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What does it mean to 'actively participate' in Mass?

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 6, 2020 / 08:00 am (CNA).- In 1903, Pope St. Pius X wrote that it was the liturgy where the laity acquire the Christian spirit “from its foremost and indispensable font, which is the active participation in the most holy mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church.” 

But what does that mean? How can a layperson “participate” in Mass? Must a person have some sort of role in the liturgy, such as that of a Eucharistic minister, choir singer, or altar server, to “actively participate” in Mass? 

With the public celebration of Mass still limited in many parts of the country, and with widespread dispensations from the requirement to physically attend Mass still in place across dioceses, many Catholic have been watching a livestream or recording of Mass. But what does it mean to participate in the liturgy? 

CNA talked to two experts about what “active participation” means, and how it is still possible to be a participant in Mass during a pandemic.

According to Fr. Thomas Petri, dean and acting president of the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC, a layperson still participates in Mass even if they are not lectoring, altar serving, or distributing Holy Communion.

“In short, Pope St. Pius X thought active participation was the assimilation of the divine mysteries, particularly the Blessed Sacrament itself, so that the faithful could be more and more configured to Jesus Christ in their lives outside of Mass,” Petri told CNA. 

Pius’ ideas were expanded upon and developed during the Second Vatican Council, Petri explained. Sacrosanctum Concilium, the council’s constitution on the sacred liturgy, “emphasized that participation should increase the vigor of the Christian life, and was more than just either external or internal participation,” he said. 

“Participation must be both because we are both body and soul,” Petri said. The constitution gave examples of participation, including songs, responses, gestures, and, interestingly enough, “sacred silence.” 

“The Mass is meant to cultivate silence during the celebration so that the very mysteries we celebrate can be pondered and prayed,” said Petri. 

Petri told CNA that participation, while being manifested in the exterior sense, should “flow from an interior disposition to be attentive to the sacred mysteries that are celebrated and to receive the graces that God wills to impart.” 

Fr. James Bradley, assistant professor of canon law at The Catholic University of America, told CNA that by virtue of baptism, participation in Mass is “the first place objective” for Catholics.  

“It is rooted in our baptism and in our continued life in Christ. Of course when we separate ourselves from Christ and the Church through serious sin, it is by means of sacramental Confession that we resume that participation,” said Bradley. 

Bradley told CNA that “an authentic understanding of this concept of active participation” is something not explained well enough to Catholics, and it is neither just external acts nor “something so spiritual that our presence at Mass becomes unimportant.” 

“In the first place we should reclaim that essential link between baptismal identity and participation in the liturgy,” said Bradley. 

But people cannot always receive the Eucharist, either because Mass is unavailable, or they have not had access to Confession. What must they do then? 

“We first of all participate in the liturgy by our attendance at the Mass. This is why the Sunday obligation is about attendance, not about receiving Holy Communion,” said Bradley. However, he noted the reception of Communion is “essential” for a person’s spiritual life. He encouraged those who cannot receive to make an Act of Spiritual Communion, but to strive for actual reception if at all possible. 

Many parishes have taken the step of offering live-streams or recordings of Masses for people while the Sunday obligation to attend has been dispensed. Both Bradley and Petri agreed that while the live-streams are good, in that they maintain a connection between a parishioner and their parish and encourage prayers, they cannot be viewed as a substitute for regular Mass attendance in non-pandemic times. 

Live-streaming “is not a waste of time--it can offer a chance to unite ourselves in some way to the action going on--but it is not the same as attending Mass and can never replace it,” Bradley told CNA. 

Petri concurred, saying that there is “no substitute for attending and participating in Mass physically,” and that sacramental graces can only be conferred in person. 

“While graces are certainly to be had by quieting oneself to watch Mass online, they are not, properly speaking, the sacramental graces that one receives by participating in Mass in person,” said Petri. He suggested that as an alternative to watching a live-stream of Mass--which is not required, as there is no obligation to do so--those who are unable to attend Mass in person should “treat Sundays differently” than the other days, read scripture, and meditate on the day’s Mass readings. 

“I suspect families with children would have an easier time with a Sunday routine like this rather than insisting that children passively watch Mass on the television,” he said. 

And what about those of who get distracted during Mass, either by daydreaming or because they are watching children? Does it “count” as participation even when other things are happening?

Fr. Petri says yes, but with a caveat. 

“Distractions during Mass, or during any prayer, are as old as original sin itself,” he said. Remaining focused is “a battle that I’m afraid we will all be fighting until that day, when, God-willing, we see Him face-to-face.” 

Petri differentiated between “willful distraction,” which would be letting one’s mind wander, and distractions that come from other sources, such as children. 

“If I’m willfully distracting myself, then I don’t think I can claim I’m participating interiorly as I should, even if exteriorly I’m going through the motions,” he said. “Of course, the Lord meets us where we are and so there’s still graces to be gained by even this minimal participation in the liturgy--but we know we should try to do better.” 

As for those who may be distracted at Mass by say, a toddler or other child, Petri says that these occurrences are part of what comes with having a family. 

“It seems the vocation of parenthood means that a person will necessarily be giving less attention and participation to the holy mysteries at liturgy for a significant amount of time in their lives,” he said. “But they, too, are receiving graces not only because of the participation they can muster, but because of the sacrifice they make in acclimating their children to the worship of God.”

Pope Francis appoints six women to economy council

Vatican City, Aug 6, 2020 / 06:49 am (CNA).- Pope Francis on Thursday named 13 new members to the Council for the Economy, which oversees Vatican finances and the work of the Secretariat for the Economy.

Among the six women and one man appointed as new members of the Vatican’s top financial oversight body, are high-level experts in banking, finance, asset management, and international law from Spain, Italy, and Germany, as well as a former member of the British cabinet.

The Council for the Economy was established by Pope Francis in 2014 as part of his program of financial reform. According to its statutes, the body “supervises the administrative and financial structures and activities” of the Roman Curia, institutions of the Holy See, and Vatican City State.

Previously, the members of the economy council, overseen since its creation by Cardinal Reinhard Marx, consisted of eight cardinals, six laymen, and a priest secretary.  

The cardinals newly named to the council by Pope Francis are Joseph Tobin, Archbishop of Newark; Anders Arborelius, Bishop of Stockholm; Peter Erdo, Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest; Odilo Pedro Scherer, Archbishop of Sao Paulo; Gerald Cyprien Lacroix, Archbishop of Quebec; and Giuseppe Petrocchi, Archbishop of L’Aquila.

Cardinal Tobin is the second American cardinal to be appointed to the body, following Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston.

Among the new lay members are German law professor Charlotte Kreuter-Kirchhof and Maria Kolak, president of the National Association of German Cooperative Banks.

Maria Concepcion Osacar Garaicoechea is president of the board of Azora Capital and Azora Gestion, SGIIC, an independent investment manager. Eva Castillo Sanz is on the board of directors of Spanish bank Bankia and elevator manufacturer Zardoya Otis. 

Ruth Mary Kelly served as Great Britain’s Secretary of State for Education under Tony Blair, and later worked for HSBC Global Asset Management. She is currently pro vice chancellor for research and enterprise at St. Mary’s University, Twickenham, a role she will leave at the end of the month.

Leslie Jane Ferrar was treasurer to Charles, Prince of Wales, from January 2015 until July 2017. Among other non-executive and trustee roles, she has been a trustee of the Archdiocese of Westminster for 19 years and non-executive director of real estate investment trust company Secure Income REIT for six years. 

The seventh new lay member, Alberto Minali, resigned May 29 after three years as CEO of Italian insurance company, Societa Cattolica di Assicurazioni. According to Italian newspaper Il Corriere del Veneto, Minali is in a legal battle with his former company for compensation of 9.6 million euros for alleged “lack of a just cause” in removing his control of the bank. The company says the claim is “unfounded.”

Minali also previously worked as chief investment officer of the asset management group Eurizon. 

Flannery O'Connor should be studied, not cancelled, scholar tells Loyola leaders

Denver Newsroom, Aug 6, 2020 / 06:00 am (CNA).- Professor Angela Alaimo O’Donnell has studied Flannery O’Connor, an American Catholic author from the South, rather extensively. She wrote a book on O’Connor’s treatment of racial issues specifically, entitled “Radical Ambivalence: Race in Flannery O’Connor.”

So when the Fordham professor heard that Flannery O’Connor’s name would be removed from a residence hall at Loyola University Maryland, due to concerns over apparently racist remarks in some of her personal correspondence, O’Donnell decided to act by petitioning the university to reconsider. Her petition has been signed by more than 200 people, including O’Connor scholars, theologians, and writers of color.

So far, O’Donnell has not received a response.

“I was hoping to get a note from Father Linnane (president of Loyola University) just acknowledging the letter, but I haven't heard anything from him. He probably is besieged by a lot of letters. I'm hoping that he will eventually respond, but so far I haven't heard anything,” O’Donnell told CNA.

“I thought it was a great teachable moment for Loyola to have an opportunity to talk with students and take their time. I really don't understand the rush,” she said. O’Donnell’s advocacy for O’Connor is not so much about a building, she said, and it’s not to deny O’Connor’s racist comments.

Rather, it’s about the swift erasure - the canceling, if you will - of O’Connor without the campus community considering a fuller picture of her person and what her work has to say to the current generation.

“I know Father Linnane says people can still teach Flannery O'Connor, that she's not being removed from campus,” O’Donnell said. “But I don't think Father Linnane realizes that, effectively, she's not going to be on campus anymore, unless the faculty member (teaching her works) is tenured and also is very brave, and wants to have these conversations about race.” 

O'Connor was a short story writer, novelist, and essayist as well as a devout Catholic who attended daily Mass. She lived most of her life in Georgia and became renowned for her biting Southern Gothic style of fiction. She died of lupus in 1964, at the age of 39.

Attention was drawn to apparent racism in O’Connor’s personal writings by “How Racist Was Flannery O’Connor?”, a piece that appeared in the New Yorker in June. There, Paul Elie wrote that “letters and postcards she sent home from the North in 1943 were made available to scholars only in 2014, and they show O’Connor as a bigoted young woman.” Some of the passages quoted by Elie had been published for the first time in O’Donnell’s book.

O’Donnell said professors should not ignore O’Connors comments about race in her correspondence. Rather, she said, they should be seen as just one piece of the full picture of who Flannery O’Connor was, and be compared to the way she treats racism in her works of fiction.

“It's got to be a conversation about race. I welcome that,” O’Donnell said, adding that the purpose of her book in the first place was to genuinely pose the question of how Flannery can still be taught in classrooms given some of her problematic racist comments in her personal letters.

“How do you teach Flannery O'Connor in the classroom? What can you do? Because I think it's worth us considering it from the angle of pedagogy and culture, how you encounter every writer. Every writer needs to be reevaluated with each new generation, and then we decide what it is that he or she has to offer, and whether or not it's helpful. And so this is a really good moment to reevaluate O'Connor in a thoughtful way,” she said, “and not the way that Elie does, and not the way that Loyola has done.”

In many ways, O’Donnell noted, O’Connor is the perfect author for this moment in history especially because of how she treats racism in her work, which faces its ugliness head-on and views it as a sin.

“Her stories are powerful, iconic stories, and very realistic gritty depictions of what it was like to be alive in a culture, the very, very racist culture of the American south during the Civil Rights Movement, during a time of enormous change,” O’Donnell said.

And O’Connor’s favorite description of her job as a fiction writer was to live “hotly in pursuit of the real," O’Donnell said, so her stories “do not look away from very difficult and challenging situations.”

In her stories, O’Connor portrays “a complex sort of dance that black Americans and white Americans had to negotiate in order to live together in a segregated culture. And it always reflects badly on white people, because they were - most white people are - ignorant of their racism. And the few who do know it oftentimes are proud of it and think it's a badge of honor. And she just mercilessly exposes those people,” O’Donnell said.

O’Donnell said there are “all sorts of ways” in which Americans today experience the same or similar kinds of racism, whether personally or systemically. “And the fact that we have this writer who exposes it so knowingly, and exposes it to censure, it's a powerful way of seeing how far we have not come,” she said.

As a devout Catholic, O’Connor also “thought about this in theological terms. She thought that racism was a sin. A sin against God, a sin against human beings, a sin against grace. And so in a number of her stories the people who are the most egregious racists really get their comeuppance in the course of the story,” she added.

Alice Walker, an African American writer and feminist who grew up in the same area of Georgia as the O’Connors, was one of the signatories of the petition sent to Loyola University Maryland. The letter opens with a statement from Walker, who said: “We must honor Flannery for growing. Hide nothing of what she was, and use that to teach.”

Walker herself is an admirer of O’Connor’s work. In an essay that appeared in the Dec. 1994/Jan. 1995 edition of Sojourners magazine, Walker wrote that it was O’Connor’s biting portrayal of Southern white people that initially captured her attention.

“It was for her description of Southern white women that I appreciated her work at first, because when she set her pen to them not a whiff of magnolia hovered in the air (and the tree itself might never have been planted), and yes, I could say, yes, these white folks without the magnolia (who are indifferent to the tree's existence), and these black folks without melons and superior racial patience, these are like Southerners that I know,” Walker wrote.

O’Donnell added that Walker has also, in her past critiques of O’Connor, “really admired the fact that O'Connor did not pretend to be able to get inside the minds of her black characters.”

O’Connor admitted at one point that she did not write from the perspective of African Americans because she did not understand them.

“And so Walker saw this as a kind of a respectful distance that O'Connor kept, allowing black characters to have their own privacy, so she never pretends to know what they're thinking.”

“I think what Walker valued was that she could see in O'Connor, this development, this struggle, and was wrestling with the problem of race. And...it's foolish and shortsighted not to honor that and acknowledge that as being human.”

Something else that people today can learn from O’Connor is how to face and challenge the racism that exists even within themselves, O’Donnell said.

“All of us who are born and raised in this white privileged culture, we imbibe this from the time that we're born into the world, and it's impossible for us to escape it. It's just impossible,” she said.

“The best that we can do is be knowledgeable about the fact, be knowledgeable of our blindnesses, and try to work against them and do what we call now anti-racist work. And one of the forms that anti-racist work took for O'Connor was: ‘Okay, I know I have this problem. I know all the people I live with and love have this problem, including my mother and including my aunt and my friends. And so I’m going to write stories that expose this problem.’”

For those who want to read some of O’Connor’s most poignant fiction that treats racism, O’Donnell recommended four stories. The first, “Revelation,” was one of O’Connor’s “last stories and one of her most powerful stories. It is a portrait of a racist who has a wake-up call and understands very clearly what she's guilty of by the end of the story. And in some ways that person, that main character, is a portrait of O'Connor.”

Another story by O’Connor about race that O’Donnell recommended is “Everything That Rises Must Converge,” in which one of the characters seeks to atone for the racism of his mother, and must confront his own hypocrisy. 

Another story, “The Geranium,” is one of the first that O’Connor ever published.

“It's about an old white man who goes to live in New York with his daughter, and is horrified when he moves next door to black people. And he has a wake-up call,” O’Donnell said.

“And the last story that Flannery worked on on her death bed was a rewriting of that same story, it's called 'Judgment Day.' So, O'Connor's work - she only wrote 31 stories- is book-ended by these two stories and that story she rewrote four times in the course of her life.”

“And with each new version, her depiction of the relationship between the races gets more and more complex as she goes along. That is a sign of somebody who, throughout the course of her professional life as a writer, is growing and changing and developing,” O’Donnell said.

“She’s at war with herself in many ways and trying to figure out what she thinks. But the victory is you can see in the stories where she's going and what she thinks,” she added. 

O’Donnell said that going forward, she hopes that Flannery O’Connor gets a fairer and more honest consideration than a cursory glance at some of her racist remarks in her personal letters.

At Loyola University Maryland, Flannery O’Connor’s name could be used on a more appropriate building, such as a literary arts building or theater, she noted.

“I would really just encourage people to read the stories and decide for themselves what O'Connor is doing,” O’Donnell said. “And also to understand that the things that she says in her letters are problematic. Absolutely, no question about it. Nobody is going to side step that.”

“But we don't remember Flannery O'Connor for her letters. We remember her for her stories. That's where we go when we have to decide whether that work is worth it. It's a decision we have to make.”

Minnesota bishop retires early while seeking health treatment

CNA Staff, Aug 6, 2020 / 04:09 am (CNA).- Pope Francis has accepted the early resignation of Bishop John LeVoir, who has led the Minnesota diocese of New Ulm since 2008, and took a leave from his position last month to be assessed for physical and psychological concerns.

“I applaud Bishop LeVoir for recognizing his health concerns and making the request for early retirement. I thank him for his devoted leadership during his tenure as the shepherd of our diocese,” Msgr. Douglas Grams, Levoir’s vicar general in the diocese, said in an Aug. 6 press release.

LeVoir was not expected to retire until at least February 2021, seven months from now, when he will turn 75, the age at which bishops customarily submit letters of resignation to the pope. But the diocese said the bishop has been seeking treatment and assessment at a facility in Alma, Michigan, and will remain at the facility until September to begin a “therapy plan.”

The diocese did not specify what conditions afflict the bishop, who said Aug. 6 “it has been a privilege to have served the faithful of the Diocese of New Ulm.”

“As bishop, it has not only been a great honor, but an enriching experience as I have come to know many people throughout this local Church. I have been impressed by their love for Jesus Christ, their willingness to share their Catholic faith, and their concern for the less fortunate. It would not have been possible to serve as their shepherd without their continued support, cooperation, and prayers,” LeVoir added.

LeVoir, a native of Minneapolis, was ordained a priest in 1981 and was appointed bishop of New Ulm, a town southwest of the Twin Cities, in 2008. With a population under 14,000, New Ulm is believed to be the third-smallest diocesan see in the United States, behind Baker City, Oregon and Crookston, Minnesota, which each have fewer than 10,000 people.

The diocese has 35 priests in active ministry and 7 seminarians, who serve 50,000 Catholics in 60 parishes.

In June, LeVoir acknowledged that the diocese is facing financial difficulties.

The diocese declared bankruptcy in March 2017, after several lawsuits were filed against it pertaining to the sexual abuse of clergy. To date, five Minnesota dioceses have filed bankruptcy; in the state only the Crookston diocese has not yet done so.

LeVoir, who is a Certified Public Accountant and taught accounting at the University of Minnesota before becoming a priest, led the New Ulm diocese through its bankruptcy proceeding.

In his June column, written shortly before he went for treatment, LeVoir wrote that while the diocese had come out of bankruptcy in March, it had not “finished with the healing and welcoming that it needs to do with regards to survivors and the lives of all those whom this great tragedy has touched. We are committed to doing what we can to help those harmed as minors by clergy sexual abuse.”

A financial report issued in June 2020 showed that the diocesan financial condition slightly improved in 2019, but Lavoir wrote in June that  the diocese, the parishes, and the Catholic schools are struggling to make ends meet,” and the financial report did not take into account the effect of the pandemic in recent months.

“To navigate the challenges that we all face, we need Jesus Christ. Please pray and do whatever you can to help by putting Catholic social teaching into practice.”

The college of consultors, a group of senior priests in the New Ulm diocese, is expected to elect a temporary diocesan administrator in the days to come. There is no set timeline for the appointment of a new bishop.

 

Vatican: Baptisms administered 'in name of the community' are invalid

Vatican City, Aug 6, 2020 / 04:03 am (CNA).- The Vatican’s doctrinal office issued Thursday a clarification on the sacrament of baptism, stating changes to the formula to emphasize community participation are not permitted.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith responded to a question about whether it would be valid to administer the sacrament of baptism saying “We baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

The formula for baptism, according to the Catholic Church, is “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

The CDF ruled Aug. 6 any baptisms administered with the formula “we baptize” are invalid and anyone for whom the sacrament was celebrated with this formula must be baptized in forma absoluta, meaning the person should be considered as not yet having received the sacrament.

The Vatican said it was responding to questions on baptismal validity after recent celebrations of the sacrament of baptism used the words “In the name of the father and of the mother, of the godfather and of the godmother, of the grandparents, of the family members, of the friends, in the name of the community we baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

The response was approved by Pope Francis and signed by CDF prefect Cardinal Luis Ladaria and secretary Archbishop Giacomo Morandi.

A doctrinal note from the CDF Aug. 6 said “with debatable pastoral motives, here resurfaces the ancient temptation to substitute for the formula handed down by Tradition other texts judged more suitable.”

Quoting the Second Vatican Council document Sacrosanctum Concilium, the note clarified that “no one, ‘even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.’”

The reason for this, the CDF explained, is that when a minister administers the sacrament of baptism, “it is really Christ Himself who baptizes.”

The sacraments were instituted by Jesus Christ, and “are entrusted to the Church to be preserved by her,” the congregation stated.

“When celebrating a Sacrament,” it continued, “the Church in fact functions as the Body that acts inseparably from its Head, since it is Christ the Head who acts in the ecclesial Body generated by him in the Paschal mystery.”

“It is therefore understandable that in the course of the centuries the Church has safeguarded the form of the celebration of the Sacraments, above all in those elements to which Scripture attests and that make it possible to recognize with absolute clarity the gesture of Christ in the ritual action of the Church,” the Vatican clarified.

According to the CDF, the “deliberate modification of the sacramental formula” to use “we” instead of “I” appears to have been done “to express the participation of the family and of those present, and to avoid the idea of the concentration of a sacred power in the priest to the detriment of the parents and the community.”

In a footnote, the CDF note explained that in reality, the Church’s Rite of Baptism of Children already includes active roles for the parents, godparents, and the entire community in the celebration.

According to the provisions laid out in Sacrosanctum Concilium, “each person, minister or layman, who has an office to perform, should do all of, but only, those parts which pertain to his office by the nature of the rite and the principles of liturgy.”  

The minister of the sacrament of baptism, whether a priest or lay person, is “the sign-presence of Him who gathers, and is at the same time the locus of the communion of every liturgical assembly with the whole Church,” the explanatory note said.

“In other words the minister is the visible sign that the Sacrament is not subject to an arbitrary action of individuals or of the community, and that it pertains to the Universal Church.”