We’ve recently started offering Mass in Latin here at Our Lady of Lourdes for our monthly First Saturday Mass, which is at 8:00 AM. This is the normal, Novus Ordo, or New Rite, Mass from after Vatican II. It uses the same readings and follows the same calendar as the ordinary Mass the we celebrate; in fact, the readings and homily are also in English. If you want to experience Mass in the Extraordinary Form, as it was celebrated before Vatican II (and I think every Catholic should at least once), it’s celebrated every Sunday at St. Patrick’s Church in New Orleans at 9:15 on Sundays, 7:15 AM on weekdays, and 8 AM on Saturdays. The difference is that all of the prayers are in Latin, and you’ll have Latin and English translations of the prayers side by side to help you follow along. In some ways, it’s just like going to Mass in Spanish or Vietnamese, because you’ll still recognize everything, you just might not understand the language. Since people have asked, this Mass doesn’t count for your Sunday obligation. You can fulfill your Sunday obligation at any Mass on Sunday or after 4:00 PM on Saturday. So, why offer this to the parish?
I celebrated the Mass in Latin regularly at Visitation of Our Lady and Divine Mercy Catholic Churches, and I found out that some people were under the impression that the Church had done away with Latin in the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. However, Vatican II actually said, “Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites. 2. But since the use of the mother tongue… frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended. This will apply in the first place to the readings and directives, and to some of the prayers and chants, according to the regulations on this matter to be laid down in subsequent chapters” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, para. 36). So, they wanted to allow Mass in the languages of the people while still retaining some Latin. Imagine if every Catholic could still pray at least the Our Father in Latin, then you could pray with a Catholic from anywhere in the world, even if you don’t speak one another’s languages.
Second, in the Roman Churches the Mass has been celebrated in Latin since at least the 4th century. It’s true that there have been changes and developments to the Mass over the centuries, but they kept using Latin. This means that most of the saints celebrated or attended Mass in Latin. This is part of the life of the Church, part of our heritage, and part of history. If you feel like you’re stepping back in time, then that’s a good things. The Mass doesn’t belong to you or me, it’s an inheritance of the entire Church, and when we celebrate Mass we should see that this isn’t an ordinary, normal thing, but that we’re entering the Mystery of the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Latin helps us to see that we don’t fully comprehend everything that’s going on, but that we have to really make an effort to enter into it more fully. This is true of every Mass, no matter what language it’s celebrated in, but we tend to see it more easily when we don’t understand every word that’s being said.
We refer to the teaching office of the Church, or the Magisterium, as the authority that Jesus Christ gave the Church to teach on matters of faith and morals. That is, the Church speaks in the name of Christ when the bishops, in union with the pope, teach about the faith or about morality. One of the ways that the popes have of using this teaching office is the Apostolic Exhortation. It ranks third in papal documents after the Papal Encyclical, letter addressed to the bishops on a particular Church teaching, and Apostolic Constitution, on Church governance. An Apostolic Exhortation is written to all the members of the Church and is meant to guide them in a particular area of the faith.
In 1982, Pope St. John Paul II wrote an exhortation on “The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World,” called Familiaris Consortio. In his own words, Pope St. John Paul II wrote this exhortation because, “the Church wishes to speak and offer her help to those who are already aware of the value of marriage and the family and seek to live it faithfully, to those who are uncertain and anxious and searching for the truth, and to those who are unjustly impeded from living freely their family lives.” In part one, the Pope talked about the hopeful signs and challenges facing the family. Among the hopeful signs, he includes greater personal freedom, more attention to the quality of relationships, the promotion of the dignity of women, advances in education, etc. Among the challenges he mentions, among other things, the difficulty in transmitting fundamental values to younger generations, the growing number of divorces, and the scourge of abortion.
The second part is called, “The Plan of God for Marriage and the Family.” This is a very beautiful explanation on God’s plan for the family going all the way back to the account of the creation of the world in Genesis and the first marriage, of Adam and Eve, and tracing the Biblical teaching on marriage to the teaching of Jesus. The third part is on “The Role of the Christian Family,” and is significantly longer the part two. He divides it into four sections: forming a community of persons, serving life, participating in the development of society, and sharing in the life and mission of the Church.
Although the entire document is more of a small book, the part on God’s plan for marriage is only a few pages long, and is well worth reading, even if you don’t read any of the rest of it. In fact, I always have the couples that I prepare for marriage read that section. Sometimes people need to read it several times to make sense of it, because Pope St. John Paul II packs a lot of meaning into those few pages, but it’s worth the effort. I’ll include a link to a free English translation of it when I post this to the Pastor’s Blog on our website, www.olol-church.com.
I think of two different experiences when I think of Christmas. One of them is how my family celebrated Christmas. I remember setting up the Christmas tree every year on my mom’s birthday, December 9, untangling the lights with Uncle Robert, and how every ornament was unique. I remember attending Nanny’s family Christmas party on Christmas Eve, playing with Big Mac boxes to see who could stack them the highest, and seeing Christmas carols. I remember waking up on Christmas morning to open presents, going to the noon Mass at St. Clement of Rome, and having Christmas dinner with Aunt Pat, Uncle Paul, and my cousins at my house because we had the biggest dining room.
On the other hand, I think of my Christmases since I’ve been a priest. I think of all the Christmas parties for the different Church ministries, the PSR Advent Program, and setting up decorations in the Church. Mainly, though, I focus on helping people prepare spiritually for Christmas. Christmas has become such a huge thing in American culture that it’s easy to overlook the religious significance of the day as the turning point of human history. There’s a reason why the calendar changes from B.C. to A.D., or B.C.E. (Before the Common Era) to C.E. (Common Era) at the birth of Christ. Some scholars have switched from using B.C. and A.D. to B.C.E. and C.E. either to keep from offending non-Christians or to deny the importance of Christ, but we don’t number the year from the ascension of Augustus Caesar to Emperor of Rome, or from some major military battle or great invention, or from anyone else’s birth. When Jesus Christ was born, salvation came into the world and the Kingdom of God (not Caesar or Rome) was inaugurated. The promise that was given in the birth of Jesus Christ was fulfilled in His Resurrection. That’s why celebrating Mass on Christmas is one of the most meaningful moments in my priesthood. On the day that Jesus Christ came into the world in the flesh, I am privileged to make Jesus Christ present on the altar, body and blood, soul and divinity.
12 days after Christmas, on January 6, we celebrate the Epiphany (although the celebration is moved to the nearest Sunday, January 5 this year). The Epiphany is the celebration of the “Light of Christ” coming into the world and spreading to every land and people. May we never forget that Christ is our light, that we cannot truly see unless we have His light in our lives, and that He is calling on us to spread His light through acts of faith, hope, and love.
During this Advent we’ve focused our homilies on the Sacraments of the Most Holy Eucharist and Holy Matrimony, asking the Lord to give us the grace to be renewed in the Faith, in our Church family, and in our families at home, that we might center our Church life around the Eucharist and our families around God. The mission of the Catholic Church is to spread the Gospel to all peoples and to give an example of God’s love, especially through service to those who are most in need. I believe that the most important job of the Catholic parish in fulfilling this mission is to give you and your families the support you need to live out the faith to the full through the Mass, the other Sacraments, prayer, learning the faith, and growing in virtue and holiness. What better time of the year to refocus ourselves on Jesus Christ than when we’re preparing to celebrate His birth?
Jesus said to His disciples, “Amen I say to you, unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, he is the greater in the kingdom of heaven. And he that shall receive one such little child in my name, receiveth me” (Mt. 18:3-5). We can take that to mean many things; that we should be innocent, free from malice, or honest, or not wanting to have honor and distinctions. All of these are certainly true and very good, but what does it truly mean to be humble like a child is humble? It doesn’t mean naïve, as the Lord certainly wants His disciples to understand the ways of the world, if only so they can avoid them.
What distinguishes childhood from adolescence from adulthood is how much we depend on our parents and other people to take care of us. Adults are those who are now able to take care of themselves, to speak for themselves legally, and, eventually, to take care of their own families. Teenagers and pre-teens are learning how to take care of themselves, how to discipline themselves, and how to provide for themselves, but they aren’t all the way there yet. Children, especially babies, are totally dependent on their parents. They depend on them for clothes, shelter, food, transportation, and, especially, love.
We must become like little children in regards to God. We have to realize that we are totally dependent on God for our lives, for our faith, and for everything good, because God is the source of everything that is good. Take the example of the saints. Saints aren’t people who never sinned or even, necessarily, who did great things or worked great miracles. The saints are people who realized their littleness next to God and depended on Him for everything. This didn’t make them wallflowers who were afraid to try anything; it made them daring and bold, because they knew that God was at their side. Consider St. Joseph Cho Yun-ho, a son of a Korean farmer. His family was Christian and he became a catechist, helping to spread the faith to other Koreans. He was arrested with his father and other Christians, refused to deny Christ, and was martyred by the Korean government on December 23, 1866. He was only 18 years old. He and the other Korean martyrs helped to sow the seeds of the faith in that country. May we humble ourselves before God, become like little children, and help sow the seeds of the faith in our country and our families.
Have you ever wondered why Catholic churches are designed the way they are? In the earliest days of the Church Christianity was under nearly constant persecution. First, the Jewish officials were trying to get the apostles and disciples of Jesus Christ to stop preaching about the Resurrection. Then, in the 60’s AD, the emperor Nero Caesar started the Roman persecution which would continue, with some interruptions, until the emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in 313 AD (although the persecutions didn’t end immediately in every part of the empire).
Suddenly, after over 250 years of persecution, Christians could practice their religion openly and didn’t have to gather in people’s homes or the catacombs to celebrate Mass. The very first Churches during this time were converted from public buildings and meeting areas, but soon the Church in Rome was building the first great basilicas. These Churches took inspiration not only from Greek and Roman architecture but also from our Jewish roots.
The first holy places were on mountains. When the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt, the journeyed to Mt. Sinai where they offered sacrifices to God and received the Ten Commandments and the Mosaic Law. In the first book of Kings, the Prophet Elijah flees from King Ahab to Mt. Horeb where he encounters God. Also, Solomon’s Temple was build on Mt. Zion, in Jerusalem, which was considered to be a sacred mountain. That’s why Psalm 24 says, “Who shall ascend into the mountain of the Lord, or who shall stand in His holy place?” The mountain of the Lord is Mt. Zion, and the “holy place,” or sanctuary, is the Temple.
When Solomon built the Temple it was designed as a sort of artificial mountain. When you went up to the Temple to worship you would first ascend a flight of steps from the Outer Court to the Upper Court, which housed the bronze altar of sacrifice. Only the priests and Levites could enter the Upper Court. You would then go up another flight of steps into the Holy Place which housed the altar of incense, ten lamps stands, and a table holding bread (The Bread of the Presence) and wine. Finally, you would then ascend another flight of steps into the Holy of Holies, which was blocked off by a veil and housed the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark was a symbol of Jesus, since it contained the tablets of the Ten Commandments and a jar of the Mana that the Israelites ate in the desert after the Exodus and which was a symbol of the Eucharist.
If you look at the picture of St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans, you can see how traditional Catholic churches are modeled after Solomon’s Temple. You would first ascend into the Church itself, where the people gather for Mass. Then, you ascend another flight of steps into the Sanctuary, or Holy Place, which has the ambo for the readings and the celebrant’s chair. Then, you ascend a final flight of steps to the tabernacle, which contains the Eucharist, the Body of Christ, just like the Ark in the Holy of Holies was a golden box containing the Mana.
You further you go into the Church, the more you are ascending the “mountain of the Lord” and the closer you are getting to Jesus. Ultimately, the sacred mountains in the Bible, Solomon’s Temple, and our Catholic Churches all point to something beyond themselves. They point us to heaven. Our goal in life should be to grow closer to God that we might one day ascend to heaven to be with Him for eternity.
In the Catholic Church we have patron saints for just about everything, from Alpine troops (St. Maurice) to zoos (St. Francis of Assisi). They’re an important part of Catholic spirituality, because we believe that the saints are still alive, that we are still connected to them through the Holy Spirit in the Communion of Saints, and that they can still help us with their prayers since they’re united with God in heaven.
We should each have our own patron saints as well. Mine is St. Joseph, which is my middle name and he’s the saint I chose for my Confirmation name. I chose St. Joseph because he’s the Protector of the Church, the patron for a holy death, and because he’s the foster father of Jesus Christ. He’s a paternal figure and example for the entire Church, showing us the meaning of earthly fatherhood and spiritual fatherhood. I ask St. Joseph to pray for me every day, and I often ask for his help with particularly difficult situations. Who’s your patron saint? Do you know about their life, and do you ask them to pray for you daily?
We also have a patron saint of the United States. The Blessed Virgin Mary is the patron saint of our nation under her title of the Immaculate Conception. Her feast day usually falls on December 8, but this year December 8 is a Sunday so we move the celebration of her feast day to Monday. It’s also usually a holy day of obligation, but you should already be going to Mass on Sunday, and the obligation doesn’t move with the day in these circumstances.
The Immaculate Conception refers to the fact that the Blessed Virgin Mary was preserved even from original sin from the moment of her conception in the womb of St. Ann, the grandmother of Jesus. This was a special grace granted to Mary through her Son Jesus, even before He was born, to prepare her to conceive Him in her womb, which we celebrate at the Solemnity of the Annunciation. Confused yet? To put it another way, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception we celebrate that Mary was, as the Archangel Gabriel said, “full of grace.” From the very moment of her conception God was with her in a powerful way. She is a sign to us that God is also with us, and that we are destined to join Jesus and Mary in heaven, so long as we follow Him. That’s why we pray in the Hail Mary, “Pray for us, now and at the hour of our death.” Tomorrow, as we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and the patronal feast of the United States, let’s remember to ask Mary to pray for us and for our country now, and at the moment of our greatest need.
If you say that someone is stirring the pot, you usually mean that they’re making trouble or bringing up things that they know will lead to arguments and tension, and we almost always see this as a bad thing. It’s the same idea as the rule that you’re not supposed to talk about politics or religion in polite company, because it will just lead to an argument. However, stirring the pot has a literal meaning, too, in cooking, and it’s absolutely vital to preparing good food.
If you’re making a pot of beans or stew you need to occasionally stir the pot to make sure that everything’s not just sitting in one place on the bottom. If you don’t stir the pot it’ll burn and you’ll be left with ruined beans and a pot needing to be scrubbed down. The same is true in the spiritual life. You need to occasionally examine your conscience in prayer, asking the Lord to help you see where you’re sins and vices are, where you’ve failed to listen to the voice of God and how He’s calling you to conversion. We normally do this before going to confession so we can make a good and complete confession, but if you only go to confession once a year or less, that’s not really enough. We know that saints like Mother Teresa and Pope St. John Paul II went to confession at least every week or two. We don’t need confession less than they did. That’s why I encourage people to go to confession at least once or twice a month. In this way we don’t let things just sink to the bottom but keep them stirred up where we can see them and, with God’s help, grow in holiness and virtue.
Things like beans only need to be stirred every 15 minutes or so, but some things need to be stirred constantly, like a roux for gumbo or sauce. If you don’t keep stirring the roux it won’t combine and the butter and four will start to burn, then you’ll have to completely start over. I compare this to the spiritual discipline of practicing the presence of God. You can’t live your life if you’re constantly examining your conscience. There has to come a point when you stop examining and start acting. Most of life consists in putting into action in our lives what we’ve heard from God in prayer. Practicing the presence of God, however, is something that we can do all the time. It’s a very simple discipline where you just remind yourself that God is present. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, and whoever you’re with, whether in Church, at work, or in a bar, God is present there in some way. Remembering God’s presence can motivate us to avoid sin, to practice Christian virtue, and to have to courage to live out our faith even in the most difficult times.
Stirring the pot just to cause trouble for people is bad, but we do occasionally need to stir up our own spiritual lives in order to keep things on the right track. After all, if you ruin a pot of beans you’ve lost a few hours work and some beans, but you only get one shot at life.
This coming Friday we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the dedication of Our Lady of Lourdes Church. As you all know, our Church was flooded during hurricane Katrina. It took a few year for the parish to be reopened and then the Church to be restored, but on November 22, 2009, Archbishop Aymond celebrated the Mass re-dedicating Our Lady of Lourdes Church. For us, this is a symbol of our restored communities and of our love for our Church and parish.
For any parish, the anniversary of the dedication of their Church is an important and meaningful day. In fact, it’s a solemnity for that parish. A solemnity is the highest level of feast day in the Church. There’s a memorial of a saint, like the Memorial of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini that was celebrated this past Wednesday, then a feast day, like the Feast of Saints Simon and Jude the apostles which we celebrated on October 28, then there’s a solemnity. There are only 25 solemnities celebrated by the entire Church throughout the world. However, each individual Church celebrates their named feast day, for us the Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes on February 11, and the anniversary of the dedication of their Church as solemnities in their own parish Church.
In the preface of the Eucharistic Prayer for the dedication of a Church we pray, “For in this visible house that you have let us build and where you never cease to show favor to the family on pilgrimage to you in this place, you wonderfully manifest and accomplish the mystery of your communion with us. Here you build up for yourself the temple that we are and cause your Church, spread throughout the world, to grow ever more and more as the Lord’s own Body, till she reaches her fullness in the vision of peace, the heavenly city of Jerusalem.” This is what the dedication of a Church means and what we celebrate this Friday. We thank the Lord for allowing and helping us to build our Church. We celebrate that, in this Church we grow in communion with God and with one another in our Church family, and are nourished and strengthened by the Eucharist to live out our faith in the ordinary events of our lives. We celebrate that this Church represents for heaven and the heavenly Temple for us, reminding us that this life is not our final destination, but that we are together on this pilgrimage through life to our final destination in heaven.
I hope to see all of you this Friday as we come to celebrate the birthday of our own parish Church. We’ll begin with Mass at 6:30 pm and have a reception afterwards.
There was a time when people thought of going to war not only as a duty and responsibility that they owed to their homeland but as a point of honor. It was something that many young men looked forward to. We can’t imagine that because we live after the war that changed all of that, that changed civilization forever, the Great War or the War to End All Wars, what we normally call World War I.
The world powers in England, France, Germany, and Russia saw this war coming decades ahead of time, knowing that the system of alliances that kept the peace couldn’t last forever. They also saw the technology of war changing with the invention of machine guns, more powerful explosives and artillery, airplanes, and even poison gas. Tsar Nicholas II of Russia called the leaders of 26 nations, including all of the major world powers, to the Hague Conferences in 1899 and 1907, where these nations agreed to outlaw the use of poisons and any technology developed after the Conferences.
However, in 1914 this all went out the window when World War I began. In January 2015, the Germans were the first to use poison gas against the Russians, first against the Russians and then the French and British. They were soon emulated by the British and French. During the course of the war three types of poison gas were developed, bromide, chlorine, and mustard gas. Each one was worse than the last, and even if you survived the initial attack, you might have to deal with debilitating effects from it for the rest of your life. When you add in the first wide-scale use of machine guns, aerial bombing, modern artillery, and trench warfare, the casualties of World War I were higher than any previous war (around 10 million military and 6 million civilian lives lost), and the survivors suffered terrible physical and psychological effects from the war.
This all lead to a greater understanding of the effects that wars have on the people who fight them and are caught up in them. What previous generations thought of as cowardice or weakness, we now understand to be normal human reactions to horrible, traumatic experiences. The soldiers on both sides of that war were honored by the establishment of Armistice Day on November 11, the day that the war ended. In the United States it was raised to a national holiday in 1938. It occurs on the “11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month,” which is when the armistice was signed. In 1954, President (formerly General) Dwight D. Eisenhower changed it to Veterans Day in 1954.
On this November 11, at 11 AM, let us pause to offer a prayer for the roughly 18 million living Veterans in the US, and countless who have already passed away. Let’s also remember that we join countries around the world in honoring their own Veterans and all those, no matter what country they’re from, who fight to protect their homes and people.
St. Michael the Archangel, patron saint of soldiers, pray for them.
In one of my favorite quotes, the one that I put on the end of all of my emails, Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos said, “Time, in which we have found nothing to offer up to God, is lost for eternity.” Blessed Francis Seelos goes on to explain how we can offer things up to God, like our work, our sufferings, inconveniences, and also prayers and obedience to God, but I want to focus on time.
Today is the day when we “fall back” in daylight savings time and lose an hour on the clocks. The idea of daylight savings time is to add an extra hour of daylight to the workday, so we can get more work done. We don’t like to waste any time that we could be using to accomplish our own priorities, whether that’s business or pleasure. We want to give ourselves more time in the day to work or play, to accomplish things, and we go so far as to adjust the very clocks that we use to tell the time. Unfortunately, we don’t actually gain an hour. There are still 24 hours in a day. There’s still the same amount of sunlight and darkness in the day as there would have been anyway, we just adjust what times of the day are bright so we don’t lose an hour of sunlight before people wake up and go to work.
We may be able to control the clocks, but we don’t control time itself. There is only One who is outside of time, and He is the only One who can give us more time or take it away. We only have so much time left, and we don’t know how long it will be until our time is up. On that day we will have to answer for how we used the time that we were given. Did we use all of our time for ourselves and our own priorities, or did we spend our time on the things of God? Only God is eternal, because only God has no beginning or end. We cannot become eternal like God, but we can enter into God’s eternity. Whenever we invite God into our souls and put Him at the center of our lives we consecrate the hours and days of our lives by dedicating them to God.
So, reassess your priorities. What are the most important things in your life? What is valuable to you? What do you believe in? Would someone know that by observing the way that you live? Would they know what is important to you by seeing how you spend your time? Only God can give you more time; only God can bring you into heaven. One day we will all have to stand before the judgement seat of God. If we try to rely on our own accomplishments in life, without building up a relationship with God and with His family, the Church, then we may be disappointed in the outcome. If we ask for help from God the Father, in the Son, and through the Holy Spirit to live out the Divine Law by loving God above all things and loving our neighbor as ourselves, then we will be greeted as children returning to their Father’s house.
Fr. Bryan became pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes on July 3, 2017. Read his bio here.