When should we confirm?

September 29, 2011

There’s an old joke about a newly ordained priest whose pastor gives him the task of ending a bat infestation plaguing the church.  The poor young priest tries everything—poison, traps, a call to pest control—but the bats refuse to give up their home among the church’s rafters.  In desperation, the young priest returns to the wise old pastor and says, “Father, I’ve tried everything, but the bats won’t leave the church.”

The old priest smiles, and says, “Oh, Father, the solution is much simpler than you think:  just confirm them!  Then you’ll never see them again.”

For those like myself, who have worked in several different confirmation programs over the years, the joke is more uncomfortable than funny because the proverbial grain of truth it contains is the size of a boulder.  Too often confirmation is treated like a sort of graduation from the Church—an attitude for which, I might add, parents often bear more guilt than teenagers.

While the question of when in one’s life the sacrament of confirmation should be celebrated is not the sort of issue likely to make it into the New York Times, it is theologically more intriguing than the hot-button attention-grabbers.  Fargo’s Bishop Samuel Aquila this summer offered a strong case for changing the order in which the sacraments of initiation are normally conferred.

Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements

The Chalice and Eucharistic Faith

September 26, 2011

Nathan said some important things about Bishop Olmsted’s recent decision in his post on Liturgical Minimalism in Phoenix.  I’ve got some different thoughts that I share here.

Even in this section of the GIRM dealing with “Communion Under Both Kinds” (281-287), there is much anxiety for the proper catechesis of the people about Eucharistic doctrine.

Rightly so, for the expansion of communion under both species was a stunning capitulation, in liturgical practice if not in theology, to Protestant arguments in favor of communion in both species.  The Catholic Church vigorously opposed these arguments for over 500 years, since the practice was condemned by the ecumenical Council of Constance in 1415 in response to the Utraquist controversy prompted by John Wyclif and John Hus.  Martin Luther listed the denial of both species to the faithful as one of three “captivities” of the sacrament of the Eucharist, along with the doctrine of transubstantiation and the sacrifical understanding of the Mass (James T. O’Connor, The Hidden Manna: A Theology of the Eucharist, 2nd ed., Ignatius Press, 2005, 130-135).

The GIRM is concerned above all that the faithful be properly instructed on the lynchpin of the Catholic response as formulated at the Council of Trent, namely that:

 “Christ, whole and entire, and the true Sacrament, is received even under only one species, and consequently that as far as the effects are concerned, those who receive under only one species are not deprived of any of the grace that is necessary for salvation”  (282). Read the rest of this entry »


What do I offer?

April 6, 2011

I suggested at the beginning of Lent that this season is a good time to get back to basics, and for Catholics it doesn’t get more basic than the celebration of the Eucharist.  It’s well known that the Second Vatican Council called for the “full and active participation” of all the faithful in the Eucharist, but interpretations of what this phrase means have differed so widely that the Council’s vision hasn’t born the fruit we might have hoped for.  On the most basic measure of full and active participation—Mass attendance—we’re actually far worse off today than we were when the Council began.

For me this Lent has coincided with work on a master’s thesis about sacrifice and the Mass (some of the ideas for which I test drove here on Whoseoever Desires), and my research has raised a question so basic we usually forget to ask it:  what exactly do we do at Mass?

Answering that question depends on how we think about the Mass, what models we use to describe it.  An incorrect model for thinking of the Mass is that of a show or play.  Unfortunately, a lot of people fall into this kind of thinking.  I’ll sometimes hear complaints that Mass is boring, which doesn’t make sense because Mass isn’t supposed to be entertainment.  Even those who should know better sometimes fall into the trap of turning Mass into a kind of high school musical.  I once attended an Easter Vigil in which the man delivering the third reading dressed up as Moses—complete with beard, robes, and staff.  It almost made me root for Pharaoh.

Read the rest of this entry »


From feast to fasting

March 7, 2011

Last year about this time I wrote a post about food for Mardis Gras, so this year I thought I’d better muzzle my inner epicure and write something about fasting for Lent.  Lent, of course, is bookended by two days of fasting, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, but I’m not going to write about either of those fasts.  Nor am I going to focus on the common practice of giving something up, another variation on fasting.  Instead I thought I’d write about that fasting which should be a part of the ordinary weekly routine of every practicing Catholic.

Lost already?  I thought about titling this post the “forgotten fast,” because the fasting I have in mind is the Eucharistic fast, a practice today as often forgotten as observed.

Prior to 1957 the faithful were obliged to refrain from food and drink starting at midnight on any day they planned to receive communion.  This fast was reduced to three hours before communion, and then in 1964 it was reduced again to one hour.  Unfortunately, as has happened with a number of Catholic practices, when a requirement becomes too easy, people stop taking it seriously, and today many ignore the pre-communion fast—if they’ve heard of it at all.

While the amount of time involved hardly constitutes a privation, the spirituality behind the Eucharistic fast is important, and perhaps this Lent would be a good time to rediscover its meaning.  After all, just because we are only required to fast for one hour, that doesn’t mean we are limited to the minimum.

Read the rest of this entry »


F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jesuit story

February 7, 2011

I have long thought F. Scott Fitzgerald to be a very Catholic writer, though explicitly Catholic themes show up only rarely in his work.  There’s the urbane Monsignor Darcy in This Side of Paradise, for example, and a few scattered references in Tender is the Night, but mostly Fitzgerald’s Catholic sensibilities come through in his moral vision, in the interplay of truth and illusion we see, for example, in The Great Gatsby.

In a Fitzgerald biography, however, I’d once come upon a reference to an early (1920) short story called “Benediction,” and I took advantage of a Chicago snow day last week to track the story down.  I was not disappointed.

The story is a gem, written in the witty, dancing prose of the youthful Fitzgerald, and touching on many of his typical themes—the giddiness of coming of age, the wistful sadness of romance, even a hint at class sensitivities.  The story centers around Lois, a romantic and beautiful nineteen-year-old travelling to Baltimore to meet her lover, Howard; on her way to their rendezvous she stops to visit her only brother Keith, a seminarian she has not seen in seventeen years.

Read the rest of this entry »


Gifts of Gold

January 3, 2011

I’ve been thinking about presents.  After all, it’s Epiphany week, and in my house Epiphany always meant a visit from the Befana.

The Befana, for those who don’t know, is a legendary old woman who brings gifts to Italian (and Italian-American) children on the feast of the Epiphany, a sort of Signora Santa Claus.  According to legend, the Befana was a particularly fussy housekeeper who lived along the route taken by the three kings on their journey to worship the baby Jesus.  When the Magi stopped at the Befana’s house, they offered to let her tag along and visit the newborn Messiah, but she claimed to have too much housework to do and declined.  Only after the Magi had left town did the Befana regret her decision and hurry to catch up… but by then it was too late, and the wise men were out of sight.  Since that first Epiphany she has been leaving presents for the children of every home she visits in the hope that one of them will turn out to be the Christ child.

I’ve also been thinking about presents because of an exhibit I recently visited at Chicago’s Field Museum.  The exhibit was about gold.  Of all the commodities Melchior, Balthasar, and Caspar came bringing, the only one which seems to have held up in market value is gold.  I’m afraid I wouldn’t know what to do if I found a box of myrrh under the tree, but gold would be nice, especially in today’s economy.

Gold, I learned at the Field Museum, has many unique properties.  It does not tarnish or rust.  It is found in small quantities throughout the world, on every habitable continent.  And, of course, it shines brilliantly.  There are other qualities too—gold is a great conductor of electricity and can be pounded into sheets mere microns thick—but these first three made me think about how appropriate it is that gold should show up time and again in religious rites.

Read the rest of this entry »


A holy day of opportunity

October 26, 2010

This year All Saints Day is not a holy day of obligation.  I have to confess, I’m a little sad about that.

I’m sad because, absent the threat of sin, most people won’t go to Mass.

Too cynical a way of putting it?  Maybe.  But am I wrong?

Human nature being fallen, there’s a certain legalistic streak in each one of us, and the most common form of legalism is minimalism.  Ever asked yourself, “How late can I show up at Mass for it still to count?”  Or calculated how many minutes into Mass communion is likely to be so that you can squeeze in one last donut before heading out the door?  Come on, admit it.  I have, too.  (The donut had sprinkles.)

Read the rest of this entry »