Do you have more faith than a dog? Lets See

022613The picture at right shows “Tommy” the Dog. According to the article which featured the picture, Tommy the dog has not missed a single mass in the small church in southern Italy where his owner’s funeral was held. When the bells of the Santa Maria Assunta church in San Donaci toll each afternoon the 12-year-old German Shepherd sets off from the village to get himself a front row seat next to the altar. After following his mistress’s coffin up to the church on the day of her funeral, Tommy has returned daily, sitting quietly throughout masses, baptisms and funerals, according to local priest Donato Panna, who now wouldn’t do without him.

It is a remarkable feat of “faith” or shall we say remembering. Here was the last place the dog experienced his owner. And thus it is here that the dog gathers with others each day to “remember.”

At the Last Supper Jesus expressed a wish, it was the final request of a dying friend and Lord: Do this in remembrance of me. And thus each Sunday, indeed, every day the Church gathers with her Lord to remember.

Old Tommy the Dog gets it, he remembers. He comes each day to the last known sighting of his former owner, a lady whom the townsfolk say loved the Lord.

Tommy the Dog is in the right place, for at the altar, at Jesus feet, he is close to his owner, for she is in caught up in the Lord as a member of the Lord’s mystical body. And to be close to the Lord is to be close to her.

I often tell people who have lost loved ones that they will never be closer to them now than at the Altar of the Lord.

Tommy the Dog “gets it.” Do you and I? Are you smarter than a dog? Do we have more faith than this Dog?

Scripture says, The ox knows his owner, and the donkey his master’s manger: but Israel has not known me, and my people have not understood. (Is 1:3).

Well, lets hope that’s not the Lord’s final description of us. Let’s hope a few of us “get it” and have come to find and know the Lord.

Follow the example of Tommy the Dog.  Yes Tommy, you’ve got it right.

Restoring Greater Reverence to Sick Calls

In my Parish I work with the men of the Holy Name Society and also the women of the Sodality to ensure that the numerous sick in our parish are visited regularly. I try to visit the sick at least quarterly on a rolling basis to ensure they have had confession and anointing of the Sick. But, since I am without an assistant priest, as a general rule, I depend on them to bring communion regularly.

We met as a group this past week and had an interesting discussion about a concern that a number of them expressed, that of reverence. When they arrive at the home to which they visit it is not infrequent that a television is blaring, and the person to whom they bring communion is often unprepared by others in the home to receive Holy Communion. It is frequent that the extraordinary minister must ask that the television be turned down and that others might prayerfully participate. I too, upon visiting many of the sick encounter similar issues: loud TVs, other family members who do not understand the sacredness of the moment and a generally difficult setting in which to pray or reflect.

I do not blame either the sick or the family members for this situation. I blame myself and fellow clergy, many of whom, (though not all), have failed to teach or to explain to parishioners and family members (some of whom are not Catholic) as to proper protocol in this matter.

I explained to the extraordinary ministers assembled last week that we must re-catechize and teach on this matter. It will take time but, little by little, perhaps we can make progress toward restoring a greater reverence to sick calls. It is a general fact that sick calls have become very informal over the years. When the liturgy underwent sweeping changes in the 1970s many things were dropped (though we were not directed to drop them) that we are now rediscovering to be of importance.

In the “old days” the visit of the priest to bring communion and/or anointing to the sick was a matter of some formality. Most homes had a sick-call kit on hand that included things like a cross, candles, a cloth, cotton, and a bowl of water. If the priest were on First Friday rounds he might even be escorted by a server with a lit candle. At other times, a family member might greet the priest at the door with a candle and escort the priest to the room where the sick person was. In that room the “altar” was usually set up somewhat like the photo above. Family members usually stood by quietly while the priest administered the sacraments. If the priest did talk with the sick person or the family it was usually very brief. Since he had the Blessed Sacrament, casual talking was kept to a minimum. As he left, if he still had the Blessed Sacrament he was escorted by a family member with a candle. (Photo at left was taken in 1942 – Double-Click and get a better view).

Now what is described in the paragraph above did vary based on location and circumstances. First Friday Holy Communions were more formal. Emergencies might exclude some of the formalities. There were also ethnic differences. Other factors such as the catholicity of other family members and how devout each family was were also factors. But what was described above was the practice in usual circumstances, give or take a few details.

In recent times, as already noted, most of these details have fallen away. Like so many things in our culture we have become very casual, very informal. But it may be beneficial for us to rediscover some of the older practices in order to restore greater reverence to sick calls. I would like to suggest a few matters of protocol for your reflection. I will begin with a few disclaimers and offer some suggestions to which you are invited to add or critique.


  1. Not everything in the list that follows is possible or even advisable in every situation. Sometimes sick calls are hastily arranged due to emergencies and preparing a sick call altar might mean time away from a distressed or dying relative. Sometimes in nursing homes all the implements are not available or even allowed. For example many nursing homes would not allow the burning of candles. Hence, prudential judgment will weigh in on what is necessary, possible and advisable.
  2. Family situations may also affect the preparation of the sick call altar and other protocol. There may be no one in the home healthy enough to assemble the implements. There may be family members who are non-Catholic and choose not to participate in the rites and preparations.
  3. Not all the implements shown above are necessary for every sick call. Sometimes there will not be anointing and, hence a good amount of the things shown above are not necessary. Even if there is an anointing, it may not be necessary to do everything shown above. Here too, factors vary.
  4. What follows are recommendations only. Not absolute requirements. The hope is to instill some thoughtfulness as to the reverence due the moment of a sick call. Reverence is not pure science. Externals can and do help but ultimately it is our internal disposition that is most important.
  5. Regarding these recommendations, take what you like and leave the rest. Add to them and distinguish as you wish. Discussion with your parish priest is also helpful.


    1. Consider preparing the place where the Sacraments will be celebrated. If possible and necessary, tidy up a bit.
    2. Consider preparing a sick call table (or altar). Most commonly such a table included at least a candle. Preferably, there is a cross and two candles. A small glass of water is helpful since the sick person sometimes has trouble swallowing the host and a little water can help. A spoon is helpful if the person has a hard time sitting up to drink the water. A napkin of some sort can help if the person spills any water when drinking or gets their face wet. If the priest is going to anoint the sick person it may be helpful to have some cotton balls for him to wipe his fingers. If he does use them they are later to be burned. The picture above also shows bread and lemons to help the priest purify his fingers after anointing but these are rarely necessary and should not be supplied unless the priest asks for them ahead of time.
    3. Sick call kits containing many of these implements are available through Catholic catalogues. For example, HERE & HERE
    4. If possible and advisable, have the sick person awake and aware that the sacraments are about to be celebrated just prior to the arrival of the priest, deacon or extraordinary minister.
    5. Be sure that when the priest, deacon or extraordinary Minister arrives, the television, radio etc. are off and that other unnecessary conversations and activities in the house are ended.
  • In the past it was customary for someone to meet the priest at the door with a candle. This was done out of reverence for the Blessed Sacrament. This can still be done today and is a wonderful way to teach others of the sacredness of the moment.
  1. It is preferable to have all the members of the household prayerfully aware of what is taking place. If the room is large enough they can be encouraged to pray along. It may be necessary for some brief privacy while a priest hears confession, but otherwise members of the household can and should join in prayer. It is certainly inappropriate for loud conversations to be taking place in the next room, for children to be playing video games and for any unnecessary activities to be taking place. It is to be hoped that even non-Catholics be respectful of the sacred rites, as they most often are. Usually just a word of invitation and encouragement is all that is needed.
  2. It is best for the priest, deacon or extraordinary minister to celebrate the rites right away. Surely a greeting and an inquiry of health is appropriate. But long conversations prior to the reception of Sacraments is inadvisable. After the celebration of the Sacraments longer and cordial conversations can take place. It is sometimes the case that the priest, deacon or extraordinary minister has other stops to make and, after the rites is still carrying the host with them. In such a case it is not wrong to have conversation with the sick person as this is an act of charity. However, one ought to balance the fact of the presence of the Blessed Sacrament and the need for conversation with prudence and reverence. Staying for lunch and lengthy chatty visits etc. is discouraged in such cases.
  3. Reverential prayer and celebration of the rites is also necessary for those who bring communion.
  4. Those who bring communion to the sick should go straightway to them and not stop at stores. It is best to drive in silence, pray or listen to religious music rather than secular radio in carrying the Blessed Sacrament.

 So, here are some recommendations. Feel free to add to them in the comments and make necessary distinctions. Remember all of this is not possible all the time. The recommendations are made in hopes of provoking thought and discussion on the question of reverence in sick calls. They are made more as gentle reminders than polemical pronouncements. I do not assume that any one intends to be irreverent. It is just that we have become very casual these days and reminders seem opportune.

Vatican Liturgists Present Proposals for Change to the Pope

In an Article published in the Italian Newspaper Il Giornale Journalist Andrea Tornielli reports that the Roman Dicastery responsible for the Sacred Liturgy met and proposed certain reforms for the consideration of the Pope. I reproduce a translated excerpts of that article here with some of my own thoughts in RED.

ROME. A document was delivered to the hands of Benedict XVI in the morning of last April 4 by Spanish Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship. It is the result of a reserved vote, which took place on March 12, in the course of a “plenary” session of the dicastery responsible for the liturgy, and it represents the first concrete step towards that “reform of the reform” often desired by Pope Ratzinger.

 The Cardinals and Bishops members of the Congregation voted almost unanimously in favor of a greater sacrality [sacredness] of the rite, of the recovery of the sense of Eucharistic worship, of the recovery of the Latin language in the celebration, and of the remaking of the introductory parts of the Missal in order to put a stop to abuses, wild experimentation, and inappropriate creativity. [There have been many observations over the decades that Masses in some places have become too informal. In many cases the action of worshipping God seems almost lost. The author of a book I read some years ago summarized many parish masses as “the aware and gathered community celebrating itself.” The personality of the priest and other liturgical leaders also seems exagerated in some celebrations of the Mass. Hence a re-emphasis that the Mass is an act of worship directed to God seems an important reminder and an antidote for mistaken notion that the Mass is really more for the self-actualization of the gathered faithful. However, I think we have to be careful to avoid the tendency that some have to frown upon joyful expression in the liturgy. Reverence doesn’t have to mean that everyone looks like they just sucked a lemon. Different cultures may well be more expressive than others and joyful praise can be very worshipful. The main point is to be sure that God is at the center and that it is He who is being worshipped. As for the liturgical abuses, they are clearly an ugly problem that persists.  I think of them as a sign of pride, that somehow Father or some liturgy committee knows better than the Church. Liturgical abuses are also a form of injustice since they rob the faithful of the Liturgy they are entitled to. Abuses and violations of liturgical law cause division not unity. Hence they are not of God.]

They have also declared themselves favorable to reaffirming  that the usual way of receiving Communion according to the norms is not on the hand, but in the mouth. There is, it is true, an indult which, on request of the [local] bishops, allows for the distribution of the host on the palm of the hand, but this must remain an extraordinary fact.[This may cause something of a stir. But notice that they are not saying the practice of receiving on the hand must end. Rather they state it is not the norm but is a departure that is permitted in some places. But it does seem to start a trajectory away from the practice of Communion in the hand. The Pope, at his Masses usually gives Communion only to the faithful kneeling and on the tongue. Several Bishops aroung the world have revoked the practice of permitting communion in the hand in their dioceses. I have also noticed in my parish, through no suggestion of mine that more people are returning to the practice of receiving on the tongue. I am not sure of the final outcome of this but a clear preference for communion on the tongue has been expressed by the Pope and the Congregation for Divine Worship. That is not something to ignore and it will proabably have ripple effects in the wider Church].

The Prefect of the Congregatoin for Divine Worship, Cardinal Cañizares, is also having studies made on the possibility to recover the orientation towards the east, at least at the moment of the eucharistic consecration, as it happened in practice before the reform, when both the faithful and the priest faced towards the Cross and the priest therefore turned his back to the assembly. [ Here too a pretty radical shift away from current practice. Put in plainer language it means that they are studying the possibility of returning to the practice of the priest standing at the altar with the congregation behind him, but only for the Eucharistic Prayer. It is wrong to say that the priest turns his back on the people. Rather, priest and people all face the same direction. In the early Church it was the practice for everyone to face to the East (looking toward the Light, toward God and toward the direction from whence Christ would come again). As the Church spread, it was not always possible for every Church to be oriented (to the east) so the cross in the sanctuary came to represent a symbolic east. Everyone faced the cross to pray. Although it may seem seem strange today to those who never experienced the older way, consider this example. Suppose a community leader is leading a large group of citizens forward to greet a dignitary. When he speaks on behalf of the group to the dignitary who will he face? It would be strange for him to face the crowd while he spoke to the dignitary on their behalf. No, he faces the person he addresses. This necessarily means he “has his back to the crowd” but no one thinks of it this way. Thus, in the old days, when the priest spoke to God on our behalf he faced God, to the East, or toward the cross.Understood this way it is not all that odd.  The practice of everyone facing one direction for Mass continued all the way to 1965 when altars began to be turned and priests began to face the congregation. Truth be told this is an innovation unknown before 1965 and it has seriously changed the whole tenor of the Mass and tended to shift the focus to the assembly. Many liturgical theologians have strongly recommended that we study and revisit this practice. Where this study will go is uncertain and it is unlikely that we will see any sudden changes in this practice, but here too  the tide seems to be turning].

…..the “propositiones” voted by the Cardinals and Bishops at the March plenary [also]foresee a ….recovery of the celebrations in Latin in the dioceses, at least in the main solemnities, as well as the publication of bilingual Missals – a request made at his time by Paul VI – with the Latin text first. [ This is not a return to ALL LATIN. Rather it is their intent to make the Latin more accessible to the celebrant and encourage more use of Latin espeically at feast days. Today if I want to say the canon in Latin, I have to flip a lot of pages to find it in the missal. The proposal by the Cardinals would make it easier to find and encourage the use of Latin more frequently].

OK. I know these proposals will not be without controversy. Please feel free to weigh in with comments and thoughts. That’s a main purpose of this blog after all, to generate discussion. Fire away.

I’ve posted this video before but it shows the practice of “facing east” during the Eucharistic Prayer.

Reductio Ad Absurdum – Host in the Post!

The following article appeared in the  UK Guardian and was written by Riazat Butt, Religious affairs correspondent.  My remarks are in red.

In recent years the communion wafer has been made available in a variety of forms – including patterned, wholemeal, crumb-proof and gluten-free – to satisfy the demands of modern life. Soon, altar bread will become even more convenient and accessible with the advent of the “host in the post”. That’s right they are offering to mail your Holy Communion to your house!

The new service, from the Open Episcopal Church, (Thank God such a crazy idea would never be allowed in the Catholic where the True Presence is so powerfully experienced.) is aimed at people who either cannot attend Eucharist, through age or ill-health, or those who have drifted away from church. (What about visiting the sick? One of the corporal works of of mercy is to visit the sick, not mail them communion. A spiritual work of mercy is to correct the sinner not mail communion to drifters)

Although the pre-consecrated wafer is free, there will be a charge for postage and packing. Receiving one host costs £2; receiving 500 costs £10. (Oh come on, how stingy, can’t you afford the price of a little stamp to mail out Jesus?)

Jonathan Blake, the Open Episcopal Church bishop… said the initiative was also designed to reverse the way the church presented itself to people. “The sense they have to go to places to worship is something their parents did. The churches we work with have got respect for the fact that we’re taking the church to places it hasn’t been before. (No you aren’t. To presume that the Church is just some sort of mail list is absurd. Go to the sick, talk to them, listen to them, anoint them. Reach out to drifters and the unevangelized.  Actually meet them. Talk, listen, invite. Jesus said, Go into the town and villages, sure the sick and summon people to faith. Physical proximity IS important. Jesus didn’t say mail letters, he said GO (cf Matt 28)

“It is a mistake to locate a church as those who gather in a building. There is a large population who have haemorrhaged away from church but regard themselves as committed Christians.” (So mail Jesus to them? What about correcting their mistaken notions that Sunday communal worship isn’t essential to being a “committed Christian” ? What about teaching that God commands that we keep holy the Sabbath. Maybe people drift away because you don’t teach them anything or expect anything. Just a thought. )

He said the organisation was taking “care and concern” over appropriate packaging for the wafer, (well that’s a relief!) which is no more than a millimetre thick, to ensure it remained intact on arrival, before adding that anyone – including atheists and even satanists – could avail themselves of the service.  “Jesus did not make these distinctions. He gave himself to anyone and everyone. It makes no difference, the body of Christ is redeeming.” (That’s right, Jesus doesn’t care about desecration…uh wait a minute…maybe he does read Matt 7:6…. and while you’re at it read what his Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write: ! Cor 11:27-31)

News of Blake’s latest innovation did not elicit a response from the Church of England, which, as a rule, does not comment on the internal affairs of other churches. (sigh…)

_____________________________________End of Article

Well, there you have it. A horrible loss in sacramental theology as well as ecclesiology. Theoretically the Episcopal Church has some belief in the true presence, though we as Catholics do not accept that they have it…but set that aside for a moment. How can someone who believes in the true presence ever put the Eucharist in the mail.? It is unthinkable but the unthinkable has happened. As Catholics we are preparing to celebrate Corpus Christi Sunday wherein we reaffirm our belief in the true presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and make atonement for disbelief in this sacrament. Consider well what you have just read and the thinking behind it. Reaffirm your faith in our Lord’s True Presence and pray for all to return devotedly to this most Blessed Sacrament found truly in the Catholic Church.

Consider too the faulty notion of the Church operative in this silly idea. To presume that the Church can or does exist only as a mail list is absurd. Christ wants to gather us together in a true communion that includes our physical presence to others in the Body of Christ. The Church does not exist in the “ether”  or in some sort of vague togetherness but in an actual communion of persons with each other and with Christ. The Church is gathered, not scattered. The Church may communicate to the broader world through mail or in other ways but ultimately a Church that does not gather is no Church at all. Communion CANNOT be received alone. It must be ministered to us and received in communion with others. Jesus celebrated the First Communion with the Apostles gathered. He did not tell them to go to their houses and there they would find a little gift he had sent them. He gathered them, prayed for them taught them and fed them. This is true Charity. To go out and gather the lost and the drifted, the unevangelized and gather them together in the unity Christ intends, and to feed them with his body and blood.

This video is a musical setting the ancient hymn “Ubi Caritas” by Durufle. The text is Ubi caritas et amor Deus ibi est. Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor. (Where there is charity and love, God is there. The Love of Chirst GATHERS us in one). So the love of Christ wants to gather us, not have us remain scattered. That is why he sent us out to gather in disciples of all the nations (not just send them mail).

Call to Unity

The video below was produced by and presents some thoughtful questions to ponder. Questions such as, Did Jesus intend all this disunity among Christians? Do we tend to “paper-over” our disunity and minimize its seriousness?. If Christ intended only one Church then how can we determine the one True Church? At points the video is a bit hard to hear but it surely gives a lot to think about. The truth be told, the disunity among Christians is a grave and serious scandal. It is certainly opposed to the will of Jesus who said:  I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:21-22) The website mentioned above is thoughtful and scholarly and I recommend it to your attention.

Another Hat tip to Canterbury Tales