From the Pastor: More On Lenten Practices
Last week I wrote a bit on the early Church practices of “fast” and “abstinence” during Lent. Several of you have since asked if you now have to give up donuts after Mass, which seems to be a much larger problem than giving up all meat and animal products, such as milk, eggs, butter, and cheese as the early practice required! But no, I did not say/write that you had to follow the practice of long ago. I am simply looking at what used to be done and trying to figure out how we got to where we are right now with these practices. As I mentioned, Dom Gueranger, in his voluminous, “The Liturgical Year,” gives a brief history of Lent and Lenten practices up until his time, 19th century France. Among other things, I quoted him stating that the Lent fasts were no more extreme than the fasts on Ember Days and some Vigils. Of course, nobody following the Novus Ordo liturgical calendar has a clue what Ember Days are nor have they ever seen the Vigil of a Feast change the colors of the Mass vestments to violet, a sure indication that it was a day of fasting and at least partial abstinence! We, of course, just had the spring Ember Days last Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, and I am sure that at least some of you kept (voluntarily, since it is no longer a mandate) the fasts and abstinence associated with them from the good ol’ days! Now back to the old regulations for Lent, which are traced back to Apostolic times. Along with abstaining from all meat products, Catholics refrained from eating more than one meal a day and that single meal (with no animal products of any sort allowed) could only be taken after sunset. But the Abbot did not begin his history of Lenten abstinence with the Apostles but actually traced this practice all the way back to Adam and Eve. He takes his cue from some great Saints as he writes, “St. Basil, St. John Chrysostom, St. Jerome, and St. Gregory the Great, make the remark, that the commandment put upon our First Parents, in the earthly paradise, was one of Abstinence; and that it was by their not exercising this virtue, that they brought every kind of evil upon themselves and us their children. The life of privation, which the king of creation had thenceforward to lead on the earth, - (for the earth was to yield him nothing of its own natural growth, save thorns and thistles,) - was the clearest possible exemplification of the law of penance, imposed by the anger of God on rebellious man.
“During the two thousand and more years, which preceded the Deluge, men had no other food than the fruits of the earth, and these were only got by the toil of hard labour. But when God, as we have already observed, mercifully shortened man’s life, (that so he might have less time and power for sin), - he permitted him to eat the flesh of animals, as an additional nourishment in that state of deteriorated strength. It was then, also, that Noah, guided by a divine inspiration, extracted the juice of the grape, which thus formed a second stay for human debility.
“Fasting, then, is the abstaining from such nourishments as these, which were permitted for the support of bodily strength. And firstly, it consisted in abstinence from flesh-meat, because it is a food that was given to man by God, out of condescension to his weakness, and not as one absolutely essential for the maintenance of life. Its privation, greater or less according to the regulations of the Church, is essential to the very notion of Fasting.”
Now, these were some thoughts that I had never encountered before! Since sin entered into the world when Adam and Eve broke the rule of abstinence, that makes our own abstinence seem much more important than I ever thought of before. To me, this is almost as impactful as when I first came across the explanation of how we refrain from eating meat on Friday due to the crucifixion of Our Lord on that day. His “meat” (the flesh of Him Who was truly man as well as truly God) that hung in immeasurable pain upon the infamous cross as He freely offered His Life for our salvation was to be worshipped, received, and consumed by us once the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass made this perfect offering a Perpetual one. It is there, at the foot of the cross--at Mass--that we consume His True Flesh, the “meat” which is infinitely more substantial and beneficial to our well-being than any other meat we could consume. It’s no wonder that we abstain each Friday from other meat, the best of which pales in comparison to that which He described as “true food”! The above explanation may also help those who wonder why men don’t live as long anymore and just why we were lovingly permitted to eat animal products and wine to compensate for our newly acquired weakness.
I will come back to this topic next week but now I need to use the remainder of this space to remind you that our Parish Mission begins this very weekend, Sunday evening at 7:00. Fr. Vincent Capuano, SJ, will preach the Misison. Come and listen. Come and pray. Come and confess. Everybody is welcome, not just Epiphany parishioners. Although it will be Zoomed, it will be much better, as you know so well if you ever Zoomed a Mass or even a business meeting, in person.
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka
From the Pastor: Parish Mission Update and Lent Fasting!
Good News, Everyone! Fr. Vincent managed to get back into the country and the Parish Lenten Mission is back on track. It has been delayed a bit but put it on your calendar! It will run from 7:00 pm until 9:00 pm beginning Sunday, February 28, and continuing through Thursday, March 4 in that time slot. Hopefully, we will also be able to livestream it for the sake of those who would rather not drive home that late. The 7:00 start time gives as many people as possible a chance to eat dinner and drive to church after rush hour has mostly passed. I will let Father explain the topics to you. He is scheduled to arrive in Tampa the evening of the 20th (Saturday, possibly before you read this) and will celebrate the 1:00 pm Mass Sunday the 21st. Many, if not most, of you know and love Father Cap (as the Jesuit boys know him) so besiege him with breakfast, lunch, and dinner invitations. I don’t know how many he will be able to accept, especially the week of the Mission. But feel free to ask him, for he knows how to say both “yes” and “no” as is needed. Perhaps you could even offer to bring food and beverages that you know he likes over to the rectory for him since there is no rectory cook. And offer a prayer that he can be transferred back here, maybe to be the pastor and I can be his associate. You never know what may occur!
Now for a little something about Lent and fasting and abstinence and giving things up for forty days straight or for six days a pop. I have tried to find old books allowing for a practice which we were never allowed when I was young, and which I never heard of even in my first years of priesthood, yet which has taken the Catholic world by storm in recent years. Namely, that whatever we give up for the 40 days of Lent, we can consume (or use, or partake in, as the case may be) on Lenten Sundays! This is the idea that, for instance, if you gave up sweets for Lent, on Sunday you can still eat donuts after Mass. If you gave up social media, you could still check Flakebook during my sermon. Or, if you gave up TV you could watch it all Sunday afternoon. You get the idea. What do you suppose I found? Dom Gueranger, in his voluminous, “The Liturgical Year,” gives a brief history of Lent and Lenten practices. He shows that we never before (and not even in the 19th century when he was writing) chose our own penance, or what we would give up for Lent. The Church chose for us. We were to abstain from all food all day until after sunset when we were allowed one meal that did not include any meat or animal products, such as the flesh of animals (shellfish and fish only later became exceptions), milk, cheese, and eggs. We gave up all shopping, “all amusements and theatrical entertainments,” hunting, and even “war proceedings”! “Lent, then,” this good Abbot states, “is a time consecrated in a special manner to penance; and this penance is mainly practised by fasting. Fasting is an abstinence, which man voluntarily imposes upon himself as an expiation for sin, and which, during Lent, is practised in obedience to the general law of the Church. According to the actual discipline of the western Church, the fast of Lent is not more rigorous than that prescribed for the vigils of certain feasts, and for the Ember Days; but it is kept up for forty consecutive days, with the single interruption of the intervening Sundays.” Wait! Did he just mention our sought-after Sunday exemption? We shall see! But first, note that he looks askance at the continually expanding relaxation of those penitential practices. In his words, “And must there not result from this ever-growing spirit of immortification, a general effeminacy of character, which will lead, at last, to frightful social disorders?... Those nations, among whose people the spirit and practice of penance are extinct, are heaping against themselves the wrath of God, and provoking His justice to destroy them by one or other of these scourges--civil discord, or conquest. In our own country [France] there is an inconsistency, which must strike every thinking mind: the observance of the Lord’s day, on the one side; the national inobservance of days of penance and fasting, on the other. The first is admirable, and, if we except puritanical extravagance, bespeaks a deep-rooted sense of religion; but the second is one of the worst presages for the future. The word of God is unmistakable: unless we do penance, we shall perish.” So did he just say that on Sundays we can “admirably” eat and do that which we abstain from during the rest of Lent? No, for even in his “relaxed” days, “During the whole of the Lent preceding Easter, milk-meats [this seems to have included all meat and food made from milk, butter, and cheese], eggs, and even fish, are forbidden. The only food permitted to be eaten with bread, is vegetables, honey, and, for those who live near the sea, shellfish... [W]ine... is now permitted, and on the Annunciation and Palm Sunday a dispensation is granted for eating fish.” Note that the fish dispensation applied to one Sunday of Lent only! Basically, you could eat more than one meal on Sundays of Lent, hence, no fasting, but you could still not eat the “forbidden” foods or do the “forbidden” activities. More next week.
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka
From the Pastor: Mission? Football? Soup and Stations!
A few weeks ago I let you know that the renowned holy Jesuit priest, Fr. Vincent Capuano, was coming back to the US for a short visit and that he was going to be giving us a Parish Mission one of the first two weeks of Lent. Unfortunately, he has still not been able to make it out of Argentina so the Mission is iffy at this point. If he manages to get here and is still available to do this for us, I will let you know. It might be a simple matter of having it later in Lent than we had originally planned. Please keep him in your prayers. [UPDATE: Father is set to arrive this weekend!] Late last year, before Fr. Vincent said that he would like to do it, I had asked a small TLM priest community if they would be able to come during Lent should any parish cancel on them. I thought there was a pretty good possibility of that happening due to state and local covid restrictions. I heard back from them. Their bishop asked them to cancel all of their Missions due to covid. So they might not be coming for at least a few more years (remember when it was just “two weeks”?) as we watch this thing play out.
Speaking of play, last week Tampa hosted the Superbowl. Many thanks to all of you who invited me over to watch the Big Game with our own local team participating as well as hosting. I had to decline all the invitations, though, as I haven’t watched a game since all of those bozos in the NFL competed with each other to see who could best “virtue signal” by taking a knee at the National Anthem. It was bad enough in the past when it was just one player making a fool (this is a church bulletin so I am limiting my vocabulary here) of himself, joined by just a few other miscreants looking for attention, and I was able to just ignore a couple of teams. But this time around the whole NFL went crazy, including the owners, and I just couldn’t stand (sorry about that!) supporting them while they knelt. The foolishness proved to be more contagious than a certain coronavirus which is interfering with our Parish Mission! Basketball players quickly upped the ante and made the football players look sane. All too soon I had to scratch Major League Baseball off my list as well. But at least, thought I, I still have hockey! But, alas, even players of such a manly sport turned into a bunch of little girls who were afraid of being called names if they didn’t follow suit. Heck, even Nascar got into the act. I never saw that coming. Of course, it was a lousy year to turn off the sports, as our Rays won the American League Pennant, making it to the World Series, our Bolts won the Stanley Cup, and our Bucs won the Lombardi Trophy. But it seems that I wasn’t alone in saying “You’re on your own” to football, as the Superbowl ratings were the worst since 2007. The chance of me coming back to fandom ranks right up there with the chances of Catholics flocking back to Mass if and when their bishops ever encourage/allow them to do so. It might happen, but something has to change, perhaps with management once again realizing what the whole purpose of their game/religion is.
The purpose of the Catholic religion is, of course, to give us both the natural and supernatural means necessary to know, love, and serve God in this world and to be happy with Him forever in the next. We are currently on a pilgrimage through this life, journeying toward Heaven, following Our Lord’s command and example to take up our cross and follow Him. We do this in a fairly literal manner, especially on Fridays of Lent, when we walk the Way of the Cross, stopping at each of 14 Stations to recall what happened to Jesus at each of these places as He paid the price of our eternal salvation by offering His Life for ours. Starting on the first Friday of Lent, we will be praying these stations in the church at 5:30 pm. Following this spiritual journey, we will proceed to the social hall where we hope to find 50 or 60 Crockpots, Instantpots, and/or dutch ovens filled with your homemade, delicious, meatless soups! Last year this sharing of soups proved to be a big hit. Everyone got to the stations early (note the EARLY part so that we have time to set your soup pot in place), put their soup pot and ladle (both marked with the family name so that they go home with whoever brought it) in rows on the tables set out for this purpose, and went into the church to pray. After Stations, we all came back out and sampled as many small bowls of soup as possible! Sometimes there were multiples of certain soups and it is amazing how each was flavored so differently. Bring your favorite or try something new! An index card specifying the type of soup is very helpful. It can also include other information like “gluten free” or “allergy warning: contains peanuts and shellfish.”
This year when we wrap up (8:00 pm), if anyone likes, I will stay and give short classes on how to use your missal. Many of you are new to the TLM and the missal is quite daunting. I will try to answer your questions and get you more comfortable following along at Mass.
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka
From the Pastor: Safe Haven Sunday Approaches
I cannot say enough good things about this program encouraged by our Bishop and the accompanying resources available from dosp.org. The following is straight from the Diocese of St. Petersburg website. “The family home is to be a safe haven. But the inappropriate use of technology in the home deprives it of this role and is the greatest threat to the sanctity of marriages and families today. Pornography and other online threats are often one click away, and parents can feel overwhelmed with not knowing how to best protect their children in our fast-paced digital world. The weekend of February 13-14, 2021, the Diocese of St. Petersburg is taking another bold step to help families by celebrating our third, diocesan-wide Safe Haven Sunday. This awareness day will provide access to practical resources that any caring adult can use to protect themselves and our young people from online risks.”
Ask any good, solid, church-going Catholic parent if pornography is a problem. Unlike their worldly friends, schoolmates, and co-workers who think pornography is simply a harmless diversion, instructional, a “manly” thing to engage in, or even a “means of women exerting power over men,” they will answer, “Absolutely. One of the worst problems today.” But then ask them if it is a problem in their house and they will answer, “Of course not.” They are, after all, good, solid, church-going Catholics. They would never admit to having a problem themselves and, if they are parents, will adamantly deny that their children would ever engage in viewing (or producing) such filth.
Catholics have their heads in the sand on this topic. Ask any priest who hears confessions. It used to be only men who got addicted to porn. Now it is also the women. It infects, afflicts, and damages both males and females, although it is still more prevalent among males. Now it is extremely widespread among children from Junior High up. It used to be difficult to obtain. Now it is hard to avoid it even when attempts are made to block it out. It is even more difficult to break away from it once it is found, fed upon and digested, imitated with self and/or others, and habitually sought out in ever more vivid details. It is demonic beyond most people’s wildest imaginations. Ask anyone who is trying to quit. Is it easier to give up smoking or porn? Porn. Cocaine or porn? Porn. Spousal abuse or porn? Porn. I know of no other addiction which gets so deep into man’s (in the traditional use of that word) body and soul and clings so tenaciously. And I can think of no other addiction which is so widespread. Yet, as I stated above, good, solid, church-going Catholics give their children 24-hours-a-day access to this filth via smartphones and computers and somehow convince themselves that their children will not do what they themselves would have found far too tempting to resist when they were young. Worse, many of the parents and grandparents are themselves addicted and don’t want to let it be known that they are even aware of porn’s existence or prevalence so they do nothing to protect other family members from engaging in this evil. Did I mention yet that just viewing pornography is a mortal sin? Yes, even if you do not do any of the physical stimulation that generally accompanies it. Commandments numbers 6 and 9 are broken directly, plus others indirectly when one purposefully engages in such “free speech” media.
Fortunately, though difficult to break, this addiction can be conquered! After all, if it is demonic, which I have already stated that I believe it is, the Church has the proper weapons to fight the battle. Of course, stopping yourself and--especially--the young ones from ever engaging in this deadly activity in the first place is the best thing to do. Protecting everybody from online, TV, movie, book, and other porn media heavyweights is easier than fighting the battle once you have made friends with the enemy! Don’t let satan get a foothold in your eyes, mind, soul, and body. There are many bits of help available on the diocesan webpage. Go to http://www.dosp.org/freedom-from-porn to find resources for counselors, advice, programs, and so much more to help you resist, fight and heal, and even to help you love, help, and cope with an addicted spouse or child who just can’t seem to give it up.
Do not underestimate the power of the Sacraments in this battle! But, at the same time, do not pretend that they are magic, either. Recognize and acknowledge your sin, repent, and go to confession. Having ascertained that you are in a state of grace, fast, attend Mass, and receive Holy Communion often. But physically do something more. Get rid of the literally damnable items which brought porn into your life or house in the first place. Cancel cable and all movie sources if you cannot resist watching porn even if it is branded as something “innocent,” or “soft,” or “normal.” Swap a smartphone for a flip phone. Throw the computer in the trash. Have someone put a blocker on the phone and computer that you “absolutely must have.” No amount of recreation, communication, or business necessitating those devices is worth going to hell for. None. Confide in your parents, in your spouse, or in your adult children if you need help. Do whatever it takes to get “sober” again or to keep others out of this trouble. All the while continue availing yourself of prayer and the sacraments. Rinse and repeat as needed.
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka