Category Archives: Pastor’s Message

Pastor’s Message – The Sunday Obligation

Since the Parish bulletin isn’t up yet, I thought I would post this here.

As you know, the Church places on all the baptised the obligation to attend Mass on all Sundays and holy days of obligation (Catechism, no. 1389; Canon Law, no. 1247). This is a serious obligation, which God instituted for our own good (3rd Commandment), and which the Church continues in fidelity to God’s will. Moreover, in her maternal love for us, she knows that we need (as a minimum) to be nourished weekly by the Word of God and the Eucharist in order to avoid grave sin and remain spiritually alive.

By this the Church reminds us that participation in the Sunday Mass is the foundation of our ‘practice of the faith’, the source of every other prayer, devotion and spiritual exercise we undertake, and that these other activities are directed to the Mass as to their goal (Catechism, no. 1324). Without the Sunday Mass, all of other aspects of the spiritual life fall flat.

So serious is this obligation that to intentionally or neglectfully miss Sunday Mass is a mortal sin. Again, this is because she desires us to be holy and knows how much we need God’s grace. However, there are circumstances in which this holy obligation cancelled. Canon Law lists two: the absence of a Priest, and, another grave cause (Can. 1248).

The absence of a Priest is an obvious reason: no Priest = no Mass. But what about another grave cause? The Oxford Dictionary defines grave as, “giving cause for alarm”. The Church has always understood that a ‘just cause’ for missing Sunday Mass must be something of the utmost importance.

The usual examples of ‘grave cause’ are: serious illness, caring for the sick, impossibility of transportation, emergencies, the necessity to work to support one’s family, or severe weather. (It does not, however, include convenience, the presence of guests or other such instances.)

In such grave cases, the obligation to attend Mass is not transferred to another day or even to a Liturgy of the Word; it simply ceases. Again, this is due to the Church’s maternal care for her children: the Church doesn’t obligate us to do the impossible.

I write about this because winter is already upon us and it’s expected to be long a harsh this year. It is very likely that on some weekends we might experience severe weather or dangerous driving conditions. If Mass is cancelled due to weather, or if the roads in your area are too dangerous, please stay at home. If it’s too dangerous for the Priest, it’s too dangerous for you. Do not put yourself or your family at risk, especially on a Saturday night; this isn’t the kind of heroism the Church desires of us. If roads are better on Sunday morning, come to Mass then. If not, then in such situations, the Sunday obligation is lifted and you do not sin by staying home.

However, the Church’s mercy in such grave circumstances should never be taken lightly. We must always be careful not to become loose in our interpretation of ‘grave cause’ or lax in our obligation to attend Mass.

If it becomes impossible to attend Mass, I encourage you to spend time in prayer, especially as a family; it is still the Lord’s Day, even if you can’t attend Mass. Read the readings for that Sunday, meditate on them and discuss them. Offer some prayers of intercession — especially for better weather and for safety —, and pray the Rosary. In this way, while Mass may not be possible, you will still spend time with the Lord and grow in faith and in grace.

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Vatican Council II – Revisiting its Documents: Sacrosanctum Concilium Part XXVI

A multi-part series honouring the Vatican Council II by reviewing its documents.
We continue with a review of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.

Part XXVI: Chapter VII: Sacred Art and Sacred Furnishings

Since the beginning of her public life in the 4th century, the Church has understood art to be an important tool in teaching and expressing the Faith. We need only look to the numerous mosaics, icons, ancient churches and paintings of the Renaissance to see how significant art has been. But this hasn’t been by accident or for show; there are deep theological reasons why art is important to the practice of the Faith:

The oldest known icon of Christ Pantocrator (Christ the Lord of Hosts), encaustic on panel, 6th century. The two different facial expressions on either side seem to emphasize Christ’s two natures, fully God and fully man. Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai.

Very rightly the fine arts are considered to rank among the noblest activities of man’s genius, and this applies especially to religious art and to its highest achievement, which is sacred art. These arts, by their very nature, are oriented toward the infinite beauty of God which they attempt in some way to portray by the work of human hands; they achieve their purpose of redounding to God’s praise and glory in proportion as they are directed the more exclusively to the single aim of turning men’s minds devoutly toward God (no. 122).

You see, contrary to popular belief today, art isn’t about self-expression. Up until the 20th century, art was always understood to be an attempt to represent and convey the deep truths of beauty, the human person, and man’s longing for the infinite. True art always leads us outside of ourselves, even beyond the artist, toward something greater. This is especially true of sacred art, whose object is God and the divine mysteries. For this reason the Church has long been one of the biggest patrons and contributors of art. Just look at the Vatican Museums!

For these same reasons, the Church has also intentionally incorporated artistic craft and merit to its various objects of practical use, such as vestments, sacred vessels, and church buildings. [A]ll things set apart for use in divine worship should be truly worthy, becoming, and beautiful, signs and symbols of the supernatural world […] in accordance with faith, piety, and cherished traditional laws, and thereby fitted for sacred use (no. 122). Just because something is useful or practical, it doesn’t mean it should be ugly and poorly made.

Rather, the Church has rightly insisted that whatever is used in worship should reflect the importance and dignity of that sacred action: we ought to give our best to God (cf. Gen 4). But the Church has never insisted on any one particular style: she has remained opened to the changes in artistic style and expression as they’ve evolved over the centuries due to trends, culture and time (no. 123). This has contributed greatly to the beauty and diversity of the Church’s artistic legacy and the presence of art in worship. Bishops, therefore, have the duty to encourage, support and protect sacred art (no. 124). They ought to promote those forms that strengthen faith and piety, and remove those that offend true religious sense either by depraved forms or by lack of artistic worth, mediocrity and pretense (no. 124). They should have a special concern for artists, so as to imbue them with the spirit of sacred art and of the sacred liturgy (no. 127). Sacred art must always be subservient to Faith and the Liturgy; it isn’t for it’s own sake. It’s purpose is to helps us enter more deeply into prayer, contemplate the mysteries of God, and to further our knowledge and understanding of the Faith. (To be continued…)

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Vatican Council II – Revisiting its Documents: Sacrosanctum Concilium Part XXIV

This is a multi-part series honouring the Vatican Council II by reviewing its documents.
We continue with a review of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.

Part XXIV: Chapter V: The Liturgical Year, continued

As discussed in previous segments, the entire Liturgical Year hinges on the Paschal Mystery, annually at Easter and weekly on Sunday; our whole faith-life revolves around the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus. The Council Fathers sought to help us rediscover the importance, beauty and spiritual wealth of the Liturgical Year.

As we saw, they restated our obligation to attend Sunday Mass (no. 106) and directed our hearts and minds towards the feasts of the Lord (no. 108). But the they also wanted us rediscover the true meaning of the sacred Seasons, especially Lent:

…by recalling or preparing for Baptism and by penance, [Lent] disposes the faithful, who more diligently hear the Word of God and devote themselves to prayer, to celebrate the Paschal Mystery. This twofold character is to be brought into greater prominence both in the Liturgy and by liturgical catechesis. Hence: a) More use is to be made of the baptismal features proper to the Lenten liturgy. Some of them which were part of an earlier tradition are to be restored…

  1. b) The same may be said of the penitential elements. But catechesis, as well as pointing out the social consequences of sin, must impress on the minds of the faithful the distinctive character of penance as detestation of sin because it is an offence against God. The role of the Church in penitential practices is not to be passed over, and the need to pray for sinners should be emphasized.

During Lent penance should not be only internal and individual, but also external and social… Nevertheless, let the [solemn] Paschal Fast be kept sacred. Let it be celebrated everywhere on Good Friday and, where possible, prolonged throughout Holy Saturday, so that the joys of the Sunday of the Resurrection may be attained with uplifted and clear mind (nos. 109-110, emphasis added).

But in all of this we must always remember that penance is not about suffering. Penance is about sacrificial love: it’s about letting go of something good for the sake of something better, out of love for Someone greater. Love is to be the motivation for penance; in this way it helps us to grow in charity and in the detestation of sin (no. 109). It also helps us to refocus our hearts and minds on Jesus and the importance He is to have in our lives, and to redirect our efforts toward our salvation.

[Jesus’] divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, … so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world …[and] become participants in the divine nature. For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble (2 Peter 1:3-7, 10).

This concludes Chapter V, The Liturgical Year. (To be continued…)

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Vatican Council II – Revisiting its Documents: Sacrosanctum Concilium Part XXIII

This is a multi-part series honouring the Vatican Council II by reviewing its documents.
We continue with a review of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.

Part XXIII: Chapter V: The Liturgical Year, continued

As discussed in the last segment, the entire Liturgical Year hinges around the solemn celebrations of the Paschal Mystery, annually at Easter and weekly on Sunday, which is the Lord’s Day.

Consequently, after renewing our moral obligation to attend Mass on Sundays (no. 106), the Council Fathers issued a series of decrees to emphasise the importance of the Liturgical Year and their desire for a rediscovery of its beauty and spiritual wealth. “The liturgical year is to be revised so that the traditional customs and discipline of the sacred seasons shall be preserved or restored to suit the conditions of modern times; their specific character is to be retained, so that they duly nourish the piety of the faithful who celebrate the mysteries of Christian redemption” (no. 107).

In other words, the various traditions we have that are linked to Liturgical Seasons or feasts should be in accord with those Seasons and feasts. For example, the Eastern European tradition of the blessing of Easter food. Historically, the great Lenten Fast was quite severe — as it still is for some Eastern Catholics: people would abstain from all meat and animal products (such as eggs and dairy) for the entire Season of Lent. At the Easter Vigil or on Sunday morning they would gather these foods into a basket and have them blessed by the Priest in preparation for their Easter banquet.

But the solemn fast of Good Friday was also severe, and people had to fast from Friday until the Easter Vigil. Over time, it happened that the Easter Vigil ended up being celebrated either at 12noon on Holy Saturday or even earlier, because people could not maintain the fast. Hence the practice of blessing the Easter foods also came to be earlier and earlier on Saturday.

Recognising that this was problematic — the fast too severe, and the loss of the sense and symbolism of what a Vigil is supposed to be (a night-time anticipated celebration of the a major feast) — in 1955, Pope Pius XII reduced the fast and restored the Easter Vigil to the night (Maxima Redemptionis). All other traditions that prematurely celebrate the joy of Easter — such as the blessing of Easter foods — were also to be postponed at least until the Vigil.

This is because the “minds of the faithful must be directed primarily toward the feasts of the Lord” (no. 108). We cannot hold more to customs and traditions than to the spirit of the Liturgy. Doing so reduces the various Seasons and feasts to mere cultural events that, over time, become disconnected from the mysteries to which they are supposed to direct us. For this same reasons, “the proper of the time [the Liturgical Seasons] shall be given the preference which is its due over the feasts of the saints” (no. 108).

Even our devotion to the Saints should be guided by the Liturgical Seasons, lest we make them out to be more important that the Christ and the mysteries of our redemption. (To be continued…)

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Vatican Council II – Revisiting its Documents: Sacrosanctum Concilium Part XXV

This is a multi-part series honouring the Vatican Council II by reviewing its documents.
We continue with a review of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.

Part XXV: Chapter VI: Sacred Music

Most people know that music in the Liturgy has been an area of conflict since Vatican II. What they often don’t realise is that it’s actually been a battlefront for centuries. St. Ambrose (d. 397) fought the use of secular (non-religious) music at Mass when musicians were putting Christian lyrics to common drinking songs so that people would sing more. Similar battles occurred in the 1500s. And in the 1800s, operatic music was banned from the Mass, as various composers and divas were turning Mass into concerts and competitions.

Such abuses detract from the prayer of the Eucharist and distort the Mass. Safeguarding Liturgy and preventing such abuses were the primary reasons why it took so long for vernacular hymns (in the people’s language) to be allowed. It wasn’t until Pope St. Pius X defined sacred music and set parameters that vernacular hymns were allowed, but only for liturgies other than Mass (Tra le sollecitudine, nos. 7, 21).

He defined sacred music as music that clothe[s] with suitable melody the liturgical text and add[s] greater efficacy to the text so that the faithful may be the more easily moved to devotion and better disposed for the reception … of grace (Tra le sollecitudine, no 1). It must be holy, and … exclude all profanity not only in itself, but also in how it is executed. And lastly, [i]t must be true art (no. 2). Notice how the text is more important than the tune. Popes Pius XI and XII also wrote about music in the Liturgy.

The Council Fathers at Vatican II built on these foundations: The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. …it forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy, meant to [make] prayer more pleasing, [promote] unity of minds, [and confer] greater solemnity upon the sacred rites for the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful (no. 112). In other words, music isn’t a decoration to the Mass; it’s part of it. Sacred music is intended to help us better experience and pray the rites and liturgies of the Church.

Consequently, the Council Father decreed that while the vernacular may be used (no. 113), [t]he treasury of sacred music is to be preserved and fostered with great care. Choirs must be diligently promoted (no. 114). Liturgical music must be taught and practiced in seminaries, religious communities and Catholic schools (no. 115). Composers and singers, especially boys, must also be given a genuine liturgical training (no. 115).

Gregorian chant [is] specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, … it should be given pride of place in liturgical services. But other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded … so long as they accord with the spirit of the liturgical action (no. 116). This last phrase is the essential guide to discerning what’s appropriate for Mass.

[S]inging by the people is to be intelligently fostered so that … the voices of the faithful may ring out (no. 118). In other words, singing isn’t just for the choir. [T]he pipe organ is to be held in high esteem… But other instruments also may be admitted … with the knowledge and consent of the Bishop, again, so long as they accord with the spirit of the Liturgy (no. 120).

It is the vocation of composers to cultivate sacred music… Let them produce compositions [with] qualities proper to genuine sacred music, not just for large choirs, but also for small choirs and for the active participation of the entire assembly of the faithful. The texts … must always be in conformity with Catholic doctrine; [and] should be drawn chiefly from holy Scripture and from liturgical sources (no. 121). This concludes Chapter VI, Sacred Music. (To be continued…)

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Corpus Christi 101

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (also known as Corpus Christi) is celebrated on the Sunday after Holy Trinity. It’s a special feast in honour of the Holy Eucharist that highlights the importance of the Eucharist in the life of the Church.

‘But isn’t Holy Thursday the feast of the Eucharist’, you might ask? It is, but it’s also the feast of the Priesthood, of the great commandment to serve one another, and of the Agony in the Garden. And since Holy Thursday falls right between Lent and Passion Friday, it isn’t the most favourable time for a joyful festival. These were some of the reasons that St. Juliana of Liège proposed 800 years ago in her repeated appeals for such a feast. In 1264, Pope Urban IV agreed and established Corpus Christi. At the request of the Pope, Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote many of the prayers and hymns used for this feast, most notably O Salutaris and Pange Ligua (Tantum Ergo).

This Solemnity has the purpose of inviting the whole Church to celebrate the great gift and joy that is the Eucharist; of renewing and strengthening our belief in the real and abiding presence of Christ in the Eucharist; and of reminding us of the tremendous love God has for us in bringing us into Covenant and Communion with Him through the Body and Blood of Christ given on the Cross.

Each Mass celebrates the Eucharistic sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, and re-presents, commemorates and perpetuates that one single offering, and allows us to participate in it here and now, in our own day, by receiving His Body and Blood, as if we had been there when He was crucified.

For those who have been reconciled to God, receiving the Eucharist unites us to Christ in His sacrifice, gives us a share in His divine life, feeds us to live the life of faith, and sanctifies us so that we might become more and more like Him, whom we receive, and to whom we have been united.

May our worship of this Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood helps us to experience the salvation He won for us and the peace of the Kingdom, where He lives and reigns with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Holy Trinity 101

On the Sunday after Pentecost we celebrate the most profound mystery of our Faith: the Holy Trinity. Now by ‘mystery’, I don’t mean some sort of puzzle or thing to be solved. ‘Mystery’ in terms of the Faith refers to a belief based on Divine Revelation, especially one that’s beyond our full human understanding. So to say the Trinity is the most profound mystery, is to say it’s the most central aspect our faith as Christians: it’s “the mystery of God in himself. …the source of all the other mysteries of faith” (Catechism, no. 234). It’s also the most complicated mystery of our Faith, one that we cannot know by reason alone.

We know about the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Spirit – only because Jesus Himself told us about it. He spoke frequently of His Father, and later of the Spirit of truth who would come to teach us (Jn 14:16-17; 16:13). Then there’s the great Commission: Baptise in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Mt 28:19). We find in these, and many other passages, the three Persons of the Trinity: Jesus the Son, the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Icon of the Holy Trinity, by Andrei Rublev, 15th century.

Icon of the Holy Trinity, by Andrei Rublev, 15th century.

But these three Persons are not three separate gods; they’re one God. And they’re not three ‘faces’ or ‘roles’ of the one God, as if God took on different forms to do different jobs. The Trinity is one God because the three ‘Persons’ have the same ‘nature’; they’re consubstantial, as we say in the Nicene Creed. That’s why we call it the Trinity, the ‘tri-unity’, the ‘three-in-one’.

This Tri-Personal Unity can be better understood by looking at how they relate one to another. The Father and the Son and the Spirit all have the same Divine Nature; therefore they are one God. But they differ from each other according to how they relate:

The Father is the source and origin of all things. We call Him ‘Father’ not because He is male, but because everything finds its beginning in Him, and because He is loving to all His children (Catechism, no. 239). As St. John says, God is love (1 Jn 4:8), and love necessarily seeks to flow out of itself toward the object of affection.

The Son is the first object of affection: He is the beloved who is begotten by the Father’s love. It’s this begetting that makes the Father ‘Father’, and the Son ‘Son’. And since God is love in His very nature, the Father has always flowed out to the Son, and the Son has always existed with the Father as the receiver of this love. It’s for this reason that St. John writes: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (Jn 1:1). They are distinct Persons because they relate to one another as Father and Son, as the One who loves and the One who is loved and who loves in return.

The Spirit, in this analogy, is the Love who binds them; the Love which flows from Father to Son, and from Son to Father. And since this exchange of love between the Father and the Son has existed from eternity, so also has the Holy Spirit. While knowledge of the three Divine Persons was revealed to us over time, their existence is from eternity. As the early Church Fathers would say: There was no time when the Father was without the Son or the Spirit. Now you begin to see why it’s the most complicated mystery of our faith.

As we rejoice in this great mystery of God’s divine love, may we contemplate it so as to grow in our love for the Father, Son and Spirit. For more reading, see Catechism, nos. 232-248.

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