Saturday, December 16, 2017

Pre-Theology Gathering as Classes End...

The last day of classes concluded with a gathering of the seminarians of Second Pre-Theology at Cheverus House for a festive dinner.  These good men, and all our seminarians begin Final Exams on Monday.  Please keep them in your prayers!

Christmas Thanks...

Last Wednesday the seminarians, faculty and staff celebrated our annual Advent Appreciation luncheon at which we expressed our thanks for the indispensable role of our staff and adjunct faculty in supporting the holy work of our Holy House.  

We were also privileged, if sad, to take the occasion of the retirement of Kaye Woodward to recall her service to the Seminary and to the Archdiocese of Boston since her graduation from High School!  Her husband, Frank (seen with Kaye, below) recalled how he would pick his teenage girlfriend up from the Boston Chancery to go out on a date!  

As a small token of our gratitude, we presented Kaye with a beautiful reproduction of a della Robbia Madonna from the Giust Gallery in Woburn.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Longing and Expectation

Here is my brief homily for this Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe at Deacon House this morning.

The first time I saw it this summer I was surprised that it’s only four-and-a-half-feet-tall, but I should have realized it was imprinted on Juan Diego’s cloak, so it couldn’t be much taller than that.

The second thing I noticed was the block ribbon which Mary wears tied around her waist. Most of it was blocked by her arms, but just below her joined hands you see the two ends of the ribbon.

The black ribbon would have been a sign to Juan Diego and all who looked at the image on his cloak that this woman was pregnant, for the Spanish word for pregnant (encinto) means, literally, “wrapped in a ribbon.” Encinto.

In English, we use the words “expecting” as a euphemism for pregnancy, a word which reminds me of the second Preface for Advent, which reads, in part:

…the Virgin Mother longed for him
with love beyond all telling…

The longing of this pregnant Virgin is the very essence of Advent, and is echoed in Prayer Over the Offerings for tomorrow, which asks “that no infirmity may weary us as we long for the comforting presence of our heavenly physician.”

Yesterday I spent four hours in the surgical* waiting room of Brigham and Woman’s Hospital, waiting in hope and fear for news that the Divine Physician had worked through the hands of a thoracic surgeon to bring new life, and healing and peace to the one whom we loved.

And, you know what? He did. And David will be fine. And the virgin encinto will give birth to a newborn child, and he for whom we long, will come and save us.

Pictures from the Ministry of Acolyte

Somewhat belatedly, here are some pictures from the Ministry of Acolyte installation last week!  Many thanks to Bishop McManus for leading us in this wonderful celebration!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Some Thoughts on Concelebration

Here are some excerpts from a talk I gave on Concelebration to my dear friends at Saint Benedict's Abbey in Still River, Massachusetts last week.

Saint Benedict Abbey
5 December 2017
First, allow me to express my gratitude to Abbot Xavier and the community of Saint Benedict for the opportunity to offer you some brief reflections on the subject of concelebration of the eucharistic liturgy in the Latin Church. I am all the more humbled to follow by some months the presentation by Abbot Cassian Folsom, OSB, which I will seek neither to repeat, dispute, nor nuance. I will, however, offer three presumptions and then three observations and an equal number of conclusions which I hope you might find helpful in your consideration of this important topic.

But first, three Presuppositions.

1. The daily celebration of Mass by priests has been a part of our tradition for the past several centuries. Today, the Code of Canon Law encourages priests "to celebrate frequently; indeed, daily celebration is recommended earnestly…” (canon 904). The celebration of Mass may be fulfilled either by concelebration or celebrating Mass with a smaller group of the faithful, the latter being the right of any priest in good standing, no matter the circumstances (Cf. SC, 57.2.2)

2. The regulation of concelebration belongs to the Bishop and his guidance is always more important than any scholar, liturgist or individual priest. In addition, the guidelines and practice of the Holy Father, the Bishops of a given region and especially the Bishop of a particular Church is always instructive.

3. Recent interest in the question of concelebration has grown largely from the resurgence of the extraordinary form. The social media sites which recently exploded with rumors of a supposed plan by the Holy Father to require concelebration in Roman seminaries are remarkably the same sites campaigning for the suppression of the ordinary form in favor of the restoration of the extraordinary one.

Now don’t get me wrong here, as my work for the past twenty years has made abundantly clear, I believe that midcourse corrections in the implementation of the conciliar reform are both necessary and helpful. But the danger of concelebration becoming the latest arrow in the quiver of those opposing the conciliar reform is a real one.

My third presupposition, then (which has gone on entirely too long) is that the debate is too often driven by celebrities of the right in interviews, slogans or attacks on the very idea of a conciliar liturgical reform. Such contributions are, in my view, seldom helpful and often contribute more heat than light to any serious consideration of what the Church asks of us and how we can serve those ends.


1. Concelebration in the early Church
We know a lot about how concelebration takes place today. We have documents and pictures, blogs, twitter feeds and lots of personal experience. We know what works and what doesn’t. We know what is appealing and what is not. We know what feels like it has flowed organically from previous forms and what seems disjunctive. We know a lot about today.

We also know a fair amount about what happened in the first centuries of the Church, inasmuch as we know anything about what really happened in the earliest days of the Church. Indeed, as Father Cassian demonstrated to you a couple months ago, we have a lot of texts, each of them written in an attempt to respond to some sort of disruption in the life of the Church. Most of them are laws or correctives or pronouncements, from which we can learn what the legislator wanted concelebration to be and what it was probably not doing at a given time and place.

So while we lack a complete understanding of the what or the why of concelebration in those earliest days, there are a few conclusions we can draw:

1. That concelebration, as the name implies, served in many cases as an expression of or guarantor of ecclesial unity. The Bishop of the North is welcome to join the Bishop of the South at the Altar for the Eucharist, thus expressing a certain unity of faith, belief and practice.

2. I believe we are also safe to say that concelebration was often an expression of the unity of the presbyterium with its episcopus. The fairly early tradition of the Bishop gathering his priests around him was another and more intensive expression of the unity and the dependency of priest upon Bishop and Bishop upon his priests which would come to be described in our own day as “the preminent expression of the the Church.”

3. The ritual forms which concelebration took were diverse from place to place. Who said what words with whom and what gestures, epicletic, indicative or epicletic, were as unique as all other other ritual elements in the Latin West and there was no real attempt to bring them into sync with each other.

4. The idea of presbyteral concelebration seemed generally restricted to monasteries or other religious communities of priests, since by definition that’s where you had a lot of priests and the question of concelebration would occur.

These are conclusions I draw from the texts which you have already examined with the good Abbot emeritus of Norcia. However, I would suggest that there might be something more to be learned from some iPhone snapshots, if you will, of what concelebration looked like in the first twelve hundred years of the life of the Church. However, before we take a quick look at three examples of such snapshots, a couple words of caution.

Artistic depictions of liturgical acts tend to depict only the most idealized Verson of events. By way of example, an ivory engraving of a concelebration at Saint Benedict’s Abbey would, I assure you, show all the fathers in identical chasubles of beautiful ornament, surrounded by brothers in freshly starched and immaculate surplices. But is that the daily reality? Let it suffice to say that the artist working in ivory, stone or painted plaster will always show the best side of his benefactor.

A second caution. The original intent of the artwork will often be different than the needs of the contemporary observer. In other words, we come at the artwork with a whole different set of suppositions and questions and experience than the original artist and original observers. Accidental depictions of gesture, vesture, arrangement or action, which may prove to be the most interesting of all.

Well, with these disclaimers in mind, let’s take a look at three images.


The first of these three images is presented as a kind of type of a widespread arrangement of Churches in the first nine hundred years of the life of the Church, regarding which I draw your attention to the Cathedral Basilica on the island of Torcello, about a half hour by vaparetto from San Marco in Venice.

The form which the Church would take in the ninth century (which survives essentially intact today) is believed to have grown organically from its basic late sixth century arrangement. I use it as a type which was widely reproduced or at last reflected in the basic elements of a large number of basilicas from the fourth century on.

The area of the Church we are examining is what we currently call the presbyterium, with the Bishop’s cathedral in the center, a location identical to the position of the faldstool or curial chair of the civil magistrate who administered justice from the tribune of its secular precursor.

Growing out from the cathedra is a sort of presbyteral bench, here a kind of presbyteral bench on steroids. In most simpler basilicas it is a single bench, almost always touching the cathedra and then tracing the entire circumference of the apse wall. The precedent here is a similar structure, known as the subsellia, which would be occupied by the lesser officials of Roman civil courts.

So what does the presbyteral bench and cathedra tell us about concelebration? Nothing definitively. But it does show us that there is permanent seating in the presbyterium, a name applied early on to both the body of presbyters and the area of the Church in which this bench sits. It is a bench which comes to be known as presbyteral and it reflects the relationship between the Bishop and his priests as the same sort of relationship which previously existsed between greater and lesser civic officials in similar Roman basilicas.

Intriguing, but not definitive.


The second image I wish to call to your attention is housed in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England. It’s an ivory panel from a late tenth century Graduale cover created somewhere in the area of modern-day Lorraine, France.

This gorgeous image is of a Bishop about to celebrate Mass with five deacons behind him and in front of him, seven singing priests. The book on the desk is inscribed in Latin with the introit for the first Sunday in Advent, beginning Ad te levavi animam meam. His right hand is raised, not in blessing, but to signal that he is ready to begin.

Notice the priests are all dressed in the same conical chasubles and extend their hands toward the altar in the same manner as the celebrant.


The final image is taken from the delightful Collegiate Basilica of Santa Maria della Assunta in the remote hill-town of Lugnano in Teverina.

The Basilica, one of my favorites in all of Tuscany, was completed in the twelfth century. In passing, I might note that it includes a remarkable hanging stone tabernacle, but that’s for another talk. For our purposes I wish to examine a capitol on the second column from the front on the left hand side. Here is what it appears to depict: …at the center, a priest in conical chasuble stands at an altar with a large bowl-like chalice at the center. The priest’s hands are extended in what well may be an epiclesis, albeit with the right thumb and index finger joined.

To his left (our right) is a minister with one hand over his heart, looking intently at the action taking place at the altar. The figure of greatest interest, however, is to the left of the celebrant: another priest in in conical chasuble with his hands extended toward the offerings. Here, I would suggest, is clear evidence of a concelebration in this collegiate Church.

These three snapshots from the sixth, eleventh and twelfth centuries show that concelebration did exist for a little more than millennium in the Church. And while this iconographic evidence is isolated and less than comprehensive by its nature, it adds a visual element which can help us better enter into what concelebration looked like through the late middle ages.

2. The Vision of the Fathers of Vatican II
Now lets jump ahead four centuries to the 1570 Missal. Here, the practice of concelebration has practically disappeared from the Liturgy with the idiosyncratic exceptions of a Priest or Bishop concelebrating at the Mass of his ordination.

The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council significantly expanded the occasions for concelebration, describing it as an appropriate manifestation of the unity of the priesthood. In order to highlight this unity, the Fathers extended this permission in three ways:

First to Holy Thursday, both at the Chrism Mass and the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, to Councils, Bishops’ Conferences, Synods and the Mass for the Blessing of an Abbot.

Secondly, ordinaries were empowered to decide whether concelebration was opportune at the principal Mass in any local community or any kind of meeting of priests. The principle criteria to be applied in the Bishop’s decision was whether
“the needs of the faithful” demanded that the priests celebrate other Masses for the faithful rather than particiopatre in the concelebration. The presumption, then, is that concelebration is the norm, unless the good of the faithful requires their ministry.

In fact, the third edition of the Roman Missal goes one step further by allowing that “all Priests belonging to the community who are obliged, as a matter of duty, to celebrate individually for the pastoral benefit of the faithful may also on the same day concelebrate at the conventual or community Mass.”

And these statements are followed by a remarkable principle, which further develops the conciliar decree: “it is preferable that Priests who are present at a celebration of the Eucharist, unless excused for a just reason, should usually exercise the function proper to their Order and hence take part as concelebrants, wearing sacred vestments. Otherwise, they wear their proper choir dress or a surplice over a cassock.” Usually concelebrate. Otherise, in choro.

In a religious community particularly, the norm, then, is clearly concelebration at the principle or conventual Mass, and even when it is necessary that priests celebrate individually for the faithful, they still concelebrate with their brothers whenever possible.

So what, in fact, is the norm for concelebration in the Church today and does it accord with the vision of the Church?

First, concelebration is the norm. In religious communities, at gatherings with the Bishop, large funerals, seminaries or just about any time large numbers of priests gather, concelebration has become the norm. Increasingly, great attention is being paid by diocesan officials to the decorum of such celebrations with careful attention to the rubrics for concelebration the purchasing of diocesan chasubles, etc.

There are, admittedly, isolated exceptions. But the fact is that the practice, the teachings of the Bishops and the legislation of the Church, while allowing for the choice of priests to celebrate individually, especially when the needs of the faithful call for his ministry, the fact remains that since the first rite of concelebration was issued by the Holy See in 1972, the teaching has been consistent and clear:

“…great weight is to be given to concelebration of the eucharist. Concelebration is a strengthening of of the fraternal bonds of priests and of the whole community (Cf. LG 28, PO 8), because this manner of celebrating the sacrifice in which all share consciously, actively, and in the way proper to each is a clearer portrayal of the whole community acting together and is the preeminent manifestation of the church in the unity of sacrifice and priesthood and in the single giving of thanks around the one altar (Cf. SCR Decree Ecclesiae semper; Instruction Eucharisticum Mysterium, no. 44).

Secondly, this normative practice has been regulated and promoted by the Bishops.

The USCCB Guidelines for Concelebration of the Eucharist were approved by the United States Conference in 2003 and state that

“Concelebration should be understood as an appropriate way for priests to participate in the celebration of the Eucharist, expressive of their unique relationship with Christ the High Priest and of the unity of the priesthood.” And that “concelebration is always encouraged, “unless the welfare of the Christian faithful requires or urges otherwise.”(Code of Canon Law, Canon 902)

Likewise, the Bishops of England and Wales have reminded each of their Bishops that he enjoys the authority “to decide when concelebration was opportune…when a number of priests might be able to join together in a single celebration.” Those Guidelines begin, by the way, with a quote from SC 26: “Liturgical services are not private functions, but are celebrations belonging to the Church, which is the ‘sacrament of unity,’ namely the holy people united and ordered under their bishops.”

Among the Diocesan guidelines for concelebration in this country, one Bishop decrees in 2003 simply that “It is preferable that priests who are present at a Eucharistic Celebration participate as concelebrants.” While another, in 2011, is even more specific: “unless the welfare of the Christian faithful requires or urges otherwise, concelebration is always encouraged.” (GCE #6-7).

Of the fourteen Diocesan Norms I have examined in preparation for this talk, each have expressed the view that concelebration is the norm and private celebrations the exception.

Third, and finally, I ask you to call to mind the morning Mass at Saint John’s Seminary, where every morning more than a dozen priest faculty members gather for the celebration of the Eucharist.

Like all seminaries, we are regulated by the USSCB’s Program for Priestly Formation, no. 116 of which states:

“All priests who are not bound to celebrate individually for the pastoral benefit of the faithful should concelebrate at the community Mass insofar as possible. Priest-faculty members concelebrate when they are present for Mass.”

The Holy See laid the ground work for this understanding in 1979 with its Instruction on Liturgical Formation in Seminaries, writing that “…Mass must be the work of the entire seminary community. In it each and every person is to share according to his status. Thus, the priests who live in the seminary and who are not bound by pastoral obligation to celebrate Mass somewhere else should, as a praiseworthy act, concelebrate. As deacons, acolytes, and lectors should do their respective tasks…”

Which brings us back to Pope Francis, whose rumored actions regarding concelebration and the Roman Seminaries has not yet shown his head above the parapet. Yet the Holy Father’s motivations for such an action have been evident from the moment he warned us about the “unending challenge to overcome individualism and experience diversity as a gift, seeking the unity of the presbyterate, which is a sign of God’s presence in community life.”

So will a new decree regarding Roman Seminaries emerge? Who knows, and such gossip is seldom helpful to the kind of mature and irenic discussion you have invited me to contribute to this blessed house.

All I know is that concelebration works at Saint John’s Seminary and, according to the judgment of the Bishops in most places and most times in the Church of our day.

On Purity

Here is my December Rector's Conference On Purity.  The video is followed by the text for your listening and reading enjoyment.



Why do we call her the Virgo Purissima, Virgin Most Pure? A great question for this eve of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.

I suppose we call her pure because of her virginity, a perpetual sign of her total consecration to God. But virgnity is but the sign of her purity, a single manifestation. What makes the Virgin Mother pure is her total consecration to God. She is completely his, one hundred percent, unadulterated even by the stain of sin. She is the most blessed exemplar of what God has called us to be: given to him, consecrated only to perfect love.

The purity of perfect love. So, what do we mean by purity?

In the same year this seminary was opened a new product hit the market which promoted itself as 99 and 44/100% pure. They called it Ivory soap. The 99 and 44/100% pure was the result of an analysis by a laboratory which determined Ivory soap had not harmful additives, unlike theca stile soap which had been popular up until that time. What sold it was it was pure. Only soap. It did what it was made to do and nothing more.

Like purity baby products. Made to make your baby better. And nothing else. Or pure cotton makeup pads. All they do is clean you face. With pure cotton and nothing else.

They’re all pure, like the freshly fallen snow…All so perfect, because there is nothing there but the essense of what it was made to be, uncorrupted, clean and pure.

Like a beautiful fresh glass of sparkling cold water on a hot summer’s day, just waiting to refresh you. Just water. Fresh, pure refreshing water.

But sadly, sometimes corruption stains purity. The sinful enters in, and before you know it, we are transformed into something other than that for which they were made.

We become distracted by the bright shiny things….and before you know it, impurities have turned what was crystal clear into something quite cloudy and even rancid. And the impurities are usually deceptive in their means of infiltration…even attractive at first, until they getcha in the end!

Terrible temptations, awful opportunities for corruption arise in seemingly the most innocently tempting places. Even when a little boy chases after his paper boat, never knowing what awaits him in the dark sewer, never suspecting what it is.

There’s lots of signs of impurity about these days, I’m afraid. Signs that the pure purpose for which we were made has been colored, corrupted and made into something it was not supposed to be.

I think of BeyoncĂ© at the Grammy’s shorlty after she announced she was pregnant. She explained that her costume was inspired by the Roman goddess Venus, the Virgin Mary, and the African goddess Mami Wata.

And who can keep up with the Kardashians? Kim, the one in the middle, recently commented on the ticking of her biological clock lamenting: “I think if I'm forty and I don't have any kids and I'm not married, I would have a baby artificially inseminated. I would feel like Mary - like Jesus is my baby.”

And what of us? Are we so pure? Do we seek after purity. Do we strive to be only what God has called us to be. Are we more often like Mary or Beyoncé? Like the Christ or the Kardashians?

Our beloved Pope Emeritus onced helped us to struggle with this question when he ofeered a reflection on the words of the Psalmist: He "who has clean hands and a pure heart" can stand in the holy place.

“A heart is pure when it does not pretend
and is not stained with lies and hypocrisy:
a heart that remains transparent like spring water because it is alien to duplicity.
A heart is pure when it does not estrange itself with the drunkenness of pleasure,
a heart in which love is true and is not only a momentary passion.
Clean hands and a pure heart: if we walk with Jesus, we ascend and find the purification that truly brings us to that height to which man is destined: friendship with God himself.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Palm Sunday 2007.)
Let’s take just three of his descriptions of a pure heart.

A heart which does not pretend.
Does a seminarian’s heart ever pretend? Do we pretend that we are the master of our world and that God is so lucky we chose him? Do we wrap ourselves sometimes in a protective cloak of narcissism that shields us from the demands of loving others and the obligation we owe to the truth.

I was a first year theologian and scared to death by all of my brothers who I thought were so much smarter than I was. Plus they were always already piously praying in chapel when I got there…and I had to fight just to get up in time....and to make it worse, all the hot water was gone when I got to the showers! And you know, they’d go on and on after class about how brilliant that lecture had been and how he touched on the real secret of reforming the Church and I didn’t understand a blessed word that he said! And then at the apostolate, where I was supposed to be teaching freshman theology, the kids picked up my every insecurity and went for the jugalur until I almost cried.

So how did I respond? But acting like the king of the world! Burying my insecurities beneath a heavy blanket of arrogant condescension.... I came across as the omniscient, who if the pope would have just had the common sense to call me, would have solved all the problems of the world!

While inside I was a scared little kid, petrified of trusting God, and convinced it was all about to fall apart without a moment’s notice. I was impure. Adulterated by fear and pretending I was God to cover it all up!

A heart which remains as transparent as spring water!!
What a great image. A pure heart create for me O God, transparent to my spiritual Director, to myself and to God! But if I had a nickel for every time I hid something from my spiritual director, I’d have a house on the cape! Because I couldn’t possibly tell him I’d done that! People like me don’t get caught doing that! And I couldn’t possibly tell him I started struggling with that other thing again! That was last year’s struggle and I have grown to full manhood in Christ and no longer struggle with childish things!

And those feelings! How can I possibly say it out loud?! The lust, the pride, the jealousy and all the other unspeakable stuff! I’m a seminarian for God’s sake....quite literally! How can I ever let him know about....?

What would he think of me? He would think I wanted to strive for purity. He would think I was courageous enough to be transparent, to give it ALL to God. To open my arms, with Jesus, on the cross

A heart which does not intoxicate itself with pleasure.
Do we ever intoxicate ourselves with pleasure, so we don’t have to face the truth? And here I speak not of sex or money or stuff like that, but the more subtle intoxication of grasping for power, like the grudges we embrace in our hearts and take consolation from in moments of desperation.

The revenge we plot in the middle of the night and the resentment we feel when “he gets what we know he doesn’t really deserve.” The auto-erotic pleasure of creating a world in my own image and likeness, over which I reign supreme. Supreme and impure with the inclusions of my our self-delusion.

OK. So that’s me, and it’s you. God, what a mess we are! Can such as us ever know redemption? Can the sewage which flows in my veins ever be made pure again?

Yes, says the baby who lies in the crib. And yes, he says again, as he hangs from the Cross for our sins.

For the great good news of Christmas is that we, who are called to purity, to just be what God has called us to be, can be restored as the pure sons of God, unadulterated and living only for him.

For the love of the child in the manger is “the purest love of the purest life.” And in the loving it makes us pure.

“Christ came, and comes now, [she writes] that we should have life and have it in its fullness, that we should be wholly human, wholly natural, wholly supernatural, that in all our loves he should be our life...The way to begin healing the wounds of the world is to treasure the Infant Christ in us; to be not the castle but the cradle of Christ; and, in rocking that cradle to the rhythm of love…” (Caryll Houselander, Wood of the Cradle, Wood of the Cross. 1995)

The rhythm of the Child and his Blessed Mother. Purified and made new, whether you are Charlie Brown or Scrooge.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

First Snow Upon the Seminary...

“Announced by all the trumpets of the sky,
Arrives the snow, and, driving o’er the fields,
Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air
Hides hills and woods, the river and the heaven,
And veils the farm-house at the garden’s end.
The sled and traveller stopped, the courier’s feet
Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit
Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed
In a tumultuous privacy of Storm.”

EMERSON, The Snow Storm.