From the Pastor: Is Aunt Irma All Right?
I want to thank the countless people who have inquired if Aunt Irma is OK after seeing her sobbing after Midnight Mass last week. She is fine, as you will read in just a moment. Christmas Eve evening I always invite the family to come to visit me since I cannot take time away to get to anyone else’s house. My mom comes over and does all the cooking and everyone knows that they may not actually see me much except for at the meal and Mass. Whoever is in town comes by. Aunt Irma showed up this year and went straight to the kitchen to help. But mom had already done most of the cooking and baking at home so there was plenty of talking and snacking but not much food preparation and Aunt Irma felt slighted. She didn’t believe that everything just needed to be reheated and thought she was being given the brush off because her cooking “skills” have, in past gatherings, several times necessitated visits from the fire department and other emergency personnel.
Anyway, she left the kitchen in a bit of a snit and declared that she would just help tidy up and decorate the rectory. After all, only men live here and she assumed that a woman’s touch would be needed. But she didn’t count on Ella. Ella is like a member of the Epiphany Rectory Family. She has been cleaning here and taking care of the priests since WWI. If she ever decided to write some articles for our bulletin, boy would she have some rip-roaring stories to tell. But because taking care of us is in her blood and not just an extraneous part of her life, Ella was having nothing to do with a complete stranger messing up her handiwork. The rectory was clean and sparkly and decorated exactly as she wanted it and that was that. There was nothing for Aunt Irma to do. So she sullenly plopped herself into a chair and barely said a word to anyone most of the evening. I went to celebrate the Vigil Mass and came back to a table set with our family’s traditional Polish feast. Aunt Irma sulked her way through the meal and I knew that I had to give her something to do or she would have a blue Christmas. I got a bright idea. “Aunt Irma,” I called loudly across the table, “could I have you assist me at Midnight Mass tonight? I have something important to be done and I know you have done it at your parish before.” Her eyes brightened and she cheerfully accepted as I gave her a very important, though really quite simple, task.
The Midnight Mass was beautiful. We had three priests (yes, a third one actually did just happen to stop by—as I wrote in almost wistful hope in last week’s column—and agreed to be our subdeacon) so we had a Solemn High Mass. Every altar boy had signed up to be at Midnight Mass but some had somewhat reluctantly agreed to switch to the Christmas morning Masses instead, sacrificing for the sake of others. Great kids! Even so, we had a full company of boys. We celebrated by candlelight and it truly was a spectacular Mass in the externals as well as in the hidden reality of the Holy Sacrifice. Midnight Mass did not have a very big crowd our first year here, which is quite understandable considering how far away so many of you parishioners live. Yet the crowd has been increasing each year and this year we had over 200 people in the church. The choir was, as always, outstanding, but at that Mass I think they were given even more graces than normal and our spirits were certainly lifted up to the Lord as if we were actually within a choir of angels singing the praises of the newborn King. Everything was just perfect all the way through to the end. It was only when we, the priests and servers, gathered together in the sacristy for the final blessing after Mass, that we discovered the one and only problem with the nighttime (or, rather, early morning) celebration. Aunt Irma burst in ashen faced and crying. She was shaking so badly that she couldn’t tell me what was wrong. I was afraid she was badly hurt and I was kicking myself for giving her, a frail, elderly, defenseless woman, that one simple but important task earlier in the evening. You see, I had asked her to take up the collection. Seeing her empty, shaking hands I thought the worst: some thief had beaten her to steal the biggest collection of the year. It was my fault if she was hurt by a robber. Much to everyone’s relief, only her pride was hurt. She had simply gotten caught up in the prayerful majesty of the Mass and forgot to pass the basket. “Don’t worry,” I assured her, “It’s only money! The people will probably be even more generous when they find out that my favorite Aunt made a simple mistake.”
Because it was dark in the church, Aunt Irma doesn’t know who was there and who wasn’t so she can’t track you down for your offertory envelope. But if you want to help alleviate a little old lady’s shame, feel free to send in your contribution marked “Midnight Mass” even though it is a little late. Next year I think I will just leave a little of the cooking to her and have the poison control on speed dial.
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka
From the Pastor: Happy Fourth Sunday of Advent!
Nope. The title of this article just doesn’t have the same ring to it as “Merry Christmas!” Still, wishing you a Merry Christmas before Advent is over isn’t proper. Maybe that’s why so many people wish everyone “Happy Holidays!” What they are trying to do is combine Advent and Christmas. Yeah, that’s the ticket. They want the whole world to join in with both the expectant waiting for the Messiah and the actual celebration of His birth. And if that is true, and it must be since you just saw it in writing, then “Season’s Greetings!” is probably secret code from one chef to another, as they pass their favorite Christmas recipes back and forth. A lot of flavor comes from the correct use of the proper seasonings in every food dish, after all. As for Kwanzaa, it is a foreign word (probably Latin, woodenchano) which starts with a “K” which is shorthand for “Kringle” as in Kris Kringle, AKA Santa Claus AKA St. Nicholas. The rest of the word, “wanzaa”, is from the children’s telling Mr. Kringle what they desire for Christmas, as in “I wanzaa doll and I wanzaa bicycle”. And all this time you probably thought those seemingly generic greetings were just methods of minimizing Christ at Christmas. Anyway, since you will be reading this during Advent but you might also pick up a leftover copy of it when you come for Mass again on Christmas, I suppose it is safe to say all of the above. So, from the entire staff of Epiphany (whether they want to be included in this strange greeting or not), Happy Advent, Happy Holidays, Season’s Greetings, we hope you got what you Kwanzaa’d and, finally, Merry Christmas!
Now back to business. It looks like I was counting the chickens before they hatched when I wrote that Midnight Mass might be a Solemn High Mass. It was wishful thinking on my part and it now looks like we will only have two of the three needed clergy for that to happen. But at least it will be a sung Mass once again. But by the time Christmas comes, who knows if maybe another priest will show up unexpectedly? One day we will have an “overabundance” of priests celebrating the TLM again, but I fear that that will not be during my lifetime. Plus, that also assumes that the Second Coming doesn’t occur really soon, something upon which I wouldn’t make a large bet. Last year we celebrated the Midnight Mass by candlelight, which I expect to be able to do again this year, so you might want to read the prayers and scripture readings ahead of time.
On the subject of Mass by candlelight, the Rorate Coeli Mass went ahead as planned last Saturday. We moved it to the new chapel at Jesuit High School. The setting was beautiful and the acoustics allowed the schola to sound like angelic choirs. Last year we had approximately 60 people at the Rorate Mass at Epiphany. This year we ran out of hand candles for the congregation 15 minutes before Mass began. About 150 people received Holy Communion and there is no telling how many more people we had there if you count the multitude of kids too young to receive. I had the day off, so to speak, as I was the fourth cleric, kneeling in choir and assisting only through prayer because the roles of priest, deacon and subdeacon were already filled. One of the altar boys asked what time I had to get up that morning and I laughed about being able to sleep in until 5:00 am since I, without a liturgical role and not being in charge of the chapel, the clergy, the schola or the servers that day, didn’t have to be there until 6 and live fairly close. The poor young man who asked lives out in Pasco county and probably had to be up by three thirty or so (and his family as well) in order to arrive between 5:00 and 5:30 so as to get everything set up, to practice, and to get ready. I’ll tell you what, we have very, very dedicated altar boys/men and choir members, not just dedicated parishioners!
I assume that you read the rest of the bulletin so you know the Christmas Mass schedule but, just to be sure, remember that Midnight Mass begins at Midnight. It is the first Mass of Christmas, not the last Mass of the day before Christmas. Other than Midnight Mass, Christmas will have the normal Sunday Mass schedule (including an English Novus Ordo Mass at 5:00 pm on Christmas Eve) even though it is a Tuesday. The 10:30 Mass might be a simple Missa Cantata without incense like we have at 6:30 am every weekday, though, since most of the altar boys will be at the Midnight Mass and we don’t expect to see many of them at a second or third Mass that day.
Besides that, remember that the Diocesan 50th Anniversary Calendars are available at the back of the church for the taking. Also, Thursday, December 27, the feast of St. John, we will have the traditional blessing of wine and other drinks after both morning Masses and at the men's Holy League meeting in the evening. Last, but certainly not least, our parish Feast Day, Epiphany, January 6, falls on a Sunday this year and is just two weeks away. The CCW has $5 tickets to the big lunch!
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka
From the Pastor: It Is Still Advent For One More Week
With only one full week left before Christmas, things are getting pretty hectic around the parish. Not that you all don’t have to scramble to keep up with all that’s going on at your houses! There are Advent penance services going on throughout the deanery, all looking for extra priests to help out. Most of them feed the priests quite well beforehand. That’s certainly a relief, for it helps to give us a more balanced diet, most of which has been made up of Christmas cookies, homemade fudge, and assorted chocolates and candies. I wonder what people did in the old days when Advent was traditionally a season of fast and abstinence. Were cookies and candies not baked or confected? Made but not eaten until Christmas? Cooked, eaten surreptitiously, and then confessed at the penance services? Hmmm... Maybe that is why those services became so popular! We are also, of course, preparing for the Christmas Masses. It seems quite possible that we will be able to celebrate a Solemn High Mass at Midnight this year. We almost pulled it off last year but lost a priest or two at the last minute. Unfortunately we don’t have the luxury of having three clerics around too often, so we don’t get a lot of practice and we have to re-learn our positions each time. Last week we had two Solemn High Masses, one for the Immaculate Conception and one for the Rorate Coeli Mass. Because of those Masses, we already have some amount of practice. But because we did not have the same priest, deacon and subdeacon at either of those two Mass and won’t have the same ones at the Midnight Mass, we each have to study different roles once again. One day we hope to have so many priests wishing to celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass that these Masses will become second nature! Please pray for it. By the way, I am writing this before the Rorate Coeli Mass actually happened, so I can’t tell you how that worked out but I have faith that everything went well.
We are also still working on getting everything spruced up, cleaned up, and decorated. I really do appreciate all of you who have worked so hard to make this House of God as worthy as possible for the celebration of Our Savior’s birth. Traditionally during Advent there are no flowers in the church, nor special decorations. Those are left for Christmas. The lack of flowers is what led people years ago to begin bringing poinsettias into the church, as the color comes from the bracts, which are modified leaves, not flowers! There is a beautiful legend regarding how the poinsettia plant first came into being. It goes something like this, with a few small variances depending on who is telling it. A young Mexican girl from a poor family was going to see the baby Jesus as He lay in the manger in their church on Christmas Eve. Unlike the Three Wise Men who had brought gold, frankincense and myrrh so many years before, she had no money for gifts. At the prompting of an angel she picked a handful of green weeds from the roadside, gingerly set them down in front of the image of the Holy Infant and quietly slipped away. But the people saw the bouquet suddenly shine forth with bright red star-shaped leaves! This is thought to be symbolic of the Star of Bethlehem which the Magi followed to find and adore Holy Babe on the first Epiphany. Anyway, that is why you will see a few of these plants in the church during Advent and more on Christmas and Epiphany. But the “Christmas creep” which has infected the stores and controls our shopping experience nowadays, has also come into the churches. Just as it now seems normal to see lights and trees and ornaments in the stores in August, so it seems normal to see flowers and Christmas trees and flashing lights and all sorts of non-liturgical decorations in the church beginning in Advent. Trying to remain “traditional” about Advent causes a lot of disappointment among the Catholic Faithful (and even among priests) who want to see all the decorations only in Advent and on Christmas day and maybe Epiphany and then have them disappear long before Christmas is officially over. It seems, since I brought it up, that if we can keep the poinsettias alive until February 2, Candlemas, that is the time they, along with the other Christmas decorations, should come down. In my experience, though, it is hard to keep the poinsettias vibrant even for a couple of weeks. They always get too much water or not enough water or not enough light, or something, and, therefore, die (or at least lose all of their leaves) just before everyone gets to see them, no matter when they were put in the church. Since I brought up the subject of decorations, did you know that the one place where almost every church places the creche so that everyone can see it (the sanctuary) is only place in the church which the current liturgical rules say cannot be the site where that manger scene is placed? Yep. Go figure. But the reasoning for both it being there and it not being allowed there is going to have to wait for another day, another bulletin, another year. For now it is time to get on with the Advent hustle and bustle. As for you, even if it is chaotic, enjoy your Christmas preparations!
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka
From the Pastor: Change of Venue and AHG
Last week I asked you to note on your calendars a change of morning Mass time for Saturday, December 15. That morning, instead of Mass beginning at the normal Saturday Mass time of 8:00 am, we will be celebrating the annual Rorate Coeli (also spelled Caeli) Mass (which always begins in the dark) at 6:30 am. If you show up at 8:00 you will miss it (but you could still attend the Novus Ordo 8:00 Mass in the rectory chapel). But I failed to include a very important bit of information. If you show up at Epiphany at 6:30 am that morning, you will miss the 6:30 am Rorate Mass, too. Why, you ask? Because we will be celebrating it as a Solemn High Mass at the new and quite beautiful chapel at Jesuit High School. So please make a note of that address, 4701 N Himes Ave, Tampa. It is so close to us that Fr. Vincent rides his bike from there to here when he celebrates Sunday Mass for us. From here, take Hillsborough Avenue past interstate 275 a couple of miles and turn left at the light at Himes. A few blocks in you will see St. Lawrence Catholic Church on the left. Go past it a few more blocks and the High School is also on the left. The Chapel is the large building in the center of the campus and it actually looks like a church (yes, I know that is hard to believe). Park in one of the lots and walk into the middle of all of the school buildings and you cannot miss it, even early in the morning in the dark. If you are worried at all about not finding it, just get there early!
We decided to make this one-day change for several reasons. We are very interested in showing off the new chapel at Jesuit in case we get to build one. You should all have the opportunity to see that, unlike what we have been led to believe for decades now, it is still possible to build a church that looks like a church both inside and out and has the functionality of a church, being built first and foremost for offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. This new chapel even has fully functional (as opposed to either non-existent or simply decorative) side altars so that multiple priests can celebrate Mass without conflicting with other ongoing Masses. We are also hopeful that once you visit this chapel you will want to come back and encourage others to come. At this time we are training several Jesuit boys to serve the Traditional Latin Mass, which Fr. Vincent celebrates several times a week before school starts. Yes, a TLM is available at Jesuit in the mornings! I am not publishing days and times because the school calendar and Fr. Vincent’s calendar don’t make it as reliable a schedule as a parish schedule normally is (I write this as I announce a major change--for a day--of our own parish Mass schedule!) and I don’t want you to just assume that there will always be a Mass there. But ask Fr. Vincent and he will tell you what the schedule is and when he will be available to celebrate it. As a bonus for the school, it may also get some of you to seriously think about sending your boys there even if you have already written it off because it is run by the the, well, you know, Jesuits.
Now on to something else of note. A number of weeks ago our American Heritage Girls took up a collection of things and money to send to St. Dominic, a parish in the panhandle which had been wiped out by Hurricane Michael. You were so very generous that the girls were able to send a check for about $2000 plus the goods which you donated. Then Mark, the business manager of that parish, came to our parish (his sister Becky is a parishioner here, which is how we had a direct connection to the parish and the AHGs could be assured that the money was both needed and would be spent wisely) for a quick visit and to offer heartfelt thanks. He shared with us some stories and photos of the devastated church and community and the people attending the 10:30 Mass that day got a chance to speak with him in person after Mass. What powerful and riveting stories of destruction and cleanup and loss he had to tell, but also what great stories of people coming together to assist each other in time of need. Another $1100 or so was given to the AHG troop to send to St. Dominic! I loved the fact that he didn’t want to accept money directly from the many parishioners who tried to hand him a few dollars that day, but rather asked them to give it to the girls so that there was accountability for it. Thank you all for your generosity. A special thanks to the American Heritage Girls for making this a project, for making the project work, and for being so enthusiastic about helping a parish in time of great need. It touches this pastor’s heart to see the Catholic Faith in action among parishioners of all ages and means. Please continue to pray for the people of St. Dominic and that whole region, for they are far from back to normal even as we have long since forgotten about having a storm pass by.
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka
From the Pastor: There’s a New Old Mass in the Area!
Bulletin article, December 2
Next Sunday, December 9, something is happening in this diocese which we haven’t seen since the year 2012. A priest, at the request of a group of faithful Catholics and following the guidelines of Summorum Pontificum, is going to begin celebrating the Traditional Latin Mass. Yes, I know that Epiphany started celebrating it in 2015, but that was due to the forced stoppage/relocation of the TLM at two other parishes. This time it is absolutely, positively the result of a priest being faithful to Holy Mother Church and giving a group of faithful the Mass for which they have been begging. Who is this faithful priest? Which parish? Father Paul Pecchie, the pastor of St. Anthony the Abbot in Brooksville has announced a (for now) monthly Sunday TLM beginning the second Sunday of Advent at 11:30 am. Find it at 20428 Cortez Blvd, Brooksville, FL 34601. This parish is approximately 1 hour north of here and having the TLM there will make it much more convenient for all of our parishioners who have to travel from that area now. But wait! Doesn’t that mean that it will be “competition”? Yes, in a manner of speaking. We may very well lose some parishioners who choose to go there instead. But it is not “competition” as in “we must defeat them” or “we must keep our people from knowing about it” as might happen in the business world. This is, rather, a glorious thing, for it means that more people will be able to attend the amazingly beautiful Mass which converted the world and produced the Great Saints of old.
When I first celebrated Mass in the extraordinary form (in Dade City), I expected just a few dozen people to attend. I had no high ideals, no great expectations, and, due to a lack of knowledge on my part, no understanding that the saying “The Mass is the Mass is the Mass” was so very incorrect. I was celebrating the TLM principally because there was a Church document instructing priests to celebrate it if people asked for it, and people asked for it. There were only a couple of parishes where it was celebrated in the general area: in Sarasota, St. Petersburg, Spring Hill and Ocala. None of the priests celebrating it in those places saw my celebration of the Mass as “competition” but rather they encouraged their own parishioners to be there for at least the first Mass and to show support to me, to the community which asked for it, and to the parish in general. About 100 people turned out for that first Sunday Mass! As it turned out, I did “poach” some of these faithful families as a result, as some of them were able to cut an hour or more of Sunday drive time off their commute which, especially with a van load of kids, isn’t something to sneeze at. Even so, their pastors were fully supportive. With that in mind, I want to encourage you to show your support to Father Pecchie and the people of St. Anthony the Abbot. If there is any chance that you can make it out to Brooksville (please note: St. Anthony the Abbot in Brooksville; NOT St. Anthony of Padua in San Antonio!) next Sunday, please do so. If you are able to go, please remember that you may very well be perceived by some disgruntled disgruntlers to be the dreaded “Latin Mass People” that stereotypes have made out to be rigid, unloving, mean-spirited, hateful people who will tell all of the “Novus Ordo people” that they are going to hell for attending the “wrong” Mass. Yes, that is what a noisy few people at my previous parish thought and they scrutinized everyone attending the TLM with a magnifying glass looking for “proof” to confirm their false beliefs. I don’t know if you will encounter that type of Traddie Derangement Syndrome up there, but it will help if you are aware of the possibility. Know that ahead of time and don’t play into any games which may be offered in order to bait you into arguments.
While you are marking your calendars, don’t forget to mark Saturday, December 8, The Feast of the Immaculate Conception. It is a Holy Day of Obligation even though it falls on a Saturday, because it is the Patronal Feastday of the United States of America. Our 8:00 am Mass will be a Solemn High Mass that morning as we honor the Blessed Virgin Mary. While you have your calendars out, you might want to mark down the Rorate Mass on the following Saturday, December 15. It is an early morning Mass lit solely by candles and so will begin at 6:30 am instead of 8:00 am. Here is a description of it from last year’s calendar. “The Rorate Caeli is an ancient Advent tradition dating back centuries. As described by the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (FSSP) at their website: The Rorate Mass is lit only by candlelight. Because it is a votive Mass in Mary’s honor, white vestments are worn instead of Advent violet. In the dimly lit setting, priests and faithful prepare to honor the Light of the world, Who is soon to be born, and offer praise to God for the gift of Our Lady. As the Mass proceeds and sunrise approaches, the church becomes progressively brighter, illumined by the sun as our Faith is illumined by Christ.” Good things are coming up very soon! Don’t miss out!
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka