Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Diocese of Baker Under Attack: The Skylstad Agenda

The Diocese of Baker is under attack – but not by the media, nor by any secular agent or agency.
If you are a Catholic of this diocese who is faithful to the Magisterium of the Church and who cares about the fate of this diocese and souls its serves, please read this post, then email it to like-minded individuals you know. And please please please consider writing immediately to the Papal Nuncio at the address given at the end of the post.
We are under attack from within. The attacks are ostensibly on our clergy, but they are waged the intention of undermining the Catholic identity of the faithful. The attack is against the liturgical life, the moral integrity, and the financial security of our diocese.
In the most recent skirmish, the Apostolic Administrator of our diocese, Bishop William S. Skylstad, has summarily dismissed from service Father Francis X. Ekwugha, the pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Bend. The only reason given for his dismissal – in violation of due process – was that the Administrator wanted to make "a change". Fr. Francis was not accused of any wrongdoing, nor was he ever counseled that there were problems needing his attention. In the seven years he has been serving as pastor in three different parishes in our diocese, Fr. Ekwugha, a solidly orthodox priest in love with his vocation and his Church, and always obedient to his bishop, sought and was granted American citizenship.
A few months ago, another African priest was summarily dismissed and asked to return to his homeland. That priest was accused of “violating personal boundaries”, but the accusation was never formally made by the party involved; the police were summoned by the apostolic administrator, counter to the intentions of the party, and no legal action was taken – since there was no case. The party involved has even expressed dismay that the priest was removed. The dismissal of the priest led to the loss of another priest as well, as the two priests were from the same religious order and needed to be assigned in pairs. While I think we all agree that we want the diocese officials to stay on top of potential abuse situations, there is a point where paranoia takes hold and innocent priests are accused and robbed of their good name. There is good reason to suspect that this is what happened here.
This type of administrative action is increasingly destabilizing an already precarious situation in the Diocese:  more than two-thirds of our 59 churches are currently staffed by priests who are not incardinated in the Diocese of Baker, and who – like Fr. Ekwugha – are subject to dismissal at the whim of the Apostolic Administrator…or may be intimidated into resigning of their own accord. Since most of them are from the same or neighboring dioceses in Nigeria, the likelihood of a mass departure is increasing with every passing day under the current administration. Since the Diocese currently has only one seminarian, this will be a significant problem in terms of staffing parishes.
If the Apostolic Administrator’s choice for replacing Fr. Francis Ekwugha is any indication, a mass exodus of the African priests here could result in an influx of priests with a decidedly “liberal” bent, and who will likely squelch any effort to return to liturgical practices more in keeping with the mind of the Church – such as returning to truly sacred music, or the use of Latin in the liturgy (even if limited to the Agnus Dei and the Sanctus – and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, your pastor has not done his job in carrying out the mandates of Vatican II!). The priest who has been appointed to replace Fr. Francis has openly expressed his animosity toward the use of Latin in the liturgy, and he is well-known for encouraging liturgical music that is in violation of key elements of Church teaching on sacred music. He is also a priest who has fomented dissent in parishes where he was substituting for a vacant priest, and in at least two parishes, the pastor decided not to allow him to return under any circumstances.
In addition, the apostolic administrator has publicly expressed the opinion that a priest with homosexual tendencies can still have an effective priestly ministry. He said this in response to the Vatican visitation of US seminaries which resulted in a ban on accepting homosexual men into priestly formation programs. The apostolic administrator also flatly denies that there could be any relationship between homosexuality and the sexual abuse of post-adolescent boys (the majority of the victims fall into this category), even though the John Jay Report gave clear evidence for the connection.
So, it seems likely that, given the chance to “import” priests of his own choosing, our apostolic administrator would not be very discerning in regard to the issue of homosexuality. This, of course, could have the potential of opening the diocese to more lawsuits involving clergy sex abuse. (Note: the current apostolic administrator bankrupted his own diocese, and was also named in a sexual abuse suit himself just prior to vacating his see.)
The Diocese of Baker clearly cannot afford sexual abuse lawsuits! The diocese is in dire financial straits, and has been for some time. The current administrator is not fully to blame for this; Bishop Vasa set the course by pushing through his capital campaign to build the Diocesan Center. The current “Bishop’s Appeal” is on track to reach a grand total of $150,000 – f ar below what is needed to balance the budget. Chancery staff is already working on the 2012 parish assessments, which will probably have to go up because of the low response to the Appeal.

I don’t know how these “appeals” fare in your parish, but over here in Baker City, there has historically been resistance to and resentment of these demands for money. The parishioners tend to see the parish assessment as highway robbery, since there is no choice in the matter; the parish is required to pay their assessment regardless of whether or not the people respond to the Parish Assessment Collection.

Generally, people who give responsibly want an accounting of where their money is going. The chancery office has made an effort to justify its expenses by printing in the
Diocesan Chronicle a listing of categories and budgeted amounts. However, I have been trying for three weeks to gain additional information about the budget, to no avail. I was met with more generalities, but no specific amounts for specific categories. For instance, I asked where the money for “National Collections” was going – this is an important issue, because the CCHD (Catholic Campaign for Human Development) has been under scathing attack for supporting agencies that run counter to Church teaching on issues like abortion and contraception. Here is the response I received:
"Regarding the National Collections, this item includes the following offices/organizations:  Missionaries, Peter's Pence, Holy Land, Catholic Relief Society, Latin American, Propagation of the Faith, Black & Indian Missions, Communications, Home Missions, Church in Eastern Europe, and Catholic University.  The Campaign for Human Development is no longer sent to the national office due to the reasons you mentioned, however, we have a local office that supports the needs at our diocesan level which we support instead.  This category also includes assessments which we as a Diocese are required to pay as our fair share to the global church (just as parishes support the Diocese in the form of PAC).  Finally, we also pay our fair share to Oregon Catholic Conference that works to lobby within the state government to protect our Catholic values as best we can at that level."
This only leads to more questions: How much is given in each area? Where is the “local office” that we support instead of the CCHD national office? Who runs it? What does it do? How much do we give? Who decides the amount of our “fair share” to pay to the Oregon Catholic Conference, which is supposed to lobby on behalf of the Church (but which has fallen short in that task time and again)? I asked these questions, but was told that the chancery staff does not have the time to find the answers for me.
I’m not an accountant, but I’ve been balancing my personal checkbook for years. I can tell you where my family spends its money. Wouldn’t you think that a Diocesan Chancery Office would have budget figures at its fingertips? How are they working out the parish assessments for 2012 if they don’t even know where the 2011 money went?! They have told me that “the diocese has nothing to hide”…but apparently it has nothing to show, either.
In other words, the downhill roll Bishop Vasa initiated with the Diocesan Center expenses has not been ameliorated by the current administrator. In fact, it appears to be worsening.
There is a lot more that can be said about the situation in our diocese…and I may say it later. This will do for now. I repeat: The Diocese of Baker is under attack, even if the Diocesan Chronicle tries to make you believe that we’re on board the Good Ship Lollipop.
If you are a faithful Catholic who cares about the spiritual, moral, and fiscal health of the souls in this diocese, please stand up and be counted.
Now is not the time to sit back, wring your hands, and say, “There’s nothing I can do about it.” There IS something you can do. You can write a short note to the Apostolic Nuncio to the US (usually we hear the term “Papal Nuncio”) expressing your dismay at what is going on here and asking that a new bishop be appointed immediately. We have been bishop-less for almost 10 months now.
Here is the contact information:
Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano
Apostolic Nuncio to the United States
3339 Massachusetts Ave., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20008-3687
phone: 202-333-7l2l
fax: 202-337-4036

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

St. Joseph is Waiting, Too

In my experience – certainly speaking for myself – poor St. Joseph seems to somehow take a back seat to Our Lord and His Blessed Mother. It seems his main “claim to fame” among many Catholics is as a guarantee of the sale of a house. The idea of burying a statue of him – upside down, some have told me – in the yard of the house to be sold just doesn’t do much for me. It seems rather self-serving and disrespectful.
Over the last year, though, I’ve been working on developing more of a relationship with the Guardian of the Redeemer. St. Teresa of Avila, my confirmation saint, highly recommends devotion to St. Joseph, so I took her at her word and started praying to him.
In reflecting on the beginning of Advent season, I thought about St. Joseph. St. Joseph waits in the background. Oh, he’s there, and we see him leading the donkey that carries Mary to Bethlehem for the census; we see him in the manger, adoring the Child with Mary, the angels, and the shepherds. But I think about him waiting…waiting for a baby to be born – his baby, the baby he will be responsible to care for as an earthly father cares for his children. But he knows all along that this is a Very Special Baby. Surely he must have wondered, “How do I take care of the Son of God?!” And so his waiting must have been characterized by the excited anticipation most of us feel at the imminent birth of a baby, and yet not a little trepidation at the thought of the majesty of the Child, and of the magnitude of the honor and responsibility God was bestowing on him as the human father of Jesus.
St. Joseph is a powerful saint. From the Litany of St. Joseph, we find that he is, among other things:
Mirror of patience,
Lover of poverty,
Model of artisans,
Glory of home life,
Guardian of virgins,
Pillar of families,
Solace of the wretched,
Hope of the sick,
Patron of the dying,
Terror of demons,
Protector of Holy Church.
And the prayer at the end of this litany is a tribute to his power as a protector and intercessor:  
O God, in your ineffable providence you were pleased to choose Blessed Joseph to be the spouse of your most holy Mother; grant, we beg you, that we may be worthy to have him for our intercessor in heaven whom on earth we venerate as our Protector: You who live and reign forever and ever. R/ Amen.
A couple of years ago, I discovered that Leo XIII had instituted a prayer to St. Joseph that was to be said after the recitation of the Rosary all through the month of October. This year, I prayed that prayer faithfully all through that month. To me, it seems like a prayer the Church needs now, and not just in October, so I continue to pray it:
To you, O Blessed Joseph, we come in our trials, and having asked the help of your most holy spouse, we confidently ask your patronage also. Through that sacred bond of charity which united you to the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God and through the fatherly love with which you embraced the Child Jesus, we humbly beg you to look graciously upon the beloved inheritance which Jesus Christ purchased by his blood, and to aid us in our necessities with your power and strength.

O most provident guardian of the Holy Family, defend the chosen children of Jesus Christ. Most beloved father, dispel the evil of falsehood and sin. Our most mighty protector, graciously assist us from heaven in our struggle with the powers of darkness.  And just as you once saved the Child Jesus from mortal danger, so now defend God's Holy Church from the snares of her enemies and from all adversity. Shield each one of us by your constant protection, so that, supported by your example and your help, we may be able to live a virtuous life, to die a holy death, and to obtain eternal happiness in heaven. Amen.
These are tough times for the Church. Tougher times seem likely to follow. This may be a very good time to increase our prayers to St. Joseph, Terror of Demons and Protector of Holy Church.

Monday, November 28, 2011

New Translation: Words Are Sacramental

I visited the Huffington Post website at the suggestion of Fr. Z to participate in their poll (“Which Catholic Mass Language Do You Prefer?”), and stumbled upon this quote from a parishioner:
"It's not shaking my church experience," said McCormack, as she handed out church bulletins. "You have the spirit between you and God and the words are insignificant."
The words are insignificant? Wrong! The words are very significant. And that is precisely why we have a new translation.
In fact, the words of the liturgy are a most significant sign – a sacrament. The words of the liturgy are sacramental in themselves. This is an important idea behind the Mystical Body, Mystical Voice presentation developed by Fr. Douglas Martis and Mr. Christopher Carstens of The Liturgical Institute in Chicago; this presentation is the foundation of the “new translation” workshop which our local Society of St. Gregory the Great has conducted in two locations in our diocese (look around that blog for a couple of posts on the MBMV workshops).
Jesus is not only the Son of the Father; He is also the Word of the Father. He is THE Word! The Church has developed a liturgical language which “sacramentalizes” and makes present the Word. Our choice of words for liturgical prayer is critical because language itself is sacramental. There are realities in the liturgy that our language communicates and makes present. Therefore we must find the best words – the ones that express faithfully and beautifully the unseen realities celebrated in our worship.
When the Church uses certain words, She expects certain images to be evoked from Scripture. For instance, if we hear “water” in the liturgy, we should immediately be thinking about baptism;  about the blood and water flowing from the side of Jesus; about the crossing of the Red Sea; about Moses striking the stone with his staff so that water would gush out; the “living water”; and so on. When the Church uses the word “sin” in our prayers, She really does want us to think about our sin – not about the fact that, hey, nobody’s perfect and God will forgive us anyway. No: She means sin. That’s why we are to strike our breast at the words “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault” – we’re supposed to really be grieved by our sins!
The type of language we use also indicates the relationship between ourselves and others – this is the notion of “register”. For example, we generally speak to our boss at work in a different register than the one we use for our children. Similarly, the language we use to address the King of the Universe really ought to have a little different “flavor” than that which we use to address the plumber or others we meet in our everyday life.
Along this line of thinking, Stacy Trasancos has a post on her blog entitle “Liturgy and High Words” – go, read it! It’s very good. She quotes Frank Sheed, who in his book Theology and Sanity (1946),wrote:
That is the way of advance for the mind. Human language is not adequate to utter God, but it is the highest we have, and we should use its highest words. The highest words in human speech are not high enough, but what do you gain by using lower words? Or no words? It is for us to use the highest words we have, recognize that they are not high enough, try to strain upward from them, not to dredge human speech for something lower." (emphasis added)
That said…I will lament that at the Mass I attended yesterday, it was painfully clear that the priest, whose first language is not English, was not overly familiar with the new words he was to pray in the Mass. His stumbling and hesitation distracted from the beauty of the words, but I’m sure he will improve! And I hope the people who hear him will gain an appreciation of the changes in the language we use to worship God.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The New Translation: NCReporter Has It Backwards

I try not to even think the words “National Catholic Reporter” (a newspaper which practically admits these days that it is an enemy of the Church), so I wouldn’t have seen this article had it not been for Jeffrey Tucker posting about it on The Chant CafĂ©. Thanks, Jeffrey…I…guess.
Anyway, it would be a funny article if they weren’t serious. I’m not going to reproduce the entire article here, so go to the link and read it yourself if you’re so inclined. First of all, look at the title of this NcR article: “Making Do with a Faulty Translation”. Okay! This must be about the times that are about to be “the past” – the trial we’ve been through as we have endured the translation of the 2nd edition of the Roman Missal! Yes! Go for it!
Wait…what?! It’s about the NEW translation?! Well…the new translation is not perfect, I’m sure of that. But it is immeasurably better than the translation that’s being shown the door as of November 27. And anyone who doesn’t like it is welcome (as Fr. Z has indicated repeatedly) to use the Latin from which the debated translations spring.
Moving on…Here are things that I find slightly (ahem) ridiculous:
First, there’s this image they present of “the big tent we like to believe the church is”. “Big tent”?! OMG. Okay, whatever. I just don’t see our beloved Mass as a revival meeting. And why does the Fishwrap (thanks again, Fr. Z) not use a capital “C” when speaking about the Roman Catholic Church?
But worse, there’s this:
Yet this Sunday, Nov. 27, the first Sunday in Advent, when we are gathered around the eucharistic table -- what should be the greatest sign of our unity -- many of us will feel depressed. We will feel like losers when we hear not the words that Jesus’ blood “will be shed for you and for all” but that Jesus’ blood “will be shed for you and for many.” (emphasis added)
Ah, yes. The Mass is a “gathering” of all the family…like the big Thanksgiving meal many of us just celebrated. Not. The Mass is our public worship of God. It’s not a “gathering” – not just a collection of individuals who happened to end up in the same place on Sunday morning, each doing his…er…his/her/its own thing. And we’re not “gathered around the table”; we are all supposed to be turned to the Lord as the priest leads us in worshiping God.  
We are the Body of Christ, and the Fishwrap is correct in saying that this “should be the greatest sign of our unity”. This idea of unity is reflected in the fact that those receiving Holy Communion are actually supposed to be in communion with the Church. The Fishwrap has printed plenty of articles and editorials that admit that its staff is not there. The editors obviously disagree with many core teachings of the Church. Core teaching. Doctrine. Things we are required to believe in order to be Catholics in good standing.
And then the old refrain, “We should say ‘for all’, not ‘for many’.” Why? Because “all are welcome at the table of the Lord?” Because God wants all men sorry, persons to be saved? Because we don’t want to admit that objective truth, objective right and wrong, actually exist? Because we don’t want to think about such unpleasant “myths” as purgatory and (gasp) hell? Because there’s no such thing as sin really…it’s all personal preference, ya know.
Yeah, right. So…go with the Latin then! The priest will say “pro multis” and it’s really clear that that means “for all”, right? Sure…
That particular change in the language of the Mass, of course,
…is just one example of a multitude of changes we will hear and cringe at as we pray our way through this new liturgical year. The absence of even an attempt at inclusive language will hurt many in the congregation. Many of us will feel like a battle has been lost. (emphasis added)
Puh-leeeeze. I’ve been cringing for a long time. “Inclusive language”? Yeah, that makes it all so much better. Not. It just happens that “inclusive language”, while a welcome, self-serving balm to some, is in itself a “hurtful” thing to others. So how do we decide which is correct? How about if we go with what the Latin says? How about if we admit that the “masculine” pronoun has traditionally been used and interpreted in an “inclusive” way in the English language, and that people really can understand that…if they want to.
And “cringe”?!? Holy smokes. What do you think many of us on the other side of the issue have been doing for decades? Okay, not me, because I’ve only been Catholic for 9 years; but others have endured the dumbed-down and inane translation for much longer than that.
Then they tell us that Benedictine Fr. Anthony Ruff wrote:
The forthcoming missal is but a part of a larger pattern of top-down impositions by a central authority that does not consider itself accountable to the larger church. When I think of how secretive the translation process was, how little consultation was done with priests or laity, how the Holy See allowed a small group to hijack the translation at the final stage, how unsatisfactory the final text is, how this text was imposed on national conferences of bishops in violation of their legitimate episcopal authority, how much deception and mischief have marked this process -- and then when I think of Our Lord’s teachings on service and love and unity ... I weep. (emphasis added)

There is so much to laugh at in this paragraph that I also weep – because it’s so ridiculous it becomes tragic. Let me just make a couple of points:

     1. The Church is not a democracy, and there actually is a hierarchy. We don’t get to vote on stuff like this!

     2. The phrases “a small group hijacking the process”, and “deception and mischief”, quite accurately describe the whole process behind the creation  of the Novus Ordo (yes, creation of a new Mass, not reform or renewal of the old Mass). There’s plenty of documentation of that. Read one of these books to get the picture: Work of Human Hands: A Theological Critique of the Mass of Paul VI, by Rev. Anthony Cekada; The Ottaviani Intervention: Short Critical Study of the New Order Mass, by Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani, et al.; The Bugnini Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform, by Laszlo Dobszay.

     3. In my humble opinion, when “liberals” like those at the Fishwrap use terms like “love and unity”, they really mean “love of uniformity”. They would love to put us all into the straitjacket of liberal, feel-good “theology”, and make us all circle the altar while holding hands and chanting Kum-Ba-Ya during the consecration.

It seems to me that the NcR says the right things about the wrong translation, and the wrong things about the right translation.

But then…maybe it’s just me…

Friday, November 25, 2011

Second Thoughts on Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized

I wrote on this subject on November 5; see my original post here.
At the New Theological Movement blog, an excellent post by Fr. Ryan Erlenbush has caused me to think some more about this delicate topic, and re-think some of my own conclusions. Fr. Erlenbush asks, “Ought we to pray for young children who have died?” He has some important comments to make on the subject, and he makes his points very well. Please read his entire post.
Fr. Erlenbush makes the following points:
·         If the child is baptized, he has no need of our prayers (as he is already in Heaven)

·         No children can possibly be in purgatory (because young children are incapable of actual sin, and purgatory is for the temporal punishment of our actual sins)

·         If the child is non-baptized, our prayers are of no use (because the child cannot be admitted into Heaven)

He has very good reasons for making these points (again, see his article for a well-reasoned and articulate explanation of each); and while the first two points are probably pretty easy for most of us to accept, the third one is the sticking point. It’s the point where we want to protest, “But how could God NOT admit even a non-baptized child into His presences?!” Recognizing this, Fr. Erlenbush includes this compassionate statement:
To ease the heart, I will say…that young children who have died (even without baptism) are most certainly in a state of perfect happiness and they know and love God while knowing that he loves them infinitely - but whether this is a natural or supernatural happiness, I do not know.
He explains a little later:
However, because it is not heaven and because the children do not enjoy the beatific vision, it is technically a part of hell – the very “edge” (limbus) of hell. But, if there is a limbo, the children there are very happy; and they love God and know that God loves them, but they do not know that God is the Trinity.
The children in limbo, if there is a limbo, will never be admitted into heaven – limbo is eternal. Thus, there would be no reason to pray for these children, and neither could they pray for us. But we should be comforted by the fact that they will exist forever, and will eternally be perfectly happy (according to human nature). Perfect natural happiness and joy, it is not such a bad place! [Emphasis added]
From a theological viewpoint, I am convinced by Fr. Erlenbush’s presentation, and I agree with him that we cannot really pray for the souls of these unbaptized babies in the same way that we pray for the holy souls in purgatory. But from a “pastoral” viewpoint, it is still a difficult, delicate issue (and it is clear that Fr. Erlenbush recognizes this).
Frankly, I cannot imagine the depths of the anguish that must be caused by the death of one’s own child. What excruciating grief, beyond the loss of their baby, must be caused to parents who are told that their child cannot be in Heaven! Virtually all parents want what is best for their children – and Heaven is, of course, infinitely better than even an eternal existence in perfect natural happiness and joy (as Fr.Erlenbush notes). Those of us who have not lost a child of our own can still feel something of the pain associated with the thought of the death of unbaptized babies, and I am sure this is what prompts us to pray for those little souls.
But, if we follow Fr. Erlenbush’s thinking (which reflects sound theology, as far as I can tell, and he’s the expert here), then it doesn’t really make sense to pray for the souls of unbaptized infants (born or unborn) who have died.  
Being Catholic isn’t easy. There is Truth here, and there are times when the Church asks us to believe by faith, even if the Truth makes us uncomfortable, or even angry. For example, many people are uncomfortable with the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception, and they claim the right to act counter to that teaching based on the fact that “I’ve prayed about it”.  This doesn’t change Church teaching; properly understood, Church teaching isn’t something that simply reflects someone’s opinion, or a popular vote.
I believe Fr. Erlenbush has accurately described Church teaching in this area, and he has drawn reasonable and logical conclusions. It is possible to disagree with some of his statements and still be within the teaching of the Church, but he offers convincing evidence for his conclusions. Those who want to say, “Well, I choose to believe otherwise,” would be well-advised to examine their motives and their own evidence for saying so. It’s not really enough to say, “I just feel that way.”
That said, I don’t think that the Church says it is necessarily wrong for parents, for instance, to pray for the soul of their stillborn baby. Even if their prayers for their baby to be in Heaven cannot be granted, as they cry out to God in their grief, He surely will understand their need, and will comfort them in some way. As I think of parents praying out of this need, the saying from Scripture, “the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away” (Matthew 11:12) comes to mind. To be perfectly honest, I have always wondered what this passage really means, but it is often used in situations like this. Can we “force” God to change His mind?! Well, Jacob did wrestle with God, and Abraham argued with God to prevent the destruction of Sodom. And most of us have probably pleaded with God and tried to bargain with Him at one time or another.
Still, Fr. Erlenbush points out that it may not be correct to pray in this way. He says:
But can we pray that they might not be in limbo, but instead be in heaven? If we have some “hope” that they have gone to heaven, can we pray for this intention?
The simple answer is, “no”. We cannot pray that God have created the universe in one way or another – he has already created it as he willed, and our prayers ought not to seek to change that structure. If he created limbo, then it exists and holds these children. If God did not create limbo, then the children are in heaven. But our prayers would have no power to change the structure of God’s creation.
Perhaps a caring and prayerful pastor may be able to guide grieving parents, over time, toward the understanding outlined by Fr. Erlenbush.
I think it is important to keep in mind that the notion that unbaptized infants who die may not be in Heaven is not something that should cause us to lose hope. For one thing, no prayers are “wasted”. The grace gained by prayer will be applied somewhere, even if not in the place intended by the one praying. So if we pray for the salvation of a soul that is already in heaven or already in hell, the grace gained by those prayers, while not useful for that particular intention, will be used elsewhere.
In addition, we maintain our hope by remembering that God always wills what is best for us – even if that means some babies do not obtain the Beatific Vision. We must trust Him.
And finally, our hope is founded on the knowledge that God’s mercy is infinite! He will do what He wants, and despite our best theological conjectures, He might just have all those babies with Him in Heaven right now! We simply cannot know for sure.
Again, from a theological viewpoint, at least, it would appear that the worst case scenario for those babies is perfect happiness and joy. (I think it is good to repeat this point over and over. We need to realize that these unbaptized infants are not being punished.)
The “hard sayings” of the Church can lead us to a more mature understanding of God and our relationship to him; the harder the teaching is to understand, the more we are forced to rely on God to give us the grace to accept it. And while the Church does not say that there is a limbo, the possibility of its existence does follow logically when we consider what the Church does teach.
So, if we are horrified by the idea that there might be a limbo for deceased unbaptized babies, it is better to ask what we should do if that is true, rather than to deny the possibility out of our own emotional reaction. We should perhaps consider changing the focus of our prayers. At the risk of being accused of offering a simplistic panacea, I offer the following suggestions:
1.      If we want to make sure no aborted babies end up in limbo (just in case there is a limbo), then we must pray and work to end abortion. We can certainly be assured that prayers for the safety of unborn babies will be heard by God!

2.      Similarly, if we want to make sure no miscarried babies end up in limbo, then we must increase our prayers for the successful outcome of every pregnancy. We must pray that every baby is carried to term (and then baptized), even if the baby is only barely alive at birth. It seems inevitable that there will be miscarriages, but in that case, I think Fr. Erlenbush’s assessment of the state of the baby’s soul is comforting: that soul will experience God’s love, and will know perfect (natural) happiness and joy. We must pray for pastors to be able to reflect God’s love and mercy as they help bereaved parents through these heart-wrenching times.

3.      Parents must be encouraged to have their babies baptized as soon as possible after birth. I think that too many parents – especially those who are lukewarm Catholics, or cafeteria Catholics – do not believe that baptism is necessary for salvation. If the reality of Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory were preached more often, perhaps some necessary catechesis could occur.
The best prayer to pray, in my humble opinion, is “God’s will be done.”

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm thankful for many things - though not thankful enough for most of them. Here are photos of a few of the earthly gifts God has given me, for which I am truly grateful.

A priest willing to offer the EF Mass!
And Mike, server extraordinaire (and my husband too, of course)

A young girl receiving her First Holy Communion in the Extraordinary Form.

My friend Liz

My husband, who is a little unorthodox in his own way!


Rainbows at sunset

Clouds...and cloud photos that turn out different than I expected.

Ninja skunk hunters

My friend Doc

A husband who is willing to do just about anything I ask of him.

My baby

My son Sky

My grandson Willow

Happy Thanksgiving!

Didn't I Just Say...?! More "Cute"

Just after I finished the previous post, “Cute Trumps All” (see below), I learned that this little story will appear in the next issue of our Diocesan Chronicle.
The Children of St. Patrick Parish in Heppner celebrated All Saints' Day this year with a Children's Mass. Grades pre-school through sixth began the Mass by singing "When the Saints Go Marching In", and then carried in banners of the Saints.  Four children were dressed up as Saint Juan Diego, Saint Therese of Lisieux, Saint Maximilian Kolbe, and Saint Padre Pio, and read to the congregation about their lives. Saint Padre Pio even displayed his wounds of Jesus Christ. All of the students participated in the Mass, and
after Communion, the little ones sang, "This Little Light of Mine" and "Jesus Loves Me".   Everyone enjoyed the special Mass and the learned not only about the saints but also about the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
I admit that I was not there (thanks be to God!), so I am basing all of my comments on the above description of this event.
1.      Even though the story mentions that “grades pre-school through sixth” were involved, I don’t think this was really a “Mass for Children at Which Few Adults Are Present”. I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure that there is not a Catholic school in Heppner. Even if it was actually a Mass with lots of kids and few adults, it still violates the norms for such a Mass. See the Directory for Masses with Children.

2.      That little ditty, “When the Saints Go Marching In”, should be banned from every musical situation possible, apart from that where a marching band plays it at a football game…in my not-so-humble opinion. I may have been formed in this opinion by my father, who always said it didn’t even qualify as a song; I’m certain that a few years of hearing children sing it in the context of Mass has led me to experience nausea at the mere mention of the title. Although I cannot find this doctrine in any Church document, I’m sure that it’s only a matter of time… ;-)

3.      Four children read to the congregation about the lives of the saints. When? During the time designated for the homily? Hmmm…It doesn’t say. Maybe it was afterwards, in the parish hall, while the adults were enjoying coffee and donuts? Yeah, that must be it, because that would be the appropriate place for it.

4.      Folks, this story describes a children’s pageant, not a Mass.

5.      The children “learned not only about the saints but also about the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.” Okay, they learned about the saints, which they should have done in their RE classes, not at Mass – at least not in the way described above. And what, I’m wondering, just what did they learn about the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? Remember even the Directory for Masses with Children notes:
21. It is always necessary to keep in mind that these Eucharistic Celebrations must lead children toward the celebration of Mass with adults… (my emphasis)

Kids dressed up as saints, reading at Mass, and singing kids’ Bible songs – it’s all cute. Very, very cute. Adorable even.

It’s not meant for Mass.

And that’s not just my opinion. It is what the Church tells us.

Monday, November 21, 2011

"Cute" Trumps All: The Ubiquitous Children's Mass

When it comes to liturgical issues involving children, a priest I know has a ready comment: “ ‘Cute’ ” trumps all,” he tells me. I know he’s right, but it doesn’t stop me from making myself unpopular with lots of folks who think that there’s nothing wrong with “cute” and that we should have more of it in the Mass.

I’m not talking here about the dismissal of children at Sunday Mass for a “children’s liturgy of the word” to take place in another room (but see Roma Locuta Est blog for a discussion of that issue). I’m talking primarily about the infamous “Children’s Mass” and the infamous “children’s” choir…and this is not to say that there is not a place for either. Both can be done properly, apparently (eyes rolling…sorry!). There does exist a Directory for Masses with Children, but, as seems to be the American way, it is much abused and disregarded.

The Directory describes acceptable norms and procedures for “Masses with Adults in which Children Participate” (which would be your typical Sunday Mass in most parishes), and “Masses with Children in which Only a Few Adults Participate” (which would be more along the lines of a daily Mass at a Catholic elementary school). I think the problem comes when the decision is made to have a Sunday Mass that looks like it falls into the second category, even though adults outnumber the children, and it’s the main Sunday Mass of the parish. Granted, it may be absolutely true that few adults are actually participating, but given the fact that the Directory was prepared under the guidance of Monsignor Annibale Bugnini, it is unlikely that the chapter title refers to anything more than the number of warm adult bodies actually present in the church.

So, here’s the problem, made specific to the parish nearest to my home (which is not to say that it is the parish of which I consider myself a member, nor does it say I am even welcome there…which I am not…either one):

On the first Sunday of every month from October to May, there is a “Children’s Mass” – explicitly so called by the pastor of the parish. I admit that I have not attended this Mass in a long, long time, but I know what it used to be like, and I’ve heard reports from reliable sources about recent occurrences. All reports indicate that things have gone from bad to worse. I notice that in the online parish bulletin, the pastor has decided this year to call it a “Youth Mass”.

[Pause here for a moment of hair-pulling, teeth-gnashing, guttural noise-making, and even some outright shouting of “what is he THINKING!”…okay, I’m under control now. Let us continue.]

This first-Sunday-of-the-month Mass consists of music sung by a small children’s choir. (Small children? Or a small choir? Ummm…both, actually…) What’s wrong with that? After all, we have all seen some really good children’s choirs on you-tube – kids singing Gregorian chant or even sacred polyphony. No, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Unfortunately, the kids in our local “children’s choir” are directed in singing little ditties along the lines of “Jesus Loves Me”, and other songs that would qualify mostly as Protestant children’s Bible songs, with little to recommend them to Catholic sensibilities. But it’s so cute!

In my main attempt to change the pastor’s mind about all this a few years ago, I wrote a letter to him, addressing the problems. In part, I said:

…Generally speaking, the music chosen for the children to sing is not suitable to Mass; there seems to be an increasingly childish flavor to the songs, and some are of questionable theological soundness. Even young children can be taught to sing hymns that are more reverent and mature than those currently in use. After one of the last times my daughter sang in the children's choir, she spontaneously noted, "I don't think Lord of the Dance was really an appropriate song for communion." When I asked her for her reasons, she said that it was not slow and serious enough. A good appraisal, I think, "out of the mouths of babes."  Lord of the Dance certainly is not conducive to pondering the mystery of the Eucharist.

There also seems to be an increase in the use of hand gestures and body movements in the songs. While this can be amusing and entertaining in a children's performance, it is liturgically inappropriate. Bishop Vasa's pastoral letter, Servant of the Sacred Liturgy, p. 26, reads "No dancing (i.e., ballet, children's gestures as dancing…) is permitted to be 'introduced into liturgical celebrations of any kind whatever.' (Notitiae II (1975) 202-205)."  The children themselves seem to be embarrassed at being asked to perform the gestures, and my daughter cites this as one reason she does not want to participate.

Having the children sing at Mass takes on the appearance of a performance, rather than a ministry. In fact, a number of times, when you have thanked the children's choir for singing, the congregation breaks into applause for them. I think this shows that the children's choir is not truly fulfilling a ministry in the minds of the adult members of the parish, and it is giving the children the wrong idea about what participation in the music ministry means. It is not about "performing" for the parents.

Lest you think I am totally “anti-children” (as the pastor has accused suggested) or that I am mean and stingy and unwilling to give credit where credit is due, here is the next-to-last paragraph of that same letter:

I admire your desire to cultivate children's interest in music and singing; and I appreciate very much the fact that, as always, you are willing to go the "extra mile" to implement a good idea. Still, there are other, more appropriate, times for the children to display their talents. For instance, the children could be invited to perform during the Knights of Columbus breakfast after Mass on the second Sunday of each month; this would probably also have the effect of increasing attendance at that event. Alternatively, a special performance could be arranged on a weekday evening – perhaps even during the Wednesday night RE activities. Most people – myself included! – do like to hear young children sing, and I'm sure performances outside of Mass would be well-attended.

At the time I wrote that letter, the children’s choir sang at the Sunday Mass, and that was that. It wasn’t called a “Children’s Mass”; it was just that we had the children singing. But now there is a change in the description in the bulletin: it is called the “Children’s Mass” or the “Youth Mass”, and we are told that the children will be found helping with every “ministry” available – and some “ministries” they are performing are simply not appropriate. In addition, there have been several times where Father had the children act out a skit which he narrated, in lieu of a homily. I am reminded of the time Father had all the children in attendance at Mass come up around the altar for the consecration! [Pause again for more gnashing of teeth and rending of garments. Deep cleansing breaths…]

Tailoring a main Sunday Mass to the children is, in my humble opinion, reprehensible. It dumbs down the Mass, and this does not benefit the children any more than it benefits the adults. Even the Directory notes:

21. It is always necessary to keep in mind that these Eucharistic Celebrations must lead children toward the celebration of Mass with adults, especially in the Masses at which the Christian community must come together on Sundays… (my emphasis)

In other words, these “Masses with Children” should not be the Sunday Mass of the parish, and they should always lead children toward a more mature understanding of the liturgy. A “Children’s Mass” on Sunday, where the children sing kids’ Bible songs, “help” in preparing the altar, act out a skit for the homily, etc., does not fit the bill. It meets the requirements for neither the “Masses with Children in Which Only a Few Adults Participate”, nor the “Masses with Adults in Which Children Participate”. It is an anomaly.
Unfortunately, it is my suspicion that this anomaly takes place at many parishes around Christmas time…particularly that Christmas Eve Mass that many mistake for the annual community Christmas party.