Thursday, June 18, 2009


Today Pope Benedict XVI released his Letter to Priests, in honor of the upcoming priestly year, and on the occasion of the Feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Vianney, patron saint of parish priests.

As Our Lady of the Angels parish moves forward, one would do well to meditate upon this portion of the Holy Father's letter:

Here the teaching and example of St. John Mary Vianney can serve as a significant point of reference for us all. The Cure of Ars was quite humble, yet as a priest he was conscious of being an immense gift to his people: "A good shepherd, a pastor after God's heart, is the greatest treasure which the good Lord can grant to a parish, and one of the most precious gifts of divine mercy". He spoke of the priesthood as if incapable of fathoming the grandeur of the gift and task entrusted to a human creature: "O, how great is the priest! ... If he realised what he is, he would die. ... God obeys him: he utters a few words and the Lord descends from heaven at his voice, to be contained within a small host". Explaining to his parishioners the importance of the Sacraments, he would say:

"Without the Sacrament of Holy Orders, we would not have the Lord. Who put Him there in that tabernacle? The priest. Who welcomed your soul at the beginning of your life? The priest. Who feeds your soul and gives it strength for its journey? The priest. Who will prepare it to appear before God, bathing it one last time in the blood of Jesus Christ? The priest, always the priest. And if this soul should happen to die [as a result of sin], who will raise it up, who will restore its calm and peace? Again, the priest. ... After God, the priest is everything! ... Only in heaven will he fully realise what he is". 

These words, welling up from the priestly heart of the holy pastor, might sound excessive. Yet they reveal the high esteem in which he held the Sacrament of the Priesthood. He seemed overwhelmed by a boundless sense of responsibility: "Were we to fully realise what a priest is on earth, we would die: not of fright, but of love. ... Without the priest, the passion and death of our Lord would be of no avail. It is the priest who continues the work of redemption on earth. ... What use would be a house filled with gold, were there no one to open its door? The priest holds the key to the treasures of heaven: it is he who opens the door: he is the steward of the good Lord; the administrator of His goods. ... Leave a parish for twenty years without a priest, and they will end by worshipping the beasts there. ... The priest is not a priest for himself, he is a priest for you".

These are not the words of a mere "traditionalist" blogger -- they are the words of a saint, quoted by the Vicar of Christ.  Let us take them to heart, in humility and in gratitude for the inestimable gift of the priesthood in our lives.

For a great commentary on the letter, check our Fr. Z's blog here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


And so we approach the end of the Pauline year, which Pope Benedict XVI inaugurated to celebrate the 2000th birthday of the consummate Apostle.  With its conclusion, however, comes a new beginning - The Year of the Priest, beginning this Friday, June 19, on the Feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

As the Universal Church comes to a crossroads, so too does its little Pizza-Hutted microcosm in Kenai, Alaska - Our Lady of the Angels Parish.  Here, too, begins a Year of the Priest for the first time in over 20 years, as former parish administrator Sr. Joyce Ross and her attaché Sr. Joan Barina are currently en route to the eastern seaboard from whence they came over 30 years ago.  Their management of the parish - lauded by some, condemned by others - should neither be underestimated nor forgotten.  But it is done.

What now?

There are many issues to be addressed.  In no particular order, this blog will attempt to identify and comment on them.


While Canon Law makes concessions for an in solidum ministry "when circumstances require it" (Can. 517), the circumstantial reason given for the 'Pastoral Team' was the OMI vocation to "live in community" with fellow OMI brethren.  This is not one of the four OMI charisms, and in any case was certainly not one of the conditions demanded of the very first Catholic priest in Alaska, Fr. Jean Séguin, OMI.

Also, given their beloved and somewhat solitary predecessor Fr. Tero, neither does it seem likely that Fr. Tony, Fr. Andy, and Fr. Joe were viewed by Peninsula Catholics as possible predators in need of constant self-surveillance . 

The most likely reason for the Pastoral Team method was the presence of Sr. Joyce at Our Lady of the Angels parish, Marlys Verba at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Soldotna, and Sr. Carol at St. John the Baptist in Homer.  Because these women had become entrenched in their authoritarian roles in the absence of a constant priestly presence (and at the expense of a beleaguered Fr. Tero, one might add), and because removing them from said roles would be a possibly painful transition, and could plausibly alienate some parishioners, it no doubt seemed prudent to Frs. Tony, Andy, and Joe to allow them to continue to dictate parish policy and serve as the de facto administrators of the Peninsula parishes.

However, with the departure of Sr. Joyce, the dynamic changes significantly.  Not only was Sr. Joyce the most audacious and knowledgeable at navigating the liminal area between bending and breaking the rules of liturgy, orthodoxy, and hierarchy, but she had the benefit of spending an entire generation at one parish.  Thirty years of attending and assisting at baptisms, first communions and confessions, marriages, and funerals will win hearts simply by virtue of consistency.  As evidenced by comments on this blog, even those who opposed Sr. Joyce's usurpation of priestly duties will miss seeing her friendly and familiar face.  And those same opponents would probably begrudgingly admit that, of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, Sr. Joyce had a particular capacity for understanding and counsel -- such things solidified her claim as "pastor" on more than one parishioner's heart.  It remains to be seen whether or not Sr. Joyce's influence will outlast her manifest presence among such hearts.

Our concern is mainly with the priests.  Now that Sr. Joyce is gone, so too is their greatest hindrance in assuming full pastoral responsibilities in each parish.  Let us remember that the Church's law defines a parish as a "certain community of the Christian faithful stably constituted in a particular church, whose pastoral care is entrusted to a pastor" (Can. 515).  And to become a pastor, "one must be in the sacred order of the presbyterate", i.e. priesthood.  (Can. 521).  Therefore, priests are the norm for each parish - not Pastoral Teams, not nuns, and certainly not laywomen in albs.

Over the past year and a half, the priests have expressed their desire to get to know their parishioners better; Fr. Tony said as much to a national audience at

One of the more important tasks is to make sure parishioners get to know their priests, Father Dummer said.  Familiarity is important when a priest is called upon to anoint the sick, visit the homebound, and perform baptism and funeral services, he added.

"We decided that it is most important for them to get to know us, so they feel comfortable," Father Dummer said.  "It's hard on people when they don't know us."

Most parishioners at Our Lady of the Angels no doubt agree with Fr. Tony.  Most, however, would also say that these have become empty words in the wake of the Pastoral Team method.  This reader's comment from an April 9th post sums things up:  

Our three priests, although always attempting to be effective as priests, are not familiar to us. Fr. Tony is more familiar than Fr. Joe and Fr. Andy. But there is little more than chit chat that takes place between us. Numerous parishioners have commented that they wanted to get to know the priests better, spend time with them, but when asked to get together, there is never time. At Church after Mass, there is the usual greetings and smiles, then the running away to meetings. (No peaceful time to just be a pastor to us.)

It is the opinion of this blog that the Pastoral Team approach should be seen for what it is: a failure.  The People of God on the Peninsula need more than a part-time priest in their parishes; they need the full, sacramental, pastoral presence outlined by Church law.  It is also the opinion of this blog that Peninsula Catholics should make known both their desire and their need for a full pastoral presence, both to the OMIs on the Peninsula and the Archbishop.

Lastly, the Vatican has announced a plenary indulgence in conjunction with the Year of Priests.  Here are the necessary details:

The means to obtain the Plenary Indulgence are as follows:

(A) All truly penitent priests who, on any day, devotedly pray Lauds or Vespers before the Blessed Sacrament exposed to public adoration or in the tabernacle, and ... offer themselves with a ready and generous heart for the celebration of the Sacraments, especially the Sacrament of Penance, will be granted Plenary Indulgence, which they can also apply to their deceased confreres, if in accordance with current norms they take Sacramental Confession and the Eucharist and pray in accordance with the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff. Priests are furthermore granted Partial Indulgence, also applicable to deceased confreres, every time they devotedly recite the prayers duly approved to lead a saintly life and to carry out the duties entrusted to them.

(B) All truly penitent Christian faithful who, in church or oratory, devotedly attend Holy Mass and offer prayers to Jesus Christ, supreme and eternal Priest, for the priests of the Church, or perform any good work to sanctify and mould them to His Heart, are granted Plenary Indulgence, on the condition that they have expiated their sins through Sacramental Confession and prayed in accordance with the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff. This may be done on the opening and closing days of the Year of Priests, on the 150th anniversary of the death of St. Jean Marie Vianney, on the first Thursday of the month, or on any other day established by the ordinaries of particular places for the good of the faithful.

The elderly, the sick and all those who for any legitimate reason are unable to leave their homes, may still obtain Plenary Indulgence if, with the soul completely removed from attachment to any form of sin and with the intention of observing, as soon as they can, the usual three conditions, "on the days concerned, they pray for the sanctification of priests and offer their sickness and suffering to God through Mary, Queen of the Apostles".

Partial Indulgence is offered to all faithful each time they pray five Our Father, Ave Maria and Gloria Patri, or any other duly approved prayer "in honour of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to ask that priests maintain purity and sanctity of life". 

Please consider offering the graces attributed to the indulgence for our priests.

Monday, June 15, 2009

WHY WE KNEEL: Reason and Emotion

Hat-tip to Steve Ray's blog, which highlights an entire site devoted to Eucharistic miracles.

However, the miracle below, which took place in Chirattakonam, India in 2001, should remind us why bowing, genuflecting, and latria -- worship reserved for God alone -- are not only important but necessary when we encounter the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

The Rev. Fr. Johnson Karnoor, pastor of the church where the Eucharistic miracle took place, recounts in his deposition: “On April 28, 2001, in the parish church of St. Mary of Chirattakonam,  we began the Novena to St. Jude Thaddeus as we did every year. At 8:49am, I exposed the Most Holy Sacrament in the monstrance for public adoration. After a few moments I saw what appeared to be three dots in the Holy Eucharist. I then stopped praying 

and began to look at the monstrance, also inviting the faithful to admire the three dots. I then asked the faithful to remain in prayer and reposed the monstrance in the tabernacle. On April 30th, I celebrated the Holy Mass and on the following day I left for Trivandrum. On Saturday morning, the 5th of May 2001, I opened the church for the usual liturgical celebrations. I vested for Mass and went to open the tabernacle to see what had happened to the Eucharist in the monstrance. I immediately noted in the Host, a figure, to the likeness of a human face. I was deeply moved and asked the faithful to kneel and begin praying. I thought I alone could see the face so I asked the altar server what he noticed in the monstrance. He answered: ‘I see the figure of a man.’ I noticed that the rest of the faithful were looking intently at the monstrance.

“We began Adoration and as the minutes went by, the image became more and more clear. I did not have the courage to say anything and I began to cry. During Adoration, we have the practice of reading a passage from Holy Scriptures. The reading ofthe day was the one from Chapter 20 in the Gospel of John, which narrates the story of when Jesus appeared to St. Thomas and asked him to look at the wounds. I was only able to say a few words in my homily, and, having to leave for the nearby parish of Kokkodu to celebrate Mass, I immediately summoned a photographer to take pictures of the Holy Eucharist with the human face on it. After two hours all the photos were developed; with the passing of the time the face in every photo became more and more clear.”  

It is salient to note the Eucharistic martyrdom of the apostle St. Thomas in India, which Warren Carroll memorably recounts in his book The Founding of Christendom:

One day in A.D. 72 Thomas was praying in a cave on a hill called the Little Mount.  Brahmins from the temple of Kali attacked him.  One pierced his heart with a lance -- just as Christ's heart had been pierced [Jn 19:34], one of the wounds Thomas had demanded to touch before he would believe in the Resurrection [Jn 20:26-29].

For more on the Chirattakonam miracle, you can go to

And because this blog loves the Pope, here's Benedict XVI on the importance of kneeling and genuflecting:

...the spiritual and bodily meanings of proskynein [kneeling] are really inseparable.  The bodily gesture itself is the bearer of the spiritual meaning, which is precisely that of worship.  Without the worship, the bodily gesture would be meaningless, while the spiritual act must of its very nature, because of the psychosomatic unity of man, express itself in the bodily gesture.  The two aspects are united in the one word, because in a very profound way they belong together.  When kneeling becomes merely external, a merely physical act, it becomes meaningless.  On the other hand, when someone tries to take worship back into the purely spiritual realm and refuses to give it embodied form, the act of worship evaporates, for what is purely spiritual is inappropriate to the nature of man.  Worship is one of those fundamental acts that affect the whole man.  That is why bending the knee before the presence of the living God is something we cannot abandon.

-- The Spirit of the Liturgy, pp. 190-191

Please pray that Our Lady of the Angels parish may imitate her brethren in India by instituting regular Eucharistic adoration and devotion.

Friday, June 12, 2009

SUBSTANCE OF THE MATTER: Solemnity of Corpus Christi

What is the Eucharist?  Why is it important?  How should we worship vis-a-vis the liturgy?

Rather than answer these questions myself, I'll just let the Pontiff pontificate.  After all, it's his job.

.- While celebrating the feast of Corpus Christi yesterday in front of the basilica of St. John Lateran, Pope Benedict encouraged the faithful to nourish themselves with love of Christ in the Eucharist and warned of secularization within the Church.

In his homily, the Holy Father explained that though we are inadequate due to sin, we need to nourish ourselves “from the love the Lord offers us in the Eucharistic Sacrament.”  Noting yesterday's feast, he said, “this evening we renew our faith in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Such faith must not be taken for granted!”

The Pope went on to warn of the risk “of insidious secularization, even inside the Church” which “could translate into a formal but empty Eucharistic worship, in celebrations lacking that involvement of the heart which finds expression in veneration and respect for the liturgy.”

"There is always a strong temptation to reduce prayer to superficial and hurried moments, allowing ourselves to be overcome by earthly activities and concerns," he cautioned.

However, reminded Benedict XVI, we must remember that in the Eucharist, “heaven comes down to earth, God's tomorrow descends into the present moment and time is, as it were, embraced by divine eternity."

During the Eucharistic procession which traditionally follows the Mass, he prayed, "we will ask the Lord in the name of the entire city: Stay with us, Jesus, make us a gift of Yourself and give us the bread that nourishes us for eternal life. Free this world from the poison of evil, from the violence and hatred that pollute people's consciences, purify it with the power of Your merciful love."

Following Mass, the Pope participated in the Eucharistic procession that traveled along Rome’s Via Merulana to the basilica of St. Mary Major.  While the Holy Father knelt in prayer in a covered vehicle before the monstrance, thousands prayed and sang along the route.

More at Catholic News Agency, Zenit, and the Vatican (in Italian).

Viva il Papa!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE: Bad Teaching Leads to Unfulfilled Obligations

KENAI, AK - For the second consecutive weekend, Sr. Joyce Ross, RSM conducted a paraliturgical communion service in place of a Mass at a Catholic Church on the Peninsula, this time at Our Lady of the Angels parish on Saturday, May 30th, and Sunday, May 31st.

According to the church bulletin, the previous weekend saw Sr. Joyce "preside at Eucharistic Service" at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in nearby Soldotna.  Fr. Tony Dummer, OMI and Fr. Andy Sensenig, OMI both made personal remarks that Sr. Joyce's presence was necessary because of the absence of Fr. Joe Dowling, OMI, a fact which the bulletin neglects to mention.

While neither conducting nor attending a paraliturgical communion service is proscribed by Canon Law, a communion service does not fulfill the Church's mandate that the faithful should  attend Mass on all Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation as stated in canon 1247:

Cn. 1247 - On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass.

Canon 1248 does suggests that, in the absence of a priest, the faithful may participate in a paraliturgical service, viz.

Cn. 1248 §2 - If participation in the eucharistic celebration becomes impossible because of the absence of a sacred minister or for another grave cause, it is strongly recommended that the faithful take part in a liturgy of the word if such a liturgy is celebrated in a parish church or other sacred place according to the prescripts of the diocesan bishop...

However - and this is the crux of the argument - this "liturgy of the word" or "Eucharistic Service" are not "options" for fulfilling the Sunday obligation; rather, the obligation is void when it becomes impossible to fulfill.  So the first question one should ask himself when a priest is absent is not "Is it permissible for me to attend this Eucharistic Service at my church?", but "Is it possible for me to attend Mass elsewhere?"  This is, in fact, what the Congregation of Divine Worship stated in 1988:

¶18 - Whenever and wherever Mass cannot be celebrated on Sunday, the first thing to be ascertained is whether the faithful can go to a church in a place nearby to participate there in the eucharistic mystery.

Further on, this same letter warns of the abuse currently taught ex operatio in Kenai and Soldotna:

¶21 - It is imperative that the faithful be taught to see the substitutional character of these celebrations, which should not be regarded as the optimal solution to new difficulties nor as a surrender to mere convenience.

¶22 - Any confusion between this kind of assembly and a eucharistic celebration must be carefully avoided.

Now, in the past some have claimed that when Mass is celebrated in Kenai and not Soldotna, or vice versa, that the extra miles make fulfillment of the Sunday Mass obligation impossible.  However,  the distance between Our Lady of the Angels parish in Kenai and Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish in Soldotna is just over 12 miles one way - a long distance to walk, but a relatively short distance to drive by Alaskan standards.  Below are examples of longer and shorter commutes made by Catholics in the Archdiocese of Anchorage:

South Anchorage to Downtown Anchorage = 9 miles
Sterling to Soldotna = 11 miles
Sutton to Palmer = 13 miles
Eagle River to Downtown Anchorage = 15 miles
Anchor Point to Homer = 15 miles
Moose Pass to Seward = 28 miles
Wasilla/Palmer to Downtown Anchorage = 42 miles

As the table makes explicitly clear, many members of the Archdiocese travel about or more than 12 miles one way on a daily basis.  Thus, to ask these same members to travel an extra 12 miles once a week in order to fulfill their Sunday obligation by participating in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is not only possible, but entirely reasonable.

VERDICT: The People of God on the Kenai Peninsula continue to be malformed regarding the fulfillment of the Sunday obligation to attend Mass as proclaimed by Holy Mother Church in her Canon Law and Congregation for Divine Worship.  In accord with the Second Vatican Council, which exhorted all bishops to promote and safeguard "the unity of the faith and the discipline common to the whole Church", it is the opinion of this blog that Archbishop Schwietz must correct and teach that unity and discipline which Our Lady of the Angels and Our Lady of Perpetual Help currently lack.

Please pray for Archbishop Schwietz, Sr. Joyce, and Frs. Tony, Andy, and Joe.