Monthly Archives: March 2012

Liturgy: Deviations In Holy Week


These are just a selection of many inquiries about blatant reordering of the liturgy in general and the Easter celebrations in particular. Why these things happen and why some priests are deluded into thinking that this is a more “pastoral” approach than following the prescribed rubrics, remains a mystery.

I remain convinced that the best and most effective pastoral policy is to offer Christ’s faithful the rites that his Church proposes. This is what has stood the test of time and of widespread use. Our personal tinkering can only impoverish and weaken their effectiveness.

From the legal standpoint, all of these initiatives violate Sacrosanctum Concilium 22’s basic principle of liturgical law quoted by our first questioner. This norm is not restricted to the Mass but to the entire liturgy, including all celebrations of the sacraments and also the sacramentals. In the case of the sacramentals and the Liturgy of the Hours the official books themselves occasionally allow for greater leeway in choosing texts and modes of celebration, provided that certain core criteria are always met.

As our first correspondent observed, they also explicitly violate many other liturgical norms. This is the case in Q2 where, effectively, the only occasions when laypeople are allowed to read the Gospel along with the priest is Palm Sunday and Good Friday. The other exception, foreseen in No. 47 of the Directory for Masses with Children, does not apply to Masses celebrated for the whole parish community.

Read or download Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara’s, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university,  complete responses at Deviations in Holy Week.

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Continuing Debate: Same-Sex Marriage


Does Same-Sex Marriage or Civil Union Really Pose a Threat to the Family? I Mean, Really?

 Based on some intensive research I’d done recently in exploring the role of theology in the 21st century, I chose to look at same-sex unions from the ancients’ attitudes to more recent movements. The results were eye-opening. It led me to reconsider how much of a threat same-sex unions are to the “family,” especially in view of what family has become today in our culture. This article looks for a definition of marriage; perhaps we should re-examine our definition of family while we’re at it.

The number of states went up to eight, when on March 1, Maryland’s Governor Martin O’Malley, signed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage. It will not go into effect, however, until 2013 and opponents are collecting signatures to force a popular vote on the issue, the Washington Post reported on March 14.

Since 1998, 31 states have had ballot measures related to same-sex marriage, and opponents have prevailed in every state, the Associated Press reported on Wednesday.

Advocates for same-sex marriage have not been able to give an answer to the question “What is marriage?” that does not result in the complete collapse of the institution, wrote Matthew J. Franck, Director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute, for Public Discourse last December 15.

“That is to say, if men can marry men, and women marry women, we no longer know what the institution is, or what it is for, or what its boundaries are, or who is to be ruled in and who is to be ruled out as eligible to participate in it,” he commented. If same-sex marriage is allowed then the door is open for polygamy, polyamory and incest, he added.

Read or download the entire article at Same-Sex Marriage. Read what the English government is doing about redefining marriage: English Government Seeks New Definition Of Marriage.


Liturgy: Denying Eucharist to Someone


This question doesn’t seem to want to go away and there’s a reason for its persistence: our bishops have not set the example is one reason. The other reason resides in the canon law on the subject. The priest is caught between Scylla and Charybdis.

Only God knows with absolute certainty a person’s state of grace. The individual person can reach a reasonable moral certainty as to the present state of his soul. The priest usually has no knowledge as to a person’s state of grace. Even if a priest knows that a certain person is an habitual sinner, he cannot know if, before coming for Communion, that person has repented, confessed and is striving to remedy his ways.

Even if the priest is practically certain that a person should not receive Communion and would be committing a sacrilege by doing so, he should not publicly refuse to administer the sacrament. No person, not even a grave sinner, should be publicly exposed for hidden faults. Everybody has a right to preserve his good name unless it is lost by the sinner’s public actions or in virtue of a public penalty.

This is a very difficult situation for a priest to be in, but in this way he also shares in that same attitude which the Lord himself adopts in making himself available in the Eucharist. Only rarely will a priest be placed in such a difficult situation; the Eucharistic Lord faces it on a daily basis.

Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law indicates the principal cases in which Communion may be publicly refused. The canon says, “Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

Read or download the entire article on Denying Communion To Someone and more on ashes.


Blessing of a Child in the Womb


Vatican Approves English and Spanish Texts for ‘Blessing of a Child in the Womb’

WASHINGTON (March 26, 2012) —The Vatican has approved the publication of the “Rite for the Blessing of a Child in the Womb,” which will be printed in English and Spanish in a combined booklet and should be available for parishes by Mothers’ Day. The U.S. bishops who collaborated on the development of the blessing welcomed the announcement of the recognitio, or approval, by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in Rome.

“I’m impressed with the beauty of this blessing for human life in the womb,” said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). “I can think of no better day to announce this news than on the feast of the Annunciation, when we remember Mary’s ‘yes’ to God and the incarnation of that child in her the womb that saved the world.”

“We wanted to make this announcement as soon as possible so that parishes might begin to look at how this blessing might be woven into the fabric of parish life,” said Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Divine Worship. “Eventually the new blessing will be included in the Book of Blessings whenthat text is revised.”

The blessing was prepared to support parents awaiting the birth of their child, to encourage parish prayers for and recognition of the precious gift of the child in the womb, and to foster respect for human life within society. It can be offered within the context of the Mass as well as outside of Mass.

The blessing originated when then-Bishop Joseph Kurtz of Knoxville, Tennessee (now archbishop of Louisville, Kentucky) asked the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities to see if a blessing existed for a child in the womb. When none was found, the committee prepared a text and submitted it to the USCCB’s Divine Worship committee in March of 2008. It was approved by the full body of bishops in November 2008, and then sent to Rome for editing and final approval.

Read or download the Zenit release at Vatican Approves Blessing For Child In The Womb


The Beauty of the Annunication


We are reproducing a fine article that appeared in Zenith. The article does not need an introduction.

Five Joyous Pieces

Contemplating and Enjoying the Annunciation Through Artistic Genius

ROME, MARCH 29, 2012 (Zenit.org).- A few weeks ago, the ever-alert editors at ZENIT sent me an interesting idea for a column. A writer for the Catholic Herald UK had selected his favorite images of Mary to present to his readers. Taking a leaf from his blog, I thought I might propose a list of my five favorite images of the Annunciation in honor of the feast day this week.

It is impossible to choose a single favorite, therefore the list doesn’t go in any particular order, but simply presents five ways that artistic geniuses inRomehave offered this great mystery for our contemplation and enjoyment.

Sta Maria Maggiore, Triumphal Arch, Mosaic, c. 450

 1. The triumphal arch in the basilica of St. Mary Major contains one of the most unusual images of the Annunciation as Mary sits in a throne surrounded by attendant angels. No simple girl in a plain woven dress, this Mary wears regal robes and sits with the dignity of an empress. This mosaic, crafted in 450 for the first Western church dedicated to Mary, was made for an audience ofRome’s senatorial elite. Fashioned only a few years after the Council of Ephesus, where the Nestorian heresy had been defeated and Mary proclaimed Mother of God, this elegant work, made for the local aristocrats, intentionally conferred a royal aspect on Mary to evoke due homage from the Romans. A particularly interesting touch is that the Annunciation to Mary is paired with the angel speaking to Joseph — this is the first image of Joseph in the history of art.

Annunciation, Pietro Cavallini, Mosaic , 1290

2.  We cross the Tiberto Trastevere for the next image of the Annunciation, this time by Pietro Cavallini. This mosaic was crafted in 1290, almost a thousand years after that of St. Mary Major. The mosaic art was dying out, soon to be replaced by the medium of fresco, which was more versatile for narratives. Cavallini gave the art of mosaic its swan song in this series of small panels, very much an homage to the works in St. Mary Major. The gold ground of this Annunciation is dazzling and as light shimmers around the two figures it evokes the mystery and majesty of the event. But this mosaic is not all transcendence; Mary sits on a monumental throne, much like the triumphal arches of antiquity, still visible in the Forum. With Mary’s fiat to God, so begins the era of victory over sin and death. The Blessed Virgin is not bedecked in jewels nor swathed in folds of drapery as often portrayed in Byzantine art; her tunic falls around her revealing the human being underneath. In this work we also see God the Father in the upper left sending the Holy Spirit to Mary. As in all early representations of the First Person, He appears with the visage of Christ, the visible Person of the Trinity. Cavallini not only teaches but also delights. A bowl of figs sits by Mary’s one side while a vase of lilies stands by the other. It appears that Medieval artists rediscovered the still life a century before the Flemings and half a millennium before the Impressionists. Another innovation of Cavallini’s age was the rendering of perspective space. Over the head of the Virgin, the artists re-creates a coffered vault depicting a three dimensional space. In this ancient story, told in an archaic medium, Cavallini invents fresh new flourishes.

Annunciation, Filippo Lippi (student of Botticelli), 1492

3. The 13th century church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva forged a special bond with the Annunciation. Here, Cardinal Juan de Torquemada founded the Confraternity of the Annunciation in the 15th century. Together with other wealthy prelates, he started an endowment to provide poor girls with dowries. Every March 25, the Pope would preside over Mass in this space and then distribute the dowries to the future brides. It is therefore unsurprising that two ofRome’s best Annunciation paintings are in the same church. The first is in the right transept chapel, built by Cardinal Oliviero Caraffa in 1488. To decorate his chapel, Cardinal Caraffa consulted Lorenzo de Medici who suggested Filippino Lippi, the painter with finest pedigree in Renaissance art. As the son of Filippo Lippi, student of Botticelli and heir to Masaccio, there was nothing that could daunt this young painter. His Annunciation from 1492, turns traditional imagery around in a surprising new way. Mary receives the angel Gabriel not in a garden or bedroom, but in a study, much like a monastic cell. The wooden walls are constraining and her shelves are lined with books. Here, Mary embodies the motto of the Dominicans, who were and are the custodians of this church: Contemplare et contemplata aliis tradere – “to contemplate and to share with others the fruits of the contemplation.” In this dark enclosed space, Lippi painted Gabriel as an iridescent figure framed by an arch, who seems to gaze in awe at Mary. The Virgin, poised on a chair, is the pinnacle of the composition. To our surprise, she does an extraordinary thing; turning her back on the angel, she directs her attention to two onlookers, St. Thomas Aquinas who is presenting a kneeling Cardinal Caraffa. Could it be that the Virgin was distracted during the Annunciation? Of course not. The luminous hues of the angel also envelope her cloak while the matte red of her dress matches the robes of the Cardinal. Her hand is raised in blessing toward her devotees and thus we see Mary in this work as a conduit of grace. Having received the grace of the Lord, she already turns to pass it on to others.

Annunciation, Antoniazzo Romano, 1500

4.  A few steps down the same aisle will bring the pilgrim to the second image of the Annunciation, in the chapel of the homonymous Confraternity where they met and prayed together. This altarpiece is by Antoniazzo Romano, a painter born just a few steps away from the Pantheon. Despite being painted in 1500, the zenith of the High Renaissance, Antoniazzo’s work looks a little old-fashioned. The figures of the angel and Mary are larger compared to the others in the panel and the background is a wall of gold leaf. Antoniazzo was not ignorant of Renaissance innovations, however, he chose to use them sparingly so as to not distract from the central significance of the story. Mary and Gabriel are indeed the protagonists of this event, and the smaller cardinal with the young maidens are in fact of minor importance. Despite the elegant lines of the figures and his good drawing skills, with Antoniazzo the hierarchy of heaven takes precedence. Similarly, Antoniazzo has learned the new art of perspective as is visible in the floor tiles, but chooses to leave the gold ground like the many mosaicked apses ofRome. Antoniazzo sparingly adds details from the empirical world, but the true wonder of the Annunciation is in its mystery of incarnation, and Antoniazzo’s artistic decisions underscore this.

Annunciation, Marcello Venusti, 1500

5. The last is a little-known work by Marcello Venusti, a follower of Michelangelo. This Annunciation, dated around 1550, is kept in the Corsini Gallery in Trastevere. Venusti was part of Michelangelo’s closest circle and was commissioned to make a copy of the master’s Last Judgment for Cardinal Alessandro Farnese. Michelangelo often prepared designs for Venusti’s works and it is likely that the Florentine genius was responsible for the composition of this work. Unlike the other versions of the Annunciation, this was not meant for public display, but private devotion. In this panel, the Virgin does not kneel in submission, but looks startled, taken by surprise by the angel in her room. The sharp turn of her body and the raised hand indicate an immediate reaction to the unexpected. This type of image was well suited to private devotion as it captured the way that God often surprises us when He calls. A statue of Moses with the Old Law sits on her table. The prophet appears to be smashing his tablets. The Old Covenant with God will be now superseded by Mary, theArkof the New Covenant. This little panel must have provided much fruit for meditation for its former owner.

These five joyful pieces have allowed generations of Romans to contemplate the mystery of the Incarnation through different perspectives, styles and techniques in a case where all roads lead to God.

 * * *

Elizabeth Lev teaches Christian art and architecture at DuquesneUniversity’s Italian campus and Universityof St. Thomas’ Catholic Studies program. Her new book, “The Tigress of Forlì: Renaissance Italy’s Most Courageous and Notorious Countess, Caterina Riario Sforza de’ Medici” was published by Harcourt, Mifflin Houghton Press this fall.  She can be reached at lizlev@zenit.org

Read or download the full article on Sacred Art And Its Most Intimate Essence.

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Articles of Interest


Here are some worthwhile short reads I’ve selected from Zenit News From Rome:

Art+Faith-Visible Images of the Invisible God: Art historian Monsignor Timothy Verdon, director of the Office of Sacred Art and Cultural Goods of the archdiocese of Florence, will be there and he spoke to ZENIT about the event.

Binging Sacred Music Back to Liturgy: Participant in Mexico Conference Shares Insights

Englands Wars of Religion: Same-Sex ‘Marriage,’ Prayer Ban and Faith Cards

Findng Jesus in Israel: Vicar of Hebrew-Speaking Catholics Tells His Story

Journeying Together Toward Spiritual Perfection: Australian seminarian reflects upon ancient tradition of visiting station churches

Liturgy-Exorcism of Salt and Water: The previous Book of Blessings included a blessing (exorcism) of salt and water which would then be mixed together. To my knowledge the current Book of Blessings does not include this type of prayer but just prayers for the Blessing of Holy Water. Is it still permissible to use to old prayers of blessings over salt and water … and the prayer of blessing over oil which exorcists use in their ministry?

Pope’s Ash Wednesday Homily_Gods Unthinkable Nearness: Gods Unthinkable Nearness: “God’s Unthinkable Nearness … Opens the Passage to the Resurrection”

On the 40 Days of Lent: “Time Spent in the Desert Can Be Transformed Into a Time of Grace”

Where to Draw the Line on Cooperating With Evil: What Would It Mean to Follow Obama’s Health Care Mandate?


My Brother the Pope


Maria, George, Joseph Ratzinger

The following is an excerpt from “My Brother the Pope“by Msgr Georg Ratzinger as told to Michael Hesemann. © 2012 Ignatius Press -–

Generally speaking, our family made a big thing of Christmas. The preparations already began with the First Sunday of Advent. At that time, the Rorate Masses were celebrated at six in the morning, and the priests wore white vestments. Normally violet is the color of the vestments in Advent, but these were special votive Masses that were supposed to recall the appearance of the Archangel Gabriel to the Mother of God and her words, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to thy word” (Lk 1:38). That was the main theme of these “liturgies of the angels,” as they were also called, in which the appropriate passage from the Gospel of Luke was read. After we started school, we used to attend these Masses in the early morning, before classes began. Outside it was still night, everything was dark, and the people often shivered in the cold. Yet the warm glow of the sanctuary compensated for the early rising and the walk through snow and ice. The dark church was illuminated by candles and tapers, which were often brought by the faithful and provided not only light but also a little warmth. Afterward we went home first, ate breakfast, and only then set out for school. These Rorate Masses were wonderful signposts leading us to Christmas.

In our family, though, it was not only Christmas that was marked by the deep faith of our parents and the religious customs of our homeland. From our parents we learned what it means to have a firm grasp of faith in God. Every day we prayed together, and in fact before and after each meal (we ate our breakfast, dinner and supper together). The main prayer time was after the mid-day dinner, when the particular concerns of the family were expressed. Part of it was the prayer to Saint Dismas, the “good thief,” a former criminal who was crucified together with Jesus on Mount Calvary, repented on the cross, and begged the Lord for mercy. We prayed to him, the patron of repentant thieves, to protect Father from professional troubles.

Read more at and view a slideshow at Huffington Post Religion.

Read or download the ZENIT-exclusive “Excerpt from My Brother the Pope,” by Monsignor Georg Ratzinger as told to Michael Hesemann. Ignatius Press will release the English translation of the book on March 1, 2012.


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