated to my tribe to line up properly as we processed down the portico and into the Basilica through the central doors, and in the central aisle lined with the faithful. 

We were seated in a section behind the Bishops. The Rosary was being prayed (in Latin), and as it ended, there were announcements asking that the faithful avoid applause during the celebration. That would have been necessary had the Pope come in in at the end of the procession. However, given his recent difficulties with walking, Pope Francis was wheeled in from a side door to a spot on the right of the main altar, on a small platform, where he vested in alb, green stole and cope. It is unlikely that many of the faithful further behind even realized he was in the church. 

(taken before Mass started! :-))

The Mass started with the procession of Cardinals, vested in green chasubles. I recognized a few (mainly the American ones and some of the Indian ones), and it struck me just how old this group is. Many limped, or walked with labored breathing. Some were in wheelchairs. At the rear of the procession was Giovanni Battista Re, the Dean of the College, who would preside over the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The Pope is unable to walk, or stand for long periods, so, for a little while now, at Papal Masses, he presides in a cope, and leads the Liturgy of the Word, and a Cardinal takes over for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The rubrics permit this kind of presidential role for a Bishop, if he isn't the principle celebrant at the Eucharist (Ceremonial of Bishops, 176ff and a later clarification from the then CDWDS) 

Pope Francis stands briefly to vest

The Ordinary and Propers of the Mass  were sung by the papal choir in Latin, and there was no hymnody, except the Salve Regina at the every end.  The readings were in English and Spanish and the Gospel chanted in Italian. Until somewhat recently, the Gospel would have been chanted in Latin.

The Pope delivered a short homily in Italian, with the central theme of not losing one's sense of wonder. "Come vai il tuo stupore?" "How goes your wonder?" focusing on the Scriptural images of St. Paul in wonder at God's plan of Salvation (the Canticle in Eph. 1), and the Gospel of the Great Commission (Mt. 28:20). I was pretty wonder-struck at once again having the opportunity to offer the Holy Sacrifice with so many priests, Bishops, Cardinals and the Vicar of Christ himself. And then, two rows of priests, including the one I was in, were given ciboria full of host for consecration, and were invited to line up to the side of the Papal Altar for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. We held the ciboria with the bread through the Eucharistic prayer (A bit of a balancing act, with a the ciborium in one hand, a card with the words for the concelebrants for the Eucharistic Prayer for Various Needs I, in Latin, in another) … and I couldn't help but wonder as the ciborium, after the prayers, became a Tabernacle in my hands. After the Eucharistic Prayer we filed down the central aisle and distributed Holy Communion to the faithful. [Back in 2014, the instructions from the previous Pontificate were still in place, and the faithful were asked to receive on the tongue. In light of the pandemic, no doubt, this was gone. Over 90% received in the hand.] 

Soon, the Mass was over with the final Papal blessing and, without much ceremony, the Holy Father was wheeled off to a side door, and the Cardinals shuffled out in procession. The Swiss Guard, as is customary, brought up the rear of the procession, even though the Sovereign they are meant to protect wasn't present. The Bishops and priests followed. As the music swelled, the faithful milled about taking selfies. 


After Mass I met up with the rest of the group at the Obelisk in the Piazza. As we were taking photos in front of the magnificent façade of St. Peter's with the beautiful play of dusk colors behind, a family from Toronto struck up a conversation with us. They were of Indian origin. In fact, the daughter said, her dad was from Gujarat, and had converted to Catholicism when he married their mom, who was from Guyana. She had been raised Catholic and had never met a priest who could speak Gujarati. She was ecstatic! She couldn't wait to tell the rest of her family, especially her "Ba" (grandma) that she had met a Gujarati priest. "Members of my Hindu extended family often criticize me or make fun of me for following the "dholiyaloko no bhagwan" ("the god of the white folks."). I can't get them to understand that Jesus wasn't actually white, and He is for everyone. I just share how filled up I get when I go to Mass."  We took photos and exchanged contact information, and I gave the family my priestly blessing.

The Patel family from Toronto

Now there's a beautiful encounter filled with wonder.  

"Blessed be God, the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ, with every spiritual gift in the heavens!"