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Is Epiphany about giving gifts or getting them?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 20, November 2023 Categories: Liturgy,Scripture,Church History,Doctrines & Beliefs

Gold symbolizes wealth and power. Frankincense, used in prayer, represents the divine Presence. Myrrh prepares bodies for burial.

“We three kings of Orient are/ bearing gifts we traverse afar.” Nowhere in Matthew does it claim there are three. And Matthew never calls them kings. They are magi, hereditary priests of the ancient Medes and PersiansFrom this talented crew we get the word magic. But you can’t make a decent song out of “we unnumbered magi.” At least the carol gets one thing right: This group of wise fellows does bear gifts.

So how did kings get into the picture? Lay this at Isaiah’s door. He prophesies that kings will walk by the light of the Lord to Jerusalem. Their caravans will indeed bring gifts of gold and frankincense—but alas, no myrrh in Isaiah's vision of this scene. Gold symbolizes wealth and power. Frankincense, used in prayer, represents the divine Presence. Myrrh prepares bodies for burial. It's an ominous sign that would make a startling gift.

Matthew’s gift-bearers are wise men for sure. There is something "magical" about their foresight. Power, divinity, and death are three sober elements that will accompany Jesus from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. These were strange birthday presents to be sure. But they were appropriate honors for the King of the Universe, the Divine Son, and the crucified Lord.

Gold. Frankincense. Myrrh. These were the gifts Jesus received long, long ago. But we also bear him gifts at every Eucharist: Bread. Wine. Our financial sacrifice. These are all "made by human hands" one way and another. And, as Jesuit Roc O'Connor suggests, these are gifts transformed and returned to us as Body and Blood of Christ, and redistributed resources for those in need.

More gifts come to us by way of this shared Table. Grace pours out on the assembly. But grace can seem like one of those white elephant gifts: Now that we have it, what do we do with it? Church teaching describes grace as internal sanctification. We're made holy, fit “temples of the Holy Spirit,” as Paul assures us. This isn’t about spiritually fumigating your chest cavity. It’s about becoming, like Mary, God-bearers: those who carry the divine presence wherever we go.

Grace moves at God’s initiative. We can’t muster it up by sheer force of moral living. Paul says we can try to save ourselves by obedience—but we will surely fail. Grace forgives sin, and rescues us from every evil. This is one gift you don’t want to put at the bottom of a closet.



Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3:2-6; Matthew 2:1-12; 1 Corinthians 6:19


At the Supper of the Lamb: A Pastoral and Theological Commentary on the Mass - Paul Turner (Archdiocese of Chicago: Liturgy Training Publication, 2011)

In the Midst of Our Storms: Opening Ourselves to Christ in the Liturgy - Roc O'Connor, SJ (Archdiocese of Chicago: Liturgy Training Publication, 2015)

How should we prepare for holy communion? Is fasting still necessary?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 26, September 2023 Categories: Sacraments,Liturgy
In Canon Law, seven regulations apply to proper reception of communion.

Liturgical practices have changed in the last generation. It's fair to wonder what's going on with communion these days. In parishes around the country, I see everything from the reconstruction of altar railings to people falling on their knees at the front of the communion line. Folks cup their hands in the throne-like gesture taught in communion prep classes these days, or perform casual host grabs that seem almost unconsidered.

So here's the present teaching. Yes, the communion fast is still in force. Details are important here: 1) Water never breaks the fast, so don't dehydrate to prove your devotion. 2) The fast from food and drink besides water is one hour before reception of the Eucharist. 3) Sick and elderly people only need fast for fifteen minutes before communion. Caregivers accompanying such people may follow the same guidelines. 4) Sick persons may take medicine and non-alcoholic liquids unrestrictedly.

In Canon Law, seven regulations apply to proper reception of communion. The fast as outlined above is one. Anyone who's received First Eucharist is obliged to receive at least once annually, preferably during the Easter Season—the so-called "Easter duty." Receiving in the context of Mass is "most strongly recommended"—again, with exceptions for the sick and homebound, or communities with no access to a priest. 

A fourth regulation concerns those conscious of having committed grave sin. Such a person should seek the Sacrament of Reconciliation before receiving communion. If this isn't possible, making an act of perfect contrition suffices so long as the person resolves to go to confession as soon as it is possible.

Frequency of reception is a concern for many older Catholics. Current rules are that as long as you receive during Mass, you can go to communion more than once daily. The only exception is in the instance of viaticum (literally, "on the way with you"). Someone in danger of death should receive communion outside the context of Mass even if they've already gone to Mass and received earlier that day.

The seventh regulation is the least well known. A Catholic may receive Eucharist from a non-Catholic minister in whose congregation Eucharist is valid when it's "physically or morally impossible" to do otherwise. Such occasions include danger of death or other "serious need"; persons who are "unable to approach their own minister"; "persons in prison or under persecution"; "persons who live at some distance from their own communion." The canon ends with the significant words: "this is not an exhaustive indication of such cases."

Scriptures: Mark 14:22-24; Matthew 5:23-24; 26:26-28; Luke 22:14-20; Acts 2:42-47; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; 11:17-29; Revelation 19:9 // See also Canon Law 844, 912-923

Books: The Spirituality of Fasting: Rediscovering a Christian Practice, by Charles Murphy (Ave Maria Press, 2010)

101 Questions and Answers on the Eucharist, by Giles Dimock, O.P. (Paulist Press, 2006)

Why are Catholics so focused on the Eucharist?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 26, September 2023 Categories: Sacraments,Liturgy,Church History,Doctrines & Beliefs
The Second Vatican Council sought to restore "full, conscious, and active" participation in the Eucharist so that the people of God might again remember that the "why" of Eucharist is more vital than the "how."

A Eucharistic spirituality is ground-level for life as a Catholic. It's built on the three gospel accounts of the Last Supper, in which Jesus urges his friends to "do this in memory of me." While John's gospel doesn't recount the Last Supper meal narrative, John does have an extended teaching on Jesus as the bread of life in chapter six. Saint Paul also reiterates the Last Supper instruction in his First Letter to the Corinthians: "For I received from the Lord what I also handed onto you."

Jesus employed one or perhaps two well-known forms of Jewish prayer from lifelong ritual practice. One is the berakah or prayer of thanksgiving to God commonly prayed over the bread and the cup. Another is the todah or sacrifice of praise in which leavened bread was used along with prayers of praise. Christians use the word Eucharistthanksgivingfor our communion liturgy as a whole.

How Eucharist was celebrated developed over time and was distinctive geographically from Jerusalem to Rome to Carthage, and from East to West. But early teachers like Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Cyril, Ambrose, and Augustine agreed that Eucharist had several significant meanings. One was the impact of the Passion of Christ for human history. Another was the unity in which all Christians shared as the Body of Christ. A third meaning was that engaging this sacrament had profound moral implications for those who did.

The medieval church made a swing away from this "symbolic" thinking about the Eucharist to an "instrumental" focus. That is, we went from reflecting on WHY Jesus makes this self-offering to HOW it's accomplished ritually and theologically. This impoverished the church's communion in many ways. The complicated rhetoric was harder to teach to the uneducated, and so fewer understood what was being celebrated. As a result, reception of the sacrament declined. Passive piety and miraculous stories about the Host replaced an active embrace of a moral life formed by an incorporation into Christ's Body. Believers sought to adore the Host than to live a life of thanksgiving and praise.

In the early 20th century, Pope Pius X advocated frequent reception of the Eucharist and to younger-aged children. Pius XII added to those reforms. The Second Vatican Council sought to restore "full, conscious, and active" participation in the Eucharist so that the people of God might again remember that the "why" of Eucharist is more vital than the "how."

Scriptures: Exodus 24:5-8; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Mark 14:22-25; Matthew 26:26-29; Luke 22:14-20; John 6:1-15, 22-65; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; (see also Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Vatican II documents, 1963)

Books: Pope Francis on Eucharist: 100 Daily Meditations for Adoration, Prayer, and Reflection, by Pope Francis, with foreward by Cardinal Blase Cupich (Liturgical Press, 2023)

Communion Ecclesiology: Vision and Versions, by Dennis M. Doyle (Orbis Books, 2000)

What is a kiss of peace?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 13, August 2023 Categories: Liturgy,Scripture,Church History
The church restores the ritual practice of the kiss in its liturgy.

A lot of kissing goes on, in the Bible as outside of it. Some 50 references, to be precise—but not all are kisses of peace, nor what the New Testament frequently calls "a holy kiss." Many kisses, within and apart from Scripture, are exchanged between spouses, lovers, children and parents, friends or family in the hour of separation. Such gestures imply affection and a close personal bond.

However, biblical kisses may mean more. Ritual kisses are exchanged between kings and their subjects as a sign of fealty. The prophet Samuel kisses Saul when anointing him first king of Israel. The hand of a lender may be kissed by a borrower. These kisses are promises of action or renumeration to follow. Kisses may also signal reconciliation. In this way, aggrieved Esau kisses Jacob when the long-separated brothers are reunited. Joseph kisses the brothers who sold him into slavery when the family is finally restored. Jesus recommends all divisions be similarly resolved before approaching the altar with a gift.

Proverbs describes an honest reply as "a kiss on the lips." Psalm 85 imagines the meeting of justice and peace as a kiss. Such plentiful ritual use of the kiss is why betrayal with a kiss is both unexpected and reprehensible. As early as Genesis, Jacob deceives his blind father with a kiss, posing as his brother to steal his paternal blessing. King David's general Joab pretends to kiss an enemy Amasa, then stabs him in the abdomen. Most famously, Judas betrays Jesus to a mob in Gethsemane by greeting him with a most unholy kiss.

The church restores the ritual practice of the kiss in its liturgy. The kiss or sign of peace is first mentioned by Justin Martyr as part of the liturgy in the second century. It was delivered after the Prayer of the Faithful: "When the prayers are concluded we exchange the kiss." In the 5th century, Pope Innocent repositioned the kiss after the Eucharist. In the 11th century, "the bond of peace and charity" preceded communion. The 1474 Missal utilized the words of the Risen Lord: "Peace be with you." In the documents of Vatican II, Pope Paul VI wanted to make the kiss of peace obligatory rather than optional. Even if we don't exchange so much as a handshake these days, the "kiss" is delivered by exchanging the words: Peace be with you.

Scripture: Genesis 27:26-27; 33:4; 45:15; 2 Samuel 20:9; Psalm 85:11; Proverbs 24:26; Sirach 29:5; Mark 14:44-45; Matthew 5:23-24; 26:48-49; Luke 7:38, 45; 15:20; 22:47-48; Acts 20:37; Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; 1 Peter 5:14

Books: At the Supper of the Lamb: A Pastoral and Theological Commentary on the Mass, by Paul Turner (Liturgy Training Publications, 2011)

The Liturgy and Catholic Social Teaching: Participation in Worship and the World, edited Danielle A. Noe (Liturgy Training Publications, 2018)

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Our pastor uses incense—a lot. Are there reasons for this?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 08, August 2022 Categories: Liturgy
Burnt incense symbolizes prayer rising to God, as Psalm 141 suggests. It also signals the holy Presence in persons, places, or objects.

Incense is a peculiar word that means "something burned." Normally that's a bad smell; but when it comes to incense, it's intended to be a good one. That's a hard sell for the many people who start choking the minute the censor appears in a sanctuary with poor ventilation. And depending on the grade of incense used, the smell may not be entirely pleasing.

The use of incense comes from ancient times and was routinely utilized in the Near East. It had a practical purpose: religious sacrifices frequently involved the slaughter of animals, a bloody affair that certainly imparted a queasy odor to the ritual's participants. Incense was also used in domestic life, as opportunities for hygiene weren't as available without indoor plumbing. Since family livestock was often brought indoors during inclement weather, the need for a little perfuming of the air is understandable.

To make incense, aromatic gums or resins were added to a smoking pot.  Frankincense was the preferred substance. Large tear-shaped gums from the Boswellia tree were harvested to make it, the whiter grade considered the finest. Other valued perfume agents were myrrh and balsam. Two kinds of incense are among the gifts the magi bring to honor the infant Jesus, along with gold. This hints at how precious better grades of incense were. Many cultures including Israel established permanent incense altars to contain the coals: a small cube of limestone often displaying horns at the corners. Portable censors and special incense spoons have also been found in archaeological sites in Egypt, Syria, and Palestine.

In religious rituals of Israel, only the priest was permitted to offer incense along with the sacrifice. One of the reasons Saul, first King of Israel, loses divine favor and is replaced by David, is his refusal to wait on the proper presider, Samuel, to arrive to perform the ritual. Impatient Saul administers it himself. The prophet Ezekiel likewise disapproves when incense is used by Israelites in any ritual not intended to honor Israel's God.

Burnt incense symbolizes prayer rising to God, as Psalm 141 suggests. It also signals the holy Presence in persons, places, or objects. In processions, the Monstrance is preceded by the censor. The Paschal candle is incensed at Easter. On special feasts, a saint's image may be incensed. In our liturgies, the priest is incensed by the deacon, just as he incenses the altar and the assembly. To find the Holy, follow the smoke! 

Scriptures: Exodus 30:34; Leviticus 2:1, 15; 5:11; 6:8; 10:1; 26:30; Numbers 5:15; 16:5; 1 Samuel 2:28; 13:8-14; Psalm 141:2; Proverbs 27:9; Isaiah 43:23; 60:6; Jeremiah 6:20; 17:26; 41:5; Ezekiel 8:11; 16:18; 23:41; Matthew 2:11; Revelation 8:3-5

Books: Signs and Symbols of the Liturgy: An Experience of Ritual and Catechesis, by Michael Ruzicki, Victoria Tufano, et. al (Liturgy Training Publications, 2018). Bulletin Inserts for the Liturgical Life of the Parish: Gestures, Postures, and Practices of the Liturgy, by Paul Turner (Liturgy Training Publications, 2019).

Why do some feasts, formerly celebrated on the church calendar, later get suppressed?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 10, April 2022 Categories: Church History,Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints,Liturgy

The removal of some saints from the General Roman Calendar has been lamented as "the sanctoral killing fields."

In the 20th century, Pope Pius XII appointed a commission to abolish some octaves, vigils, and duplicate feasts to simplify the church calendar. Depending on how dates fell, celebrations overlapped and became confusing to pastor and people: what exactly ought we to be observing?

It seemed prudent to focus the assembly's attention on significant mysteries, rather than scattering their contemplation every which way. In church history, "calendrical clog" was periodically eliminated, so Pope Pius wasn't acting uniquely in his decision. This led to the renewed rubrics in the Roman Breviary and Missal of 1955. Five years later, additional changes were made by his still-operating commission under Pope John XXIII. 

Celebrating major feasts as octaves was an ancient Jewish practice. Three octaves are retained on the church calendar—Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost—as one day is hardly enough to consider the mysteries of Incarnation, Redemption, and the in-Spiriting of the church. Discontinued octaves include those for the feasts of John the Baptist, Peter & Paul, Stephen the first martyr, John the Evangelist, Ascension, Corpus Christi, Epiphany, and the Sacred Heart.

Vigils were embraced by the early church as an opportunity to pray all night on special feasts. Easter, Pentecost, Ascension, Assumption, John the Baptist, Peter and Paul, and Lawrence the deacon retain their vigils—though it's the rare Catholic who keeps vigil all night these days. Vigils are suppressed for Immaculate Conception, All Saints, and Epiphany. You're still welcome to pray all night on any feast you like.

The removal of some saints from the General Roman Calendar has been lamented as "the sanctoral killing fields." Over 300 saints, plus their typically unnamed companions, were removed from the calendar in the renewals. This list famously includes the popular Mr. Christopher, but also the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste and the Seven Maccabee Martyrs. Many deleted feasts were duplicate names on the calendar, such as observances for Agnes and Francis of Assisi. Of the more than ten thousand saints in the canon, some are certainly variant names used in different locales: i.e.  Vlash in Albania is Blaise elsewhere. 

It also bears noting that Pope John Paul II doubled the number of canonized saints in a single papacy. Making a little room for these contemporary saints who have much to teach us about how to embrace holy living in circumstances more familiar to us is a good thing.

Scripture: Matthew 11:28-30; 23:4; Luke 11:46

Books: Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium - Rita Ferrone (Paulist Press, 2007)

Cum hac nostra aetate (With Our Age). On "Reducing the rubrics to a simpler form" - Pope Pius XII, find at  

Why do Catholics light so many candles?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Friday 16, October 2020 Categories: Church History,Liturgy

After electricity became standard, candlelight remained a fixture in both liturgy and devotions.

Like many liturgical practices, candle lighting began as a practical activity. It was how people turned the lights on before electricity. Early Christians illuminated the catacombs with candles. (In the same way, the lavabo—the ritual washing of the priest’s hands at the altar—was a pragmatic way to remove the residue of the people’s offering, which arrived in the sanctuary not as a basket of sanitary envelopes but as livestock and foodstuffs.)

Candles also had symbolic significance. They were placed on martyr’s graves or near saints’ images to testify that the light these holy ones bear still shines in eternity. A perpetual light at the altar acknowledges the constancy of the Real Presence. A light similarly burns near the Book of the Gospels. Votive lights at a shrine represent the prolongation of our prayer before God.

After electricity became standard, candlelight remained a fixture in both liturgy and devotions. The premiere candle in any church is also the largest: the paschal candle, blessed and lit from the new fire each year at the Easter Vigil. The paschal candle represents the light of Christ illuminating the hearts of the faithful. Five grains of incense embedded in the wax recall the wounds of Christ. As the deacon or priest carries the light forward in procession, the phrase “Light of Christ” is chanted three times, with the assembly’s reply: “Thanks be to God.” Individual candles dispersed through the assembly are lit from the paschal candle so testify that all share in the divine light.

The paschal candle is plunged into the baptismal font to bless the waters used for baptisms. Fire and water unite in this sign, reminding us of other Kingdom paradoxes: the last will be first, the poor will be blessed, and the dead will rise. At the celebration of every baptism, a candle is given to each baptismal candidate to acknowledge the light of Christ within them.

Advent, the season of light, is counted down with the violet- and rose-colored candles of the Advent wreath. Another liturgy in which candles hold a special place is the Presentation of the Lord, also called Candlemas (February 2nd). Candles were blessed on this feast which recalls the day the infant Jesus, the light of the world, was brought to the temple. This feast, honored since the 4th century, historically ended the Christmas cycle. On the following day, the memorial of St. Blaise, unlit candles are used to bless the throat and intercede for healing.

Scriptures: Genesis 1:3-5; Isaiah 9:1; Matthew 5:14-16; John 1:3-9; 3:19-21; 8:12; 9:5; 12:35-36; Ephesians 5:8-14; 1 Thessalonians 5:5; 1 John 1:5-7

Books: From the Beginning to Baptism: Scientific and Sacred Stories of Water, Oil, and Fire, by Linda Gilber, O.P. (Liturgical Press, 2010)

Signs and Symbols of the Liturgy: An Experience of Ritual and Catechesis, by Michael Ruzicki, et. al. (Liturgy Training Publications, 2018)

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Have you, personally, been back to Mass yet? And if so, what was it like?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 26, July 2020 Categories: Liturgy

The first week my parish reopened, I attended the Saturday Vigil. Normally I sing in the Sunday choir—but alas, singing’s now discouraged. Our music director was at the organ, and he played some pieces that didn’t even tempt us to hum under our breath. Those aerosol droplets that travel up to fourteen feet when singing didn’t stand a chance under these conditions.

I saw the new guidelines in force even before I arrived at the church. An appropriately distanced line formed at the doors. An usher, holding a clipboard, asked each of us if we were feeling well three different ways. I resisted the urge to clear my throat in responding. 

Once inside, I was greeted by a friend stationed at a table. She invited me to purify my hands with the supplied sanitizer. She offered masks to those who hadn’t brought one. Then I was handed off to another usher, who noted I was a “party of one.” He led me to a pew into which I was inserted, like a puzzle piece, into the rightly distanced space.

Our pastor, recently recovered from COVID-19, popped out of the sacristy in a mask. As a chaplain at the local hospital and former patient, he’s sensitive to modeling the right behavior. Contradicting liturgical protocols, my pastor wore his mask throughout the Mass. I won’t tell if you won’t.

Mass began with no procession. No servers or lectors were in the sanctuary. Father handled all the readings. The credence table had been moved to the sanctuary with the offertory gifts—which should not be overly handled at this time. Subtract singing, lector movements, offertory procession, and the collection, and Mass gets slimmer. Fear not about the collection: I failed to mention the ushers received our envelopes in a secure tube before we were seated. 

The dismissal came quickly after the Eucharistic Prayer. Protocols encourage distributing communion after Mass is ended. Those who were not receiving departed with an usher escorting them out, one seating at a time. Those receiving were invited forward by seating, spaced apart. Communion was offered in cupcake papers pre-filled before Mass began, arranged on cookie sheets. A wastebasket ten feet away collected discarded papers.

Outside the church, many parishioners removed their masks and massed near the doors, greeting each other with enthusiasm after so long a separation. All the care that had gone into keeping us distanced and protected inside was undone in the parking lot.

Materials the USCCB recommends for preparing diocesan guidelines:

Road Map to Re-Opening Our Catholic Churches Safely – Ad Hoc Committee of Catholic Doctors (May 2020), 9 pp.

My sister’s parish has been completely reopened for a month now, but my pastor has yet to open ours for Mass. Why is he refusing to serve us?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 26, July 2020 Categories: Liturgy
Empty pews
Regional distinctions are a huge factor in determining when to reopen.

Reopening a parish isn’t as simple as it may seem from the perspective of the pews. It’s more than opening the doors and firing up the organ. Health guidelines were prepared at the request of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Liturgical values were established by theologians as well. But the USCCB declined to set a national policy for when and how to reopen, leaving those decisions to regional bishops. Most bishops, in turn, delegated when and how to their trusted pastors. Your question is: why not just create a blueprint for the country or, indeed, for the Catholic world?

Regional distinctions are a huge factor in determining when to reopen. Is the virus controlled in your town and surrounding areas? Mass-goers don’t hail from one place. When a church reopens, Catholics may drive a distance to be there. If numbers are out of control the next town over, opening your church presents a more significant risk.

In addition to infection rates, a pastor must consider his community. One pastor reports how, each month since the pandemic began, parishioners have stomped into the parish office refusing to wear masks or maintain appropriate distancing, demanding that Mass be resumed. The pastor concludes his parishioners aren’t ready to assume responsibility for each other’s safety. Even if most observe the protocols, it would be contrary to the spirit of the Eucharist to forbid or remove others who won’t. Whether he refuses them a seat, or permits them to remain unmasked, it divides and endangers his assembly. 

In addition, the very meaning of a sacrament weighs heavily for some pastors. After reflection and prayer, they conclude that the reopening guidelines compromise the sign value of the very sacraments they seek to make accessible. Taking reservations, discouraging the elderly to attend, or turning people away at the door perplexes them. One pastor noted: “Jesus didn’t say, ‘Take this, some of you, and eat of it.’”  Another decided: “Until we can all assemble, none of us will assemble.” Community is challenged by sitting apart, forbidding touch, and denying any gathering after the service. The spirit of celebration is dampened without singing. Unity is threatened by the specter of fighting over protocols. It diminishes the sacraments to offer an unworthy expression of them, they conclude.

Only when local conditions, parish attitudes, and sacramental viability come together will a pastor be likely to reopen for worship.

Materials the USCCB recommends for preparing diocesan guidelines:

Road Map to Re-Opening Our Catholic Churches Safely – Ad Hoc Committee of Catholic Doctors (May 2020), 9 pp.

COVID-19: Guidelines on Sacraments and Pastoral Care – Working Group on Infectious Diseases Protocols for Sacraments and Pastoral Care, Version 1.2 (May 7, 2020), 24 pp.

How will church re-openings be handled as restrictions due to COVID-19 are relaxed?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 29, June 2020 Categories: Liturgy
Church re-opening
These safeguards are recommended, not only for the safety of the individual congregants, but for those they encounter outside of church to help stem the tide of community spread of a highly contagious and deadly virus.

No absolute mandate will be issued from Rome to the universal Church, nor from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to U.S. Catholics. Distinctions between large parishes and small, between cities greatly affected and rural towns outside of major contagion zones, are too significant for a one-size-fits-all rubric. 

Nonetheless, the USCCB has wisely assembled working guidelines encompassing both medical expertise and liturgical norms for each bishop to consider as he issues directives to his pastors. In turn, each pastor will consider his local area’s infection rate, state and city guidelines, as well as his own personnel and physical facility, and what can reasonably be implemented to keep his community safe.

These safeguards are recommended, not only for the safety of the individual congregants, but for those they encounter outside of church to help stem the tide of community spread of a highly contagious and deadly virus. As Pope Francis said in an April 2020 interview in Vida Nueva as reported in America, “for better or worse all our actions affect others because everything is connected in our common home."

These are some general guidelines your pastor is being asked to take into account as he plans to reopen your parish:

  • Do everything that can be done with live-streaming or virtual media for the sake of the sick, elderly, those with underlying health conditions or in quarantine who should not congregate.
  • Hold services outdoors if possible.
  • Keep indoor services well ventilated.
  • Common objects (i.e. missalettes, holy water fonts, literature, offertory baskets) are to be removed from pews.
  • Aggressive cleaning of commonly touched surfaces must be practiced.
  • Hand sanitizer should be available at entrances.
  • Bathrooms must be rigorously cleaned, number of users limited, spacing marked.
  • Those in the assembly should wear masks. The presider and sanctuary ministers will not be masked or gloved but will maintain physical distancing.
  • Mark social distances with tape, signs, paint. Families/parties arriving together may sit together but apart from others by six feet.
  • Number of participants will be limited. Participants may call or text ahead for reservations. Last name initial rotations may be used. Ticket services may be employed.
  • Avoid singing by cantor or congregation, which spreads infectious droplets farther.
  • Collection baskets will not be passed. Offerings may be collected at a stationary site.
  • Processionals, recessionals, bringing up the gifts are discouraged. Receiving lines are to be eliminated. Entering and existing pews may be overseen by ushers. 
  • Doors should be held open and their handles not commonly touched.
  • Dismissal may be handled row by row. Parishioners are encouraged not to stand in groups on church grounds.

The distribution of Holy Communion is an issue sensitive and fraught with complications, with each diocese providing its own recommendations.

Materials the USCCB recommends for preparing diocesan guidelines:

Reopening: Guidance for Worship Services and Religious Gatherings – AIHA Guidance Document, Version 1 (May 15, 2020), 10 

Road Map to Re-Opening Our Catholic Churches Safely – Ad Hoc Committee of Catholic Doctors (May 2020), 9 pp.

COVID-19: Guidelines on Sacraments and Pastoral Care – Working Group on Infectious Diseases Protocols for Sacraments and Pastoral Care, Version 1.2 (May 7, 2020), 24 pp.

Will the church be different after a time of global crisis?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 13, May 2020 Categories: Liturgy,Prayer and Spirituality
Post-crisis church
The church has been growing, evolving, responding to each generation it embraces.

It better be! The church is a living organism, the Body of Christ, composed of you and me and multitudes of others. Some have “gone before us, marked with the sign of faith,” and some have yet to be born. Collectively, the church is 2,000 years old and counting. In all that time, the church has been growing, evolving, responding to each generation it embraces. So in that sense, we’re not your grandmother’s church, nor simply the church of Aquinas or Augustine, Paul or Mary Magdalene. At the same time, we’re absolutely “one faith, one Lord, one baptism” with all of the above. So yes: when you get back inside your local parish for liturgy again, the church will have been affected by what we’ve cumulatively experienced and bring with us into that space once more.

Religious leaders are considering possible implications of the COVID-19 era and what it might mean for the church going forward. Here’s a short list of potential ways the church may evolve, suggested by a nationally known liturgist:

* The laity may rely less on Father to make church happen for the rest of us. Father doesn’t “do the holy stuff for us.” We all do it, together. When assembling is impossible, we’ve practiced being church in the physical absence of our pastors.

* Let’s embrace our baptismal priesthood. Sacramentally speaking, we the baptized die to ourselves, to live for Christ. This makes us Christ’s ambassadors wherever we are, just as the priest represents Christ in the assembly.

Worship is more than going to Mass. Believers worship in many settings and formats. Worship is about lifting ourselves, mind and heart and soul, to God. It involves prayer, word, and ritual. Anyone with a Bible, candle, rosary, and a need in their heart can worship. In an emergency, the needy heart is enough!

We don’t need drive-thru Communion and Confession. Such activities actually diminish the richness of the sacraments. When Eucharist isn’t available, share an agape (love) meal. No blessed water? Bless each other. No confession? Tell your failings to one you’ve wronged and ask forgiveness. 

A word to priests: feed your people. Your leadership equips the community to be the church, not simply to come to church. Pastoring isn’t about making parishioners dependent on you; it should liberate them for service. When you’re not physically able to lead the assembly, continue to do what you uniquely do by your call: sanctify the world by your prayers, and fulfill your mission to preach and teach by whatever means available. 

Scripture: Exodus 19:5-6; Mark 11:22-25; John 17:1-26; Romans 12:4-7; 14:7-9; 1 Corinthians 12:4-31; Philippians 2:1-4; Colossians 3:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22; 1 Timothy 5:17; Hebrews 10:11-18; James 5:13-18; 1 Peter 2:4-9; 5:1-6 

Books: A Prophetic, Public Church: Witness to Hope Amid the Global Crises of the Twenty-First Century, by Mary Doak (Liturgical Press, 2020); True Reform: Liturgy and Ecclesiology in Sacrosanctum Consilium, by Massimo Faggioloi (Liturgical Press, 2012)

If I attend a wedding with a full Mass on Saturday at 1 p.m., does that Mass count for Sunday?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Friday 05, April 2019 Categories: Liturgy
Wedding Mass
As members of Christ’s Body, we’re privileged to participate in this celebration of Mass.

No. But let’s explore why that’s true. It’s not just liturgy police making arbitrary rules. It’s about why we attend Mass on Sunday. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, the first precept of the church states: “You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation.”

Canon law further explores this precept: “Sunday is the day on which the paschal mystery is celebrated in light of the apostolic tradition and is to be observed as the foremost holy day of obligation in the universal church.” Reflect on that for a minute: Sunday is the biggest holy day of the church! The church fathers called every Sunday a “little Easter.” Participation in the Sunday gathering goes back to the apostles, and is the celebration defining us as part of Christ’s Body. “Obligation” is a poor word to express this. Consider “privileged.”

As members of Christ’s Body, we’re privileged to participate in this celebration. Sunday observance doesn’t merely establish a time window for Mass attendance. Each Sunday liturgy is a specific Mass with its own gospel and readings and corresponding prayers. Together we celebrate a particular event in the life of the church, whether it’s the Second Sunday of Lent or the Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time. Over the course of a church year, we absorb a complete gospel and recall specific moments of our Christian history together.

Now, consider the nature of a Nuptial (wedding) Mass. It’s also a liturgy of the church with readings, prayers, and rituals appropriate to its occasion. Unlike the public gathering of the community for the Sunday observance, Nuptial Masses normally involve families and friends of the couple receiving the sacrament. Even if the priest performed a Nuptial Mass at 7 p.m. Saturday night or first thing Sunday morning, participants would still not be observing the liturgy for that weekend. It would be like saying: I had supper with a few friends tonight: does that count for dinner with the extended family tomorrow?

Now for the exception. Rarely, couples celebrate the Sacrament of Matrimony WITHIN the confines of the Sunday liturgy. That is, they choose not to have a private Mass with friends and family, but prefer to share their commitment with the entire community of faith. Since the marriage rite is inserted into the Sunday Mass, it utilizes the readings and prayers for that Sunday of the church year. In that case, yes, the Mass "counts" for both occasions.

Books: 101 Questions & Answers on Catholic Marriage Preparation, by Rebecca Nappi and Daniel Kendall, S.J. (Paulist Press, 2004)

Inseparable Love: A Commentary on the Order of Celebrating Marriage in the Catholic Church, by Paul Turner (Liturgical Press, 2016)

I’m a Eucharistic minister, and was corrected for saying cup instead of chalice. Why does it matter what you call it?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 05, November 2018 Categories: Liturgy
Communion chalice
Once the hosts and wine are consecrated during the Eucharistic Prayer, believers recognize them as the Body and Blood of Christ.

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” I’m not going to pick a fight with Shakespeare. But Romeo was incorrect in imagining that being a Montague was irrelevant in his quest to wed a Capulet. Names do matter. Precision in language matters. Not everything is a “thing.” To learn the proper names implies we’re invested, in the way professionals know the terms of their employment. Would you hire a doctor who couldn’t be bothered to distinguish one bone from another? Or a plumber who couldn’t name his tools?

So it’s both useful and a matter of personal investment to know that the “bowl” you dip your hand in at the entrance to the church is a holy water font. It reminds us of the baptismal font—which these days may be a walk-in pool. Where the priest sits during Mass is the presider’s chair. The table at which he stands is the altar, also known as the Table of the Lord. The readings at Mass are proclaimed from a special stand called the ambo. (Most Catholics call it a lectern, because the book the lector reads from is the lectionary.) The priest proclaims the gospel from the Book of Gospels. Then he gives a reflection on the Scriptures called the homily. The book the priest reads the rest of the prayers of the Mass from is the Roman Missal.

A plate called a paten holds the big host which the priest raises during the elevation at Mass. The elevation is part of the second part of the Mass known as the Liturgy of the Eucharist, in which we celebrate our communion with God and each other. The first part of the Mass is called the Liturgy of the Word, which celebrates the stories of our faith. The vessel holding the wine is called the chalice: however, cup is not incorrect. The bowl from which consecrated hosts are served is the ciborium (you get three points for knowing the plural is ciboria.) Once the hosts and wine are consecrated during the Eucharistic Prayer, believers recognize them as the Body and Blood of Christ.

The little room where the priest and servers dress (or vest) is the sacristy. This is not to be confused with the sanctuary—once descriptive of the priest’s side of the altar rail back when churches had railings. With the removal of the rail, we came to understand that we all stand in the sanctuary, that is, in the Holy Presence. The body of the church is more commonly distinguished as the nave, which is where the benches known as pews are. That’s where we, the assembly, sit. If I had more room, we could do this all day. Suffice it to say, thoughtful Catholics know these terms and many more.

Scripture: The significance of naming persons, places, and things reflects the biblical belief that names participate in meaning in the most intimate way.

Books: A Glossary of Liturgical Terms, by Dennis C. Smolarski (Liturgy Training Publications, 2017)

Praise the Name of the Lord: Meditations on the Names of God, by Michael Louis Fitzgerald (Liturgical Press, 2017)

Why is Easter Season so long?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 06, March 2018 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Liturgy
Empty Tomb
What happens next in the story is nothing less than the birth of the church.

The Easter Season is determined by the seven weeks it takes to get from the Resurrection to Pentecost (which means “50th day”). While many of us might do with a little more Advent and a little less Lent, at least we’re clear what these seasons signify and what we’re to be about. During Advent, we await and prepare for the coming of Jesus. In Lent, we embrace penitential practices as we anticipate the resurrection of Jesus. But after Easter, liturgical time feels frankly anticlimactic. Once the tomb is discovered to be empty, really, what else is there?

What happens next in the story is nothing less than the birth of the church. But let’s not rush past the Easter event too quickly. The practice of the church certainly doesn’t. The Easter Vigil is the longest and most elaborate ritual of the church year. It’s the final segment of a three-part liturgical movement, known as the Triduum, which begins on Holy Thursday, continues on Good Friday, and culminates on Holy Saturday night. We keep vigil with Jesus through the commemoration of his Last Supper, the anguish of his crucifixion, and the dark void between the death of hope and the dawn of resurrection. We listen to a well-chosen train of Scripture readings that trace the story of our walk with God through time. It takes a while to process this much intense human experience, and it’s wise to go slowly and thoughtfully through these days.

Easter itself is an Octave, or eight-day feast, just like Christmas. In terms of liturgical practice, the Octave is like a week of Sundays as we light the Paschal candle, sing the Gloria, and continue to contemplate the wonder that death has a door, Jesus has passed through it, and so will we. Is a week too long to ponder this idea?

After Easter, Jesus continues to appear to disciples in groups large and small. Luke says he teaches them more about God’s kingdom for 40 days, a sacred number that symbolizes completeness. Then Jesus returns to his Father in the Ascension—which we celebrate 40 days after Easter (or on the nearest Sunday, in some dioceses). The disciples devote themselves to prayer from that hour until Pentecost morning, when the Spirit comes and the church is launched into prime time. What should we be doing from Easter through Pentecost? Imitate the disciples in celebrating, contemplating, learning, and praying to prepare for the mission ahead.


Mark 16:1-20; Matthew 28:1-20; Luke 24:1-53; John 20:1—21:25; Acts of the Apostles 1:1—2:47; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11


Easter, Season of Life and Fire, by Barry Hudock (Liturgical Press, 2017)

A Spirituality of Mission: Reflections for Holy Week and Easter, by Mark G. Boyer (Liturgical Press, 2017)

What’s the purpose of Ordinary Time?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 29, November 2017 Categories: Liturgy
Ordinary Time
Its purpose is grander than its name: maturity in Christian living.

From the earliest biblical records, God’s people have recognized ritual time as a divine gift that makes present the blessings of the past. Our Christian liturgical year embraces that understanding. Ordinary is a word we normally use to distinguish something from the unusual. “Ordinary Time” sounds like it marks routine weeks not contained within the more eventful seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, or Easter. Yet the mundane truth is, the term comes from the Latin tempus ordinarium, or “measured time.” These are, simply, the numbered weeks of the year, ordered from 1 to 34.

Unlike other seasons that occur in uninterrupted blocks of days, Ordinary Time inhabits two sections of the calendar. The first is a five-to-eight week period between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday. Ordinary Time is then “interrupted” by the major seasons of Lent and Easter for about 14 weeks. The second, longer block of the season occurs after Pentecost, continuing to the end of the church year on the feast of Christ the King, which would otherwise be the “34th Sunday in Ordinary Time.”

(An aside about the variant weeks: the date of Easter determines the liturgical year. Easter Sunday is determined by the Jewish custom of setting Passover on the first full moon after the spring equinox. Once the date of Easter is determined, we count six and a half weeks back to Ash Wednesday. Whatever time is left between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday is the length of the first segment of Ordinary Time, which in turn affects the count of the second.)

This merely establishes the territory of this season. Its purpose is grander than its name: maturity in Christian living. Every Sunday is a “little Easter,” the church fathers remind us. Each Sunday we gather to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord, just as each Friday we commemorate his death with abstinence from meat or another sacrificial act. Saturdays within Ordinary Time are observances of Mary, mother of the church, who exemplifies the “yes” of discipleship. Saints’ feasts sprinkled through the weeks recall what martyrs and holy ones have made of their response in faith. The color green marks the vestments and altar cloths to remind us of the growth in the Spirit expected of us. In fact, at an earlier time these ordinal weeks were considered part of Pentecost altogether: a full season of celebrating the life of the Spirit at work in the church.

Scripture: Exodus 12:1-20; 23:14-17; 31:12-17; Leviticus 16:29-34; 23:1-44; John 2:13, 23; 6:4; 13:1; Acts of the Apostles 2:1 

Books: Introduction to the Study of Liturgy, by Albert Gerhards and Benedikt Kranemann (Liturgical Press, 2017)

When I in Awesome Wonder: Liturgy Distilled from Daily Life, by Jill Crainshaw (Liturgical Press, 2017)

Why should I go to church?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Thursday 08, June 2017 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Liturgy,Prayer and Spirituality
Pope Francis sees servile obedience as the wrong spirit in which to develop a mature faith. The church exists to console, clarify, and challenge us.

It’s interesting that Richard Gaillardetz asks the same question—and he’s a professional ecclesiologist, whose business it is to explain the church. Yet he admits convincing his own children of the necessity of going to church is another matter entirely. Why does church attendance need persuasion?

Gaillardetz identifies four troublesome modern obstacles. The first is widespread institutional distrust. We just haven’t seen all that many churches, banks, governments, or schools with a sterling track record lately. Add to that the more recent conflation of religion with partisan politics. Now, it seems, your church comes with obligatory party affiliation attached! That is understandably distasteful to many. A third problem with church affiliation is the social decline of absolutes. We once hung our hats on doctrine with confidence. But today a black-and-white approach to any issue seems simplistic, self-righteous, and begging to be debunked. Frankly, we don’t want some exterior machinery regulating what we’re allowed to believe about our reality. Finally, there’s the “fragilization” of religious identity. This lovely term expresses how religion, once the defining principle of a person’s life, has recently been downgraded to a lifestyle choice: a thing you have, rather than a thing you are. So, Catholic paraphernalia may be in your ethical toolkit. But you don’t see yourself as “a Catholic” anymore.

All of which explains why more people are skipping church. It doesn’t argue why they might not want to. Gaillardetz suggests that church might benefit from a reintroduction: not as mind-controlling Hall of Obedience, but a re-imagined School of Discipleship. Such a school exists to form us in the way of Jesus, not to keep us on the straight-and-narrow (much less save us from eternal fires). Old-school church asks different questions of us: “What do you think or believe about God, morality, your place in the scheme of things?” The School of Discipleship model asks, rather: “Whom do you love?”

This approach is in keeping with the teaching of Pope Francis, who sees servile obedience as the wrong spirit in which to develop a mature faith. The church exists to console, clarify, and challenge us. It shouldn’t simply deliver to the adherent a longer set of reliable truths than the person down the street enjoys. In the School of Discipleship, we would decree or forbid less, and trust ourselves as “liturgical animals” more. Rituals work on us as we worship, teaching and shaping us as we say grace, give alms, fast, stand in praise, kneel in humility, or share a meal. This is what church does best.

Scripture: Exodus 20:8-11; Isaiah 2:2-5; Joel 2:12-17; Matthew 18:20; John 17:20-26; Acts 2:1-4, 42-47

Books: A Church With Open Doors: Catholic Ecclesiology for the Third Millennium – Richard Gaillardetz (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 2015)

Go Into the Streets: the Welcoming Church of Pope Francis – Thomas Rausch and Richard Gaillardetz, eds. (Mahwah, MJ: Paulist Press, 2016)

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Why does going to Mass on Saturday night “count” to fulfill the Sunday obligation?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Thursday 04, May 2017 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Church History,Liturgy
Saturday evening Mass
The Hebrew definition of a day is measured from one desert sundown to the next.

Plenty of folks, including my Dad, have viewed the “Saturday Five” Mass as an unwelcome innovation. It’s been decried as one more Vatican II accommodation to flabby Catholicism: dumbing down our vigorous commitment to the Precepts of the Church. Most decriers would be surprised to hear that a prior evening anticipatory Mass was recommended and defended by 4th-century heavyweights including Augustine and Jerome. Where does the idea come from?

The fifth verse in the Bible declares: “Evening came, and morning followed—the first day.” The phrase is repeated after each of the first six days of creation, giving rise to the Hebrew definition of a day as measured from one desert sundown to the next. Examples in both Testaments testify that time makes a significant shift at sundown: the Temple is closed as shadows lengthen, or crowds bring their sick to Jesus as night falls. Even Easter is counted as “the third day” when the women approach the tomb under cover of darkness.

To be on the safe side in observing erev (Hebrew “evening”), rabbis say wait for three stars to appear in the sky. When you think about it, the concept that the a.m. (ante meridiem, Latin for “before noon”) period begins at midnight is not much more than a decision. The day has to start somewhere.

Jewish practice carries over in the anticipatory Mass for Sunday, or the Vigil Mass of a feast. In 1969, Paul VI wrote that ''the observance of Sunday and solemnities begins with the evening of the preceding day.” Although this was a moto proprio (personal papal initiative), it built on formal teaching issued two years earlier granting permission for the anticipatory Mass. It also acknowledged what the Liturgy of the Hours had promoted for centuries: a Sunday celebration lasting from Evening Prayer on Saturday night until Evening Prayer on Sunday.

The 1983 Code of Canon Law notes that “assist[ing] at a Mass celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the feast day itself or in the evening of the preceding day satisfies the obligation of participating in the Mass." (no.1248) The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms: “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass. The precept … is satisfied by assistance at a Mass which is celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the holy day or on the evening of the preceding day.” (no.2180)

Scriptures: Genesis 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31; Leviticus 23:5, 32; Nehemiah 13:19; Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1-2; Luke 4:40; 2 Peter 1:19

Books: Celebrating the Easter Vigil – Rupert Berger, Hans Hollerweger, eds. (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1983)

Let Us Pray: A Guide to the Rubrics of Sunday Mass – Paul Turner (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2012)

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Our priest cancelled Saturday Vigil Mass, citing Dies Domini and pastoral necessity. Is this valid?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Saturday 01, April 2017 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Liturgy
Saturday evening Mass
The Saturday evening Mass isn’t a Vigil, but an anticipatory Mass for Sunday.

This column isn’t designed to challenge local pastoral decisions, which can be more complex than they appear. But let’s start by clarifying terminology for the nitpickers: the Saturday evening Mass isn’t a Vigil, but an anticipatory Mass for Sunday. On Saturday night, we use the same Scripture readings and prayers prescribed for Sunday. So the Saturday evening 5 p.m. liturgy IS a “Sunday Mass,” liturgically speaking.

Vigil Masses have distinct texts, or “Propers,” associated with them. Vigils are approved for: Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Ascension Thursday, Pentecost, St. John the Baptist, Sts. Peter and Paul, and the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mother. When you attend Vigil Masses, the readings and prayers are different from (though thematically related to) those used on the feasts themselves.

Dies Domini (“The Lord’s Day”) is a 1998 Apostolic Letter from Pope John Paul II "to the bishops, clergy and faithful of the Catholic Church on keeping the Lord’s Day holy.” It affirms the important role of Sunday in the life of the believer, and the vital part Eucharist plays in the context of the Sunday Sabbath. It expresses concern that the significance of a Sabbath day not be obscured by the separation of the celebration of Eucharist from the traditional morning observance.

Does Dies Domini address the validity of attending a Saturday anticipatory mass? Yes. #49 of the document states: “Because the faithful are obliged to attend Mass unless there is a grave impediment, Pastors have the corresponding duty to offer to everyone the real possibility of fulfilling the precept. The provisions of Church law move in this direction, as for example in the faculty granted to priests, with the prior authorization of the diocesan Bishop, to celebrate more than one Mass on Sundays and holy days, the institution of evening Masses and the provision which allows the obligation to be fulfilled from Saturday evening onwards…”

“Pastoral necessity” refers to the modern reality that many Catholics need to work on Sunday in order to provide for their families. Because of this, it becomes pastorally necessary to provide an opportunity for people to celebrate the Sunday Eucharist during non-working hours, specifically Saturday evenings. To my knowledge, there’s no impediment preventing a person who doesn’t work on Sunday from attending the Saturday anticipatory Mass. Nor have I met many pastors eager to have the greeter do a “necessity check” at the church door on Saturday nights.

Scripture: Genesis 2:2-3; Exodus 20:8-11; 31:12-17; Deuteronomy 5:12-15

Books: Dies Domini: Apostolic Letter – Pope John Paul II (Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2000)

“Anticipating the Sunday and Feast Day Masses on the Previous Evening,” Instruction on Eucharistic Worship. Sacred Congregation of Rites (Washington, DC: USCC, 1967)

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Where can Mass be celebrated?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 05, July 2016 Categories: Sacraments,Liturgy,Doctrines & Beliefs
Saint Ita Catholic Church in Chicago

The Eucharistic celebration is called “the source and summit” of our faith—both the origin and epitome of what we believe—in church documents. The Table of the Lord, AKA the altar, is at the center of our lives as Catholic Christians. Everything we do emanates from that starting point.

So where that celebration takes place is of no small consideration. According to the General Instructions for the Roman Missal (GIRM 288), the People of God normally gather in a church. When the local building is too small for the assembly, as for a papal Mass, another “respectable” setting (auditorium or stadium) can be employed. Another lovely provision is this: “sacred buildings and requisites for divine worship should be truly worthy and beautiful and be signs and symbols of heavenly realities.” So all that floor polishing and statue dusting my mother does in her home parish with her friends is canonically approved.

Canon Law (n. 932) specifies that Mass is to be celebrated on a dedicated or blessed altar, as well as in a sacred place—unless “necessity requires otherwise.” Necessity has made the hood of a Jeep into an altar in wartime; wooden pallets or crates can be fashioned into a vineyard altar for farm workers; a hut can serve as a chapel in mission lands. In lands where Mass is prohibited, the celebration can be held in hidden places like mines, caves, or tents. Leading youth groups on hikes, Archbishop Karol Wojtyla (Saint John Paul II) celebrated Eucharist on a flat boulder in the woods. In any setting, the traditional cloth and corporal should be used to designate the table or surface commandeered for divine service.

Here’s a surprise: When the cause is just and with proper approvals, a priest can also celebrate Mass in an ecclesial community or church structure that is not in full communion with the Catholic Church “so long as there is no scandal.” (n. 933) The aforementioned scandal might include the confusion that results if some did not appreciate the difference between, say, the Lutheran host church and the Roman Catholic liturgy being offered. Such time-shares are often necessary when a Catholic church has been damaged or destroyed by natural disaster, terrorist attack, or military forces. The bottom line is that sacred space with an attention to beauty and respectful worship is the norm for Mass. But even more important than the venue is the necessity to make the Eucharist available to all under every circumstance.

Scripture: Mark 14:22-24; Luke 21:5-6; 2 Corinthians 4:7-11; 5:1; 1 Peter 2:4-6

Books: The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (Washington, DC: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011); The Liturgical Environment: What the Documents Say – Mark G. Boyer (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2015); The Ministry of Liturgical Environment – Joyce Ann Zimmerman (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2016)

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Is it necessary to attend Mass on Sunday? I can't go to church because of my job. What should I do?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Saturday 13, February 2016 Categories: Liturgy,Church History,Doctrines & Beliefs
Priest with parish

Attendance at Sunday Eucharist is one of the most solemn commitments in the life of a Catholic Christian. The 1983 Code of Canon Law states: “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass.” (canon 1247)

This obligation is naturally suspended in time of illness, or when there is no means of satisfying the obligation, as when traveling through territory in which there is no opportunity to attend Mass.

It should be noted that "Sunday Mass" also includes the celebration of Eucharist on Saturday evening. "Sunday" in secular culture follows a morning-to-evening definition of the day. The biblical day is counted from one evening to the next. (See the repeated usage starting in Genesis 1: 5— "Evening came, and morning followed: the first day.") This liturgical appreciation of a day makes possible the fulfillment of the Sunday obligation by attending Mass on Saturday evening. In most dioceses, opportunities to attend Sunday Mass extend from around 4:00 pm on Saturday until 5:00 pm on Sunday—even later in contexts like a campus Newman Center where students keep late hours and might more likely attend a 9 or 10 pm liturgy.

It would be rare for a person to have a regular work schedule that extends for 24 hours from Saturday evening to Sunday evening.

Canon law does provide for circumstances in which Eucharist is simply unavailable, as in the absence of ordained clergy. Canon 1248 says: “If participation in the eucharistic celebration becomes impossible because of the absence of a sacred minister or for another grave cause, it is strongly recommended that the faithful take part in a liturgy of the word if such a liturgy is celebrated in a parish church or other sacred place according to the prescripts of the diocesan bishop or that they devote themselves to prayer for a suitable time alone, as a family, or, as the occasion permits, in groups of families.”

A local pastor has the authority to judge particular cases and grant dispensation from the obligation of participating in Sunday Mass (canon 1245). When there is truly no opportunity to participate, there is no obligation. At the same time, a faithful Catholic might seriously consider a vocational or geographic context in which he or she never has the opportunity to participate in Sunday Mass.

Scripture: Exod 16:22-30; 20:8-11; Deut 5:12-15; 1 Cor 11:23-26

Books: Sunday Mass: Our Role and Why It Matters - Anne Y. Koester (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2007)

Mass on Sunday: And Other Ways of Being Catholic - Charles E. Miller (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2004

Can Catholics be cremated?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 03, February 2016 Categories: Liturgy,Doctrines & Beliefs
Urn and flowers

The teaching on cremation is one more evidence that Catholic traditions evolve in time, responsive to both external circumstances and internally developing theological understanding. Cremation—the reduction of a dead body to ashes through burning—has been a commonly accepted form of body disposal in many cultures, including the Greco-Roman world from which Christianity emerged. The utility of the practice is evident in that ashes require little space for deposition where land is scarce. Cremation also prevents the spread of disease during epidemics. Yet Christians traditionally avoided the practice. One reason was Christian reverence for the body as a temple of the Holy Spirit.  Another was  the teaching on the resurrection of the body. A third concern was the many non-Christian ideologies frequently attached to the act in some cultures. Catholics in particular were forbidden to cremate their dead except when public necessity intervened—as with epidemics or natural disasters when the death tolls were great. The ashes of those who were cremated were not permitted to be buried in consecrated ground, as in a Catholic cemetery.

 When the 1983 Code of Canon Law was introduced, the restriction against cremation was lifted. The new Code still "earnestly recommends" burial of the body as the preferable option. Yet unless the intent is to deliberately contradict Christian teaching on the resurrection by its practice (canon 1176.3), cremation is now permissible, especially where land resources make it more feasible than burial.  I've personally known several devout Catholics who held fast to the hope of resurrection yet nonetheless requested cremation after death because of the exorbitant cost of modern burials and a concern that surviving family members would be obliged to absorb the debt.

 The Order of Christian Funerals published in 1989 contains instructions for the funeral rite when a body is not present for the service, as well as prayers for the interment of ashes. In the end, the funeral rites are meant for the "spiritual assistance" of the departed and to honor them, while bringing "the solace of hope to the living." If these ends can be accomplished with cremains, there is no impediment. 

Scripture: Gen 23:1-20; Deut 28:26; Jer 7:32-33; Matt 27:57-60; Luke 23:50-53; John 11:33-44; 19:38-41; Acts 9:36-41

Books: Honoring the Dead: Catholics and Cremation Today - H. Richard Rutherford, CSC (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2000)

Order of Funerals Appendix Cremation (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1997)

What exactly is a "Jubilee Year"? What's a "Holy Year"? I hear the Year of Mercy called both.

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 03, January 2016 Categories: Liturgy

The Year of Jubilee is a product of Jewish law as found in Scripture. Every 50th year, the land was to "rest," to lie unused for planting. Mortgage debts were forgiven and slaves were set free. These practices weren't randomly consigned to the Jubilee Year but had a theological agenda: to acknowledge that land, property, and life itself belonged ultimately to God, not to the human user.

The term Jubilee was adopted by Catholics in 1300 when the first Holy Year was inaugurated. It too is a year of liberation, though of a spiritual nature. A Holy Year is a time when the pope offers special spiritual privileges, or indulgences, for those who make a pilgrimage to Rome. Other religious activities may be assigned similar benefits during the Holy Year for those unable to travel. The Holy Year was originally intended as a centennial observance. But it came to be observed every 25 years, and additional celebrations between those intervals can be added when deemed helpful.

The Holy Year generally begins on Christmas Eve with the opening of an official Holy Door at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome which is normally kept bricked up in other years. Three other Roman Basilicas—St. Paul's Outside the Walls, St. John Lateran, and St. Mary Major—also have doors opened to encourage pilgrimage. Bishops around the world are invited to designate similar doors within their jurisdictions through which pilgrims can be welcomed to celebrate the spiritual benefits of the event. Even religious educators are being asked to ritually open a door with their students in order to instruct them about the purpose of the Holy Year.

The Holy Year of Mercy called for by Pope Francis began this year on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 2015. This Solemnity recalls the occasion when God opened an avenue of mercy for the human race through the incarnation of Jesus. "Jesus Christ is the face of the Father's mercy," Pope Francis declares. By symbolically opening a door, we spread the good news that anyone who seeks the love of God in Jesus will find consolation, pardon, and hope. All of us should eagerly seek the occasion to walk through that door. We should also extend the invitation to anyone in need of the assurance that God's mercy is open to them.

Scripture: Lev 25:8-55; Isa 5:8-10; Ezek 46:17

Books: Crossing the Threshold of Mercy ed. Mark-David Janus (Mahwah, NJ:Paulist Press, 2015)

Beautiful Mercy: Experiencing God's Unconditional Love So We Can Share It With Others Pope Francis, Matthew Kelly, et. al. (Beacon Publishing, 2015)

Why is there a church calendar?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 03, December 2013 Categories: Prayer and Spirituality,Liturgy,Church History,Doctrines & Beliefs
Catholic Church Year
Liturgical Calendar

Calendars are about time and the human need to harness it. Starting in the ancient world religions employed calendars, but you didn’t have to be a Mayan priest or a Stonehenge druid to care when the sun and moon were in this phase or that. You just needed to be a farmer—or to depend on one for your survival.

Ancient Israel’s calendar traced the turn of the seasons and celebrated their influence on the natural world. Sowing was an occasion for intercessory prayer and harvesting the time for praise and thanksgiving: “Those who sow in tears will reap with cries of joy” (Psalm 126:5). The feasts of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, and Tabernacles were all originally harvest festivals.

Calendars, however, do more than note predictable, cyclical events. They also commemorate significant past events, such as battles won or important goals achieved. So Passover became the ultimate commemoration, remembering the signature victory over Pharaoh’s armies and captivity itself. Hanukkah, a more minor feast, reminisces about another victory regarding religious liberty. It should be noted that none of these events were considered secular occasions, because God was understood to be the source of all movements in the created order.

Christianity, with its roots in Jewish thought and practice, adopted its sense of the sacred character of time from Israelite history. Jesus grounded the meaning of the first Eucharistic ritual in the liberation event of Passover; as a result the celebration of Easter is configured each year with the Jewish Passover, and the entire liturgical year conforms backwards and forwards from that date. The need to embrace the sacred character of all of life’s seasons, both tearful and joyful, remains evident in the longing of Advent, the penitential nature of Lent, and the alleluias of Easter.

The church continues to acknowledge divine victories won over sin and death in both the Incarnation and the Paschal mysteries celebrated at Christmas and Easter. It honors the harvest of the church reaped at Pentecost and the long season dedicated to growth—both seen and unseen—in Ordinary Time.

Today’s religious calendar commemorates mystical events and spiritual victories rather than agrarian events and military battles, but it still assists in harnessing time and organizing it for optimal use. Liturgical cycles help us remember our story and the identity we bear as heirs to this history. It acknowledges the sacred character of time in witnessing to the goodness and faithfulness of God. Most of all it reminds us of the many reasons we have to give thanks.

Leviticus 23; Deuteronomy 16:1-17; Isaiah 9:2; Hosea 8:7; Matthew 13:37-43; John 4:35-38; 1 Corinthians 9:10-11; Revelation 14:15-20

• The Roman Catholic calendar for A.D. 2014

Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God by Bobby Gross (InterVarsity Press)

Why do some buildings have feast days?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 11, August 2014 Categories: Liturgy,Church History

St. John Lateran Basilica                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               To be exact, three days on the liturgical calendar honor buildings—and another celebrates a chair. Since most Catholics think of feast days as memorials of saints and martyrs, the notion of venerating places and furniture can sound more than a little odd.

The church calendar also recalls important revelatory events in the life of Jesus like Epiphany, the Ascension, or his Baptism; a theological "feast" celebrating God as Trinity; sacramental celebrations like the Body and Blood of Christ; and birthdays like the Nativity of John the Baptist, Mary, and Jesus. Marian days include title feasts for names under which we honor Mary, including Our Lady of the Rosary and the acknowledgment of her Queenship.

So not all feast days honor saints, and not all focus specifically on people. Back to celebrations of "things." The three buildings plus chair annually honored are as follows: the Dedications of the Basilica of St. Mary Major (Aug 5), Basilica of St. John Lateran (Nov 9), the Basilicas of Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles (Nov 18), and the Chair of Peter (Feb 22).

The four patriarchal basilicas are ancient in origin, and are all in Rome. The Lateran is important as the episcopal seat of the bishop of Rome, a.k.a. the Pope's cathedral, and is the highest-ranking Catholic church. Originally the property of the Laterani family, it was called the Church of the Savior after being donated to the Church by Constantine in the 4th century. The pope's official residence was on the grounds of this basilica until 1309 when papal offices moved to Avignon. The Lateran was damaged by earthquakes (in 443 and 896), barbarian invasions (455 and the 700s), and fires (1308 and 1360). It was rededicated to St. John the Baptist after the rebuild of 905, and for its many resurrections is symbolic of the Church's resilience through history.

St. Mary Major was built in the 4th century, according to legend, after snow fell on the site in August. It was formerly known as Our Lady of the Snows. St. Peter's Basilica was built over the crypt where Peter is believed to be buried. Over 130 popes also rest there. St. Paul's Outside the Walls honors the relics of Paul. The Chair of Peter, housed at the Vatican, is a wooden throne gifted to the pope in 875. It represents the fullness of papal authority derived from "sitting in Peter's seat."

Scriptures: Isa 2:1-5; Matt 21:12-13; 1 Cor 3:9-17; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:19-22

Books: The Jubilee Guide to Rome: The Four Basilicas, the Great Pilgrimage - Andrea Braghin et. al. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1998)

The Major Basilicas of Rome - Roberta Vicchi (New York: Scala Press, 1999)

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Why do we have a Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 24, March 2014 Categories: Sacraments,Doctrines & Beliefs,Liturgy
 RCIA symbols
To those who recall a time before 1988—the year when the church mandated the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults for every parish—the RCIA feels like a new thing Catholics are doing. Actually it's a very old thing the church ceased to do long ago and decided to revive for good reasons.

These days we number seven discreet sacraments: Baptism, Eucharist, Penance, Confirmation, Matrimony, Holy Orders, and the Anointing of the Sick. This list was codified at the 16th-century Council of Trent, when many church practices were enshrined to define Catholicism against its rivals during the Protestant Reformation. Inadvertently that led to a loss of the interconnectedness of all sacramental actions: the relationship between the “healing sacraments,” for example, or the mutual dignity of the “vocation sacraments.” Above all, parsing distinct sacramental theologies broke the integrity of the “initiating sacraments”: Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. These were originally inseparable events which the RCIA process seeks to restore in the Catholic consciousness.

From the time of the early church it was understood that Baptism confers the Holy Spirit on the recipient, as the New Testament frequently attests. The activity of the Spirit is the "confirmation" the initiate now shares with the whole church. To withhold that sign for years, as we routinely do with children who receive Confirmation a decade or more after Baptism, creates a chasm in understanding this sacramental pairing. It's why some theologians call Confirmation "a sacrament in search of a meaning."

Similarly, once a person is baptized and confirmed, he or she is eligible for full participation in the life of the church–including a place at the Table of the Lord. The early church rightly understood the three initiating rites as a single event to be celebrated together after the proper season of preparation. What the modern RCIA process does is restore the period of preparation and the natural integrity of these sacramental actions. It gives us all a richer understanding of what these sacraments mean, even if we didn't receive them in a threefold way ourselves.

The modern church has yet to figure out how all this should work in light of infant baptism, practiced with urgency since the 4th-century development of the doctrine of original sin. Right now children receive slivers of membership until maturity, as the church "supplies" their faith by proxy until they're fully catechized.

Acts 2:41-47; 19:1-6; Romans 6:3-11; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:27-29

Explanation of the RCIA from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

The Heart of Faith: A Field Guide for Catechumens and Candidates by Nick Wagner (Twenty-Third Publications, 2010)
Invitation to Catholicism by Alice Camille (ACTA Publications)

What’s the purpose of incense?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 06, November 2013 Categories: Liturgy,Church History,Prayer and Spirituality

Incense was big in ancient religions. You can appreciate why when you think about how much blood was splashed around in ritual sacrifices or how troublesome the smell of bodies (both living and deceased) was in the time before modern hygiene. The perfume industry did well in a world where peculiar odors were the rule rather than the exception. It covered a multitude of sins in more ways than one.


Like most ritual elements, its practical use laid the groundwork for a spiritual interpretation as well. The sweet smell that cloaked odors also drove out evil spirits and welcomed the divine Presence. Smoke provides a certain amount of concealment, too, which is why we speak of a “smokescreen” (effectively used by the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz!). This veil of mystery hints at the sacred One who cannot be seen by mortal eyes. Smoke rises toward the sky, traditionally the dwelling place of the divine. It’s no surprise that the psalm popularly prayed in the Liturgy of the Hours declares: “Let my prayer be incense before you” (Psalm 141:1-2). We also “lift up our hearts” to God in prayer at every Mass. Everything that goes to God, goes up.

Incense comes from the Latin word for “something burned.” It was produced from the resin of trees and burned either in a swinging thurible pot or a stationary brazier. The first is useful for incensing around a crowd of people, as we do at Mass. The second works for producing a cloud around an altar or sacred object.

Before the Second Vatican Council the use of incense was restricted only to High Masses. Now it can be used at any Mass: to honor the sacrament, the assembly and presider, the gospel book, the ambo and altar. The first recorded use of incense in Christian rituals was at a funeral in the year 311, and it’s still used to reverence the body of the deceased at funerals today—reminding us that the destiny of the loved one, as our own destiny, is to unite with God in the life to come.

As liturgist Paul Philibert elegantly expresses it: “Incense, the fragrant, lovely substances that allows itself to be consumed and to float off into indeterminate space beyond our reach, signifies the loving entrustment of our lives to God’s providence.” The sign of incense, burned to ashes yet producing a pleasing fragrance in its surrender, symbolizes our capitulated self-interest in radical trust in the divine will.

Exodus 30:1-10; Psalm 141:1-2; Sirach 24:15; Isaiah 60:6; Jeremiah 6:20; Matthew 2:11; Mark 14:8; John 12:3, 7

Seeing and Believing: Images of Christian Faith by Frank Kacmarcik and Paul Philibert (Liturgical Press, 1995)
The Symbols of the Church, ed. by Maurice Dilasser (Liturgical Press, 2000)

What is the Anointing of the Sick?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Friday 16, August 2013 Categories: Liturgy,Doctrines & Beliefs
One of seven sacraments of the church, the Anointing of the Sick is a liturgy that recalls the healing presence and power of Jesus in times when human beings touch their mortality most vulnerably, like during a serious illness, when facing surgery, in the infirmity of advanced age, in recognition of mental or physical debility, and at the hour when death is near.

From ancient times, anointing has implied ritual contact with a substance (oil, water, blood, or even mud) to affect change, according to Jesuit Father John Endres, S.J. Oil anointings were generally joyful occasions: athletic events, civil ceremonies, cleansing rites, initiations, and consecrations. Kings and priests assumed their roles through anointing rites. After the anointing, it was understood that a person’s life and purpose had been transformed. Oil was also used for its healing and beautifying properties, and for preparing bodies for burial.

In the same way, the church draws on holy oils at many rites of passage from one state to another, including baptisms, confirmations, ordinations, and in the consecration of new churches and altars—all of which enhances the dignity of the ritual use of oil in circumstances of weakness, illness, and dying as well. By this sign the sick person testifies to the whole community that it puts its faith in the seen and unseen, the bodily life of the present and the life of the world to come, the forgiveness of sins, and the authority of physical and spiritual healing available in Christ. In the 
Anointing of the Sick
Anointing of the Sick, we acknowledge the vulnerable or endangered person as one who essentially ministers to the community with his or her proclamation of faith in word and witness.

The ordinary minister of the sacrament is the priest, although it’s presumed that a community of faith gathers to share the event: family, friends, and caregivers. Various elements of the ritual include prayers, scripture, laying hands on the head of the recipient, and the anointing of their head and hands. There may be a water sprinkling rite of all present, and specifically affected areas of the sick person’s bodye may also be anointed with the oil. Children or young people may receive the sacrament if they are old enough to appreciate its meaning or if by their reception the family or community may receive the benefit of its effect. When a person is in danger of death the additional sacraments of reconciliation and communion (viaticum, or “on the way with you”) are also celebrated.

Leviticus 8; Psalm 23:5; 45:8-9; Isaiah 61:1-3; Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; Luke 4:18; 7:36-50; 10:34; John 12:1-8; 2 Corinthians 1:21-22; James 5:14-15

Prophetic Anointing: God’s Call to the Sick, the Elderly, and the Dying by James L. Empereur (Liturgical Press, 1982)
And You Visited Me: Sacramental Ministry to the Sick and the Dying, revised ed., by Charles W. Gusmer (Liturgical Press)

Why do we hear scripture readings at Mass?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 05, August 2013 Categories: Liturgy,Scripture

To begin this discussion it’s best to go back and read Luke 24:13-35 (see link below). That is the story of the two travelers on the road to Emmaus on the first Easter night. These two had every benefit a disciple could have: They had known Jesus in the flesh, had heard him preach, perhaps had witnessed a miracle or two. The Emmaus travelers had even harbored the hope that this “prophet mighty in deed and word” would be “the one to redeem Israel.”

Then came the arrest and trial, condemnation and crucifixion of Jesus, all with brutal swiftness. The horror of these events at the end of such a promising festal week, which had begun with the triumphant entry into Jerusalem and terminated abruptly on Passover night, must have stunned everyone who hoped in Jesus to be the answer to their personal and national problems. On the heels of this heartbreak came the dubious report of “some women from our group” who couldn’t find the body of Jesus in the tomb where he’d been laid. Visions of angels in no way comforted those who heard the news. These two from Emmaus were headed home, to resume the lives they’d had before they ever heard of Jesus. The Jesus-thing had all gone wrong and none of it made much sense.


What made the difference and turned these near-deserters around? Two things. The first was encountering a stranger who explained scripture to them. The second was the breaking of the bread at supper that night. In scripture and ritual suddenly these two disappointed and dispirited disciples “got it.” Just hearing the Bible lesson wasn’t enough. Their hearts may have been burning as they walked along and listened to the stranger, but he didn’t become their Lord until the breaking of the bread. But the truth is, they would never have invited the stranger to have supper with them if they hadn’t been attracted to his words and absorbed by the implications.

Word and sacrament have been natural complements to the unfolding of the mystery of our faith ever since. One prepares us for the revelation of the other. If we didn’t have the Liturgy of the Word, with its stories of old covenants and new ones, God’s promises made and kept, we would come to the Table of the Lord uninitiated and uncomprehending—if we made it that far at all.

Luke 24:13-35; John 1:1-5, 14; Acts 2:42-47; 6:1-7; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; 15:1-4; Colossians 3:16; 1 Timothy 3:14-16; 1 John 1:1-4

The Lectionary and the Liturgical Year: How Catholics Read Scripture by Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M., S.T.D., Scripture from Scratch, Franciscan Media ©1996-2013.

Eucharist: The Meal & the Word by Ghislain Lafont (Paulist Press, 2008)
Encountering Christ in the Eucharist: The Paschal Mystery in People, Word, and Sacrament by Bruce T. Morrill, S.J. (Paulist Press, 2012)

What is the Sacrament of Confirmation?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Friday 28, June 2013 Categories: Liturgy
In the early church the answer was simple: Confirmation was part of the initiating rites of Christianity along with Baptism and Eucharist. All three were administered together on the same occasion as one embraced the faith. With the rise of infant baptism, however, the anointing that confirmed faith was separated from the water rite that signaled reception into the church. The reluctance to give Eucharist to infants led to the disintegration of a unified initiating rite.
CELEBRATION of Confirmation in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
©Zvonimir Ćorić, Catholic News Agency, Bishops' Conf. of Bosnia and Herzegovina
The term “sacraments of initiation” was introduced at the end of the 19th century, mostly by liturgists and theologians. The term made it into the Code of Canon Law in 1983 when these three sacramental moments were declared “so interrelated that they are required for full Christian initiation” (Canon 842.2). To understand Confirmation, then, is to appreciate how it stands together with these sacraments as much as how it stands apart—if in fact it can be said to do so at all.

From its earliest practice, the imposition of hands and the anointing with oil signified the imparting of the Holy Spirit to the newly baptized. Around 416 Pope Innocent I allowed a priest to use chrism (blessed oil) at Baptism but insisted that signing the brow with the oil be reserved to the bishop. That created problems because bishops were not omnipresent in the church then or now. Once Confirmation was delayed, the second oil anointing required justification. Perhaps it was seen to provide spiritual strength for the battles of life; as this idea became popular, the bishop’s welcoming kiss was replaced with a slap to signify the entrance into spiritual conflict.

Over the centuries both parents and bishops got lazy about administering this additional sacrament—which, frankly, is not a little problem even today. To ensure its practice, church councils established age requirements, anywhere from one to seven, with the maximum permitted being seven, the age of reason. Human nature being what it is, the maximum became the standard, except in danger of death.

Efforts to close the gap between the first and last initiating sacraments went on for centuries, but a clause in the Confirmation rite itself, which gave bishops’ conferences the right to “set an age that seems more suitable” after proper formation “when the recipients are more mature,” invited the practice of adolescent Confirmation into the mix. Confirmation is now popularly understood as a rite of passage into Christian adulthood, and remains, as many theologians call it, “a practice in search of a theory.”

2 Corinthians 1:21-22; Ephesians 1:13-14

Podcast: The Sacrament of Confirmation - Wendy M. Wright interviews John O’Keefe about the Sacrament of Confirmation in historical context, from the Center for Catholic Thought, Creigton University

The Confirmed Catholic’s Companion: A Guide to Abundant Living by Sister Mary Kathleen Glavich, S.N.D. (ACTA Publications, 2013)
• I Have Chosen You - Candidates's Journal and I Have Chosen You - Leader’s Guide byJoseph Moore (Paulist Press, 2004)

Are there other kinds of Catholics besides Roman?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 14, November 2012 Categories: Liturgy

A more precise question might be: Are there Catholics besides those of the Roman rite that are recognized by the church? Anglicanism considers itself both “catholic” and reformed, though they aren’t “Catholic” by Roman standards. While the official relationship between the Vatican and the Church of England is described as warm and cordial, and the Anglican Communion “occupies a special place” (the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism, no. 13), Roman Catholics do not share full communion with Anglicans, which is the all-important sign of unity.

Orthodox churches are another matter. While the split with Rome occurred for Anglicans during the era of the Protestant Reformation, the schism between East and West happened five centuries earlier and is still considered the “great schism.” Because the Eastern tradition maintains apostolic succession, their priesthood and sacraments are recognized as valid by the Roman church. Therefore worship in common is both permissible and encouraged by Rome (Decree on Ecumenism, no. 15), although the churches’ shared sense of communion is partial and still problematic.

Eastern Catholics
WORSHIP in the Slovak-Ukrainian tradition.

Beyond those two distinctions, there are rites that do enjoy full communion with the Latin (Roman) rite: the Byzantine (the largest, including Albanian, Belarusian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Greek, Hungarian, Italo-Albanian, Macedonian, Melkite, Romanian, Russian, Ruthenian, Slovak, and Ukrainian); the Alexandrian (some Coptics of Egypt and Ge’ez Ethiopian), the “West Syrian” (Syriac, Syro-Malankara also in India, and Maronite—Lebanese—the president of Lebanon must by law be a Maronite); the “East Syrian” (Chaldean, with headquarters in Baghdad, and Syro-Malabar in India); and the Armenian.

If you have friends in these rites, you can go to Mass with them and receive communion—but stay awake and pay attention because when you’re not in Rome you can’t always do what the Romans do. The other rites have separate codes of canon law (church law) and very different customs. Some bless themselves with three fingers or genuflect three times, in honor of the Trinity. Communion may be served under both kinds on a little spoon or in the kneeling posture. Parts of the liturgy may be celebrated behind an ornate and beautiful screen called the iconostasis.

Because many of these rites evolved closer to the East, they resemble Orthodox liturgy more than Roman. The clergy are invariably male, may be married, and most likely have more beard than you’re used to. Though it may not be Rome, it is, eucharistically speaking, still home.

John 17:20-26; Romans 12:3-8; 14:1-15:13; 1 Corinthians 12:4-26; Philippians 2:1-4


The Eastern Christian Churches: A Brief Survey by Ronald Roberson, C.S.P. (Edizioni Orientalia Christiana, 1999)
Byzantine Theology: Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes by John Meyendorff (Fordham University Press, 1999)

• Second Vatican Council, Decree on the Catholic Churches of the Eastern Rite Orientalium Ecclesiarum
• An excellent historical introduction to the Eastern Catholic churches from the Office of Religious Education of the Byzantine Eparchy of Parma (Ohio), with the Very Rev. Thomas Loya:

Why sing at Mass?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Friday 14, September 2012 Categories: Liturgy,Prayer and Spirituality
Church songbook
“Singing is for one who loves.”—Saint Augustine

My question is: Why don’t we sing more? The importance of singing in ritual is long-established. Can we have a ball game in this country without a rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner? I’m amazed that the same people who belt out a song in the shower, croon along in the car, and know all the words and moves to Thriller don’t crack the songbook in the pews. Granted, not all church music suits your taste or mine. I’m not wild about the “Happy Birthday” song either. But when it’s time to sing it, the liturgy of the moment demands that I play my part.

Saint Augustine, who said many things well, insisted: “Singing is for one who loves.” That is the same Bishop Augustine who considered banning music from his church altogether. Augustine loved music so much he found it far too fetching and distracting to enjoy at liturgies. In the end he adhered to the older proverb: “Whoever sings well prays twice over.” So pass out the song sheets.

Saint Paul was an earlier proponent of church music, back when church was held in somebody’s house. He advocated that believers sing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16). While Augustine got it right that singing is for lovers, happy people in general whistle while they work, and grateful people feel as if they have something to sing about. That could explain a lot of things about why folks in church are reluctant to sing. Ever look around at all those glum faces? Without a significant increase in the spirit of joy and gratitude, don’t expect an increase in responsive singers.

In the Bible a lot of joy and gratitude gets expressed in random acts of music. “Sing to the Lord a new song!” the psalmists say—in the Bible’s own songbook, the Psalms. Many of the big players have a song to sing, especially the women: Miriam at the Red Sea rescue; Hannah at the birth of her child; Deborah after her battleground victory achieved with the help of another woman, Jael; Judith after defeating Holofernes; and Mary when she visits Elizabeth and shares her annunciation. King David himself wrote music, played, and danced—which annoyed his wife, who thought it made him seem frivolous in front of the nation. To those who love and feel joy and gratitude, a little frivolity in public is in order.

Exodus 15:1-18; 1 Samuel 2:1-10; Judges 5; Judith 16:1-18; the Book of Psalms; Luke 1:46-55; Colossians 3:16

Psalms from the Soul by Rawn Harbor, ValLimar & Frank Jansen, and Val Parker (OCP)
Psalms for the Church Year by David Haas and Marty Haugen (GIA Publications)

The Liturgical Music Answer Book by Peggy Lovrien (Resource Publications, 1999)
Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship (USCCB, 2008)

Image credit: 123RF Stock Photo

Why are there two Creeds?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 23, May 2012 Categories: Church History,Doctrines & Beliefs,Liturgy

Actually, there are more than two. But in common liturgical usage we appeal to two: the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed. They are professions of faith, from the Latin credo, “I believe.” A creed is an authorized statement of religious belief formulated for initiation and other rites. It provides a concise expression of what the believer holds to be true in communion with the entire body of the faithful.

The Christian creed took many forms in the 1st-century church. The simplest is Saint Peter’s confessional phrase, “You are the Messiah,” in answer to Jesus’ question: “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:16; Mark 8:29). Peter repeats his reply in the streets at Pentecost. Saint Paul also uses a two-part formula professing allegiance to God and his Son. The Trinitarian confession evolves later and is harder to find in the New Testament. It appears at the end of the Gospel of Matthew: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Paul offers a summary of the teaching handed to him: Christ died for our sins and was raised on the third day. He reminds the Corinthians of the “gospel I preached to you, which you indeed received” (1 Corinthians 15:1). That became known as the kerygma,or “proclamation,” which the church formerly recited as “the mystery of faith”: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

Church fathers like Ignatius and Irenaeus in the 2nd century evolved fuller expressions called rules of faith. Hippolytus offered an interrogatory, question-and-answer format creed similar to what the church sometimes use at Eastertime. An Old Roman Creed of 150 A.D. was later developed into the Apostles Creed, one of the earliest of a half-dozen ecumenical creeds embraced across the church. While the apostles didn’t write it, it clearly reflects church teaching from the first decades, and Saint Ambrose first mentioned it by that name around 390.

The Nicene Creed was another ecumenical version established at the Council of Constantinpole (not Nicaea) in 381 A.D., and by the 6th century it became the standard at baptisms. When the Reformers of the 16th century provided their own creeds starting with the Augsburg Confession in 1530, the Roman Church responded with a few more, up to and including one by Pope Paul VI in 1968. Because the Catholic Church uses them at Mass, the Apostles and Nicene Creed remain the most influential professions of Catholic faith.

Matthew 16:16; Matthew 28:19; Acts 2:36; Romans 1:1-4; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

The Creed: What Christians Believe and Why It Matters by Luke Timothy Johnson (Image, 2004)
The Christian Faith in the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church, 7th ed., ed. by Jacques Dupuis, S.J. and Josef Neuner, S.J. (Alba House, 2001)

“Creeds and Canons” from the Internet Christian Library

Why isn’t the "Gloria" sung during Lent?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Friday 02, March 2012 Categories: Liturgy,Liturgy


Let’s start with some basic rules of liturgy set down by the Second Vatican Council in its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. The aim of liturgy is to serve the need to worship God in “full, active, and conscious participation” (no.14). The rituals in the Mass should therefore bear a “noble simplicity” that is “within the people’s powers of comprehension” (no.34). The unfolding of the church year with its various feasts and seasons seeks to do that by revealing “the whole mystery of Christ” from Incarnation to Pentecost in due season (no.102). The church is to be particularly directed toward feasts of the Lord that point to salvation (no.108).

In other words, a huge principle in ritual is to move up and down a sliding scale of magnificence so that it will be clear to the youngest child what’s really important in the full spectrum of what the church believes. The Resurrection of Jesus is the number-one mystery Christians celebrate, so it’s enhanced with three days of intense liturgy (the Triduum), a full week of solemn commemoration (Holy Week), preceded by 40 days of penitential preparation (the season of Lent)—not to forget every celebration of the Eucharist of course.

Along with prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to get ready for Easter, the church also fasts from saying or singing the word Alleluia (some traditions have even buried the Alleluia with great pageantry on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday and “resurrected” it again at Easter) as well as singing the Gloria. As one perceptive music minister put it: The church doesn’t sing these great words during Lent for the same reason the church don’t sing Jesus Christ Is Risen Today—until we get there liturgically.

Just as the church refrains from the Gloria during Lent, it does the same during Advent, which is another great season of preparation for a greater mystery, the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. We don’t sing Christmas carols during Lent (not in church, anyway!), so we don’t sing the mother-of-all-carols, the song of the angels, until then. Gloria in Excelsis Deo is heaven’s response to the glorious birth of Jesus. If the angels can wait until that holy night to sing it, I suppose the rest of us can, too.

The Gloria is an exalted hymn which is not to be replaced by any other at that time in the Mass, so say the norms of the Roman Missal. It adds a “celebratory character” to the Introductory Rites that is better expressed sung than in recitation, and increased in collaboration with a full choir—reminding us of its debut performance. “To sing belongs to lovers,” as Saint Augustine once said. To yearn also belongs to lovers—which is why sometimes the church saves the song until its proper hour.

Luke 2:14; Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19; Acts of the Apostles 2:46-47

Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy

At the Supper of the Lamb: A Pastoral and Theological Commentary on the Mass by Paul Turner (Liturgy Training Publications, 2011)
Days of the Lord: The Liturgical Year, Vol. 2: Lent (Liturgical Press, 1993)

When and where is it appropriate to bow inside Catholic churches?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 01, February 2010 Categories: Liturgy

The poet William Stafford wrote about the spirit of reverence in which he describes this human imperative: "A great event is coming, bow down." He reflects, "And I, always looking for something anyway, / always bow down" (Things That Happen, 1970). Folks like Stafford with a highly cultivated sense of reverence know there's never a wrong time to bow, because every moment is a miracle. But it's also good to know what folks may be bowing to as they maneuver around the sacred space of Catholic churches.

First and foremost there's the altar, officially called the Table of the Lord. Because Catholic worship is centered on the celebration of the Eucharist, this table is the most important piece of furniture in the church. When entering a church it's appropriate to make a bow of the head and shoulders toward the altar. That is an act of faith in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

The bow itself is an ancient symbol of surrender to a higher authority: baring the back of the neck made you vulnerable to the person before whom you subjected yourself. Bowing toward the altar whenever you cross in front of it is proper. (But if you're cleaning or decorating the church or otherwise crossing frequently, the protocol is naturally suspended.)

Later in church history it became common to reserve some part of the Eucharist in a receptacle known as the tabernacle. The tabernacle is placed variously around churches, from directly above the altar (from the days when the altar was against the wall of the sanctuary) to the present practice of reserving the Eucharist at the side of the sanctuary space or sometimes in a separate chapel entirely.

Because the tabernacle contains the consecrated Body of Christ, it—like the Table of the Lord—are reverenced with a bow or even a genuflection (going down on one knee and making the Sign of the Cross over yourself). When the tabernacle is in line with the altar or shares the same sanctuary space, it is not necessary to reverence both. The proper bow is always primarily toward the Table of the Lord. Of course you'll see folks bow toward images of Jesus, his mother Mary, favorite saints, or the cross. These are devotional gestures and not obligatory. Inside the church reverencing the altar is sufficient.

Exodus 3:4-6; Leviticus 19:30; 26:2; Psalm 86:9; Revelation 4:6-11

Stories That Could Be True: New and Collected Poems by William Stafford (Harper & Row, 1982)
The Spiritual Life: Recognizing the Holy by Robert Fabing (Paulist Press, 2004)
The Holy Way: Practices for a Simple Life by Paula Huston (Loyola Press, 2003)

What is the lectionary?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 15, July 2009 Categories: Liturgy,Scripture

If you attend Mass regularly you'll notice certain books hold prominence of place in the gathering. These over-large and often decorated volumes contain Bible passages appointed for public reading by trained readers (lectors) and are called lectionaries.

Each lectionary organizes readings according to the feasts and seasons of the church year. In this way we hear about the birth of Jesus at Christmas, the Passion during Holy Week, the ministry of Jesus during other times of the year, and so on. The Sunday lectionary contains three years' worth of readings:

—Cycle A follows Matthew's gospel with Old Testament passages chosen to parallel its themes.

—Cycle B is organized around Mark's gospel—although Mark is so short that John's gospel supplements the year.

—Cycle C coordinates Luke's gospel with Old Testament readings.

(The Gospel of John isn't slighted; it's used in all three years for special feasts when thematically appropriate.)

In between the Old Testament and gospel readings on Sundays, an additional New Testament passage is selected from a letter of Saint Paul or another apostle and read continuously across the Sundays until it's finished. During the Easter season the Old Testament reading is replaced by a passage from the Acts of the Apostles or the Book of Revelation.

There's also a daily lectionary that runs in a two-year cycle (Years I and II) pairing gospel passages with continuous readings from Old or New Testament books. Saints' days have their own appropriately chosen optional readings, and an additional lectionary has passages suitable for baptisms, weddings, funerals, and other occasions.

Why do we have lectionaries? For one thing, they provide breadth. Catholics can hear a fairly broad amount of scripture in a few years' time. Not every Bible verse is covered by the lectionary, but a surprisingly comprehensive reading can be achieved by the daily Mass-goer.

Another practical reason for lectionaries is that they save time: The preacher doesn't have to scramble looking for passages on forgiveness for every Rite of Reconciliation, for example. Finally, it keeps preachers honest: They can't default to their favorite themes but must treat scripture in its fullness.

Lectionaries have existed in one form or another since Christianity's Jewish roots in the synagogue. These tools have proven the test of time.

Nehemiah 8:1-12; Psalm 119; Luke 4:16-21; Hebrews 4:12; James 1:19-21

The New American Bible organized by daily lectionary readings

Journeying with Mark (also available for Matthew and Luke) by Jennifer Christ (Paulist Press, 2005)
God's Word Is Alive: Reflections on the Lectionary Readings by Alice Camille (ACTA Publications, 2007)

Why do Catholics bless themselves, genuflect, and so on?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 15, June 2009 Categories: Liturgy

Many rituals that your parents may have performed or your parochial schoolteachers insisted on when you walked into sacred space fall under the heading of personal pieties. Enter any city church and you’re likely to see a host of ethnically rooted expressions of faith: people kissing statues, moving up the aisles on their knees, leaving rosaries around the necks of madonnas or handwritten prayers rubber-banded to the hands of Jesus. Dollar bills origami-ed into the shape of hearts are becoming popular in the candle offering box, too.

While these practices are meaningful to their practitioners, they are not "officially" Catholic gestures. Blessing yourself—that is, making the Sign of the Cross “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”—is, however, a formal ritual gesture of the church. It marks you as a Christian, and it is the way both public Catholic prayer begins as it is for the most personal expression of thanks before and after meals. It also reminds Christians of their belief in three “persons” in one God.

The full Sign of the Cross includes touching the forehead, heart, and both shoulders, signifying acceptance of the demands of discipleship over our thoughts, desires, and deeds. A smaller version, performed before the proclamation of the gospel at Mass, involves making a thumb sketch of the cross on the forehead, lips, and heart while praying silently, “May the Lord be on my mind, on my lips, and in my heart, that I may be worthy to proclaim the gospel.” At the start of Lent, it’s also customary to bear the Sign of the Cross in ashes on the forehead.

Genuflection, or touching down one knee accompanied by the Sign of the Cross, is a particular gesture made only in a Catholic church or other place designated for worship. It’s a sign of reverence toward the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Sometimes the reverence is directed toward the table of the Lord (the altar) if Mass is to be celebrated. Otherwise, genuflection is to be directed toward the tabernacle, where the real presence remains in the consecrated hosts. For those who cannot genuflect, a simple bow is sufficient. These movements are not magical but reminders that we are incarnate beings who believe in a God who chose to become a Word made flesh.

Matthew 28:19; Romans 6:12-14; 12:1; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17

Questions and answers about Catholic “sacramentals”—the Sign of the Cross, medals, and others

Why Do Catholics Do That? by Kevin Orlin Johnson (Ballantine Books, 1994)
Catholic Etiquette: What You Need to Know About Catholic Rites and Wrongs by Kay Lynn Isca (Our Sunday Visitor, 1997)
Now That You Are a Catholic: An Informal Guide to Catholic Customs, Traditions, and Practices by John J. Kenny, C.S.P. (Paulist Press, 2003)

Why do priests wear vestments?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 03, August 2010 Categories: Liturgy

I admit, being let loose in a sacristy the first time can be like wandering through a costume department in Hollywood. Vestments can be ornate, fabulous, regal—not to mention incredibly heavy, depending on the period they were designed. But what’s most important to recognize is that when first adopted they were a costlier form of the same basic garb worn by the general population.

Ancient Hebrews wore a tunic, gathered with a sash, and a turban. Wool was the primary fabric, but priestly garments were mostly woven of linen and decorated with gold thread and yarns of violet, purple, and scarlet. In addition, high priests wore an overlying robe, squarish, with a hole in the middle to drape over the head, trimmed at the hem in bells and yarn pomegranates. On his head he wore a miter (pointed hat).

When the first Jewish Christians gathered for worship, they assembled in homes and wore no distinguishing clothing. But after the legalization of Christianity in the late 3rd century, formal public worship raised the visibility of the presider and so, too, his vesture. Still, the clothing worn by the presider resembled secular apparel.

First came the alb, a white tunic worn as an undergarment in all social classes. A ropelike cincture held the alb in place around the hips. Next was the chasuble, a more colorful poncho-like covering. Over that was the scarf known as the stole, which may have been a symbol of authoritative office. Then came the dalmatic, a more formal alb worn in the imperial court and reserved for the use of bishops and the deacons who served with them. To the bishop was also reserved the wearing of the miter.

After the 7th century secular fashions advanced, strangely enough, as a result of barbarian invasions which brought down the Empire in the West. But church vesture remained the same, now oddly out of step with what everyone else was wearing. The Second Vatican Council in the 1960’s inaugurated a return to simplicity in vestments, recommending that their beauty derive from “material and design” rather than “lavish ornamentation” (say good-bye to bells and pomegranates!). The continued use of vestments links our celebrations with those of previous generations and enhances the dignity of our assembly—as dressing in “our Sunday best” always has.

• Exodus 28, 29, and 39; Leviticus 8; Ezekiel 44:15-19

Online resource
General Instruction of the Roman Missal, nos. 335-347

The Symbols of the Church by Maurice Dilasser (Liturgical Press, 1999)
The Mass and Vestments of the Catholic Church, Liturgical, Doctrinal, Historical, and Archaeological by John Walsh (General Books LLC, 2010; pay-to-download site)

Pulpit, lectern, ambo: What’s the difference?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 16, February 2011 Categories: Liturgy

Casually, they mean the same thing: the place from which readers read, cantors chant, and preachers preach. The original term for the whole thing was the Greek word ambo. When “church” evolved from being a name for the assembly to designate the special building where people gathered, architecture began to define the liturgical movements. Because the Mass comes in two parts, the Liturgy of the Word and of the Eucharist, the ambo was the place where the first part happened, and the altar was the stage for the second.

We see the vestige of the ambo design in the semicircular part of the sanctuary that juts into the assembly. The ambo pulpit was first positioned there on an elevated platform. Two staircases led to it. The subdeacon ascended from the east and, facing the altar, proclaimed the epistle. The deacon ascended from the west, facing the people, and proclaimed the gospel. Because both readings were chanted, this front area also housed the choir and was part of what today would be called the “music ministry.” Preaching was normally done from the presider’s chair.

The ambo design imitated the mountain where Moses received the Law and Jesus offered his famous Sermon. From the 4th-12th centuries this configuration was popular, leading to developments such as two ambos: an eastern one dedicated to the epistle and a western one with a permanent candle used for the gospel. Less common was the double-decker ambo with a lower station for the epistle and higher one for the gospel.

The pulpit eventually replaced the old ambo. Less ornate in decoration, it was still elevated (pulpit, by the way, means “scaffold”). The pulpit was separated from the choir and used purely for proclamation, its exalted stage viewed as the "position of the perfect.” Even during the early ambo period, acoustics were poor from the chair so some sermons were delivered from the ambo. The pulpit supported this tradition and is now usually the name for the place from which priests and deacons read the gospel and give the homily.

The lectern is a humbler development: It’s a support for a book. It may denote the stand the priest uses to prop up the sacramentary at the altar. Today, ambo and lectern are often used interchangeably to refer to the place where the readings, psalm responses, and general intercessions are proclaimed. The pulpit is generally reserved for preaching and the gospel reading.

2 Chronicles 6:12-13; Nehemiah 8:3-5; Isaiah 40:9; Matthew 5:1-2

Built of Living Stones: Art, Architecture, and Worship, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Committee on Divine Worship

The House of God: Church Architecture, Style and History by Edward R. Norman (Norton/Thames and Hudson, 2005)
Repitching the Tent: Reordering the Church Building for Worship and Mission by Richard Giles (Liturgical Press, 1999)

Why does the liturgy change?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 16, November 2011 Categories: Liturgy

“Do this in memory of me,” Jesus told his disciples—but he never told them exactly how to do it liturgically. The rituals of our Eucharist have been in flux ever since. The history of the Mass is one of nearly continual evolution.

Why does just about every generation make changes? To serve the community of faith. Some developments are fundamental, as when the Greek liturgy shifted into Latin in the 4th century, leaving only the Kyrie behind; Latin had become the language of the marketplace. The Mass entered the vernacular in 1970, acknowledging that a dead language might not be the best choice for a living celebration. Those offended by the appearance of guitars (a vehicle for rock music!) in church in the 1960s should be reminded that others were similarly horrified when the organ first entered the building in the 700s, replacing stringed instruments. Organs had previously had a vulgar association with gladiatorial combat.

Some changes simplify: The expert advisors at the Second Vatican Council eliminated repetitious gestures and prayers. Other changes clarify: Host and chalice were elevated in the 13th century to emphasize the consecration. Customs change: We no longer bless oil, cheese, and olives after the Eucharistic Prayer as they did in the 3rd century. For most of church history the community handed over food and livestock at the offering; by the 12th century they were encouraged to bring money.

Parts of the Mass predate Christianity: singing psalms, swinging incense, and the use of “Amen,” “Alleluia,” and “Let us pray” are rooted in Jewish prayer. By the 2nd century, scripture, the homily, and petitions of the people were standard. Yet the homily disappeared by the 8th century, as did the Prayer of the Faithful by the 1500s. While the Kyrie, Gloria, Creed, Eucharistic Prayer, and many dialogues (like “The Lord be with you” and “Lift up your hearts”) were in place by the 4th century, other familiar elements like praying for the dead weren’t regular until the 8th century. Kneeling for the Eucharistic Prayer started in the 13th century. Before Vatican II, only 1 percent of the Old Testament and 17 percent of the New were heard at Mass. Now 14 percent of the Old and 71 percent of the New Testament are proclaimed.

Mark 14:22-26; Matthew 26:26-30; Luke 22:14-20; Acts 2:42-47; 1 Corinthians 12:23-26; Colossians 3:16-17; 1 Timothy 2:1-4; Hebrews 9:11-28

Resources on the new Roman Missal

At the Supper of the Lamb: A Pastoral and Theological Commentary on the Mass by Paul Turner (Liturgy Training Publications, 2011)
From Age to Age: How Christians Have Celebrated the Eucharist by Edward Foley (Liturgical Press, 2008)



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