Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Footprint of Francis

This weekend, the usual human foot traffic around Catholic parishes will be joined by the paws of numerous dogs and cats, as well as hamsters, birds and whatever other pets the faithful choose to bring along for the annual blessing of the animals in conjunction with the feast of St. Francis of Assisi (the great saint who gave up everything to live in poverty) on October 4.

USCCB Communications has even brought the tradition into the digital realm this year by gathering photos of pets from fans of the Conference's Facebook page and turning them into an online photo album and video slideshow. As the blessing of animals -- not to mention his ubiquitous presence in countless backyard birdbaths -- attests, Francis, the patron saint of animals and the environment, is also one of the most popular, beloved saints in history.

The influence of Francis is everywhere. The order he founded has branches and communities all over the globe (including one for laypeople). The bishops of the United States have two Capuchin archbishops among them. Churches, hospitals, charitable organizations and universities bear his name.

Sayings are associated with the saint, such as, "Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary use words." While we don't know if Francis actually said this, his lifestyle certainly reflects it, as does the the story of his preaching to the birds. From a communication standpoint, one has to wonder if this makes him the first saint ever to "tweet."

St. Francis also worked with live animals when he initiated the tradition of the Christmas creche in the village of Greccio around the year 1220. Not everyone knows that such a holiday staple as the manger scene has ties to Francis of Assisi.

St. Francis is also associated with peacemaking. The popular "Lord, make me an instrument of your peace" prayer has long been attributed to him. Another famous animal-related incident involves St. Francis taming a wolf that had been terrorizing the nearby village of Gubbio. On a human scale, he reached out to a sultan whose armies were besieging the Egyptian city of Damietta, which seemingly makes him a pioneer in interreligious dialogue as well.

Pope John Paul II followed this lead when representatives of different religions gathered in Assisi for a day of prayer for peace on October 27, 1986. Holding this meeting in the hometown of Francis testified to the saint's legacy. In a nod to the significance of this event, Pope Benedict XVI plans to mark its 25th anniversary with a similar gathering.

One quality that made St. Francis a peacemaker might have been his ability to recognize God in everyone and everything around him. This is highlighted beautifully in his "Canticle of the Sun," in which he praises God through the wonders of creation, personifying different aspects of nature as "Brother Sun," "Sister Moon," "Brother Wind," and so on. It's no wonder he's patron saint of the environment.

This part of his legacy also lives on in the teachings of Pope Benedict XVI, who's made care for creation a notable part of his pontificate. It also lives on, one could argue, in the crowds of people with dogs on leashes, cats in carriers or even farm animals gathered outside of church on Sunday. Pets are one way that people can care for and feel close to God's creation.

So, whether as nature lover, prophet of peace, or starter of Christmas traditions, St. Francis remains immensely popular. Perhaps the honest simplicity with which he answered the Gospel call to leave everything and follow Christ is refreshing to people. Perhaps his focus on living in poverty resonates with Christians in a consumerist-materialist culture. Or maybe by identifying himself with the poor, Francis simply brings many Christians to a feeling of closeness to Christ, who also identified himself as among the "least of these."

Whatever the case, this weekend, a great many Catholics will also identify St. Francis with the furriest and most cuddly of these.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Roman Missal: Two Months and Counting

On November 27, the First Sunday of Advent, the Roman Missal, Third Edition, the ritual text containing prayers and instructions for the celebration of the Mass, will be implemented in the United States of America.

If you have been hearing the buzz but are not completely up to speed on the new Roman Missal, here are ten things you need to know:

  1. It is not a new Mass, it is a new translation for a new edition of the Missal. Because a new edition of the Missale Romanum, the Latin Roman Missal, was promulgated by Pope John Paul II in 2000, it was necessary for all the countries of the world to translate this missal into the various local languages. The new missal has added features: prayers for the celebration of recently canonized saints, additional prefaces for the Eucharistic Prayers, additional Masses and Prayers for Various Needs and Intentions, and some updated and revised rubrics (instructions) for the celebration of the Mass. In the case of the English-speaking world, a common translation of the common text was sought through the International Commission for English in the Liturgy (ICEL) to ensure uniformity.
  2. Vatican guidelines for translation.The translation of the new Roman Missal was carried out under the newest Vatican guidelines for translating prayers into modern local (i.e., vernacular) languages. These were given in the instruction Liturgiam Authenticam, published in 2001, urging a stronger adherence to the original Latin wording and structure than earlier directives. In the new translation, the unique style of the Roman Rite is closely maintained. The texts are marked by a heightened style of English speech and a grammatical structure that follows closely the Latin text. In addition, many biblical and poetic images—such as “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…” (Communion Rite, taken from Matthew 8:8) and “…from the rising of the sun to its setting” (Eucharistic Prayer III, taken from Psalm 113), that were lost in the 1973 translation—have been restored.
  3. Particular adaptations to the U.S. are included. The new English-language Missal also includes Vatican-approved adaptations requested by the Bishops of the United States as well as texts for observances that are proper to the United States (such as the prayers for the Memorial of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, and prayers for Independence Day and Thanksgiving Day).
  4. “And with your spirit.” The translation of several phrases in the Order of Mass had been previously decided by the Vatican in the instruction Liturgiam authenticam. Among these are “certain expressions that belong to the heritage of the whole or of a great part of the ancient Church, as well as others that have become part of the general human patrimony…” Such is the case of the response “Et cum spiritu tuo.” What had originally been translated in 1973 as “And also with you” becomes now “And with your spirit.” This places the English translation in line with the way this has always been translated in most other languages, including Spanish, French, German, and Italian
  5. Changes in the people’s parts. In addition to the response to the greeting “The Lord be with you”, people are going to find a number of other changes in the translation of common prayers throughout. This includes the various parts of the Penitential act (“I confess to Almighty God…”), the Gloria, the Creed (both in the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed), the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy), the Mystery of Faith, and the invitation to communion. (Samples of comparative texts for the new and old responses can be found at the USCCB Roman Missal website.
  6. “For many.” One of the points that has generated more discussion is the translation of qui pro vobis et pro multis effundétur in remissiónem peccatórum, presently translated “which will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven.” In the new edition of the Roman Missal, “for all” will be changed to “for many.” There are several reasons for this change. First, “for many” is a more accurate translation of the Latin phrase pro multis than the present translation. This is also the wording used in the Biblical narrative account of the Last Supper found in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. Even though it is a dogmatic teaching of the Church that Christ died on the Cross for all men and women, the expression “for many” is reflective also of the fact that this salvation is not brought automatically, without one’s own willing participation, but rather is a gift to be accepted. Also, in the context of the Last Supper, Jesus was speaking to the Twelve, extending the reach of his sacrifice beyond the boundary of his closest disciples. In the context of the celebration of the Eucharist, the phrase “for you and for many” connects the particular gathered assembly with the larger sense of the Church in every time and place, as if to say “not only you gathered here, but many more as well.”
  7. Gradual implementation for Musical Settings. Though official implementation is set for the First Sunday of Advent 2011, Diocesan bishops may permit the gradual implementation of various musical settings of the people’s parts in the Order of Mass starting in September to allow the congregation time to learn them. This applies only to the Glory to God, the Holy, Holy, Holy, and the Memorial Acclamations. Composers have readjusted previous musical settings and new compositions are also being prepared. New musical settings of the Amen and the Lamb of God, the texts of which are not changing, can be introduced at any time.
  8. What’s not changing. The structure and rite of the Mass itself is not changing, so the Mass will look and feel the same. Some texts of the Mass are not changing, including the Lord’s Prayer and the Lamb of God. The translation of Scripture readings used at Mass will remain the same, so those who proclaim the readings (lectors and deacons) will not be affected in their ministry by the introduction of the new Missal. Much of the hymnody and other chants sung at Mass will not be affected by the changes, although many hymnals and other participation aids are being revised to reflect the changes in the parts of the Mass.
  9. Symbolism of posture and gestures. The symbolism of some traditional gestures has been recaptured in the new missal. The gestures themselves have always been prescribed, but the introduction of the new Missal provides an opportunity to teach about these long-standing customs. One such example is striking oneself over the chest during the Penitential Act (Confiteor) while reciting the words “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault,” (mea culpa), as a show of remorse, a tradition that had not always been followed in the U.S. Another example is the reverent bow during the recitation of the Creed. After the words “For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven,” at the words that follow up, “and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man” all bow as a sign of reverence for the mystery of the Incarnation.
  10. Proximate preparation. Parishes and dioceses are now abuzz with preparations for the reception of the new Missal. The Roman Missal itself is the primary source of training and instruction for the new translation. It displays rubrics, sentences printed in red that instruct a priest on what to say and do, how and when to gesture, and when to sing the common prayers in the Order of Mass. It provides instructions that guide the celebrant in leading the liturgy and the people assembled in ritual response for each occasion. It also dictates the words used by a priest during the Mass. In addition to the homily at Mass, during which many priests will offer instruction about the new text, many parishes are making use of various small- and large-group catechetical sessions to help the people learn the new responses and be aware of upcoming changes. A variety of print and online resources for use in parishes, in group settings, and in homes are available from many publishers.

The introduction of a new translation for the Roman Missal gives people an opportunity to pause to think about the words they are saying every time they participate in the Mass. It is an opportunity for the entire Church in the United States to deepen its understanding of the Sacred Liturgy, of its meaning and importance in their lives. It also puts Catholics in contact with the Church’s tradition of prayer and helps create a historical awareness. The new translation and the education Catholics shall receive before it is implemented offer Catholics a chance to “brush up” on their knowledge of the Mass and of the Church’s beliefs. Those leading the efforts to educate the community hope the changes “will invite the faithful to pause and reflect on what, after so many years, we may have taken for granted” and that such meditation will redound in an “enrichment of people’s spiritual life.”

To learn more about the new English translation of the Roman Missal, Third Edition, visit the USCCB Roman Missal website.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Hispanic Heritage Month Calls Laborers to Vineyard

We are in the middle of Hispanic Heritage Month, and all kinds of events and activities to highlight, celebrate and affirm Hispanic achievement and contributions to the United States of America keep multiplying around the country. In addition to the usual suspects (i.e. National Council of la Raza, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, etc.), every now and then one comes across interesting comments that go beyond complementary remarks to take a stand. Such is the case of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who took advantage of the celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to take a stand on behalf of U.S. farmers and farmworkers and make a call for immigration reform. Here is the video of the appeal (Secretary Vilsack’s remarks start approximately at minute 8:30). I am sure many farming families and migrant farmworkers appreciate this talk, as do the U.S. Catholic bishops — though they certainly hope the Administration moves beyond just giving speeches on this front.

Since this is a month to celebrate Hispanic heritage, it is also worth drawing attention to a talk that Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles gave at the Napa Institute in California at the end of July. The speech was recently picked up by the English edition of L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s official newspaper, and even more recently by some “vaticanistas” such as Sandro Magister (Chiesa)

In his speech, Archbishop Gomez cautions about the dangers of distorted readings of our American history, the need for renewal, the Hispanic and Catholic roots of what today is the United States of America, and the opportunity that immigration brings. The archbishop brings to light little known or talked about facts—outside church circles anyway—that are often not found in history books. “When we forget our country’s roots in the Hispanic Catholic mission to the New World, we end up with distorted ideas about our national identity,” says Archbishop Gomez. If you are curious about a different reading of American History, take a read. It is worth every minute of your time.

Archbishop Gomez was at the Vatican last week, together with the president of the Catholic Association of Latino Leaders (CALL), Mr. Robert Aguirre, delivering a response from the membership to Pope Benedict’s Encyclical “Caritas in Veritate.” Yes. You read it correctly: a response. The invitation to issue a response was made to the group at a meeting last year by Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. CALL members, supported by Archbishops Jose Gomez and Charles Chaput, took it to heart. The authors say they’ve been told it is the first time the pope gets a response to one of his encyclicals, and a friendly one at that, from a group of Catholic lay leaders of any kind. While it would be difficult to verify such assertion, the truth is that the initiative is highly unusual. If you are curious about what they said, the document is being publicly released this week to media. Check CALL’s website for updates or to request a copy of the document “Charity in Truth, Our Response in Faith.”

Finally, a widely representative group of Catholic Hispanic ministry leadership, together with some church management organizations and higher education institutions, are celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month by taking a serious look at themselves, their structures and the role they are called to play in the context of an ever growing and evolving Hispanic population and of Hispanic ministry needs today in the context of the wider Church. Some of the traditional national and regional Hispanic ministry structures are struggling and in need of realigning to new realities and finding a new modus operandi to stay fruitful and relevant. At the same time, new leadership is emerging. There also seems to be room for an enhanced role for universities and educational institutions, as well as foundations, in the new paradigm.

The letter of invitation states that the gathering—which takes place September 26-28 at the emblematic Mexican American Catholic College, MACC—“will provide a venue wherein the signs of the times may be discerned, and strategies for strengthening national and regional Hispanic Catholic organizations may be identified. A special emphasis will be given to achieving financial stability, internal capacity, and organizational development so that these organizations may be better able to fulfill their mission, both individually and collectively.” It’s a noble goal and a much needed dialogue that has been a long time coming.

Through the Subcommittee for Hispanic Affairs, the U.S. bishops aren’t just facilitators and conveners of this meeting, but have a keen interest in what evolves from it. The future of a good portion of the leadership of the Catholic Church in the United States depends on it. Representing the U.S. Bishops in this dialogue are the host, Archbishop Gustavo García Siller of San Antonio; Bishop Gerald Barnes of San Bernardino, CA, chairman of the Hispanic Affairs Subcommittee; Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, chairman of the Committee of Cultural Diversity in the Church and Bishop Joe S. Vazquez of Austin, TX , and member of the Subcommittee for Hispanic Affairs and the Subcommittee for the Church in Latin America.

While intense days of work and discernment await the participants in this meeting, let’s hope they’ll find time to enjoy the sweet melodies and great food that can be found along San Antonio’s Riverwalk. Not a better scenario could have been chosen to find inspiration for the task ahead.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Inconsistency of the Death Penalty

Depending on who your friends are, you couldn't log onto Facebook this week or check a major news source without becoming acutely aware of the impending execution of Troy Davis, who was executed in Georgia September 21. Online petitions, shows of support and other social media memes worked together to underscore the death penalty's status as a perennial, if sporadic hot button in our culture. The issue crops up predictably whenever a death row inmate is about to be executed -- with righteous cries for clemency on one side of the issue and indignant assertions of justice being served on the other -- before fading from the popular consciousness yet again.

This is a shame. In the Church today, the death penalty is addressed with abortion, physician-assisted suicide, embryonic stem cell research, etc. as a "life issue," a practice that runs counter to building a culture of life. Granted, the death penalty doesn't have the same history of condemnation as an issue like abortion, which the Church has considered an intrinsic moral evil throughout its tradition. In fact, a quick look at the Old Testament provides quite a precedent for the use of the death penalty.

But then the question becomes why the ancients put people to death in the first place. Execution was a fitting punishment for someone who'd committed a violent crime because it protected the rest of society from said violent, dangerous person. These were, after all, the days before maximum security prisons. The Catechism of the Catholic Church draws from this point a contemporary conclusion when addressing the issue:

"If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person." (#2267)

This line would appear verbatim in Blessed John Paul II's 1995 encyclical Evangelium vitae, and both pope and catechism essentially say, while a state has the right to exercise the death penalty, why would we ever really need to use it in contemporary societies with life without parole at maximum security prisons?

This emerging anti-death penalty stance by the Church has been reason enough for the U.S. bishops (and Georgia bishops), as well as other Catholics to speak out against the death penalty. But there are other reasons that the Church holds up to illustrate why death-as-punishment isn't something that should be sought out at every opportunity.

For instance, the catechism notes that punishment for any crime should serve the purpose of redressing the disorder caused by the offense, reparation by the offender, public safety (which we've already covered), and the rehabilitation of the offender.

On redressing/repairing the disorder caused by the crime, one can raise real questions about whether the death penalty itself really promotes true healing or closure.

The other item that jumps off that list in terms of the death penalty is the last one. Killing someone completely eliminates the possibility of ever affecting a positive change in a person. This goes from unfortunate to tragic when one considers the number (not necessarily a large number, just any number) of death row inmates exonerated each year. With room for error, it's inconsistent with logic to err on the side of death.

And consistency seems to be key.

In building a consistent ethic for life, society should not respond to killing with killing. It should model respect for human life by refusing to take human life. It should consistently embrace the vision of Christ, who rejected "an eye for an eye" in favor of mercy and forgiveness. As Pope Benedict XVI said of this issue in 2009, "It cannot be overemphasized that the right to life must be recognized in all its fullness."

Looks Like Leno, Letterman Setting Tone at HHS, Justice Department

Late night comics who mock the church may have set the tone of the government's current salvos against religious freedom. Who would have thought that the disdain for religion by the cheap-laughs crowd would become part of the federal agenda?

At least it seems that way. NBC lauds Jay Leno, who once joked that a news report of a priest violating celibacy with a woman was received at the Vatican with, "A woman? Thank God." David Letterman, who once said a report on the priest shortage proved "there is some good news in the world," still stars at CBS. Both comics feel free to diss the church, and the government follows their lead as it works to dismantle longstanding guarantees of freedom for religion.

For example, new regulations issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. health care reform) mandate coverage of contraception (including abortifacients) and sterilization in almost all private health insurance plans. HHS offers a religious exemption for some employers but only when most of the employees are of the same faith, when they serve primarily others of the same faith, and are proselytizing.

For Catholics, that means that feeding the poor counts as a religious ministry only when the hungry are co-religionists. One out of six people who need hospital care in the U.S. go to a Catholic facility - but HHS would qualify the hospital for a religious exemption only if it employed mostly Catholics, served mostly Catholics and, I suppose, taught the Ten Commandments in between sutures. When the government determines what is and is not a church ministry you have big-time interference with the exercise of religion.

Freedom for religion means that government cannot interfere with the internal governance of religious institutions. Whatever you think about sterilizations, for example, it means the government should not force Catholic organizations to pay for them, and therefore, promote them, through their insurance programs.

Unfortunately, the problems don't end with health care. In the effort to redefine marriage, we see the government threatening religious discrimination in the name of--you guessed it--preventing discrimination. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton, declares that marriage is between one man and one woman. But the Department of Justice, which is charged with defending Acts of Congress like DOMA against constitutional challenge, declared in March that it would stop doing so. In July, Justice went further and started filing briefs that attack DOMA's constitutionality. Most disturbing in this flip-flop is its rationale: DOMA's definition of marriage must be abandoned and then attacked because it is motivated by bias and prejudice, comparable to racism. That is, the Justice Department simply writes off as bigots those with longstanding support for traditional marriage. And if the Justice Department gets its way in court, those considered bigots by the federal government will be marginalized with the full moral, economic and coercive power of the state.

For example, an employer who provides unique employment benefits to the actually married risks being disqualified from government funding - and most other government cooperation - and likely being sued for "discrimination." A government clerk who expresses a conscientious objection to cooperating with same-sex civil union ceremonies risks a pink slip.

In short, this is what happens when the view that marriage is between a man and a woman becomes a violation of the U.S. Constitution. And this is what the Justice Department urges--apparently forgetting that imposing special disabilities on people and groups because of their religious beliefs offends the First Amendment at its core.

Comics draw laughs when they mock the church, stereotype nuns and scorn priests both for adhering to celibacy rules and occasionally flouting them. They may be playing for laughs, but it is something more when the government abandons its centuries-old truce with religion. Toying with freedom for religion bodes ill--not just for Catholics, but also for the Constitution and anyone who lives under it.