Today I am assigning a Rosary project to my students. They will each need to put together a Rosary meditation using images and quotes on PowerPoint slides. It’s very simple. They choose a set of mysteries and devote one slide per mystery for the set they have chosen. Each slide has the name of the mystery, one image to depict that mystery, and one short quote. Usually when images accompany Rosary meditations they are depictions of the mystery itself. This is what I am modeling for my students and what I expect to see from most of them. However, I’m also going to show them examples of images that do not so much depict the mystery, but rather give a narrowed interpretation of the mystery. (I call this an interpretive image. This is not the best name, however, because all images are interpretive). It’s an interesting exercise. The advantage of the mystery itself being depicted is that it allows for greater freedom in what one may meditate upon concerning that mystery. The advantage of an “interpretive” image is that it brings our attention to an aspect of the mystery that we may have otherwise never thought of. The following are the examples I am giving to my students of interpretive images with accompanying quotes.

The Annunciation


I will make all things new.

The Institution of the Holy Eucharist


For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. 

The Carrying of the Cross


He took away our infirmities and bore our diseases. 

The Ascension


One short sleep past, we wake eternally, And death shall be no more, death, though shalt die. 

This last image more than the others requires a little explanation. It points more to the fruit of the mystery – hope – rather than the mystery itself. I was struck by the bleakness of the environment and the contrast of the girl’s interiority with it. Within her is light, warmth, joy, and life. Within her is hope.


Brandon Andress has a post on what he perceives as being the direction the Church is heading in. To a Catholic, his words simply do not make sense. He notes that people are leaving organized institutional churches. This is true. He does not see this as a weakening of the Church, but rather a rebirth and strengthening of the Church into a new form. The institutional Church will be crucified and with Christ will be raised up to something new, something that is not institutional, something through which Jesus Christ will be definitively known, a true witness of the love of our Lord and God. The world will look and perceive that truly Jesus is the Son of God. There are multiple problems with this, but here I would like to limit myself to one: our Lord Jesus established the Church Himself and did so with an organized institutional structure. Christ and the Church cannot be separated. To reject the Church is to reject Him. How can I profess to love the very one that I hate. And it is hate! If I choose myself then I am turning my back on Him. The acknowledgement of Jesus being Lord makes no difference here for there are many on that great and terrible day who will say “Lord, Lord” and Jesus will reply, “Truly, I do not know you.” We do not get to determine who Christ is, how He operates, or what His relationship to the Church is. He has revealed these things, and it is up to us to accept His revelation in humble submission, even if we do not understand it.

There are many approaches that can be taken in how we see and speak of the Church. There are so many aspects to Her. None of these approaches, however, are mutually exclusive, and to emphasize one (such as the mystical union of the Body of Christ) over against another (such as an institutional hierarchy of any kind) is to stunt not only our perception of the Church, but also our perception of Christ. If Jesus and the Church are inseparable than what we believe of one affects what we believe about the other. It is clear from the Holy Scriptures that the Church was established and from the beginning has functioned with an organized hierarchical structure. It is an aspect of the Church here on Earth that cannot be negated. It is also interesting to note that every single movement in the Church’s history that has reared its ugly head proclaiming a pure Church that has ascended its institutional structure either does not now exist or is wholly insignificant. Through it all the Church with Her hierarchy and institutions has persisted with strength. When Christ says that He will not leave the Church and the gates of hell will not prevail, what do we look to: the various spiritualist movements that have come and gone, or the true Church with all its vibrancy? What substantial evidence is there that this movement among some Protestant communities today is any different from the various movements of the past?

So where is our Lord in all of this? Where do we encounter Him? In all that Mr. Andress identifies in his post. We encounter Him in “Christians married to political, national, and ideological persuasions over and above their allegiance to Christ.” We encounter Him in “the days of the misguided and ill-informed health and wealth gospel,” in “this period of consumer Christianity,” and in “Church pews lined with habitual hypocrites, judgmental legalists, and blind and hateful zealots.” This is the true challenge of Jesus Christ and the mystery of our union with Him, a challenge and mystery that those like Mr. Andress run from (please, do not!): We are one body in Christ. There is no getting away from the hypocrites, legalists, zealots, et. al. In Christ, we are bound to them. Mr. Andress speaks of organized, institutional churches needing to be crucified (and done away with), but in truth it is he and me, and all of us who must be crucified with Christ for the sake of the salvation of our brothers and sisters who have turned so far from Him while remaining in their pews. Like Christ we must come down from the mountain of glory and enter into the mire of sin and walk with these people, all the while remembering and recognizing our own failings and sins and absolute need for our Saviour.

The Catholic Church teaches that She continually walks a path of penance and renewal. This applies to the whole Church throughout the world, to the Church present in various countries and regions of the world, to each individual diocese, vicariate (deanery), parish, and to each individual Christian. This path of penance and renewal is a path that is walked daily, but it is not one that can be walked on its own. The Church’s history is filled with people who have sought to renew the Church. Some of those people attempted (and failed) to do so by breaking from Her visible structure and institutions. Others attempted and succeeded by remaining part of Her visible structure. The latter group also quite often suffered much in doing so. Through their crucifixion they were co-redeemers with Christ and were instrumental in renewing the Church in their time. Do you (do I) have the courage, faith, hope, and charity to do this today?

From Fr. George Byers. Absolutely beautiful. 

I’ve been posting only rarely. I’ve been screamingly busy these past number of weeks and it’s only picking up steam. I entirely blame guardian angels for this. And thank them. In …

Source: Angels, the weight of the glory of God, final perseverance, death and donkeys

Jesus carries Cross

Though harshly treated, he submitted and did not open his mouth; like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep silent before shearers, he did not open his mouth. (Is 53:7)

I seem to remember in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ that, when Jesus was given His Cross and embraced it, one of those crucified with Him cried out telling Him not to do so. It gives the impression that this is not something that someone about to be crucified typically did. Rather, it is indicative of one who is “meek and humble of heart.” While this particular portrayal of Jesus embracing His Cross is not related in the Gospel accounts, it does express well the above verse from Isaiah: He went along willingly. Why? Why embrace the instrument of your death? Why embrace that which will bring you excruciating pain? Because it is the way of love. In love and mercy we are redeemed. In love Jesus embraced His Cross because He knew it was not just the instrument of His death, but the instrument of life and redemption, of the restoration of man to God. So, yes, love. In love He created us; in love He became incarnate for us; and in love He redeemed us.

To embrace our own cross and follow Him, is to do the same. The crosses of life are inescapable. We can neither run nor hide from them; if we simply confront them relying on our own strength, we will find that we are weak. The Cross is a fact of life, and there is only one response that does not result in our being crushed: to embrace it in love – love of our Lord, love of our neighbor including our enemies, and to suffer as co-redeemers with Him for ourselves and for all people.

Transfiguration of our Lord

So many times St. Peter is used as an example of God showing His strength through the weak. Personally, I think we need to find better examples because Peter wasn’t abnormally weak. Today’s feast celebrates the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ on Mt. Tabor. It was a revelation of His glory to three of his disciples: Peter, James, and John. I’ve heard Peter pointed to in this episode as the one who yet again sticks his foot in his mouth and on this particular occasion finds himself corrected by no less than God the Father. Peter sees his Lord in glory conversing with Moses and Elijah. Up to this point there has been no moment in his life in which he was caught in such awe and amazement. It elicits from him a petition: that three tents should be erected – one for Moses, one for Elijah, and one for our Lord, Jesus Christ. St. Peter was not being dumb when he made this exclamation. He was being reasonable. He was thinking like a good Jew. God pitched His tent among the Israelites in the desert, then in the Promised Land during the period of the judges, and finally He pitched His tent in an immovable place when He inhabited the Temple in Jerusalem. To stand before God and be in His presence one had to go to where His tent was pitched, to where His dwelling was among men. From their time in the desert until the destruction of the first Temple the Jews enjoyed in a unique way God’s presence among them (via the Ark of the Covenant). When the Jews return from exile, they built a new Temple, but the Ark was not within it. Peter recognizing the revelation of the Divine on Mt. Tabor petitions that three tents be erected so that once again God’s dwelling may be among men. Rather than being corrected by God the Father, Peter is directed to His Son who will reveal the fulfillment and true dwelling of God among men. No Jew, no person, at this time could have known what this meant. Peter was not being dumb or sputtering in the midst of his wonder. Peter was expressing what is the desire of all men and he did so in accordance with God’s revelation: to dwell with God and He with us. Just as the New Law does not abolish the old, but fulfills it, so too the new way in which God dwells among men.

When studying theology it is very easy to fall into the trap of turning it into a superficial exercise: it becomes academic, a “study” of God as if such a thing were possible. It is easy to get caught up in the wonder and beauty, and at the same time not let it penetrate your heart, your life, your religious practice. All theology is apophatic. The deeper one delves into the mysteries of God the more one becomes aware of their position of not knowing. Ultimately, the Mystery is incomprehensible and inexpressible. When St. Thomas Aquinas experienced this truth at the core of his being, he declared that all he had written seemed to him as straw and he never wrote again. (To clarify, Thomas did not say this because he thought God couldn’t be known – He can be! No, he said this after receiving a vision which impressed upon him the ultimate inexpressibility of the mysteries of God). Paradoxically, the nearer one approaches the Lord, the more intimately one enters into relationship with Him, the more they become aware of their not knowing. Easy to say, but not so easy to live. What does this truth, this mystery mean for my life? How do I allow myself to be penetrated by it, rather than just “know” it intellectually? How will my life change should this happen?

There was none on Earth nearer to God than His mother. By the above, therefore, it stands to reason that there was no one who was more acutely aware of not knowing Him than His mother. In The Lord, Romano Guardini says, “Everything that affected Jesus affected his mother, yet no intimate understanding existed between them.” It would be an understatement to say that I was shocked reading these words. Faith planted in my heart experienced a small quake. There are still tremors. I do not want to accept these words; and, yet, I can’t help but sense an audacity in Guardini that follows in the tradition of St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. Athanasius, St. Paul, and our Blessed Lord, Jesus Christ, God.

I would like to look at one episode to see this lack of understanding. Mary obviously knows that her Son is not conceived of man. He is different from all others. When he had disappeared though, she looked for three days before finally finding Him in the Temple. We are told that when Mary and Joseph found Him they were astonished, they did not understand Him when he replied to His mother’s question, and having returned home Mary pondered these things in her heart. Why did she not look there first when she knows that he is conceived of the Holy Spirit? It seems obvious to us that Jesus must be about His Father’s business. But we have 2,000 years of Christian tradition behind us. Mary was a Jew, a pre-Christianity Jew, and a strict monotheist in accordance with Jewish understanding and religion. If this was your life context, as it was for Mary, your child being conceived of the Holy Spirit and being the Messiah would not necessarily immediately translate into your child literally being the Son of God.

There are a couple things this lack of understanding points us to. First, Mary’s heroic perseverance in the virtue of faith is second to absolutely no one. Her’s was a faith greater than that of Abraham. This faith was manifested through her constant trust, but it was also manifested in another way. This second way in which her faith was manifested goes beyond simply trusting and following: she pondered. She took into her heart that which she did not understand despite her lack of understanding and she pondered. She let the mysteries take root in her and form her. By faith, not understanding, “she accompanied the incomprehensible figure of her son every step of his journey, however dark. Perseverance in faith even on Calvary – this was Mary’s inimitable greatness.”

My soul magnifies the Lord… This mystery of Mary’s faith leads to a mystery of her Son, a mystery that I think is probably little thought about: “the unspeakable remoteness in which He lived.” What must it have been like to live as Christ lived among men? (Don’t even attempt to answer this. Like Mary, let the mystery take root in your heart). No one understood Him. The Sons of Thunder did not understand what it meant to sit at His right and His left. Peter, after confessing Him as being the Son of the living God, protests when his Lord says that He must die. There has never been anyone like Him and there will never be another like Him again. He is wholly unique, the God-man. Yes, He fully partook of our humanity, but no one had partaken of divinity. He was alone; that remoteness, that disconnect was with Him His whole life and reached its pinnacle on Calvary. He ceased to be alone when He poured out His Spirit on Pentecost.

double meaning

It has been three weeks since Cardinal Sarah made his appeal for ad orientem worship. In that time three bishops (that I know of) in the English speaking world have sent letters to the priests of their dioceses stating that it is their expectation that they celebrate the Ordinary Form of Mass versus populum, facing the people. The letters are from Bishop Amos of the Diocese of Davenport, Bishop Taylor of the Diocese of Little Rock, and Archbishop Vincent Card. Nichols of the Archdiocese of Westminster. The letters can be read respectively here, here, and here. In each instance GIRM 299 was used as the justification for the bishops’ insistence to their clergy.

The use of GIRM 299 is extremely problematic, but there is no reason to go into detail here concerning why that is. It has been explained by others much more qualified than myself on many occasions that the current English translation of n. 299 is faulty. The first that I know of is Fr. John Hunwicke back in 2001 prior to his entering into the fullness of the Church. His concise explanation can be read HERE. Fr. John Zuhlsdorf has also written about it many times: most recently HERE. Both of them and others I have read have provided a translation that better reflects the Latin. While I have come across two who challenge their translation of n. 299 and while the Italian agrees with the current English, Fr. Hunwicke’s and Fr. Zuhlsdorf’s translation are consistent with the French, German, Polish, and Portuguese translations of the GIRM. Long story short, however, no matter how you translate it, the CDW has clarified on multiple occasions that n. 299 does not exclude ad orientem worship and that no bishop may suppress ad orientem celebration of the Ordinary Form. Both ad orientem and versus populum are proper to the Ordinary Form of the Roman rite, and priests do not need permission from their Ordinary for the use of either orientation. In this post, however, I would like to focus on a very serious problem that has been manifesting itself among some in the presbyterate and episcopacy: intolerance and the imposition of, in Card. Nichols’s words, their “personal preference or taste” on the laity (a horrible action of clericalism, I might add).

In his letter to priests, Cardinal Nichols said, “I emphasize that the celebration of the Church’s Liturgy is not a place in which priests are to exercise personal preference or taste.” It is sad the His Eminence has reduced Card. Sarah’s appeal to mere preference and taste. It is firmly rooted in the perennial tradition of the Church. It is founded in a rich and deep theology and spirituality. I have heard from multiple priests that celebrating Mass ad orientem strengthened their vocation and spiritual life. These are men who had been and also still do celebrate Mass versus populum. I have read testimonies from priests about how celebrating Mass ad orientem was an essential part of the renewal of the parish. I have heard people relate how a parish was strengthened when its pastor began celebrating some or all Masses ad orientem. None of that is a matter of mere preference or taste, especially when such good spiritual fruits have come forth from it. Rather, that is heart speaking to heart. It is an event in which they encountered the Lord in a way they hadn’t before.

Speaking for myself, I prefer (and, yes, it is quite appropriate to say that) ad orientem. But that preference is not merely subjective and individualistic, and it is most certainly not first and foremost academic. It comes from an experience. I had learned of ad orientem worship and the theology connected to it years before I experienced it, and during that time, while there was occasionally a curiosity, I had never felt compelled to seek it out and I was perfectly content going to Mass celebrated versus populum. In fact, I then preferred Mass facing the people and defended it. But I will never forget the first time I attended Liturgy celebrated ad orientem. I had never before felt so connected to the other people in the congregation, I had never felt so unified in action, and I had never experienced dialogue between priest and people so acutely. While the celebration being ad orientem was not the only factor that brought this sense of unity and connectedness about, it was a crucial factor. It is a rarity that Mass is celebrated ad orientem, but when I am able to attend Mass celebrated this way I find that my attention is much more focused on the action at the altar. I look at the altar. This is exactly the desire expressed in GIRM 299 when it states, “The altar should, moreover, be so placed as to be truly the center toward which the attention of the whole congregation of the faithful naturally turns.” Unconsciously, my attention was turned toward the altar during the celebration of Mass ad orientem. However, almost every Mass I go to is celebrated versus populum, and I have noticed that, at first unconsciously and now quite consciously, my attention is almost always averted from the altar. The reason is very simple: the priest’s face distracts me. If I look at the altar I almost always end up focusing on the priest rather than the Eucharistic sacrifice. Consequently I spend the vast majority of Mass either head bowed with my eyes closed or looking above the priest to the crucifix. Either way, Mass celebrated versus populum has become a very private affair for me, while Mass celebrated ad orientem is a very communal affair for me. None of that happened consciously. How we use our bodies affects our spiritual, devotional, and liturgical lives; this is just the natural consequence of the different orientations of our bodies at Mass, and only after the fact did I become aware of it. As an aside, I think it is worth mentioning and pondering that often when I ask people why they prefer versus populum they respond that seeing the priest’s face makes them feel more connected to him. Funny. We should be focused on and connected with our Eucharistic Lord and to God the Father to whom the sacrifice is offered, yet the primary concern expressed so many times is that of feeling connected to the priest.

Perhaps some are not comfortable speaking of preference and taste. Instead we can properly speak of sensibility. My experience given above is expressive of my sensibility and there are many others (even if proportionally small) who share my sensibility. In this manner we may speak not just of the sensibility of individuals, but of communities or groups within communities. This relates directly to GIRM 299 and it is on this point that I find the actions of these bishops especially egregious. The relevant part of n. 299 reads in the current English translation:

The altar should be built apart from the wall, in such a way that it is possible to walk around it easily and that Mass can be celebrated at it facing the people, which is desirable wherever possible [(or “where it is possible”) emphasis mine].

In Latin:

Altare maius exstruatur a pariete seiunctum, ut facile circumiri et in eo celebratio versus populum peragi possit, quod expedit ubicumque possibile sit [emphasis mine].

Concerning this instruction and the question of celebrating the Ordinary Form ad orientem, the CDW issued a clarification on September 25, 2000. In particular I would like to draw attention to what the clarification says concerning ubicumque possibile sit [where it is possible]. Cardinal Estevez, then Prefect of the CDW, said:

The clause ubi possibile sit [where it is possible] refers to different elements, as, for example, the topography of the place, the availability of space, the artistic value of the existing altar, the sensibility of the people participating in the celebrations in a particular church, etc [emphasis mine].

It has been explicitly stated by the CDW that “wherever possible” does not only refer to physical conditions such as space and topography, but also to “the sensibility of the people.” Thanks to Cardinal Ratzinger’s The Spirit of the Liturgy there are a good many people who have been introduced to and are open to ad orientem. I am one of those people. I was born in 1979. In fact, most of the people today who would like to see ad orientem celebration of the Ordinary Form are people born after Vatican II, people who grew up with the Missal of Paul VI and versus populum worship. Most priests who would like to celebrate ad orientem are younger and it holds far more interest for seminarians today than it did for seminarians in decades past. There is a movement in the Church, a movement energized by the laity, for a more solemn and reverent celebration of Holy Mass and this includes celebration ad orientem. Proportionally it is a small group, but they are not at all difficult to find. There are enough people with this sensibility to constitute a movement in the Church. I hope that bishops and priests will give due attention with a pastor’s solicitude to these people in their dioceses and parishes. Unfortunately, some have simply opted to steamroll them.




Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab: ‘As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, during these years there shall be no dew or rain except at my word.’

For the next three years not a single drop of rain fell on Israel. Let that sink in.

jwj Drought 07076

People, livestock, and wild animals died of dehydration or starvation. As the drought continued people had to slaughter their livestock for food (and so slaughtering part of their livelihood); they had to forage for food hoping to find some little plant with meager fruit; they had to dig deeper wells not knowing whether or not they would come upon water lower in the earth. Parents watched their children die; infants sucked at barren breasts crying with no hope of satisfaction.

And, yet, all this was but a reflection of a much more severe drought: a drought of the spirit. The people of Israel (the northern kingdom after the division) had turned their backs on the One Who Is and Who is the All-Sufficient One. They turned their backs on He Who brought them out of Egypt and gave them their inheritance though they deserved nothing He did for them. Under the influence of their kings beginning with the first of the northern kingdom, they abandoned their God. They gave themselves to false gods, to fictions that do not exist. Their hearts within were drier than the land without. Under the influence of that most wicked of women, Jezebel, they did not simply turn to Baal; in addition, the prophets of the one true God were put to the sword. There was a violent revolt against those faithful to Him, the Lord God of hosts. So the Lord gave them what they wanted: a life without Him and His provision for them. But this is not an abandonment on the part of the benevolent One. No, now He is providing what they need most of all: knowledge through experience that He alone is God and He alone is able to provide for them. If they want to worship Baal and receive from it, and put the Lord’s faithful prophets to the sword, then let them see what Baal can provide. The answer, of course, is nothing.

In the third year, the drought became so bitter that even the king with all his provisions and stores had to scour the land for grass that he may not have to slaughter any of his own livestock. That things had come to such a state and the people had not cried out to God for forgiveness and to return to them shows how stiff-necked, stupid, and shallow these people were. I draw attention particularly to the fact that they were shallow because of what event finally brought them to acknowledge the Lord God as the one true God: the contest between Elijah and the 450 prophets of Baal (850 if we include the 400 prophets of Asherah). It was no secret that the rains ceased when Elijah, a prophet of the Lord God of hosts, proclaimed that they would. It was also no secret that the rains would come again at the word of that same prophet. For three years Baal and all the other so-called gods that the people gave themselves to were wholly impotent. With their very lives on the line, you would think this would be enough to make the people realize their folly and turn back to God. But no. Instead, a contest was held on Mt. Carmel. A contest in which the sacrifice offered to Baal went the whole day unconsumed by fire; and the sacrifice offered to God was immediately consumed by fire from heaven. The people saw a sign; the people were entertained; the people in their shallowness now turned back to God. The prophets of Baal were promptly put to death by the people. Shallow as the reason was, the people did turn back, and the rains came again. Without rain they had no life, no sweetness, and no hope. Now with the rains returning they would.

‘There is a cloud as small as a man’s hand rising from the sea.’… In a trice, the sky grew dark with clouds and wind, and a heavy rain fell.

This cloud, which at first was seemingly nothing, was seen from the top of Mt. Carmel after the prophets of Baal had been put to death, and is the cloud from which the heavy rain fell. The Carmelite order, which yesterday (July 16) celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, has always seen in this cloud a type of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

As the world approached the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the progression of the Jews became ever more quiet. Not the quiet of peace, but the quiet of a drought, a stagnation. Gone were the patriarchs, the kings of the line of David, the Ark of the Covenant, the prophets, the judges, and, finally, in the last few decades leading to the birth of Christ, gone also was the inspired writing of Holy Scripture. The Jews had once again lost their independence. They had a false king, that devil on earth named Herod, and were under the rule of the Roman Empire. It is in this situation that “a cloud as small as a man’s hand” was sent to us. She was a young woman, perhaps as young as 13, who was of low birth to insignificant parents in an insignificant town. A young woman who no one cared about in her own day and should have been lost to history as so many billions upon billions of other men and women have. But from this woman, who is full of grace, came the greatest grace upon humanity that there ever was: the Incarnate One, Emmanuel, God-With-Us, God made man, the Son of God and Son of David, the One Who is life itself and fount of all life, the One Who is the only hope of all mankind. He and she are the linchpin, the turning point of the whole of human history. He is our life, our sweetness, and our hope; but He only comes to us through her, His mother. They are inseparable and, so, she too is our life, our sweetness, and our hope.

This is not just a matter of a particular event in the past though. This is also the truth in our own lives today. How stiff-necked, stupid, and shallow I have been in my life, just as the Israelites in the days of Elijah who wanted to be entertained, and the Jews in the time of Jesus who wanted the same in addition to their stomachs to be filled though they had no need of it. But I and we do not need to be shallow, or stupid, or stiff-necked. God has given us eyes to see and ears to hear. Let us have the honesty to see the drought that is our lives when we are without Him, and the humility for that to be enough to cry out to Him. So let us cry out together: Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, pray for us, save us, bring us to rest in the heart of your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, hiding within His pierced side, and never letting go of He-our-Love.

Let the wilderness and the dry-lands exult, let the wasteland rejoice and bloom, let it bring forth flowers like the jonquil, let it rejoice and sing for joy. The glory of Lebanon is bestowed on it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they shall see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God. (Is 35:1-2, Morning Prayer, Solemnity of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel)

Lady of Carmel - Simon Stock


Pope Francis celebrating Mass in the ordinary form ad orientem

On July 5, Robert Card. Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW), appointed as prefect by His Holiness, Pope Francis, gave a speech in London at the Sacra Liturgia international conference. The speech is available in its entirety: HERE. It is well worth a read. The subject of the speech was that of moving toward an authentic implementation of Sacrosanctum Concilium.

Cardinal Sarah introduced his topic with a quote from Pope Francis. It comes from a message Francis sent on February 18, 2014, to a symposium celebrating the 50th anniversary of Sacrosanctum Concilium. The whole of the message can be read here. The following part of the message was used by Cardinal Sarah in London:

It is necessary to unite a renewed willingness to go forward along the path indicated by the Council Fathers, as there remains much to be done for a correct and complete assimilation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy on the part of the baptized and ecclesial communities. I refer, in particular, to the commitment to a solid and organic liturgical initiation and formation, both of lay faithful as well as clergy and consecrated persons.

Again, these are Francis’s words, not Cardinal Sarah’s. Francis says that 50 years after its promulgation there is still “much to be done for a correct and complete assimilation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.” While Francis’s comments are not limited to this, he says that he is particularly referring “to the commitment to a solid and organic liturgical initiation and formation” of all Christ’s faithful. What is of particular interest is that Francis explicitly includes clergy in this. In the last section of his speech, Cardinal Sarah gives a few suggestions for moving forward to accomplish “a correct and complete assimilation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.” Taking his cue from Pope Francis, the first suggestion he gives is examining the quality and depth of liturgical formation, especially that of clergy.

Unfortunately, there are many in the Church who have ignored his speech as a whole, opting instead to focus on one thing – his appeal to clergy to celebrate Holy Mass ad orientem. The response has been swift and loud (in some cases vilifying, but we won’t look at those). Ironically, the responses to Cardinal Sarah’s appeal have only served as proof that the Cardinal was right concerning the need to examine the quality and depth of liturgical formation. Let’s look at some of these responses to see this.

The Vatican Clarification

Six days after Cardinal Sarah gave his speech a clarification concerning ad orientem worship was issued by the Holy See Press Office. Some like the Catholic Herald have misrepresented this with headlines such as: “Vatican rejects Cardinal Sarah’s ad orientem appeal”.

Yoda fail

Others such as Crux have represented what the Vatican actually did do: Vatican squelches rumors of new rules on Mass facing east.

Picard correct

In fairness to the Catholic Herald though, the Holy See Press Office’s clarification needs clarification. The full text of the clarification can be read here. In the third paragraph it states that the extraordinary form of the Roman rite must not take the place of the ordinary form. What this has to do with anything is beyond me. Cardinal Sarah did not make an appeal for the extraordinary form; he made an appeal for ad orientem worship. This statement from Fr. Lombardi (the Vatican spokesman) is ambiguous and can give the impression that ad orientem is proper to the extraordinary form, but not the ordinary, hence, confusing the extraordinary form with ad orientem worship. That is patently false. Celebrating Mass ad orientem is proper to both forms of the Roman rite.

Before making this confused statement about the extraordinary and ordinary forms, Fr. Lombardi quotes GIRM 299 (General Instruction of the Roman Missal) pointing out that “it contains the norms relating to the Eucharistic celebration and is still in full force.” It is the first half of the instruction which is relevant to our topic:

The altar should be built separate from the wall, in such a way that it is possible to walk around it easily and that Mass can be celebrated facing the people, which is desirable wherever possible.

The implication made, especially in light of what Fr. Lombardi said concerning the extraordinary and ordinary forms, is that versus populum is prescribed by the GIRM to the exclusion of ad orientem. However, the English translation is faulty. A lot of ink has been spilled concerning the proper translation and meaning of n. 299. A simple google search will bring up many results. Fr. Hunwicke’s analysis is a good place to start. For our purposes it is enough to look at what the CDW said concerning n. 299 sixteen years ago. In 2000 many inquiries had been made to the CDW concerning n. 299 and ad orientem worship in the ordinary form. In a response given September 25, 2000, Cardinal Jorge Estevez, then Prefect of the CDW, said:

It is in the first place to be borne in mind that the word expedit does not constitute an obligation, but a suggestion that refers to the construction of the altar a pariete sejunctum [detached from the wall] and to the celebration versus populum [toward the people]. The clause ubi possibile sit [where it is possible] refers to different elements, as, for example, the topography of the place, the availability of space, the artistic value of the existing altar, the sensibility of the people participating in the celebrations in a particular church, etc. It reaffirms that the position toward the assembly seems more convenient inasmuch as it makes communication easier (Cf. the editorial in Notitiae 29 [1993] 245-249), without excluding, however, the other possibility. [Emphasis mine]

A suggestion, not an obligation. “Seems” isn’t exactly prescriptive. It does not exclude the other possibility: i.e. ad orientem. Not only is it not excluded, but as we’ll see below there are many rubrics which make greater sense in the context of celebration ad orientem than they do versus populum.

As an aside, Fr. Lombardi notes that “it is better to avoid using the expression ‘reform of the reform’ with reference to the liturgy, given that it has sometimes been a source of misunderstanding.” I would agree with him if Cardinal Sarah had used this term during something such as a presser on an airplane. However, Cardinal Sarah was speaking at a liturgical conference to an audience not only knowledgable of the liturgy, but also with the reform of the reform. Hence, he was well within practical prudence to use the expression.

The Spadaro Tweets

Fr. Antonio Spadaro, the editor of La Civilta Cattolica, took to twitter to express with many tweets (they are dated July 10) his support for Mass celebrated versus populum or facing the people. This would be fine if he gave his reasons for preferring versus populum over ad orientem worship. However, he did not do that. He posted quotes, paraphrases, and paragraph numbers from the GIRM in an attempt to show that the current rubrics call for Mass to be celebrated versus populum. One paragraph number he listed as supporting versus populum was n. 157:

When the prayer is concluded, the priest genuflects, takes the host consecrated in the same Mass, and, holding it slightly raised above the paten or above the chalice, while facing the people, says, Ecce Agnus Dei (This is the Lamb of God). With the people he adds, Domine, non sum dignus (Lord, I am not worthy). 

However, he fails to take into consideration (intentionally?) the very next paragraph, 158:

After this, standing and turned toward the altar, the priest says quietly, Corpus Christi custodiat me in vitam aeternam (May the Body of Christ bring me to everlasting life) and reverently receives the Body of Christ. Then he takes the chalice, saying quietly, Sanguis Christi custodiat me in vitam aeternam (May the Blood of Christ bring me to everlasting life), and reverently receives the Blood of Christ.

There are many times in the GIRM that the priest is instructed to face the people. From the perspective of versus populum worship, however, these instructions are entirely superfluous because the priest is already facing the people when he is at the altar. From the perspective of ad orientem worship, however, the number of times these instructions are given make perfect sense. It also should be no surprise from the perspective of ad orientem worship that the instruction to turn toward the altar is not nearly so frequent. If celebrating ad orientem the priest is instructed to face the people for one thing (such as inviting the assembly to pray) and then afterwards instructed to do something at the altar (such as praying over the offerings) the instruction to turn toward the altar is implied through its necessity. This sequence of events is exactly what happens in the instruction given in n. 146 of the GIRM which Fr. Spadaro quotes:

The priest, FACING THE PEOPLE and extending and then joining his hands, invites the people to pray -INSTITUTIO GENERALIS MISSALIS ROMANI 146

What Spadaro quotes is incomplete. The paragraph in full reads:

Upon returning to the middle of the altar, the priest, facing the people and extending and then joining his hands, invites the people to pray, saying, Orate, fratres (Pray, brethren). The people rise and make their response: Suscipiat Dominus (May the Lord accept). Then the priest, with hands extended, says the prayer over the offerings. At the end the people make the acclamation, Amen.

So paragraph 146 of the GIRM concerns the “Orate, fratres,” for which even in the extraordinary form the priest is instructed to turn and face the people. For priests accustomed to celebrating ad orientem and for people accustomed to attending Masses celebrated ad orientem this instruction is wholly common.

None of the above is to imply that the current instruction favors or obligates one to ad orientem. That would be almost as ridiculous as saying that it requires versus populum. 

The Martin Tweet

After the clarification from Fr. Lombardi, Fr. James Martin, editor of America magazine, sent out a tweet:

Whoa. Vatican squashes rumors that said priests were about to be asked to celebrate Mass with backs to people.

The tweet can be seen with its reactions here. Unfortunately, by using the phrase, “with backs to people,” Fr. Martin has revealed that he is either ignorant concerning ad orientem worship and/or that he is prejudiced against it. No priest who celebrates ad orientem and no layman who attends ad orientem Masses says that the priest is celebrating with his back to the people. They say “facing East” or that the congregation and the priest are facing the Lord together.

In the GIRM often times when the priest is instructed to turn in such a way that he and the people would be facing the same direction it says, “toward the altar.” It never says, “back to the people.” In my experience the only people who speak of ad orientem worship as the priest celebrating with his back to the people are those who are not familiar with it either practically or theologically, or who are prejudiced against it. This was an exceptionally poor choice of words on the part of Fr. Martin.

Examining Liturgical Formation

Cardinal Sarah said that we must examine the quality and depth of the liturgical formation of the clergy, religious, and laity. He says that this formation is primarily and essentially that of immersion.

It is a question of living the liturgy in all its richness, so that having drunk deeply from its fount we always have a thirst for its delights, its order and beauty, its silence and contemplation, its exultation and adoration, its ability to connect us intimately with He who is at work in and through the Church’s sacred rites.

But this formation does not exclude formation in knowledge (cf. Sancrosanctum Concilium 15-17).

In addition to the necessity of living the liturgy, Card. Sarah adds:

that the full and rich celebration of the more ancient use of the Roman rite, the usus antiquior, should be an important part of liturgical formation for clergy, for how can we begin to comprehend or celebrate the reformed rites with a hermeneutic of continuity if we have never experienced the beauty of the liturgical tradition which the Fathers of the Council themselves knew and which has produced so many saints over the centuries?

This is common sense. Pope Francis has said, “there remains much to be done for a correct and complete assimilation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy on the part of the baptized and ecclesial communities.” Most of the faithful including the clergy give no thought whatsoever to the extraordinary form, and there are a good number (oh, how many I have met) who are antagonistic toward the extraordinary form. So many people including clergy do not see or know of the continuity between the two forms. How can we realize what the Second Vatican Council called for if we treat today’s liturgy as if it exists in an historical vacuum?

Fr. Lombardi, Fr. Spadaro, and Fr. Martin have all misrepresented the Mass. Fr. Lombardi was confused. Fr. Spadaro was misleading. Fr. Martin was either ignorant, prejudiced, or both. And, yet, these are three influential priests who people listen to; and they represent a great portion of the clergy in regards to thinking and practice. Through their reactions to Cardinal Sarah’s appeal for ad orientem worship, they have proven him correct on liturgical formation.


Pope Francis celebrating another Mass in the ordinary form ad orientem

Fr. Peter Carota 2

On Friday, July 8, Fr. Peter Carota passed away. It was a passing that involved great suffering and I know he embraced it whole-heartedly. I met Fr. Peter many years ago when he was an associate pastor at St. Jude in Ceres, California. Whenever I think of Fr. Peter the first and often times the only word that comes to mind is “joy”. While I have had and have now the great blessing of knowing many wonderful priests, Fr. Peter is one of only two of whom I can say this. He truly was one of the most beautiful persons I have ever known. Please take a moment in you day to offer prayers for him. I also encourage you to take a moment to learn more about Fr. Peter at the following sites. This first article is very personal and heartfelt. The second is very informative with a little of what he did prior to becoming a priest and what we accomplished during his priesthood. 

+ Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let Your perpetual light shine upon him.