From the Pastor: Laetare Sunday!
This past Thursday was the midpoint of Lent. You are now more than halfway done with your Lenten penances and it is time to rejoice! At one time Thursday was the big day of celebration but, as most people couldn’t make it to church in the middle of the week, Laetare Sunday began to take on the role of that midpoint mini-celebration. The violet liturgical vestments of Lent are allowed (not mandated) to be replaced with rose-colored vestments (they are supposed to be a somewhat light shade of burgundy or red, not Pepto Bismol Pink!) if the church is so fortunate as to have them. The organ may be used once again in order to bring a bit of extra solemnity to the milestone and give the people a little hope that they can indeed make it through the rest of the penitential season. Even flowers, after having been noticeably absent from the church for the whole of Lent up until now return and, because they have been missing for the past 3 Sundays, even the few that are put out should bring more joy and cheer than an extravagant display of flowers would at any other time of the year. We are to “rejoice” (which is the meaning of “laetare,” the first word of the Introit of today’s Mass) in realizing that Our Lord is willing to forgive even us if we but repent of our sins and return to Him, while not forgetting that we still need to do penance to “make up” for our sins in some small way instead of taking His forgiveness for granted as if it was owed to us.
This is also the traditional day for the Pope to bless the Golden Rose. This was a special rose, made of pure gold slightly tinted with red or, later, decorated with rubies and other red gems. It was crafted by specially skilled artisans and given as one of the most cherished symbols of Catholicism that can be obtained on this earth. The Pope may have given it to a special parish, to a Catholic King, Queen, or other royal personages, to a distinguished military general (in the days when a Catholic military was seen as a good—even necessary—force for moral good in the world), to a city or government that was outstanding in promoting or defending the Catholic Faith, or to any other true Catholic that he wanted to honor in a special and unique way. Because the rose has both beauty in the flower and thorns in the stem, it is seen as a wonderful natural symbol of the middle of Lent.
According to the online Catholic Encyclopedia, the golden rose was originally about 6 inches tall and carried easily by the Pope in his left hand, leaving his right hand free to bestow blessings upon the people as he rode his Popemobile (horse) through the crowds. But the size and weight of the rose varied tremendously over the years and sometimes twenty pounds of gold was used to produce what I can only imagine to be a spectacularly beautiful bouquet of golden roses.
The last year the golden rose was bestowed was 1893, a gift from Pope Leo XIII to the Belgian Queen, Marie Henriette. I understand, though, that this year the Holy Father is bringing back this almost forgotten tradition. I was let in on the secret because, according to the rumors, at least, he will bestow it upon Epiphany of Our Lord parish as a token of his gratitude for the heartfelt prayers and support the Catholic Church has received from its parishioners. The only reason I am able to write about this without spoiling the surprise is that the rose will have been already delivered by the time any of you read this. I sure hope that the Pope’s horse can swim well enough to bring him to America.
Getting out of fantasyland now and returning to reality, as I was perusing the old Catholic Encyclopedia for details needed to write this article, it struck me that in the “old days,” Sundays—even Laetare Sunday—were not exempt from the quite severe Lenten abstinence from all meat and “lacticinia” such as eggs, milk, and cheese, even though Sundays were exempt from fasting in the Latin Church. But the severity of the penance was soon mitigated, little by little. This 1917 edition says, after describing the relaxation of certain rules to allow earlier meals and more food to be taken (my emphasis), “Other mitigations of an even more substantial character have been introduced into lenten observance in the course of the last few centuries. To begin with, the custom has been tolerated of taking a cup of liquid (e.g., tea or coffee, or even chocolate) with a fragment of bread or toast in the early morning. But, what more particularly regards Lent, successive indults have been granted by the Holy See allowing meat at the principal meal, first on Sundays, and then on two, three, four, and five weekdays, throughout nearly the whole of Lent. Quite recently, Maundy Thursday, upon which meat was hitherto always forbidden, has come to share in the same indulgence. In the United States, the Holy See grants faculties whereby working men and their families may use flesh meat once a day throughout the year, except Fridays, Ash Wednesday, Holy Saturday, and the vigil of Christmas. The only compensation imposed for all these mitigations is the prohibition during Lent against partaking of both fish and flesh at the same repast.” In the 100 years since that was written, we have mitigated the Lenten observances even more, so that there is now not even a prohibition against eating both meat and fish at nearly every meal! I wonder if there will be any obligatory penance at all in another twenty or fifty years...
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka
From the Pastor: Muskrat, Beaver, and Puffin for Lent
Some of you may read the following article and swear that you have read it before. You may be mostly correct. As promised a couple of weeks ago, I pulled this out of storage, dusted it off, adjusted the dates and a few other little things, and am presenting it to you once again. Of course, this comes from quite a few years back, and most of you would probably think it was all brand new if I wasn’t writing this opening paragraph, so I could have just passed it off as original, but I don’t want to be accused of plagiarizing my own writings!
Several years ago as Lent was about to begin I wrote about a strange custom found in Michigan wherein Catholics could eat muskrat without violating Church laws on abstinence. [Hopefully, you all know that Catholics are, by Church law (rather than Divine Law, which cannot be “tweaked” in the same way) required to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all Fridays in Lent. All other Fridays of the Year are considered penitential but we in the United States are allowed to choose a penance other than the traditional abstinence from meat outside of those days already mentioned. We don’t get off the hook, we simply get to choose our own penance. Really. Vatican II did not get rid of Friday penance!] This year another story has been making the rounds that beavers in Quebec long ago also received the honorary title of “fish” (like tomatoes being honorary vegetables though they are really fruit) so that they, too, can be eaten on Fridays in Lent.
Our Michiganders have yet to start up a Lenten muskrat Friday “fish” fry, much to the disappointment of every other Epiphany parishioner, I am sure, but perhaps one of our Canadian snowbirds would be willing to bring down a truckload of beaver for the same purpose. Stories vary about whether the whole beaver or only the tail was allowed to be classified as “fish” for abstinence purposes, so I suppose we would need an official clarification before we start cooking. I don’t know much about the laws regarding trapping and butchering either critter but if they are both in season right now it is possible that we could even get both of them brought down here to put on our menu. Imagine the envy of the other parishes when they discover that we offer a choice of either beaver or muskrat! The hardest part might be determining the side dishes. Both rodents are northern animals so it would seem strange to fix them with cheese grits and collard greens but what else would be a suitable substitute? For some strange reason, most of the vegetable dishes we find in local restaurants all seem foreign to our friends from the north. Just mention “stewed okra” and watch their noses scrunch up. Even something as normal as “fried green tomatoes” produces a look of bewilderment among the part-timers around here. Of course, it seems all the more strange that they don’t eat those great foods when they are the ones bringing the rodents to the table!
Not to be outdone by the crazy North Americans, though, people from other parts of the world have some unusual “fish” equivalents as well. Look at the Venezuelans. They are allowed to eat the largest rodent in the world, the capybara, for Lent. One website quotes a restaurant owner (who, presumably, has capybara on the menu though that is never made clear) as saying, “I know it’s a rat, but it tastes really good.” I wonder if people from Venezuela with such discerning palates would have the audacity to turn their noses up at grits the way our own Yankees do? Or how about some French cooking for Lent? France brings us stories about being allowed to eat puffins on Lenten Fridays. You know those charming little birds at SeaWorld which are found in the cold weather displays along with the penguins? Those are puffins. Like the rodents above, these birds are semi-aquatic and so probably taste like fish or duck rather than like chicken. Unlike articles about those “brave” souls willing to eat rodents, where reporters seem to revel in the “gross” factor of eating rat-like animals, the articles about those who eat puffins (yes, you can find them easily enough) show outrage that anyone would eat a cute little birdie. So it is probably best that, as far as I know, anyway, we don’t have any parishioners coming from northern France and we will keep the puffins off the Friday menu. Of course, now that I mentioned the controversial eating of puffins, I cannot go without mentioning that in some places whales, seals, and even (gulp) porpoises seem to have been allowed on some Friday Lenten dinner menus as well.
Because our social hall only seats about 120 people around the tables and we would have to exclude way too many of you who would be clamoring to chow down on such delectable dishes, this year we won’t be able to host any of these Lenten dinners. But should we happen to have among our parishioners some avid muskrat or beaver trappers, puffin pursuants, capybara chasers, or seal stalkers willing to bring in a nice supply for next year, we might, with proper planning, be able to pull it off. Our Council of Catholic Women could bring back their tent for outdoor seating, the Knights of Columbus could do the cooking, the American Heritage Girls could serve, and, well, what a yummy penance!
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka
Soup and Stations Q&A
From the Pastor: Soup and Stations Q&A
I underestimated the number of people who have never been to our Lenten Friday Soup and Stations. A couple of questions have been brought forth which deserve to have the answers distributed more widely than just to the one asking the question. But there is something that I must address before I can get to the Q&A. A couple of weeks ago, either during the 10:30 Mass or during the social time afterward, one of our parishioners had his SUV’s catalytic converter stolen. These things cost up to several thousands of dollars to replace after they have been hacked off by thieves, who supposedly get a few hundred dollars for them when they take them to shady car repair shops. We have men who walk around looking for such dastardly evil-doers but this one slipped by. The car was parked in the parking spots back next to the rectory where there are no security cameras. We have stepped up the number of eyes on the lookout for guys just hanging out for no good reason. We are also installing security cameras back there and increasing the number and coverage of the cameras on the church and school buildings. What a shame that we have to spend hours and dollars just to keep people who obviously want a quick trip to hell from committing further mortal sins. And, yes, I believe that stealing from the Church, even from cars in the parish parking lot, is a mortal sin.
And now we get around to the topic at hand, the Lenten Friday Soup and Stations. Question number one: Since Bishop Parkes has dispensed us from St. Patrick’s Day abstinence, can we bring in meat on March 17? Answer: Just because a dispensation is offered doesn’t mean that you need to take it! I imagine that his reason for giving the dispensation is to keep the many, many Catholics who would wilfully, purposefully, eat corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day even though it falls on a Friday of Lent, from incurring the pain of mortal sin from doing so. But we have our simple meatless dinner, not at a St. Patrick’s Day party but united to the Stations of the Cross. It seems to me that it would be much better for the soul to keep this as a penitential dinner. You will commit no sin by eating meat that day, but, is it really that important after the Stations?
Another important question is, “Why do we have a 5:30 starting time? Couldn’t we start later for those who work or earlier for those who wish to avoid traffic and still have daylight in which to drive home?” Let me answer by telling you the history of our starting time. Our first Lent at Epiphany was in 2016. We started the Stations at 7:00 and got perhaps a dozen people to make the Way of the Cross. In 2017 we started at 7:00 but after the first two weeks, switched it to 6:00 and saw a slight improvement in the numbers attending, but an increase in complaints about traffic. In 2018 we started even earlier to avoid some of the worst traffic, and, with a 4:30 starting time, the numbers boomed. We even ran out of booklets. But we had been having monthly Friday Rosary and Family Game Nights and it seems that every family who normally attended those events also attended the Stations, plus the others who only attended the Stations. But the Family Rosary nights slowly lost their appeal and stopped and in 2019 the numbers at the Stations plummeted. We then had more people who asked if we could move the Stations to 5:30 so that they could come straight from work, and “Soup and Stations” was born in 2020 so that the family could meet dad here and share a simple family meal together after the prayers. For the 3 weeks before covid shut us down the church was packed and the hall was overflowing with crock pots and instant pots. Soups, salads, macaroni and cheese, and bread abounded. In 2021 we kept it at 5:30 and the people responded with the largest crowds ever. After the meal, I taught anyone who wanted to listen, how to use their Missal. The time stayed the same last year but I was in St. Augustine watching masked priests lead the Stations followed by take-out-only fish fries as covid hysteria still gripped the people up that way. This year we just kept the time the same as the last two years. Is it time to change it again? You tell me. As you can see, we have moved it from 7:00 to 6:00 to 4:30 to 5:30 all in a span of 8 years! The numbers at the first Soup and Stations this year (the second one will have occurred between me writing this and you reading it) were ok. Not great, not terrible. I forgot about teaching “How to Use Your Missal” until I went back through the calendar, but I am willing to do that again. Bring yours if you need help!
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka