ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
106. By a tradition handed down from the apostles which took its origin from the very day of Christ's resurrection, the Church celebrates the paschal mystery every eighth day; with good reason this, then, bears the name of the Lord's day or Sunday. For on this day Christ's faithful are bound to come together into one place so that; by hearing the word of God and taking part in the eucharist, they may call to mind the passion, the resurrection and the glorification of the Lord Jesus, and may thank God who "has begotten them again, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, unto a living hope" (1 Pet. 1:3). Hence the Lord's day is the original feast day, and it should be proposed to the piety of the faithful and taught to them so that it may become in fact a day of joy and of freedom from work. Other celebrations, unless they be truly of greatest importance, shall not have precedence over the Sunday which is the foundation and kernel of the whole liturgical year.
Like most of you I am hunkered down in my own diocese here in Central Florida. My diocese is resuming weekend church liturgies on the Feast of Pentecost, on next Saturday and Sunday. I have Facebook friends from many dioceses in the United States, and I get the impression that the Florida dioceses may be opening for weekend Masses somewhat earlier than others, and in my diocese earlier than the theme parks Disneyworld and Universal. Given that our public schools and universities remain closed, I fear wholesale Catholic worship may be starting too early. The governor of Texas allowed churches to open for regular services a few weeks ago, and a Catholic Church in Houston suffered what probably every pastor is seeking to avoid, a Covid 19 outbreak. The Houston Chronicle notes that despite the governor’s declaration, most Catholic churches in the area remained closed; the Redemptorist parish was an outlier, it seems.
I was reading the proposed safety rules under review for Universal Studios. I noticed that the temperatures of every park guest will be taken. When I had a physical a few weeks ago, temperature measurements to enter the facilities were de rigour as they are at our newly opened hair salons, and Frontier Airlines has adopted the practice for anyone, crew or passengers, entering a plane. I did not see temperature screening in any church guidelines I reviewed except for a consortium of black churches in Chicago; in fact, the guidelines posted for my church are benign: “It is strongly encouraged that you wear a mask during your attendance at Church and to practice proper hygiene such as the sanitizing of hands before you enter.”
One of the major questions in secular life is the medical protocol of wearing masks. The argument that face masks significantly protect the spray of virus droplets is overwhelming. The purpose of masks is protection of neighbor and limitation of contagion. The issue of masks has become something of a “personal rights” or “political stance” issue instead of a good neighbor opportunity. Having watched the news this weekend, and doing my early dawn jaunt to the grocery store each week, it is pretty obvious that the dependence of public health officials upon adult responsibility is one of the weaker links in the battle to contain the virus. Local government here in Central Florida has asked the theme parks how they plan to deal with visitors who rip off their masks inside the parks? Will Catholics provide a better example in their compliance to the solid advice of their pastors, and how will the pastors in turn balance public safety without alienating some members?
Jet Blue, American, United, Delta, Southwest and Alaska Airlines require the use of masks on all of their flights, but this puts the onus of policing upon airline service personnel who, as the Los Angeles Times reports, do not have a federal mandate to protect themselves and other passengers. I am curious to see how Catholics respond to the extensive policing of their movement by lay ministers and ushers. My parish is requiring computer reservations made on-line before the weekend for a specific Mass; some church ministers—one can bank on it—will be put in the strange position of refusing admission to the sacrament to their friends and fellow parishioners without reservations. I was a pastor for twenty years; I know how some members respond to even the slightest inconveniences.
It does seem that in the present atmosphere there is a rush to get back to Sunday Eucharistic routine. In the best of all worlds we can find little to disagree with in Paragraph 106 of Sacrosanctum Concilium: “Christ’s faithful are bound to come together in one place…” to hear the Word and take part in the Eucharist. The same paragraph establishes the rationale for Sunday as our high holy day, i.e., it is the day of the Resurrection. The sanctity of Sunday dates to apostolic times, though it is true that the earliest Jewish converts to Christianity worshipped on the Saturday Sabbath and then broke bread in its primitive Eucharist. Para. 106 is articulating the Christian Tradition of Sunday Eucharist as the norm of Catholic life.
That said, the life experience of the Church is replete with circumstances in which the Eucharist could not be celebrated with large numbers. Plagues of course, and usually ones much more severe than Covid 19, created vacuums in regular Eucharistic gatherings that lasted several years. Kings and tyrants have forbidden Catholic worship for decades and centuries, even to the present moment. It is worth noting here that Catholic chaplains in World War II won extraordinary respect among enlisted men for their presence at the front for confession and ministrations, and it was not rare for Eucharist to be celebrated amid ruins and the sounds of active battle at whatever opportunity came along. I suppose the ultimate theological question about access to the Eucharist is to examine possibilities for broader criteria of ordinations to the priesthood, but that is a discussion for another day.
Again, the “breaking loose” of so many of our citizens from social isolation in recent weeks seems to send a message that the Covid-19 pandemic is retreating or has lost its vigor, which is certainly not the case. Medical scientists point out that widespread group exposures and infection may take as long as a month to show up in hospitals. As I write, 24 states are seeing increased numbers of cases. My modest city of Apopka, Florida, has 180 active cases now. Regarding the Eucharist, Sts. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas remind us that Eucharist is a symbol, like all sacraments. The timing of the resumption of weekly Eucharist is now part of that symbol. As Rita Ferrone writes in an excellent piece in this week’s Commonweal, the general guidelines for safety provided by the U.S. bishops serious distort the very signs and symbols of the sacrament itself.
The eagerness of dioceses to resume the regular Mass schedule is understandable, even admirable under difference circumstances. Among those who post with frequency on Catholic parochial blog sites around the country, there is palpable hunger to return to the sacraments, mixed with a desire to see the local church’s family again. This is understandable. By the same token, there is an equal amount who are concerned about safety and the judgment to come together too quickly. I told my wife that “it will not be the president of the United States who will declare the lockdown over, nor will it be bishops. It will be over when parents with minor children say it is over, and not a minute before.”
There are two other considerations pressuring Catholic dioceses and parishes. The obvious pressure is financial. The absence of dependable weekly giving through the Offertory collection has been a staggering blow for many. Thankfully, EFT offerings are a resource that was not generally available a generation ago, but this is offset by the large number of unemployed parishioners. My own parish is large and carries reserves; but many parishes operate week to week. Dioceses, traditionally the financial backstop for parish fiscal crises, are generally no longer able to provide this service. If any reader has a paid link to Moody’s, the bond analysts, check out the Archdiocese of Chicago, whose corporate rating was dropped three notches last week. Moody’s went on to say that in the present environment, Catholic dioceses are poor investment risks because of their propensity to embrace bankruptcy and their continuing large exposure to child abuse claims. My home diocese of Buffalo this week announced another round of church and school merger and closing strategies. Some parishes are borrowing from local banks to stay afloat. The very survival of some churches depends upon a return of parishioners and a steady cash flow.
Another point, a significant theological and pastoral one, is the impact of the disruption of live attendance at Eucharist and the widespread and immensely popular use of live-streamed or televised Masses. My parish’s YouTube livestream of last week’s 10 AM Ascension Sunday Mass was viewed, concurrently or later, by 5100 persons. There is no way to break this down; my guess is that many participants are from my parish, but some comments on-line suggested that at least some were visitors from other Catholic communities. My wife and I participated in the pope’s on-line Easter Mass, and when left to my own devices I join Bishop Baron’s Mass in his chapel. My parish’s liturgies are generally very good, but I find as I get older that I’m more inclined toward quiet, reflective liturgy, which is why I make an annual retreat each year to the Trappist monastery in South Carolina. If you talk to men of my generation [65+] you might be surprised that I am not an outlier on this preference. The large number of streamed Masses across the country presents something of a catechetical opportunity to observe how other assemblies celebrate the sacred mysteries. Yes, we all use the same Roman Missal, but every community and every celebrant have a unique style of public worship.
I have to think that, with the closing of churches for nearly three months now, bishops are deeply concerned that the habit of televised Mass, or the other extreme, of living without engaged, living persons at worship at all, will become deeply and permanently entrenched. It will be instructive to see attendance patterns in the churches, given that many persons—including myself—will return to parish Mass, but not at this juncture, given that we are in that window of vulnerability in our 70’s. As I say, there will be noticeable absences until the virus’s impact on children is better understood and mitigated.
Coincidentally, my news ticker just reported that Disneyworld here in Orlando has submitted its reopening plan to Governor DeSantis, seeking a July 15 opening. From ABC News: “Parades and fireworks will be temporarily suspended to enable distancing. Character meet-and-greets as well as playgrounds are also temporarily suspended. Temperature checks will be conducted for both staff and guests… In addition to physical distancing, guests and cast members will be required to wear face masks, and plexiglass at registers and other places where distancing is difficult will be installed.”
As the late NBC sportscaster Dick Enberg would say, “Oh my!”
ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
104. The Church has also included in the annual cycle days devoted to the memory of the martyrs and the other saints. Raised up to perfection by the manifold grace of God, and already in possession of eternal salvation, they sing God's perfect praise in heaven and offer prayers for us. By celebrating the passage of these saints from earth to heaven the Church proclaims the paschal mystery achieved in the saints who have suffered and been glorified with Christ; she proposes them to the faithful as examples drawing all to the Father through Christ, and through their merits she pleads for God's favors.
Have saints been canonized for heroic services in plagues? I put this question into “search” and instantly came to the colorful Catholic evangelical news service Aleteia. A March 12, 2020 story highlights just six of many Christian heroes and heroines renowned for courage and charity in caring for the sick in the many plagues of the Christian era. In fact, these Gospel motivated “frontline providers” were regarded with the same reverence as martyrs. In Alexandria, Egypt, around 250 A.D., St. Dionysius wrote of these Christians: “Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains.”
St. Charles Borromeo [1538-1584], Bishop of Milan, Italy, is included in this summary. When famine and plague visited his city, Borromeo made out his will, prepared himself spiritually for death, and plunged into physical care of the sick and starving. The saintly bishop, known primarily for his work in reforming the clergy after the Council of Trent, survived the plague as well as a gunshot from a disgruntled unreformed cleric. Borromeo was revered by the Church [well, perhaps not by unreformed bishops and priests] for his personal sanctity, his charity, his energies to promote education, including CCD, and primarily as the church figure most identified with reforming the Church in the face of the Protestant Reformation. He checked all the boxes, so to speak.
Paragraph 104 of Sacrosanctum Concilium pays special attention to the saints. While it is true that only a very small percentage of canonized saints are universally remembered with feast days in the daily flow of the Church’s liturgical calendar, it is fitting to designate those who have lived the Gospel with extraordinary dedication. Strange to say, but saints are invaluable to the catechetical process because they provide concrete examples of what the generic term “holiness” looks like. The assumption, of course, is that we who look back on the saints take the time to understand them in their historical context. In fact, the existence of a cult of devotion to a particular individual was usually the preferred way of designating a new saint. The formal process of canonization did not originate until 993 A.D. when Pope John XV declared St. Ulrich of Augsburg.
By the end of the first millennium there were already many “saints” revered by the faithful, some locally and some universally; the latter had their names included in public liturgy, in preaching, in art, in morality plays, and in the recounting of their tales. The Apostles, including Paul, were honored as companions of Christ and founders of the Christian Church; the evangelists were likewise esteemed. Along with faithful preaching of the Lord Jesus, death by martyrdom was highly esteemed, to the point that history books describe the years 100-300 A.D. as “the age of martyrs.” Consider this citation from our current Eucharistic Prayer 1:
“To us, also, your servants, who, though sinners,
hope in your abundant mercies,
graciously grant some share
and fellowship with your holy Apostles and Martyrs:
with John the Baptist, Stephen,
Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia)
and all your Saints.”
Perpetua and Felicity are worthy of special note here, for their executions in the Circus of Carthage in 202 A.D. is possibly the best documented of all saintly martyrdoms of this era. Perpetua kept a diary in prison, preserved by an outside witness who added the details of their deaths. It is easy to understand how the acta sanctorum or accounts of the saints served as powerful catechetics. Where possible, the Eucharist was celebrated over the sites of their burial, and eventually even churches were built over the graves.
In the age of the Christological Councils [325 A.D. through 451 A.D.]—which defined the doctrines of Jesus’ true identity as we know them in the Creed—the greatest saints were the scholars, writers, thinkers, and spokespersons, a period which included St. Leo the Great, St. Jerome, and St. Augustine, who was held in house arrest by the citizens of Hippo in North Africa until he agreed to serve as their bishop. Popular cult indeed, even before death! The Dark Ages produced missionary saints who stretched the boundaries of Christianity as the Western Roman Empire collapsed. Famous in this era were St. Patrick, St. Boniface [Germany], and Sts. Cyril and Methodius, who developed the Cyrillic alphabet to convert Eastern Europe. The Dark Ages were enlightened considerably by St. Benedict, the founder of modern monasticism which provided a backbone of civilized existence when civil rule fail.
The high Middle Ages saw the universities produce several saints who advanced Christian thinking into the modern era. Sts. Thomas Aquinas and Albert the Great represented the height of Dominican scholarship while St. Bonaventure came forth from the new Franciscan order. The appearance of the new “mendicant” [begging] orders, the Dominicans and Franciscans, were the tip of a medieval iceberg of grass roots spiritual activism and mysticism that disturbed the authority of the Church and attracted investigation by the new Inquisition. Francis of Assisi received the excellent advice of seeking the direct permission of the powerful Pope Innocent III to adopt the Gospel itself as his community’s rule of life and continued to enjoy the favor of Rome. Many lesser bands were much less fortunate.
The age of “canonization by cult” was ending as the management structure of the Church adopted the practice of strict doctrinal and moral investigation of those put forward for sainthood. As the age of the Reformation and the Renaissance pushed forward, the template of sainthood became the defense of Catholic life and authority as well as the propagation of the Faith to the Far East and the New World. St. Ignatius of Loyola led what might be called the pushback to Protestant theology and practice. His Jesuits established Catholic universities throughout Europe and missions around the world. Consider that the Jesuit St. Peter Canisius founded six universities in central Europe in the sixteenth century, while St. Francis Xavier’s mission work took him to the doorstep of China and St. Isaac Jogues and his companions met gruesome challenges and death as missionaries to Native Americans in what is now New York State.
Between the Council of Trent in 1563 and Vatican II in 1962, in the “Counter Reformation Church,” there were few canonizations relative to today’s number. Occasionally the piety of the faithful would break through the routine of Church life; consider the devotion to the Sacred Heart [St. Margaret Mary], to the Virgin at Lourdes [St. Bernadette], to the more compassionate treatment of penitents in the confessional [St. Alphonsus Ligouri and St. John Vianney]. In 1950 Maria Goretti, the youngest person ever canonized, was elevated to sainthood by Pope Pius XII a half century after she was stabbed to death at the age of twelve to protect her virginity. Her murderer, who attended the canonization a reformed man, died in 1970.
The canonization process was turned on its head by Pope John Paul II [r. 1978-2005] who canonized close to five hundred people in his 27-year reign. His motivations included recognition of the universal nature of the Church, as his new saints hail from all over the planet. Many of his candidates were lay persons, and a good number were women. The pontiff perhaps drew from the observation of para. 104 that the Church “proposes them to the faithful as examples drawing all to the Father through Christ.” Implicitly he made the point that sainthood was possible in simple and unremarkable circumstances; one need not die a dramatic death in a Roman Circus to bring the Gospel to others. John Paul’s great respect of Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s work in utterly hopeless circumstances, and her philosophy of her work, probably impacted his thought as well. Mother Teresa observed that “we are not called to be successful; we are called to be faithful.”
It is one of history’s ironies that the pope who renewed the process and purpose of canonization should suffer a questionable process of his own sainthood. Historians—at least the wise ones—realize that it takes generations to know the measure of their subjects. In the matter of Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI proceeded to canonize his predecessor too quickly before the full record of John Paul’s stewardship of ecclesiastical leadership could be assessed. Thus, several of John Paul’s pastoral judgments have embarrassed the Church in retrospect after his canonization. Among them the promotion of Cardinal Law of Boston to a high Roman post after the clerical sexual abuse tragedy in Law’s archdiocese became international news; a long and admiring friendship with Father Gabriel Maciel, founder of the Legion of Christ, whose leadership style and personal life had troubled Vatican officials since 1943; and John Paul’s multiple promotions of the American cleric Theodore McCarrick, who was removed from the College of Cardinals two years ago and laicized after a career of financial misdealing and sexual coercion.
It remains in the hands of Pope Francis as to what he will or will not reveal to the Church about John Paul and McCarrick. This particular case is a pivotal one in the matter of the Church’s transparency regarding clerical child abuse. Speaking early this year during another awkward canonization process, that of Bishop Fulton Sheen’s [1895-1979], postponed last December, Pope Francis encouraged members of the Vatican's saint-making office to continue with their rigorous investigations into lives of candidates, saying their job is to “clear away every ambiguity and doubt” that a person deserves to be a saint.
Francis did not mention Sheen by name during his previously scheduled audience with members of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, who vet all saint-making cases. But he did note that “saints aren’t perfect and aren’t some unreachable species of human beings.” Rather, he said, “They are people who tirelessly lived their daily lives with success and failure, finding in the Lord the strength to always get back up and continue the path.”
Pope Francis might have been wise to add: “No matter how strong the cult, for the good of the Church it is best to wait a century, when all the documents are unsealed and the lasting influence of any candidate upon the Church can be assessed by the unflinching light of history.”