From the Pastor: A Different Way
Have you ever had a friend whose comments on Facebook always come across as bossy, too blunt, haughty, or even cruel, even when you know that they never meant any offense? People like that can be completely oblivious as to how they come across, even when they have it pointed out to them on a regular basis. They are, in a manner of speaking, tone deaf to their own words and, even reading them again and again, will not see why others don’t get what they write and how they write and what they meant when they wrote. That does not mean that they are bad people, in fact they may actually be your best friends and you enjoy everything else about them, so you, knowing them outside of their social media comments, can overlook this fault. Others, though, not knowing them or, after getting upset with their comments one too many times, just cannot stand them. Blocked. Defriended. Enough is enough.
After setting this stage for you, what if the tone deaf person was your pastor? What if it wasn’t Facebook comments that he just couldn’t get right but rather it was his bulletin articles or his homilies? Yes, this is about me. I have been reminded once again by very well meaning and loving people, that I am tone deaf to what I write and preach. I can come across as giving vinegar rather than a refreshing drink of everlasting water, or as purposefully trying to raise a ruckus, or even to incite people’s wrath against, well, you name it: protestants, muslims, atheists, priests, bishops, the Pope, or the Church. I see myself as pointing out obvious and sometimes not so obvious disagreements in doctrine, Scripture interpretation, liturgy, and other issues, not to put the others down but to warn against indifferentism and other dangers to the one, true Faith. I don’t see publicly disagreeing with religious superiors about non-doctrinal issues as being disobedient or as biting the hand that feeds me, but others see it as being anything but Catholic and as being unfaithful, and certainly unloving. I read my words and hear my voice and believe that, while knowing that I am not coming across as sweet and cuddly, I am striking a good balance (usually--I really screw up royally once in while and know it) in laying out facts and opinions, moral goods and moral evils, apologetics for the Faith, lives of the Saints, and encouragement to grow in holiness. And even when people tell me that they don’t interpret me in the way I expect them to, I am tone deaf about what they see and hear.
I really don’t want to be this way. I want to be able to hear constructive criticism, understand it as it is given, and change in such a way as to actually come across the way I already think I should be coming across. So today I am putting this in writing so that you can hold me accountable to it. That doesn’t mean that I am going to compromise the Faith, saying that sin is not sin or that everybody is going to Heaven no matter what they do or believe. No, I still have a duty to be fully and faithfully Catholic in all things but I will try to find a way to do it without being a jerk. There is bound to be someone reading this who is thinking, “But Father, I like the way you preach and the things you write!” and to you I say, “Thank you for the kind words that I just put into your mouth! But I am pastor to everybody else, too, and I must find a way to be ‘all things to all men, that I might save all’ as some famous guy once said. (Or did that come across as too cutesy, instead of just attributing the quote to St. Paul in 1 Cor. 9:22?)
In the past few weeks I have used this space to vent my frustrations with Bishop Parkes specifically and many other bishops generically in their response to the coronavirus. I should not have done so and I am sorry to have forced my frustration upon you, adding to your own issues during these stressful times rather than helping alleviate your problems. I can’t put the toothpaste back into the tube, as the saying goes, but I can refrain from squirting out the next batch without purpose. I have written the bishop an apology directly, but it wasn’t until being called on the carpet that it even occurred to me that he might be very hurt by my writings. That is how tone deaf I really am. Now I apologize to those of you whom I have hurt due to my lack of taking your concerns seriously enough if you have come to me with issues of this kind. These are not empty words, I truly am sorry. I ask for your prayers in this endeavor to change. Just as I cannot imagine that Ernest Hemmingway could write a novel that sounded like William Faulkner had written it or that Ernest Borgnine could replace Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, neither do I expect that my writing and preaching will resemble anyone else’s but my own no matter how much I try to change. So please don’t expect me to become a clone of your favorite writer or homilist. But expect me to become better at being me. And hold me to it.
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka
From the Pastor: The Safest Mass!
As the Covid-19 scare continues everyone is trying to figure out which “system” works best for opening up closed businesses. The Church is no different than businesses in this regard. How can we celebrate Mass with the least possibility of spreading around a very virulent virus? I have been trying to piece together what would be the ideal form of Mass for battling this virus. Any bishops who wish to use my findings are most welcome to do so.
First of all, some people worry that the virus can be aerosolized, or sprayed through breath, so the obvious solution is a Mass without a choir. That is not ideal for big celebrations, solemnities, and other great festivals, but it is not unworkable. The virus in its airborne form travels fewer than 6 feet unless the person infected sings, shouts, talks loudly, or otherwise projects his voice in a lung-emptying manner. There should be no singing (nor any verbal responses) from the pews, either, since if a choir can infect others, so much more can several hundred “active participants” spread the virus. With singing and speaking being eliminated the virus will not travel anywhere near six feet from the infected breather. Bishops are suggesting using only every other pew, to give the virus time to fall before hitting a person. But it will not travel 6 feet if it encounters a “roadblock”, such as the crook of your arm, or another solid obstacle. The virus will seemingly stop at the barrier and stick to it. Barriers are good but we don’t need plexiglass in the pews. We can simply use every pew, not every other one, so that the clothing on the backside of the people in front of others becomes barriers! The person behind you will, if infected, cover your back with the breathed-out virus, keeping it from going any further. You don’t touch your back so you won’t infect yourself and you become a virus filter for everyone else. Friction, which you will have every time you sit or adjust yourself in your pew, car, or Lazyboy, evidently kills the coronavirus, as does laundering clothing, so the filter is self-cleaning! Also, unless the infected person breathes through his ears, he will not infect the people on either side of him, so there is no reason to sit six feet apart from him. In fact, the closer we pack the people in, the better the chance that the human filter in front will do all the dirty work, as fidgeting, moving around, and turning every which way would be eliminated in a tightly packed congregation.
The priest should face away from the people so that he can neither give nor receive the virus. The altar boy should also not hold the missal for the priest, as each would then be breathing directly into the face of the other. Rather, the missal should remain always on the altar and the priest should say the prayers and read the readings facing away from everybody. The few times the priest should turn to address the people, he should be far from them, perhaps with the sanctuary marked off with a barrier of some sort, like an altar rail, and should keep his head humbly facing slightly down in order to force the virus particles to the floor more quickly. A homily could easily be dispensed with under such circumstances, like the Tridentine (but not Novus Ordo) liturgical rules allow, eliminating the only major time an infected priest would spew his viruses toward the people or vice versa. Obviously, a safe Mass would also have no sign of peace (even turning to wave makes people breathe towards each other) and no hand-holding at -- or even congregational recitation of -- the Our Father. At Communion time the people could approach the barrier (altar rail) and, since they don’t breath sideways, kneel (so that they are not standing face to face with the priest) side by side to receive Holy Communion on the tongue without saying a word, not even “amen.” The priest could give the Benediction to each person using a whispered prayer, virtually eliminating any chance of viruses escaping his mouth. It is much better that only one person, the priest, distribute Holy Communion rather than increase the odds of having an infected distributor by employing extraordinary ministers. Also, since the hands are the main carriers of the virus to the eyes, nose, and mouth of the uninfected person, distributing Holy Communion on the tongue eliminates all possibility of the priest touching a virus-laden hand and passing it on to every other person from that point forward. It goes without saying that the priest should be the only one consuming the Precious Blood and should purify the sacred vessels himself. Formal prayers after Mass, which break the utter silence of the congregation up until then, would be recited by the people on their knees with bowed heads and in subdued voices. Time spent afterward in silent thanksgiving not only would spread no virus but would give people the chance to depart whenever they finish rather than uniformly in an unsafe group jostling each other, fighting for the exits as the Mass ends.
It should be clear by now that the safest form of Mass is a crowded Traditional Latin Low Mass. Worldwide, only it should be celebrated until such time as we can, perhaps in stage 2, transition into an occasional High Mass or, in stage three, Solemn High Mass. By then, we should all be inoculated against all other unsafe forms of Mass and liturgical abuses will depart with the coronavirus!
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka
From the Pastor: Happy Mother’s Day!
The churches in the Diocese of St. Petersburg are about to open up for public Masses again. Tomorrow. Not today. So today I want to show you excerpts of what Bishop Parkes wrote about the opening of the churches to the public celebration of Mass (you can read the whole thing on our website). There are some very good guidelines in here. Guidelines, note well, are not Canon Law. Some bishops have overstepped once again their authority and mandated (mandates are beyond guidelines) certain things that are overly oppressive and some that actually contradict Church law. Not here. Our bishop did a good job with these, using words like “should” and “recommended” instead of “must.” Anything in here that I might have done differently is simply a matter of prudential judgment, not a matter of right or wrong, good versus evil. So read them well, and get ready, for the Mass is coming back!
1. General Provisions
a. Inform all persons at greater risk that they are dispensed from the obligation to attend Mass. The same should be told to those who are feeling sick or experiencing respiratory symptoms as well as those who may be fearful of gathering in large groups too soon.
b. Parishes currently live streaming Masses for those who are at risk or sick should continue doing so.
c. Place hand sanitizers near the entrances to the church. Those entering and exiting the building are to perform hand hygiene. [Note: Bring your own, as there are none on the store shelves for us to purchase.]
d. Regularly clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces in the church (see Page 5).
e. Face coverings are highly recommended.
f. Parishioners should be encouraged to bring their own hand sanitizer and face coverings.
g. It is recommended that hymnals and missalettes be removed for the time being. The parish could provide one-time use service sheets with music, use projection screens or provide online worship aids to the parish webpage that are accessible by cellphones.
2. Limiting the Size of the Congregation & Social Distancing (25% of capacity) [125 for Epiphany in the church. Additional in the hall, though space is limited there. Outdoors there is plenty of space, though your vision will be blocked by walls!]
b. Distancing: The faithful are to be reminded to maintain a 6-foot distance from each other at all times.
c. Delineating Areas:
-Seating within the worship space may be limited to every other pew...
In areas where the faithful would normally stand (e.g. to receive Communion or waiting to go to confession), place tape on the floor to indicate proper spacing between persons.
-Station ushers at the entrances to “direct traffic” and to remind people to keep 6 feet apart when entering and exiting the building.
-If all available spaces are filled, do not admit additional people to the church building.
-Encourage the people to maintain social distancing everywhere on the church property (on the steps, in the parking lot, etc.).
d. Families/Households: Members of a single household do not need to practice social distancing and may sit together.
[There are many guidelines for the Mass itself which are applicable only to the Novus Ordo which I will omit here, but here are some that you may find interesting.]
-The faithful should remove face coverings before receiving Holy Communion.
-(Pastors may need to designate a special Communion station for those who prefer Communion on the tongue.)
Beyond that, Bishop Parkes is now allowing baptisms and confirmations to take place once again. We missed our First Holy Communion date and our Confirmation date for children. We also missed Holy Saturday, the day when we traditionally bring adults into the Church through Baptism, Confirmation and Communion. We can now start to plan those celebrations.
Oh, yeah, I almost forgot. Happy Mother’s Day!
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka