From the Pastor – February 21, 2021

National Catholic Mass TimesThe Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert,  and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.  (Mk. 1-12)

I always look forward to Lent.  And this year is no exception.  Now that Lent is here, I’m happy to create my own little desert of calm by the Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  It’s the perfect remedy for the last two weeks of noise, feasting and excess.

One of the good disciplines of Lent is “giving something up.”  When I was in seminary, I remember my rector publicly acknowledging that he gave up cigars during Lent.  And then one Friday in Lent, I walked by his room and smelled cigar smoke.  The next day I asked him about it, and he said that he decided to do something different that year because he felt like everyone knew he gave up cigars.  He felt like he was doing it for the “crowd” rather than God.

The truth is that I’m not sure that it was necessarily a “bad” thing that people knew about it.   Today in the Gospel we hear about the 40 day fast of Jesus.  The only way that St. Mark the Evangelist would have known to write about Jesus’ fast is if Jesus had told someone about it!  Think about it.  No one was there when Christ fasted; He must have opened up his heart to tell them a little about this important moment in His hidden life.  Sharing pain can help with healing, sharing joy can bring joy, and sharing penance can give strength.  Jesus shared this story to tell us that He was tempted and He overcame.  And filled with the same Holy Spirit as Jesus, we can overcome the temptations of the world so as to focus on the reward of heaven.

People often ask me what I’m giving up for Lent.  My usual practice is to give up meat and alcohol, which for me is primarily red wine.  And I don’t mind telling people, so that it’s not a surprise if they offer me a glass of wine during Lent and I decline.  But I’m sure that Jesus had some secrets that were between him and His Heavenly Father.  They were part of the “Divine Conversation” between them.  This year I also decided to do the same – to give up something that’s just between God and me.  It’s not a big thing, but it’s part of my intimacy with Him in prayer.  My desire is to empty myself just a little bit more, so that I can be more completely filled with Him.

(Rev. Msgr.) Christopher H. Nalty
msgr.nalty@gmail.com

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Lenten Mission – St Stephen Church

Monday, March 1-Wednesday, March 3

The Four Weapons of Spiritual Combat 

Monday, March 1, 2021 at 7pm
“Distrust of self and confidence in God”

Tuesday, March 2 after 6pm Mass
“Training through personal discipline for spiritual warfare”

Wednesday, March 3 at 7pm followed by Confessions.
“Prayer, God’s mighty weapon”

By Fr. Jeffrey Montz, Head of the Spirituality Department at Notre Dame Seminary.
Also, Fr. Luke Buckles, O.P. Prof of Spiritual Theology from the Angelicum in Rome.

St. Blaise Throat Blessing

Tuesday, February 2, after the 6:00pm Mass
Wednesday, February 3, after the 6:30am Mass

Wednesday, February 3 is the Feast of St. Blaise, Bishop and Martyr.  St Blaise was the bishop of Sebaste in Armenia who was martyred in the year 316 A.D. The oldest accounts tell us that Blaise was a physician at Sebaste before he was made bishop.  In the 4th century persecution of Licinius, St. Blaise was taken prisoner. After suffering various forms of torture, he was beheaded.

The most popular story attributed to St. Blaise occurred while he was in prison, when he cured a young a boy who was in danger of choking to death because of a fishbone in his throat.  That story, and the fact that St. Blaise was a doctor, made the saint very popular for intercessory prayer for throat ailments. At an early date, the veneration of this Eastern saint was brought into Europe, and Blaise became one of the most popular saints of the Middle Ages.  Numberless churches and altars were dedicated to him.

On the feast day, the blessing of St. Blaise will be given in St. Henry Church after the 6:30 am Mass.  Also, the blessing will be given in St. Stephen Church after the 6:00 pm Mass on Tuesday, February 2.

The blessing of the throat is carried out using two white taper candles that were blessed on the previous day, February 2, the Presentation of the Lord (Candlemas Day). The white color of the candles symbolizes purity.  A red ribbon draped over the base of the candles symbolizes the martyrdom of St. Blaise.  The candles are grasped in an X-shape and held up to the throat of the person receiving the blessing:  “Through the intercession of St. Blaise, bishop and martyr, may God deliver you from every disease of the throat and from every other illness, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Palm Branches Needed!

Each year the blessed palms from Palm Sunday are burned to make the ashes for Ash Wednesday.  We will burn them the Sunday before Ash Wednesday.  Since the palms are blessed, burning is the suitable way to dispose of them.  Please remember to bring them to Mass next weekend and place them in the brass urns in the back of the church.

Ya’ Mama was Pro-Life, dahlin’!

Americans United for Life released the 2021 LIFE LIST after analyzing progress made legislatively or in litigation in 2020. The Life List takes into account the 50 states’ overall advances since Roe v. Wade toward re-building a culture of life, including events of the last year. This year, the State of Louisiana ranked Number Two.

Catherine Glenn Foster, President & CEO of Americans United for Life said, “Working with state leaders and lawmakers to create the Life List this year has been so encouraging because it is clear that Life is winning in our country. There is so much to be thankful for throughout the list this year, but the bipartisan, courageous, life-affirming work accomplished by legislators and pro-life advocates in Louisiana is truly a marvel. The fact that through the efforts of pro-life advocacy in the state of Louisiana, the United States Supreme Court is set to speak to the life issue for the first time in years is to be strongly commended.”

Please join us in prayer each Saturday at 11 am outside of the abortion clinic located at on the corner of General Pershing and Magnolia.

Sacramentum Caritatis

The Sacrament of Love: the Holy Eucharist

(part 1 of 3)

On March 13, 2006 the Vatican released an Apostolic Exhortation of His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI entitled Sacramentum Caritatis – the “Sacrament of Love” – in which the Holy Father offered “some basic directions aimed at a renewed commitment to Eucharistic enthusiasm and fervor in the Church.” The document offers the Holy Father’s reflections on the Synod of Bishops called by Pope John Paul II at the conclusion of the Year of the Eucharist (October 2004 – October 2005).

Sacramentum Caritatis is the second major document of the Pontificate of Pope Benedict and must be read in the context of his first Encyclical, Deus Caritas Est – “God is Love” – itself a meditation on the nature of love. Although the Holy Father uses many expressions to describe the Holy Eucharist in the Exhortation, the title, “Sacrament of Love” – a phrase used by St. Thomas Aquinas – provides a guiding principle to understanding the Blessed Sacrament.

The Exhortation is divided into three parts.  The first part, entitled “The Eucharist, A Mystery to be Believed,” explains the teachings of the Church on the Eucharist.  The second part, “The Eucharist, A Mystery to be Celebrated,” focuses on the celebration of the Mass and the worship of the Blessed Sacrament outside of Mass.  And the third part, The Eucharist, “A Mystery to be Lived,” places the Eucharist into the context of Christian life.

“The Mystery to be Believed” summarizes the Eucharistic faith of the Catholic Church in beautiful language and imagery.  Because the Eucharist is “the gift that Jesus Christ makes of himself,” “the Eucharist reveals the loving plan that guides all of salvation history (cf. Eph 1:10; 3:8- 11)” [where] the Triune God who is essentially love (cf. 1 Jn 4:7-8), becomes fully a part of our human condition.   In the bread and wine under whose appearances, Christ gives himself to us in the paschal meal (cf. Lk 22:14-20; 1 Cor 11:23-26), God’s whole life encounters us and is sacramentally shared with us.”  The Eucharist therefore is the “source and summit” of the Church’s life and mission since in the Holy Eucharist, Jesus, the true Sacrificial Lamb, is offered to His people again at every Holy Mass. The Pope is keen to make the distinction between the ritual meal of Passover in which context the Holy Eucharist was given by Jesus as his gift to the Church, and the anticipation of the sacrifice of the cross and the victory of the resurrection. The Mass is not just a repetition of the Last Supper but a radical reality, indeed the “substantial conversion” of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Our Lord.  As the Holy Father so eloquently states:  “the Church is able to celebrate and adore the mystery of Christ present in the Eucharist precisely because Christ first gave himself to her in the Sacrifice of the Cross.”  Christ loved us first, and for all eternity He continues to love us first.

In the first part, the Holy Father also puts the Eucharist into the context of the other sacraments, particularly the other two sacraments of initiation:  Baptism and Confirmation.  The whole of Christian initiation is in relation to the ecclesial community and the family, but the Eucharist must also be understood in a particular way as a “personal encounter with Jesus.”   In this section, the Pope gives a beautiful exposition of the intrinsic relationship between the Holy Eucharist and the sacrament of Reconciliation. He states that in a culture determined to eliminate the concept of sin we are in danger of overlooking the need to be in a state of grace to worthily receive communion.  The Holy Father therefore urges the bishops of the world to renew their efforts in the catechesis of the sacrament of Reconciliation in their own diocese, encouraging frequent confession among the faithful.  He also urges priests to dedicate themselves with “generosity, commitment and competency” to the administration of the sacrament of Reconciliation.

Each of the seven sacraments is treated by the Pope in this first part.  In the subsection on the Eucharist and Holy Orders the Holy Father restates the Church’s teaching that priestly ordination is an “indispensable condition” for a valid celebration of the Eucharist, because the Bishop or the Priest presides in the person of Christ the Head.  And since the priest is above all a servant of others and a sign pointing to Christ, he should reflect Christ in “his humility in leading the liturgical assembly, in obedience to the Rite, uniting himself to [the Rite] in mind and heart, and avoiding anything that might give the impression of an inordinate emphasis on his own personality.”  In keeping with recent emphases made by the Holy See, the Holy Father also points to the complete configuration of the priest to Christ, especially in his celibacy, which must not be understood simply in functional terms.  The Holy Father reaffirms the nuptial understanding of celibacy and reaffirms “the beauty and the importance of a priestly life lived in celibacy as a sign expressing total and exclusive devotion to Christ, to the church and to the Kingdom of God.”

In his discussion of the Eucharist and Matrimony the Pope highlights the particular relationship of the Eucharist with the love of a man and woman united in marriage.  “By the power of the Sacrament, the marriage bond is intrinsically linked to the Eucharistic unity of Christ the Bridegroom and his Bride, the Church.”  The Holy Father also confirms the Church’s teaching with regard to the reception of Holy Communion by the divorced and remarried, encouraging their participation at Holy Mass, albeit without receiving communion, and their dedication to a life of charity.

[Next week, part 2: “The Eucharist, A Mystery to be Celebrated]

What are the “O Antiphons?”

The Church has been singing the “O” Antiphons since at least the eighth century. They are the antiphons that accompany the Magnificat canticle of Evening Prayer in the Divine Office from December 17-23, a time called the “Golden Nights.” They are part of a magnificent theology that uses ancient biblical imagery drawn from the messianic hopes of the Old Testament to proclaim the coming Christ as the fulfillment not only of Old Testament hopes, but present ones as well. Their repeated use of the imperative “Come!” embodies the longing of all for the Divine Messiah.

The seven “O Antiphons” (also called the “Greater Antiphons” or “Major Antiphons”) are prayers that come from Vespers of the Liturgy of the Hours during the Octave before Christmas Eve, a time which is called the “Golden Nights.”

Each Antiphon begins with “O” and addresses Jesus with a unique title which comes from the prophecies of Isaiah and Micah, and whose initials, when read backwards, form an acrostic for the Latin “Ero Cras” which means “Tomorrow I will be [there].” Those titles for Christ are:

December 17: O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
December 18: O Adonai (O Lord)
December 19: O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)
December 20: O Clavis David (O Key of David)
December 21: O Oriens (O Dayspring)
December 22: O Rex Gentium (O King of the nations)
December 23: O Emmanuel (O God is with Us)

Immaculate Conception

Holy Day of Obligation

Tuesday, December 8
6:30 am at St. Henry Church and 9 am and 6pm at St. Stephen Church

An interesting icon representing Jesus on the lap of the Virgin Mary who is herself on the lap of St. Anne, the mother of Mary.

The dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854:  The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin (Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, 1854: DS 2803).

This doctrine was revealed through the Scriptures (Mary was “the absolute fullness of grace”) and the long Sacred Tradition of the Church.  But it was finally declared as dogma on December 8, 1954, exactly nine months before the celebration of the birth of Mary on September 8.  The doctrine is quite logical.  How could the flesh of the Son of God be formed through the flesh of one who was a slave to sin? Jesus redeemed his mother’s soul before her birth.  As one theologian has stated:  “Potuit, decuit, ergo fecit.”  Or, in English:  “God could, it was appropriate, therefore, He did it.”  O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us!

Lenten and Easter Guidelines

THE LENTEN SEASON
A distinction is to be made between Lent and the Easter Triduum. Strictly speaking, Lent ends with the beginning of the Triduum on Holy Thursday. The Ordo notes: “Lent runs from Ash Wednesday until the Mass of the Lord’s Supper exclusive on Holy Thursday.”

FASTING AND ABSTINENCE
Fasting is to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday by all Catholics who are 18 years of age but not yet 59. Those who are bound to fast may take only one full meal. Two smaller

meals are permitted if necessary to maintain strength according to each one’s needs, but eating solid foods between meals is not permitted. Abstinence from meat is to be observed by all Catholics 14 years or older on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and on all Fridays of Lent. The determination of certain days as obligatory days of penance should not be understood as limiting the occasions for Christian penance.

MAINTAINING THE SPIRIT OF OF LENT
The Spirit of the season of Lent should be maintained throughout the weeks of Lent. The obligation to observe penitential days of the Church is a very important part of our spiritual life.  Individual circumstances must be taken into account, but in general, people should seek to do more rather than less, since fast and abstinence on the days prescribed should be considered a minimal response to the Lord’s call to penance and conversion of life.

Good Stewardship

An article in the Times-Picayune several years ago woke me up a bit.  It said that out of all religious groups in America, the group that gave the smallest percentage of their income to their church were Catholics.  While Mormons generally give the Biblical 10% we call “tithing,” and while the average churchgoer in the United States gives 2.4 %, Catholics give the lowest percentage of every other religion.

And I don’t write this because we still haven’t completely funded our Restoration (but we haven’t!) or because we need more money to operate (but we do!), but let me tell you the real reason: giving to charity shows a great reliance on God, and God rewards a cheerful giver.  Ever since I began “tithing,” God has given me more blessings than I can imagine.  And as He gives me more, I try to give more away.

Collections in our parish cover less than 50% of our parish expenses. With the costs of insurance, salaries, utilities and upkeep, we have a tough time. Without some generous benefactors donating at year’s end, we would be in bad shape! We’re a parish that is very generous to the poor, but we also need to be good stewards of our church and buildings that have been left to us by past generations.

Consider the following:  If you give less than $5 into the collection each week, perhaps you can raise it to $5. And if you give more than $5, perhaps you can raise your contribution by 25%. Thanks for your consideration!

Our Lady of Lourdes

Next Sunday, February 11, the Church remembers the apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes to St. Bernadette Soubirous that took place a little over 150 years ago in Lourdes, France.  Since Our Lady of Lourdes Parish down the street on Napoleon Avenue has been closed, and since next Wednesday is the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, I thought a little “refresher course” on the apparitions of Lourdes might be in order.

On 11 February 1858, Bernadette Soubirous went with two girlfriends to collect some firewood to sell in order to be able to buy some bread. As she was wading through a river near the Grotto of Massabielle, she heard the wind but did not see the trees and bushes move. As she looked toward the Grotto, she saw a light and a beautiful lady – “Lovelier than I have ever seen” – dressed in white with a blue sash fastened around her waist and two golden yellow roses on each foot. She remained in an ecstatic state contemplating the Lady until called by her friends. Three days later, Bernadette returned to the Grotto with the two other girls, who reportedly became afraid when they saw her in ecstasy. Bernadette remained ecstatic when they returned to the village. On 18 February, she was told by the Lady to return to the Grotto over a period of two weeks. The Lady said: “I promise to make you happy not in this world but in the next.” In total, there were seventeen apparitions, the last taking place on July 16 of the same year. Bernadette often fell into an ecstasy during these apparitions, which were witnessed by the hundreds of people, although no one except Bernadette ever saw or heard the apparition.

During one of the apparitions, the Lady told Bernadette to drink of a mysterious spring within the grotto itself, something unknown and unseen. Bernadette scratched at the ground, and water began bubbling up and soon gushed forth. The water was muddy at first, but became increasingly clean. As word of the “miraculous spring” spread, the water was given to medical patients of all kinds, after which numerous miracle cures were reported. The first cure with a “certified miracle” was a women whose right hand had been deformed as a consequence of an accident. However, several miracles turned out to be short-term improvement or even hoaxes, so Church and government officials became increasingly concerned. Eventually, the government barricaded the Grotto and issued stiff penalties for anybody trying to get near the spring. In the process, Lourdes became a national issue in France, resulting in the intervention of emperor Napoleon III to reopen the grotto on 4 October 1858.

The Symbolism of the Pelican

During the years I lived in Rome, I spent a lot of time trying to decipher and understand early Christian symbolism.  It was a hobby of mine as I visited churches and saw so much iconography.  Recently, someone visited St. Stephen Church in New Orleans and asked me about an image that they saw high over the sanctuary of a pelican feeding its young.  They wondered why someone would have painted the “state bird” in church!  The question gave me a good occasion to reflect upon church symbolism.

The image of the mother pelican feeding her baby pelicans is rooted in several ancient Roman legends that precede Christianity. One version is that in time of famine, the mother pelican wounded herself, striking her breast with her beak to feed her young with her blood. Another version was that the mother fed her dying young with her blood to revive them from death, but in turn lost her own life.

Given these traditions, one can easily understand how early Christians adapted it to symbolize our Lord, Jesus Christ. The pelican symbolizes Jesus our Redeemer who gave His life for our redemption and feeds us with His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. We were dead to sin and have found new life through the sacrifice of Christ.

This tradition and others is found in the Physiologus, an early Christian work which appeared in the second century in Alexandria, Egypt. Written by an anonymous author, the Physiologus recorded legends of animals and gave each an allegorical interpretation. The legend is described: “The little pelicans strike their parents, and the parents, striking back, kill them. But on the third day the mother pelican strikes and opens her side and pours blood over her dead young. In this way they are revivified and made well. So Our Lord Jesus Christ says also through the prophet Isaiah: I have brought up children and exalted them, but they have despised me (Is 1:2). We struck God by serving the creature rather than the Creator. Therefore, He deigned to ascend the cross, and when His side was pierced, blood and water gushed forth unto our salvation and eternal life.”  This work was noted by noted by numerous authors and was popular in the Middle Ages as a source for the symbols used in the various stone carvings and other artwork of that period.

In 1312 Dante wrote in his “Paridiso” of Christ as “our Pelican who shed His blood in order to give eternal life to the children of men.”  In 1606 John Lyly wrote in his

“Euphues” of the “pelicane who stricketh blood out of its owne bodye to do others good.”  In Hamlet, William Shakespeare wrote “to his good friend thus wide, I’ll ope my arms and, like the kind, life-rendering pelican repast them with my blood.”

The pelican also has been part of our liturgical tradition. In his great Eucharistic hymn “Adoro te devote,” St. Thomas Aquinas asks the pie pelicane, Jesu Domine, (the pious pelican, Lord Jesus) to “wash my filthiness and clean me with your blood.”

Those of us in Louisiana are very familiar with pelicans.  Anybody who fishes in Lake Pontchartrain or along the coast are used to seeing pelicans flying across the water and perching themselves on pilings.  The pelican is our state bird, and the motto of Louisiana is the “Pelican State.”  Even the State Flag of Louisiana uses the image of a pelican.  But interestingly enough, the image on the flag is not that of a pelican in flight or perched on a piling; it’s the familiar image taken from the Roman legend:  that of a pelican feeding its young.

It shouldn’t be surprising that the pelican symbolism was employed on the front of the altar used for the final Mass when Louisiana hosted the 8th National Eucharistic Congress in October of 1939, in a crystal clear Eucharistic reference.

So an ancient secular legend was appropriated to symbolize a Christian mystery, and that symbol became a secular image familiar to anyone in Louisiana seeing the state flag.  As for me, understanding the symbolism of the pelican and seeing them in nature provides a ready reminder of Christ’s redemptive love and His Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist., something to reflect on during this Year of the Eucharist in the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

 

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