My experience of Midnight Mass this year...

This Advent season has been a very difficult time for many people whether it is because of the Sandy Hook shootings, joblessness, weather related phenomena, the looming fiscal cliff, or what-have-you; it has been difficult. It has been much worse for some than others, and for some it has not been bad at all.

After what seemed to me to be a long Advent season, I was excited to go to Mass at midnight to celebrate the long-awaited birth of our Lord. There is something nostalgic, to be sure, about Midnight Mass for me. As a child my mother took us to Midnight Mass every year, and every year Midnight Mass was at midnight. It was not until I moved as a ten-year-old that I first encountered 'Midnight' Mass at some other hour of Christmas Eve. I was horrified.

Nevertheless, the earlier-than-midnight Mass spoke to the American-pragmatist in me. It is difficult and uncomfortable to actually celebrate Midnight Mass at midnight, and we can make it easier for others to attend Mass by playing with the schedule. For instance, this year my parish celebrate the Mass at Night (as it is technically called in the Missal) of the Nativity of our Lord at 8:00pm. There was no Mass celebrated at Midnight. Then, there were two Christmas day Masses: 8:00am and 10:00am. My baptismal parish celebrated it at 7:00pm.  Again, the schedule is all about convenience.

I do not want to have a discussion on the pastoral value of such a practice, nor the theological significance of changing times and the the appointed liturgical hours of the day. I merely want to recount my experience this Christmas.

So, I have rarely found Midnight Mass to be celebrated at midnight since moving from Los Angeles as a child. I cannot fully deny that I did not like getting Mass out of the way to get home and start the real celebration. As I grew older, however, I developed a sense of loss for that tradition. I missed it. I missed the joy of Christmas in the midst of night.

I started seeking out Midnight Mass every year that I had the opportunity, but because I tended to go home for Christmas the opportunity rarely arose. The last two years I was able to go to Midnight Mass at midnight, and it was not until this year that it struck me 'like a ton of bricks,' as they say, the value of this late-night celebration.

Painting a background...

There are layers upon layers that take place, and I will do my best to peel them away carefully. I would be remiss to exclude some background on what I am talking about.

Adam sinned, and by that sin brought sin and death into the world. Original sin, a.k.a. concupiscence, is passed from our first parents to us. Original sin has two material defects, namely the weakening of the will, whereby it is more difficult to do what is right and good, and darkening of the intellect, whereby it is difficult to know good from bad. The more we sin, the harder it is to do what is right. Every particular sin instills in us a habit of sin, and thus, every sin decreases the strength of our will and darkens our intellect more.

In the context of history, the more sinful the individuals who make up a community or nation, the more difficult it is for others within that community or nation to know what is good and right. Sin begets sin, and the intellectual darkness grows darker.

We count pride as the head of all other sins. It is from self-love that all other sins are born. Therefore, pride is the source of our intellectual darkness and moral weakness. God, however, sheds light on this darkness by revealing the Law. First he reveals the Old Law with Moses and then the New Law in Christ. As such the darkness is gradually dispelled by the Law. The prevenient law of our world is the Natural Law and has been God's revelation of law since the beginning. About the Old Law St. Thomas Aquinas says this:
It was fitting that the Law should be given at such a time as would be appropriate for the overcoming of man's pride. For man was proud of two things, viz. of knowledge and of power. He was proud of his knowledge, as though his natural reason could suffice him for salvation: and accordingly, in order that his pride might be overcome in this matter, man was left to the guidance of his reason without the help of a written law: and man was able to learn from experience that his reason was deficient, since about the time of Abraham man had fallen headlong into idolatry and the most shameful vices.
It is at the height of darkness, in this case idolatry of other gods, that the Old Law was revealed. Likewise, it was at the height of darkness, namely the idolatry of the Old Law, that the New Law entered the world. The spirit of the Law was lost on the people of Israel. A rigorist approach to the letter of the law had overwhelmed good-will toward God and neighbor.

Christ came as the New Law to shed light on our darkness.

The darkness into which He was born...  

So, for us the opportunity to reenact, if you will, the spiritual, intellectual, and moral darkness into which Christ was born comes around every year with the winter solstice. The winter solstice unfortunately has its symbolic value limited by the equator and the position of the sun relative to earth. Nevertheless, the winter solstice is that time of year where, in the northern hemisphere, darkness is at its height and night reaches its longest duration. 

The celebration of Christ's birth in the Catholic Church, which in its earliest days was predominately a European and Oriental Church placed the celebration of Christ's birth as near as possible to the solstice. On top of that, in order to drive the point home, the Mass at Night was celebrated in the very heart of the darkness - the middle of the night.

There is sometimes prudence in waiting till the last minute. A "don't shoot till you see the whites of their eyes" approach can be the only way to bring about the necessary change. God hardened Pharaoh's  heart until he had suffered the death of his first-born son (not something that God Himself is unfamiliar with), and only then did Pharaoh let His people go so that they may worship Him in the desert. Even then, Pharaoh only let them go long enough that they would have the perfect head-start once they got to the Red Sea. 

Similar to the Midnight Mass I attended.
(I left my camera at home)
God came to the world in the midst of darkness and is for it a Radiant New Dawn. And this is where I would like to pick up my experience once again. 

I went to bed Christmas Eve at 9:30pm to try and get some sleep before Mass - always a fatal error. My alarm went off at 11:30pm and I struggled to pull myself out of bed. I debated for awhile whether or not we (my wife and I) should just wait until morning. We even made a decision to just go in the morning. After about five minutes of not falling back to sleep immediately, I made the decision that we would go to Midnight Mass even if it killed us. So we did. 

We suited up and  made the five minute walk to the monastery to celebrate Mass with the Carmelite sisters. They solely make use of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, and having been there the previous year, I was expecting the lights of the chapel to be out and candles to be lighting the high altar.  As expected, I entered the chapel to the soft glow of 64 candles beautifully arranged around the altar. 

A small Christmas tree stood in the corner of the sanctuary and another larger one next to the crèche. Two small tea-lights in each window added a bit of light along the side aisles of the pews. Nevertheless, with all the candlelight it was still dark, too dark in fact to read your Baronius Press Daily Missal

It was stirring. Dark, quiet, cold - I could not have imagined a greater representation of the sort of darkness that we experience with sin. As dark and cold as it was, the altar shone with such splendid beauty that I could not help but think of my own personal need for Christ in the midst of the darkness that fills my own heart. Maybe I have hit the bottom like Pharaoh or maybe I just saw something I did not see before in the beauty of the liturgy. 

St. Augustine says:
Our heart when it rises to Him is His altar; the priest who intercedes for us is His Only-begotten; we sacrifice to Him bleeding victims when we contend for His truth even unto blood; to Him we offer the sweetest incense when we come before Him burning with holy and pious love; to Him we devote and surrender ourselves and His gifts in us; to Him, by solemn feasts and on appointed days, we consecrate the memory of His benefits, lest through the lapse of time ungrateful oblivion should steal upon us; to Him we offer on the altar of our heart the sacrifice of humility and praise, kindled by the fire of burning love.
I saw in that altar that night, a reflection of the light I need in my heart. I saw the fire of love that I lack in my own heart. In the darkness I saw my pride and selfishness.

My prayer that night was that the Sun of Justice might rise in my heart. That the darkness of sin be dispelled and that the Faith He offers us truly influence my actions. I prayed that we all, who dwell in darkness, might open our hearts to receive Him and that His light might shine on all through us.

"And night shall be no more. And they shall not need the light of the lamp, nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God shall enlighten them. And they shall reign for ever and ever"(Rev 22:5).

Leave me a comment about your experience of Midnight Mass. Do you attend Midnight Mass? What time is your Mass at Night and do you like that time? Why or why not?

Christmas Gift Giving and Christian Love...

A brief theology of gift...

At the heart of the Christmas experience is the gift. It moves us profoundly. John 3:16 tells us that God so loved the world that He gave us His only Son. It is not that the Son belongs to the Father, or the Holy Spirit for that matter, as if He were a possession or a slave. He cannot be given in that sense. The Father, rather allows the Son to go forth from Him so that the Son might give Himself freely to us. The way the Father 'allows' the Son to condescend to us is in-itself an act of giving.

We are said to possess that which we can freely use or enjoy as we see fit. Therefore, as Augustine says (In Joan. Tract. xxix): "What is more yours than yourself?"

A gift however, requires three things: 1) A giver, who is at the same time one who possesses that which is given and expects nothing in return; 2) that which is to be given, which is entirely and rightly possessed by the giver; and 3) a receiver, who must be open to receiving that which is freely given with no intention of returning or remunerating in some way.

To be pedantic, if I were to attempt to give a gift and the person to whom I tried to give it was unwilling to receive it, there would simply be no gift. If I were to attempt to give a gift and I expected payment for it, it would simply be a sale. If I attempted to give something that was not mine, and the person to whom I tried to give it was completely willing to receive it, the giving would be unlawful and bogus.

The only reason that would explain a thing being given in gratuity with no expectation or intention of some return is love. Here I am not speaking of some feeling or emotion, but rather, that love that impels us toward communion, namely Christian charity (caritas).

It is a love that gives of itself solely out of a desire for the good of another. It is the love that gives for another's happiness rather than one's own. It is a sacrificial love willing to give to the point of death, and it finds its source in God. St. Thomas Aquinas says, "love has the nature of a first gift, through which all free gifts are given."This first gift is God, and the Holy Spirit is His Name. St. John the Baptist tells us likewise, "A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven" (Jn 3:27).

Christmas gift...

It is most appropriate that gifts be given at Christmastime, whether we give them on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day or Epiphany; whether we give them, St. Nicholas or Santa Claus gives them, or the Christkind/Christ-child gives them. We each have our traditions of giving, and each is appropriate to expressing the miracle of God's gift of Himself out of gratuitous love to the world. 

Every gift giving tradition, but in particular those which emphasize the free gift (not exchange), participate in a unique way in the mysterious way that God gives and moves us in caritas to give freely with no expectation of return. 

For children, receiving a gift from the Christkind or Santa Claus on Christmas morning allows them to open their hearts to the kind of love that God has for them. St. Thérèse of Lisieux had her great conversion at Christmas. St. Thérèse committed herself to the love of Christ when she found out that that Christmas would be the last that they would receive presents. Christ's love would suffice. The relation of Christ's love to gift is incredibly tight. It is a small step between recognizing the love to recognizing Christ Himself.

For parents, giving a gift from the Christkind or Santa Claus on Christmas morning allows them to participate in that same selfless act of outpouring love that Christ performs by becoming man. St. Nicholas reminds us of this by the example of his life. St. Catherine Drexel, as well, images this gratuitous self-giving by her religious life and the exhaustion of her inheritance. Participating in the gift-giving forms in us a habit of selflessness that we ought to extend beyond our own families and into our community. 

We have to remember that we cannot give but for the grace of God, and we cannot receive were He not willing to give and give through us. 

We should not so easily forget our traditions. It is not better to eliminate Santa Claus and replace him with the Christkind. As long the we maintain our traditions there is no reason to reject them. So, if anyone tells you Santa Claus is heathen, you ought to answer with authority, "He is not.

G.K. Chesterton's thoughts...

I would like to leave you with these thoughtful words from the man himself:
What has happened to me has been the very reverse of what appears to be the experience of most of my friends. Instead of dwindling to a point, Santa Claus has grown larger and larger in my life until he fills almost the whole of it. It happened in this way. 
As a child I was faced with a phenomenon requiring explanation. I hung up at the end of my bed an empty stocking, which in the morning became a full stocking. I had done nothing to produce the things that filled it. I had not worked for them, or made them or helped to make them. I had not even been good–far from it. 
And the explanation was that a certain being whom people called Santa Claus was benevolently disposed toward me. What we believed was that a certain benevolent agency did give us those toys for nothing. And, as I say, I believe it still. 
I have merely extended the idea. 
Then I only wondered who put the toys in the stocking; now I wonder who put the stocking by the bed, and the bed in the room, and the room in the house, and the house on the planet, and the great planet in the void. 
Once I only thanked Santa Claus for a few dolls and crackers, now, I thank him for stars and street faces and wine and the great sea.
Once I thought it delightful and astonishing to find a present so big that it only went halfway into the stocking. Now I am delighted and astonished every morning to find a present so big that it takes two stockings to hold it, and then leaves a great deal outside; it is the large and preposterous present of myself, as to the origin of which I can offer no suggestion except that Santa Claus gave it to me in a fit of peculiarly fantastic goodwill.
~ G.K. Chesterton, "The Other Stocking"

A Catholic blogger's meager attempt to recapture the meaning of some Christmas traditions...

As a half-German, half-Hispanic American, whose family held onto many traditions, I have a strong sense of their value. Even though many of my family's traditions may have been modified to better suit our time and needs, an emphasis was always put on our reception of what we do from our predecessors.

We do not make up the way we celebrate special occasions. What we do and how we do it has been slowly perfected over generations to be meaningful and formative. Every year around Advent we see our ancient traditions stand out. They become so overt that it seems that our entire world has changed. No other time of year can be viewed the same way.

Nevertheless, it seems that as Christians we have to fight a particular battle to try and maintain our traditions. It seems that our images, signs, and symbols have been hijacked and drained of significance. What we have been left with is a commercialized superficiality.

Our response to this attack is to avoid it. We have a knee jerk rejection of Santa Claus: It's St. Nicholas. We have a reflexive rebuff to "Happy Holidays": It's Merry Christmas. We involuntarily repudiate Christmas trees in Advent: You should have an Advent Wreath.  What we seem to do, in the end is throw out the baby with the bath water.

We avoid St. Nick any day other than Dec. 6th. We fail to wish our Jewish brothers and sisters a Happy Hanukkah (only Catholics have the Hanukkah story in their bible). We do not allow the imagery of the Christmas tree to prepare us for the celebration of Christ's Nativity.

Recapturing Meaning...

Santa Claus

Growing up I never had an issue thinking of Santa Claus as St. Nicholas. It was simply explained to me that Santa Claus was the anglicized form of the Dutch name Sinterklaas, which is itself just an abbreviated form of Sint Nikolaas. Images of the jolly ol' saint often depicted him in one of two fashions: dressed in liturgical attire or his cold weather clothing.

The Santa hat is nothing more than a derivation of the 'camauro.' Which is a red velvet winter hat with white fur trim and lining. Pope Benedict XVI himself can be seen wearing this hat on winter occasions. And Bl. John XXIII would wear one with the red velvet shoulder cape (mozzetta) with white fur trim and lining.

The imagery of St. Nick wearing red velvet and white fur, is really rooted in the traditional attire of great Churchmen, even of recent times. 
The camauro, however, is not conical and has no pom. The shape of Santa's hat comes from the pagan-Roman winter celebration of Saturnalia. In the Greco-Roman world, only free men wore the pilleus, a conical shaped hat. During celebrations of the winter solstice (Saturnalia) all people were allowed to wear the pilleus as a tribute to the god Saturn freeing them from darkness.

Many of the ancient roman symbols of Saturnalia have become associated with Christmas since, in Christ, we find their true meaning. For instance, the pilleus is associated with freedom, and Christ frees us from sin and the power of death. Saturnalia was celebrated with an abundance of candles signifying the increase in light that we experience at the winter solstice. Today, electric lights replace candles, but they still signify the increase in light that Christ brings to the world. Gift giving was a key celebration of Saturnalia and has become a central tradition of Christmas, but Christ is the Gift of gifts. His birth ushers in a new age of gifts, namely grace. 

So, St. Nicholas, who is associated with gift giving, has become a mascot of the spirit of gift giving. Should he be excluded from the celebration of Christ's Nativity as if he were a distraction from the meaningfulness of gifts and Christ, whose gift of Himself is the reason for the season? I say no. If he wants to fill my boots on Dec. 6 and my stockings on Dec. 25, so be it. If he wants to teach me about the free gift that Christ offers us with the sacrifice of Himself, by putting a box full of new socks and underwear under my Christmas tree, so be it. 

O Tannenbaum...

Wie treu sind deine Blätter. Du grunst nicht nur im Sommerzeit. Nein, auch im Winter, wenn es schneit. How loyal are your needles. You are not only green in summertime. No, also in winter, when it snows.

The fir tree (Tannenbaum) is a perduring symbol of hope and life among darkness and death. The German hymn O Tannenbaum praises the tree for its verdancy when all the other trees have lost their leaves. It is therefore most fitting that evergreen trees, not just the fir, are used to draw us closer to the mystery of Christ's birth.

The great debate is when to put up the tree. For some, they have no problem putting it up the day after Thanksgiving if they are not to busy trampling others to get the best deals on this year's electronics. For others, it is completely inappropriate to put up a Christmas tree until Christmas eve. To do so, in Advent is anathema. Some put up the Tannenbaum and spend each day leading up to Christmas placing a new Christian symbol on the tree, this they call the Jesse tree. It is a sort of compromise to avoid anathema and commercialization. And still there are others, like myself, who put the tree up at the start of Advent, put all the decorations on it, and use it to prepare for Christmas. 

The modern Christmas tree is of German origin. Its ever-greenness makes it the perfect symbol for eternal life. Germans originally decorated the tree with apples (we have replaced the apples with glass bulbs of all colors). The apples signify the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, of which Adam and Eve ate. It should also be mentioned that Christmas Eve is the commemoration of all the forefathers of Christ. It is therefore taken as the name day of Adam and Eve, and was the original day that the tree was decorated and used.

Originally, the tree was lit with real candles. God forbid we bring those fire hazards into our homes! Now, we use UL approved string lights. The candles represent two things, the light Christ brings into the world, and the stars of heaven, which remind us of the uncountable numbers of the heavenly host. So, the more lights the better. Remember that the angels appeared to the shepherds saying that Christ was born and "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace to men of good will." 

It was not until the tree made its way to the United States via Great Britain and Canada that the tree began to be decorated with candy canes. A German-American from Ohio named August Imgard [there's quite a bit more about the candy cane at this link] is attributed as the first to add the sugary delights to the tree. The candy cane has two meanings as well, it represents the shepherds who were called to Christ's birthplace by the angel. Its red swirls represent the blood spilt at Christ's crucifixion, which is the reason he was born in the first place, and the white represents the virgin birth. 

And adorning the top of the tree is the star. The same star that led the magi out of the east to the place of Christ's birth. This star is placed at the top of the tree to lead us also to the place of Christ's birth.  

If we recognize this imagery, there is no reason why we should not put the tree up at the beginning of Advent. If your tree is decorated with Disney characters, maybe you ought to put it up before Advent. You are obviously not concerned with the religious nature of the tree. If you stick with just apples, maybe Christmas eve is more suitable. If you're like me, however, and you try to fill your tree with all the meaning of Christ's life, Advent is a suitable time to decorate your tree. It will not take away from your Advent wreath, but only help you prepare to with joyful expectation to receive Christ on Christmas morning. 

Let's not forget, as Catholics we get this tradition from our Lutheran brothers and sisters. So, maybe now some of you may want to forego the whole tree thing altogether...

So, what goes on your tree? When do you put it up? Does St. Nicholas only come on the 6th at your home? Leave me a comment below or send me a picture of your tree. 

Five signs that we get wrong at Mass...

For many contemporary Catholics, the Second Vatican Council is the most important, if not the only, Church Council in the history of the Church. For them, it brought the Church out of a rigorist darkness and enlightened it by its contact with modernity. If you would like to think that, you are wrong, but go ahead. I am not going to stop you.

They claim that the Church made serious progress in its liturgical reforms, which is not something I want to argue with. If, however, progress is so important - which it is when it is ordered toward some higher end than progress itself - then we ought to heed the words of C.S. Lewis. In Mere Christianity, and I am paraphrasing, Lewis writes that if you are traveling down the wrong path, progress is made by the first person to turn back.

I am not suggesting a wholesale rejection of the liturgical reforms. I am not saying that we need to return to the Mass of the early Church. What I am saying is that in order for progress to be made, we need to return to that place where we deviated from the right course.

The liturgical reforms called for a renewed simplicity of the Mass, which is to say the elimination of needless repetition. They called for a fuller and more active participation in the Mass, something I may discuss at some other time. They did not call for a 'new Mass.' What we should recognize is that the Mass, the one and only Mass of the Roman Rite, underwent a sort of plastic surgery. It got a nip here and a tuck there, and it learned a few new languages along the way, never intending to forget Her mother-tongue.

If we, as a new generation of 'progressive' Catholics are going to make any real progress, we have to stick to the 'progress' that was made by Vatican II. Unfortunately, we have veered off the right course and are lost in the woods. Progress can only be made if we return to the norms and rubrics of the Mass that came about from Vatican II's renewed (not new) liturgy.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) says:
42. Attention must therefore be paid to what is determined by this General Instruction and by the traditional practice of the Roman Rite and to what serves the common spiritual good of the People of God, rather than private inclination or arbitrary choice.
So we can put it this way, do what the GIRM says. If the GIRM is silent on a matter, refer to the traditional practice of the the Roman Rite. What we want to do does not matter.

Things we are supposed to do but don't...

Bowing of the head:

275. A bow signifies reverence and honor shown to the persons themselves or to the signs that represent them. 
a) A bow of the head is made when the three Divine Persons are named together and at the names of Jesus, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of the Saint in whose honor Mass is being celebrated.
Yes, every time Jesus name is mentioned, at any point during the Mass we are supposed to bow our heads. This also means, that when we sign ourselves with the sign of the Cross (since all three Divine Persons are named together) both at the beginning of Mass and at the end of Mass, we are supposed to bow our heads.

Bowing of the body:

b) A bow of the body, that is to say, a profound bow, is made to the altar... in the Creed at the words et incarnatus est (and by the Holy Spirit . . . and became man).
The only exception to this rule is on two specific feast days, when we do not bow at the waist but genuflect, namely the feasts of the Incarnation - Christmas and the Annunciation. As Christians, the very central doctrine of our faith is the Incarnation. Therefore, we reverence it every Mass at which the Creed is prayed with the bow of the body.

We used to genuflect twice every Mass, in reverence of this great mystery. Vatican II's reforms attempted to elevate the reverence shown on the feasts of the Incarnation by changing all other days to bows. What happened instead is that people stopped bowing. We need to regain this for the sake of progress.

Striking the breast:

The Order of the Mass calls for us to strike our breast during the Confiteor (I confess to almighty God...):
I confess to almighty God
and to you, my brothers and sisters, that i have greatly sinned,
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what i have done and in what i have failed to do,
and, striking their breast, they say:
through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault;
then they continue:
therefore i ask blessed mary ever-Virgin, all the angels and saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the lord our God. 
In the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, this rubric, "and, striking their breast..." reads, "and, striking the breast three times..." In which case, we would invoke GIRM 42 and say that traditional practice is three strikes, and no specific number is given so we should continue the practice of three. With regard to this number, however, clarification was given in 1978:
87. Query: During the recitation of certain formularies, for example, the "Confiteor, Agnus Dei, Domine, non sum dignus," the accompanying gestures on the part of both priest and people are not always the same: some strike their breast three times; others, once during such formularies. What is the lawful practice to be followed?
Reply: In this case it is helpful to recall:
1. gestures and words usually complement each other;
2. in this matter as in others the liturgical reform has sought authenticity and simplicity, in keeping with SC art. 34: "The rites should be marked by a noble simplicity." Whereas in the Roman Missal promulgated by authority of the Council of Trent meticulous gestures usually accompanied the words, the rubrics of the Roman Missal as reformed by authority of Vatican Council II are marked by their restraint with regard to gestures. This being said: a. The words, "Through my own fault" in the "Confiteor" are annotated in the reformed Roman Missal with the rubric: "They strike their breast" ("Ordo Missae" no. 3). In the former Missal at the same place the rubric read this way: "He strikes his breast three times." Therefore, it seems that the breast is not to be struck three times by anyone in reciting the words, whether in Latin or another language, even if the tripled formulary is said ("mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa"). One striking of the breast is enough. 
(Not 14 (1978) 534-535, no. 10.)
So, regardless of traditional practice and for the sake of noble simplicity, whether we like it or not, the rule is one strike for three "mea culpas."

Things we are not supposed to do but do...

Making the sign of the Cross:

An almost ubiquitous practice of making the sign of the cross at one particular point in the Mass seems to have cropped up without good reason. Almost all of us do it or have done it. Following the same penitential act, when we fail to strike the breast at all, we make the sign of the cross for no good reason. There is no rubric anywhere nor at anytime that has ever read "making the sign of the cross the priest says... May almighty God have mercy..."

What seems to have happened is that the Extraordinary form, when it was the only form in use had us make the sign of the Cross during the Indulgentium, which is no longer a part of the rite. It has been dropped in its entirety. What remains is the small prayer prior to the Indulgentium, which is called the Misereatur. Ignorant people knew that a sign of the cross was made after the Confiteor but did not know that that same sign was associated with a specific prayer. So, when the new order of the Mass was promulgated, they kept making a sign of the cross after the Confiteor even though the Indulgentium was omitted completely. 

If you want to make the sign of the cross more, just go to Mass in the Extraordinary Form. There is simply no reason for it to be made in the Ordinary Form during the Misereatur.

Holding hands or using the Orans posture:

The vast majority of dioceses in the US have adopted one of these two postures during the Lord's Prayer. It, however, ought not to be done. There is no posture given for us to adopt during the Pater Noster nor is there any traditional practice of any other posture. In the Extraordianry Form of the Mass, in fact, the congregation is silent for the entire prayer until the words, "sed libera nos a malo (but deliver us from evil)."

If you will notice, all those places where the priest prays on behalf of the people are the same places that the priest adopts the Orans posture (hands apart and palms up). The Lord's Prayer, as I have just said, used to be prayed by the priest alone, and therefore, he used to adopt the Orans posture. It seems more of an accidental holdover then anything that he is still given the directive to adopt this posture, since everyone prays the Pater Noster together. 

In 1975, some clarification was given on the practice of holding hands during the Lord's Prayer. It was said that the holding of hands during the Our Father was not found in the rubrics and was meant as a sign of peace, but that there was another place designated for the sign of peace. Doing this takes away from the sign of peace that immediately follows the Lord's Prayer, and therefore, it should not be done.  

Proclamation & Gathering and the obstacles of the New Evangelization...

Everything that Jesus did in His life can be summed up in two basic movements that integrally tied to each other. First, Christ proclaimed the kingdom of God. Second, He gathered a people to Himself. 

Opponents of the institutional Church claim that the basic movements of proclamation and gathering have nothing to do with the Church. They, rather, invoke the dictum of Loisy, a French theologian and priest, which states, "Jesus came proclaiming the Kingdom of God; what arrived was the Church." Regardless of Loisy's original meaning, this phrase has been taken up in order to promote the belief that there is some opposition between the Kingdom of God and the Church.

This position is particularly relevant today. The Church is undertaking a massive effort to re-evangelize the world, but more importantly, those fallen away Catholics and those within Her walls who fail to understand Her teachings.

The New Evangelization faces the primary obstacle presented by both modern secular-humanism and Protestantism, which profess individualism as the basis for human interaction. Protestantism emphasizes individualism in relation to God whereas secular humanism emphasizes individualism in relation to each other and the civil order.

If the New Evangelization is going to gain any traction, it must first lay groundwork for a proper understanding of Christ’s kingdom. Otherwise, any sort of evangelization will continue to be lived out according to the overwhelmingly popular theory that I can workout my own salvation without recourse to the Church.

Dispelling the myth…

The proclamation

What opposition if any exists between the Kingdom of God and the Church can only be determined based on Christ’s activity as recorded in the New Testament. We could ask, quite simply, do Christ’s actions of proclamation and gathering show any intention of Christ instituting the Church?

Christ’s proclamation of the Kingdom of God is best summed up in the words, “the kingdom of God is at hand…” (Mk 1:15). The original Greek word used in this text for kingdom, “basileia (βασιλεια)” can also be translated as kingship or reign (cf. CCC 2816). The most accurate way to understand the text is to try to roll all these definitions into one. The Kingdom of God is God’s kingship, his reign, and the people over whom he reigns.

Christ is the very action of God. So, when Christ claims that the reign of God is at hand, we can say, “God is near.” Extending his kingdom is only a matter of accepting His kingship. By accepting His kingship we can say, “God is here.”

The gathering

By drawing people to Himself, Christ gathers them in a sort of dynamic unification. The closer they are drawn toward God, the closer the unity that they share among each other. Moreover, this unity finds itself converging in a Person, namely Christ. The acceptance of His call is the very place that unity is formed.

Christ calls twelve men in particular into a deeper relationship than the others. They are simply referred to as ‘the twelve’ until after the resurrection when they become known as ‘the Apostles.’ Another ‘seventy’ (or seventy-two in some texts) exists in another relationship with Christ that is not quite as close as the twelve.

Three things are derived from this calling of specific numbers of men:
  • First, the numbers themselves carry a numerological significance that would have been understood by all the Jews at that time to symbolize the twelve tribes of Israel, which gathered around the Tabernacle of God when called out of Egypt. The seventy (or seventy-two) would have been understood to represent the seventy known peoples outside of Israel, the non-Jewish peoples. These two numbers called around Christ represent Christ calling all nations and kingdoms to Himself, both Jew and Gentile alike.
  • Second, the concentricity of these numbers follow the same structure to that of the Jewish Temple. With God’s dwelling place at the very heart of the Temple, the Holy of Holies was surround by the Court of Israel and the Court of the Gentiles. Christ’s gathering, therefore, symbolizes a new worship which replaces the old Temple with Himself. He is the very place of worship
  • Third, the kingdom of God, forming around Christ, is made up of an intentional structure. This structure is not lost after Christ’s resurrection. In fact, the Apostles see these numbers as so important that they find it necessary to appoint someone to take the place of Judas Iscariot. This hierarchy that Christ institutes becomes the basis for the hierarchy of the Church today. Thus, there is a direct line of continuity drawn between Christ’s gathering and the institutional Church.>
Almost immediately after the evangelists depict Christ gathering a people to Himself, the same people ask Him how to pray. The seek a common way of prayer. This common worship is what forms them as a single religious body. It becomes a sign of their unity. In the gospel according to Matthew, this prayer is received after Christ delivers His sermon on the mount. 

The sermon lays out a new law. The beatitudes become the rule by which the disciples of Christ are to live. This new law forms them as more than just a religious body, but as a nation, a kingdom. This kingdom is not simply an interior kingdom in which God reigns in our hearts. It is made up of people, a people who accepted Christ's kingship. The kingdom, then is twofold. It is body of people, arranged according to a necessary hierarchical structure, and a reign of God in the heart of each individual.

The Church is that by which the faithful are called into a relationship with God. The reign of God is dependent on the faithful's relation to Christ's Church and Christ Himself. The two become inseparably tied. The dynamism of unification is rooted in Christ's identification with His people (cf. Mt 25:40, 45). It is, therefore, erroneous to think that the Church can be dismissed as some unnecessary vestige of the early Church.

The individualism of secular humanism and Protestantism that influences religious life can only be corrected by a proper understanding of the balance between the reciprocal nature of the individual and the Church.  For that reason, I say, "Christ came proclaiming the Kingdom of God; what arrived was God's perduring presence in His people and in His Church, which we call the Kingdom of God."

Three fallacies about the relation between Christ, His Church, and the political order...

With the re-election of a President who has already done so much in the way of limiting Religious Freedom, providing for access to the heinous crime of abortion, increasing debt at unprecedented rates, and so on, and the upcoming Solemnity of Christ the King, it is particularly appropriate to revisit what we as Catholics believe with regard to Christ, His Church, and the political order.

In recent days, I have seen a number of social media memes declaring that Christ is King. It is true enough, but unfortunately, we only seem to hear it when political oppression seems to weigh heaviest on the hearts and minds of believers. Our tendency is to shrug off, in a sense, the authority of our political leaders and claim Christ's sovereignty as direct. If Christ's sovereignty is direct, we no longer have need for the state, right? Wrong. Christ's sovereignty, though direct, is not as simple as that.

There is quite the complexity when discussing the Christ, His Church, and the political order. So, I want to lay out some principles with regard to Christ's kingship, His kingdom, and His reign, and I would like to do so while addressing three fallacies about the relation of Christ to the political order.

Christ has no relation to the political order

Christ the King

Let me set the stage: Over three years a man from Nazareth has been traveling around with great numbers flocking to him wherever he goes. He is a teacher, a prophet, a healer. No one is quite sure whence his power comes, but he speaks with an unsettling authority. The things he says and does are fascinating, awe-inspiring, but terrifying.

This man could be God's anointed one come to Jerusalem to set Israel free from the rule of the foreign Roman Empire. And now, here this same man is sitting before the highest Roman authority in the vicinity. The Roman prefect has the chance to question him. He, Pontius Pilate, has already had to suppress chaotic uprisings and is under pressure to maintain the political order. Civil peace is his highest priority. Jesus' kingship is on trial.

Jesus confesses, "my kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is my kingship is not from the world."

Pilate asks him outright, "So are you a king?"

"You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice" (cf. Jn 18:36-37).

This would put Pilate at ease. Jesus has made clear that his kingdom is otherworldly. Furthermore, there is no fight. Christ has no army. In a world that equates military strength with power, he is powerless.

King of Kings

Christ's kingdom is not limited by geographical boundaries or national borders. Christ's kingdom is centered, as he says  on truth and He is the Truth. (cf. Jn 14:6). This relation of truth to Truth and truth-hearer to Truth, breaks the artificial limits set by nations. Each person is capable of orienting himself toward the Truth, and in doing so, each individual is capable of subjecting himself to the Truth as to a King. 

To allow Truth to reign in your heart and mind is to allow Christ to be your King. This kingship far exceeds the kingship of any worldly leader. Christ's reign is universal. I mean, Christ's reign is not just everywhere, it is cosmically universal; even the stars obey His command. All created things that we know of, with the exception of those of us with free will, obey His command and therefore reflect to us His truth. 

Therefore, even non-Christian kings and rulers, who do not recognize Christ as King, if they subject themselves to truth as found in the Laws of Nature, are capable of ordering themselves toward the Truth, who Christians understand to be Christ Himself. We see this imaged in the story of the magi. All kings and rulers fall under the reign of Christ the King, the King of Truth.

The Kingdom as already present, but not yet fulfilled

In as much as Christ's kingdom, the same kingdom He preached in Galilee and all the way to His crucifixion, is a kingdom of truth that we allow to reign in our hearts, it is already present in us who listen to the truth. His kingship is a direct and real reign now and at all times. Christ has brought us a participation in His kingdom, but it is not a kingdom fully present. 

We participate in Christ's kingdom by allowing Christ to reign in us. We allow Christ to reign in us by the presence of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is effected by the Sacrament of Baptism. This same Sacrament bonds each and every Christian to the Universal Church as a visible sign of the presence of Christ's kingdom here on earth.

Just as Christ in speaking with Pilate made clear, His kingdom is not of this world. His kingdom is otherworldly. His kingship is not derived from worldly legions. Christ's kingship is synonymous with His self-identification with the Truth, the same truth that orders the universe. Christ's reign is a heavenly reign. His kingdom is a heavenly kingdom. His heavenly kingdom, however, is truly present now, but not perfectly in those who do his will. His kingdom is already present even if it is not yet fulfilled. 

Christ's relation to the political order, then, is identical with the political order's relation to truth. Any political order that ensures the Natural Rights of its citizens ensures the same Rights God grants to all mankind. Christ is King of kings even if that kingship is not perfected and the visible sign of that kingdom is the Catholic Church.

Christ's kingdom has no relation to the political order

Kinds of political order

Christ's kingdom as stated above, is not restricted by any artificial boundaries. His kingdom is not restricted to political boundaries. Furthermore, His kingdom is not restricted by types of governments.

In general, there are three types of government structures: 1) the nation is rule by one leader, 2) the nation is ruled by a small number of people, and 3) the nation is ruled by many. Each of these three can be subdivided.

The first can be ruled by a virtuous leader or a vicious leader, and therefore is either called a (a) monarchy or a (b) tyranny. The second likewise, is either called an (c) aristocracy or (d) oligarchy. The third likewise, is either called (e) polity or (f) democracy. The three virtuous forms of government (a, c, and e) are concerned with the common good where as the vicious are concerned with their own personal wealth and comfort.

So, no matter what the structure of rule, what matters is the order of those who rule to the common good.

Individuals and the state

What is important then is the relation of each individual to the state. For, when each individual is properly concerned with the truth, he is also necessarily concerned with the common good. According to this logic, faithful Catholics make the best citizens. 

A Christian who is properly ordered, which requires frequent prayer and reception of the sacraments, understands in his heart his own obligation to his brothers and sisters in need. Impelled and urged on by the love of Christ, he seeks out the good of others over and above his own good. 

In as much as Christ's kingdom is truly present in the Christian, the kingdom has a real relation to the political order. It is a relation of charity, prudence, and justice. Therefore, any form of government (1, 2, or 3) can be informed by the kingdom of God. A tyrant who allows Christ into his heart, receives baptism, and relies on the other sacraments, can be moved by the love of Christ to genuine concern for the common good. The selfsame tyrant if he allows the efficacy of grace to reign in his heart can become a just and good monarch.

Groups and the state

Within the civil order, there are groups of individuals bound together by a shared purpose. These groups look out for the individuals that comprise them, but they also provide a service to the common welfare of the entire civil order. For example, the Catholic Church exists for the sake of it members who are bound together as both a religious body (sharing a common prayer) and a political body (sharing a common rule of law). The Church provides many services among which are the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Educating its members to care for others and ensuring that their work is informed by divine charity, the Church's faithful members make the best citizens.

Christ's Church has no relation to the political order

The Universal Church, as we stated earlier, is the visible sign of the kingdom on earth. That is not to say that it is not the kingdom of God. It is. It is not, however, the entirety of the kingdom, much of which is made up of the saints triumphant (those in heaven) and the saints suffering (those in purgatory). Nevertheless, the Catholic Church is the visible part of the kingdom and reflects the entirety of the kingdom as an image of the kingdom. 

As such, Church has a definite relation to the political order both as a collective and as individuals. Furthermore, in as much as the Church is the kingdom of God on earth, the kingdom itself has a relation to the political order. The political order in as much as it can strive for truth and justice is itself mutually ordered toward the kingdom.

Matthew 25

The Gospel tells us that Christ will come in glory, and when he does, we will be judged by our actions (cf. Mt 25:31-ff). Christ's kingship is not without its implications, and the implications are huge. If we treat them as anything other than huge, we are bound to fail.

We are obligated to care for each other. For, when we do not, we fail to live in truth and we de facto reject the reign of God. By rejecting Christ's reign, we resign ourselves to self-rule. Since Christ is king of the entire created world, we cast ourselves into darkness. If our desire for heaven is nothing more than a passing velleity and never manifests itself in action, then we reject the eternal life that is offered to us. 

Christ's kingdom requires charity, prudence, and justice. It requires action. It impels us to loving deeds done without seeking remuneration. It seeks the good of the other as other.

Five kinds of altar servers that are killing priestly vocations...

Why do we need servers at all?

Before diving into my argument about how certain servers kill priestly vocations, let me make one thing clear. Servers are not absolutely necessary to the Mass. The Mass is a participation in the eternal sacrifice. In as much as this is the case, everything that we do on earth is merely a reflection of what already takes place in eternity. The only person necessary for the Mass to take place is a validly ordained priest, who stands as mediator in persona Christi (in the person of Christ). The altar server is necessary for the sake of reflecting more fully and fittingly the eternal divine liturgy. Therefore, if the server does a poor job and takes away from this imagery, it is better for the sake of the faithful that no servers are used at all. Fr. Dwight Longenecker, in his address to altar servers does a nice job explaining the role of the server:

Our worship on earth reflects the worship in heaven. What we do here at the holy sacrifice of the Mass is a kind of distant echo of what goes on in heaven. There, the Lamb of God is offered in one timeless and eternal sacrifice. There the saints and angels worship around the throne of the Lamb. In that city there is no sun, moon, or stars, for the Lamb Himself is the light of that city. This altar you see here is a reflection of the altar in heaven. This chalice is a sign of the eternal Precious Blood of the Lamb. This host is, on earth, the sign of the Eternal Bread of heaven. The priest is an icon of Christ the Lord — and who are you? You represent and reflect on earth the heavenly host... That’s why we have children serve the Mass if we can, because you children remind us adults of what the Lord Jesus said: “Unless you become like a little child, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” So just by being children you remind us what we must be like to become like the saints and angels.
(Read the full text)

Secondly, let me make clear that the majority of seminarians used to be servers. The number one ministry in the Church that contributes to priestly vocations is altar serving. Every year newly ordained priests are surveyed, and every year the number of priests who used to be servers hovers around 75%. It is not a shocking number. There is a natural progression of ministries. It begins with altar server and moves to priesthood. The problem is that we have a problem getting young boys and men to serve in the first place. So, what are we doing to ensure that more young boys and men get the chance to serve? And what sort of things prevent young boys and men from serving? Here is my list of five kinds of servers that take away from the natural progression toward priesthood:

The Overzealous Adult Server

Although today we are seeing an influx of 'second career' vocations, the majority of vocations are called at a high school and college level. Generally, they are referred to in the Church as the "youth," which is anywhere between 16-35 years of age. So, in order to draw more youth into the seminary, they ought to serve anywhere between 7-35 years of age, and the younger the better. Discernment does not start as an adult. We often times hear our call from an early age. So, we should encourage young boys to serve as early as possible and start fostering an openness to priestly life. 

The overzealous adult server (OAS) is one that show up infrequently, but nevertheless, does great harm to early discernment.  The OAS shows up to Mass early, helps the sacristan (or is the sacristan), and then decides that he is going to serve. His heart is usually in the right place. He wants to help as much as possible. He wants to make sure that the Mass is beautiful, but he often fills a role that can be filled by someone who is in the early stages of discernment.

When someone shows up to serve, he might say, "It's ok. I can serve for you if you don't want to," or "Don't worry so-and-so we have enough servers today." It is perfectly acceptable to have more than two or three servers. Consideration should always be made for as many servers as you can fit in the sanctuary. Each server can and should perform a different function, e.g. one server should be solely concerned with the Missal, another with the candles, another with the thurible, another with the lavabo, etc... In fact, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal requires this, when it is possible:
All, therefore, whether ordained ministers or lay Christian faithful, in fulfilling their function or their duty, should carry out solely but totally that which pertains to them. (GIRM 91)... If there are several present who are able to exercise the same ministry, nothing forbids their distributing among themselves and performing different parts of the same ministry or duty... However, it is not at all appropriate that several persons divide a single element of the celebration among themselves, e.g., that the same reading be proclaimed by two readers, one after the other, with the exception of the Passion of the Lord. If at a Mass with the people only one minister is present, that minister may exercise several different functions. (GIRM 109-110)
Generally, these rules are written for ordained ministers. As you can see, however, from the first line, "All, therefore, whether ordained ministers or lay Christian faithful..." this rule extends, therefore, even to servers. Following Fr. Longenecker's logic, the servers represent the angelic host, different servers representing different choirs of angels and each choir performing a different function.

This should also not be taken to mean that it is never appropriate for adults to serve. In cases where there is an insufficient number of servers, adults are quite necessary. Furthermore, they can fill a much needed role as Master of Ceremonies (MC). MCs take a central role in directing servers from within the liturgy. A good MC directs not only servers but the priest and deacon as well.

Acolytes are generally seminarians instituted in preparation for diaconate. "The acolyte is instituted for service at the altar and to assist the Priest and Deacon. It is his place principally to prepare the altar and the sacred vessels and, if necessary, to distribute the Eucharist to the faithful as an extraordinary minister." In the progression from server to cleric, it is the last step before diaconal ordination. The acolyte is an altar server much like the MC. In fact, the MC usually performs the functions of the acolyte when he is not present. The MC, however, should not distribute Communion. When both an MC and acolyte are present, the MC does nothing more than direct liturgical traffic. Good MCs lead to good servers, which in turn leads to more vocations.

The Sloppy Server

The Sloppy Server is one who cannot keep his act together while serving. Maybe the poor fella' suffers from Attention Deficit Disorder. Maybe he has just never been properly educated about the role an altar server plays in the liturgy. Maybe it is simply some combination of the two. Whatever the reason is, the Sloppy Server is a distraction. He plays with his cincture and is constantly adjusting his alb. He has suddenly discovered he has cuticles and has a deep scientific interest in them. There is a song playing in his head and he compulsively sways to the beat of it. His Nike® basketball shoes are untied and his cassock is too small, showing the slightest bit of leg so that you know he is wearing shorts (you hope). His hands are never joined prayerfully. He is sleeping in the corner of the sanctuary during the first and second readings. He is simply a hopeless cause and ought to be commended to the intercession of St. Jude.

Then again, maybe he is not so hopeless after all. Maybe this young man has a vocation to the priesthood stirring within him somewhere deep down inside. It is locked up in a room that no one has bothered to open. It is not his fault he cannot stay focused. He has nothing to do. The pastor has eliminated nearly every server role other than holding the Missal and washing the hands. 

I think you get the picture. The Sloppy Server is probably one of the most common servers we see today. With the right training he would probably develop a sense of the necessity of his duties. He might actually learn that all the little things he does has meaning, and the things that he should not do take away from that meaning. Meaningful actions are very rarely boring. They engage our attention and put us into a sort of trance. 

Anyone who has ever trained servers or been trained as servers knows that there is a tendency to set aside the meaning and focus on the usefulness or practicality of altar serving. At parishes where the servers still ring bells at the consecration (yes, there are some parishes where this does not happen), how often is this action explained as, "We ring the bells to get everybody's attention because this is the most important part of the Mass, Jesus is now present." Setting aside the fact that this is not the most important part of the Mass, we have failed to explain why we use bells. Why not a fog horn? The meaning has been left out and the practicality has become central. 

To paraphrase Fr. Robert Barron, the Mass is the most useless and therefore the most important thing that we do. The idea is that it is not done for some practical or useful purpose. The Mass is simply the worship of God. It is done for no other reason. God does not need our worship. It is done solely to express our great desire and love for the Author of Creation. It is a thing of profoundest meaning and completely impractical. 

The key corrective to the sloppy server is meaning. Meaning and importance are tied to each other so tightly that our entire life becomes a sort of gospel about what is most meaningful to us. If we teach the meaningfulness of the Mass to the servers, we might just end up with a couple of them dedicating their lives to God, His Church, and the Mass in priesthood.

The Tyranno-server rex

The T. rex Server is in charge, he is a tyrant king, as the name implies. As I pointed out in section on the OAS, duties are to be divided up among many servers and "in fulfilling their function or their duty, should carry out solely but totally that which pertains to them." The T. rex Server dominates everything. He carries the processional cross, holds the book, rings the bells swings the incense, and all to the exclusion of other servers. 

Tyranno-server-rex eats unconfident, poorly trained servers for breakfast. You have no right stepping foot in his domain unless you are his equal. If you have not received enough training to fulfill duties flawlessly, step aside. The T. rex server is dedicated to serving properly and beautifully. He strives for excellence and orthodoxy. He, however, lacks true charity. Real charity is not exclusive. It is a gathering force. A so-called "orthodoxy" that lacks charity is a cheap imitation of true orthodoxy. So, in his attempt to please God, because of his exclusion and domination he fails to obey the rubrics of the Church and fails to please God.

The skilled server ought to teach, train, and encourage less skilled servers. In the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, "It is better to illuminate than to shine..." The philosophical principle, "The good is self-diffusive," means that charity cannot help unite. A server who wants to please God cannot help but teach, train, and encourage less skilled servers, whereby he draws them closer to God. Sharing knowledge of the meaningfulness is maybe one of the most important things that a skilled server can do. 

A good server draws other young men to serve at the altar. The more male servers, the more likely more young men start discernment early. Early discernment is particularly effective when it is accompanied by skilled servers who are charitable and inclusive. This is why the Tyranno-server rex is so harmful to priestly vocations.

The Alb Server

There are three different paragraphs that set the rule for what altar servers are to wear. I will admit in advance that the rule is for altar servers, and others, to "wear the alb or other appropriate and dignified clothing," e.g. the cassock and surplice. This seems to indicate that the primary and suggested attire for the altar server is the alb. That being the case, it should be made clear that there is no provision made for additions to the alb, such as a cross on a necklace, other than the cincture. In the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, the law is:
339. In the Dioceses of the United States of America, acolytes, altar servers, readers, and other lay ministers may wear the alb or other appropriate and dignified clothing.
This law is adapted from the Latin, which states:
339. Acolythi, lectores, aliique ministri laici albam vel aliam vestem in singulis regionibus a Conferentia Episcoporum legitime probatam induere possunt.
339. Acolytes, lectores, and other lay ministers wear the alb or they may wear something else legitimately approved in each region by the Conference of Bishops.
This law proceeds from paragraph 336, which states (emphasis mine):
336. The sacred garment common to all ordained and instituted ministers of any rank is the alb, to be tied at the waist with a cincture unless it is made so as to fit even without such. Before the alb is put on, should this not completely cover the ordinary clothing at the neck, an amice should be used.
Altar servers, however, unless they are instituted acolytes, are not "instituted ministers." Altar servers are deputed lay ministers not instituted lay ministers. It is important to keep in mind that "the non-ordained faithful do not have a right to service at the altar, rather they are capable of being admitted to such service by the Sacred Pastors. (Notitiae - 421-422 Vol 37 (2001) Num/ 8-9 - pp 397-399)" Instituted ministers have an obligation to service that deputed lay ministers do not. For this reason, when an instituted lector is present, a lay reader should not read. 

The alb, according to the Universal Church, is proper to bishops, priests, deacons, acolytes, and lectors, not to servers, readers, cantors, and the like. Regional law (p. 339 in the Dioceses of the United States) extends this vestment to altar servers, readers, and other deputed lay ministers. According to p.336 the the original unadapted text of p.339 should be understood like this, acolytes and lectors wear the alb, but they and other lay ministers may also wear something else legitimately approved. This rendering does not imply that the regional Conference of Bishops does not have the authority to extend that privilege. They do. Unfortunately, extending that privilege does not seem faithful to the first paragraph in the series on the matter, which states (emphasis mine):
335. In the Church, which is the Body of Christ, not all members have the same function. This diversity of offices is shown outwardly in the celebration of the Eucharist by the diversity of sacred vestments, which must therefore be a sign of the function proper to each minister. 
Continuing then with the subsequent paragraphs, 339 seems out of place: 
336. The sacred garment common to all ordained and instituted ministers of any rank is the alb, to be tied at the waist with a cincture unless it is made so as to fit even without such. Before the alb is put on, should this not completely cover the ordinary clothing at the neck, an amice should be used.
339. In the Dioceses of the United States of America, acolytes, altar servers, readers, and other lay ministers may wear the alb or other appropriate and dignified clothing.
My argument seems to favor the alb, in this sense: If the alb is the proper vestment of the ordained, servers who wear the alb should feel more priestly and should identify themselves more closely with the priest, right? No. Servers wearing albs conflates, visually, the offices and functions of the ministers, deputed, instituted, and ordained. In doing this, each office loses its meaning and becomes a matter of utility. When this happens, there is no longer an ordered trajectory towards the priesthood. Rather, the server feels more like he is bussing a table than filling an office.

In that case, there is no identification with the priesthood. Only when there is a hierarchical structure of servers duties and a visual distinction between the highest duty and the lowest instituted office will there be a sense of priestly identity. The server needs to feel as though he is getting closer to the priesthood in order to discern his vocation. By drawing closer to the priesthood, his own identity is juxtaposed with the identity of the High Priest Himself.

The Female Server

This is always the most controversial issue of all. If you say that you are not in favor of female servers, you are automatically and erroneously pegged as a chauvinist. Trust me, I am no chauvinist. If I can nuance my position enough, maybe you will agree with me, not on the matter of whether or not there ought to be female servers, but simply regarding priestly vocations. 

The Church has taken a stance on priestly ordination of women. No one should be so deluded as to think that the Church, who has not changed Her position on the fact that God is Triune since Her inception, is going to change that stance now or ever. That being the case, anyone concerned about the decline in numbers of priestly ordinations since the 1960s should make every provision to ensure that every male Catholic asks the question sometime in their life whether or not God is calling them to priesthood. 

I have already expressed my position that more servers equals more discernment. So, let me go one step further. The more you serve the Mass, the more you discern a priestly vocation. The more you identify yourself as a server, the more you identify yourself on that trajectory towards priesthood. So, just as with the OAS, room should be made for young, male servers. 

On this matter, the Church has said (Notitiae - 421-422 Vol 37 (2001) Num/ 8-9 - pp 397-399)
"It will always be very appropriate to follow the noble tradition of having boys serve at the altar" (Circular Letter to the Presidents of Episcopal Conference, March 15, 1994, no. 2). Indeed, the obligation to support groups of altar boys will always remain, not least of all due to the well known assistance that such programs have provided since time immemorial in encouraging future priestly vocations (cf. ibid.)
Therefore, even though there is nothing theologically or ontologically that can prevent female servers, we ought to keep in mind that altar servers more than any other group or ministry contribute the greatest numbers of men to priestly discernment. Moreover, their discernment often times begins as servers. Logic and basic mathematics demands more than any theological argument that male servers should be the norm.

Five kinds of priests that are killing vocations to the priesthood:

The Uninviting Priest

Not everyone is called to the priesthood, but the seminary is not simply the place where men are formed into priests. The seminary is the place where young men determine whether or not they are called to the priesthood.

Statistics have shown us that the majority of seminarians were invited by a priest they respect to enter priestly discernment. There are two categories of priests that hinder men from discerning their call to the priesthood, namely those who do not invite and those who are not respected. 

The priest who does not take the time to invite young men to discern their vocation are priests that are contributing to the shortage of priests. All priests should be inviting high school and college aged men to discernment. Furthermore, this is probably the easiest way to increase vocations. 

Then there are the priests who are not respected by young men who might be called to the priesthood. The problem with these priests is that they are effectively discouraging vocations by the way they act and the things they do. Secondly, when they do invite, they are more likely to get a, "No thanks!"

The Effeminate Priest

Priests are called to be living icons of Christ. "The priest is a living and transparent image of Christ the priest (John Paul II, Pastores Dabo Vobis, 12.4)." Men who display characteristically feminine idiosyncrasies often project a lack of self-identity and a further lack of identification with Christ.
The priest, who is called to be a "living image" of Jesus Christ, head and shepherd of the Church, should seek to reflect in himself, as far as possible, the human perfection which shines forth in the incarnate Son of God and which is reflected with particular liveliness in his attitudes toward others as we see narrated in the Gospels (JPII, PDV, 43.1).
This reflection extends far beyond idiosyncrasies and penetrates deep into the priests personality, his affections, his values, and his virtues.

Young men are drawn to the priesthood when their encounters with priests are real encounters with Christ. A priest who projects a virtuous manliness draws virtuous men to the priesthood.

The Angry Priest

Blessed is the person who has never met a priest who holds a grudge against the Church or his bishop. There are a lot of rules in the Church, and there are a lot of priests who, like adolescents with 'teen angst,' are perpetually upset  at the directions the Church or their bishop give. It is like a teen whose "mother knows what's best" and makes up some rule for the teen's own good, but the teen rebels because it cramps his style.

The angry priest makes his priesthood seem like employment by a mean boss. This would turn off just about anyone from applying to any job. The priesthood should reflect less of a bad job and more of a loving relationship. The Church needs priests who love the Church like their mother and love their bishop like their father.  This humble obedience and submission of the will reflects Christ's obedience to the Father. 

The priest who loves the Church and is willing to obey out of trust in Her love will win over the hearts of young men who are willing to give their lives in obedience to the Church. The trusting priest encourages vocations.

The Unorthodox Priest

The priest, who is configured to Christ in a special way as priest, is called to make his life a living sacrifice. The orthodox priest teaches the doctrines of the Church in their fullness. The unorthodox priest alters the teachings of the Church or omits key pieces out of their own disagreement with the Church. The problem is that when someone encounters Truth in its fulness, they are willing to die for it.  

Young men are hungry for truth. Priests who unabashedly preach the doctrines of the Church draw men to Christ who is the Truth. Bl. John Paul II tells us:
Deeply rooted in the truth and charity of Christ, and impelled by the desire and imperative to proclaim Christ's salvation to all, the priest is called to witness in all his relationships to fraternity, service and a common quest for the truth, as well as a concern for the promotion of justice and peace. (JPII, PDV, 18.2)
The unorthodox priest lacks charity by the very fact that he lacks truth. His service and fraternity is defective when he lacks truth. The priest who loves truth and the teachings of the Church will inevitably win the respect of young men and thereby encourage them to discern priesthood.

The Recluse Priest

The same Truth that impels priests to preach the doctrines of the Church in their fulness, impels them to be men of communion. Priests are called to bear witness to Truth, which necessarily means having relationships with people.

The priest who seeks to be alone effectively tells others that what he has is not worth sharing let alone worth laying down one's life for. The priest who seeks to be with people lives a life that says just the opposite. The life lived in community is a life of love, it is not self-serving. It constantly gives of itself. Communion The Second Vatican Council teaches:
Indeed, the Lord Jesus, when He prayed to the Father, "that all may be one. . . as we are one" (John 17:21-22) opened up vistas closed to human reason, for He implied a certain likeness between the union of the divine Persons, and the unity of God's sons in truth and charity. This likeness reveals that man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.
The life of community, when rooted in truth and charity, shares a certain likeness with the union of the divine Persons. In the same way that the orthodox priest is drawn into community, the priest who lives a life for others draws other to truth. Priests who seek to be with their flocks will draw men to discerning the priesthood.

21st Sunday after Pentecost (ExForm) and its relation to the Sacrament of Confirmation...

Breaking down the Lesson...

This Sunday's readings are taken from Eph 6:10-17 and Mt 18:23-35.

The Lesson reads as follows:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the Gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Any good Sacramental Theologian, should be able to read this text and understand immediately its import with regard to the Sacrament of Confirmation. Let me render the translation a little more directly of just the first line:
Finally, be [strengthened or confirmed] in the Lord and in the [potency] of His [virtue]. 
and so you know that I am not taken advantage of you, here it is in the Latin, which is the Universal Norm for the Latin Rite (Roman Catholic) Church:
De cetero confortamini in Domino et in potentia virtutis eius.
The word 'confortamini' is a pretty uncommon word meaning, "with-fortify-you-all." The English word confirm has a similar meaning, "with-make-firm." The difference is 'firm' vs. 'fort' both referring to strength. So, it is appropriate to render the line, "Finally, be strengthened..."

I only rendered the other two words differently to show that the second of the two, 'virtutis,' is related to the English word virtue. The root of "virtue" is "vir," which means man/male. The word "virtus" literally translated means, "manliness." Strength was seen as the predominant 'virtue' that distinguished men from women, and so often times, the word means nothing more than strength, as it does in this case. For, surely we cannot expect that St. Paul is referring to the quality in God that makes Him manly.

The other word, which I rendered as 'potency,' is related to the English word omnipotent, which has its roots in the Latin word, "omnipotens," meaning 'almighty' or 'all-powerful.' So, it is appropriate to substitute either English word, 'might' or 'power,' for 'potentia' I would recommend you do not use 'potency.' That was purely for pedagogical purposes.

So, read it again this way:
Finally, be strengthened in the Lord and in the power of His strength. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the Gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Or again this way:
Finally, be confirmed in the Lord and in the might of His virtue. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the Gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 
Nice, huh!? I think so. So... what does this have to do with the Sacrament of Confirmation?

Confirmation and Strength...

It is likely, especially if you have not grasped the relation at this point, that you were taught in your own Confirmation preparation classes that Confirmation is all about receiving the "Gift of the Holy Spirit" and the "gifts of the Holy Spirit." You may have even heard, if you were lucky, that it is the perfection of the Grace that you received at Baptism. Even luckier if you were taught that the Sacrament is about 'Strength.' There is a tendency to shy away from the language of 'Strength' because it implies that there is something against which we need to be strong.

If you read Pope Paul VI's words when he revised the rite of Confirmation after the Second Vatican Council, he says:
The sharing of the divine nature which is granted to men through the grace of Christ has a certain likeness to the origin, development, and nourishing of natural life. The faithful are born anew by baptism, strengthened by the sacrament of confirmation, and finally are sustained by the food of eternal life in the eucharist... the body is anointed, that the soul may be consecrated; the body is signed, that the soul too may be fortified... Through the sacrament of confirmation, those who have been born anew in baptism receive the inexpressible Gift, the Holy Spirit himself, by which ‘they are endowed... with special strength. (Pope Paul VI. Divinae Consortium Naturae; 1975)

The Divine Mathematics behind the sacraments...

The sacrament has at its core the reception of the Gift of the Holy Spirit, but every sacrament has at its core the reception of grace which is a share in the Divine Life. As the Holy Father says "The sharing of the divine nature which is granted to men through the grace of Christ." In Confirmation, one receives the Holy Spirit, but that reception is still only a participation in the Divine Life of the Holy Spirit.

As finite beings, our share in the infinite must necessarily be finite, or it would mean the annihilation of the finite thing, the human person. For, ∞ + x = ∞. That is to say,  an infinitude plus any finite is equal to the infinitude. The finite thing ceases to exist. As a finite thing, we receive a share in the infinite each according to our individual nature.

What I am trying to say is that in the sacraments we do not cease to be ourselves. We do not become the Holy Spirit, in the simplest of terms. We receive some share in the life of the Holy Spirit, and by way of concomitance, we receive a share in the life of the Son and of the Father. For, where there is one, the other two must also be. In this way, all the sacraments are alike.

Distinguishing between their purposes...

That being said, every sacrament is for the same purpose, namely to receive some share in the Divine Life. That being the case, if there are different sacraments we must necessarily distinguish them by some other purpose. Pope Paul VI gives us an example of these distinctions quoting from Tertullian:
The body is washed, that the soul may be cleansed; the body is anointed, that the soul may be consecrated; the body is signed, that the soul too may be fortified; the body is overshadowed by the laying on of hands, that the soul too may be  enlightened by the Spirit; the body is fed on the body and blood of Christ, that the soul too should be nourished by God (Tertullian. De resurrectione mortuorum.VIII, 3: CCL, 2, 931).
When Tertullian says, "the body is washed..." he is referring to baptism. When he says, "the body is anointed..." It is unclear to which sacrament he is referring for both Baptism and Confirmation make use of holy oils. He may be referring to both, but Confirmation requires the Sacred Chrism in order to be valid, when Baptism can be performed validly without the Oil of Catechumens. So, it follows that he is speaking of Confirmation. Likewise, when he says, "the body is signed..." and "body is overshadowed..." he is also referring to Confirmation. When he says, "the body is fed..." He is clearly speaking of the Eucharist.

From this, we can say that in the Sacrament of Confirmation these signs are used for the consecration, strengthening, and enlightening of the confimand. It is also important to point out that in Confirmation, these three signs take place at the same time. The most important aspect of this sacrament seems to be strengthening. The confirmand is enlightened by the Holy Spirit, so that he might be firm in his conviction. The confirmand is consecrated, that is to say set apart for a special purpose, and strengthened to perform that purpose.

So, what is that purpose?

The importance of a good offense and defense...

Every great team defeats other great teams by having both a great offense and a great defense. The the offenses are equally matched, but one team has the stronger defense, a scoring attempt will be thwarted by the stronger defense leading that team to victory. Likewise, if both defenses are equally matched, the stronger offense will score leading that team to victory. 

The Catholic Church has an offense and a defense. Evangelization is the way in which the Church scores points. The defense of the Church is likened to apologetics. The goal of the Catholic Church is to win souls for Christ, to draw more sheep into His flock so that they too may feed on verdant pastures. By extension, every Christian has the obligation to evangelize and defend the faith. 

The Christian person, however, primarily evangelizes by the example of his life. So many are turned away from the Church by the hypocritical way in which we live our lives. This should not be the case. For, if we recognize that we are hypocrites, then we also should recognize that the Church is for hypocrites. The Church is for sinners striving to be better. The Hospital is for the sick who want to be healthy. 

Our lives need to reflect this. We need to draw people into the Church by acknowledging our own shortcomings. If we recognize our own faults and live our lives accordingly, our actions speak volumes about the grace of God. Whereas if we act superior and judge others by our actions, we will never score points.

The interior struggle...

St. Paul's words are clear, "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places." This is not simply a worldly battle. We should not so much concern ourselves with 'fighting the powers that be,' the injustices of government, the oppression of poor by the wealthy. Rather we should defend ourselves against the temptations, against our own lusts, against our own passions, and the interior assaults of the devil.

We need to rid ourselves of discord and the desire for wealth, power, pleasure, and fame. When we turn our focus inward, our outward actions follow and in a much more persuasive manner. When our heart is properly ordered, we draw others into a relationship that leads to their hearts being properly ordered. When the majority of people's hearts are properly ordered, we can change the world, but it starts inside us.

We have to be strong enough to fight this interior battle. Our evangelization begins within and moves outward from a properly ordered life. The outward battle requires that we put on certain armor:
Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the Gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
We must be true and honest to ourselves first, if we are to be true and honest to others. We have to just to whom we are indebted and merciful toward those indebted to us. We have to prepare ourselves to understand the Gospel with reason and faith. We must receive the forgiveness of our sins and repent. And we must have the word of God always on our mind, and ready to speak it if necessary.

This is the strength that Confirmation offers us. The strength to be true and honest, just and merciful, reasonable and believing, and firm in our reliance on God.

All this being said, this Sunday's Gospel seems to interpret itself:  

For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, "Have patience with me and I will repay you everything." And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, "Pay back what you owe." So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, "Have patience with me and I will repay you." But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened."Then summoning him, his lord said to him, "You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?" And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.