From the Pastor: Merry Christmas!
Some who are reading this may be in church for the first time in quite a while. Welcome home! Just like when children leave the home they grew up in and then come back for a visit, you might have noticed some changes. You might have even been wondering if you mistakenly entered into a non-Catholic church when you heard a “foreign” language spoken by the priest, and the altar boys giving responses also in the “foreign” language. Of course, Latin is not supposed to be a foreign language to those who belong to the Latin Rite of the Church, as most Catholics do. It is the official liturgical language of the huge majority of Catholics throughout the world. Yet it is used so little nowadays that nobody seems to understand how important it is to have an official “Church” language, a sacred language for conversing with God. Well, here we use it all the time! Let me assure you, this is indeed a Catholic parish. Since August of 2015 we have been dedicated, at the command of the bishop, to bringing the sacraments to the people according to the 1962 Missal and other liturgical books in use at that time. This is the Mass some of you older folks might still remember from your youth but the majority of parishioners here today have zero memories of it. They recognized, though, the holiness and reverence of the old Mass and were drawn to it. The prayers are precise and bold. The scriptural quotations are numerous and give a logical coherence to the “theme” of the Mass. It is different—perhaps even jarringly so when you experience it for the first time—but as it becomes more familiar it will lead you to a deeper spiritual understanding and experience of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
If you are a visitor from the local area, I hope you don’t just drop by occasionally but rather that you stay and make this parish your spiritual home. If you are from out of town and only come through once or twice a year, I am glad you found us, either by accident or by purposefully searching for us. Feel free to join us next time you are in town. And for those of you who may be here as “Christmas and Easter” Catholics, who remain adamantly Catholic but only occasionally attend Mass, I hope you find in this parish the reason for returning full time to the practice of the Faith. Stopping by for a visit on Christmas and Easter is a start of a relationship or is perhaps the beginning of mending a broken one but it is not enough to make the relationship a strong, vibrant one. Men and God need more time together. A weekly visit is the bare minimum God has told us that we need. Worshiping and adoring Him while entering into His Holy Sacrifice (in other words, fully, consciously, actively participating in the Mass) at least every Sunday and the few Holy Days of Obligation still on the calendar is what has been revealed to us as an absolute necessity for spiritual health. You may have wandered away from church because you were bored, because you didn’t “get anything out of it,” or because of some serious sins (your own or those of others) that made you question or even lose Faith. That was then, this is now. Now is the time to come home. This parish is not going to attempt to entertain you so don’t look for a “feel good” Mass or homily. This parish is going to change you into a Saint through serious prayer, through encouragement from others struggling for sanctity in a world of filth, through true Catholic teaching, and, most especially, through the form of Mass that converted the world. This is not just a gimmick to get seats filled or to get a heftier collection. We truly do want all the Catholic Faithful to return to the fullness of God’s grace by availing themselves of His sacraments and entering deeply into Jesus’ Most Sacred Heart, the fount of love and mercy. Only after all of us Catholics are fully loving and living our Faith can we expect the rest of the world’s people to finally see and accept the great love of the one, true God which has been revealed in and through His Son.
I don’t need to ask why you left in the first place. It doesn’t matter. Come back home. You are always welcome. The Catholic Church is the sure vessel that will lead men through the treacherous waters of this life to the eternally safe harbor of Heaven. All of the supernatural graces and love of God that are necessary for salvation are to be found in Her. To those who don’t know Her teachings, who question Her teachings, who struggle to live Her teachings, I will gladly tutor, answer, strengthen and even absolve--whatever it takes to help you get on and stay on the path to Sainthood.
Come and really discover the Faith for the first time; or re-discover it; or explore it more in depth than you ever thought necessary or helpful. Christmas is the season that we celebrate our Savior’s coming into the world. It is in the Catholic Church that you get to meet Him on a personal basis, in a sacramental way, in a loving union of God and man. Let this Christmas be the one that changes your life here upon Earth and prepares you for eternal life in Heaven. Live your Catholic Faith to the fullest. Love your Catholic Faith intimately. The true meaning of Christmas is found, lived and loved in the Catholic Church and, if I may be so bold as to write this, especially in Epiphany of Our Lord parish.
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka
From the Pastor: The Traditional Oplatki
Here at Epiphany we strive to keep Catholic traditions, as well as Tradition, alive. Such things as Eucharistic and candlelight processions, Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, and the blessing of various foods, plants, and objects on certain feast days throughout the year come immediately to mind as examples. One tradition which comes from my Polish heritage and which gathers an ever larger and more joyful crowd every year is the Blessing of Easter Baskets on Holy Saturday morning. This year I want to introduce you (or remind you, if you are of Polish, Lithuanian or Slovak heritage yourself) to another great Polish tradition, this one for Christmas. It is the tradition of the Oplatki (singular: Oplatek). An oplatek is an unleavened and very thin rectangular bread, usually embossed with some sort of Nativity-related scene. It is made the same way that traditional Mass hosts are, using only wheat flour and water (although some may contain a small amount of food dye to color them). They are never consecrated, although they may be blessed by the priest, as ours will be. These are meant to be taken home for the Wigilia, or Christmas Eve gathering of the family.
Although details of this custom do vary, the basic format remains constant. On Christmas Eve the entire family gathers for a full day of celebrating the end of the penitential season of Advent and the coming of the Christ Child in just a few more hours. The house must be cleaned, for a dirty house on Christmas foretold a dirty house for the rest of the year, or so many a mother convinced her children. The fresh Christmas tree was cut and decorated with apples, oranges. candies, chocolates, tinsel (angel’s hair!), glass ornaments, lights, and homemade paper chains. This was a day of abstinence, so the great evening feast, which consisted of many courses (7, 9, and 13 are listed in various sources), was completely meatless. Appetizers, soups, fish dishes, and desserts were prepared. The table was strewn with a light layer of straw (reminiscent of the straw lining the baby Jesus’ manger) and covered with a white tablecloth (swaddling clothes). There were place settings for everyone plus one extra in case a beggar or unexpected guest came by. But before anyone dared to touch the food, the father of the family would take an oplatek, break it and share a piece of it with his wife. As he gave it to her he would ask her forgiveness for any harms he had done to her during the past year and ask special blessings for her in the upcoming one. She would then break off another piece from her piece of the oplatek and share it with the child next to her, and do the same. From one to another, each would follow suit. Then all would share a piece of their piece of the oplatek with everyone in the family, not just the one next to them. Only after the oplatki were all distributed and consumed was the main meal eaten. No hard liquor was served but beer and wine may have flowed in generous amounts, as celebrating Christ’s love being spread among family and friends in such a special way was certainly worth a toast or three.
When the meal was completed, it was time to sing Christmas carols. The children had already received their gifts on December 6, when St. Nicholas made his visit, but adults may have exchanged simple gifts among themselves on Christmas eve. Finally, it was time to walk to church, hopefully, through freshly fallen snow. Midnight Mass brought to completion all that was symbolically done in the home earlier that day. Christ was born. Our Savior had arrived. The Gospel message was now to be seen, heard, and wonderfully lived out.
This year I have some oplatki available in the social hall. I was only able to get a limited number this year, so please do not take them if you won’t use them, and please don’t take extras to send to family and friends unless there are some left over after Christmas. Oh, and don’t forget your barnyard animals! The pink oplatek is for them. Of course, you will have to do the breaking, sharing, and praying on their behalf, but an ancient tradition holds that at midnight, when Jesus is born and the angels are singing, the animals, who, aside from Mary and Joseph, were the only ones present for the Holy Child’s birth, are able to speak. Only the pure of heart are able to hear and understand them, so be ready!
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka
From the Pastor: What’s New This Week?
Last week we bid a fond farewell to Mark Rosendale, commonly referred to as “the man who can do everything.” Many of you know him as the man who has been answering the phones at the church office for the past few years. Others know him as the man who makes things—anything, actually—out of wood whenever we need it. Still others know him as the man who gets the football off the roof, or the man who sets Father’s appointments, or the man who puts announcements in the bulletin, or the man who fixes the plumbing, or the man who sets the Mass intentions, or the man who... yes, the list could go on and on. Unfortunately for us, a while ago he moved to the middle of nowhere beyond Brooksville, where he now farms a small plot of land. He has a large garden and raises chickens, goats, cows, pigs, elephants, and dodo birds. Or at least some of that. Plus, he still teaches woodworking to a group of young men. But the drive to work was getting tiresome and expensive. He started working fewer days, hoping that being able to sleep in past 4:00 am on at least a few mornings would make the remaining commutes tolerable. But it didn’t work. About the same time, Fr. Pecchie was looking for someone to come and help at St. Anthony the Abbot parish in Brooksville, a full hour’s drive closer to Mark’s house, and he finally made the difficult and sad decision to cut even his last couple of days here.
If you have his email (Mark@EpiphanyTampa.com) in your list of contacts, it is time to change it if you wish to get through to the office. We were fortunate that Jennifer Whiskeyman (Jennifer@EpiphanyTampa.com) was willing to take his place. So say “hello” to Jennifer the next time you drop by the parish during the day. So far, I haven’t seen her climb onto the roof or install a water fountain, but she is taking charge of publishing the bulletin and (a big thing right now) scheduling Mass intentions for the new year. If you are trying to get an appointment with me or trying to schedule the use of a classroom for a group meeting or activity, give her a call (813-234-8693) or send her an email.
Also new to the staff are Liesa Gonzalez and Josefina Rodriguez, who are helping to keep everything clean and neat, and in proper order. The more respect you show toward God and your fellow parishioners by doing such simple tasks as throwing your garbage in the trash can or dumpster, making sure your children clean up after themselves, not littering the grounds or restrooms, etc., the more these ladies are able to focus on doing the routine cleaning that just cannot be done by every individual, such as mopping the floors. Please treat them well and remember, when they are at Mass, they are parishioners, not employees, so don’t interrupt either of them in the middle of their prayer (or other parish activities) and expect them to go clean up a mess somewhere. If fact, now that I am mentioning it, please keep that in mind with all of the parish staff. After all, something like, “Hi, Kim! Nice Epiphany celebration, isn’t it? Here’s the paperwork I was supposed to give you last week at the office but forgot to drop off. Oh, you have a plate of food in front of you, don’t worry, I’ll just set it under your plate” doesn’t exactly make for good relations!
Now for something a bit more trivial. Last week my glasses broke. The left nosepiece snapped off when I was cleaning them. A year earlier the same thing happened to the right nosepiece but I was able to get in to see the optometrist a few days later and he simply, under warranty, put my lenses into a new set of frames. It was the new frames that broke this time. These were not cheap frames as far as cost goes, but they were certainly cheap in quality. This time, though, I couldn’t go back to the optometrist since he retired and closed up shop two months ago. I wore the broken glasses for one day, having to hold up the frames when reading (such as at Mass!), and then dug out my older glasses from years gone by. These glasses are not only an old prescription but are also barely holding together, as the arms had bent at ninety-degree angles as I sat on them one day long ago and, while mostly straight now, are not exactly able to stay in place without a lot of constant adjusting. On Tuesday I was finally able to get in to get another eye exam and order new glasses, which should be ready in a week to ten days. In the meantime, I got a pair of contact lenses to try out and to tide me over until the new specs arrive. Of course, I had to also get a set of reading glasses, since I cannot read a thing, neither the breviary nor the missal, with my vision corrected only for distance. Having to put on and take off readers while celebrating Mass wasn’t so bad, but later that day I couldn’t read the computer monitor because it was too far away for the reading glasses to work and too close for the contacts to focus upon. So if you see me squinting or adjusting my glasses or using reading glasses for the next week, now you know why. And to think that I once thought it was pretty funny watching the “old people” trying to read at arm's length!
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka
From the Pastor: 2 Big Masses This Week!
This is the beginning of the second week of Advent and a quick look at the calendar shows two very “big” Masses which you should put on your calendar. The first is the biggest of the big Masses. This Thursday is a Holy Day of Obligation: The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. To help you fulfill your obligation we will have our regularly scheduled morning Masses at 6:30 and 8:00 plus an additional evening Mass at 7:00 pm. Just as a “heads up” for anyone new to Catholicism, the Immaculate Conception is not Jesus’ Conception! This feast comes just a few weeks before Jesus is born and oftentimes new Catholics think that it is strange that we would celebrate His Conception right before we celebrate His Birth. But that particular feast is named the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary—which really confuses the newbies since it names Mary and not Jesus! But a few seconds of thought put into it and it all makes sense as on that day the Archangel Gabriel told Mary that she was to conceive the Savior, she said “Fiat” and, Lo and Behold, Jesus was Conceived in her Immaculate womb. Our Lord’s Conception was celebrated nine months (not just a few weeks) before His Birth, so we already celebrated it on the 25th of March. At this week’s feast, we celebrate the conception of Mary, who was given the singular grace to be preserved from even Original Sin from the moment of her conception, hence, the Immaculate Conception. Her birth is celebrated nine months after the Immaculate Conception, so we will get to it on September 8.
The second big Mass, while not of obligation, is a very beautiful Mass that, similar to the Immaculate Conception, honors the Blessed Virgin Mary. On Saturday we will celebrate the Rorate Caeli Mass at 6:30 am. [Note that there will not be an 8:00 am Mass that morning!] Except for those who are new to the parish or to the Traditional Latin Mass, by now I think that everyone knows that the Rorate Mass is a Votive Mass of Our Lady in Advent. It can be celebrated on any Saturday during this short season so if there are multiple churches near each other that will be celebrating this Mass, you may be able to hop from one to the other each week and pray it multiple times! Such is the case for those who were at the Rorate Mass at Jesuit High School on Saturday, December 3, and now will be at ours this week. So, as we heard from St. Paul just last week, “now is the hour for us to rise from sleep”! For some of you living far away, you will have to rise very early, but “now our salvation is nearer than when we believed” and the early start to the day will be worth it! All of the altar boys, schola members, and sacristans will have to get there even earlier than you and they are the ones begging for this Mass every year! So set your alarm right away so you don’t forget. It is worth getting up early on the one day a week which you might normally get to sleep in a little!
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 an 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 sins; 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. Rorate Caeli (or Coeli) desuper et nubes pluant justum, aperiatur terra, et germinet Salvatorem (Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just: let the earth be opened and bud forth a Savior) are the opening words of the Introit of the Mass. They are taken from Isaias 45:8 and have, quite naturally, been seen as a prophecy about Our Lord’s birth.
One last thing about the Rorate Caeli Mass that I wish to point out to you is the Postcommunion prayer. Maybe you have prayed this, perhaps even three times a day, and never knew where it came from. Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts: that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ Thy Son was made known by the message of an Angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection. Through the same Christ, our Lord. Yes, this is the final prayer of the Angelus, traditionally prayed at 6:00 am, 12:00 noon, and again at 6:00 pm. The church bells would ring out at those three times and, in a Catholic town, at least, everyone would stop and bow their heads and pray the Angelus. Not having grown up in a small Catholic town, I never experienced that myself, but in old stories it seems that everyone would stop, pray, and even genuflect in public as the church bells pealed. It was a “Catholic thing” that even the non-Catholics showed reverence to. Now, even the priests don’t know it. Sigh.
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka