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We will attempt to answer them to your satisfaction. It is hoped that this will help our community with the conscious part of the full, conscious and active participation at Mass that is called for by our Church. we will examine a liturgical practice or principle or question in this space. Most of the answers will be short.
We will attempt to answer them to your satisfaction. It is hoped that this will help our community with the conscious part of the full, conscious and active participation at mass that is called for by our Church.


Wait! Christmas is over? What happened to Holy Family Sunday and the Baptism of the Lord?

Every five or six years Christmas Day falls on a Sunday. After journeying through the longest possible Advent season, we experience the shortest possible Christmas season. Unless we go to daily mass we only celebrate the three major feasts of Christmas: Christmas Day (Dec. 25), the Feast of Mary Mother of God (Jan. 1) and the Feast of the Epiphany (Jan. 8).

Holy Family Sunday usually falls within the Octave between Christmas and Mary Mother of God. But this year there is no Sunday in that Octave so the Feast of the Holy Family is celebrated on Friday, December 30th.

The Baptism of the Lord is usually the Sunday after the Feast of the Epiphany and takes the place of the 1st Sunday in Ordinary Time. But since Epiphany is as late as it can be this year, we have to go straight to the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time or we won’t get in the prescribed numbers of Sundays (35) before the start of the next new year on the First Sunday of Advent.

This year the Baptism of the Lord will be celebrated on Monday, January 9th.

After our long Advent of 2016, next year we will have the shortest possible Advent. The Fourth Sunday of Advent will be on Christmas Eve.

We’re not going to think about that right now.


How does our leaving our family celebrations compare to leaving Mass?

This Advent we’ve been emphasizing the concept of home: the way we make a home for our family, the way we are a loving and safe home for others and the way we welcome people into our church home. So we have been looking at how our family celebrations and our worship celebrations are similar.

 After dinner or at the end of a family reunion, before we say our goodbyes, we talk about what is coming up in our lives, we promise to get together soon, we vow to maintain our connections.

Then we hug Grandma or whoever is the host of this celebration. You would never leave without a hug! We are told “Be careful driving home,” “call when you get home.”

And we leave with a new sense of our place in this family.

At Mass after we eat, we have announcements, an official part of the Roman liturgy. We hear about what is coming up in our parish life and we learn how we can be better connected, how we can live out the Word and Eucharist that we have consumed.

Then we receive a Blessing, our hug from God. How sad when people leave early and miss God’s hug! Grandma would never stand for it!

Finally we are sent with the admonition “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,” and we leave with a better sense of our place in this family of faith.


How do our family celebrations compare to our Sunday liturgical celebrations?

A couple of weeks ago we saw that the way we gather at Mass is the way we gather as family for holidays and family reunions.

At family celebrations we tell stories about the old folks and what we are doing these days. We may read letters, emails or texts from people who can’t be here. And we express our concerns about issues that affect us. Sound familiar?

The Hebrew scriptures are stories about our ancestors in faith establishing the traditions we live out today. The Gospels teach us about how we should live today. The epistles (letters) were written by people who couldn’t gather with these early communities but needed to stay in touch. In the Prayers of the Faithful we pray about our concerns for our world and our lives.

These stories, letters and prayers form us into a Christian people just as our family stories form us as family members.

At mealtime food is placed on the table or buffet and we gather to give thanks before eating. We all participate by adding our “Amen.” All get enough to eat and drink.

At mass after the food is placed on the altar we pray the Eucharistic Prayer, the prayer of Thanksgiving. We all participate by our acclamations. We all come to the table. No one goes away hungry or thirsty.


In stories and meal we strengthen our identity as a family. In Story and Meal we strengthen our identity as Catholic Christians.


As we prepare to Come Home for Christmas in our Advent liturgies, how is what we do on Sunday like what we do at home?

During this Advent we are invited to “Come Home for Christmas.” How does mass as a celebration relate to those celebrations we experience in our homes? What happens when our extended family gathers for Thanksgiving, Christmas, family reunions?

Well, first of all we gather. People are welcomed at the door. If it’s a family reunion, they will probably get a nametag from people who are designated to be greeters.

People are introduced to each other. Are there any new members of the family that we need to welcome and incorporate into this circle? Perhaps there are a couple of people in the family that need to make peace with each other. Better to do it now that to let it fester and ruin the party.

In some families there’s always music. The gathering around and singing form bonds of family and friendships that become integral to who we are.

Is this the way we gather at STB? In our parish family there are many people who do not know each other. We give them a nametag and invite them to greet each other before mass.  We bond with each other through singing, and we reconcile with each other and with the center of our family, Jesus Christ, in the Penitential Rite.

Next week the party continues.


How can I best respond to the Word of God?

In the early 1980’s the Billy Graham Crusade came to Fargo where I was working in the diocesan Office of Liturgy. We, with our Bishop, decided that we didn’t want the Catholics to be left out, so we cooperated with the Crusade to organize it.

During this process the chancery staff met with Billy Graham for a conversation in which we identified our common ground. We not only helped to organize the event, we provided and trained Catholic leadership to serve as “counselors” during the altar call.

In the course of that discussion he made a comment which has had a profound effect on my understanding of the Eucharistic Rite. He said simply, “You know, Communion is the Catholic altar call.”

In a Crusade, after you have sung and heard the songs, the scriptures and the preaching, if you believe, if you have felt the presence of God, if these words have spoken to your soul, you jump to your feet and go forward to the altar to witness to your conversion.

We do the same at mass. If after singing and hearing the Word of God, we can believe and live this Word, we jump to our feet, go to the altar and receive and become the Body and Blood of Christ. That is our response. 


Why don’t we have the readings in our hymnals or missalettes?

At Mass, it seems, the hardest thing to do is to listen. Studies show that literate people find it harder to retain information by listening. Children don’t have this problem. Small children learn by listening (and observing). At school, they have to listen to their teachers. The more education we receive, the less we listen because we can always “look it up.”

In the liturgy listening takes concentration. It requires a body at attention, and a conscious effort to focus. When the mind wanders, we have to bring it back to the Word of God being proclaimed.

Moreover listening is a communal activity. Reading is private. We each read at a different rate, and sometimes we go back and read over it again. That is why parishes are encouraged not to have the readings in the hands of the people unless they are hearing impaired. There is no “private” in our communal liturgy.

The Word of God is brought to life through the proclamation of the Lector, the Gospel Reader and the homilist. It doesn’t “live” in the book. It lives in our hearts, minds and in our lives.

For people who have trouble hearing in our space, we have large print hymnals available near the assisted listening devices and the large print worship aids. 


What do we mean by “Communion of Saints?”

One of the best things about being a Catholic is that we, the living, are forever bound with those who have gone before us, who live in the heavenly kingdom of God. The Letter to the Hebrews tells us of the prophets and early Christians who suffered for the faith and refers to them as “so great a cloud of witnesses.” (12:1)

Today we are living in the midst of terrible events in the Middle East and other places around the world in which people who are Christian are being martyred. We have to ask ourselves how we would answer if asked about our faith, pray that we would face death with courage and honor those who have paid the ultimate price for their faith.

November 1st is the Feast of All Saints. It is a holy day of obligation because we as Church want to remember those people whom the Church has recognized formally as saints through the process of canonization and all people who through Baptism are made holy. The word “saint” is from the Latin sanctus meaning “holy.”

At STB we also remember those holy people who, while they may not be formally canonized, we emulate because of the way they lived their lives for others. 


Why doesn’t our church gather in silence like some Catholic churches?

It has to do with parish tradition and values. From our beginning in the old Post Office our parish has valued hospitality. On the doors of our church we see All Are Welcome.

Some parishes feel there should be silence so that people can pray before mass, and that is all fine and good for many people. However there is also the reality that we are gathering for corporate prayer, and the best way to prepare for this kind of prayer is to greet each other and welcome each other into this Body of Christ. We are doing this together.

We greet each other informally in the Commons and in the pews before mass and formerly with the invitation of the Lector to greet each other in the pews before we begin the Opening or Gathering Song. These actions demonstrate that we are able to see the face of Christ in everyone present.

The Gathering Song is our first act of unity as the one Body of Christ. We raise our voices to the Lord in a hymn or song that expresses the tone of the liturgy we are celebrating.

Then we proceed with all the responses and prayers of the Gathering Rite before we settle down for the Liturgy of the Word. 


Why are we so active during Mass?

Last week I wrote about our baptismal job description which includes the priestly ministry of full, conscious and active participation in worship.

It feels like we’re always moving or singing or praying at mass because we are a Sacramental Church. Fundamentalist or evangelical congregations are Word Churches. Their emphasis is on scripture and preaching.

Our Catholic emphasis is on Eucharist, which makes us the Body of Christ. So Word Churches will have cushioned pews; most Sacramental Churches do not. In a Word Church you may have to sit and listen to a sermon for thirty or more minutes. In our church the homily will last seven to ten minutes. Also cushioned pews soak up sound. It is very important that the acoustics support assembly singing. In many Word Churches people sit and listen to a praise band. That is not at all the style of worship found in the Catholic Church.

For Catholics it is important that the Body of Christ use the whole body praising and thanking God. So we watch and listen and speak our responses, sing our songs and acclamations and share a Sign of Peace. We eat. We drink. We use our bodies in processions, bows, sitting, standing and kneeling.

Neglecting any of these actions deprives God of the holistic prayer that God deserves.


Why can’t I just be alone with God during Mass? Why do I have to be busy with the up-and-down, the responses and singing?

When you were baptized, whether you knew it or not, that sacrament came with a job description.

This weekend nine parents have made the decision to accept this job description for their children and seek baptism. This decision should  not be an easy one. While we hope that none of these children will be persecuted for being Christian as is happening now in many countries, baptism cannot be taken lightly for in this sacrament they will be anointed a “priest, prophet and king,” just as was Jesus.

In accepting this anointing, you, or your parents for you, accepted the responsibility of carrying out the prophetic ministry of living and proclaiming the Word of God, the kingly ministry of service to God’s people and the priestly ministry of full, conscious and active participation in the liturgy according to the role you choose.

That priestly ministry is what is behind the way we participate in liturgy of any type, but especially in the Eucharistic ministry. If you want to be “alone with God,” there are much better places to do that than in church. Your bedroom comes to mind.

In the next weeks we’ll look at that priestly role we all have as a result of our baptism and how we carry it out in our worship.


How are issues of the environment reflected in our liturgy?

Concern for the environment, a social justice issue, permeates all of our liturgies.

In Laudato Si, Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, he constantly pointed out the “intimate relationship between the poor and the fragility of the planet.” As Church we are called to give preferential option to the poor meaning that every decision we make must take into account its effect on the most vulnerable among us.

Pope Francis recognizes that those who are the most affected by climate change can least afford it. We are seeing changes that we thought would happen in our grandchildren’s lifetime. For instance, there are island nations in the South Pacific which will disappear in 15 years. People are already getting tidal surges in their homes. The time is now!

At mass this is reflected in our songs and Prayer of the Faithful. We pray for our planet and its care or for the needs of those who are poor. When we read our creation stories we learn that the earth is not ours, we are its stewards.


Note that in the gifts procession we no longer bring up water. Water is not ours to give. It is a gift from God. We bring up those gifts made by human hands from resources (wheat & grapes) that God gave us.


Who takes care of the Church?

Not all liturgical ministry takes place at Mass. During the week we have dedicated people who make sure that on Saturday evening the church is ready for mass.

Some people come in and straighten the hymnbooks. Sometimes these people are Faithful Shepherd students who are working for service hours.

There are people who care for our plants and flowers. During Christmas and Easter it’s a big job so there will be two people assigned during those months. However, there are always living plants in the church, important symbols of life and death. These people decide when the death of a plant is immanent and act accordingly.

We have people who launder the altar linens each week. Purificators are the cloths that we use to wipe the cups of Precious Blood. They are washed weekly. We have towels used in baptism to be washed. The corporal is the placemat-sized cloth on the altar that catches crumbs of Christ’s Body and drops of Christ’s Blood. It is laundered as needed.

There are also servers albs that are washed periodically and, occasionally, clerical albs.

We need more people for all of these tasks, so if you are interested, choose from the following:




Who are the people who assist Father at the altar before communion?

Each mass has a Lead Eucharistic Minister (LEM) who supervises the signing-in of Eucharistic Ministers (EM’s) before mass and gives them the crosses that they wear for their ministry. If more ministers are needed to minister to the people, the LEM recruits trained EM’s from the assembly.


During the Communion Rite the LEM places the communion bowls on the altar and helps to give the hosts to the EM’s. After all the ministers have received, s/he will assist in ministering the cup to the EM’s before going out to minister to the assembly.

After Communion the LEM supervises the placing of the vessels on the credence table  and takes the ciborium to the Tabernacle. The ciborium contains the hosts that were not consumed during Communion. It resides in the Tabernacle where the hosts become the object of adoration outside of mass.

After mass the LEM again supervises the purification of the vessels. Any remaining Precious Blood must be consumed, the cups purified with water and taken to the kitchen to be washed.


Anyone wishing to serve in this ministry must be trained as a Eucharistic Minister. If you are interested in being a Lead Eucharistic Minister CLICK HERE.


What do you have to do to be a Eucharistic Minister?

 The only requirement for Eucharistic or Communion Ministers is an Archdiocesan rule. They have to be 16 years old and confirmed. To be a Communion Minister you have to be in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. Of all the lay ministries in the Church this ministry is the only one that has an age (or any other) requirement.

Good EM’s show other attributes, however. They are people who love people, who have a strong sense that they are meeting a member of the Body of Christ as they minister. They understand that when they are saying “The Body or Blood of Christ,” they are not just talking about the Host or Sacred Blood they are feeding people. They are announcing the status of the person in front of them who is becoming the Body and Blood of Christ in this eating and drinking.

A Eucharistic Minister needs to be comfortable with the humanness of people. They must be willing to touch, to be at ease with the intimacy of feeding people. They need to be able to look into a person’s eyes with love and compassion. They must never judge others.


If you are interested in Eucharistic Ministry, CLICK HERE.


What are the roles of the priest in the liturgy?

A priest has many roles at Mass. He is the presider, the president of our assembly, presiding over our gathering. Sometimes he is called celebrant, a problematic term coming from a time when Father said mass and we were passive listeners. Vatican II declared that all of us celebrate the liturgy. We are all celebrants.


The presider leads the presider’s prayers: the Opening Prayer, Eucharistic Prayer and Prayer after Communion. We give him the authority to pray in our name over the bread and wine when we say the words that begin: May the Lord accept this sacrifice at your hands . . .

He introduces the Penitential Rite and, in the absence of a deacon, leads the assembly in celebrating God’s mercy, and he introduces the Prayers of the Faithful.

The presider has other roles. He is a minister of the assembly when seated in his chair listening, singing and meditating with us.

He is a minister of the Word when he reads the Gospel and gives his homily. He is a minister of the Eucharist when he gives us the Body of Christ.


The other articles on ministry give directions to go to the website to volunteer. But if you are interested in becoming a priest, you’ll have to talk to Fr. Tim.


What does a deacon do at Mass?

At the celebration of Eucharist the deacon is a minister of Word and Eucharist and witnesses to the role of the Church in the world. Like everything else in Liturgy, these roles overlap.


In Acts 6 we read that while the Apostles were busy preaching, the needs of the poor were being neglected. So the Apostles chose seven men and ordained them deacons to serve the community. Thus began the social justice witness of deacons.

This witness is first reflected in the Penitential Rite at Mass. The deacon helps us to recall the merciful acts of God by leading this rite. As a minister of the Word he proclaims and preaches the Gospel in which Jesus calls us to be people of justice. Finally, as the link between the Church and the world, he leads the Prayer of the Faithful in which we place before God the needs of the world.

During the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the deacon prepares the altar from which he ministers the cup of Christ’s Blood, blood which was poured out on the Cross in the first outrageous act of injustice for Christianity. It is from the altar that our mission of justice originates.


Finally the deacon dismisses us to go forth to serve God by serving people in justice and in truth.


What does it take to be a lector?

A lector brings the Word of God to the assembly. The Vatican II instruction on Christ’s presence in the Word has increased the responsibility of the lector to make the Word of God living and active.


Lectors use a workbook with pronunciation guides, contextual information and catechesis on their reading. They study the psalm, the other reading and gospel to learn how their reading fits into God’s Word that day.

A problem with scriptural literacy for Catholics is that, if we do not know the Bible, we never get the context of what we are hearing at mass. We can’t read the whole book of Jeremiah at mass, so what is going on in the life of Jeremiah that led him to the episode we hear about today? It is the responsibility of the lector to know this so that s/he can read in such a way that the listener gets the message or lesson.

As a rule the first and second readings are divided between two lectors to give us different voices proclaiming different readings. This also allows lectors to concentrate on one reading at a time.


At STB lectors can begin in High School. If you are interested, go on our website under “Our Parish,” go to “Get Involved” and under “Worship” click on W02-Lector.


Who can be an altar server?                                        

An altar server can be anyone from the fifth grade on up. I have known a server who retired at the age of 84 and have had a number of servers, male and female, in their 70’s.

It is not just a kid’s ministry. It may have been so in the past because most churches were connected to Catholic Schools, and it was handy to pull boys (at that time) out of class for training and for funerals. Today some parishes have only adult servers.

Altar serving is simpler today than before Vatican II. Until a few years before the Council (the advent of the dialogue Mass), the people in the assembly were silent. The servers spoke for the people. Ask Dad or Grandpa if they remember their Latin responses.

At STB the altar servers help prepare for Mass. During mass they lead the procession by carrying the processional cross and the prayer basket. They hold the presider’s book when he prays. They help to prepare the altar for Eucharist. When they are not performing a specific ministry, they pray and sing with the assembly.

Altar serving is a great family ministry for sibling or parent/child teams. If you are interested CLICK HERE.


Who sets up for Mass on Sunday?

Usually the first people that shows up for mass are the Mass Coordinators. They unlock the doors, turn on the lights and the water in the baptismal font and lock up afterward depending on the Mass.

This ministry is vital to celebrating liturgy. The Mass Coordinators set out the vessels for Eucharist and, with help, cleans up afterwards. They work closely with the ushers to reserve pews, when necessary, to find people to take up the collection and bring the gifts to the altar. They make sure that hospitality ministers are making coffee and preparing for cookies or donuts after mass. It’s their job to make sure that the lectors and servers are present and have their instructions. They secure the collection with the help of another volunteer.

This is a lot of responsibility, but a new Mass Coordinator will train for at least one month with an experienced coordinator before working alone. And many of our mass coordinators work as couples or friends. Some have trained their kids to help. They are assigned for one month at a time, usually two or three months of their choice per year.

Our parish is blessed by these dedicated people. If this ministry interests you, on our website under “Our Parish,” go to “Get Involved” and under “Worship” click on W01-Mass Coordinator.


Why do we need ushers at church?

While the ministry of usher is fairly new at STB, it is the oldest lay ministry in the Roman Church. In the Hebrew scriptures we find references to the gate-keepers at the Temple. They continued to serve the early Christian Church when the safety of the community was a concern. Today ushers still have very important responsibilities.

Our ushers are men, women and families with children who work closely with the Mass Coordinators in preparing and enlisting ministers for Mass.

During mass handle emergencies and usher communion.

It seems that in our assembly, people don’t need help in finding a seat, but that is deceptive. Once we are in our pews and look out over the assembly we see a lot of empty seats. But people coming in the doors can’t tell that there is ample seating in Section A and often make a totally unnecessary trek to the far side. Ushers can assist these people with their knowledge of our space. At Christmas, Easter or the Fall Festival, their skill in seating people is priceless.

Finally ushers pass out bulletins after mass and assist with making the church presentable for the next mass.

To learn more about the ministry of Usher, go to our website, look under “Get Involved,” under “Our Parish,” and click on W07-Usher under “Worship.”)


What does a Greeter do?

The Ministry of Greeter is fairly new to the Catholic Church. After all if people were required to come to mass every Sunday, or they would burn in hell, why would we bother to welcome them? They HAD to come.

Then in the ‘80’s we started losing parishioners to the evangelical churches. People said: “We feel like they really want us there. There are people at the doors of the church who welcome us.” I think that the Church of the Assembly of God (and Walmart) taught Catholics about hospitality.

Then it dawned on us that in the gospels Jesus welcomed everybody. And we’re supposed to be like Jesus. Right?

The Greeters Ministry exploded. It’s a wonderful ministry for all ages. Children can hold doors open for people and pass out Worship Aids. Does someone need a wheelchair or directions to the restrooms? At St. Thomas Becket our Greeters make nametags for everyone who comes to church.

People regularly tell us that they want to join our church because someone welcomed them at the door and made them a nametag.

It’s a ministry that is a blessing to our Church, to our guests and to our Greeters.

(Want to be a Greeter? Go to our website, look under “Get Involved,” click on W06-Greeter under “Worship.”) 


How do we relate to God when we participate in the Liturgy?

This is the final column on the benefits of liturgy. So far it’s been about the benefits to us. But there’s a different perspective we can take. SÇ¿ren Kierkegaard was an early 19th century Danish philosopher, theologian and religious author. He also had a background in theatre which influenced his thoughts on liturgy. One of his comments about worship changed my professional life about 20 years ago: To paraphrase: Liturgy is a performance.

The actors are the assembly, the prompters are the ministers, and the audience…is God. As actors we, the assembly, give our Audience our very best in every performance. Raising our voices in prayer, sung and spoken, using our bodies in the choreography of worship, focusing on advancing the plot of the Paschal Mystery we celebrate, we know that we can’t force our Audience to appreciate our efforts, but we give God the best we’ve got. Prompter/ministers know that their work must be flawless, so they train and practice and focus on their craft so that the actors can give their very best. And when that final curtain call is over we can spread our arms in joy and gather up the grace that our Audience freely bestows on us.  


Why do I need to go to Eucharist regularly?

In the past I have written about our Baptismal Job Description. We were anointed priests, prophets and kings just as was Jesus. It’s that kingly ministry that concerns us here. Jesus was pretty clear about this expectation in Matthew 25 when he told us to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, to which the early Church added “bury the dead” – those things hanging over our baptismal font.

Elsewhere in scripture we are told to instruct, advise, counsel, forgive, comfort, bear wrongs patiently and pray for the dead. Hungry people do not function very well, and spiritually hungry people cannot walk in Jesus’ footsteps and bear the responsibilities of discipleship. They get burned out. So when we come to Mass we are fed in a number of ways. We are supported by our friends in faith present with us. We are reminded of our heritage in the Word of God. We are instructed and encouraged by the homily. We are lifted up by the music we sing. We are fed the Body and Blood of Christ so that we can BE the Christ the world sees. And we are sent out to do our job. 


How does Mass relate to my life?

The Eucharistic liturgy has been said to be a “rehearsal for life,” because what we experience in the liturgy is the basis for good habits in our relationship with others and our ministry to the world.

We rehearse for life in the act of the Eucharistic meal itself. Everyone gets the same amount of food and drink,  just enough for everyone. No one because of status, financial situation, talents, aggressiveness or looks gets more. Contrast that with what we witness in our society and world today. Understanding and practicing this principle in our ritual, makes us cognizant of the inequalities in our society, the first step in eradicating them.

At STB we are fortunate that we have a tradition of ritualizing “All Are Welcome.” It is written on our doors. It is the first thing we do at mass. While the ritual gives this role to the presider, at STB our community practices hospitality so as to take it to the world.

Listening to the Word of God is another way we rehearse for life. Listening is hard. Our mind wanders, we are preparing a response, we are judging. Even at mass it’s hard to listen, but we make an effort, an effort that is a good habit we can carry on to our relationships.


What kind of sacrament is the Eucharist?

Catholics recognize seven sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Marriage, Holy Orders, Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick.

We group them as Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist), Vocation (Marriage, Holy Orders) and Healing (Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick).

Once when I was waiting in line to receive Communion, I realized that the Eucharist is all of these and can’t be placed in one category.

Eucharist is, of course, a sacrament of Initiation. It completes our initiation into the Church. When we receive Eucharist we are in full Communion with the Roman Catholic Church. This is why Canon Law states that the only sacramental preparation that a Pastor is required to give his people is for the Eucharist. Baptism and Confirmation are steps along the way to Eucharist and so preparing for Eucharist will incorporate all of these Sacraments of Initiation. assuming they are celebrated in their original order.

Eucharist is also a sacrament of Healing. It is the first sacrament of Reconciliation because it is the culmination of our reconciliation with the Church. Receiving Eucharist can heal us, make us whole and welcome us home.

Eucharist is a sacrament of Vocation. Receiving the Body and Blood makes us the Body and Blood of Christ. We become what we eat and are strengthened to do what is expected of us as Catholics.


The answer is….YES.

Jesus knew he was going to be executed soon. He needed a way that his disciples could stay connected to him and to each other. Like any other good Jew he drew from the ritual meals that he had experienced all of his life. In the synoptic gospels the time was Passover which was centered upon a ritual meal.

Sacrificial meals were also common in Jewish tradition. However the words that he used when offering his disciples the bread and wine were not the traditional words used at Passover or any sacrificial meals. Taking the bread and breaking it, he said: “ This is my Body.” Taking the cup, he said “This cup is the new covenant (promise) in my Blood.” This made is clear that in place of Jewish sacrificial meals in which a lamb was slaughtered, a new lamb, the Lamb of God, would be slaughtered.

Jesus also said: “Do this in remembrance of me.” Not just “remember me,” but do this, just is I have done.

So, yes, it’s a sacrifice of the new Lamb, and we’re not just reenacting what Jesus did. We are doing it as Jesus did. This sacrifice is happening in the present in this very place within the context of this meal. 


What’s the purpose of going to Mass anyway? Part 2

One of the purposes of the Eucharist has been called Re-Membering Church.

Almost everyone has been separated from the Church at sometimes in their lives. It may have been when first leaving home for school or military or to make one’s own way in life. It may have been early marriage before the kids came along. It may have been from inertia at a time when responsibilities and commitments piled up. For many people it has been caused by bad memories or the trauma of mistreatment by clergy, religious, a staff member or another parishioner.

Everybody has their own story to tell, but when and if they decide to return, they don’t re-enter the Church by joining a committee. They attend Mass and go to Eucharist. Sometimes people may attend mass for a while before they come forward to receive Communion. But it is in the eating and the drinking that they celebrate their homecoming.

Thus the Eucharist becomes the means by which Church is re-membered. The memory of the good of the Church in our past, the memory of what Christ did for us in his life, death, and resurrection, the memory of how God has blessed our lives brings us back to this table and into membership in the Body of Christ.


What’s the purpose of going to mass anyway?

There are so many benefits to going to mass that it will take a few weeks to talk about it.

Glorifying God and Sanctifying People. These are what we experience and celebrate at liturgy.

Human beings have always had the need to give praise to a greater power. In some religions it was because of fear. The idea was to placate this powerful being who had the power of life and death over human subjects.

How blest are we who can glorify our God out of gratitude and love, because we know that God is love! So as we sing, as we pray, as we shout our acclamations, as we bow, as we make our signs of faith, in whatever manner we praise God, we give God glory.

It is interesting that, as we give this glory to God, we become holy. We are sanctified even in our imperfections.

People say, “Well, I can do that in the woods, on the lake or on a mountaintop.” And that is true. But does it really happen as often as God deserves? The reality is that we are a social people and find it easier to give God glory in the company of believers like ourselves.

In weeks to come we’ll look at other reasons for celebrating liturgy.


What constitutes valid baptism?

This weekend we celebrate the baptism of Zachary Ryan Hove at mass on Saturday. Zach is fourteen years old and will be confirmed and receive his first communion at this celebration. He was not able to be here at the Easter Vigil, so, in looking to schedule his initiation, we decided upon the Feast of the Holy Trinity.

This feast is appropriate for the sacrament of Baptism because Catholic Christians are baptized into a relationship with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, who are One, the Trinity.

No one is ever re-baptized in the Catholic Church if they are already validly baptized. Valid baptism requires that they be baptized with the words: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

All Orthodox, mainline Protestant and many evangelical churches use this formula and have a Trinitarian theology. There are many churches that do not baptize into the Trinity. Some of the better known are Christian Scientists, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Unitarians. There are also a few churches in which there is no uniform practice; it depends on the theology of the minister.

It is the responsibility of the RCIA coordinator to either know if we recognize the baptism or to investigate whether the baptism is valid in our eyes.


 What is the place of the Holy Spirit in the Mass?

On this Feast of the Pentecost we celebrate the Apostles receiving the Holy Spirit so that they could teach and preach the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Today it is not uncommon for Catholics to give the Holy Spirit credit for the decisions and events that keep us safe or that give our lives new meaning. The Holy Spirit is active in our lives all the time.

When we worship it is the Holy Spirit that lifts our voices in prayer and song. Listening to the Word of God, we recognize that this scripture was inspired by the Holy Spirit.

The clearest expression of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the liturgy is in our Eucharistic Prayers. For almost 1500 years we had one Eucharistic Prayer, the Roman Canon. Vatican II allowed for the composition of more Eucharistic Prayers. Today we have ten.

There was no reference to the Holy Spirit in the Roman Canon. The new Eucharistic Prayers make it clear that it is the Holy Spirit who changes the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. Through these prayers we ask God to send the Holy Spirit to accomplish this task. Finally we are sent out, filled with the Spirit, to do God’s work in the world.


What happens at the Dismissal Rite?

The Dismissal Rite (aka the Sending Rite) is the shortest rite of the four parts of the mass (Gathering, Word, Eucharist, Dismissal). But it is so important that the word “Mass” was derived from it. The Latin of the past was Ite missa est, meaning “Go, you are sent.” Missa (sent) became “Mass” in English.

The liturgy strengthens us and sends us out to be disciples in the world. Fr. Tim’s words which we adapted for the Year of Mercy are “The Mass is never ended. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”

During the Easter Season we are singing the traditional chanted dismissal. After Easter we will continue to be challenged by our Year of Mercy dismissal.

The other parts of the Dismissal Rite are the Final Blessing and the Song. 

The Final Blessing is given by the Presider in the name of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. When we are at Grandma’s house for dinner we would not leave before we tell Grandma goodbye and get a hug from her. The Final Blessing is God’s hug. And we don’t leave without it.

The Final Song is usually a song of mission. It sends us out nourished and refreshed to do God’s work in the world.


How do we reveal the meaning of Eucharist at Mass?

There is an important liturgical principle called Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, the law of prayer is the law of belief. Our beliefs form our prayer; our prayer forms us in the faith. Our Communion Rite is an example of this principle.

Eucharist is a sacrament of unity. We ritualize this in our communion procession: Everyone goes to the altar to eat of the one bread and drink from the one cup – ideally.

Everyone does go to the altar, but if we all ate from the same loaf and drank from the same cup, mass wouldn’t end until Tuesday. In U.S. mega-parishes, this isn’t possible. So we use individual hosts, but at the consecration we show a large unified host. We use a number of cups, but we share the one cup among many people.

We all sing together in procession – another sign of unity.

We express that we become the Body of Christ when the Eucharistic Minister says “The Body of Christ” or “The Blood of Christ.” S/he is not proclaiming only what you are being given, but the fact that you and all present are members of the Body of Christ.

Eucharist is the culmination of initiation, so at STB the Eucharistic Ministers use our Baptismal names as they feed us.


Why does Palm Sunday look so different?

The Commemoration of the Entrance of our Lord into Jerusalem and his Passion and Death on the Cross are so earth and mind shattering that we can’t really celebrate as we would normally, and so the Church changes the mass around. Here at STB we go even further in simplifying the liturgy to emphasize the uniqueness of this celebration.

First the presider blesses the palms we get at the door. These palms represent the “leafy branches” that Matthew and Mark write about in Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Then, in an example of a rearrangement of the elements of the mass, we hear the Gospel, this year from Luke’s version of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem.

Next comes one of the most important and best-loved processions of the year: the Procession of the Palms when we reenact and remember the crowd welcomoing Jesus into Jerusalem.

Now the mood shifts to somber tragedy in the first reading and the Passion. At STB because the second reading is the oldest extant hymn in our Christian history, we sing it as our closing hymn at the end of Mass.

After the reading of the Passion we move directly into the Eucharistic Prayer which with the gift of the Eucharist, is the fruit of Jesus’ sacrifice.


Why do we have the sacrament of Reconciliation? Can’t I just confess directly to God?

The sacrament of Reconciliation is not about telling God you’re sorry or the priest “representing” God. It is about healing broken relationships.

There is no such thing as a “victimless” crime or “victimless” sin. When we sin, we hurt someone. We do not live solitary lives. Every action we take, every word we say, every attitude we adopt affects someone. And relationships can be damaged.

We Catholics believe that every person we encounter is the face of Christ and everything we do impacts our relationship with this Christ that we can see, touch and love.

The Church is the Body of Christ. Hurting another person hurts this Body, this Christ. And this relationship must be repaired.

Our celebration of Reconciliation within the prayer of the community as in Lent recognizes this fact. Private confession is fine if a person is in need of the sacrament in a timely fashion. But it is within a community celebration that we are confronted with the need to reconcile with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

The priest does not represent God. He represents the Church, just as he does at the sacrament of Marriage, Baptism and Anointing of the Sick.


Why is Mass called “the Eucharist?”

Because it is short for “Eucharistic Liturgy.” We have many types of liturgy – Baptismal, Anointing, Ordination, Marriage, Funeral, Prayer Services, Hours. For Catholics, however, the Eucharist is the center of our faith, just as meals are the center of our family.

We are a Eucharistic People. We gather on the Lord’s Day in praise and thanksgiving to God for the gift of his Son. As we remember his sacrifice, we give thanks and eat his Body and drink his Blood. This nourishment gives us the strength to do what must be done – build the kingdom of God on this earth in our time.

“Eucharist” means “thanksgiving.” It was the word that the earliest Christians chose from St. Paul when in 56 C.E. he wrote the earliest account of the Last Supper to the people of Corinth. Of the words he used – took, gave thanks, broke, body, remembrance, cup, covenant, blood, do this – the faithful chose “thanks” as the word that would define their worship forever.

Eucharist is many things – a Sacrament of Reconciliation, Mission, Healing, Unity, Vocation, and the only repeatable Sacrament of Initiation. Through our eating and drinking we become what we eat. We are transformed into the Body of Christ and are charged to live as Christ.


Thanks be to God!


What is the meaning and origin of Lent?

The English word Lent comes from the Old English word for spring.

We speak of the Forty Days of Lent which parallel the forty days that Jesus spent in the desert. However, there is no way that you can count the days of Lent and get the number 40. Lent lasts from Ash Wednesday to right before the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday.

Over the first three centuries there was a fast before Easter that in various places developed from one day to two or three and finally in the 4th century, forty days. The emphasis was first a period of intense prayer and preparation for baptism by catechumens and by the communities they were joining. It was also a time when those in serious sin (adultery, murder or denial of the faith) would do public penance before the community who, if the bishop judged the penitents worthy, would receive them back into the Church at the Easter Vigil.

Now, as of old, the emphasis is still, first, on those preparing for baptism and for the rest of us a preparation for the renewal of our baptismal vows through prayer, fasting and almsgiving.


Why is there an RCIA Rite of Sending this weekend?

This weekend we celebrate a “Rite of Sending the Catechumens to the Cathedral for the Rite of Election and the Candidates for Full Communion for Recognition by the Archbishop.” That’s a mouthful, but those who are already baptized into Christ must be distinguished from those who are preparing for baptism.

At the Rite of Sending our catechumen enters his name into the Book of the Elect. The Name is an important symbol in Baptism. The first question new parents are asked when they present their child for Baptism is “What name do you give this child?” That question is the infant version of what happens when an adult is baptized. An adult can give (and sign) his/her own name.

At the Rite of Election at the Cathedral on the First Sunday of Lent this book is presented to Archbishop Hebda who declares the catechumens to be “Elect,” chosen by God.

The Candidates for Full Communion were already elected by God at Baptism, therefore they are presented to the Archbishop who recognizes and encourages them on their journey to Full Communion.

At the Cathedral and Basilica this Sunday, hundreds of people from all over the Archdiocese who are preparing for the Easter Sacraments will celebrate these rites.


Why is that piece of host floating in the big cup?

Well, no one spit it in there. (I know that’s what you’re asking.)

This host in the cup is the outcome of the Fraction Rite or Breaking of the Bread that takes place while we are singing the Lamb of God. If you watch closely, you will see the presider break a small piece of the large host and place it in the cup. This practice is called the commingling and originated in the 8th century.

The thinking was that because the death of Jesus was represented in the consecration of the bread into his Body and then the wine into his Blood, the Resurrection of Jesus should be represented also. The reuniting of Jesus’ Body and Blood was seen as a reenactment of his Resurrection.

While performing this action the priest says quietly a prayer also from the 8th century: “May this mingling of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ bring eternal life to us who receive it.”


So, if you see this piece of Christ’s Body in the chalice, consume it gratefully.


Why do we have a Sign of Peace at Mass?

The Sign of Peace was one of those rites returned to the people at Vatican II. A part of the very earliest liturgies of the Church, it was celebrated in various places in the mass until somewhere in the 5th century when it was placed after the Lord’s Prayer.

By the late middle ages, like the reception of communion, it was limited to clergy.

At Vatican II there was much discussion about its location which was repeated in the revision of the Roman Missal at the end of the 20th century. Should be after the Penitential Rite? Before the Procession of the Gifts to the altar? After the Eucharistic Prayer?

It was ultimately decided to leave it where it is because its meanings of peace, unity and reconciliation are so closely related to the act of communion.

This is Christ’s peace we are sharing. The words we use are “Peace be with you” or “The Peace of Christ be with you.” This is not the time to wish people Merry Christmas or Happy Mother’s Day. It is not a greeting. It is a holy moment.


The gesture is a handshake or an embrace. In parts of the world where those gestures are inappropriate, people bow. 


More on the Lord’s Prayer: what are we praying?

We learned the Lord’s Prayer from Jesus himself as related in Matthew and Luke’s gospels, but we hardly think about what we are praying.

Each is a little different. Matthew’s prayer is more familiar. Jesus taught it to his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount following his teaching on prayer (Mt. 6:5-8) which contains wisdom about how to have pray effectively.

Luke’s prayer has different wording and is shorter. While probably closer to what Jesus said, it’s not the one that the early Church adopted. The disciples asked a praying Jesus that he teach them to pray. After doing so he goes on to give a different teaching on prayer.

Both Luke and Matthew probably wrote what was the liturgical tradition of their respective churches some sixty years after Jesus.

Matthew’s prayer consists of an address to the Father in heaven, common in Rabbinical prayers of his day, followed by seven petitions. Luke’s does the same but omits the final petition.

The first three, “hallowed be your name,” “your kingdom come,” your will be done …,” echo the Eucharistic Prayer.

The last four petitions for our daily bread, for forgiveness as we forgive, “lead us not into temptation” and deliverance from evil lead us to Communion.


We do we add the doxology immediately to the end of the Lord’s Prayer?

This is a fascinating question for it shows us one of the disagreements that had to be fought through at Vatican II as the bishops were reforming the liturgy. On one hand there were the traditionalists who wanted the Lord’s Prayer without the doxology (For thine is the kingdom…, (perceived as Protestant), on the other hand there were progressives who wanted to add it as an ecumenical gesture (it really began in the Byzantine Rite). So they compromised by adding it but put an “embolism” (“insertion”) “Deliver us, O Lord” between the body of the prayer and the doxology.

The problem is that it still caused division because at weddings and funerals the Catholics would stop and wait for the embolism while the Protestants would go forward with the doxology to their embarrassment. Going to a Catholic church was scary enough as it was.

Some parishes decided to omit the embolism as a gesture of hospitality to our Protestant brothers and sisters.

Interestingly, the doxology is very ancient. It is even found in some Biblical manuscripts probably because it was used in liturgical prayer in the early Church in order to end the Lord’s Prayer on a more positive note. 


How long is the Christmas season?

Christmas begins on the evening of December 24 with the Vigil Masses and the Mass at Midnight (10:00 p.m. at STB). The holy day is Christmas Day, the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord.

Next is Holy Family Sunday when we celebrate events in the lives of this young family. In Year A we hear of Mary and Joseph’s immigration into Egypt to save the life of their young son. In Year B we hear about their taking Jesus to the temple to be consecrated. This year we hear of twelve-year-old Jesus’ visit to the temple at Passover when his wisdom amazed the scholars.

New Year’s Day we celebrate Mary, the Holy Mother of God the oldest Marian feast in our tradition. It celebrates how all the events of Jesus’ birth found a place in his mother’s heart. In 1968 Pope Paul named this day the World Day of Peace.

The Feast of the Epiphany originally on January 6th has  been moved to the closest Sunday. It celebrates the gentile astrologers who followed his star from the east. This feast teaches us that Jesus was born for all humankind.

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord ends Christmas and begins Ordinary Time and beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.

All these celebrations remind us of the humanity of God’s Son and how his challenges are our challenges today.

12/27/2015  NO Good Question for this week


How long has Christmas been celebrated and why is it celebrated on December 25th?

The first mention of the celebration of Christmas was in 354 C.E. Usually things happened long before they were officially recorded so we can guess that the feast had been celebrated many years before.

Why the delay? There was resistance to celebrating birthdays. The only birthdays we celebrate in the Church are for Jesus, Mary and John the Baptist. All other saints are celebrated on their death day, their birthday into eternal life.

We celebrate on December 25 because it is nine months after the Annunciation on March 25th when Jesus was conceived. This date was 14 Nissan on the Jewish calendar, the date, it was believed, of Creation, the Exodus and first Passover. Also Jesus was crucified on 14 Nissan and the Jews believed that great men lived whole (not fractions of) years. Therefore it was believed that Jesus died 34 years from the date of his conception. This is also the spring equinox when new life begins.

Also in the mix is the fact that December 25 is close to the winter solstice when light once again enters the world. There were pagan celebrations at the time that might have inspired the date of the celebration of the Sun/Son of Righteousness.


Why do we stand for the Eucharistic Prayer?

The universal posture for the Eucharistic Prayer, a prayer of praise and thanksgiving, is standing. For 6000 years we have stood before God to give praise and thanks.

Kneeling is a posture of supplication and penitence. We often kneel during the Penitential Rite during Lent as a way of expressing with our bodies our pleas for mercy.

Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy and the subsequent General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) called for us to stand. These documents were intended for use by churches around the world. However, the American Catholic Bishops felt that with all of the other changes of Vatican II, Americans were not ready to stand, and they published an appendix which called for the American church to kneel during this prayer.

Many communities adopted the universal posture, however, and many churches were built without kneelers.

Today the current GIRM calls for kneeling, “except when prevented on occasion by ill health, or for reasons of lack of space, of the large number of people present, or for another reasonable cause.”(43) One of those causes would be having no kneelers.


It goes on to say that “those who do not kneel ought to make a profound bow when the Priest genuflects (or bows) after the Consecration.” 


 What else should we listen for in the Eucharistic Prayer, part 3?

Continuing with the Eucharistic Prayer, after the Words of Institution or Consecration we respond with:

The Memorial Acclamation – our sung acclamation of the mystery that Christ died, rose, still lives among us and will come again. We have three forms that we could use and all address Christ.

Anamnesis – meaning memory. All the Eucharistic Prayers use the phrase “celebrate the memorial,” but each speaks of what we are remembering a little differently. It is one of the meanings of the Eucharist, a remembering of what Christ did for us - not just remembering something that happened in the past. We are making it happen in the present.

The Offering – a statement attached to the anamnesis that says that we are offering this Bread and Chalice (EP2) or this sacrifice (EP3) to our Lord.

Intercessions – prayers for the Church, the clergy, all God’s people, and the Dead and that we may join the angels and the saints in praising and glorifying God.

Final Doxology – The priest sings “Through him, and with him, and in him…” leading us to loudly and energetically sing out our affirmation of all that we have prayed before this altar with a “Great Amen,” a Hebrew word meaning “So be it!”


What else should we listen for in the Eucharistic Prayer, part 2?

This is going to take another two weeks. It’s a long prayer.

After we sing the Holy, Holy, which is from both the Hebrew scriptures (Isaiah 6) and Matthew’s description of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, we continue the Eucharistic prayer which contains six parts. I’ll use as examples the 2nd and 3rd Eucharist prayers (EP) because those are the ones we hear the most, and with one exception (below) they all have these parts in this order:

Epiclesis – meaning “calling upon,” a request to God to send down the Holy Spirit “to make holy these gifts we have brought to you for consecration…” (EP3). The Roman Canon (EP1), for 1500 years the only Eucharistic Prayer, makes no mention of the Spirit which is why Vatican II called for more Eucharistic Prayers to be written.

Words of Institution or Consecration – a description of the actions and words of Jesus at the Last Supper. These words have been used since the beginning of the Church. We know because they were recorded by Paul in 1 Corinthians about 56 A.D. He didn’t make them up. He recorded the oral tradition passed along by people who were there. These words cannot be changed. They are the centerpiece of the prayer.

Next week we’ll finish the Eucharistic Prayer, I promise.


What should we listen for in the Eucharistic Prayer?

Just being able to ask that question is a huge change brought about by Vatican II. By the 1960’s  the eucharistic prayer had been said in a low, inaudible voice for more than 1000 years. Vatican II gave us the Scriptures in the Liturgy of the Word and the Eucharistic Prayer in the Liturgy of Eucharist.

It is through attentive listening that we participate in the praying of this prayer. The presider says this prayer in our name (GIRM,30). Listen to the pronouns. The prayer addresses God (You) and uses the 1st person plural (we, us), never I, me or they.

Listen for scripture passages and for references to the gospel. They can be direct quotes like “Lift up your hearts” (Lamentation 3:41) and the “Holy, Holy” from Isaiah 6 and Matthew 21:9. These are from our dialogue with the presider at the beginning of the Preface and our acclamation of praise at the end.

There are over 80 Prefaces for different days, feasts and occasions. This prayer of thanksgiving praises God for the gift of salvation through creation and the Son Jesus Christ. It is possible to never open a Bible, but know God’s Word of redemption by listening closely to these prayers. 


How did the Eucharistic Prayer get to be the way it is?

The first eucharistic prayers were based on those prayers said by the father of the family at Passover. There is some debate as to whether the Last Supper was held at Passover. The synoptic gospels say it was. John’s Gospel says it wasn’t. However, the earliest church associated their table fellowship with Passover and used those familiar prayers.

After a while those brief prayers were embellished and improvised. There were no liturgical books, and some of the theology that some priests used was a little shady. However in general they kept the structure of the Jewish table prayer and its themes of praise, thanksgiving and petition.

In the 4th century the forms became fixed depending on where you lived. Pope Gregory the Great established the Roman Canon (now the 1st Eucharistic Prayer) as the rule in the 6th century. There it stayed until Vatican II when its weaknesses were recognized and three more prayers were written.

Since then we have added three Children’s Eucharistic prayers, two for Reconciliation, and four for Various Needs and Occasions.

All of them contain these parts: thanksgiving, acclamation, epiclesis (calling down the Spirit), the institution narrative and consecration, anamnesis (memorial), offering, intercessions and the final doxology (Through him, with him….).


What happens at the Preparation of the Altar and Gifts?

This is a continuation from last week when the altar and the gifts were prepared.

At this point a very important dialogue takes place between the people and the presider. The presider askes the people to “Pray…that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.” Notice that he refers not only to his sacrifice but to ours. This is our first clue that the Eucharistic Prayer and the act of consecration does not belong solely to the priest. We all participate in this act. We all pray the Eucharistic Prayer by being attentive to the words and singing out the acclamations, and we all consecrate this Eucharist. The priest cannot do it without us. A priest is not even supposed to celebrate a private mass. He must have an assembly, even if he can only muster up one person to celebrate with him.

Our answer to the presider is also important. We say to him: “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his holy Church.”

This is not a prayer. It is a commissioning of this man to pray in our name.


What happens at the Preparation of the Altar and Gifts?

A lot happens and a lot more could happen depending on where you go to mass. But first we have to complete the setting of the table.

When the presider and servers come to the altar, they bring the Roman Missal which contains the mass prayers for every liturgical celebration. They place the chalice and the purificator (napkin) on the altar, and the priest pours the wine. There are trays of wine-filled chalices which the lector places on the altar.

There are rules now that lay people cannot pour the Blood of Christ, so most churches put these pre-filled chalices out beforehand.

Two prayers based on a Jewish table prayer said by the father of the family at Shabbat are usually said quietly: Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you: fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life. A little water is poured into the chalice and the priest says the same prayer focusing on the wine. If there is no singing during this time, the presider will say these prayers aloud.

But it’s not over. Next week we’ll finish preparing the table.


What should be brought up in the Procession of the Gifts?

Since the earliest Church the bread and wine used at Eucharist were provided by the people. In some places other items for the support of the parish were brought up, such as candles, oil, food and money for the priest’s support and ministry to the poor.

This procession was a counterpoint to the communion procession in which people received back the gifts they brought, transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ.

The practice died out when the church changed to unleavened bread and when people quit going to communion. It was revived by the Vatican II Council.

The procession consists of the bread and wine that we will be receiving as eucharist, although in most places it is no longer baked at home, money for the Church and the poor, and other gifts for the poor such as our offerings of food and money on Food Shelf weekend.

At STB we have instituted the practice of people placing the bread and wine with dignity and respect on the altar of Christ, a sign that these gifts truly come from the people rather than clerics. It is the people’s financial support that allows the purchase of the bread and wine for Eucharist.


How does the Prayer of the Faithful get composed?

The Prayer of the Faithful is written by the liturgist who studies the Sunday readings, monitors the news of the world, nation, community and parish, and connects them to inspire our prayer.

This prayer, also known as “The Universal Prayer” and “Bidding Prayers” in the revised Roman Missal, consists of a number of intercessions that should be in the order of an inverted pyramid.

The first intercession is for the whole Church. It can include the Pope, clergy and/or lay people, but is universal in nature.

The second intercession is for the world and is also universal in nature. World leadership is important here, but the main focus is social justice and peace or specific world events.

Next we pray for our nation, for our national and local leadership, situations, tragedy or disasters.

Often there is a prayer for our community, either generally or naming an event in the community, like the Fall Festival or a sacramental celebration.

The next two prayers are for those who are sick and those who have died. Here we name ill parishioners who have requested prayers and parishioners and close family members of parishioners who have died.

At STB we end with a petition for the prayers in our Prayer Basket and in our hearts.


Why do we have two Creeds?

Actually, the Roman Missal offers three forms of the Creed which are used depending on the occasion. At STB the Liturgy Team decides which Creed we pray during which season. Two are printed in the front cover of the hymnal.

The Apostle’s Creed is based on a creed mentioned in the 4th century but forms of it were circulating from the 2nd century. The first extant copy is from the 8th century. It is very basic and doesn’t address much of the theology in the Nicene Creed. It has 12 statements of belief. The early Church believed that each Apostle influenced by the Holy Spirit contributed a statement.

The longer Nicene Creed came from the Council of Nicaea in 325 in response to Arianism which made Jesus less than the Father. Read the second paragraph to see how many ways this creed says that the Son and the Father are the same.

The third form, the Baptismal Creed, is the Apostle’s Creed in question and answer form. This creed was professed at our baptism, and we repeat it when renewing our baptismal promises.

The Creed is omitted when we celebrate additional sacraments at mass, i.e. Anointing of the Sick or RCIA rituals, because these rituals speak strongly of our faith. 


 What’s the difference between a sermon and a homily? Why do Catholics call it a homily?

This comes back to the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) (see GQ 9/20). In the Catholic Church, the readings are assigned to us. We can’t change them. Using the readings and prayers for the day is what makes the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

A homily is based on either the readings, most especially the Gospel, or the liturgy. The homilist reads the Sunday gospel, reflects on it, finds a message that applies to our lives today and writes the homily. There may be other contemporary stories in the homily, but the basic message is Jesus’ teaching in that particular gospel.

The liturgy may also be a subject for a homily for everything in the liturgy is biblically based. There are many Sundays of the year when there opportunities to teach about the Mass relating to the gospel: Jesus’ inclusiveness and hospitality and the Gathering Rite, Jesus’ teachings about the Eucharist in John’s Gospel, Jesus’ sending out his disciples for ministry and the Dismissal Rite, to name a few.

In churches that do not use the RCL a preacher will decide what s/he wants to speak about and then find a scripture passage to support it. That is a sermon.


Why do the gospels skip around in Jesus’ life so much?

When the Lectionary was organized there wasn’t concern with chronology. The infant Church wanted to celebrate the teachings and acts of Jesus as he journeyed to his crucifixion and resurrection.

In the Bible Jesus was crucified around Passover, the first full moon after the spring equinox. The Roman Church set Easter accordingly. The season of Lent, Holy Week and Pentecost are dependent on the date of Easter.

In the early Church Jesus’ birth was not celebrated. In the mid-fourth century December 25 was mentioned as Jesus’ birth date in the Western Church. The Eastern Church celebrates it on January 6, our Feast of the Epiphany. There are a couple of theories about how those dates were established, but no one will ever know for sure when Jesus was born.

After the Christmas we hear of Jesus’ beginning his public ministry and choosing his disciples. After the Easter season we hear of the three years of Jesus’ teaching and healing ministry. As we progress through autumn, we hear of Jesus’ journey toward Jerusalem and his crucifixion. Jesus becomes stern and concerned with the end-times until the Feast of Christ the King when he condemns those who neglect the needy (Year A) or is tried (Year B) or crucified (Year C).


How is the Gospel chosen for a Sunday?

We don’t choose a Gospel; the bishops who organized the Lectionary (in Rome) did that. That lectionary is the basis of a Revised Common Lectionary used by most of the mainline Christian religions. So if you go to an Episcopal or Lutheran (ELCA) church, you’ll hear the same readings on the same Sunday as the Catholics.

The lectionary is on a three-year cycle beginning the First Sunday of Advent. During Year A we read (semi-continuously) through Matthew’s gospel, Year B, Mark, and Year C, Luke. John’s gospel is used seasonally and helps to fill out the Year of Mark, a short gospel. We recently had four weeks of John during July and August when we heard Jesus teach about the Eucharist.

During the special seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter, gospels from all four evangelists are chosen according to the seasonal theme.

The Gospels tell us of the words and deeds of Jesus, but during Advent we hear gospels that are about John the Baptist who heralded Jesus and Mary’s pregnancy.

On the Third, Fourth and Fifth Sundays of Lent, if there are any elect (preparing for baptism) present, we hear only the Lenten Year A gospels from John no matter what yearly cycle we are in. (Next week: Through the year with the gospels).


Why do we stand for the Proclamation of the Gospel?

The Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ is the highpoint of the Liturgy of the Word just as the act of receiving Holy Communion, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, is the high point of the Liturgy of the Eucharist. We stand for both of these parts of the mass. 

When the presider stands and the introduction to the Gospel Acclamation begins, we know that we should rise as a mark of our respect and reverence. This posture has the added advantage of aiding in our concentration; we can’t relax and let our minds wander as easily.

The Gospel Acclamation is another way of honoring the Good News of Jesus Christ. It’s an acclamation just like the Eucharistic acclamations we sing during the Eucharistic prayer honoring the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

The rules say to sing the Alleluia or skip it. At STB we choose to surround the Gospel with alleluia’s. “Alleluia” is a Hebrew word which roughly translates “Praise to God.” During Lent we’ll sing basically the same thing in English. Why we sing in English during Lent and Hebrew the rest of the year is a mystery to me.


Where does the Second Reading come from?

After singing the psalm, we hear from the apostles in the form of epistles from the Christian Scriptures. These are letters written to the infant church struggling with a number of issues depending on the community: persecution, transitioning from paganism and its (really fun) practices to an austere Christianity, figuring out where their Jewishness ended and their Christianity began. Although these particular issues may not be our concerns, these letters contain much wisdom.

Some letters are to individuals, but most are letters written to communities. An apostle like James, whom we are hearing from now, or an evangelist like Paul would go to a town, establish a church, stay for a while and then move on. Sometimes these letters encouraged these new Christians in their faith, gave them advice and helped them to sort out practices which made them Christian. Sometimes after a bad the writer used his letter to admonish these people.

The second reading is semi-continuous for most of the year. During the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter it becomes thematic and is further reflection on the theme of the Gospel.  Next year at Easter during the Year of Luke, we will hear from Revelation, not a letter but highly symbolic apocalyptic literature that promises the Second Coming.


Why does the cantor lead the psalm from the ambo?

The Psalm is a part of the Liturgy of the Word. It is sometimes called the Responsorial Psalm, but it is not merely a response to the first reading. The term “Responsorial” refers to the interplay of singing that happens between the cantor and the assembly. The cantor sings the verses, the assembly responds with the refrain.

The bishops who organized the Lectionary chose a psalm or a part of a psalm to relate to the each first reading just as the first reading was chosen to relate to the gospel. However, the psalm exists in its own right as the inspired Word of God. Therefore it is proclaimed by a psalmist (who may a separate ministry from the cantor) from the ambo (pulpit) which is the table of God’s Word and by the assembly who are also ministers of God’s Word at this point in the liturgy.

The psalms are Hebrew poetry which express praise, thanksgiving or lament. Some are called “royal” psalms because they referred to the Hebrew king of the time. Many of these were later interpreted by Christians as referring to the Messiah Jesus just as some of the Hebrew scriptures were reinterpreted by the early church as presaging the coming of Christ. 


Where do the First Readings come from?

We begin the Liturgy of the Word with a reading from the Old Testament, or Hebrew Scriptures, most of the year. The Vatican II Lectionary included Old Testament readings for the first time in centuries. They have been chosen to harmonize with the Gospel reading of the Sunday or feast day to show the unity of the Old and New Testaments and how the history of our salvation began at the dawn of time leading to the coming of Christ. Therefore the first reading is not in any kind of sequence. It was chosen as a precursor to the events of the Gospel.

Our reading of the Old Testament reflects our Jewish roots. In Synagogue worship there have always been readings from the Books of the Hebrew Scriptures. We have an instance of Jesus performing this ministry in the synoptic gospels (Mathew, Mark and Luke) when he reads from the prophet Isaiah.

During the Easter Season the first reading will be from the Acts of the Apostles. All things are new again! The old is not heard during this time, only the adventures of an infant Church.

On the Feast of All Saints the first reading is from the Book of Revelation (at the end of the New Testament) as there were no saints before Christ. 


When does the Gathering Rite end?

When you sit down. This change of posture tells us that we are entering a new part of the mass with a new dynamic. We stand to pray; we sit to listen.

The Gathering Rite ends with the Opening (or Gathering) Prayer. The term “Opening Prayer” tells us that what has gone on before was preparation for hearing the Word of God.

The Opening Prayer is a presidential prayer. This doesn’t mean someone else will say it in 2016. It means it is exclusive to the presider. The other presidential prayers are the prayer ending the Prayers of the Faithful (when we’re not saying a special 25th Anniversary Prayer), the Prayer over the Gifts, the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer and the Prayer after Communion. While the Eucharistic Prayer is said by the presider, for the most part, it is unchanging so we can silently say these familiar words with him. It is our prayer. Those other prayers change each day.

The Opening Prayer, the Prayer ending the Prayer of the Faithful and the Prayer after Communion are also called Collects because they collect all the prayers that we have in our hearts and place them before the Lord. The silence after “Let us pray” allows this to happen.


Why do we pray the Penitential Rite or Glory to God at times and omit them at others?

The Gathering Rite calls for both the Penitential Rite (now termed Penitential Act) and the Glory to God each Sunday. Exceptions are sacramental rites that have their own gathering ritual, i.e. Baptism. RCIA and Anointing of the Sick.

At STB we choose not to pray both at mass. The Gathering Rite is not a high point in mass. It is a preparation rite. It is important, but not as important as God’s Word. Prolonging the Gathering Rite can overshadow the Word.

We pray the Penitential Act during Ordinary Time to prepare to hear the Word.  During Lent we may sing it for more emphasis. During Advent we may skip it in favor of another gathering ritual.

Interesting fact: Kyrie eleison does not mean “Lord, have mercy.” It’s an untranslatable Greek phrase (the original liturgical language) which the ancients shouted when the king came parade. It’s like saying “Hooray, Lord.” The penitential rite is a statement of praise for God’s mercy.

We sing the Glory to God during the festive times of Christmas and Easter. In addition to being a song of praise, it contains a penitential section. So we get both dynamics in one song.


Why did the Church change the response to the greeting, “The Lord be with you?

Back in the ‘60’s when mass was translated into the vernacular, the American Catholic bishops translated “Et cum spiritu tuo” as “And also with you” instead of the literal “And with your spirit.” The bishops thought that the literal translation was confusing and wanted people to understand not only what they were saying, but also the dynamics of the mass they were celebrating.

It is as when someone says to us “Hi, how are you?,” we automatically say “Fine, how are you?” It’s ritual language, not a query about health.

Ritual language works like that in liturgy. We shouldn’t have to think too hard about it.

In the ‘90’s the Vatican office in charge of worship got concerned about literal translations. “And with your spirit” was literal, it was scriptural, and it was used in other languages in worship so there was a unity issue.


This greeting and response is used throughout the Mass: at the beginning, before the proclamation of the Gospel, the praying of the Eucharistic Prayer, the invitation to the Sign of Peace and the final blessing. It is the spoken wish of the presider for the Lord to reside in us, and we respond with our wish that the Lord reside in his spirit. 


Why do Catholics make the Sign of the Cross so much?

We do, don’t we. Outside of mass we sign ourselves before and after we pray, and some people sign themselves when a speeding ambulance passes by. Athletes sign themselves before a crucial move, like a free-throw attempt. Sometimes it’s superstition, but it also may be a centering gesture, a way of focusing on what needs to be done.

At mass we sign ourselves with the waters of baptism when we enter the church, a centering prayer which helps us to make the transition from our secular life into the sacred and as a  reminder of our baptism. We begin all our liturgies by signing ourselves in the name of the Trinity, the first bodily or incarnate gesture we make as one. We sign our head, lips and breast with the cross before the proclamation of the gospel – another centering prayer which helps us to focus on the actions and words of Christ. In the Eucharistic Prayer the priest makes a sign of the cross over the bread and wine asking that they may become the Body and Blood of Christ. Many people make a sign of the cross when they receive communion and the presider blesses us with a sign of the cross (as we bless ourselves) before sending us back out into the world.

The Sign of the Cross is used on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday and to bless objects and places.

All this reminds us that we are a people of the Cross. We become a people of the Cross when we are signed at baptism or in the Signing of the Senses in the Rite of Acceptance of the RCIA. The first Christians took the object of shame on which their Lord died and turned it into a sign of victory. They may have used it as a secret sign when it was dangerous to be Christian. It has endured through the ages in the Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran and Methodist faiths.

It is important to know that in the Roman Empire only traitors and insurrectionists were crucified. The idea that Jesus was a traitor who threatened the rule of Rome was encouraged by the Jewish establishment of the day. The use of the term “thieves” for the men who were crucified with Jesus in the synoptic gospels was a mistranslation. They were revolutionaries. The slow, agonizing death by crucifixion was the most torturous and humiliating form of capital punishment of the time. It was the way the Roman occupiers maintained terroristic control over a rambunctious and rebellious population.


With all this in mind, we should sign ourselves slowly, deliberately and thoughtfully. 


Why do we always start Mass with a song?

The answer comes back to the purpose of singing at Mass and in human beings.

There is a hierarchy of singing in liturgy. The Gospel and Eucharistic acclamations must be sung if there is any other singing. Next are the Gathering and Communion songs. Singing these hymns or songs is one way we express our unity, one of the important meanings of the gathering and communion rites.

Music affects the brain differently from other forms of information we ingest. In the movie “I’ll Be Me” about Glen Campbell’s journey into Alzheimer’s disease, we learn that he was able to go on an extended farewell tour singing his songs, while he was unable to find the bathroom at home.

When we sing we internalize the melody and text. This is why pastoral musicians must carefully consider the texts when choosing songs for worship. We cannot sing heresy. Every word must be what we believe. Singing this hymn will form us in our faith.


When Patrice chooses the Gathering Song, she studies the readings of the Sunday, considers the act of gathering for worship and chooses what best serves the worshiping assembly on that day. 


 What happens in the Gathering Rite?

The Gathering Rite can also be called the Entrance Rite, which puts the focus on the presider and the ministers, or the Introductory Rite because it prepares us to hear the Word of God and participate in the Eucharist.

“Gathering Rite” works well because it focuses on what the People of God do when they come together for mass.

Gathering begins when we prepare to come to church. It continues on our journey, in the parking lot and as we walk into the church. When we greet each other we are recognizing Christ in one another – a prerequisite for becoming and living as the Body of Christ in the Eucharist.

At STB a lector greets us at the official beginning of mass. We are prepared for worship by learning who our presider is, what special things may be happening and where to find the songs, acclamations and prayers we will need. We are formally invited to greet those around us.

The parts of the Gathering Rite are the Song, either a Penitential Rite or Glory to God and an Opening Prayer. We keep it simple because we need our energy for the Word and Eucharist coming up.


How can we learn more about the Liturgy?

The Worship Commission has been studying the Liturgy and considering how we can better understand what we do when we worship as required for full, conscious and active participation.

We do not need to have all the answers in order to participate. Much of what happens in the sacrament of the Eucharist is a mystery beyond human comprehension. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t have 2000 years of theologians trying to figure it out.

The liturgy has many aspects. It’s stated purpose is to “glorify God and sanctify people.” It is a “Holy Meal” surrounded by rituals which prepare us to consume the Body and Blood of Christ with our Catholic Christian family and send us out nourished to live our family’s mission. It is a “rehearsal for life.” Or as Fr. Tim tells us each Sunday: “The liturgy is never ended, it must be lived.”

So in learning about the parts of the mass, we will consider how they glorify God and sanctify us. How do we experience this Holy Meal as compared to a family celebration? How is this a rehearsal for what we do in the world?


Why don’t we use printed or projected readings at STB?

First, to the issue of using projection in our Worship Space: Our church was not designed for projection. There is no place to have even two areas that accommodate projected images that can be viewed by everyone in the church. When designing a 180-degree church such as ours, the use of projection has to be planned from the beginning and the seating designed to accommodate it. In our situation retrofitting for projection would not be satisfactory.

The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the first document issued by the Second Vatican Council, calls us to “full, active and conscious participation.” “Full” means that the liturgy belongs to the assembly who participates wholly in mind, body and spirit. “Active” means that the liturgy must engage all the senses of the assembly. “Conscious” means that the assembly is fully aware of their role and understands what they are doing.

We often talk about “active” gathering, listening and responding. The most difficult is listening. It is active because it takes concentration. It requires a body at attention and a conscious effort.

Liturgy is a communal activity. It is corporate, not private. It is impossible to be alone at Mass. The act of reading is private. We each read at different rates, and sometimes we go back and read it over again. This is why parishes are encouraged not to have the readings in the hands of the people unless they are hearing impaired.

There is no “private” in our communal liturgy, except for a few silent times after the presider says “Let us pray,” after the readings, after the homily and after communion. Those are times for gathering our prayers and for communal reflection.

It is possible to order a limited number of missalettes for people who are hearing impaired, just as we have large print worship aids for people who need them. But it would be an exception, an accommodation for people with special needs and, if there is a need, something we might want to consider.

We all have a responsibility by virtue of our baptism to actively celebrate the Eucharist as a people unified in Christ Jesus with our whole body, mind and spirit. 


What is a deacon?

The Second Vatican Council restored the diaconate as a permanent ministry. The story of the origins of the diaconate can be found in the Acts of the Apostles 6:1-7. Later in Chapter 7 is the story of the first martyr of the Church, Stephen, who was in the first group of seven deacons.

The work “diaconate” is derived from the Greek word diákonos which means service. References to deacons are found in Acts 8, Romans 16 (Deaconess Phoebe) and 1Timothy 3. By the fifth century the diaconate was on the wane in the Roman Church, but endured in the Orthodox Churches.

We know that deaconesses existed in the early church. They served the poor and were instrumental in the baptism of women who, like all the elect, entered the waters of baptism naked.

There are two orders of deacons, permanent deacons, like Deacon Bob Kelly and Deacon Mickey Friesen at STB, and transitional deacons who are seminarians in their last year of formation before ordination to the priesthood. Both receive the sacrament of Holy Orders when they are ordained by a bishop for the diocese. They are accountable to the bishop and assigned by him to a parish. While some permanent deacons work on a parish staff, all of them are to give a certain amount of service hours to the parish.

Deacon Bob and Deacon Mickey first spent years in discernment to see if they had a vocation. They then spent years in formation before they were ordained by the Archbishop for this archdiocese and were assigned to a parish.

Most men are still active in their careers when they are ordained. The diaconate is seen as the connection between the marketplace and the Church. An ordained person employed in his profession brings the ethics of the Church into that workplace and brings the experience of the commercial world into the life of the Church.

Deacons must be 35 years old and may be married with families. Their wives go through at least part of the formation with their husbands and often minister equally with them. If a deacon candidate is not married at the time of ordination, he takes a vow of celibacy. If a deacon is widowed after ordination, they may not remarry without special permission and must be celibate.

There is also an upper age limit which varies according to the diocese.

Diaconal ministry is a sacramental sign of Christ the Servant. Deacons are ordained to serve at the margins of church and society and be living reminders of our Christian call to reach out to those who are poor, sick, hungry, prisoners and outcast.  Deacons make this call known through their service to the Word, service at the Altar and service by acts of charity and justice.

Deacons baptize and preside at weddings, communion services, prayer services, wakes, funeral services and burials. Theirs is a preaching ministry, and, if blessed with the gift of preaching, they should be on the regular homily schedule. They are to sit at the right hand of the priest presider at Eucharist. They lead the Penitential Rite, proclaim the Gospel and, in recognition of their connection to the secular world, the Prayers of the Faithful. They raise the Cup of Precious Blood at the doxology (“Through Him, with Him…..”) and Great Amen and are responsible for the ministry of the cup at Communion. Then at the Dismissal they send us out into the world to do God’s work. In conjunction with their sacramental ministry, they often lead baptism classes, RCIA processes, marriage formation and funeral preparation. They cannot hear confessions or anoint the sick, although there are bishops from sparsely populated parts of the world with few priests who have petitioned the Holy See to allow deacons to anoint the sick so that people will have a chance to receive this sacrament before they die. So far, it hasn’t happened.

Deacons also minister outside the parish in the community. Deacon Mickey is the Director of the Office of Missions for the Archdiocese. Deacon Bob was ordained before he retired as an insurance agent. Since then, besides his work in the parish with his wife Sharon, he has served as a police chaplain and ministered at the Cancer Home and Catholic Charities among other places. Deacons often work in hospital ministry, at jails and with those who are homeless.

It is important to understand that lay people can do many of these things with the exception of diaconal responsibilities at Eucharist, weddings and (currently) preaching. However, ordination brings a sacramental sign to the Church and to the world of the service which this man provides. 


So what difference does it make if I’m baptized or not?

Whether your baptism was a decision you made or was made for you, you received a job description. You were baptized priest, prophet and king.

A priest is responsible for worship, gathering on the Lord’s Day with your brothers and sisters in Christ to give praise and thanks to God. You may be in other ministries that serve the liturgy, but whether you are a lay person, a priest or deacon, a bishop or a pope, you are first a baptized person and member of the worshiping assembly.

A prophet is responsible for spreading the Good News in the way he/she lives, not by standing on the street corner or knocking on doors to ask if someone is saved but in the way you raise their family, relate to their siblings, parents and neighbors, and conduct yourself in your job and in the marketplace. The Christian is known by words and actions.

A king is responsible for being in service to others through charitable works and advocating for justice in community and the world, and putting the needs of others before one’s own needs. It means being the kind of king that Christ was.


Who can baptize?

I’m sure that I share this experience with many Catholics my age: I’m in the third grade and Sister says that if we come upon an accident in which an unbaptized person is dying, we should take water from the gutter and baptize that person. I was ready, but to my great disappointment, it never happened.

The ordinary ministers of Baptism are deacons and priests, but anyone can baptize if there is an emergency or there are no clergy available. Health care workers will sometimes baptize an infant in danger of death in the absence of clergy.

When that happens, and the child (or adult) lives, a priest or deacon can complete the rites in church at a later time by performing all the parts of the ritual except for the water rite: naming, anointing, white garment and candle.

That being said, having a grandchild whose parents show no sign of being interested in baptism does not constitute an emergency. As painful as this is for grandparents, baptism in the bathtub without the parent’s knowledge is not wise. The Church does not baptize children who will not be raised in the faith by their parents. 


Why is a lighted candle used at Baptism?

One of the major symbols of Christ is light. Christ was the Word of God made flesh. He enlightened the world by his presence. Through him we were finally able to see God with our own eyes. Everything that he did, his inclusivity, his generous mercy and forgiveness, his putting the needs of the human person before “The Rules,” challenged the wisdom and authority of the times and challenge us to live in imitation of him.

When a person has bathed in the waters, been anointed as Priest, Prophet and King and put on the garment of Christ, s/he has become “enlightened by Christ” and is told to spread that light throughout the world.

The godparent/sponsor lights the neophyte’s candle from the Paschal Candle. In the infant rite, it’s one of the few things the godparent does. The godparent used to have more responsibilities. Oftentimes the mother was not even present.

Today the church recognizes that the parents are the primary teachers of their children. But the godparents hold this light for the child as a sign that they will pass along the wisdom of Christ in a special relationship of faith. 


Why are people clothed in white after Baptism?

The white garment symbolizes the purity of Christ. The baptizing minister tells the new Christian: “(Y)ou have clothed yourself in Christ. See in this garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity…..”

Since the time of the early Church new Christians were baptized (usually naked) and clothed in a white robe. They wore those robes every time they gathered for eucharist. Over the centuries the baptismal garment evolved into “Sunday best,” which all of us over a certain age remember well. It was how we showed respect for God and for our fellow Christians. It still exists in some traditions.

Today the white robe of Baptism is still worn by priests, deacons and servers in the form of an alb. In some churches the cantor also wears an alb.

It is also reflected in the practice of white dresses and shirts (and sometimes pants or suits) at First Communion which completes our initiation into the Church. 

At the end of our life our bodies are once again clothed in a white garment, the pall. So as we entered life in Christ at baptism, so do we enter eternal life with Christ in the heavenly kingdom. 


Why is oil used at Baptism? Don’t they do that at Confirmation?

Yes. Infants are chrismated twice with the Oil of Chrism, the Christ oil, in baptism and later when confirmed.

People, baptized as adults, meaning after the age of discretion (7), are confirmed immediately and anointed with chrism, which is olive oil scented with a special perfume. It recalls the “sweet smell of Christ.”

In both situations, you were anointed, as was Christ, “priest, prophet and king.” This is the Christian vocation or job description. When baptism was separated from confirmation in the Roman Church, chrismation was kept with baptism even when adults were baptized before the restoration of the catechumenate after Vatican II. There was always the sense that, when confirmation does not follow, we should anoint these people to instill within them that vocation that is Christ’s.

This chrismation is then repeated in Confirmation to renew that vocation.

The Oil of Chrism is consecrated at the Chrism Mass which in our diocese takes place on the Thursday night of the Fifth Week of Lent. Also consecrated at this mass are the Oil of the Sick and the Oil of Catechumens which is a strengthening oil used during the RCIA process.


Why is water used in so many different ways for baptism?

Water is the first symbol that we usually think about when we think of Baptism. Jesus was baptized with water, and, although baptism had a different meaning in the Jewish tradition of the time, this model of baptism is the one we’ve kept.

Water is the most important element of human life. We are water. Infants consist of 75 to 80% water. As we grow older this decreases until as adults we are 50 to 65% water. The human brain is about 85% water. Lack of water or dehydration leads to death.

This is the physiology of water but as a symbol water has many meanings:

Water means new life. It makes crops and plantings flourish. It means an end to famine and hope for the future. We pray for rain.

Water means death. People drown in water. Their lives and belongings are destroyed in floods. The power of water is destructive. It can wash away whole communities or carve out valleys and canyons. We pray for the rain to stop.

Water is cleansing, refreshing. It washes away grime from our bodies and possessions. We put our children in the tub; we comfort people with a glass of water.

Baptism uses all of these images. Where there is not the possibility of immersion, water is poured over the head of the person and symbolizes the washing away of sin. This is fine as far as it goes, but it reduces the meaning of baptism to this one aspect.

When there is not space for full immersion, as we experienced in our temporary font this Easter, abundant water is poured over the head of a kneeling person as a symbol of washing and new life. Again it’s preferable to the minimal practice above, but it doesn’t express the full meaning of Baptism.

When space allows, the fullest expression of baptism is full immersion in which a person is taken  back all the way under the water and raised up again to new life. This is an expression of the dying and rising of Jesus, the Paschal Mystery which we celebrate at every Eucharist and which is reflected in our faith and in our lives. 


 What is the Profession of Faith?

The Profession of Faith dominates our worship lives beginning at the Easter Vigil. The Elect make their Profession of Faith for the first time after the baptismal water is blessed. In three statements they reject sin and Satan. Then they profess their faith in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. After they are baptized, dress, and light our candles, they say with us for the first time that same Profession of Faith.

Next is the Reception of Candidates for Full Communion into the Church. They are already baptized and have been professing their faith in their former faith traditions. All they have to do ritually is profess the Catholic faith: “I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.”

At infant baptism the parents and godparents make a Profession of Faith in the child’s name, knowing that they are responsible for passing on these creedal statements as they form their child in the Catholic Christian faith.

Every Sunday during Easter we profess our faith in this different form of the Creed. Listening carefully, you’ll notice that last three questions are really the Apostle’s Creed in question-and-answer form.


What happens during the celebration of Baptism?

During the coming weeks we’ll learn about the parts of the Baptismal Rite.

The first thing that happens at Baptism is Naming and Signing with a Cross.

At infant baptism these rituals take place during the Reception of the Child. The baptizing minister begins by asking the parents to announce the name of their child and tell what they ask of the Church. The child now has a baptismal name and is welcomed and marked with the Sign of the Cross.

For adults and young people this takes place in the Rite of Acceptance into the Catechumenate. The sponsors announce the candidates’ names before the Church. They tell what they want from the church and pledge to accept the gospel. They are signed with a cross on their heads, eyes, ears, mouths, shoulders, hearts, hands and feet.

Both rituals identify us as members of the Body. We use baptismal names in all of the other sacraments. We put our baptismal names on nametags when we enter STB so that we can be called by name by others and at Communion. The cross brands us as being owned by God, not as slaves but as children of God. (Rm. 8:14-15)


How does our Baptism affect us?

In Baptism we experience a sacrament that is multi-faceted. On one side it is our entrance into God’s Church, into our parish community and universal church. It is the initial sacrament entitling us to receive the other six sacraments. So just as being initiated into a club entitles you to the privileges of that organization, so does baptism entitle you to the benefits of the Church.

Baptism is the first sacrament of Reconciliation. The sacrament we subsequently experience as Reconciliation involving confession and absolution is often called our second Baptism. Baptism forgives sins. Adult Baptism forgives the sins we have committed so far and brings us into the fold of the Church. Infant Baptism forgives Original Sin which is just another way of saying that we are born human into a sinful world. Baptism strengthens us for that world.

Baptism is a sacrament of vocation for it makes us “priests, prophets and kings.” These vocations determine how we will live in the Church and in the world: as priests when we gather for worship; as prophets when we witness to those around us the Word of God; and, as kings when we give of ourselves to those in need.

Week 4/12/2015

Why is Baptism so important in the Church?

Last Saturday night at the Easter Vigil our community was privileged to baptize five people (now neophytes) into Christianity. In addition we completed the initiation of another six people who were received and, along with the neophytes, confirmed into the Catholic Church.

Baptism is the way that we enter the Church, the first sacrament that leads to all of the other sacraments. This is why our baptismal font is located at the entrance to our Worship Space. When we come to church we are first confronted with the fact of our baptism and must think about what it calls us to do and how it calls us to live.

We recognize all Baptisms when the Trinitarian Formula (I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit) and water was used. No one who was so baptized is re-baptized. If there is no proof of baptism, but the person thinks he or she might have been baptized, we do a conditional baptism in which the minister will say: “If you have not been baptized, I baptized you in the name . . .” and complete the rite.

In the coming weeks we’ll look at baptism and how we experience it so that we can learn to fully appreciate this great gift from God.

Week 3/8/2015

What are those rites that we began this weekend with the catechumens?

The Scrutinies are celebrated at Masses with those who are preparing to be baptized at the Easter Vigil. They are now the “Elect” because they have celebrated being chosen by God at the Rite of Election.

We celebrate the Scrutinies on the Third, Fourth and Fifth Sundays of Lent with the Year A readings. We are now in Year B, but those masses with the Elect hear the three gospels from John that we heard last year (A). They are gospels used with people preparing for Baptism since the second century. The stories of the Woman at the Well discovering Christ the living water, the Man Born Blind recognizing Christ the Light of the World and the Raising of Lazarus prefiguring the Resurrection of Christ enriches us all in our spiritual journey.

These Scrutinies intend that we all confront what is sinful and weak and strengthen what is good and decent in our lives. A prayer of exorcism follows which frees the Elect from sin and the influence of the devil.

These three weeks of Scrutinies are intended for the spiritual good of the Elect, but we all benefit.

Week 3/1/2015

 Who are those people we prayed with at the 5:00 mass on Saturday?

On the 2nd Sunday of Lent parishes with adults or young people of catechetical age preparing to complete their initiation through confirmation and eucharist may celebrate a Penitential Rite especially formulated for their situation.

These are people baptized in another faith tradition (as are the candidates at our parish) or in the Catholic tradition yet did not receive formation in the Catholic faith or complete their initiation sacraments of confirmation and eucharist.

The baptism of any faith that uses the Trinitarian formula I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is valid in the Catholic Church. Most mainline churches and many evangelical or fundamentalists churches baptize with these words.

The Penitential Rite recognizes that the candidates are already elect of God by virtue of their baptism and that they are now striving to mature in their faith and understanding so that they may enter into our Catholic community more completely.

This rite is an adaptation of the Rite of Christian Initiation by our American Catholic Bishops who recognize that most people coming into the Catholic Church are indeed baptized in other traditions.

Week 2/22/2015

 The RCIA Rites at the 5:00 Mass on Saturday. What are they all about?

This year the 5:00 Mass on Saturday will celebrate the Lenten Rites of Christian Initiation. First we celebrate the “Rite of Sending the Catechumens to the Cathedral for the Rite of Election and the Candidates for Full Communion for Recognition by the Archbishop.” Quite a title, but necessary to distinguish between those who are baptized and those who are not.

At the Rite of Sending the Catechumens sign their names in the Book of the Elect. The Name is an important symbol in Baptism because God calls us by name. The first question new parents are asked when they present their child for Baptism is “What name do you give this child?”

At the Cathedral this book is presented to the Archbishop who declares the catechumens to be “Elect,” chosen by God.

The Candidates for Full Communion were named and elected by God at Baptism, therefore they do not sign the book but are presented to the Archbishop who recognizes and encourages them on their journey to the Eucharist.

At the Cathedral and Basilica this Sunday, hundreds of people from all over the Archdiocese who are preparing for the Easter Sacraments will celebrate these rites.

Week 2/15/2015

 I like having music ministers at Mass, but is it really all that necessary to have all that singing?

We do not sing at Mass. We sing the Mass. Every prayer and response in the Roman Missal is set to music (chant). It is possible to sing the entire mass with lectors chanting the readings and a deacon or presider chanting the Gospel.

Singing engages more than our very limited brains. It engages our heart and our souls, our breath and our bodies – unlimited, holistic prayer. And God deserves no less.

All of the most important assembly parts of the liturgy are sung. It’s the main way we fully participate.

Liturgy is corporate. There are silent times after “Let us pray,” the readings and communion, when we silently  or meditate. But the unity that we enjoy in Christ requires us to pray out loud, sing our prayers, give God thanks and praise together.

As with all the other ministries, the assembly is the primary minister of music. The cantors, singers, choir, pianist and instrumentalists are there to support the assembly in singing their prayers. They are trained not only in the technical aspects of their craft but as pastoral ministers of music, their servant ministry.

Week 2/8/2015

Isn’t it just the priest who is the minister of the Altar?

There are a lot of ministers of the Altar – the presider, deacon, servers, Eucharistic ministers, mass coordinators. But just as the assembly is the primary minister of the liturgy in hospitality, and Word, so are they primary at the Altar. It is the assembly who rises to their feet to commission the presider (May the Lord accept this sacrifice…) to call upon the Holy Spirit in their name to consecrate the eucharist. It is the assembly who goes as one to the altar to become the Body of Christ and leaves from this table to be Christ to the world.

God has called many people from the assembly of the Baptized to help in particular ways at the altar. Those who answer become priests, deacons (whose special ministry is the Cup), mass coordinators who set up before mass and tidy up afterwards, altar servers who assist the priest at the altar and Eucharistic ministers who serve the Body and Blood of Christ to the People of God.

As true servants, Eucharistic ministers and altar servers must be aware of the needs of the people around them and be ready to meet those needs, all the while knowing that what they do is an act of worship.

Week 2/1/2015

 What is involved in being a Lector at Mass?

A Lector is one of the Ministers of the Word at liturgy. Others are the deacon and priest who proclaim the Gospel and break it open in the homily, the psalmist who proclaims scripture in the psalm Gospel Acclamation, and the choir who leads the assembly in sacred song, which also largely comes from scripture. The primary Ministers of the Word are the Baptized People of God, the assembly who actively listens to the Word and then goes out into the world and lives it.

Emerging from Baptism is the Lector who must spend time with the prescribed readings, studying them and practicing their proclamation. We never use the word “read” at Mass. The Word of God is not read but proclaimed as the Living Word of God.

The Lector studies the context and literary style of the scripture passages and understands the relationship of the four readings: the Hebrew scriptures, psalm, Epistles and Gospel. They are trained and given resources for their ministry

At STB the Lectors welcome the assembly before mass, lead the Prayer of the Faithful which is a part of and drawn from the Word of God and give the announcements at the end.

Week 1/25/2015

 What do Hospitality Ministers do at Mass?

Hospitality is the job of all baptized People of God. The guiding principle of our parish is “All Are Welcome,” words that each of us lives by.

From our celebrating Assembly at STB come Hospitality Ministers, Greeters and Ushers.

Hospitality Ministers serve coffee, juice and donuts after mass. They arrive early to prepare food and drink, they may help with the collection or gifts procession, and they have to leave a bit early to prepare to serve the rest of the assembly after mass.

Greeters arrive early to give a friendly greeting to each person who comes into our doors and make them a nametag. We have had many people who reported that they joined our church because of the welcome they received from the greeters.

Ushers assist the assembly in many ways from passing out worship aids before mass and helping people find seats to passing out the bulletins after mass and helping to straighten the church for the next liturgy. In between they take up the collection, usher communion and provide assistance, emergency and otherwise, to worshipers.

These ministers live the  ideal of “All Are Welcome” at STB. Many more people are needed for these ministries. Go online to sign up for training or orientation.

Week 1/18/2015

 How many lay liturgical ministers does it take to celebrate mass?

How many people are in the assembly? That is the number of liturgical ministers in any liturgy.

Lay liturgical ministry is usually thought to be the priest, deacon, lectors, servers, eucharistic ministers, hospitality ministers, mass coordinators and music ministers. However, the assembly is the primary minister of the liturgy. Eucharist can no longer be celebrated by just a priest alone. He must have an assembly, even if it’s just one person.                                                                                       

The Church teaches that Christ is present in four ways in the Eucharistic Liturgy. Christ is present in the presider (the priest), the Word, the Eucharist, and the assembly gathered in his name (CSL #7 & GIRM 27)

There are ministers who serve the celebration in a specialized way, but first and foremost, every person present is first a member of the assembly because all were baptized into the priesthood of the faithful before they were ordained a deacon or priest or trained to serve as a minister. Moreover, each minister is, when not performing a ministerial role, a minister of the assembly.

In coming weeks we will talk about liturgical ministers, but it must never be forgotten that it is the assembly that is the primary minister of the liturgy. 

Week 1/11/2015

Why did Jesus want to be baptized?

Why would the Son of God need to be baptized?

Jesus, being Jewish, honored the Jewish practice of baptism which was a repeatable act of purification and sanctification. Cleanliness is important throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and the Gospels. Jesus’ washing the feet of his disciples was not merely an act of hospitality and humility, but followed a long religious tradition of purification.

John the Baptizer was preaching a baptism of repentance, immersing in the Jordan River people who wished to be cleansed of their sins. This baptism was also practiced by the Essenes, a small ascetic sect of that time, some of whose practices were adopted by John.

In requesting that John baptize him, Jesus was not saying that he was a sinful person but was choosing to identify with sinners, the first of many times throughout his ministry that he would do so.

The sacrament of Baptism which we Christians practice is also for the forgiveness of sin (e.g. Original Sin), but it goes further by being a non-repeatable sacrament of initiation which brings people into the Christian community of faith. Together with the Anointing or Confirmation, it seals us with the Spirit of God and culminates in our entrance into the Body of Christ through Eucharist.

Week 1/4/2015

Why do we bless the Church doors on the Feast of the Epiphany?

This weekend we bless the doors of our Church and provide prayers for parishioners to bless the door of their homes.

The door is very important in Christian symbolism. Jesus said “I am the sheepgate” through which his followers could pass to gain new life. The door is a symbol of hope, new beginnings,  initiation (thus, RCIA rituals begin at our Church doors). Going through a door is a “liminal” or threshold experience. We often do not know what to expect. We could be changed forever. Each time we come through the doors of the Church, we enter the unknown. We could be transformed, we could have an “epiphany.”

Traditionally on the Feast of the Epiphany the doors of private homes are blessed commemorating the visit of the Magi to the Child Jesus. Having traveled a long way to see him, they honored him as the Prince of Peace. This child would later challenge authority through his all-encompassing hospitality to Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, authority and outcasts. Writing the names of the Magi and the number of the New Year on our doors testifies to the fact that our domestic homes and our Church home will extend Christ’s hospitality to all who enter.

Week 12/21/2014

What is the place of Mary the mother of Christ in Sunday Mass?

This weekend, the 4th Sunday of Advent, we hear of the Annunciation in which Mary was told that she was to be the mother of Jesus. This is one of two Sundays during the year that the gospel features someone beside Jesus, the other being last Sunday’s gospel which told of John the Baptist.

The Eucharistic is always Christ centered. When we are celebrating a Marion feast, the readings may be about Mary, but the liturgy is Christ-centric. We receive the Body and Blood of Christ.

On Sundays there is no mention of Mary except in the Eucharistic Prayer when she is listed among the saints. In celebrations of Marion feasts, like the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, she is mentioned in some of the mass prayers.

How can this be when Mary is so important a presence in our faith? The answer is that the Church has never prayed to Mary. The Church asks Mary to pray for us, while upholding her as a model of obedience and self-giving love. Even in the Hail Mary the first half is an address and statement of her importance to us; the second half is a request for her prayers.

Week 12/14/2014

Why does Advent in Church look so different from Christmas everywhere else?

First, we need to establish that the Church, while it occasionally picks up elements of the surrounding culture, something we call inculturation, is basically counter-cultural in everything it teaches and does. The Church upholds an ideal, a vision of the kingdom that doesn’t exist in the secular or commercial world.

So while Christmas carols are playing and decorations go up in the stores after Halloween, in the Church the season of Christmas does not start until Christmas Eve. Until that time we are in a quiet state of watchful waiting and preparing for Christ to enter our world. We sing “Prepare” and “O Come” while the commercial world is playing the Christmas carols and songs which help them sell their products. We are singing Christmas carols while the commercial world has turned to Valentines Day.

Our Christmas season lasts for twelve days from the eve of December 25 to January 6, the traditional date of the Feast of Epiphany, hence the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” The Church moved Epiphany to the nearest Sunday in 1970.

As pilgrims on a journey, the Church will always have a different frame of reference from the world around us.

Week 12/7/2014

Should we genuflect when we enter the pew? The appropriate way to reverence the Blessed Sacrament is to genuflect. The appropriate way to reverence the altar of Christ is to bow. Notice that when our ministers approach the altar they bow. This happens when they enter and leave in a procession, when they come forward to proclaim scripture or lead prayer or to minister communion.

Our tabernacle has its own Chapel of Reservation, and when entering that chapel to pray we genuflect to the Real Presence of Christ.

When we enter our pew, we should execute a full body bow to the altar. This is a bow from the waist, not a head bow. There is a rule that when ministers who are carrying something (i.e. the cross, the Gospel Book, the prayer basket) approach the altar they do not bow. The same goes for someone who is carrying a child or bag of groceries for the food shelf. As with everything else that we do in church, if a person cannot physically do it or should not do it because there could be an accident, they should refrain.

Week of 11/30/2014

What is the meaning of the Advent wreath and why is it among the assembly this year?

The Advent wreath functions as a weekly calendar as we anticipate the coming of Christ at Christmas. It originated in Germany where the candles lit up the darkness of that season. There is some debate about how old the custom is, but it’s agreed that it originated in the Lutheran Church.  The Catholics adopted it and added liturgical colored candles. The candle of the third Sunday of Advent is pink because it is Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday. In Protestant churches red candles are often used because the wreath was extended into Christmas.

Each Sunday a new lit candle is added to the wreath. Every parish has their own way of doing this – processing the candle(s) in, having servers or dancers light it, or hanging it from the ceiling and lighting it before the weekend masses. This year the assembly will form the wreath and the candles will be placed among the assembly. The ring or wreath symbolizes the unending love of God. As a people of God and the Body of Christ, we embody God’s love and are tasked with spreading God’s love everywhere we go. Therefore it is fitting that we are the ring of the Advent Wreath.

Week of 11/23/2014

The RCIA: What is the Rite of Acceptance and Welcoming?

This weekend we experience at one of our masses the first of the formal rituals in the RCIA.

The Rite of Acceptance is for people preparing for Baptism. The Rite of Welcoming is for those preparing for Full Communion. We can combine these rites when we have both kinds of people.

Infant Baptism, an adaptation of the RCIA, compresses all the rites into one celebration. When we initiate adults and children of catechetical age, the rites are spread out.

We begin this rite by Naming the people to the community. We’ll learn a little about them and their journey. We continue with the Signing of the Senses. In Infant Baptism only the head of the child is signed with the cross. In this rite we sign the forehead, eyes, ears, lips, heart, shoulders, hands and feet to strengthen them for Christian life. After the homily they are presented with the Gospel.

Now we have Catechumens (unbaptized). They can be married and buried in the church, but are not yet full members. They are dismissed after the homily to break open the Word.

The Candidates for Full Communion are welcome to stay, although they cannot receive communion. Because of their Baptism we honor them as full Christians.

The journey continues.

Week of 11/16/2014

What is “evangelization” all about? Isn’t that a Protestant thing?

In the Catholic tradition evangelization is practiced through hospitality. Our parish’s hallmark phrase is “All Are Welcome.” And each week at STB we witness a model of evangelization for us to emulate – Bogie.

Bogies welcomes everybody who walks into our doors. It doesn’t matter if you are in a bad mood, having a bad day or a bad week, or if you don’t particularly like dogs. When Bogie sees you, his tail starts to wag. He is a living witness of the unconditional love of God.

Bogie teaches us that it is important to be at the door to welcome people in, to make them a nametag, to welcome them in the pew before mass, to hold their hands at the Lord’s Prayer, to sincerely exchange the sign of Christ’s peace, to welcome them to the table, eat and drink with them and talk to them after mass.

Just as we leave here knowing that Bogie loves each of us in an open and non-judgmental way, each person should leave STB having experienced the love of God through our community. And that’s what “evangelization” is all about.

Week of 11/09/2014

Who was St. John Lateran and why do we celebrate his feast this Sunday?

There was no St. John Lateran. The feast celebrates the anniversary of the Dedication of the St. John Lateran Basilica, the cathedral church of Pope Francis.

The basilica is dedicated to St. John the Baptist – that’s the St. John part. Lateran was the name of a Roman family whose lands were seized by the Emperor Constantine for the Church. Constantine declared that the Church was no longer to be persecuted in 313 AD in what we call the “Peace of Constantine.” After centuries of persecution it was finally peaceful for Christians, but not so much for Romans like the Lateran family. At least we remember their name.

This feast is important enough to supersede the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time because it reminds us that we are a universal Church led the successor of St. Peter.

This has been an unusual year because Ordinary Time has been interrupted four times by important feasts: in June by SS. Peter and Paul, in September by the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, last weekend by All Souls Day and this weekend. Next year will be more normal.

Week of 11/02/2014

What do we mean by “Communion of Saints?”

One of the best things about being a Catholic is that we, the living, are forever bound with those who have gone before us, who live in the heavenly kingdom. The Letter to the Hebrews tells us of the prophets and early Christians who suffered for the faith and refers to them as “so great a cloud of witnesses.” (12:1)

November 1st is the Feast of All Saints. While it is not a holy day of obligation this year because it falls on a Saturday, it is a time to remember those people whom the Church has recognized formally as saints through the process of canonization and all people who through Baptism are made holy. The word “saint” is from the Latin sanctus meaning “holy. We also remember those holy people who, while they may not be formally canonized, we emulate because of the way they lived their lives for others. This Sunday, November 2, the Feast of All Souls, is a day for remembering all of our beloved dead. As it falls on a Sunday this year, we will celebrate it at all of our masses, including with our Mass of Remembrance at 5:00 Sunday.

Week of 10/2602014

What is the “Anointing of the Sick” and who can be anointed?

The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick has been one of the seven sacraments since the earliest days of the church. It was instituted by Christ in Mark 6:13 when he sent the Twelve two by two to drive out demons and “(anoint) with oil many who were sick.”

Over time this sacrament became known as “Extreme Unction” and was thought to be given to a person when on the edge of death as part of the “last rites.” Vatican II clarified this, gave back its original name and broadened its use. However, to this day when people who do not know this see a priest walk into their hospital room with a vial of oil, they panic and assume that they are dying.

Anyone who is physically, mentally or emotionally ill, anticipating or recovering from surgery or finding old age to be burdensome is eligible for this sacrament. It is not to be treated lightly, but it is not to be limited to impending death.

Children can and should be anointed for the same reasons as adults. Once I had a young boy who “wasn’t feeling well” come forward when the people were called forth to be anointed. No one objected and I was inspired by the strong faith of this child.

There is a sacrament for impending death sometimes called “last rites” which is really the sacrament of the Eucharist. Called “viaticum,” meaning “bread for the journey,” it can be combined with an anointing and given in the form of the Body and/or Blood of Christ, depending on the condition of the dying person.

The sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is a strengthening sacrament. It strengthens the soul and spirit of the patient who is anointed on the forehead and hands with olive oil that was blessed by the Archbishop at the Chrism Mass during Lent. An anointing mass starts with a special gathering rite of reception of the sick, even on Sunday. Usually we use the readings of the day, although one could be substituted. At STB we make an effort to choose a Sunday in which the readings are appropriate for the sacrament. There are special prayers, a laying on of hands and finally the anointing before we continue with the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

Only a priest can anoint although many bishops whose dioceses have few priests and many communities administered by deacons are requesting that deacons be allowed to celebrate this sacrament. There doesn’t seem to be any change coming soon.

The Anointing of the Sick can be celebrated in a home or health care institution and at a weekday of Sunday Mass. Celebrating in the midst of the community adds a dimension of prayer that cannot be duplicated in a private anointing. As a parishioner told me years ago: “You can’t imagine how it felt to know that all of these people were praying for me.”

It is possible for viaticum to be celebrated at mass, but it almost never happens.

What is important is for there to be family and/or caregivers present when these sacraments are being celebrated.

Week 10/19/2014

The RCIA: Why do some people have to get an annulment before being initiated?

When a person comes to join the Church and is in a second marriage, one of the first things we do is determine whether s/he needs to get the first marriage annulled.

The Catholic Church recognizes marriages in other Christian Churches presided over by other Christian ministers as sacramental, even if that other faith tradition does not. Remember from earlier columns that sacraments are something God does. We freely accept the grace of the sacrament, and we should understand that our marriage relationship is sacramental and what that calls us to be. But we do not create the sacrament.

The Church wants new members to begin a new life in Christ unencumbered by the past and to be able to bless the marriage enjoyed by the new member and spouse. Therefore a process to annul the former marriage may begin.

An annulment does not mean the marriage never existed. It means that there was not a sacrament. If it was truly sacramental, we can’t undo it. We can’t unbaptized you or un-reconcile you or un-anoint you. Any sacrament received freely, un-coerced and in faith is permanent.

The annulment process is complicated and each case is different. According to news reports from the Synod of Bishops in Rome, this may be changing, becoming simpler. However, while we wait to see what changes will be made, it is important that this process be started as the earliest possible time during a person’s journey to initiation.

Week 10/12/2014

The RCIA: What is the order of the Sacraments of Initiation?

Through an accident of history we have inherited a two-track system of Initiation – one for those baptized at birth and another for those baptized after the age of discretion (7 years). The latter is covered by the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.

The Order of the Sacraments of Initiation is Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. But:

If you are baptized at birth, you would receive the sacrament of Eucharist at the age of seven (or older) and Confirmation at the age of 16 in this Archdiocese. The age of Confirmation varies from diocese to diocese. It depends on history or on the Bishop’s preference.

If you were baptized in another tradition, you receive the sacraments of Confirmation (if  needed) and Eucharist at the same time. This is a principle of Christian Initiation since the RCIA was promulgated in 1974 but rarely practiced. Our diocese endorsed it as official policy in 2011. If you are not baptized and wish to join the Church after the age of discretion, you receive the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist in the same celebration usually at the Easter Vigil.

Week 10/5/2014

The RCIA: What if my child was baptized in another Christian Church?

Christopher’s mom is a Lutheran and his dad is a Catholic. When he was born, they decided that he should be baptized in Mom’s church. However, as he grew older, they decided to send him to the excellent Catholic School in their neighborhood. Now his class is preparing for their First Eucharist. Can he join them?

Variations of this story are quite common. Usually this situation is revealed when the parents have to produce the Baptismal certificate before the child receives the sacrament. The RCIA has always been clear about what to do, but it wasn’t practiced widely in this diocese until our Archbishop and Canon Lawyer released a Clergy Bulletin in November 2011 covering how children of the age of discretion were to be received into the Church. Panic ensued.

Prior to that time Chris would have just made a Profession of Faith privately, go to 1st Eucharist and be confirmed in high school. Now he must go through the same sacramental process as an adult who enters into Full Communion: Confirmation followed by Eucharist at the same celebration. Parishes have been scrambling to understand and follow this process, and parents have been puzzled and upset by the change.

Chris will now continue to be in formation to prepare to receive First Eucharist. Meanwhile his parents would be a part of some kind of process to answer their questions and to help and affirm them in how they are raising Chris in the faith. This is not that different from what all First Eucharist parents experience.

Chris can receive First Eucharist with his class, but he needs to be confirmed in that celebration. The ritual part of sacrament of Confirmation happens after the homily and takes about two  minutes. Then he can receive First Eucharist immediately. It is important that, in the absence of the first sacrament of Initiation, Baptism, the close relationship between the next two sacraments, Confirmation and Eucharist, are maintained.

Chris would then stay in Faith Formation throughout elementary and middle school. When his peers start to prepare for Confirmation, he will go through the program with them. When they are confirmed, Chris will process forward to the Bishop with his friends and receive a special blessing.

This process recognizes some core sacramental and catechetical theology of the Church.

First, the order of the initiation sacraments is Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. They are so closely related as to be considered one sacrament. In the Eastern Orthodox Churches infants are baptized, confirmed (or chrismated as they call it) and receive Eucharist (in the form of the Blood of Christ on the tongue) in one celebration. They follow the unbroken pattern of initiation established by the early Church.

It is only through an accident of history that the order was shaken up for those who are baptized as infants. In 1910 Pope Pius X, concerned that Catholics never received Eucharist except for the first time and on their deathbed if they were lucky, made two new rules: Every Catholic must receive Communion once a year to be in communion with the Church; and, the age of First Communion would be lowered to the age of discretion or seven years. Prior to this Confirmation and First Communion were received at the age of twelve or thirteen.

This was all very good, but the pope forgot to include Confirmation with the result that the sequence of the initiation sacraments was changed. At Vatican II it was restored for those who come into the Church after the age of discretion.

Second, children who seek Baptism at the age of seven or later or who seek only Full Communion because they are validly baptized in another Christian tradition (meaning by use of a Trinitarian formula) are to be brought into the Church through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults as adapted for children.

Third, when a child comes for initiation, the whole family must be involved. Whatever the reason for not baptizing an infant or for baptizing a child in a different tradition, it is expected that if a child is initiated into the Catholic Church, the family must be prepared to support that child in his or her faith journey.

Fourth, sacraments are not human endeavors. They are graces given to us by God. They are God’s action, not ours. It is not necessary for us to know a lot of theology or to satisfy the requirements of a curriculum to receive the sacraments validly. No one ever completely understands God. God doesn’t care about that. God will give us the grace of the sacraments regardless. The Church just wants to make sure that we have the intention and the knowledge to live as Catholic Christians. Otherwise, the sacraments just get reduced to mere superstition.

Fifth, formation in our faith never ends. It doesn’t matter at what age we are initiated. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, we are on a journey of learning more about our Catholic faith and deepening our relationship with God and knowledge of Jesus’ way of life for our entire lives. We graduate when we die and enter into eternal life with this Trinity with whom we have been in relationship throughout our years on earth.

Week 9/28/2014

The RCIA: What happens when an older child comes to be baptized?

Children age seven and older are considered to be of the age of reason (obviously a generalization made by people who have never had children). Younger than seven they undergo infant baptism which assumes they understand nothing of what is going.

A child seven or older goes through the RCIA adapted for children. The formation of the child may take various forms in addition to parish or school faith formation. They should have a faith peer group.

However, the ritual process is the same: they celebrate the Rite of Acceptance, the Rite of Election  at the Cathedral with the Bishop and the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist, always together and always in that order at the Easter Vigil.

This sacramental order is normative for initiation. Children baptized as infants receive the sacraments out of order.

There are many circumstances that lead to a child asking for baptism at the age of seven or older and most of them involve the whole family. It’s possible that the family is being initiated, but, regardless, the family participates in the RCIA either as participants or in support of the child.

Week 9/21/2014

What if someone is baptized, raised in another tradition and is well-informed about religion?

Joe was baptized, confirmed and raised as a Southern Baptist. He is a faithful Baptist who has friends who are Catholics. They have some great conversations about religion, and Joe has become curious about the Catholic Church. So he calls up the Church and talks to the priest or the RCIA coordinator who invites him in for a visit. There they assess what he knows and what experiences and knowledge he needs to have in order to become a Catholic. Joe joins a group of inquirers who are exploring whether this is the place where they can encounter God in their lives.

If he decides to continue, he may enter into candidacy for full communion through a Rite of Welcome or he could be received into Full Communion at any time at mass.

Carol has been married to a Catholic for 25 years and attends Mass every week with him and their family. She has helped their children with their religion homework and sacramental prep and has even chaired the parish picnic. Usually all Carol should have to do is to meet with either the priest or RCIA coordinator, talk about any unanswered questions she may have, and she can be confirmed and be received into Full Communion at any weekend mass.

The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults states that “no greater burden than necessary is required for the establishment of communion and unity” (473) for a person born and baptized in another tradition.

Often people like Joe and Carol choose to join the RCIA group because they crave the knowledge and spiritual nourishment found in this process. It’s up to them.

People who wish to enter the Catholic Church from an Eastern Church need only to make a Profession of Faith. There is no need for Confirmation.

These practices were put into the RCIA at the request of the Committees on Ecumenism and Eastern Catholic Churches at Vatican II.

Week 9/14/2014

What if someone is baptized but doesn’t really know about God and Jesus?

We ostensibly live in a “Christian” culture, therefore rarely do people not know anything about God or Jesus. Erroneous information gets tossed around about religion, however, and it is possible that someone could be baptized and know little or nothing about Christianity, not to mention Catholicism. We call that “uncatechized.”

In the RCIA we take people where they are and walk with them as they learn of God’s love and Jesus’ teachings. Even though they know very little about the faith, we always honor their baptism. There was a day when people were routinely re-baptized when they joined the Catholic Church. That should never happen. It is an offense against Canon Law, the teachings of the Church and the sacrament of Baptism.

Whether a person is baptized as a sleeping baby or an adult in another faith tradition makes no difference. There is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and father of all” (Eph. 5:5-6a). Sacraments are actions of God, not of people, and as long as that person was baptized with the words of the Trinity (a basic tenet of Christianity), we honor God’s work.

Week 9/7/2014

What happens when an unbaptized person wants to become Catholic?

An adult or child at the age of discretion (seven) who wants to become a Catholic begins by joining the Inquiry process. This person may not have any religious background but may have a longing to know God, to learn about Jesus and may be deciding that joining the Catholic Church may fulfill this longing. Other people come who were members of a Christian faith tradition that did not baptize infants and, due to family circumstances, were never baptized at the usual age for his/her church. These people may know a lot about the Christian religion but are exploring the Catholic faith to learn if this is where they can find spiritual fulfillment.

They may have many reasons for coming to St. Thomas Becket. They may live in our parish or they may have come here and like how they felt welcomed and at home. They may be married to an STB parishioner or have their children in Catholic School or our Faith Formation Programs.

Once they decide that they want to be baptized, they are welcomed into the catechumenate in a Rite of Acceptance at Mass. Their formation continues, and on the 1st Sunday of Lent, if they are ready, we send them to the Cathedral where one of our Bishops presides over the Rite of Election. During Lent they go through more intense spiritual formation leading to Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist at the Easter Vigil.

As we get closer to celebrating these rites, we’ll learn more of what they are all about.

Week 8/31/2014

What is the Inquiry Period?

Whenever people call in and ask about becoming a Catholic, we meet with them as soon as possible to ascertain their faith background and their needs.

The Inquiry Period is very unstructured. It is a time for answering those first searching questions about the Church, what we believe, our practices as Catholic Christians and how we live out our mission. We also talk about how God enters our lives, who Jesus was and is, and how the Holy Spirit works in our lives. Mary, the saints, angels, heaven, hell, purgatory, limbo, the rosary and other devotional practices all are topics that may come up.

As we journey through this part of the RCIA, inquirers decide if they are encountering God in Catholicism and the Catholic Community of St. Thomas Becket. If so, then we celebrate the Rite of Acceptance into the Catechumenate for the unbaptized or the Rite of Welcoming into Candidacy for Full Communion for those baptized in other faith traditions at one of our masses. Their journey will then continue as they become more of a part of the parish and delve more deeply into the Catholic Christian faith.

Week 8/24/2014

How can I be a part of the RCIA team?
RCIA teams consist of parish clergy, coordinator, musician and liturgist, catechists, hospitality ministers, sponsors and the worshiping assembly. Last week we looked at the role of sponsor, and the week before at the worship assembly and how we are all members of the initiating community.
The RCIA Coordinator forms a team of people who can walk with the candidates and catechumens in their journey to initiation. She guides catechists who help instruct about scripture, liturgy, the Church year and our parish. People who have experienced Bible study or other forms of adult formation find this an easy and satisfying ministry to join.
Hospitality ministers welcome the participants, provide treats and juice and make coffee. This is a huge service and, as a bonus, allows the minister to be part of the group and be enriched in faith.
Musicians are also welcome to be a part of the group. If you think about it, much of what you know about your faith, you learned through sung prayer at mass. Having a singer or guitarist who can lead song deepens the experience of prayer and learning.
Call or email Lynn Schelitzche to volunteer.


Week 8/17/2014

What do I have to do to be an RCIA Sponsor?
Pick up the phone and call Lynn Schelitzche (651-0683-9808x21). A sponsor does not have to know a whole lot about the Church. He or she just needs to be a member of St. Thomas Becket, confirmed and in love with the faith. A sponsor needs to be a good listener and enthusiastic learner. The sponsor is in a faith-filled relationship with the candidate or catechumen. The sponsor witnesses to what it’s like to live as a Catholic Christian, answers questions (or helps to find the answer) and supports the candidate or catechumen in the journey to initiation.
Sometimes a spouse, fiancé or relative can be a sponsor, but that person needs to fill all the above criteria. Therefore a parish sponsor may find that s/he is also accompanying another person who is also on the journey with their spouse or fiancé.
A word of warning: Being a sponsor is one of the strongest addictions there is. There are people who have sponsored people in the RCIA for years. They always speak of this role as the best of their parish ministry.


Week 8/10/2014

How does the RCIA affect me, who was baptized at birth?

The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults speaks of “the Initiating Community.” This means that it is not only Father and the RCIA Team (see last week) who initiates people into the Church. The entire Church is the initiator.

If you have ever been initiated into an club or organization, think about the dynamic. The whole membership was there. There was never a question that it was only the president and other officers who initiated you. Everyone knew that they were a part of this initiation.

The same goes for the Church. The Rites of Initiation happen publicly at mass. We can’t do it at every mass, and so each year a particular assembly is chosen who will receive these people as they go through the rituals. The initiation is completed at the Easter Vigil.

Outside of the liturgy we are asked to help to welcome these catechumens and candidates into our parish life, getting to know them as they come to know us. They may participate in parish events and projects. They may join Bible Study and prayer groups. They may visit committees and commissions.

As we journey with these people, they force us to ask ourselves:

Self, all you did at your baptism was lie and wail in the arms of your mother or godmother. What is it that you have that is so wonderful that these people are willing to come before all these people and proclaim their intention to join the Church?

Week 8/3/2014

Who is on the RCIA Team?

According to the RCIA document, teams should consist of parish clergy, RCIA Coordinator, parish musician and liturgist, catechists, hospitality ministers, sponsors and the worshiping assembly. The sponsors and worshiping assembly will rate their own column in this series.

The clergy in many parishes may coordinate the RCIA, but larger parishes usually have a person on staff who is the RCIA Coordinator. At STB this is Lynn Schelitzche, Director of Faith Formation, assisted by Adam Fitzpatrick, Faith Formation Coordinator. Jackie Graham, Liturgical Ministry Coordinator, is coordinating the Inquiry Period. There are local, regional and national resources for training people for RCIA ministry, and we take full advantage of them.

The Coordinator is assisted by catechists. Just as we have catechists in our youth Faith Formation programs, we have people who teach and guide adults to initiation. A catechist doesn’t have to be a theologian, but does need to have a passion for the Church. We all learn together in this process, and it is Lynn and Adam’s job to see that catechists have the resources to do their job just as they do for our Faith Formation programs. 

Week 7/27/2014

The RCIA: Formation or Information?

The Rite of Christian Initiation is about formation and conversion, not Church factoids. The Church stands on three legs, scripture, tradition and theology, and all these are part of Christian formation. But our traditions and theology are based on scripture, and so scripture is the core curriculum (if you want to use that language) of the RCIA. The Sunday readings provide the centerpiece of the sessions, which are not “classes,” by the way.

The goal of formation into the faith is to know Jesus and come to a point where each person can take on the cross of Christ and live it out in his or her life. This will happen differently and on a different timeline for each person who is learning how God is working in him or her. There is no mold into which people are forced. Each person must also determine that this faith tradition and this faith community is a place where he/she can find God and be nourished in faith.

All this happens through the sharing of stories and scripture by everyone, the inquirers, the catechumens, the candidates for full communion, the sponsors and the catechists.

Week 7/20/2014

The RCIA: Program or Process?

Simple answer: The Rite of Christian Initiation is a collection of rituals leading to initiation. These rituals presume a process. We never use the word “program” to describe the RCIA. A program has a beginning and an end. However, you’ll hear many catechists use that term because we are a program-oriented culture. Almost everything else that we do has a beginning (i.e. the beginning of the school term) and an end (i.e. graduation). However, the RCIA does not have a discernible beginning. We have no idea when the Holy Spirit began its work with this person. Sometimes upon later reflection we can occasionally say “Yes, this is where it began.” It is a rare and beautiful thing when this happens.

The RCIA does not have an end. Everyone’s formation in the faith is on-going. No one ever graduates until they die and come face to face with God. We are forever in a state of conversion, learning and growing until God decides that it is our time.

Week 7/13/2014

Why is the RCIA important to the Church?

The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, whether used in its original form for people preparing for baptism, adapted for adults who have been baptized in another tradition or adapted for children has the potential to transform the Church. First, the RCIA is public as are all sacraments. There is no such thing as private sacraments. Remember they are outward signs, as in public, open signs. Second, it is the parish faithful who are present in the assembly who initiate – quite the responsibility. Third, as we initiate these people and observe them witnessing publicly to their faith, we who received the sacraments as children and who never had to exert ourselves, never had to make ourselves vulnerable before a church full of people, are forced to consider that we must have a great and precious gift in this faith tradition of ours that someone would willingly undergo those public rites to be blessed with what we have. In this way these inquirers, these catechumens, these candidates for full communion, these Elect are ministering to us and transforming us as individuals and as Church.

Week 7/6/2014

Who is the RCIA for?

The Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults was originally called the “Restoration of the Catechumenate.” That meant that it was only for unbaptized people who were interested in becoming a Catholic Christian. However, the principles of adult learning were so sound and the ritual experiences were so grace-filled, that bishops in many different countries began to call for adaptations for people who were baptized. The reality in many so-called “Christian” countries like the U.S. was that most of the people coming into the church were already baptized even if they had received no Christian formation or upbringing. The Church answered, and now the RCIA in its original form is for people who are unbaptized (catechumens) and baptized but uncatechized (candidates for full communion). It has been adapted for people baptized and formed in other traditions and for people who have been baptized and formed in another tradition but have been attending mass with a spouse for a long time (candidates for full communion). Children of the age of discretion (7 and above), both unbaptized and baptized in another tradition experience an adaptation of the RCIA for children. We’ll go into detail about all of these situations in this series.

Week 6/29/2014

What is the RCIA?

“RCIA” stands for Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. It is the only way to come into the Catholic Church for anyone who was not initiated through infant baptism.

At the Second Vatican Council the bishops of Africa requested that the catechumenate be restored for those who wished to be baptized in their countries. For the first 300 years in the history of the Church those who wished to join the church underwent this process. As the Church was legalized and ultimately became part of the “power system,” this process faded away. The Council restored the catechumenate, and the RCIA document was finally translated into English in 1974.

However, not just the African Church, but the whole world discovered the graces of this process and adopted it enthusiastically.

The problem was that the RCIA was only intended for those who were unbaptized and needed all of the initiation sacraments. In the U.S., for instance, most of the people coming into the Church were already baptized – converts, as we used to call them. So adaptations began to be made and by 1988 the U.S. received the Rite with the adaptations that our experiments had developed.

Week 6/22/14

What is the correct way to receive Communion?

The first clue is the phrase “receive Communion.” We do not “take” Communion. Communion is given to us. We teach our young people to “make a throne” for Jesus by putting one hand under the other. Then we remove the host with the hand on the bottom to place in our mouth. There is no right or wrong hand. It is most natural to eat using your dominant hand. Some people receive communion on the tongue because they cannot use their hands or because they feel it’s more reverent. It’s not, and it’s less sanitary for the minister and for those who come behind them. Our bodies, including our hands, are holy and worthy. Of course, people who are holding children or only have the use of one hand may “take” the host from the minister.

Before receiving the host or drinking from the cup, the we reverently bow our heads and respond with an “Amen” as a sign that we believe the announcement “The Body/Blood of Christ.” A full body bow is not appropriate here because it disrupts the flow of the Communion Procession. It is to be hoped that all have bowed with the presider as the bread and wine were consecrated.

Week 6/15/14

Why do we hold our hands out when we pray?

This most ancient posture of prayer is called the orans position. It is another way that we pray with our bodies. Holding out our arms at waist level signifies that we are open and vulnerable before the Lord, willing to accept whatever answer to our prayer that God gives us. The presider at mass uses this position for all of his prayers. We also can use the orans position in all of our prayers at mass, but the one time that the Church specifically calls on us to use it is at the Lord’s Prayer. In many parishes, ours included, we take the orans position one step forward by holding each other’s hands at this time signifying our unity in praying this one prayer that Jesus purposefully gave to us. However, people on the end know to hold their free arm in the orans position as a fitting gesture of prayer.

Week of 6/8/14

What is the role of the Holy Spirit in the Liturgy?

At the Feast of Pentecost we celebrate not only the historic event of the Holy Spirit entering into the disciples, thereby giving them the gifts they needed to spread the Good News of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, empowering them to build up the Christian Church. We also celebrate the presence of the Holy Spirit in our world-wide Church, our faith community and in ourselves.

In the gospel of John Jesus, recognizing that his time with the apostles was limited, promised to send them his Spirit and this Spirit has been present with us ever since and is probably responsible for the survival of our Church.

Every time we celebrate any liturgy the Spirit is present. It is the Spirit that gets us here so that we can gather. It is the Spirit that enters our hearts so that we raise our voices in song to our God. It is the Spirit that inspires our lectors, deacons and presiders to proclaim God’s Word. It is the Spirit that brings wisdom to our preachers so that they, like the apostles, can spread the Good News. It is through the power of the Holy Spirit, whom we call upon in the Eucharistic Prayer, that the bread and wine becomes the Body and Blood of Christ to be broken, shared and consumed. Finally it is the Spirit who goes forth with us, refreshed, renewed and nourished to do God’s work in the world. 

Week of 6/1/14

What’s the difference between the Priesthood of Believers and Priests like Fr. Tim and Fr. Mike?

This is a good weekend to think about this because we are celebrating 40 years of priesthood with Fr. Tim.

Fr. Tim, like all of us, was baptized into the priesthood of believers. We are all baptized priests, prophets and kings. Being baptized a priest means that we commit ourselves (or our parents committed us) to celebrating our faith in praise and thanksgiving of God at the Eucharistic liturgy on the Lord’s Day of each week. We participate in the worshiping assembly by gathering together, listening to God’s Word and responding by becoming one with Christ and each other in the Eucharist. This involves using our entire body in postures, singing and mindfulness or as Vatican II put it, full, conscious and active participation.

When Fr. Tim was ordained, he carried that baptismal priesthood a step further by entering the presbyterate. Another name for an ordained priest is presbyter. It literally means “elder” (as in presbyopia, “old” eyes). When the Church was first established, the apostles ordained bishops who then ordained deacons to help with the social ministry of the church. As the church grew in the 2nd century, elders (presbyters) were ordained by bishops to care for worshiping communities. 

Week of 5/25/14

When do we bow during the liturgy?

As Catholics and sacramental people, we pray with our entire selves when we gather for liturgy. That’s the “outward sign” part of the definition of sacrament. One of the body movements we use is the bow, and we have two kinds.

The full body bow is used three times:

 - When we enter and leave our pew before and after mass, we bow to the altar which is the symbol of Christ. You will also see ministers, such as the presider, lectors and cantors, bow when approaching or passing the altar,

- During the Creed when we profess the Incarnation, the birth of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit, an important part of our salvation story, because without it our Church wouldn’t exist, and

- When the presider genuflects or bows after the words of Consecration during the Eucharistic Prayer, recognizing that what was presented to this assembly as bread and wine, is now, through the prayers of this community and the power of the Holy Spirit, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

 A head bow is used when we receive this same Body and Blood of Christ at communion. It is devotional gesture instituted by our bishops almost 15 years ago to counter the practice of genuflecting or kneeling for communion which disrupted the unity and movement of the Communion Procession and often caused a hazard.

Week of 5/18/14

Why is “The Word/Gospel of the Lord” and “The Body/Blood of Christ” said at the readings and communion?

The formula for ministering Eucharist has always been “The Body/Blood of Christ.” The Bishops changed the formula for the Word in the early ‘90’s, cutting the “This is” from the announcement after the readings. Besides being the true translation from the Latin, they wanted the spoken formulas for Word and Eucharist to be the same because Jesus is present in both. These formulas were very intentionally formed, but we still occasionally hear people say “This is the Body of Christ” or “Receive the Blood of Christ” or something else they have made up (or heard) to enhance the experience.

“The Word of the Lord” and “The Body of Christ” are announcements. Adding “This is” makes it information. Adding a “Receive the” is an invitation. These additions limit the Word and the Eucharist to the object in front of you – book or host.

The Word proclaimed in the liturgy comes alive in the person proclaiming it and in the assembly receiving it. Its Presence is announced.

In announcing the Body or Blood of Christ to a communicant, the minister is saying “The Body/Blood of Christ is present in this host, this cup, in you and me and this assembly.” Its Presence is announced.

Week of 5/11/14

What is the place of Mary in the Liturgy?

During May, this is a question that comes up often. The Sunday Eucharist is centered on Jesus Christ and the Paschal Mystery. On the Fourth Sunday of Advent the gospels feature Mary in the stories about her pregnancy, and, of course, the Nativity readings of Christmas include Mary’s role. It’s hard to talk about birth without including the mother. Mary is mentioned only once during Ordinary Time until the Passion which she witnessed. At that point it is implied that she is a disciple of Jesus. In the Eucharistic Prayer Mary is mentioned among the Communion of Saints.

In a patriarchal society such as Judaism and Christianity that grew from Judaism, women were not of great importance. There are some theories about how Mary became important to Christians. One of the most interesting is that as Gentiles converted to Christianity they had a hard time abandoning their goddesses who made both their fields and women fertile. The early Church thus encouraged devotion to Mary to replace this need for a female deity.

Devotion to Mary in the Church is strong, but it is more personal than in our liturgy where we keep “our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.” (Heb. 12:2)

Week of 5/4/14

Why is the Baptismal Font at the entrance to our Church?

Catholic Churches today are designed to reflect our sacramental theology. Being a sacramental church means that, instead of merely sitting and listening to Scripture, a lengthy sermon and musicians, we enter into our worship holistically, body and spirit.

Catholic Churches are designed so that we can move on a journey from the font of our Baptism to the Altar which is the culmination of our Baptism. This is the journey of our faith lives. This is the journey of our processions which organize at the door and the font and travel to the altar before ministers settle into their places. As we make our final journey into the arms of our Lord, our remains rest at the font where we are blessed with the waters of baptism and clothed with the pall, the white garment of baptism (if our body is present). Then our remains are taken to the altar where they are placed by the Paschal Candle, the light of Christ present at our baptism, and our funeral is celebrated.

 All that we are as a Church starts with baptism including the building in which our Church is housed.

Week of 4/27/14

Why do we celebrate First Eucharist at Mass?

  Beginning this Easter season our young people will receive the Lord for the first time in the sacrament of Eucharist at Sunday masses. There will be four Sunday masses during Easter at which a group of children will receive First Holy Communion.

The Sacrament of the Eucharist is the culmination of the Sacrament of Initiation. That is why we refer to people coming into the Full Communion of the Roman Catholic Church. (Confirmation of people baptized in infancy is delayed due to a historic anomaly. But that’s another column.)

Anyone who has ever been initiated into an organization knows that the membership is always present. There are no private initiations or initiations with just the families and officers present.

The same is true of the Church. When people are initiated into the Church, the Church is present to welcome them. Initiation is the responsibility of every member of our Church. It is our responsibility to grow our Church, to evangelize people and to joyfully welcome them into Full Communion, just as it is the responsibility of the family to welcome the new baby or the new daughter- or son-in-law into their family with joy (and usually a meal).

Week of 4/20/14

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!! 

Today, Easter Sunday, is the final day of the Triduum, the Three Days which are the centerpiece, the heart and soul, of our liturgical year and our liturgical life.

Easter Sunday is the First and Eighth Day of the week. It is the eighth day of creation, the beginning of life itself when all was completed and God had rested. It is the first day of the Resurrection, the beginning of our eternal life in Christ.  When the rest of the world will have forgotten about Easter, we will still be celebrating, for our Easter season lasts for seven weeks of Alleluias!, seven weeks of Easter flowers, seven weeks of Post-Resurrection stories, finally culminating with the Feast of Pentecost which this year is on June 8th. Add to the fact that each Sunday of the year is called a Little Easter because we celebrate the Paschal Mystery, the dying and rising of Christ, at every Mass, and it’s easy to see that we are an Easter People, a People of the Resurrection. 

Week of 4/6/14

Bring Your Lenten Journey to a Fruitful Conclusion by Al Hanzal

Our emphasis for Lent 2014 has been on relationships with others in our communities. We each have relationships within our families, our friends, our neighborhoods, our work places that are strained or broken and need healing. Throughout Lent we have been invited to reconcile those relationships and have listened to the witness of others. We have added our stories to our parish community chain. One way to bring your Lenten journey to a fruitful conclusion is to attend the Reconciliation Service on Thursday, April 10, 7:00 p.m.  In this celebration you will have the opportunity to reflect on your life and the relationships that need healing and forgiveness. If you choose, you can also take advantage of the opportunity to go to confession. If you cannot attend this Reconciliation Service, we invite you to spend a few quiet moments reflecting on your need for healing the broken relationships in your life.  Here are some questions that can help you with that process: 

  • What is getting in the way of healing a relationship with a loved one in my family?
  • Where do I need help with letting go of things that strain my relationships?
  • With whom do I need to ask forgiveness?

Week of 3/30/14

What does a Reconciliation Service look like today?

At Vatican II the bishops designed three forms of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Form 1 was the traditional one-on-one confession. Form 3 was a reconciliation service with general absolution in which the whole assembly was absolved. Anyone in serious sin was required to go to private confession. Form 2 is a hybrid, a compromise.After a service of the word people go to private confession and return for prayers and a blessing.

However, the reality is that most people aren’t going to stay in church once they have received the sacrament, so when it’s time for the blessing, no one is there.

About six years ago churches in our Archdiocese were told that they could no longer use Form 3, and so they have been trying different formats with varying degrees of success. At STB we have designed a complete service followed by confessors available to hear the confessions of those who wish it. The readings, songs and examination of conscience are chosen to assist us in examining our relationship with our families, our community and God. Our next reconciliation service is on Thursday, April 10. Watch this space for more information to come. 

Week of 3/23/14

What is the “Stations of the Cross?” The Stations of the Cross, aka “The Way of the Cross,” is a devotional prayer by which people walk individually or as a group, following the journey of Jesus to the cross, stopping at 14 points along the way that are represented by crosses, statuary or pictures on the walls of churches. There are different published versions of the stations. One version begins with Jesus being condemned to death at the first station and ending with his entombment. While this version is traditional (and has been portrayed in movies), it is not entirely scriptural. For instance, nowhere in any of the gospels did Jesus fall three times or have his face wiped by a woman named Veronica. He met and spoke to the women of Jerusalem in Luke’s gospel, but never his mother. Pope John Paul II changed the format of the stations beginning with the Agony in the Garden of Olives at the 1st station and continuing with only scriptural scenes. He added a fifteenth station, the Resurrection. Even some of the older versions have followed the Pope’s lead by adding this station.

Week of 3/16/14

 What are the Scrutinies and Who is the Elect?

Last Sunday, the First Sunday of Lent, we sent Neal Reykdal, our catechumen who is preparing to be baptized, confirmed and receive communion at the Easter Vigil, to the Cathedral where he was presented to Bishop Cozzens during the Rite of Election. At this time he became a member of the Elect. Accompanying him were the people who are already baptized and preparing to come into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. They were welcomed and encouraged by the bishop.

For the next three Sundays we will celebrate the Scrutinies with Neal at the 11:00 mass. These rituals are based on the Gospels of these Sundays: The Woman at the Well, the Man Born Blind, and the Raising of Lazarus, gospels which are read every year, and have been since the earliest days of the Church, on these Sundays when the Elect are present.

The Scrutinies “are celebrated in order to deliver the elect from the power of sin and Satan, to protect them against temptation and to give them strength in Christ.” (RCIA, 141) They complete the conversion of the Elect as they approach Easter.

Week of 3/9/14

What is the Penitential Rite for Candidates for Full Communion?

During Lent there is a special rite for the people who are preparing for the Easter sacraments each Sunday because that is what Lent is about – the preparation of people who will be baptized, and for us and those people who will come into Full Communion, reflection on the gift of our own baptism and the responsibilities we bear by virtue of being baptized. At STB this year we will celebrate these rites at the 11:00 mass. On the First Sunday we celebrate the Rite of Sending of Catechumens (and Candidates) to the Rite of Election. On the Third, Fourth and Fifth Sunday we will celebrate the Scrutinies for the Catechumens. On the Second Sunday we celebrate an adaptation of the Scrutinies with Candidates for Full Communion called a Penitential Rite. It’s not quite as intense as the Scrutinies, but it recognizes that the Candidates are gaining a mature understanding of their faith. It give us an opportunity to pray over these Candidates as they journey through Lent to Full Communion.

Week of 3/2/14

What is the Rite of Sending all about?

Next weekend worshipers at the 11:00 Mass will participate in a Rite of Sending for our catechumen. Together with the candidates for Full Communion we will send him to the Cathedral for the Rite of Election. Our candidates will celebrate the Rite of Continuing Conversion.

In the U.S. we have combined RCIA Rites in recognition of the fact that we have a lot of people baptized in other traditions coming into the Church along with unbaptized people. In this Archdiocese we have two celebrations – at the Cathedral and at the Basilica – because of our huge numbers. STB catechumens and candidates go to the Cathedral.

At the Rite of Sending our catechumen will sign the Book of the Elect, and he and the Book will be presented to Bishop Piché at the Rite of Election. This rite celebrates that he has been chosen by God and now enters into an intense period of preparation during Lent.

Baptized people are already chosen, therefore do not sign the book or participate in the Rite of Election. They will be recognized and encouraged by the Bishop at this celebration on the First Sunday of Lent.

Week of 2/23/14

Why do we use nametags?

 When people join our parish, they often mention how they felt welcomed when they first came to check us out. They particularly like that there is someone at the door to ask their name and write it on a nametag. In the Christian tradition our Name is very important. The first question parents are asked when they bring their child for Baptism is “What Name do you give to your child?” When people enter the church through Baptism or Full Communion, their sponsor announces their Name to the Church at the Rite of Acceptance and Welcoming. When a person is baptized, that name is always used: “Name, I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” There is even a ritual for the giving of a Christian Name in areas where people may have what the Church considers a pagan name. However, our concept of Christian names is getting broader, so we don’t know how often that rite is used.

In our parish we carry that Name into the Sacrament of Eucharist, the fulfillment of our Baptism, by naming each person as they receive communion, if we can. (We usually need to see a nametag.)

Week of 2/16/14

Why doesn’t STB have ushers?

Somewhere in our history, the decision was made not to establish  an ushers ministry, and up until now the ministry of ushers has been limited to those times when we have huge crowds, like Christmas and Easter. The Worship Commission wants to expand this ministry to every weekend mass and to funerals. Hospitality is the hallmark of the Catholic Church. Our model of evangelization is Jesus’ example of welcoming all who come. Greeters are the source of first contact with those who enter our church. Ushers welcome people into the worshiping assembly by assisting them in every possible way. This will mean helping them to find a seat if necessary, taking up the collection, organizing the gifts procession, ushering the communion procession for a smooth flow, handling any emergencies that may come up, offering bulletins and straightening the church afterwards. Mass Coordinators presently have to recruit people for these responsibilities or do them themselves. Ushers will relieve the coordinators of these tasks during that “before mass” rush to get things done. Families and individuals of all ages and genders are welcome to this ministry.

Week of 2/9/14

Why do we stand during the Eucharistic Prayer?

 The universal posture for praying the Eucharistic Prayer is standing. The General Instruction on the Roman Missal(2002), which is largely concerned with unity of posture, states that the people should stand… “before the Prayer over the Offerings until the end of Mass.”(43)

For the United States it allows for kneeling during the Eucharistic prayer. However, it gives reasons not to kneel ending with “another reasonable cause.” Not having kneelers is “another reasonable cause.”

The reasons that standing during the Eucharistic Prayer is universal in the Roman Church are

1) This is a prayer of praise. The posture of praise is standing. Kneeling is a posture of penance and supplication;

2) This is the prayer of the community which is spoken by the priest in our name. We are actively involved in the praying of this prayer by internalizing his words and by singing the acclamations. Kneeling, like sitting, is passive.

3) Liturgy is a communal activity. Standing promotes public prayer, kneeling promotes private prayer which happens only rarely and briefly in our public liturgy. When this church was designed, these were the values in play that drove the decision about kneelers. 

Week of 2/2/14

Why all the sitting and standing (and kneeling) in the Catholic Church?

The different postures we use are indications that we are a Sacramental church, not exclusively a Word church. In a sacramental church we pray with our entire body. We believe that we are the Body of Christ, and we pray both as the one Body gathered and with our physical bodies. Standing has been the posture for addressing God for 6000 years, therefore we stand for spoken and sung prayer. When the presider prays, we stand because he is praying in our name.

Sitting is the posture of listening and reflecting. Therefore we sit during those times when we listen to the Word of God (except for the Gospel) and those times for reflection such as the Preparation of the Gifts and after Communion. We stand for the Gospel, the proclamation of which is the living presence of Christ and is the high point of the Liturgy of the Word.

Kneeling is a posture of private prayer, devotion and penitence. STB does not have kneelers and so we kneel primarily during the penitential rite in Lent.

Next week: The posture of the Eucharistic Prayer.

Week of 1/26/14

What does the assembly mean when we say: “May the Lord accept the sacrifice of your hands for the praise and glory of his (God’s) name, for our good and the good of all his (the or God’s) holy Church.” 

This is part of a dialogue with the presider before the Eucharistic Prayer. He has just asked us to “Pray, brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.” Strictly speaking we are not praying at this time, hence, no Amen. We are addressing the presider and commissioning him to pray the prayer of consecration (the Eucharistic Prayer) in our name as we pray it along with him silently. (See above, “my sacrifice and yours.”) The presider’s request is a true act of humility, for our Church holds that the presider represents Christ and “carries out what the Lord himself did and handed over to his disciples to be done in his memory.”(GIRM, 72) In this dialogue we recognize that the presider needs us as much as we need him. It is one of the ways we live out that priestly ministry part of our baptismal job description.


Week of 1/19/14

How is the Prayer of the Faithful written?

At STB the liturgist writes the Prayer of the Faithful. Early in the week, I read and reflect on the readings and commentary and write the first draft melding the concerns of our faith community with the message of the scripture. As the week goes by, changes are made depending on events and local concerns, such as illness or death of parishioners. There are resources available for writing the prayers that may be consulted for ideas or wording, but these prayers need to express our concerns.

There is an order to be followed: prayers for the Church, the nation, the parish, the community, the sick and the dead. We add an intercession for the prayers in our Prayer Basket. There is an introduction which connects the prayers to the readings we have heard and a Collect at the end which gathers all of our prayers into one.

There are multiple names for the Prayer of the Faithful. They have been called petitions and intercessions. The New Roman Missal now refers to them as the Prayers of the Faithful, the Universal Prayer or the Bidding Prayers. The last two are new terms.

Week of 1/12/14

How are the readings chosen for Mass?

 Anyone old enough to remember what it was to be Catholic before Vatican II knows how biblically illiterate we were then. The Bishops of Vatican II wanted to expand our knowledge of the Old Testament and the gospels so they instituted a three-year cycle of Sunday readings and a two-year cycle of weekday readings.


There are two readings at daily Mass. During the Ordinary Time weeks we go through the gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke sequentially, the same ones every year. In Year I the first reading is from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), and in Year II the first reading is from the Epistles.


On Sundays the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke were designated Cycle A, B, & C respectively. They are called “synoptic” because they are similar in their viewpoint. This is the year of Matthew, Year A, and we get that by dividing 2014 by 3. During Ordinary Time we will read sequentially from the gospel of Matthew. During the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter many of the gospels will be from Matthew, but there will also be gospels from the other evangelists.

The gospel of John is read on some Sundays in Advent, Lent and Easter, and there is a series of John gospels in the summer of Year B because Mark wrote a very short gospel – no infancy or post-resurrection narrative. Mark’s was the first gospel written down (that was ultimately accepted in the canon of the Church). The gospels of Matthew and Luke were written 50 – 60 years after Jesus’ death. They added the infancy and post-resurrection stories even later. As a result during Year B, when we are going to run out of Mark, we hear the marvelous Last Discourse of Jesus with its beautiful eucharistic “Bread of Life” theology.

The gospel of John was the last written, 60 – 70 years after the death of Jesus. It is considered to be more of a reflection on the life and teachings of Jesus than a historical narrative.


The synoptic gospels are organized sequentially during Ordinary Time. We hear about the public life of Jesus, his teachings and miracles. The first reading from the Hebrew scriptures were chosen to reflect the events of the gospel. In this way the Church emphasizes that Jesus came to fulfill the events and prophecies of Old Testament times. As a result we get a lot of “out-of-context” stories in our first readings making it incumbent upon us to do our own Bible reading so that we can better understand what we hear at mass.

The second readings from the Epistles during Ordinary Time are sequential so that we get most of an epistle over a few weeks and they hardly ever have anything to do with their accompanying gospel. The epistles were letters written to individuals or communities. Some may have been sermons later put into letter form. While they are sequential, the Bishops did skip some sections that were either repeated in other letters or were not appropriate for liturgical use.


During the seasons of Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter the organization of the lectionary is less about sequence and more about the readings which support the focus of the seasons.


So this Advent at the beginning of Year A, while we consistently heard from the gospel of Matthew, during Year B, we may hear some Mark, but also some John and some Luke when it gets close to Christmas and the events leading up to Jesus’ birth. It was more important to the Bishops to express the graces of the season than to stick with the evangelist of the year.

Likewise the first readings support the gospel as usual, but so do the second readings. So now we skip around the Epistles in order to lead logically into the Gospel.

The Christmas gospels are chosen to reflect the historical events of the feast day. Every Sunday of the Christmas season is a special feast day: Holy Family Sunday, Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord.


During Lent again a gospel was chosen that reflects the theme of that Sunday in the season. The first Sunday is always about Jesus in the desert found in all of the synoptic gospels, so no problem. The second Sunday is always about the transfiguration of Jesus again found in all the synoptics, so no problem. The next three Sundays take different paths to the crucifixion so there are a variety of sources.

This year A, however, is the year that we get to hear at all of our masses the three stories found in John which have been used from the beginning of the Church whenever there are catechumens present. They are the stories of the woman at the well, the man born blind and the raising of Lazarus. Every other year there are other gospels on these three Sundays, but when we have catechumens present we always hear these three gospels from Year A before we celebrate the Scrutinies with them.

On Palm Sunday we will hear the Passion of Matthew in this Year A and the Passions of Mark and Luke in Years B and C.



During Easter we hear some Lucan gospels, but John dominates the season. On the Feast of the Ascension in Year B (which we now celebrate on the 7th Sunday of Easter) we hear the story from Mark. However, this part of that gospel was added a century or more after Mark wrote his gospel probably because one of his disciples thought that there should be something about the resurrection in the Gospel of Mark.

 Week of 1/5/14

Where did the Nativity Scene come from? 

The Nativity Scene was originated by St. Francis of Assisi in 1223. He placed a scene from the nativity stories of Matthew and Luke in a cave in Greccio, Italy, to counter the emphasis on materialism and gift giving at Christmas. Sound familiar? The Nativity scenes that we have today are an amalgamation of the two stories of Jesus’ birth, Luke and Matthew, plus some additions which are not a part of either story. For instance, the shepherds and the Wise Men never appear together. The shepherds are in Luke’s story and the Wise Men are in Matthew’s story and may have visited Jesus’ family up to two years later. Also there are no mentions of animals in either story.

The Nativity Scene in a church should be accessible, but never compete with the Altar or Ambo. Like all decorations in the church it sets an atmosphere of prayer, but is never at the center of liturgical action. In our church the Wise Men are journeying to the place of Christ’s birth. On Christmas Eve and Day they can be found near the Baptismal Font. They move to the altar platform for Holy Family Sunday and reach their destination on the Feast of the Epiphany which celebrates the finding of the Christ Child by the Magi and, by extension, the fact that Jesus came to save all nations and peoples.

Week of 12/29/13

Why do we use so much ritual language?

 We use ritual language every day in our lives. “Hello, how are you?” “I’m fine, how are you?” In asking that question, no one really expects you to go through a litany of body aches or heartaches. They know what response to expect and you don’t have to expend mental energy thinking about it.

The ritual language of the Church, i.e. “The Lord be with you,” “And with your Spirit;” “Forever and ever,” “Amen,” allows us to respond in the liturgy in a prayerful way without stumbling around for the right words. It unifies us and identifies us as members of a Body initiated into a communion of faith. From an ecclesiastical viewpoint it keeps us from possibly heretical declarations that we may make out of ignorance.

Part of the reason that the current translation of our responses has been so difficult is that we had to get our tongues around unfamiliar verbiage that seemed to violate the “ritual contract” that we had experienced for 40 years. As it becomes easier, it becomes “ours” again.

Week of 12/22/13

Why do Catholics sign themselves with the Cross so often?

The Cross, which originated as a symbol of the shame of execution, has become a sign of Christ’s victory over sin and death. From the earliest days of the Church Christians have identified themselves by the cross, first as a secret sign, then, when the church was legalized, as a public declaration. We are marked with a cross at baptism just as slaves were marked by the sign of their owner. We relive this event when we use baptismal water to sign ourselves as we enter the Church. Moreover, we begin and end all of our community prayers by signing ourselves with the cross, a gesture which shows that we belong to Christ. It is not a good luck sign, basketball free throws notwithstanding. Perhaps it helps a player under pressure to focus, but it’s not magic.

Week of 12/15/13

Why do we have two lectors at Saturday evening and Sunday morning Masses?

There are practical and liturgical reasons to begin this practice. The practical: currently there are 12 - 14 lectors at these Masses. This is not unusual for a parish of our size. These people are gifted and should be able to share their gift more than once every three months. The liturgical: the General Instruction on the Roman Missal (109) says that “if there are several readings, it is well to distribute them among a number of readers.” The first and second readings are very different literary forms. The first readings from Hebrew testament, the Acts of the Apostles or occasionally Revelation may be stories, biography, allegory or history. The second readings are letters or sermons in letter form. Their tone and style is different and require different voices to emphasize this. Most churches try to have two lectors at Sunday masses, and some churches increase them to three or four for the Prayer of the Faithful and announcements. The ministry of lector is open to anyone who has heard God’s call to proclaim the Word to the people of St. Thomas Becket.

Week of 12/8/13

Why aren’t we celebrating the Feast of the Immaculate Conception this year?

In any other year today would be our celebration of Mary being conceived without original sin. However, this year December 8th is the Second Sunday of Advent. Hard and fast rule: No other feast can supersede a Sunday in Advent, Lent or Easter (in the Christmas season every Sunday is already a feast). This year the Feast of the Immaculate Conception was transferred to Monday but not the obligation to attend Mass.

Last year December 8th was on a Saturday. With the exception of Christmas Day, holy day falling on Saturday or Monday is not a holy day of obligation. This rule was instituted about 20 years ago to provide relief for priests and pastoral associates who have to work on these days in addition to their responsibilities on the weekend. The Feast of the Immaculate Conception, however, is the patronal feast of the United States. Therefore, U.S. bishops have declared that even though December 8 may fall on a Saturday or a Monday it is still a holiday of obligation.  

Week of 12/1/13

Why are we beginning our Advent masses in silence? Silence is an important part of all of our liturgies. However, during the season of Advent we are adding a period of silence, of stillness, to the beginning of our Masses to counter the hurried, noisy, frantic environment that we experience in our culture during the season of secular Christmas. An explanation: the Christmas of our secular culture is not the Christmas of our faith tradition. The Christmas of our faith tradition begins on December 25th and lasts for 12 days until the Feast of the Epiphany. We keep some songs and decorations until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord which is a transition day between Christmas and Ordinary Time. As we all know, our secular culture started Christmas in October and will end on December 26th. Rarely do we get to hear Christmas carols in the stores and in the media after Christmas Day. It’s different in the Catholic Church where Christmas decorations and carols don’t appear until sundown on the Eve of Christmas because we are preparing for the coming of Christ historically and at the end times during Advent and recognizing Christ’s presence among us now.

Week of 11/17/13

Why do Catholics have so many processions?

A procession at Mass does not get people from point A to point B. It’s meaning depends upon its place in the liturgy, which liturgy it is associated with or the time of year it happens. The procession at the beginning of Mass is a sign that the ministers come from the baptized assembly, that before they became servers, lectors, deacons or priests, they were baptized. The gifts procession tells us that the bread and wine, work of human hands, come from us. The communion procession shows our unity. We walk toward the one altar together to receive the Body and Blood of Christ making us one in Christ. The recessional is a rejoining with community of the ministers. Throughout the year there are variations.

During the season of Advent we will begin with the procession of the Advent candle(s) at the beginning. Each Sunday we will add a candle to that procession as a way of marking time until we celebrate the birth of Christ. This will be done in silence as we each open our hearts to receive the Lord.

During the season of Lent we fast from processions at the beginning of mass in order to emphasize and fully experience the Palm Sunday Procession, the Procession of the Paschal Candle at the Easter Vigil and the festive processions of the Easter Season. Anyone who has had to fast for a medical procedure knows how good that first meal tastes afterward. It is the same for that first procession after five long weeks of Lent.

The Procession of Palms is a reenactment and a way of remembering Jesus’ triumphal entrance to Jerusalem. It is almost immediately juxtaposed with the total rejection of Jesus as we hear and experience the Passion of Christ. This is an emotional reminder of how fickle humans are and what devastating effect our sinfulness has on others.

The Procession of the Paschal Candle at the Easter vigil spreads the light of the Paschal Fire throughout the Body of Christ and represents the enlightenment that Christ brings to his Church.


Another procession that is very meaningful is the procession of the Inquirers into the Church after they declare their desire to be initiated through the sacraments of Baptism and/or Confirmation and Eucharist at the celebration of the Rite of Acceptance and Welcoming. We will experience this on the Feast of Christ the King, Sunday, November 24, at the 9:00 Mass. They were outside, now they are among us, surrounded by a group of Catholics who will support them in their journey, pray for them and show them Christ’s unconditional love. 

Week of 11/10/13

How does the music get picked for Mass?

 St. Augustine famously said “Those who sing pray twice.” Therefore, like all decisions made in preparing the liturgy, the judicious selection of music is very important and time-consuming. In the Catholic Church the Director of Music picks the music. In many Protestant Churches the pastor picks the music. They take it seriously also. The songs, hymns and acclamations we sing are prayer, and our prayer forms our beliefs. The music director must study the scripture readings and be careful that what we sing reflects our Catholic beliefs and serves the prayer of the people in the liturgy.

It has been said that Mass is not to be said, it is to be sung. The new Roman Missal encourages that all of the Mass be sung and has music settings for the Presider to use for most of the prayers, including the Eucharistic Prayer, dialogues, blessing and dismissal, but that usually doesn’t happen in most parishes.

Hymns, just like our spoken prayers, are determined by the scripture readings for the day. Sometimes the text is scriptural, and sometimes the song is based on the scripture message. It has been said that Catholics, who historically have been scripturally ignorant for various reasons (a topic for a future column) have, since Vatican II, been formed in the Bible by our liturgical singing.

There is a hierarchy of singing in the liturgy, meaning that, at Sunday Mass, the Church demands that certain parts be sung. The most important parts to be sung are the Gospel Acclamation and the Eucharistic Acclamations. The Gospel Acclamation heralds the Gospel, the high point of the Liturgy of the Word in which God speaks to us through his Son Jesus Christ. The Eucharistic Acclamations, the Holy, Holy, the Memorial Acclamation and the Great Amen are the main ways that we physically participate in the Eucharistic Prayer which is the center of our celebration. If there is any other music or singing in the liturgy, these acclamations must be sung. Nothing can overshadow them.

Most parishes use seasonal acclamations because they are so important that the people should know them by heart. Music Directors are careful to choose familiar acclamations, or they will spend a lot of time introducing the people to a new Mass setting so that when the time comes to sing it during the liturgy the people can enter into the music with their whole hearts in praise of God.

The next music in the hierarchy is the psalm, which is not chosen by the musician. The psalm is an integral part of the Liturgy of the Word, is assigned to us in the Lectionary and was chosen by the bishops to reflect upon the first reading, which was chosen to foreshadow the Gospel. It is the music director’s job to choose a setting which will help the people to internalize the message of the psalm and respond in dialogue with the cantor.

Next come the Gathering Hymn and the Communion Hymn.  The purpose of the Gathering Hymn is to transition us from many different people coming from many different situations into the One Body of Christ. The purpose of the Communion Hymn is to unify us as we process to receive the sacrament of unity. These songs or hymns are chosen in light of that Sunday’s scriptures. They may also be a reflection on the acts of gathering and receiving Eucharist respectively. Good liturgical music directors try to accomplish all of those things so that the Gathering Song also leads us to hearing the Word of God more deeply and the Communion Song helps us to make the connection between the Word proclaimed and the Holy Meal.

The Lamb of God is usually sung in most parishes and may be a part of a Mass setting. Most Mass settings also include a Penitential Rite (Lord, have mercy or Kyrie eleison), the Gloria, and a setting of the Prayer of the Faithful. The music director has to judge whether and how to use these settings of the parts of the mass so that the people’s prayer will be enhanced and so that this form of their prayer is accessible to them.

The lowest on the hierarchical totem pole in the liturgy are songs at the Preparation of the Gifts and the end of mass. There may be singing at the Preparation of the Gifts, or there may be a choral or instrumental solo. The same holds true for the end of mass.  In fact there is no mention of music at the end of mass in the Roman Missal. If they are sung, again their role in the liturgy must be considered and they should reflect the message of the Word of God.

Week of 10/27/13

Why don’t we genuflect at when we come into the Church?

The rule is that we bow to the altar and genuflect to the tabernacle. Our tabernacle is in a special chapel of reservation. We always genuflect when we go into the chapel. However, when we gather for Mass the focus is on the altar of Christ where we will soon consecrate the eucharist. Watch what the priest and ministers do when they enter and leave mass: they bow to the altar. If you are in a church that has the tabernacle in the front of church, you still do not genuflect to it once Mass has begun. At that point the focus is on the altar and the sacred action soon to take place there, not the reservation in the tabernacle. It is the same when we leave at the end of Mass, we bow to the altar of Christ.

Week of 10/20/13

Why do we have Greeters at the doors before every Mass?

 Hospitality is the hallmark of the Catholic Christian tradition. It has been said that, whereas evangelization for some other traditions is door-knocking or proselytizing, for Catholics it is hospitality. We didn’t always do such a good job. After all, why should we welcome people when they have to come to escape the fires of Hell? 

Also, in the day when the parish was the center of community life or national identity, people would never consider “parish shopping,” choosing a parish for other reasons. Times and Catholic culture has changed and new teachings have emerged. We now understand that each person who enters our doors bears the face of Christ, and they must be welcomed as we would welcome Christ.

The ministry of Greeters is vitally important to the practice of our faith. Now we have people who tell us that they are joining our church because “we felt so welcomed.”

Week of 10/13/13

Why do I have to say those responses and sing those songs at Mass?

The biggest challenge after Vatican II was convincing Catholics that it was not enough to go to mass and just sit there in private prayer. Now the liturgy harkened back to the early Church when the people participated together in praise and thanksgiving to God. Our silent Masses were an accident of history brought on by clericalism and the sense that the laity were not worthy of being active at Mass.

During and after our gathering and listening we also respond through dialogue with the presider, through singing the psalm and the acclamations, through praising God’s mercy in the Penitential Rite and begging God’s intercession during the Prayer of the Faithful, and finally at the high point of the liturgy by getting out of our seats for the “Catholic altar call,” the receiving of the Body and Blood of Christ, all the while singing our hearts out.

Week of 10/6/13

What’s so special about listening at Mass?

Of our gathering, listening and responding at liturgy the hardest thing to do is to listen. Studies show that literate people find it harder to retain information by listening. Children don’t have this problem. Small children learn by listening (and observing). At school, they

have to listen to their teachers. As we become more literate, it becomes less necessary to listen because we can always look it up. In the liturgy listening takes concentration. It requires a body at attention, and a conscious effort. Moreover it is a communal activity. Reading is private. We each read at a different rate, and sometimes we go back and read over it again. That is why parishes are encouraged not to have the readings in the hands of the people unless they are hearing impaired. There is no “private” in our communal liturgy. 

Week of 9/28/13

What are the specific ways we are to be priests according to our Baptism?

As members of a priestly people we are to gather, to listen and to respond when celebrating liturgy.
We begin by gathering. It starts at home as we prepare to come to church. It continues in the parking lot by treating each other courteously. Upon entering the church we greet each other and make them feel welcome.
At STB we have the longstanding custom of greeting others in the pews before we begin. These actions demonstrate that we are able to see the face of Christ in everyone we meet. The Gathering Song is the first way we enter into the unity of the Church as the one Body of Christ. We raise our voices to the Lord in a hymn or song that expresses the tone of the liturgy we are celebrating.


Week of 9/22/13
What is this Priestly role that we received at Baptism all about?
The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (SC), the first document issued at Vatican II describes the ministry of the baptized priesthood in paragraph 14: “Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy, and to which the Christian people, ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people,’ have a right and an obligation by reason of their Baptism.” Here the bishops quoted the First Letter of Peter, Ch. 2, vs. 9 which we will hear at mass during the Easter season next year. This letter was addressed to Gentile Christians who were undergoing persecution as a result of their baptism. It was in community and in their common worship that they were strengthened to withstand oppression. They were being reminded that just as Christ had a priestly function in his life, his passion and his resurrection, so they had the same priestly function in their worship which was and still is a remembrance and celebration of  Christ’s life, passion and resurrection.
This means that we are to enter into the worship of God with every fabric of our being: our bodies, souls and voices. It is holistic worship. It also means that worshipers must develop an understanding of what they are doing and why they are doing it. The section of the Constitution where this quote is found is “The Promotion of Liturgical Instruction and Active Participation.” It tells pastors that our full and active participation “is the aim to be considered above all else.” (SC14) And it demands that pastors (and by extension their ecclesiastical pastoral ministers for liturgy and music) educate themselves and that seminaries, religious houses of studies and theological facilities properly train their students. (14)
The assembly, which is one of the four presences of Christ in the liturgy, is the most important ministry in the liturgy, and mass cannot be celebrated without it (more about that later). As members of the assembly, the Body of Christ, we have a role in every moment of the liturgy as we gather, as we listen and as we respond. 


Week of 9/15/13
Why can’t I just sit back and relax during Mass? Why all the up-and-down, the responses and singing?

When you were baptized, whether you knew it or not, that sacrament came with a job description. (That’s why the decision to be baptized or to baptize a child should not be an easy one.) You were anointed a “priest, prophet and king,” just like Jesus, at your baptism. In accepting this anointing, you, or your parents for you, accepted the responsibility of carrying out the prophetic ministry of living and proclaiming the Word of God, the kingly ministry of service to God’s people and the priestly ministry of full, conscious and active participation in the liturgy according to the role you choose. In the next weeks we’ll look at that priestly role we all have as a result of our baptism and how we carry it out.