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.
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 »
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
Last month the Holy See gave final approval to a revised English translation of the Roman Missal, a long process not without its share of comedy, tragedy, and controversy. I, for one, am enthusiastic about the change, even while recognizing that change often takes a bit of effort to get used to.
The new translations have come in for a bit of criticism on the web and elsewhere, including a rather odd online petition drive. The criticism mostly stems from the fact that the new translations, which hew more closely to the Latin original than the translations now in use, employ a vocabulary and syntax that is likely to sound a bit foreign to most contemporary English-speakers.
The desire for the words used at Mass to be comprehensible to most people is straightforward and laudable, but simple comprehension is not the only quality we should expect in our worship language. In fact, sometimes it’s desirable for language to sound unusual and, yes, even foreign. To help me make this point, let me call on two old friends from my days as an undergraduate English major: Herman Melville and Ernest Hemingway. Read the rest of this entry »
Two weeks ago I offered a summary of René Girard’s I See Satan Fall Like Lightning. Girard’s insights into the origins of violence and the violent origins of civilization are worth serious consideration. The social insights that come out of his theory are often unsettling. For example, he realizes that Christianity’s concern for victims has been largely absorbed into contemporary society, though this concern itself can be perverted by mimetic contagion: “we practice a hunt for scapegoats to the second degree, a hunt for the hunters of scapegoats.”
There’s fruit for several posts in that sentence alone, but when I first read Girard it was in the context of sacramental theology. So today I’d like to turn to a couple of questions having to do with the Eucharist. Here, to be clear, we start to move beyond Girard’s views to my own musings.
Girard’s analysis highlights one of the more disquieting aspects of the Passion accounts for those living in contemporary Western culture: the role of the crowd. Read the rest of this entry »
With Holy Week here, it’s natural for our thoughts to turn to the Cross and Christ’s self-sacrifice. Of late I’ve had the pleasure of being drawn into conversations with a number of Girardians, here at Loyola and elsewhere, so as I’ve contemplated the Passion this year, I’ve done so in light of the work of René Girard.
My knowledge of Girard comes mainly from I See Satan Fall Like Lightning (1999), in which the French-born anthropologist summarizes many of his ideas in a form accessible to theologians. Girard’s work is refreshingly insightful because he takes seriously two notions most of his secular colleagues are afraid to touch: Christianity’s claim to uniqueness among world religions and the religious foundations of civilization itself. Girard, in fact, refers to I See Satan Fall Like Lightning as an apology for Christianity made on anthropological grounds. Though he is clear in stating that he is not a theologian, it is well worth puzzling out the theological implications of his unique “apology.”
But since some of our readers are likely unfamiliar with Girard, it’s perhaps best to begin with a summary of the key ideas he develops in I See Satan this week and then turn to their applications in a second post two weeks from now. This will also give others a chance to correct my non-expert misinterpretations. Read the rest of this entry »
To celebrate this Mardi Gras I thought it appropriate to post something about food. Good food and good eating are not things to be taken for granted. I am a proud Italian-American—my grandfather was a baker—and, for Italians, a good meal is an art.
Unfortunately, as many have noted, even in Italy, the art of gastronomy is increasingly becoming lost. Demographic decline, the pressures of work, an increasingly utilitarian attitude toward just about everything, the encroachment of fast food—these and other factors have taken their toll on the quality of the Italian meal.
There are, of course, unwritten rules to the traditional Italian meal—rules about the order of the courses and their content, about the way food should be served, about which foods are appropriate in which seasons, about who does what at the table. These rules are practical only up to a point and they don’t always make for the most efficient eating, but they tend to facilitate instead savoring, conversation, and—to drop a weighty theological concept—communion.
One of the few benefits of blogging is that friends occasionally send me clips or news items related to some peeve or crotchet of mine. The above-embedded promotional video for “Purity Solutions” is a classic example (click here to visit the website). I’ve long been suspicious of the steady encroachment of hand sanitizer and alcohol wipes into the sanctuary, but the suspicion has always lain at the murky level of instinct, below the daylight realm of rational explanation. Perhaps it is much like the horrorreligiosus most Americans feel at the sight of a woman’s unshorn underarm.
I’m not exactly sure why receiving the host from a sleek, metallic Pez-dispenser is any more comical than receiving it from a hand (or from a spoon, as in the Orthodox Church), or why wheels of wine-shots are in any way inferior to chalices. It could be the industrial manufacture (I can almost imagine a “Purity Solutions” salesperson rolling over it with a car to show that they use an alloy developed by NASA). But, if I had to take a stab, I would venture that I associate it with some narrowing of the spiritual horizon. Read the rest of this entry »
You are currently browsing the archives for the Eucharist category.
to serve as a soldier of God beneath the banner of the cross in our Society, which we desire to be designated by the name of Jesus, and to serve the Lord alone and the Church his Spouse, under the Roman pontiff, the vicar of Christ on earth, should, after a vow of perpetual chastity, poverty, and obedience, keep the following in mind." From the Formula of the Institute, 1540