From the Pastor: Family but No Christ at Christmas?
When I set out to write a Christmas column for today’s bulletin, I did a search to see how often Christmas falls on Sunday. Numerous results on the search page caught my Catholic eye. The calendar stuff I was looking for (Christmas last fell on Sunday in 2011 and the next time will be 2022, then not again until 2033) was interesting but not particularly eye catching. Curiously, up popped articles indicating that many Protestant ministers, whose “churches” have no theological reasons for Sunday “worship services”, are having a conundrum about what to do this year because Christmas is a day when their audiences stay home! Stop and think this through and you will see why we need to work so much harder to bring Protestants, not just non-believers, into the fullness of the Faith. Rather than delving into their mistaken notions of what “worship” is and/or why Sunday may or may not be a necessary day to “do” worship under their theology, let me just say that these ministers know that their “worship service” has less value than a day spent at home with the family opening presents. Compare that to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which has infinitely more value than even the best family gathering!
I do acknowledge that Catholics may think and act in exactly the same way as Protestants do about church attendance on Christmas Sunday, but those Catholics do so against the very teachings of the Church, which obliges them to attend Mass on all Sundays and Holy Days (including Christmas) because it is essential for salvation and is the primary means of sanctifying the entire day, which God Almighty commands. At a Protestant website questioning ministers about what their plans were for dealing with Christmas falling on a Sunday, the responses were shocking: “We plan to have five Christmas Eve worship services on December 24,” and nothing on Sunday the 25th. Another pastor who also would have no Sunday services this year said, “We are doing Christmas Eve services and all of our marketing will point toward it...” Sigh. He is ”marketing” the fact that he has nothing to offer anyone on Christmas. Yet he, like the others, is not ashamed of it. Still another said, “We’ll do a production of sorts on Friday and Saturday.” That’s sad on multiple levels. Furthermore, the people asking the questions stated, “Most churches we talked to are putting their focus on Friday and Saturday nights, while taking Sunday off.” Wow! Christ takes second place to Christmas presents on Christmas in Christian “churches”. A different Protestant website showing up on the search page quoted a minister who said that on Christmas he “will offer about 45 minutes of Christmas music accompanied by acoustic guitar, banjo and mandolin. I’ll do a brief sermon, and then we’re going home.” Also highlighted were novelties, like the “15 minute communion service” for those with better things to do on Christmas than “worship” but want to have the “eucharist”, and the “bathrobe and pajamas” service, and those who are also taking off New Year’s Day since it, too, falls on a Sunday. But enough. You get the picture.
Following the Traditional Latin Mass Calendar helps to combat such nonsense. You see, once the Novus Ordo calendar introduced the odd notion that Saturday afternoon/evening Masses fulfilled the Sunday obligation, many Catholic Church members have been behaving more and more like the Protestants unhappily noted above. Saturday night (in this case, Christmas Eve) becomes a substitute for setting aside a full day as a Holy Day dedicated to Our Lord, and the Sunday or Holy Day loses its essential meaning. In many Catholic parishes, Christmas Eve Masses are packed and, Sunday or not, Christmas Day Masses are nearly empty. Even what used to be the biggest Mass, Midnight Mass, has, in most parishes, been held the day before, (Christmas Eve, at 8, 9 or 10 pm) rather than as the first Mass of Christmas Day. It is just another Vigil Mass and is only called “Midnight” Mass as if to placate the “old-timers” who wanted a real one.
We are called to celebrate the Day of Christ’s Birth, not “Open Presents Day”. We “accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior” by participating in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, not a “Worship Service” or “a production of sorts”. Midnight Mass is the largest Mass, not because it is at a convenient time, but because Tradition tells us that the Birth took place at this hour and those able to stay awake (and drive!) want to be among the first to worship and adore the Newborn King. How sad that so many Catholics and Protestants are so far removed from the true meaning of both Christmas and the Mass that they want to shortchange Jesus and just do what is easy, quick and convenient, or novel. This Christmas, please pray for conversions all around. The Holy Infant, Whose birth we celebrate, is the Savior Who gave us the Mass as certainly as He gave us His Life.
With prayers for your holiness,
Fr. Edwin Palka
From the Pastor: God’s Perfect Timing
Last week proved once again that God’s timing is pretty incredible. For the first time since arriving at Epiphany, I caught a cold. I am certainly not complaining about going a year and a half without getting sick! But my throat was sore, my nose was stuffy and running, my ears were plugged and a hacking cough threatened to turn my lungs inside out. While the evening Mass for the Immaculate Conception was pretty tough to sing, I knew that Sunday would have been nearly impossible. Fortunately, God had it all set up in advance so that Fr. Vincent, who has been celebrating the Sunday morning low Mass quite a bit, gaining confidence with every Mass celebrated, was finally ready to celebrate our 10:30 Sung Mass for the first time. What a relief. As difficult as it was to celebrate the silent Mass while striving mightily to not sneeze, cough or blow my nose, having those same struggles while chanting and using incense would have been much more of a challenge! So I was truly blessed. By the way, I credit Our Lady of Good Health with my long stretch of remaining illness-free, so if you could offer her a prayer of thanks, I would appreciate it.
While I am writing about my cold, let also give some advice about what to do when your priest has an illness. First and foremost, pray for him! Prayer against physical evil, while not as necessary as prayer against moral evil, is still important. So please pray that I return quickly to good health and that I stay healthy. But in the meantime, realize that I have no choice but to celebrate Mass and hear confessions. That means that if you have a severe immune disorder, you might want to refrain from receiving Holy Communion or Confession from any priest while he is sick! That used to be what our elders called “common sense” but nowadays is seen as some sort of punishment or, dare I write this foul word, bullying. “How dare you tell me that I cannot receive Communion,” today’s average Catholic would harrumph. “Who are you to tell me to stay in my pew? I might as well stay home, then, since you have excommunicated me!” No, you have an obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days but you only have an obligation to receive Holy Communion (while in a state of grace) once a year, around Easter. Many Saints and “ordinary” people attended even daily Mass (non-obligatory) while receiving Holy Communion only rarely. How many, in years gone by, Catholic school teachers, along with the entire student body, began the day attending the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass yet almost never received Holy Communion because, of necessity, they broke the fast with breakfast before leaving home? Still, Mass attendance was understood to be a great gift, an essential part of their Catholic education and upbringing. Their feelings were not hurt when “all” they were able to do was prayerfully accompany Our Lord as He offered His Life for theirs. As for confessions, if Father is sick and you are prone to easily catching illnesses, you may wish to wait until after his recovery to approach for a purely devotional confession, as you are both breathing in the same air in a tight, enclosed space. On the other hand, if your immune system is in good shape, you likely need not worry about either Communion or Confessions. Only you know how easily you pick up germs. Lastly on this topic, Father simply cannot make hospital calls during his illness unless the person is dying. Giving a cold to someone who is trying to recuperate could cause severe problems. It is not, obviously, an issue for those already on their deathbed.
Back to God’s timing being perfect. We have been having an unusually dry autumn but when we did finally get rain, we really got a hard, driving rain. Whichever direction the wind was blowing was exactly the way necessary to make the water come pouring in through the chapel ceiling. Why is this good timing? Well, we had a leak in the chapel quite some months ago and got it patched. Our secretary was getting quotes on getting the roofs (to this priest’s untrained eyes, the chapel, rectory, and school all seem to have the same type and age of roof and the same need of repair/replacement) but she went out on medical leave and hasn’t yet returned, so nobody followed up on this. Now we are able to get some quotes and might have a better job done when it is not 100 degrees outside with thunderstorms every afternoon. If we didn’t get just the right rain with just the right wind at just this time, we probably would have forgotten about the roof problems until next summer. As I said, good timing. We have a lot of wood, duct work, drywall, and carpet to replace (and re-install a reredos and altar rail, perhaps?). If you would like to help, let me know!
With prayers for your holiness,
Fr. Edwin Palka
From the Pastor: Rorate Coeli Mass!
This coming Saturday, December 17, we will have our first Advent Rorate Mass at 6:30 am. For those of you who attend the Traditional Latin Mass on Saturday mornings, you have already joined in the praying of this votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary many times already. The introit begins, “Rorate coeli desuper et nubes pluant justum” (translation below). As you probably know, when a Mass has a “name” it is usually, as is true in this case, taken from the first word or two of the introit of the Mass. This particular introit, or introduction to the Mass, is taken from both the prophecy of Isaias 45:8, “(Rorate coeli desuper...” (or, in English) “Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just: let the earth be opened, and bud forth a savior” and from the prophecy of Psalm 84:2, “Lord, thou hast blessed thy land: thou hast turned away the captivity of Jacob.” (If you don’t recognize the spelling of Isaias and think it is just Isaiah spelled wrong, now is a good time to realize that there are many small and great differences in various Bible translations. The TLM will generally quote from the Vulgate, whose best English liturgical translation is the Douay Rheims Version. Names do not always have the same spelling as you might be used to if you grew up with the Novus Ordo Mass and its New American Bible translation. Some Old Testament books even have different names and are in a different order than the NAB, too. Also, the Psalms will sometimes have different numbers for not only the individual Psalm itself, but also the verses. So if you check the NAB for the above quoted Ps. 84:2 you will instead find, “How lovely your dwelling, O LORD of hosts!” The NAB has our Mass quotation listed as Psalm 85:2 and unless you know that there can be discrepancies like this in various versions, you will, if you check the reference, think there is a misprint. Be careful! Even at the often-helpful biblehub.com online, which compares translations of many bible versions, they misrepresent the Douay Rheims to make if fit the protestant versions, so Psalm 85 is mislabled as if it is Psalm 84 so that it matches up. But that is all just an aside.)
So what makes this Rorate Mass (or, Rorate Coeli Mass) different from the other Rorate Masses which we already have celebrated here? The Advent Rorate Masses are celebrated in darkness, with only candlelight to illuminate the church. As the Mass continues, the daylight grows stronger, as if the signified Light of the World, Jesus Christ, is finally dawning upon us. The Savior is bud forth in the East (or Orient, which, as another aside, is why the term ad orientem--to the east--is used when the priest faces at least liturgical east like the congregation, all looking expectantly to the Orient for the return of Our Lord in His Majestic Glory), the land is blessed, and the Christians (Catholics are the true Christians) are set free from the dark captivity of sin. He came to save us from our sin, to bring light to those in darkness. He came through, and is magnified by, the Blessed Virgin Mary, without whom we would find no Savior, and merit no salvation.
There is another Mass which makes use of candlelight in a beautiful manner similar to this: the Easter Vigil, which begins in darkness with the dark being vanquished by the new fire which is blessed and spread from person to person as those holding candles hear and proclaim that Christ is our Light and the Exultet is chanted. But nowadays the lights are turned on and most of the candles are extinguished once the Mass itself begins. At the Advent Rorate Mass, the candles alone (and gradually, the sun as well), which themselves signify both Christ, the Light of the World, and the Holy Ghost, Who came upon the Apostles in tongues of fire at Pentecost, continue to provide the only light needed to honor the Blessed Virgin, who was blessed beyond all creatures by the Light of Christ. By the end of Mass, the dawn will have broken, bringing to fulfilment Zachary’s prophecy at the birth of his son, John the Baptist, who was to “be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways: To give knowledge of salvation to his people, unto the remission of their sins: Through the bowels of the mercy of our God, in which the Orient from on high hath visited us: To enlighten them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death: to direct our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:16-19).
So wake up early next Saturday and join us for this beautiful, traditional Rorate Coeli Mass. You will wonder why this beautiful tradition has been hidden (stolen?) from us for the past fifty or so years!
With prayers for your holiness,
Fr. Edwin Palka
From the Pastor: A New Bishop!
Last Monday morning brought some earlier than expected news that a new Bishop has been selected to replace our retiring bishop. Bishop Gregory Parkes, currently the Bishop of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, will be installed as the fifth Bishop of the St. Petersburg Diocese on Wednesday, January 4. That date is said to have been chosen because the bishops of the Southeast will be here on retreat at the Bethany Center, our Diocesan retreat house complex. As a result, there should be a good number of Bishops present at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle for the ceremony. Don’t get your hopes up on attending, though, since tickets will be required and will, I am sure, be meagerly rationed.
Just as, up until last week, everybody kept asking if I knew who the new bishop was going to be (as if I were part of the “inner circle” of clergy in the know!), so now everybody wants to know what I think of the new bishop. Here I have at least some little bit of knowledge, since we spent time together in the seminary, though he was about three years behind me. Yet all of my knowledge of him comes with some simple yet perhaps grand caveats, for I only knew him as a seminarian, not as a priest, and certainly not as a bishop. Believe you me, twenty to twenty five years is a long time and men can and do change over the decades. After ordination to the priesthood and getting out into the “real world” of the parish, there are many things a priest must learn that the seminary never taught. There are also, unfortunately, many things a priest must also un-learn from this seminary formation. Some priests do that better than others, and some do it more quickly than others. I assume that after he became a bishop, Bishop Parkes also had a similar experience of having to learn and unlearn what he had always thought a bishop was, how he was to lead, act, teach, manage, etc.
With all that being CYA material before I tell you what I think about how he will be as my/our Bishop, it is also apparent that there are some things that don’t change over the years. Intelligent men do not become intellectual dunces; gentle men do not become cruel; thoughtful men do not become inconsiderate; and so forth. Intelligence, gentleness, thoughtfulness: these are all characteristics of the seminarian Greg Parkes. I have no doubt that they are also the characteristics of Bishop Gregory Parkes. As you would expect for any man in the seminary, but which is not necessarily true, he was without a doubt a man of prayer, study, and integrity, a man you wouldn’t mind having as a friend or even as a family member. (His younger brother, the now-Father Stephen Parkes, was two years behind me, and was as excited as could be when his older brother followed in his footsteps and entered the seminary.) Greg was one of the good guys, a guy you could count on to do what he said, to help without being asked, and to obey without grumbling. As you can tell, he and I were very different!
Aside from just studying and praying, as seminarians we also played a lot of basketball. Greg did not play as often as I did but whenever he played, we were always on the opposite teams, as we were usually the two tallest ball players on the court. He was a lot taller than I and a lot more skilled at basketball than I, so I loved playing against him. Most of the guys were shorter and most of them were better athletes but my height gave me an unfair advantage over them. Against Greg, though, I had to use every bit of skill I possessed. He truly brought out the best in me on the court in a way that others simply could not. News reports keep referring to Bishop Parkes as a “gentle giant.” This was true even of seminarian Greg. Don’t get me wrong. He would push me around, toss me aside, steal the ball, run right over me and stuff my shots back into my face. I came away bruised and exhausted from games against him. But he would never intentionally foul or hurt anybody. He could have “killed” any of us without breaking a rule or breaking a sweat, yet he was there not to conquer but to win while keeping the game fun. It is a good combination (when you are not at the professional level, at least!).
So what do I think of the man who will soon be my/our bishop? I think he has the makings of a Saint. I will have absolutely no qualms about pledging my obedience to him and presenting you, my beloved flock, to him, as sheep willing to follow my/our new holy Shepherd all the way to Heaven.
With prayers for your holiness,
Fr. Edwin Palka