February 2014

Last week, Ottawa archbishop Terrence Prendergast made news for announcing that he would enforce — or at least remind his flock of — the Church’s exclusion of eulogies during funeral Masses, i.e., Masses of Christian Burial, remarking, “We gather not to praise the deceased, but to pray for them.” This has long been a favorite topic of mine and was the subject of a piece I wrote for Catholic Exchange in 2007 shortly after my father died. Archbishop Prendergast has a kindred spirit here in Cincinnati, as St. Cecilia’s Fr. Jamie Weber draws a bright line around eulogies in the parish’s published “Guidelines for Christian Burial“:

The eulogy is not part of the Mass of Christian Burial. Eulogies by family members or friends are encouraged at the viewing and at the cemetery. One Eulogy by a family member or friend is permitted 5 minutes prior to the Mass of Christian Burial at St. Cecilia; no exceptions.

St. Cecilia’s guidelines also remind parishioners that the Church’s teaching on cremation isn’t as permissive as some make it out to be:

Through the centuries, the Church has followed the practice of burial or entombment after the manner of Christ’s own burial. This expresses respect for the human body as a member of Christ and faith in the resurrection of the body. “The Church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burial be retained; but it does not forbid cremation, unless this is chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching” (canon 1176, § 3).

It is the priest’s responsibility to verify the proper motivation and to determine that those arranging for the funeral have made satisfactory provision for the cremated remains, preferably in a Catholic cemetery. When these required conditions are met, the various elements of the Catholic funeral rite are conducted in the usual way. The body of the deceased should be present for the Funeral Mass. The respect that the Church has for the bodies of the deceased should also be evident in the way cremated remains are treated before burial.

Kudos to Fr. Weber and Archbishop Prendergast for taking strong stands on important topics.

One of the more worthwhile current efforts of Archbishop Schnurr and the Archdiocese of Cincinnati is “The Light is On For You” day of Confessions scheduled for Tuesday, March 18, when all 213 parishes will offer the sacrament from 7-9 pm. Many Catholics fittingly have a penitential mindset during Lent and seek a spiritual tune-up; this effort provides them with that opportunity. The Catholic Telegraph has details here and a primer on Confession here.

St. Cecilia’s Fr. Jamie Weber promoted the event this past weekend at Mass, challenging parishioners not only to attend, but also to invite at least one person to join them.

“…the priest came in- I was there alone. I don’t think he saw me-and took out the alter stone and put it in his bag; then he burned the wads of wool with the holy oil on them and threw the ash outside; he emptied the holy water stoup and blew out the lamp in the sanctuary and left the tabernacle open and empty, as though from now on it was always to be Good Friday….. I stayed there till he was gone, and then, suddenly, there wasn’t any chapel there any more, just an oddly decorated room. I can’t tell you what it felt like. “

This is how Evelyn Waugh had his character, a young Lady Cordelia Flyte, describe the closing of the chapel at Marchmain house at Brideshead to family friend Charles Ryder in the novel Brideshead Revisited.

It was sad when I first read it. But, it was sad in a fictional way. It’s not a real story, after all.

I would read Rich’s blog when he posted about parish closings in his native Rochester and be sad. But, it was a distant sad. I don’t know anybody in Rochester.

The sadness is now hitting home. I often drive past five parishes that either have recently closed or will be closing in my deanery.

On a cold Sunday morning in December, the snow was still on the road here in rural Indiana three days after it fell. I saw an elderly lady, that I know lives across the road from St. Mary of the Rock church, driving very cautiously, hands 10 and 2, erect in her seat, towards Oldenburg, 8 miles of poor country road away, presumably for mass . The last regular Sunday mass was said at St. Mary’s less than a month before. I wonder how many Sunday masses she has missed in the past 60 years? I wonder how many she has missed in the last two months? Franklin county schools have been closed more than open for the past five weeks.

I wonder how many poor souls, that have worked the fields and factories, raised their kids for a better life, and counted on their local parish to be there so that they could spend the last years of their life preparing their soul for eternity by assisting at daily mass, now find themselves unable to get to even Sunday mass let alone daily.

I can’t for the life of me figure out how one man driving 15 miles in one direction to say mass is more economical than 400 people driving 15 miles in the opposite direction to hear mass.  I can’t figure out how not using four perfectly good church buildings yet still maintaining them and building a new church building is more economical than just using the four perfectly good church buildings. I can’t figure out why parishes that have kept their churches and grounds well maintained get rewarded by having their parishes closed while a parish that has let their church and school building crumble down around them get rewarded with a new church and school building.

I wonder if any of the people on the committee that recommended the closing of other people’s parishes has missed a Sunday mass this winter because they couldn’t get there.  I wonder if any of them can’t afford gas to get them to daily mass. I wonder if the archbishop has missed mass.

I wonder if the archbishop or any of the priests that smile and tell us how great this rearrangement will be and how it will strengthen our faith and communities has any idea how it makes me physically sick to my stomach to hear their rot. “This is a victory,”  they say, “not a defeat.” Right. The soldiers in the trenches know a defeat. The brass at the rear can spin it any way they like. The front line soldiers are the ones that pay the price.

I was just thinking, It’s mercifully been a few weeks since Pope Francis said something insulting about traditional Catholics and Catholicism. I thought too soon; last Friday he dismissed the attraction of young people to the older form of the Mass as “just a kind of fashion.”

And at this point the constant, knee-jerk refrain from the Ultramontanist crowd that every ignorant utterance from this pontiff is (a) a media distortion or (b) no different from what Pope Benedict said is simply pitiful.

That said, anyone tempted to despair should read Mike Aqulina’s new book, Good Pope, Bad Pope. If the Church can survive Benedict IX and Alexander VI, we will surely get through the Franciscan moment.

Here’s a re-post of my Amazon review of Amy Welborn’s Loyola Kids Book of Saints for today’s feast of Saints Cyril and Methodius:

A year or so ago when I was visiting a friend in Newport, Rhode Island, he took me to one of his favorite watering holes. I believe the name of the place was O’Brien’s. It was trivia night, and though the contest was half-over, we decided to participate.

Through a combination of luck, relative sobriety, and a meager knowledge of history, we managed to come from behind and win the contest. The final question concerned “the inventor of the alphabet used by Russians and other Eastern European peoples.”

A few months before, we had read as a family from Amy Welborn’s excellent “Kids Book of Saints” about Cyril and Methodius, and I knew that Cyril was the man behind “Cyrillic.”

A member of the second-place team must have thought we were trivia hustlers. “How do you know that!?” He continued to badger my friend and me until we paid our tab and more or less slunk away with our ten-dollar winnings.

And that is how Amy Welborn nearly caused a bar-fight in Newport, Rhode Island.